The Things I Carry

Angels In A Small Crowd detail.300ppi
Angels in a Small Crowd (detail) by Cat Fink

There is a book by Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried, about soldiers in Vietnam during the war.

I only know this book through another book, Thunder and Lightning: Cracking Open the Writer’s Craft by Natalie Goldberg.  On page 127 of my hardcover copy, there is an excerpt from Tim’s book.  And then Natalie’s words, talking about this and the truth of a life, and saving yourself through writing.  I’ve marked this passage with pencil,  and folded over the top corner of the page.  What Tim wrote sticks with me.

So now I am wondering, what do I carry?

This is a huge question.  My answer could go any direction.  I decide to frame the question.  As writer and artist, what do I carry?

There is the obvious reply.  Paper, pens, pencils.  But I want to go underneath this question.  What do I carry that no one sees, until and unless I choose to show them?

I am thinking of things that are invisible, intangible.  I cannot say weightless because these things carry great weight.

The biggest thing I carry.  Awareness.  Looking outward into what surrounds me, my moment-to-moment environment touched through my senses.  Looking inward.  Feelings.  Thoughts.  Memories.  Recording what has been received.  Then being aware yet again, in a different way, as I marry outer and inner awareness, and create word and image.

Curiosity.  Curiosity is forever with me, perched on one shoulder or the other.  Permanently five years old and interested in everything.  Her favourite questions.  ‘What is that?’  ‘Why?’  ‘What can I do with it?’  Curiosity lets me experience as the child I am inside.  Lets me come to my life with heart and mind open, allowing, and fascinated.  Lets me experience differently.

Imagination.  Inward play sparked by outward seeing and by Curiosity.  Sparked by the questions Curiosity asks, especially ‘what can I do with it’.  This question is a playground for my imagination.

Creativity.  My ever-present need to make stuff and share it.  Imagination is the playground.  Creativity is the laboratory, petting zoo, and test kitchen.  Experiments happen here.  The ‘what can I do with it’ becomes ‘what if I try this, then this, or this’, continued ad infinitum.  Think pi with its never ending, never repeating play of numbers beyond the decimal point.  That is my creativity in action.

I carry something Natalie Goldberg says is her great talent.  Strong determination.  Twenty years ago, the Director at the Victoria College of Art looked at my student admission portfolio, then at me, and said, ‘Stubborn.’  I said to him, ‘Determined.’  He said, ‘You start in September.’

Finally, I carry love.  For myself, for others, for my world, for what I create.  Love is at the base of everything I am and everything I do.  Without love, passion, none of this would exist.

Tim O’Brien’s characters carried things that kept them alive, more than just physically.  Things that gave a small degree of joy, kept heart, spirit, and mind alive in a place of overwhelming chaos and sudden oblivion.

What do I carry?

I carry things that ensure the writer and artist in me survive.  The things I carry keep away chaos and oblivion.  They ensure joy lives in the whole of me.

Paper.  Pens.  Pencils.  Awareness.  Curiosity.  Imagination.  Creativity.  Strong determination.  Love.  And that is enough.

_________________________

In this post:

Tim O’Brien, book The Things They Carried, Houghton Mifflin, 1990.

Natalie Goldberg, book Thunder and Lightning: Cracking Open the Writer’s Craft, Bantam Books, 2000.  http://nataliegoldberg.com/

Creative Balance

alice
Alice and the Cheshire Cat –John Tenniel

Usually I come to my blog posts with ideas in mind.  I sit down at my studio work table, pull out pen and loose leaf paper, and begin writing.

Not today.

So, I start where I am.  I have my glass of water with a lemon slice floating in it.  I have my coffee with cream, in the white mug with Alice and the Cheshire Cat decorating the outside.  I love Alice and the Cat.  They let their imaginations run, and nothing tips either of them away from being grounded in who they know they are.   And I covet the Cat’s ability to fade away, leaving only his very toothy smile floating in the air.

My two strings of Christmas lights are on.  Does not matter that this is June and half the year away from Christmas.  Seeing them gives me joy, especially on grey days like today.  It may be officially Summer, but there is a sky full of clouds out there.  Someone forgot to shift the weather dials to ‘summer’ and ‘sun’.

My pen with the sky blue ink is in hand.  A thin stack of paper rests in front of me.  This is paper rescued from the bottom of high school lockers last June.  Unused paper abandoned by its teenage owners at the end of the school year.  Retrieved to be used for my first drafts, which are handwritten, messy, and exactly what I love.  Paper happy that its worth has been recognized.

Just now, I realize why I am empty of ideas.  I spent my week creating two workshop proposals and a coaching proposal.  I am written out.  My creative heart and mind have run full speed for five days.  It is time to rest.

Time to let my weekend be a weekend in the original sense of the word.  There is no 24/7 for me.  I am 5/2.

