I met Trudy Harris in a VA group for women with post traumatic stress disorder caused by military sexual trauma. I certainly didn’t expect to meet a new artist friend, or really, any friend at all there. What started as a group of eight dwindled in 9 months until we were the last two standing. The group wasn’t for the faint of heart. Perhaps it was the fact that both Trudy and I had an outlet in our creativity that kept us coming back. We were artists, not only survivors, who were determined to paint the world we knew in colors other than black and white, camouflage, or the dull gray of depression.
I know one thing for sure–we wanted to see each other. We wanted to know that the other was in the world, sometimes struggling to simulate normalcy, and sometimes creating beauty in the small rooms we called our studios. And Trudy was and is, quite simply, the most deeply honest person I’ve ever known. That quality alone drew me to her like filings to a magnet. When someone is truthful with you all the time, it takes the sting out of the times we hope they might just this once, tell a little white lie to make us feel better. What I have come to expect from my friend Trudy is the raw, unvarnished truth delivered generally cussing, well, like a sailor, and with deep affection. I don’t know how she carries it off, but she does. Not every one appreciates it, but I do.
Trudy spent twenty years in the Navy. She served faithfully during a time when no woman under the rank of Captain succeeded in actually retiring from the Armed Services, any branch. She has been stationed in places as far distant from each other as Italy and Hawaii, sometimes moving as a single parent on a moment’s notice. Yet, when she talks about these stations, it is with a love for the beauty and culture of each place she served. Like so many of us, all she expected was the loyalty and protection of her fellow sailors and commanding officers, and yet they failed her, as they did so many of us. Still, she did not let go of her desire to re-create the beauty and passion she’d experienced in the world.
Trudy retired in her hometown of Bentonville, AR where she owns a small house that she presently shares with her son, who was a combat soldier in Iraq. Diagnosed bi-polar by the VA, Trudy struggles with migraines and the side effects of the drugs she takes for her condition. And yet, I walk into her tiny studio to find drawers of treasures she has collected over the years: buttons, beads, marbles, badges, medals, magazines racked that she uses to create her incredible collage pieces. Loose materials are contained in closed stacks of plastic drawers. Her work table is neat as a pin. Examples of her art hang on the walls and decorate her house, each piece telling a different story or maybe several interlocking ones. I am amazed at her ability. She accepts it as just part of who she is and what keeps her going.
It took some persuading, but I finally convinced Trudy to enter one of her multi-dimensional collage pieces, “Remember Our Warriors” in the regional Veteran’s Creative Arts Competition. She easily took first place, winning her first blue ribbon for her artwork with a piece she created to honor her son’s memory of a brother veteran who lost his life in Iraq. Although she has occasionally let me buy some pieces to give as gifts, like the collaged clipboards I gave my writing group as Christmas presents, she mostly gives her art away: to friends and family members and to other veterans. My favorite gift has been the book she made by hand of a year of our friendship, especially wrenching as it was the year I left her, moving from Arkansas to North Carolina. She captured so much in this work of art, I could not put it down but read every word in one sitting, ignoring the workmen renovating my house, completely absorbed. It honored our friendship in the most amazing collection of pictures, emails, texts–all communications shared between us in a bound book with charms dangling from the spine. Beautiful. Truly, truthfully, Trudily beautiful.
When I asked Trudy for a quote for this post, she said simply, “I continue to work and get better every day.” That’s it. But let me say that both Trudy and her work are much more complex and inspiring than these words express. I know her and so I know the history behind them and what they mean; how hard-earned they are. I wouldn’t write a post about inspiration on someone who had not inspired, encouraged and bolstered me the way Trudy has if she weren’t “all that.” She is. If you are interested in Trudy’s art work, you can contact her by email at email@example.com. And thank you Trudy, for not just touching my life, but changing it. MULU.