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.
My book’s third draft requires what I call bridges, written
pieces to fill the gaps that exist in the second draft.
Right now I am writing a series of bridges showing an emotional shift from denial into curiosity and the beginning of a willingness to look at a long, traumatic experience of illness. Because this third draft is all about adding the emotional layer, I need to move deep into my emotions every time I write.
Yesterday I wrote about numbing out. Numbing out is an emotion. It’s a way of coping with and surviving other emotions which threaten to overwhelm. I know it intimately. It was my primary emotion for a very long time when I was ill.
Writing about a denial of emotion and, at the same time, providing
the emotional connection for the reader is tricky. I struggled with the words, I persevered, but
by the time I was done I was numbed out to my writing. I left my studio in doubt of any success.
This morning I realized what had happened. I’d not only written about the emotional wall
I lived behind when I was ill with fibromyalgia, I’d recreated it.
My mind, body, and heart don’t register a difference
between an emotion felt via memory and an emotion felt via a current
experience. When I feel something, I feel
the experience right now. Present. Immediate.
I’ve learned things today. Trust my mind and body and heart to know what needs to be written, to feel the emotions truly, and to write that truth. Remember that the emotions I am expressing on the page colour how I feel after the writing is done; bless them, and let them go. Trust my readers and their emotional experiences to understand and complete the emotional connection I’m offering.
The shorter version—trust and write what feels true.
I’ve heard it said the kitchen is the heart of the home.
I understand that. When
my family gathers, no matter how inviting and comfortable the living room
couches and chairs, we always gravitate to the kitchen. Here we find nourishment for both body and heart.
However, my home has a secret. It has a second heart, a library. In my home, these two places feed us whole—body,
heart, mind, and spirit.
I am in love with libraries, and having one of my very own
tickles me completely. I take great
delight in saying, “I have a library in my home.”
My library is a small room, no more than ten feet by ten feet square. Three walls of books and a window in the fourth wall. The light coming in is gold and green, the result of summer sun filtering through layers of grape leaves. It’s cool in here right now, despite the noon heat outside.
Besides books, my library holds an old couch, extra
pillows, and an afghan. There’s a
narrow, wood table with two leaves that fold out if you need more space for
important things like mugs of tea and a teapot, paper to write on, and
My library might be small but, like all libraries, it contains worlds, immense and uncountable, in each book that stands on the shelves around me. Here is treasure, beyond abundant, as endless as every imagination of every writer whose name shines on these beloved books.
My heart thrives in my library, just as surely as it thrives in my family kitchen. If home is where the heart is, I am doubly blessed and doubly home.
I’m on summer vacation time this past week. My internal clock finally adjusted itself. It looked around, said ‘oh it’s July’, switched into slower, and then into slowwwww. I am now in summer mode. Hooray!
Summer mode means my time stretches. Becomes casual and bendy. I start tacking ‘ish’ onto my times for meeting friends and family. Six-ish. Noon-ish. Eleven-ish.
I like ish-time.
I worked with a fellow who taught me about summer mode and ish-time. Every year he would take his vacation, six weeks of it, as one piece. On the morning of his first day off, he would pick up his watch, put it at the back of a drawer, and leave it there. He moved through his vacation to the feel of each day in his body, to the rhythm of the sun rising and setting, to long conversations with friends, to the stars appearing at night. Eating, moving, resting as the mood took him.
On the evening of the last day of his vacation he would go back to the drawer, pull out his watch, and return to the world of time and appointments set without ish on the end.
This summer it took me until mid-July to remember to take off my watch and put it away. After an intense twelve months, it is time to play, to re-balance and recharge. To wander through summer. Let my days stretch. Let my body and the sun tell me what time it is. Let ish-time lead me where it will.
Thank you, David, wherever you are, for showing me this so many years ago. Thank you for the gift.