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/

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/

Image, Word, Emotion

‘Note to myself at 4 a.m.: I miss you’

For Christmas, my sister gave me a gift I’d hoped for, the book Rosalie Lightning by Tom Hart.

I cocooned myself on the living room couch, and read the book slowly over two December afternoons.  I could have read it slowly in one, but I had to stop halfway.  I had to stop and let my feelings wash through me.  Wash through me and make enough room to experience the second half of Tom’s story.

Rosalie Lightning is a graphic memoir.  Tom and Leela’s young daughter Rosalie died suddenly and unexpectedly. Tom found a way through, drawing and writing.

You’d think this memoir is about grief.  You’d be wrong.

Tom, Leela, and Rosalie’s story is about love.  Immense, devastating, life-filled love.

Grief is always about love.  I have learned this over the past year, grieving and loving first my Dad and then my cousin.  Feeling both empty and far too full at the exact same time.  Frozen in place, and yet needing to run as desperately fast as I could, as if I could outrun pain.

You can’t outrun your heart.

My heart—love—is the only thing that can carry me through when nothing feels right.

Tom knows about heart and nothing feeling right.  His book tells something unimaginable, chaotic, stark, crushing.  And yet, at the same time, his images and words show a way of continuing to love when you don’t know how.

Emotion.  I try, but words cannot hold the whole of it, and images only suggest it.  Then I see them together, and there is magic.  Together they walk me into layers of feeling another person’s world, knowing beyond any doubt my world feels the same.  Word and image together reach into my heart and heal me.

Tom Hart, your name fits you perfectly.  Say it aloud.  Hart.  Heart.

Thank you for Rosalie’s story.

_________________

In this post:

Rosalie Lightning:  a graphic memoir by Tom Hart.  St. Martin’s Press, New York.  2015.  http://www.tomhart.net/  I also have his book The Art Of The Graphic Memoir which I am beginning to work through.  This book came out in November 2018, also published by St. Martin’s Press.

Wide and still

feb3.2014 006


Wide and still

I hold my heart.

Let spirit write her path in me.

Let love breathe her breath in me.

Let need call forth to serve in me.

Let grace be every step for me.

Let joy become the song in me.

Let connection open space for me.

Let creation be all play in me.

Let action be the choice for me.

Still and wide

I hold my heart.

Let all life find its home in me.


A joyous and blessed New Year to everyone.  Let love breathe her breath through all the world.

Don’t Let Anyone Call You Stupid

‘I Rode A River Of Words And Heard Wisdom (Bryan)’   https://www.walkingowlstudio.ca/gallery/dancing_the_ghosts/

Last night I watched one of my favourite Christmas shows, Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.

This morning I woke thinking how, as kids in school, we labelled each other.  Those labels did a lot of damage.  Unlike Rudolph, some of us were never able to rise above the words we were called.

I love words.  I love playing with words, putting them together and taking them apart.  I love crossword puzzles, word games, and Scrabble.  I love reading other people’s words and writing my own.

When I was thirteen years’ old and entering high school, my parents gave me a thesaurus.  I never dreamed such a treasure existed.  I read it cover to cover, like a novel.

My husband didn’t have a love affair with words.  For him, it was much the opposite.

He struggled with words. He couldn’t make the connections between sounding out a word and spelling it.  Spelling was a disaster for him.  He had to consciously, repeatedly memorize the sequence of letters for each word. Otherwise ‘celery’ came out ‘clegery’, and ‘chimney’ was ‘chibmny’.

He was told he was stupid, and he felt stupid.

I know the English language has weird and wonderful word spellings, but his struggle was beyond that.

By the time my husband reached high school, he’d struck a deal with a friend who was an ace speller. His friend struggled to come up with ideas for writing assignments.  My husband always had loads of ideas.  So he provided his friends with ideas, and his friend spell checked my husband’s essays. Win win.

My husband is not stupid.

His brain came equipped with a different pathway to understanding words, sounds, and spelling. He had to find his own way, and did, into learning how to spell.

It’s so easy to stick a label on someone, easier than taking the time to consider the whole of the person standing in front of you and finding an understanding.

No one is stupid.

I have twenty years of experience as an artist, but ask me to sculpt something and the result would have you seriously doubting I have any artistic ability at all.  I am a disaster at sculpture.

My brain doesn’t see and understand the way a sculptor needs to.  What my brain naturally sees and understands is drawing.  Give me paper and drawing materials, and I am a wizard.

I’ll say it once more.

No one is stupid.

This life is rich because of the uncountable paths we have for seeing and understanding.

I have a very old dictionary from Great Britain, a school discard dated 1954.  It contains a definition for ‘stupid’ I find interesting. The dictionary defines it as ‘wanting in understanding’.

This definition surely describes me trying to sculpt and my husband trying to spell.  We want to understand and are unable to.

