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Sticky Brains: Control Issues

I’ve always liked mice, however, I know that they sometimes are the carriers of nasty things like the plague. Such horrors carried in such a cute, tiny, furry, squeaky package.

We all have things that have been said about us, perhaps to us, that for whatever reason, stick to the inside of our minds like mice in a glue trap, and never, ever go away. Ever. These are the kinds of things that bubble-up when you find yourself asked to describe yourself. When cornered like this, whether in person, or while filling out a form, I inevitably, I describe myself exclusively in the most negative terms. Loud and obnoxious are my typical go-to’s, with ‘has control issues’ in rapid succession. These reactions are so natural, so unquestionable to me, that when friends ask me why I’m saying these things about myself, or inquire as to whether or not I’m being self deprecating, I have no answer other than, ‘but… I’m being truthful. These things describe who I really am‘.

But, am I being truthful?

I’ve been teasing apart the phrase, “Katie has control issues” for some time now. Recently, it’s surfaced by way of my most recent artwork.

My Thought Process:

Wanting to have a level of control over your own body and immediate surroundings is not something that is out of the ordinary for an individual. During your lifetime, you experience periods of control to a greater and lesser extent. Children have far less control than the adults who care for them. The elderly have less control as they age. Those who have mental and physical conditions that require differing levels of interventions, lack complete control over themselves. Society and culture exert a level of control upon the people within them as well. Religion can control the actions of the adherents. Good grief! Paying taxes is a form of governmental control. Humans spend a great deal of their lives being under the control, with various degrees of stress or anxiety attached to that control, for a large part of their lives. It’s no wonder that as an individual would want to exert as much personal control over their lives as possible, even if that control can be detrimental to the person exerting it.

When I started looking at the phrase “Katie has control issues“, I discovered that it can be interpreted in different ways, depending upon the context in which the phrase it uttered, and by whom it is uttered. I should note that this phrase was said to my face, by people in positions of authority over me, by way of familial relationship. When I was a young person (under 18), I interpreted this phrase to mean, “Katie has no self control” or “Katie is out of control“. This personal interpretation dove-tailed nicely with my inability to lose weight and be more like my female peers. I just thought, oh well. I cannot control my eating. There must be something wrong with me. I have no impulse control. Okay. I’ve got ‘control issues’.

These beliefs were internalized, along with being loud and obnoxious and that was simply that. I could file that away, and pull it out when the situation required the information. I know who I am. I am loud, obnoxious and lacking in any sort of control.

It wasn’t until fairly recently (the past five years or so) that my interpretation has been called into question by people around me. I mentioned in one conversation with the friend, “Oh, I’ve always been told I have control issues…so, yeah…you know…I can’t control myself…” or something to that effect. My friend was a bit incredulous. She said she didn’t think I had control issues. She said I had issues with being controlled by others. Those who stated I had issues, simply did not like the fact that I resisted their attempts to control me.


What my friend pointed out, is that I simply did not like having anyone, even someone within my family attempting to control me. No one likes being told what to do, when to do it, how to do it, all of the time. I’m sure you’ve had a job where this came into play, and how did it make you feel? I began to get rubbed raw as an art teacher in the public school when I felt as if my action and agency were being squashed by administrators who felt as though with no experience in the arts or as an art teacher, they knew how to teach visual arts to children better than I did. For me personally, the levels of personal and professional control I felt was being unreasonably exerted upon me were crushing, and I had to leave. I needed space. I needed a change. I needed to find a place in which I was much more in control that I felt I had been in the past.

Prior to moving to Finland, the place in which I felt the most centered, the most myself, the most in control, was within my own artwork. It served as my therapy and helped me from completely shattering into a billions of gooey bits. I could reign in those erroneous beliefs about myself. I could bring them to heel and have some control over them when I was making art. It should be noted that I still feel this way when creating art while living in Finland.

Teaching art, the act of teaching to children and adults is where I feel the most myself while I’m interacting with people. Making art myself is where I am deliriously, completely and totally myself while I’m alone. Both of these activities have varying levels of control embedded within them. Regarding teaching art, it’s more like a controlled chaos, which I find invigorating from a creative standpoint, as I like seeing what happens when ‘this’ smushes up against ‘that’ and something completely new is made. It’s a little chaotic and messy, but beautiful. And as strange as it may seem, I feel a greater level of control within it.

My most recent artwork, the creation of an extended series of tiny felt dolls that I call, Little Ladies has brought to the surface the ideas and beliefs about control that I have as an adult, and where they came from during my childhood. As a child, I found so much happiness within dollhouses and miniatures. I don’t remember a time in which I wasn’t fascinated by miniature things, especially dolls. I could create perfect little displays within these dollhouses. I could make it anything that I wanted it to be. Looking back as an adult, I see what I was doing and why.

I know that I will struggle with the glue trapped mice of external control mechanisms placed in my head for the rest of my life. Some days, they win, some days they don’t. The difference is that I know what they are and why they are there, and for me, that helps to give me back the control I need.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next Tuesday.

As a Generation X’er, I thought adding Janet Jackson’s Control (1986) was appropriate.