Two days ago I completed my second sketchbook project for the Brooklyn Art Library, and yesterday it began the journey to its new home.
It’s not your usual sketchbook. It’s a pocket mural. I made it to open like an accordian. Hold one cover in each of your hands, open your arms, and there it is, one long garden. Close it up, turn it over, open again, and the garden continues on the second side.
I am so very happy with how the drawings turned out, all colour, play, and joy. My heart loves the garden I created, and I can feel how my body longs to be in the midst of it for real, climbing and playing. I wonder if someone makes adult-sized swing sets with a glider and slide? I think I need one.
I can’t hold my garden in my hands any longer, but I can hold it in my heart and share it. Here is The Secret Garden. Join me! Come and play!
I’m packing the last of my northern studio, readying to move south for the last time. I am about to have a single creation space, something I have not experienced for fifteen years.
The joy is bubbling in me.
I want this. But I have a
question for myself. Will I be able to
sit still in one place?
I was a child who exploded with energy, curiosity, mess,
and noise. I have a million memories of
being told to sit still, stop wiggling, stop making so much noise, be quiet,
clean up the mess, put that away, don’t touch that. And on and on. I am not surprised my Mom, like me, napped
every afternoon. I wore both of us out.
Eventually, I learned to become someone who appears quiet
and peaceful. The word ‘appears’ is a
I’m not actually sitting still.
Under the surface, my mind and heart are constantly, busily, happily engrossed creating the next drawing and the next piece of writing. Inspiring myself with other artists’ work, and how exactly did they create that colour and that effect. Being curious about the book I’m reading, and how did the writer get me to assume this and feel that. Can I do these things, too? Wondering, experimenting, learning. I love this activity. I am alive here. This is my me-ist me.
Here’s the paradox.
Under the energy, mess, and noise, my heart and mind are in
My creativity is rooted in stillness, the deepest internal
pool of quiet. Infinity is here. Forever is here. All possibility lives here. My ideas rise from this place, rise from
peace to become energy and activity.
It fascinates me that my creativity requires these seeming
One of my art professors regularly talked of getting to know and use paradox and the awkward in the work. I know he didn’t mean the kind of paradox I experience every day, but his words stick in my memory, a reminder to be comfortable with all that surfaces when I draw and write.
Embrace it all, the mess and noise, the stillness and
quiet. Opposites creating wholeness.
Being told to be still wasn’t wrong after all.
And maybe a single welcoming, perfect, light-filled studio is exactly what I need.
The last few weeks have been a slow roller coaster. My moods have traveled up and down, and longer in the downs. This week I’ve settled, a blessed relief.
I could list the reasons, but it’s easier to simply list ‘life’.
I am exactly like my son when he was five years old.
It was a tough day at school (kindergarten is not always easy), and he came home angry. He didn’t want to talk, and he bashed his way around the house until I became angry too. Better we separate when we’re both angry. I told him to go to his room. I stayed in the kitchen.
I listened as he stomped away, as his door slammed, as the noise and activity level in his bedroom peaked, then quieted.
After a few minutes, concern and curiosity led me down the hallway. I knocked on his door, then opened it.
He looked at me, mourning written all over him. “Mom, I’ve tried everything and nothing makes
me feel better.”
The evidence of his effort lay all around him, on the floor and the bed. Toys, Lego pieces, stuffed animals, his favourite blanket. He had tried so hard. My upset dissolved in an instant.
Love is what I gave my precious son that day, and received love back. We sat on his bed and hugged, held hands, talked about nothing important. We had all the time in the world.
I’ve tried and nothing makes me feel better–I know that place.
Luckily, I am now old enough I’ve learned what to do.
I don’t push the feelings away. I don’t try to make myself better. I’m upset for a reason and my feelings are broadcasting what and why. I need to feel and listen, so I do. I put on music, or let the house be silent , wrap myself in my favourite blanket, cocoon myself on the couch, become still. An hour or a day, I feel and listen. I treat myself gently, a precious being broken and hurting and needing love.
Love is what I give myself when I am hurting and needing. Love and all the time in the world. Love fills the cracks and mends the breaks. Love tells me I am something precious, and makes me whole again.
My son doesn’t remember that day, but I do always. He gave me the most perfect gift of feeling
and understanding what keeps us whole. Love. Love.
In this post:
I didn’t always know how to love myself. I still forget sometimes, but each time the
gap is smaller. Dee Wallace’s Red Dot
Exercise is one of the things that helped me learn what unconditional self-love
My experience doing the Red Dot Exercise is here on my blog,
postings from December 23 and 24, 2014:
My imagination, like my breath, is an autonomic function. It runs without any obvious help from the rest of me.
My imagination is a welcome partner through my day. It keeps me interested, alert, curious,
playful, connected. Like my breathing,
it keeps me alive.
Right now, though, it is working on hibernating. Slow and lost for words. Not the ideal situation when I am into my
In a way, the lost-for-words makes sense. Today is Valentine’s Day, and isn’t this day
more about heart and feeling than words?
