Sunday, August 1, 2010

Art Saved My Life - Lia Grimanis

When I was a teenager, my whole world fell apart. My grandmother discovered that she had cancer and, within only a few weeks, she died. That event changed everything. The grief that two of my family members experienced after that very quickly turned into Pathological Grief. The house went into total disarray; the plaster started to fall, wires blew, entire sections of the house remained dark, and my father and uncle disappeared – into long hours of sleep, into themselves, or into the night. Angered that my uncle was showering in the bathroom that had lost its walls – he stood on the tiles and plaster that sat in the bathtub – my father turned off the water, and I started to shower at the YMCA. When the springs started to come through my bed, it was never replaced; instead, I laid a sheet on the hardwood and slept there. And then came the violence. It started when the doorknob to the plaster-less bathroom fell off, locking my uncle inside. He was convinced I had done it; he raged and screamed “I’ll kill you!” A screw was missing from a light switch, my father noticed it, snapped and broke down the bathroom door, where I was sitting in the tub. He attacked me, insisting I had thrown it down the toilet. The episodes continued and, the second time my life was threatened, I ran to a shelter. I was broken and I was homeless. Remembering the darkness of those days, I still ache. My entire future was a frightening black hole; my memory a deadly vortex. The pain stuck to me like tar, suffocating me. I came to a point where it felt like I had nothing left to lose; I could die, or I could turn around, look at my nothing life, and see if I could change it. Art gave me a pathway. The process of change is a lot like flying: it takes an enormous amount of energy in the take-off. You push and push and push and all you see is the ground; all you feel is the pull that is keeping you down. I was homeless, I had no possessions, I was failing in school; nothing was going right. All I could have at that time was what I could sense. I couldn’t own anything, but I could perceive. So I decided to seek out beauty. It started at Edwards Books and Art, a bookstore on Queen St. I would go in there and sit on the floor for hours, listening to the classical music and looking at the art books. My imagination would swim in the textures and colours, the concepts and impressions. I’d immerse myself and, for that time, my dark reality would be suspended, and I felt joy. I would walk the halls of the Royal Conservatory of Music and listen to the cacophony of 20 different musicians, each in their own rooms, each practicing a different piece of music. I would shut my eyes and lose my mind, until all of these discordant notes turned into a symphony of its own. I’d watch performance artists on the street, or sit in the park and hear a concert. I’d touch outdoor sculptures and reconstruct , in my mind, what it might have been like for the artist to carve and shape ideas into stone and bronze. Every day, my imagination got stronger and my eyes opened wider. Dreams of art turned into dreams of life. Slowly, in my mind, I’d carve my future as I hoped it could be. Stroke by stroke, my physical life took the shape of my dreams. Today, I look at my life with the same wonder that I have for art; it bears no resemblance to the life I had all those years ago – it’s almost like magic.
Lia Grimanis is the founder of Up With Women, a non-profit corporation that helps homeless women and children to rebuild their lives


  1. wow. thank you! off to an amazing start with this beautiful story.

  2. Wow so powerful! Amazingly profound for someone so young to go to colour, light and sound for solice and comfort. An old soul.... no doubt.

  3. Very well-written and quite touching. . .