There are other layers in this definition.  We all want and deserve help and understanding from others when we are struggling.  And for those who label others then walk away, describing the label-ers as having a ‘wanting of understanding’ works for me.

_________________

In this post:

Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, animated stop-motion Christmas cartoon, first aired in December 1964, produced by Videocraft International Ltd. (later known as Rankin/Bass Productions).  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rudolph_the_Red-Nosed_Reindeer_(TV_special)

Creating Love In A Year Of Grief

‘Everything I Know About The Human Heart Part 2’     https://www.walkingowlstudio.ca/

I am searching for comfort today. Sitting in my sun-filled studio. Cuddled in my softest, warmest socks and shirt. Favourite Christmas music playing. Milky chai tea at my side. Mickey Mouse pencils and loose leaf paper on my studio work table.

Do something I love. Do something that helps me find my way. Write.

Three deaths in my family this past year, and now a fourth coming sometime in the next few days. An uncle, my Dad, and two cousins I grew up with. And then there are the continuous small deaths of my mother deep in Alzheimer’s.

I feel like someone has taken a knife and cut away my childhood.

These people were a loving presence all through my life. There are cherished experiences I shared with them. Now I am the only one who remembers.

Where do memories go when there is no one left to feel the story run through them?

I know I am far from the first or last to feel such grief, I know my entire family is suffering, but this knowing does little to ease how I hurt.

The only way out is through.

Today I will sit in the sun and drink tea, listen to music, and let the memories run through me. A way of loving my cousin and myself and the stories we created together in this life.

Being A Writer Who Is Writing

joydiary08.page10and11.2018In my second year of art school, I had a painting teacher who taught attitude along with technique.  He talked about how we needed to love making art more than love being an artist.

At first I didn’t understand the difference.

Something happened, though, after I graduated.  His words stuck with me, and the longer I made art, the more I experienced how my love of making carried me through the hard spots.  If I had loved being an artist more than making art, I would have quit.

When I began writing, I carried this experience and understanding with me.  Problem was, it didn’t transfer completely.  I still had to learn to love writing the same way I had learned to love drawing, by doing it.

At first I mainly loved Being A Writer, reveling in how I felt when I said to myself, “I am a Writer.”  The feeling was not so enjoyable when actually writing.  I loved the concept, but sometimes the doing was capital-H Hard.  I became frustrated and depressed at how slow it was, and editing was oh-my-ugly.

What saved me was the fact I loved reading books, and every amazing read made me want to really, truly be a writer who was writing.

I found ways to keep writing.  I read creativity books and let them inspire me.  I listened to writers talk about their work and process.  I freely bribed myself.  When none of those worked, I used guilt.  Guilt always worked, sooner or later.

Slowly, what I had experienced with making art happened with writing.  The more I did it, the more I loved doing it.  The more I wrote, the more I trusted I could write, even the hard bits.

On Monday this week, I took myself to my favourite café and spent the whole day writing.

During the afternoon, a woman came in and sat two chairs over from me.  She pulled out a stack of paper like mine, a pen, and Halloween candy.  Got her coffee and settled, I thought, to write.

I was wrong.

She rearranged her papers.  Clicked her pen a bunch.  Looked out the window.  Looked around the café.  Kicked her chair leg for a while.  Chatted and laughed with people who walked past her.  Looked over at me like she wanted to start a conversation.

In the meantime, I was writing and becoming increasingly irritated by this person.  She was distracting me from what I wanted to be doing, which was writing.

I noticed I was judging her, big time.  She had her tools in front of her, yet she was doing everything except writing.  I decided she was one of those who loved the idea of being a writer but didn’t love doing the writing.  A pretender, while I was the real thing.

Wow.  Me being snarky.  Very.

I felt bad, judging myself for judging her.  I should know better.  I’ve been where she is, done exactly what she’s doing.  Maybe she needed a change of scenery after writing all morning at home.  Maybe she needed distraction as part of her process.  Maybe she gained ideas from talking with random strangers.

I kept writing while this flashed through my mind and feelings.

I wondered why I was irritated by her activity.  She was doing me no harm.  I was distracting myself by allowing my focus to wander over to her.

I knew I was in a hard place in my draft.  I was struggling, feeling overwhelmed, not sure I could bring this all together.  Doubting myself as a writer.

I understood.  I wanted distraction.  More than that, she looked like she was enjoying herself, and I wasn’t.  She looked relaxed.  I wasn’t.

I was feeling jealous, too.

I kept writing.

There is the important thing—I kept writing.  I let myself be distracted enough to move out of the writing, realized what was happening inside me and how I was feeling.  Realized I was working my way through a hard spot in my writing, it was getting to me, and I needed to release pressure by putting my frustration on someone or something else.

I understood.  I forgave myself.

I silently appreciated the woman near to me who was enjoying the feeling of being a writer.  I knew how good that felt, and I let myself enjoy her enjoyment.

And I kept writing.