“Project Metanoia” was a massive creative collaboration involving 10 photographers and their teams, each tasked with producing conceptual portraits based on the word “Metanoia”.
METANOIA: The Goddess of the Wooden Heart
“so I’ve carved a wooden heart, put it in this sinking ship
hoping it would help me float for just a few more weeks
because I am made out of shipwrecks, every twisted beam”
-Listener- “Wooden Heart”
During my early research into our chosen word, I found out that “metanoia” is a term used in psychology to describe the process of experiencing a psychotic “break down” and subsequent, positive psychological re-building or “healing”. This definition struck me in a very personal way.
In the summer of 2009 I started experiencing the early stages of what I would later find out were the hallmarks of a type of OCD. That doesn’t mean that I started washing my hands uncontrollably or counting the number of times I opened the door before I could enter a room; that is the type of the disorder popularized in media but actually represents only a fraction of its actual sufferers. My type involved having invasive, persistent, and terrifying thoughts; kind of like having a song stuck in your head except the song is an overwhelming, and very real feeling that your worst fears will come to fruition. It didn’t take long to ramp up to a point that I was having regular, debilitating panic attacks that would leave me curled up on the floor, shaking and gasping for air as a result of combatting these intrusive thoughts almost every waking minute of my day. I was convinced that I was going insane.
Because of the stigma mental illness tends to carry, I hid what I was going through for as long as I could. But eventually, after weeks and weeks of barely sleeping and having regular panic attacks, I hit a point at which my resolve shattered. I finally confided in my family and a friend from college, a psychology major, who helped direct me to a professional therapist. What I discovered was that, with therapy and medication, OCD can be an incredibly controllable condition.
The symptoms slowly started to reduce to a level that I could learn how to control and I was eventually able to put the broken pieces of my shattered mind back together. It’s not exactly the same as it was before and I have come to accept that I will never completely be rid of the symptoms, but I have not had a severe episode in almost 6 years. In fact, I have flourished since these events. So my mind may always be slightly broken but, in many ways, my metanoia made it stronger and better.
In figuring out how to represent this concept visually I was reminded of a song called “Wooden Heart” by the band Listener. Dan Smith, the writer of the song, describes his inspiration for the lyrics as a dream he had in which the residents of a coastal village wanted to build a church but they did not have any wood. So they scavenged scraps from shipwrecks that had happened on the rocky shore they lived near. It’s about taking the pieces of something that has been completely destroyed, seeing the beauty and value they still possess, and reforging them into something greater.
So I started to envision a goddess named Metanoia that the builders of this church might take on as their patron deity. I took a heavy amount of inspiration from renaissance era religious and mythological paintings use of lighting, tone, and a heavy amount of symbolism and iconography. Metanoia bears the open wound from which she has removed the shattered pieces of her broken heart and she is clutching the wooden version she has crafted from those shipwrecks that she intends to replace it with. She is wrapped in nothing more than a skirt fashioned from burlap that she also salvaged from the wreckage of those doomed vessels. She is tattered and broken yet she exudes a regal air, an extreme beauty, and a aura of power and confidence. She is the personification of persistence and perseverance in the face of complete disaster. She is the Goddess of the Wooden Heart.