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.
This question has been coming up since the weekend. I’m not getting anywhere thinking about it, so I am writing about it instead.
I had an awesome good Sunday. Everything and everyone was sweet in some way. Basically, I swam in joy all day, no matter what I was doing. Play or household tasks (there were a few), it made no difference to my mood. I sailed through the day, fair winds prevailing.
I woke Monday feeling the opposite. Monday, my mood was resistance and struggle, no matter what I was doing. Reading? I love reading. Monday, I could not find a book that satisfied me, and I have a lot of books. Word puzzles? I love those too. Monday, I had no patience for them. They made me feel angry instead.
Monday’s mood continued on and off, mostly on, through Tuesday and Wednesday. Today I have had enough of this miserable weather. I am writing it out of me and onto the page where I can see it.
Something happened after the sweet Sunday. Something said I’d used up my quota of happiness, and I turned off the flow.
Yes, I did that to myself. I am the one who chooses how I feel about everything in my life. Here, now, I can either choose to find ways and help to lift my mood, or not.
How happy am I allowed to be? How happy do I let myself be?
These are not the same question. The first implies someone else puts the cap on my happiness. The second says I own the happiness control in my life.
My heart is my happiness control. I learned how to open my heart to love, and I know how this feels. I also know how my closed heart feels. Sunday, my heart was open to life. Monday, I closed down and stayed closed. I was missing my Dad, and it hurt too much so I closed my heart.
That simple. I closed my heart, and then all felt like struggle.
Enough struggle. I have an idea about my happiness level. Yes, I miss my Dad fiercely, and I also love him fiercely. So, I choose I can miss him and love him at the same time. Let my heart be open to both feelings. My heart is big. It can handle it. I know how much Dad loved me and still loves me though he’s not here in body. I feel it every day, and I love him right back.
I choose. I give myself permission to be happy as much and as often as I please. I give myself permission to not be okay when I need to not be okay. Be happy and be sad, and let my heart play fully with all in my life. Not bittersweet. Sadsweet, and more sweet than sad because the love is so huge.
I feel sunny again. There are clouds too, but fair winds prevail and the clouds will pass.
I’ve been reading the Tiffany Aching Discworld series by Terry Pratchett, finishing one book and immediately trading it for the next. Such joy to immerse myself in the world of a master wordsmith.
Sir Terry uses a perfect, invented word, noonlight, in the first book of the series The Wee Free Men. I love this word. I agree with him, it should be a real word. As far as I am concerned, it’s in a book so that makes it a real word. He made it so.
Since finishing this book, the phrase “standing in the noonlight” has been stuck in my mind. I can tell it has a particular meaning for me, and when something sticks, I need to explore it.
I know I have to be blazingly honest with myself when I write and draw. I have to see what I am thinking and believing, and feel everything I need to feel. Together, the seeing-thinking-believing-feeling allow me to create with my heart open.
I have to stand in the noonlight to create in this way. Brilliant, blazing light that shows all, both what I want to see and what I would rather keep hidden. There is no hiding in noonlight because there are no shadows. Standing in brilliant, heart-open honesty, and creating from this place despite the sometimes-hurt, leads me to my best writing and my best drawing.
There is relief in seeing all of me. No hiding means I can drop the effort it takes to pretend something is other than it is. When I see all of me, the power of choice becomes mine, and choice is power. Choice allows me to create something new, if I want to.
The truth is I am not always ready to handle the effort and potential pain of making a new choice and changing myself.
But, witnessing something I don’t like in myself puts a crack in it. A crack is enough. That’s all I need to eventually, when I am ready, get into that something and choose to change.
Writing and drawing in the noonlight helps me widen the crack. I can turn my thoughts and feelings into words and images, then turn the words and images just the right way so blazing brilliance shines in. Here I am. Here is what I think and believe. Here is what I feel. Here in this light, I grasp my power to choose and create new.
Writing and drawing are my noonlight. I am not always aware of what is running under the surface of me. Creating in word and image shows me what I am not seeing and not feeling. Standing in the noonlight wakes me up to everything I am.
