I have a two-word mantra that guides my days. Choose love.
This morning I decided to put my blog on ‘pause’ for the next few weeks, or months. I’m not sure how long.
The reason is simple. I’m pausing for the sake of love of the book I’m writing. I love the story, love how the words are coming together, love the structure that is building itself as I write, love what is showing up to be expressed.
Don’t get me wrong. Loving how my book is growing doesn’t mean it isn’t work, because it is, and doesn’t mean it’s easy, because often it definitely isn’t. I want this book to be the best I’m able to create, and the combination of love, work, and not-easy tells me I need to focus my time and energy and creative power on one thing–the book.
It feels odd to think I won’t write my blog for the next few weeks or months. My blog and I have been writing partners for close on five years, and the weekly writing fills my heart. Yet, I know this is the right choice, and I trust what I feel.
I may change my mind and be back here sooner than I think. I really don’t know.
In the meantime, while my blog is on pause, thank you for the past five years, and bless you for reading the words and hearing my heart.
I walk into my studio at the far end of the house. I place two mugs, one filled with cold water, one with very milky coffee, on the work table, and close the door. The closed door is a signal to my husband and son at home today—leave me alone, let me write.
This time of year, October, I turn on the heat pump. Then I go round the room and plug in all three strings of Christmas lights, for the sake of joy.
If it’s cloudy outside, like today, I turn on the desk lamp as well. Its pool of yellow brilliance warms me on grey days.
I turn on the music, melody only because hearing someone else’s words interferes with my writing. Today it’s John Boswell’s solo piano, melody like a river. There is something in the rhythm of music that translates into the rhythm of words as I write, a gentle flow of sound to accompany flow of thought.
I sit at the work table, formerly my parents’ dining room table, and pull my morning pages book from one of the stacks of paper, books, and binders piled at the edge of the table. I carefully sharpen my Minnie Mouse pencil. I rescue my battered pink eraser from where, yesterday, the cat batted it across the table and into a pile of art pens and pencils.
Today I write only two morning pages, not the usual three, before I put the book aside. This week my morning pages have been full of fear, and two pages is quite enough. A spillover from my book draft where I’ve been slow-writing about finding the opposite of fear, and how the discovery changed me.
Now I lay a short stack of loose leaf paper in front of me, and resharpen my pencil. Dull pencils slow me down.
My heart and mind are open, ready to think and feel, ready to write.
I will tell you the truth of it.
I love writing, it’s a passion and an obsession, and it scares me. I begin every writing day anxious and nervy, a skittish horse shying at the jump she’s crossed two hundred and thirty-two times before.
Call it its true face.
Loaded with fear, yet again I make the jump.
Every thing I do before I set to writing the blog post, I do before working on the book draft. These actions are a ritual that settles, balances, and focuses me. I become grounded in my writing place, the space inside me made of thought, word, feeling, and the need to write what passes through my heart.
When I am done, the ritual reverses. Paper, pencil, eraser put away. Music silenced. Lights darkened. Heat turned off, and door opened. I am returned to the rest of my world, quieted.
Morning pages were created by Julia Cameron, and the process is described in many of her creativity books, the first of which is The Artist’s Way. Morning pages save my writer and artist, every time. https://juliacameronlive.com/
I’m so focused on the book draft lately, I’m not giving
time to the things that feed my imagination, aka my Writer. Big mistake, because here I am ready to write
a blog post, and the idea cupboard is bare.
When I’m empty of ideas, I make lists. Today’s list is everything I’m not doing to
keep my Writer happy and brim full of things to write.
I’m not reading enough.
I haven’t stopped reading, but I’m shorting myself on how often and how
long. My stack of unread books is lonely;
it might even be whimpering quietly like a sad puppy.
I’m not playing enough.
I need to go out to play every day, get a change of scenery, have long,
loving, occasionally silly conversations with friends and family and kind
strangers, play a board game or card game.