Five days of building and sending out my creations into the world.  Two days of my creative self receiving in.

Reading.  Reading some more.  Doing crossword puzzles.  Colouring in my colouring books (I have several).  Talking and playing with family and friends.  Walking.  Cooking and savouring the meals I and others have created.  Sitting on the front deck, listening to the birds and the wind.  Watching the clouds pass overhead.  Breathing in the green smell of the next-door neighbour’s newly cut grass.

This is balance in my life.  Giving.  Receiving.

Come Monday, my creative well will be full again.  Ideas and Inspiration will whisper to me, ‘Let’s try this, and this.  Let’s play!’

_______________________

In this post:

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, illustrated by John Tenniel, first published in 1865.  You can find images of all his illustrations for this book at http://www.alice-in-wonderland.net/

 

Taking Down My Fence (Believing Mirror Part 2)

Cat Fink--'Old Coyote Trick (sticks and stones)'
Old Coyote Trick (sticks and stones) — Cat Fink

I’ve been reading about vulnerability in Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly.  Her words have me feeling and remembering.

Growing up, no one told me that strength included vulnerability.  If they did, I didn’t hear them.  Maybe the people around me did not know this either.

Growing up, I was taught that being strong meant holding back my feelings from public view.  Show a calm, controlled front.  Always pretend everything is okay.  I became so good at this, even I didn’t know what I was feeling sometimes.

I kept pushing my feelings away.  I thought I was getting rid of them.  Truth is I was storing them behind a fence of ‘okay’.

This is not the way to live.  I knew it, but did not know how to be different.

Things changed when I was twenty-one.  I began the relationship with my future husband.  He saw my heart behind the fence, and he loved it, and he wouldn’t let go.

Something in me knew it was time to build a gate.  A skinny gate at first, but enough to let me say out loud for the first time in my life, to someone, I love you.

I was terrified saying it.  This was laying myself open, a direct path to hurt me and reject what I offered.  Despite all of the loving actions and words Lyle had given me, I did not trust I was truly worthy of love.  I didn’t much love myself, so how could someone else love me?

I could not say ‘I love you’ to Lyle as a statement.  I said it like a question needing the right answer.

He said it.  He said I love you.  He answered.  To me.

Love made the gate in my fence.  Love and the courage to love.  I don’t know where the courage came from, and the ability to hear the voice that whispered inside me, ‘do this’.

I knew this was a choice, to stay with fear or to step forward to love.  I knew Lyle saw me differently than I saw myself.  He saw a world that did not require fear, and he saw me in this world braver than I saw myself.  Maybe this is how my courage appeared.  His vision sparked my belief, and my belief sparked courage to arise, be seen, and claim out loud my ability to love.

Lyle showed up for me when I needed someone to help open a way through the fence I had built around myself.

Lyle told me how he felt and what he saw in me.  But louder than the words were his actions.  He treated me as a person of great value, who had gifts to be seen and shared.

He believed in me.

This is what we do for each other.  We see the best in the person standing before us, even and especially when they can’t see it themselves.  We believe in them.  We say ‘let’s do this together’.

We all have the gift and possibility of being a Believing Mirror for the person standing before us.  We just have to choose to see that in ourselves, and be vulnerable enough to offer it to someone else.

‘I believe in you.’  Words as precious and important and life-changing as ‘I love you’.

Lyle and I have been together thirty-seven years.  We have a son to be proud of.  My fence?  It shows up sometimes as a ghost of itself.  Old habits, old patterns of thinking and reacting, reminding me where I was, and showing me where I am now.  I pat it kindly, and thank it for keeping me safe at a time when I thought I needed protection.  Then I walk around it.

Lyle, I love you.  Happy Father’s Day.

_______________________

In this post:

Brene Brown, book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, Avery, 2012.  http://brenebrown.com/

https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability?language=en

‘Believing Mirror’, page 47 in It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again, Julia Cameron, TarcherPerigree, 2016.  http://juliacameronlive.com/

 

Believing Mirror

'7 Crows, A Secret Never To Be Told' detail--Cat Fink
7 Crows, A Secret Never to be Told (detail) — Cat Fink

Thursday I had my last session with my coach.  Yes, I am a creativity coach-artist-writer-blogger who has a coach.  I should say, had a coach.

For this past year we have been talking, every two weeks.  Sometimes emailing in between the talking.

I’ll tell you how I feel right now.  Sad.  I am going to miss our biweekly conversations.  I am also elated, excited, pleased with myself.  I keep hearing ‘I did it!’ popping into my thoughts.  I am grounded and balanced within myself and my life.  I feel like I just graduated from a Master’s Degree program.  I feel like I just ran a whole marathon.

So what did I do that has me celebrating?

Last April I got very honest with myself.  I looked at my nineteen years as a professional artist.  Looked at my writing and my blogging.  At my book with the half-completed second draft.  At the creativity workshops and coaching I was doing.