The drawing at the top of this post is from The Joy Diary Sketchbook I completed for the Brooklyn Art Library’s 2018 Sketchbook Project. I had such fun, I am doing it again, this time with two of my artist-writer friends. Who knows what magic will show up this time when we stand in the noonlight? https://www.brooklynartlibrary.com/
My little sketchbook, ‘The Joy Diary’, is complete. Tomorrow I mail it back to the Brooklyn Art Library, where it will become a permanent part of The Sketchbook Project collection for 2018.
As an unexpected result of doing this project, I learned something new about my creative identity.
When I started the sketchbook, I thought of it the way I think of a body of work for an art show. In an art show, I choose a theme that becomes a starting point, and each drawing becomes a singular point of view related to that theme.
As I worked on the third drawing in the sketchbook, I realized my concept and understanding was shifting. This was not an art show with 21 themed-but-separate drawings. Instead, this was one long drawing that moved from page to page. I was seeing the drawings as sequential, telling a story.
I was seeing my sketchbook as a book.
In a single realization, I shifted from an artist using words in her drawings, to a writer using images and words on an equal footing. I shifted myself and my creative process from ‘either/or’ to ‘and/also’.
For years I said I was both artist and writer, but I saw these identities as separate and distinct, two hats that I exchanged and wore one at a time. In the process of creating this sketchbook, artist and writer merged. I shifted into one identity wearing one hat.
I have been heading this direction for most of my art career. There are words on my drawings as far back as 2003. Funny how I did not consciously see this coming, yet when I look back, the progression is obvious.
So what am I now? How do I call myself both artist and writer, giving my images and words equal footing, without having to use a phrase four words long?
I’m not a graphic novelist, although I can see this one coming next, in the way the third draft of my book is currently forming itself. This next shift will not be a surprise.
For now I continue to call myself both artist and writer. The word ‘both’ is important, making image and word an equal part of who I am and what I create. I am okay with that. More than okay. This shift in seeing myself and my work gives me both clarity and joy.
I led a writing workshop last Saturday. In the conversations and the writing, two life experiences showed up common to everyone.
Early in our lives, we discovered we loved creating with words, images, music, or movement. Then later, someone told us with great certainty that we would never be a writer, an artist, a musician, a dancer, an actor, a you-name-it creative person. Invariably, the someone making this pronouncement was in a position of authority or trust. We were told by parents, teachers, and peers.
When this happened to me, the someone was a university art professor.
I heard “You will never be an artist.” and I stopped drawing for seventeen years. Mine was not the longest gap. One person in Saturday’s writing workshop was coming back to her love of creating after fifty years. I have met people who never recovered from the experience.
This happens not only to those in the arts. This happens to all of us. We love doing something. We have a dream. And then someone says to us, “You will never be. This will never be.”
Why does someone tell another person, “You will never be. This will never be.”?
What makes someone so sure they know another person’s future?
I don’t know the answers to the questions I ask. What I do know is that the way through hearing “you will never be” is love.
I left the visual arts degree program after hearing “you will never be.” I still grieve the loss. I wonder what I would be doing now, what kind of life I would have if I had stayed. And at the same time, I know the life I did have prepared me to return to the art I loved and claim the title of Artist as mine.
During the years of not drawing, I kept my love of making things with my hands. I found other ways to create. I crocheted and embroidered and sewed. I learned to weave, loved it, acquired a floor loom, and took over the extra bedroom in the house as my loom room. I learned to spin and dye yarn. My family and friends were the recipients of all this making.
I began calling myself a fibre artist, and loved how I felt when I used those words. They felt like me.
Then I discovered a new love, weaving tapestry.
I saw complex images in my mind, the tapestries I wanted to weave. But I discovered I was not able to recreate the images on paper, in preparation for planning the woven piece.
The Universe stepped in to support my love of making, and offered me two things. My sister introduced me to the book The Artist’s Way, and I discovered there was an art school ten blocks from my home. I said yes to both.
Love brought me full circle, back to drawing.
My love of creating with my hands would not let me go, and I listened to that love. It helped me find ways of making that carried me through and healed me of you-will-never-be.
If someone says to you, “You will never be”, let yourself feel the hurt. Then find a way to walk back into what you know you love, and walk through. Love is your power. I believe in you.
