Ariel Bordeaux’s “Clutter: A Scatterbrained Sexual Assault Memoir” (Fieldmouse Press) is a beautiful 80-page nonfiction graphic novel of anxieties and terrors. It spans from her childhood to becoming a mom, and throughout it feels like her eyes are wide with worry—from self-critical, self-punishing everyday thoughts as well as awful things that happened to her when she was a girl. It’s the sort of book that leaves you wishing there was something you could to do help.
Art from “Clutter” is on view at The Collaborative, 498 Main St., Warren, Rhode Island, from March 3 to 27, 2022.
“Memory clutters our minds and often makes it difficult to experience the present moment. The medium of comics allows me to put some of those memories away in neat little boxes, clearing the brain chaos — at least a little bit,” the Cranston, Rhode Island, artist writes for the exhibition. “…Working in gouache, I often use color to express emotion where words fail me, and words to explain what I can’t quite depict visually. Writing and drawing from life experience has always been a healing process for me, and my hope is that this book might open a space for dialogue about sexual violence and perhaps offer some small comfort to folks who have experienced trauma.”
“Clutter” begins with Bordeaux recalling an unsettling experience from when she was a young girl—a photographer asks to take her portrait and “pushed my pants up over my knees to expose them a bit more.” Then a stranger puts his hand on her knee while she and her brother are in a theater watching a movie. Then a villain breaks into her childhood bedroom at night to sexually assault her.
There are transcendental moments of her childhood too—blissing-out in a field of four-leaf clovers, the best picnic ever, somersaulting in her home as her mother plays Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.” But then there’s divorce and stepdads and rollerskating mishaps. After one skating crash, she scolds herself: “I can’t believe I’m such an idiot”
Bordeaux grows up to be a mom worrying about raising her young son and frustrated in her job, leaving her home and mind “cluttered and chaotic.” Waking down the street, Bordeaux thinks-shouts at herself: “Wake up! It’s gorgeous out.”
So she seeks God and spirituality and angels and ways to be more present, more spiritually connected, to feel more gratitude, more peace, through meditation and therapy and comics.
“It’s really weird, but it seems to work a lot like meditation,” Bordeaux tells her therapist about making comics. “I’ve figured out my magic cocktail of coping … therapy, anti-depressants and comics!”
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