My parents told me to stay calm is inspired by my experiences growing up with asthma, particularly my need as a child to comfort and calm myself through art. The piece consists of 35 small black and white ink drawings of various sizes.
When I was five years old, I became afflicted with asthma. I awoke in the middle of each night completely unable to breathe and one of my parents would get up to prepare the nebulizer. I was completely reliant on my parents for my medication and each asthma attack was rife with the fear that I wouldn’t be able to wake them up in time, that we wouldn’t get downstairs to the kitchen fast enough. Knowing that an attack can be made worse by panicking, my parents devised a plan for my treatment. Every time I used the machine, I was told to draw in a large coloring book reserved especially for the duration of each treatment. Drawing became both a comforting task and a marker of these stressful times.
These ink drawings obsessively rework imagery that was comforting to me as a child approaching these nights – trees, homes, people curled up in cozy, protected beds – while evoking the loneliness and vulnerability I felt. They are a repetitive effort to soothe and calm someone, who knows she is not safe in her own bed, who knows that even those closest to her cannot experience this with her. The fantasy of a safe location is enacted over and over again, as if drawing these places could make them real.
Each fanciful creation, however, is underscored by the reality of its isolation and impossibility. The hand-written phrases throughout the piece both hint at the daily ordeal of not being able to breathe and evoke larger experiences of vulnerability, worry and estrangement. All together, these elements build a quietly distressed, nonlinear narrative – one in which fears are both conveyed and soothed by the act of making. Viewers of the piece may see their own insecurities and longings in these drawings and find themselves similarly comforted by that recognition and shared feeling.