Art and the Orphan Archetype

The orphan archetype is one commonly found in artists. It’s because we don’t quite fit in that we are able to fulfill our role of witness, observer, and transformer. If we were truly one with the family or tribe, we would never be brave enough to say what we do. We stand back with the view of the partially disengaged in order to do what we do best – transform life into art..

One place I feel particularly separated from the center is in my role as stepparent. A division always exists within this dynamic. Below is a poem I wrote about this feeling. It arose from when my husband called me from the bedroom to show me some pictures he had hung. These many pictures of his children, year after year, were right outside our bedroom door. There on the wall was a shrine to his children (read as, “not mine”), with no other images. I was so struck by the solidity of all the images, and how I had given up the dream of having my own children.

You don’t have to be stepparent to relate to feeling “cut out” of life in some way. It happens to all of us.

“Pictures on the Wall”
Silly grins of youth immortalized
Alluding to what they may become

All the while serving as shrine and reminder
to what I would not become-mother.

The shrine, in my mind, pulses with life.
It frightens me-
Growing, growing each year as if it
has no desire to stop consuming.

The shrine sits along the wall of bedroom openings
“Mine” on one side
“Theirs”, of course, on the other.

Shrine to his productive capabilities
Where am I?

They speak to me.
Squinty-eyed, they watch me.
While I stand aside,
Ashamed,
and I can’t answer “Why”

The rectangular borders disturb me.
I want to dis-configure them. Take them out
of alignment.
I wonder if this would help them understand my
pain at a life that did not fit within the borders.

Rectangles are so solid, firm, and un-forgiving.
Oval frames would have been a better choice, I think.
Rectangles provide too much mass, weight, and posterity
for things that truly only lasted but one moment.

The moment was etched into eternity long ago.
The umbilical cord marked the line in the sand.
They were on their side and I was on mine.

Every shrine shall have its say. On the plaque,
I will scribe, “Here lies this shrine, telling only
half the story.”

I hope this poem is not to depressing of a take on stepparenting. I love being a stepparent, but it can make one feel left alone on the outside looking in. This is what I felt as I looked at those images of my sweet stepkids. We can lie to others, we may be able to lie to ourselves at time, but art always allows the orphan to tell his or her half of the story.

2 thoughts on “Art and the Orphan Archetype

  1. Lovely! I hope I’m not going to step on your thoughts/feelings, but I feel this post

    My second husband was a step-father and I know it was difficult at times for him, the kids and me.

    I’m from my father’s ‘first family’ who were all grown up when he married a third (happy) time. He was already a grandfather, with my two children. But then he became a step-father to 2 girls and then had another child. I was 23 when my half-brother was born. Myself and 2 sisters always felt ‘orphaned’ even while our remaining parent was there; our mother died long long back.

    None of our baby pictures were hanging next to the children of that marriage, the first grandchildren (mine) had no pictures next to the grandchildren of that marriage. Visits were difficult, feelings buried and now nothing for dad is dead and that ‘family’ isn’t mine and my sisters’ family. We were only the first family!

    Families take on so many forms and we have to take the best from what is given us! Is there any perfect family?

    • Oh! I just love your comments. You are right- no family is perfect. Mixed (blended) families bring their own dynamics. It really is a beautiful act, isn’t it, seeing is all come together in its own, unique way. Thanks for the insight.

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