The Feeling I Didn’t Expect

My studio is in chaos.  Boxes.  Books.  Papers.  Art supplies.  Reintegrating two studios into one is a messy business.  Right now I am organizing, and there are multiple piles covering the floor and work tables.

I am joyful amidst this chaos.  My smile is wide and I am utterly content.  My studio is becoming one again, I am becoming one again.

I moved back and forth between two homes for fifteen years.  This movement was not natural to me.  I am a nester.  I did my best anyways. 

Now I am home where I began, the place where I feel grounded and whole.  Here I breathe easiest, and my body and senses know the rhythm, smells, and sounds of the land.  I am a part of this place.

I should have expected the feeling that showed up, but I didn’t.

Relief.  Overwhelming, tear-inducing relief.

I held my breath for fifteen years and did not know it.

How could I not know something this essential?

Necessity.  I forced myself to focus on what was necessary.  In my second home I made myself find what was good, what was new and interesting, what I could love.  Apparently I am very good at finding ways to feel okay, and very expert at looking away from what I have to leave behind.  No looking back, I say to myself, and I don’t.

I made good friends.  I found things I could truly love, and things that expanded my life.  I met people who love the land there, who are clearly home in every meaning of the word.

But I know my home is here.

The back-and-forth years are done, the time away completed.  The relief I didn’t expect to feel is real and honest.  I have come home again.

_____________________

In this post:

The image is a pastel drawing I made for my sister-in-law. It’s titled “I called light and dark and wove the cloth of life (Charlene)”, from a body of artwork “Dancing The Ghosts” which honours five generations of my family. I created this body of work while living in my northern home, and on Charlene’s drawing I wrote:

Nothing is wrong. Nothing is wasted. Nothing is neurotic. Nothing is disowned. Everything is possible. Everything is held. Everything is claimed. Everything is loved. This is who we are.

If you are curious about “Dancing The Ghosts”, you can find the drawings at https://www.walkingowlstudio.ca/gallery/dancing_the_ghosts/

A Few Words And Lots Of Pictures

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!

_______________________

In this post:

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

The Sketchbook Project https://www.brooklynartlibrary.com/sketchbookproject

Busy Being Still

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 clue.

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 stillness.

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 opposites.

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. 

When Nothing Makes Me Feel Better

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.  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 feels like. 

My experience doing the Red Dot Exercise is here on my blog, postings from December 23 and 24, 2014:

Dee’s website is at https://iamdeewallace.com/

Lost For Words

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 write-a-blog-post day.

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 heart.

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.

Surrounded By Family

How Far Can I See?

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?

Possibilities.

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 climbing tree.

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.

Writing From The Body

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 live.”

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.

Hear us.  We are one.

____________________

In this post:

Composer and musician Joe Hisaishi, piano album Freedom Piano Stories 4. I first met his music through Hayao Miyazaki’s anime movie My Neighbour Totoro. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joe_Hisaishi

Letting Go Of The Story

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.

Not 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 open.

I felt everything and I feel everything, pain and joy both.  There is no numbing a blast site this big.

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.

I have a broken heart.  And I survive.

_____________________

In this post:

Lisa Cron, Story Genius, Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, 2016. http://wiredforstory.com/