In this post:
Book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, 25th Anniversary Edition published by Penguin, 2016. Originally published by Tarcher Putnam in 1992, and republished by Tarcher Putnam in 2002. Julia’s website is at http://juliacameronlive.com/
I wake up in an I-don’t-want-to-do-anything mood this morning.
I push through my morning routine. I do my set of shoulder and neck stretches. There is a flash of “that feels good” when I finish my last stretch, but it’s not enough to crack my mood.
I feel, as I eat breakfast, the desire to remain here at the table, reading. The book is good, Closer To The Heart by my favourite fantasy writer Mercedes Lackey. I do not want to put the book down, but this is more than desire to read a good book. I am resisting moving into my studio and beginning my creative day.
I love drawing and writing. Yesterday I played in the small sketchbook I received from the Brooklyn Art Library’s Sketchbook Project 2018. No resistance showed up.
Today, though, there is a brick wall, ten feet high with “I don’t want to” stamped all over it. I’m on this side. My drawing and writing are on the other.
I know the trick. Find the door in the wall. If no door, then a ladder. Maybe a bulldozer (I like that). Or maybe I need help.
Asking for help is never my first choice. Sometimes it should be. Okay, help it is.
I reluctantly drop my book mark at page 148 of Mercedes’ book, leave the kitchen table, and move to my studio. I take my morning pages book from the pile of papers just to the right of me. I pull a Mickey Mouse pencil from the collection sitting in the Starbucks grande frappaccino cup. Morning pages are my first and biggest help. I’m ready.
I start where I am. Kicking my toes against this brick wall of resistance. Leaning my back against it and muttering, “This feels crappy.” And then adding, “You’re in my way.”
There’s something my Dad would say to me when I was very young and I had fallen.
“Upsy-daisy.” And then he’d pick me up. Set me on my small feet, brush off my knees, make sure I was okay.
Dad, I’m not okay right now. I need to hear you say to me, “Upsy-daisy.” And pick me up and set me on my feet again.
My Dad died exactly two weeks ago.
I miss the sound of his voice the most.
I miss talking with him. I miss sitting together, saying nothing at all, watching the cedars move in the summer wind and the clouds chase each other across the sky. I miss finding the perfect, smooth, grey stone, and passing it to him as we walk.
There are no words for these feelings, though I make the attempt. Trying to capture and still the king tide as it pulls and pushes.
I hear my Dad saying impossible has never stopped me yet. So true.
On my studio work table is a stack of paper. One hundred and thirteen pages. It’s my Nanowrimo draft.
I finish writing on Monday, zipping past the 50,000 word goal by 469 words. Hooray! I have that magic purple bar that says WINNER shining on my Nanowrimo dashboard, and my winner certificate is taped to the studio wall.
I give myself Tuesday and Wednesday as reading days, since my reading time has been eaten by writing time all through November. I love reading as much as writing, and I am noticing a certain inner grumpiness every time I walk past the books that are waiting for me.
Today I am thinking about the last four weeks.
Something unusual happened during my mass quantity of writing.
I enjoyed the process. I rarely struggled. I am amazed at this. And I am wondering what I did differently this fourth time through Nanowrimo.
I’ve made it past the finish line all four times, so winning is not different.
Thing is, I feel like a different writer.
I am a different writer. I am not fussing over my first draft. I am not criticizing every word. If I don’t have the exact right word or phrase, I pause for a bit. If it does not come, I substitute something close to what I want and continue on. I know I will come back later with the right fix.
This is not how I used to write. I wrote slowly. I struggled. Things had to be perfect or near-perfect the first time through. I was not taking in the meaning of ‘draft’.
What a relief this is. I am no longer afraid of not getting my words right.
I have won something more than my Nanowrimo draft reaching 50,000 words.
I have won space for myself when I write. I have space to explore, try something out, not like it, and change it. I have space to get an idea down and find the right words later. I have space to relax and breathe and enjoy the process of a first draft. I have space to enjoy my imagination.
When I am being Artist rather than Writer, I work with the pastel in one hand and the eraser in the other. I am constantly moving between one and the other, using the eraser as one of my drawing tools. I have no difficulty editing my drawings.
I get it. Here is the core of why I am a different writer. I am finally comfortable using editing as one of my writing tools. I am finally trusting my writing process and myself as a writer. The words will come, if not on the first pass, then the second or third or fourth.