There’s a splendor and a richness to Frida Kahlo’s life that we all fall in love with. It’s a truth and a ruse. It’s like… the gold paper over a chocolate. We fall in love with that glittery gold paper, but there’s also this rich, dark chocolate inside, one that tells its own story of the earth, of bourbon and cigarettes, of laughter and always wanting to be first and getting second best. There’s deep longing. There’s tremendous loss. And there’s a very slow burn. She’s more than the paper. When we think of Frida, we often lose the human tangle of life and suffering behind the icon.
It seems like everyone knows a little something about Frida and, at least, we can all recognize her. Books, mugs, shoes, shirts: her face is everywhere. A few hours ago, I went on a walk with my family to downtown Cannon Beach, a trendy beach town filled with art galleries and there, hanging in a window, was a painting of her surrounded by coastal flora. We knew it was Frida by the commanding stare, the red cloth and the face, but recognizing Frida doesn’t mean truly knowing her. Most of us don’t know anything about who she really was.
I gave a lecture on her last week, and I learned that even the things that experts know about her aren’t true. If you pick up a dozen books on Frida, you might learn that she had polio. If you pick up Frida Kahlo, An Illustrated Life by Maria Hesse, you’ll learn that it was spina bifida. If you read those other dozen, you’ll learn that she changed her birthday to three years later to align herself with the Mexican Revolution. But with Hesse, you’ll learn that her parents lied about her birthday since she was a small child.
But everyone agrees on this: She painted from her pain. When Frida was happy, as a young adult, she didn’t paint. When she was feeling the extreme pains of childlessness, she painted. When she was lonely and lost her second pregnancy, she turned to painting again. When she was confined to bed, she painted. Her painting was her diary.
As I learn more about Frida, and about the incredible poetry of her life, I don’t envy her. I think that you can better understand Frida’s suffering when you, yourself, have suffered. I remember reading a deep biography of Frida in my 20’s but I didn’t understand; I didn’t fully grasp her pain, because I hadn’t yet been through heartbreak, longing, physical pain, etc. Now, standing on the other side of my life and seeing her through the lens of experience, I see a broken bird with clipped wings, an emotionally damaged child, a complicated heart, constant rejection and heartache, intense physical pain, and many, many people who said they loved her but only took up small parts of her life.
If you’re like me, then you can lose yourself in the daily routine and lose touch with beauty and joy. It’s too easy to let the days pass and find yourself, months or years in, wondering where the spark of joy went. And you have to realize that joy is an action and you have to take an active part. You have to bring the art in. You have to do the deep dive. You have to welcome it.
For my clients, I sometimes write out a prescription. The latest one involved weekly flowers, taking classes, volunteering and comedy. There are very specific, spiritual reasons for each part of the prescription. Comedy changes your energy, changing your energy changes your life, etc. I also wrote out a prescription for myself recently, and it includes a deep dive into the beauty that the world surrounds us with. Beauty is a verb; life’s joy is an action. You can’t be passive when you’re older. Something happens and the world stops flocking to you: you now have to flock to it, hold out some bread, take a bite.
I recommend you check out Hesse’s book about Frida, then read or listen to The Heart, which is rich, complicated, glittery, sad and beautiful. And very well researched.
If Frida were to come to me for help, I would ground her, help her with childhood feelings of worthlessness, help her with energetic blocks, give her a healing to try to ease her pain, both physical and emotional. And I would ask her: How can I serve you? How can I help you? What do you need? And I would try to do that.
The Portland Art Museum is having a show about Frida. It’s supposed to be amazing; I hope that you get a chance to see it or just look outside at the beautiful spring flower that are surrounding us at the moment, enjoy a beautiful drink or something delicious to eat, and think about the wonderful things happening in your life.