I’m not laughing enough. Self-explanatory, as my book is a tough topic. Balancing it out, choosing to experience its opposite when I’m not writing would be a happy idea.
I’m not wasting enough time daydreaming and doing nothing.
A short list, and it’s given me a plan to repair my Writer.
Today I’m going for a long, lazy dinner with my husband and son. No special occasion. Just because. If the weather is good, we’ll go for a walk as well, and if the weather is lousy, we’ll play board games.
Tomorrow my sister and I are going to a matinee movie, and our lunch will be popcorn and pop. Then, I’ll read all evening as long as I wish, and go to bed late.
Saturday there’s a family birthday party for my nephew, who
is now thirteen and terrorizing his parents via the adolescent emotion roller-coaster. Very very glad my son is far beyond those
Sunday I’ll visit my Mom. We’ll eat cookies straight from the package and forget to count how many. When I come home, I’ll sit on the porch swing and day dream, or sit on the couch and and do nothing but look out the window.
And next weekend I’m visiting with friends for the entire
weekend. A sleepover, with wine and
chocolate, walks along the beach, and talking way past midnight.
There. Play time all
set. My Writer feels better already.
When a story has happened for real, you’d think possibility and imagination have a lesser place in the writing process than in a story of fiction.
Not so. The very first time an adult asked me, as a young child, to tell them “what happened”, I understood I had more than one path for telling the story. The things I knew had happened, the things I wanted them to know, and what they wanted to know were three very different lists. You can bet I chose the path of my desire over theirs.
If I know my desire lines, I know how to tell the story, because desire lines inform my choices.
My reason for writing the book is a desire line, and the readers I’m focused towards are another desire line. These lines work together. They guide me to specific story-telling choices and structures, and they point to aspects of the story to emphasize, include, or leave out.
There’s a desire line within the story as well.
The person I was eight years ago was desperate to heal her body, desperate to be well enough to work in her art studio. This very specific desire is what drove her into choices and actions she would never have otherwise taken, and it changed who she was.
This desire line drives the story, and it runs through all the writing I do, whether it’s a direct part of the book draft or in support of it. If a written piece doesn’t touch the desire line, I know right away it doesn’t belong in the story.
There’s a desire line running through me every time I write and every time I draw. I’m in love with creating, and that’s the biggest, most wide open, most full of possibilities, most imaginative desire line of all.
Funny, that, because usually it’s the sunny, blue sky days that pop me into happy. Today the weather is the complete opposite—deep grey, wet, and chilled.
I heard the rain throughout the night, and I wasted no time this morning. Out came the long sleeved shirt and jeans, warm socks and my polar fleece slippers. Suddenly, Summer was put aside and I was in my Fall clothes.
I put an extra blanket on the bed last night, too.
I am a Summer Girl who loves her Summers. Last week I was saddened to see Summer
leaving. We hadn’t reached the Fall
Equinox, yet the feel of the days and nights had shifted, and my senses
noticed. The air felt different on my
skin, an edge of coolness in the evening and chilled mornings. A few of the maple trees were shedding
leaves, getting ahead of the rush I guess.
Some of the songbirds had left, and my ears missed their voices.
And now, here I am this week, happy.
Something in me is enjoying the shift of season. Listening to the rain on the roof. Watching the wind push and pull the trees and
slap the raindrops against the studio windows.
Seeing the gold leaves appears amidst the green.
Today I am settled into change, and I know the truth, that there is no resisting it. I might as well enjoy what is coming around new again.
So I am happy inside my warm, dry studio. I have Joe Hisaishi’s piano music playing for
my solo pleasure. I have my coffee and
milk, lightly touched with cinnamon, beside me on the work table, and the rest
of the potful sitting in the kitchen whenever I want it. The collection of Mickey Mouse pencils are
sharpened and ready, and the stack of loose leaf paper awaits.
It’s a rainy, almost-Fall day, and I have nothing better to do than write. So I will.
In this post:
Joe Hisaishi, musician and composer, has written many movie scores for Studio Ghibli, and that’s how I discovered him. Right now I’m listening to his Piano Stories collection and the soundtrack from the anime movie My Neighbour Totoro.
Voice is a big deal in the arts. Every teacher I’ve had, and every creativity
book I’ve read, talk about voice.
Most don’t explain it.
Instead, they make it a mystery, something undefinable. “One day you’ll find your voice,” they say,
as though voice is a game of hide-and-seek, or the tap of a magic wand from
your fairy godmother.
I’ve decided voice is simple and it’s standing in plain sight.
My voice is the intersection where the whole of my life and
the act of writing, or drawing, meet.
I think this is the same for anyone in the arts. If you are a dancer, it’s your life plus the
act of dancing. If a musician or actor,
it’s your life plus making music or acting.
My words and images arise from inside me. They come out of my life and who I am. Every life experience, every thought emotion belief
doubt, all I learn and every choice I make.
Everything I love and gather around me, everything I reject and push
away. All I remember, all I forget.
Add to my life the repeated action of writing and
drawing. The more I write and draw, the
easier it is to connect with the well of life experience inside me, and pour it
into the piece I create.
This is my voice. It
is my individuality as a person, and how I see the world, expressed to you. When I put my individuality into words and
images, my voice sings.
My voice as an artist and writer has always been with me. I didn’t need to learn it, but I needed to learn to recognize and trust my unique voice. It took me three years in art school and three years as a full-time artist to reach the first time I consciously recognized and chose to trust my voice. Before that, although I knew to my core I was an artist, I was unconsciously relying on my teachers, my peers, and the art world to define my voice.
I remember the shift, because the moment was terrifying and
I know the drawing, too, and which part of the drawing was
the terrifying, freeing moment. The
drawing is at the top of this post. It’s
titled “Everything I Know About The Human Heart, Part 2”, and the moment burned
into my memory is just before I added the tally marks at the right edge of the
I drew from a still life tableau, always. I played with the colours, using my instinct and intuition, but otherwise kept my work true to life.
This time, my instinct and intuition saw tally marks.
Those marks really really wanted to be a part of this drawing, insisting they belonged. The tableau held plain, white, cut paper and scissors, and definitely no tally marks.
I became frightened. Drawing the tally marks felt like a huge action, as though I was defying a rule while others watched, as though I was pushing through something I could neither see nor define, and beyond was the unknown.
I drew the marks, and suddenly felt the freest I had ever felt in my life. My instinct and intuition saw tally marks on the paper hearts, and I drew those in, too. I watched my still life drawing become something more than copying objects on a table. With those marks, I added scars, fences, wounds, stitches. I added emotion and story to my drawing.
I drew from my truest self, using what my heart felt. I drew my heart on that paper.
I let myself be seen.
I let my voice sing.
In this post:
This drawing is part of a body of work that became my first solo show. The entire collection is online at my art site, in the gallery titled ‘Everything I Know About The Human Heart’.
When I had fibromyalgia, my family and friends did their best to understand how I felt, and what my body was feeling. It was difficult for them, and not their fault their efforts to do this fell short.
It’s hard to imagine chronic pain if you’ve never experienced long pain. When I say long, I don’t mean days or even weeks. I mean at least one year of it, and I mean pain that gets in your way.
I’d always been a math kid, and even as an adult I understood best when I could turn something into a kind of equation. The equation didn’t have to be numbers. Words worked too.
I decided to invent a pain equation for fibromyalgia.
Fibro affects muscles, and every kind of muscle is vulnerable to this illness. This meant I needed to know how many muscles are in the human body. Turns out, that’s a debatable point. It depends on how you define muscle. I decided to go with 700, since that is roughly the number of named muscles.
There are also uncounted, un-named muscles in the body, but if I added those into the equation, the numbers moved beyond something imaginable. I wanted to stick with numbers someone else could imagine into an experience.
Everyone who has experienced
pain knows it’s not so much about the physical sensation as it is about
time. Pain is about how long will this
pain last and can I outlast it. Pain is
about endurance. Therefore the equation
I was building needed to include time.
Fibro pain is always present,
and the pain is always everywhere in every muscle, the named and the anonymous. 24/7, as my son Bryan would say. Bryan understands pain; he is disabled
because of chronic pain, the end result of an accident. He likes the idea of a pain equation. Pain is concrete to the person enduring it,
but not always understood by someone outside of it. An equation is both concrete and graspable,
possible for someone else to understand and imagine beyond.
So, here is the pain equation,
configured to be an aid to understanding for someone who has never experienced
700 muscles, multiplied by 24
hours, multiplied by 365 days in a year.
Six million, one hundred
thirty-two thousand hours of pain endured during one year of life.
I have, on my
studio couch, a teddy bear. He is small,
about the size of my two hands laid side by side. He smells like dust, and he is old, older
I don’t know
who gave him to me. All I know is he has
always been with me.
I used to think
he was my sister’s bear, her toy that had somehow ended up in my collection of
childhood memories. One day I mentioned
him to my Mom, and she told me with certainty that the small fuzzy purple teddy
who now smells like dust was absolutely, definitely mine, a gift at my birth.
Here is a
memory I do not remember, yet it exists.
The physical proof sits here in my studio, this bear who I should know.
that I can have memories I do not recall.
Do I remember this tiny bear on my bed in our home, when I was not yet
old enough to go to school? Sort of, yet
I am not sure if this is a manufactured memory, or something true. I know his feel against my hands and face, and
I know he did not always smell like dust.
He smelled like someone’s perfume at one point in my childhood. I can smell it now, as I write.
Yes, my Nana’s
perfume. I feel like this bear was with
me at my Nana and Papa’s house, when I was very young. I was staying with them. I don’t know where my Mom and Dad were. Maybe visiting friends, maybe at a dance and
coming home very late. My parents loved
The only thing I
am completely sure of here is this bear, who I didn’t remember was mine,
smelled like my Nana’s perfume. How odd.
such strange things. That I can recall
with clarity this one small detail out of what must have been a thousand
details lost to me.
This bear is now faded to the colour of lilacs at the end of their life. I can see in the creases of his arms and legs and neck that his fur was once bright, more like the colour of the amethyst I have on the shelf behind me. A colour carrying light and love. Bright, deep, true purple, a joy to behold.
Why can I not
recall anything else about my purple teddy?
He must have
been precious to me once, if he came with me to my grandparents’ home to stay
overnight. I must have taken him to bed
with me, slept with him at my side or in the bend of my arm, warm under the
My Mom must
have packed him carefully in my bag. Or maybe
he stayed in my arms, or sat next to me, or on my lap as we travelled to Nana
and Papa’s house.
I am imagining
this ride in the car to my grandparents, imagining staying overnight. Imagining the smell of my Nana’s perfume, which
I know was Chanel No. 5, ending up on my teddy bear. Did my Nana hold him, hug him, and her
perfume moved from her body to his? Or maybe
we dabbed a little on him because I told my Nana she smelled good and I liked
how she smelled.
It always made
me feel good, the smell of my Nana’s perfume.
It makes me feel good now as I recall it, smelling her presence even
though she does not stand before me here in my studio.
Maybe this wondrous, mysterious old bear was a gift from my Nana and Papa. Likely my Nana who loved to shop and find perfect, joyful things for herself and those she loved. She loved me, unconditionally. I remember this with certainty.
There is joy in playing with this fraction of a memory about my old, small, purple bear. There is love in this imagining, too.
I see now I have claimed teddy as my own. He is no longer the bear, he is my bear.
With one word, I
shift this fraction of a memory and, with love, claim it as mine.
It is a gift,
taking this piece of memory and the physical object that began it, and making something
whole and perfect. Something that feels
It is love, no doubt of it. As real as my bear who sits on the studio couch.