You can argue that the words evoke the feeling, but for a writer the
feeling comes first, then the words to express.
I am still lost for what to express in my post.
I do know what I am feeling. It’s love.
Well then, let these be my words, coloured true by my
I love that you are reading this. I love, and am honoured, that you have given
me a few minutes of your day and your life.
Your connection here is a gift, and my heart feels it. I am made larger through your connection, and
I thank you.
May your day be blessed.
May someone you love, love you back freely, unconditionally, and
abundantly. May joy surprise you many
times today. May hugs surprise you.
Happy Valentine’s Day! Let your heart light shine.
I had a favourite climbing tree when I was growing up. It was a West Coast hemlock, three times the height of our house and brilliant with branches perfectly spaced for my reach. I stretched for the first branch at the base, but from there up it was a ladder, easy and welcoming.
How high can I climb?
How far can I see?
I didn’t ask myself these questions, but I could feel them
in my body. The feeling pushed me, made
reaching for each next branch as natural as walking.
There was a natural stopping point, too, about three-quarters up, a set of branches grown for sitting. Here, this exact spot, I’d have nested if I’d been a bird. Lived my life in the sky.
Here I always sat and hugged my tree with one arm. I rubbed the flat needles between my fingers and smelled their green perfume. I felt the wind push us gently back and forth, and I watched the clouds.
My climbing tree was a different world, and here I was a different person. The worries and anxieties (there were many) that nailed me to the earth vanished. I looked out and saw all the world. I saw possibilities. From my nest in the tree I saw myself in forever, and I knew who I was.
No one except my tree and the wind knew I was there. No one saw me when I left the earth. I made sure of it. And no one saw me return.
Freedom was my secret.
My climbing tree has come back to me as I work on my
book. The feeling of the questions that
loosed me and pushed me into a forever world has returned.
I look at what I have created so far, and I feel the push. I feel the reach, as natural as walking, for the next branch.
How high can I climb?
How far can I see?
This feeling is joy. The memory of my climbing tree pulls up the nails that hold me to the ground. Nails etched with ‘too hard’, ‘be afraid’, and ‘wrong’ are no more than thin smoke as my feet leave the earth.
I see the whole of my book from up here. I know this view and I know myself, here, in my
I’ve made a note, to post above my studio table where I write.
All the note says is ‘my climbing tree’. Enough to remind me. Close my eyes, become still, feel my hands
and feet on the branches, smell the green needles, feel the wind rock me, know
who I am and the world I see. Now open
my eyes and write from here.
End of January and the sky is grey outside the studio windows. We’ve had freezing rain on and off this morning. Step outside and you take your life in your hands. Ice is everywhere.
I’ll stay inside in my studio, thank you very much, where it is warm and bright and the footing is sure. The music is on, Joe Hisaishi’s Freedom Piano Stories 4. My three strings of Christmas lights, hung around the walls, are on as well. They are my year-round joy, especially when days are grey and the light from the windows is dim like today.
My senses are wide awake this morning, and I am understanding
how different my words are when I write from my body.
That sounds odd. I
use my mind to write, of course. Well,
yes and no. The more I write, the more I
use body and mind as one.
This is a huge shift for me.
As child and adult, I’ve lived primarily in my mind. Mind ruled because my body was not a reliable place in which to be.
I grew up experiencing how my body was defective, broken, and wrong in so many ways. Eyes and ears requiring medical correction to function well. Balance and coordination just a little bit off kilter. Skin overreacting. A menstrual cycle guaranteeing monthly pain. Muscles and sleep throwing themselves into deeper dysfunction the older I became.
Being in my body did not equate to safety or comfort. No surprise I preferred to live in my mind.
As a writer, I am shifting this. I have to.
Body is the living place of my emotions and the beginning place of my writing. When I write from my body, emotion and experience become immediate. What I notice enriches me and makes its way into the words.
My mind refines what my body has initiated. It listens to the words that emotion and experience have put on the page. It listens for rhythm and pattern. Something in my mind knows when a word, phrase, or more, sounds wrong. It hears the stutter or break in the rhythm. It knows where the pattern is out of balance.
How it does this, I am not entirely sure.
I do know my body is rhythm. Breath, heartbeat, movement. My body lives in constant rhythm, and the
experience translates itself to my mind.
Even more, my mind lives within my body, lives within breath and beat and movement.
“Not separate.” I hear as I write this. “We are one,” say my body and mind in
chorus. “We are the ocean in which you
I hear this, and suddenly I feel my mind in the tips of my toes, noticing how my socks are warm and soft and how my toes love the feeling. Noticing how the wood floor beneath my feet grounds me and my writing both. Mind and body noticing the reassuring steadiness of the chair I sit on, the familiar worn touch of my studio work table where my elbow leans. Noticing the joy of being deeply anchored in this moment of my life.
