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.
I’m doing my morning pages. I write ‘Thursday, blog day.’ Immediately I hear my mind comment, I feel tired. Then my body chimes in, yes, tired.
Uh huh. I’ve heard this before. I do not believe it. It’s a scam to stop me from writing.
I keep writing.
I write about Dr. Amit Goswami and his mantra. Do. Be. Do. Be.
And then I put together the I-feel-tired with the do-be-do-be, and I get it.
I am tired of Doing. I am tired of Should’s.
There are more than enough Should’s in my life. Something in me is trying to make my writing a Should. That’s a really bad idea.
Should’s are have-to’s. I should eat vegetables and not candy. I should exercise daily. I should cook dinner and wash the dishes. I should be kind and share what I have.
There is something in me that rebels at Should, that feels pushed into doing something and right away pushes back. