My Get-Up-And-Go Got Up And Went

'Building a Sky to Shelter Me'--Cat FinkMy Mom worked at home.  Three children, a husband on shift work, and a big house to care for.  I remember her sitting at the kitchen table in the late afternoon, resting before beginning dinner preparations.  Especially when my brother was a toddler roaring around the house, she looked worn through, and her day was still hours away from being finished.

She’d look at me and say, “My get-up-and-go got up and went.”

That’s exactly how I feel when I wake this morning.  I had an excellent sleep, yet I feel worn out.  I lie here, wondering what this is.

I don’t want to get up.  I don’t want to start the day, even though my days are my own.  I don’t feel like writing or drawing, unusual for me.

Wrapped and warm in my blankets, I let my mind wander, and then I understand.

I am emotionally exhausted.

I’ve been riding a roller coaster of grief and love, and it has worn me out.  Worn me to the point of affecting my creativity.

My current creative projects are long ones, writing a book (years), and filling a sketchbook with drawings (months).  Normally I love long projects.  I enjoy the feelings of where I have been and where I am going, seeing how an idea expands, shifts, and finally fulfills itself and me.

Today, long is more than I can handle.

An idea pops in.  How about shotgun creativity?  Get the idea, aim, fire, done.  Except, generally, firing a shotgun requires dealing with the resulting mess.  Clean up is necessary.  I live in a rural area.  I know this.

How about creativity that is like laughter?  Sudden.  Surprising.  A joyful explosion of fun and play.  Nothing afterwards but feeling good.

Yes, this is my kind of creativity.  Unexpected creativity that is joy.

I get out of bed and start my day.  Eventually I am here at my studio table with my Mickey Mouse pencils and stack of loose leaf paper, writing.

Interesting that my get-up-and-go is back, and I know why.

I started exactly where I was, recognized and allowed my feelings to be what they were.  I let my thoughts and imagination, and then my words, run where they would, no limits, no expectations.  Whatever showed up was fine with me.  With all this space to play, ideas showed up—shotgun creativity, and creativity like laughter.

I gave myself permission to be.

Making Stuff With Friends, or, One Plus One Plus One Equals Cookie

banners.DancingTheGhosts.small300ppiYesterday I was with friends, beginning a new group art project.  We are each filling a sketchbook for the Brooklyn Art Library’s Sketchbook Project 2019.

The time spent was perfect fun, relaxing, inspiring, and energizing.

Mostly I work and play alone in my studio, and I choose this.  I need and love my quiet alone time, in order to see and hear the ideas coming through, in order to draw and write.  I also need and love time with friends and fellow creators.

Here is what I love about creating with my friends.

The conversation and ideas and actions that flow are always unexpected.  We don’t create in a straight line.  Instead, our ideas are starbursts.  One of us offers a comment or question, and off we go in every direction.

We are not one plus one plus one equals three, although we can be, and have been, if needed.  No, we are one plus one plus one equals cookie.

Laughter is frequent, as is opening our hearts and learning the shape of our souls.

What always fascinates me is this.  We begin at the exact same point, but the flow from each of us is unique in theme and look and final destination.  It does not matter that we all hear the same conversation, begin with similar art materials, play together in the same room.

It is our individual histories and life experiences, our separate needs and wants and focus that shape the vision each of us sees.  This is what sparks the curiosity that arises to follow a specific path in creating.  This is also what creates such fertile ground when we are together.

Together we are a garden, wild and joyful with growth, weeds fully included.  Watered with tea (double chai yesterday) and lattes, nourished by sandwiches and soup and goodies.  Held close in the sunny heat of friendship and shared creativity.

Nothing better than one plus one plus one equals cookie.

__________________________________

In this post:

The Brooklyn Art Library.   https://www.brooklynartlibrary.com/

Wanting To Go Backwards, Needing To Go Forwards

Family
Surrounded By Family

I learned something last week.  For the past nine months I’ve been trying to go backwards.

I’ve been trying to imagine my Dad back to life.

Impossible.  And I have caused myself all sorts of pain because of this desperate need to go backwards in my life and in my Dad’s life.

There are many things I can do backwards.  Spelling.  Counting.  Swimming.  Skating.  Skipping rope.  Dancing.  Walking and even kind-of-slow-running.  But I cannot get life to move backwards.  Not going to happen.

I need to grieve forwards.  Sounds funny, I know.  It actually makes me laugh when I say this to myself.  Laughter feels like grieving forwards.

Realizing what I’ve been doing makes a difference in how I feel.  Something has eased within me.  I’m not going forward, but at least the backward pull has stopped, and that is an improvement.

Yes, Dad, I was trying to head in the wrong direction, backwards.  A mistake made out of a long love, and an unwillingness to stop seeing you here in front of me.

Dad does not want me sad.  He loves me too much for that.  I can feel him gently putting his hands on my shoulders and turning me around, so now he stands behind me and my life stands before me.

I don’t want to do this.  I am crying, but I feel Dad behind me and there is strength in that feeling.  Love, and a kind of steadiness I had lost.  He has my back, and I can make the first tentative steps forward again.  He won’t let me fall.

________________________________

In this post:

The excellent, imaginative book I was reading last week, that sparked my aha, is Lost & Found by Brooke Davis, Penguin Canada Books, 2016.  I love the three main characters, a seven-year-old girl and two seniors who create themselves as family, take a road trip to find the girl’s mother (who has left her behind), and emphatically refuse to be anyone other than who they are.  I keep thinking about them.  I want them to be happy.  Thanks, Brooke, for writing this.    https://www.facebook.com/brookedavisauthor

Brooke also wrote an article, very much worth reading, about her experience of grieving.  A shortened version is included at the end of the book, and the full version is at www.textjournal.com.au/oct12/davis.htm

A Change Of Season

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Five Crows Silver, Six Crows Gold

Yesterday my husband and I drove to our northern home.  Today I sit at my other studio work table, in front of a view that includes aspens and pines.  There are thunderclouds low over the hills.  I am north again, and will be until next March.

I am the opposite of the migrating birds I see in the sky.  They are leaving for the warm hug of weather in the south.  I want the cold, snowy Winter.  I want the clear, crisp air and the crackle of frost and ice under my boots.

I want to smell snow coming, and witness the first snowflakes fall from a heavy, grey sky.  I want to feel them melt on my cheek, so gentle a touch, present and gone in the same instant.  The first snow is always fleeting, Winter hesitant, touching the farthest edge of Fall.

I love the change of seasons.  I love feeling with all of my body the movement of time.  I love how each season stands forward in its fullness, then moves back a step at a time as the next season comes forward.  A dance, step and step, forward and back, each season partnering the ones before and after.

I know I am a Summer Girl.  It’s true.  I love Summer best.  Warm sun and cool shade, iced tea with lemon, long slow evenings and a bright moon.  Something in me saddens at leaving Summer behind.

Yet that same something is anticipating with joy the touch of those first ephemeral snowflakes.

All seasons are sweet to me because of the change, each season precious because of its particular joys.

The seasons dance around me, dance within me.  I would have it no other way.

 

Absence and Presence

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Presence:  I can’t say I feel much like writing lately.  What I have been doing, instead, is wandering through my art books, inviting line and colour to fill me up.  I have a new sketchbook from the Brooklyn Art Library waiting for me, and no ideas yet around what this book needs from me.  The ideas will come.  They always do.

While I wait, I am reading and delighting in other artists’ work.  Two days ago, the book was Takashi Murakami: The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg.  Yesterday it was Arthur Rackham: A Life With Illustration, and today it’s Turner Monet Twombly: Later Paintings.  The book planned for tomorrow is Jim Dine: Flowers And Plants.  My taste in artists ranges wide, the common elements being colour (as much as I can get) and line.

Absence:  Grief keeps ambushing me.  I’m okay, then I’m not okay, then I’m okay.  Insert some rude words here.

I have discovered I have no patience with feeling sad for very long.  After two or three hours, I am compelled to go find something to cheer me up again.  I wondered if I am simply denying how I feel, but I think not, mainly because when the moment hits me again, I feel it fully.  No one told me grief was a roller coaster, or maybe this is only my version of grieving.

Absence and presence:  A few days ago, I hung a small drawing by the living room entryway.  I created this drawing for my Dad when I was halfway through art school.  It was his seventieth birthday, and I could see the influence of his example in the subject matter I chose for my class assignments, why I was fascinated by still life and the everyday objects I used in my life.  The drawing was a thank you to him, my first art teacher.

Every time I walk by the drawing, I remember him.

And now there is no more to say.

______________________________

In this post:

Book Takashi Murakami: The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg edited by Michael Darling, Skira Rizzoli Publications, New York, 2017.

Book Arthur Rackham: A Life With Illustration by James Hamilton, Pavilion Books, London, 2010.

Book Turner Monet Twombly: Later Paintings by Jeremy Lewison, Tate Publishing, London, 2012.

Book Jim Dine: Flowers And Plants by Marco Livingstone, Harry N. Abrams Inc., 1994.

 

Beginning Where I Am

Drawing For Anna
Drawing For Anna (I need a shatterproof heart)

I know how I want to begin this post, but it feels so stark, I’m not sure I can say it.

The thing is, I know the best place to start is always exactly where I am.

These last seven days, I begin to understand how someone dies of a broken heart.  I always thought these words overdramatic.  A diva phrase.  Exaggeration.  Hyperbole.  I am not so sure after this year, the deaths of my Dad and cousin, and my Mom lost deep in Alzheimer’s.

I am not really in danger of dying of a broken heart, not in this moment or the next several, but my heart does feel broken.

Music eases the pain.  Right now I am listening to John Boswell’s albums Trust and Garden In The Sky.  Hugs, as many as possible, ease the pain.  Old photographs and letting my heart move through the beloved memories attached to the images.  Talking with my family and friends.  Spending time in my studio, writing and drawing.

Yesterday I was unpacking the final box of household odds and ends from our move last Spring.  At the bottom, rolled around a cardboard tube, was a 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics pennant.  The pennant was a gift from my cousin.  No coincidence it showed up yesterday.

In 1988 my husband, three-year-old son, and I spent a week of those Olympics in Calgary with my aunt and uncle.  It felt like the entire city was partying.  My cousin was working at the Olympic Village, and had her evenings free.  We ate dinner together, with the television on to catch the sports events we hadn’t seen in person that day.

Months later we received the pennant in the mail.  My cousin had purchased it at an auction.

Yes, beloved memories.

Today, the pennant is draped over a chair here in the studio.  Later I will iron it, and hang it in the kitchen, the same way it hung in our previous home for twenty-nine years.

Memories and love fill the cracks in my heart.

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In this post:

Musician John Boswell, pianist and composer.  http://www.johnboswell.com/

Life Changes

familytiedtolife
Family (tied to life)

There is no easy way to say this.

My cousin is leaving this earth tomorrow afternoon.  It is her choice, after five years of dealing with a malignant brain tumor and standing up to every change it placed into her life.  Yesterday, she decided it is time to let go.  The biggest change of all.

Our families spent summers together, and the occasional Christmas.  We went swimming in the ocean and the lake.  We folded fleets of paper airplanes and flew them around the house.  We leaned against the railing of the second floor sundeck and spit watermelon seeds as far as we could send them.

I miss her already.

Life is all change.  The past year has shown me this in abundance.  It has also taught me it is possible to find my way through each shift.

Today I am doing things my cousin and I both loved.  Listening to music.  Playing with word puzzles.  Having time with family and friends.  Writing.

The small things in life walk me through life’s big changes.  The small things, and love.

Bon voyage, cousin, and much love.  I am glad we’ve been family.

The Learning By Doing Writing School Part 2

summerbookssofar

After writing last week’s post, I started thinking about what I have read in the past two months.  This morning I walked around the house, stacking into my arms exactly those books I have played with lately.  They are sitting next to me as I write, two tall piles on my studio work table.  The non-fiction pile includes:

Story Genius by Lisa Cron, The Art Of Memoir by Mary Karr, Zen In The Art Of Writing by Ray Bradbury: all on writing process.

Let The Whole Thundering World Come Home by Natalie Goldberg, Terry Pratchett The Spirit Of Fantasy by Craig Cabell, Waking Up In Paris by Sonia Choquette:  all memoir and biography.

Freehand by Helen Birch, Your Life In Color by Dougall Fraser: books to feed my artist self, on drawing, and using the energies of color.

Here is the fiction pile, which threatened to tip over and crash when I attempted to alphabetize it:

The Girl In The Tower by Katherine Arden, Sword and Sorceress XII by Marion Zimmer Bradley, Brief Cases by Jim Butcher, Babylon’s Ashes by James S. A. Corey, The Third Nero by Lindsey Davis, There Are No Ghosts In The Soviet Union by Reginald Hill.

Fated by Benedict Jacka, The Outsider by Stephen King, Three Moments Of An Explosion by China Mieville, The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett, The Martian by Andy Weir, An Incomplete Revenge by Jacqueline Winspear.

You already know I love reading, and here are more reasons why.

In how-to books, I learn directly from their content, but I also learn how a writer captures or loses my interest in something that does not contain a obvious or inherent story line.  They teach me structure, and the balance between telling and showing–information, instruction, questions, personal example.  Ray Bradbury’s book, in particular, shouts his passion for writing.  He proves that how-to can be disguised as story and reach into my heart as completely as fiction.

In memoir and biography, I learn how the writer chooses to structure their story, what they choose to tell and to withhold, and how the writer as an individual shows through, or not, in their writing.  I learn the ways of telling and obscuring the truths of a life.  Again and again I see how easy it is to fool myself into thinking I’ve reached the truth of an experience, when all my words have only bounced off the surface.  I learn how I can be both blind and biased in what I choose to express, and admit that to the reader.  I learn how I can be honest to the bone.

I love love love reading, and I love love love learning new things.  Reading and learning all in one?  Probably why I also started writing.  These books show me if I want to write, I have to read.

Reading fiction is no less a teacher for me than reading non-fiction.  Fiction sets a pushing need in me to write, and the stories continually challenge me to go beyond what is comfortable in what I create.  These books set a demand within me that my writing reach their level of story, of structure, of flow.  That’s a high bar, but every time I write I work my muscles.  I and my words get stronger.

Some of these books swallow me whole, leave me dazed with story when I finish the last page, leave me sitting unable to move or think beyond the words still spinning in the air around me.

That is how I want to write.  That is the writer I want to be.