Here is body, mind, senses, emotion, and experience in
concert. Braided in a single melody. Heard and experienced in a single voice.
I am not very kind to myself. I call myself lazy. I say I am a master procrastinator. The fact that I am in year five of my book draft must make these judgments true. The additional fact that I’ve done several projects during this time, so that I didn’t have to write, also makes this true.
Today I woke and realized these years of off-and-on writing
and the projects-in-between were necessary.
I had to get myself to the point where I could let go of the story.
I had to break my heart open.
In all the time I’ve been writing my blog, I’ve never
talked much of my book draft, other than I was doing it or not doing it. I’ve never talked about the content because
that wasn’t what my blog was for. My blog
has always been for the sake of writing, not for the sake of story.
I am changing that today.
For thirty-four years I had an overtaking illness, fibromyalgia, that shrunk my life and finally, fully cut away my ability to make art.
I was always a good girl. I did everything the doctors told me. I took all the medications. I cared for my body. I adjusted my life, managed, made changes, made excuses.
None of it mattered.
The disease slowly stole away the core of me, my truest self—artist.
The week I understood I had finally completely lost my art
was the breaking point. The book begins
here, and the story traces the healing path I created.
I know this story intimately. I lived it.
I was sure that five years of writing was too long and wrong. I called myself lazy and procrastinator, and
it felt appropriate.
What I had not taken into account, when I began writing the book, was how numb I had been for all the years of illness. I was living through loss repeated over and over. I was living through pain and grief, and I had to numb myself to my emotions. Numb was survival. The only place I allowed my emotions was in my art, where I had control over what I expressed.
Numb is an emotion.
But, telling a story where numb is the primary emotion
doesn’t work. The reader needs something
more to connect into and feel.
My first draft was all numb. The facts were there. It had a story line, but the emotional
connection was ice. I was skating on the
surface of everything I described, and I knew it.
I stopped writing and spent time working on my emotions and
my beliefs about myself.
My second draft was better. I was able to move into fear and love, how they felt, and how love melted away fear.
Better, but still not deep enough.
Then I did two things, perhaps accident, perhaps instinct, and experienced yet another that broke me through the numbness and let the story go.
I wrote a parallel draft during Nanowrimo 2017. I wrote all around the edges of the story,
every other part of my life, and the lives of my family and friends, during the
period the primary story took place.
Because I believed the parallel draft was not the story, I felt
free to write whatever showed up. Because
I’d given myself permission to accept whatever showed up, emotions started
breaking through and I recognized them.
Loss, grief, rage, desperation, depression. Everything I’d buried beneath numb showed up,
demanding to be acknowledged and written.
So I did. I felt the feelings and wrote the words. Painful, tearful, cathartic, necessary. For my eyes and heart only, and those of a few very trusted friends. I made it through the parallel draft.
While I was preparing to begin draft three, I discovered Lisa Cron’s book Story Genius. I put the draft on hold and instead began writing the back story, following Lisa’s process.
While I wrote back story and grieved the losses imposed on me by this now-healed illness, both my Dad and my cousin died, and my Mom fell hard and deep into Alzheimer’s.
So many griefs. They smashed the few defenses I had left.
I was naked and lost.
I kept writing.
There is something to be said for having my heart blasted
I felt everything and I feel everything, pain and joy
both. There is no numbing a blast site
And somehow, for some reason, I no longer wish to.
The emotions running in me have freed my heart and my
story. I can let the story go, and trust
the writing. I can trust the words to
carry what I feel and have felt.
Two months ago, someone asked me a question which has stuck with me.
How do you want the world to see you?
Now, I know from my experience as an artist and writer, I have zip for control over how someone perceives and responds to me and my creations, and I would not want such control.
Still, the question keeps popping into my thoughts.
How do I want to be seen?
I want to be seen as my truest self. I want to be seen fully open-hearted, where love comes first in everything—what I feel and think, what I say and do, how I treat myself and how I treat the world. Love as my first consideration. Beginning there. Choosing love in my connections, communications, actions, and reactions.
I don’t always manage to begin from love. I get angry, tired, frustrated, impatient, sad, numb. My open heart feels it all. It needs to feel it all, that is its reason to be. But then, reminding myself to choose love brings me back to a place where I can change how I feel. It opens a space for me to shift the story I am telling myself, and make it different in this moment.
When I say to myself ‘choose love’, I am reminded I always have choice. I can react, or I can pause and come back to my heart, recall who I am, and choose to create from love.
I’d much rather create from love. Love allows me to be true to myself and what I
want my life to be.
The question I began with, the question I was asked, isn’t
the right question.
How do I want to see myself? How do I want to see the world? These are the questions.
I want to see myself, my life, and the world as a place that chooses love first. Chooses compassion, kindness, and care. Chooses connection, communication, gentleness, and patience.
A world that chooses to hold each other gently.
A me that chooses to hold myself gently.
This is how I want to see myself. This is how I want to see the world. This is how I want the world to see me.