I loved all I was doing and creating, loved the connections and community I was building.  But I had no focus.  It all felt very random, with no clear path ahead.  My usual way of working was feeling chaotic rather than organic.

This is where I am, I said to myself.  Where do I want to go?  How do these pieces of my creativity fit together?

I am the kid who always says ‘I can do it myself’, and does.  Not this time.  I need help, I said to myself, and Source heard my request.

Enter Linda.

Linda is a Master Coach.  Yes, the capital letters are deliberate and appropriate.  She coaches CEO’s and entrepreneurs.

Linda listened to me with her heart and her head.

I have a bad attitude around business, I said.  Business and art don’t belong in the same sentence.

We can do this, she said.

Over twelve months we shifted me, my life, and my creativity into focus.  We talked about the nuts and bolts of what I was doing, the energy and feel of what I was creating.  About where I was and where I wanted to be.  We used our heads and our hearts.  Feeling and knowing what was right for me, and what was not.

Two (of the thousand) things I learned from Linda:

Feel and think.  My heart carries my dreams and inspiration and path.  My head carries the organizing and details, the process, the nuts and bolts of building.  When I connect all of this, the whole of me, I see clearly the next step in front of me.  I feel the energy of the people I am connecting with, and what they are asking for.  I see how this matches my inspiration, the workshops and coaching, the words and drawings I will create in response.

Use everything.  Instead of pushing away what I don’t like, I get curious about it.  What does this feel like?  What is it telling me?  Why is it showing up?  How can I use it?  I am fascinated at how there is always a way to turn something around and let it inspire me.

Linda has been my Believing Mirror.  She met me exactly where I was, and saw the future me as I wanted to be.  Step by step she walked with me into that place.  Transformation.

What is best?  I am now my own Believing Mirror.  I see where I am, and I see where I am going to be.  That vision of where I will be pulls me forward.  It creates the space for me to walk into, and the steps to get there.

Thank you, Linda, Master Coach, Believing Mirror.

_______________________

In this post:

‘Believing Mirror’, page 47 in It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again, Julia Cameron, TarcherPerigree, 2016, http://juliacameronlive.com/

Linda Caducoy,  Executive Coach,  https://www.linkedin.com/in/lindacaducoy

The Happiness Formula

laid to rest 80,000 obstructing spirits (north)--detailWhat makes me happy?  What gives me joy?

Here is today’s list:

Writing (of course).

Today’s polka-dotted weather.  Sun.  Cloud.  Hail.  Rain.  Sun.  Thunder.  Wind.  Repeat.  A smorgasbord.  I am leaving my studio lights on, even when it is the sun’s turn, because in five minutes the clouds will be sailing in and taking over.

Jazz, piano and violin playing off each other, a conversation, harmony and counterpoint.

Raisin bran and milk and demerara sugar for breakfast in my Blue Willow cereal bowl.  Raisins sweet and chewy.  Milk cold.  Flakes getting progressively soggier as I go.  I eat them, when they are soggy, only to get to the raisins.

My pen with its sky blue ink.

Water from our well, poured into my Shrek the Third glass.  Hard water with a lot of minerals and iron in it.  I think of the cartoon I watched as a child.  Popeye the Sailor who ate his spinach to get strong.  All I do is drink my water.

Reading a new novel.  Death in Florence by Marco Vichi.  Chief Inspector Bordelli who drives a noisy Volkswagen Beetle and smokes too much.

Discovering a new-to-me author who’s writing I love.  Thank you, Marco Vichi, for offering me a new treasure chest of words and ideas and story.  All translated from Italian.

Yes, a satisfying list.  Perfect things that happen every day for me.  That give me happiness and joy.

A few months ago I watched a documentary about happiness.  Someone had come up with a Happiness Formula.  My happiness equals my brain’s happiness set point (didn’t know I had one), plus my life conditions, plus my choices.  According to this formula, my life conditions only make up 7 to 12 percent of my happiness.  My choices make up 40 to 50 percent.

There is the key.  What am I choosing?  And what am I choosing to notice?  Where am I placing my attention?

Well, today my attention is on writing, weather, music, the raisins in my cereal, sky blue ink, cold water, the novel I started reading at breakfast, and appreciating the author I have discovered.

My life contains so much every-day happiness.  All I need do is be here, right now, present to the gifts I am being offered.  Choosing to notice.  Choosing to let the cereal in my bowl catch my attention, the taste of water from my well, the colour of the ink on this piece of paper.  Things on today’s happiness list.  This is my Happiness Formula.

____________________

In this post:

Death in Florence by Marco Vichi, published by Hodder and Stoughton, 2013.  http://www.marcovichi.it/

The Happiness Formula  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/deepak-chopra/leadership_b_3379150.html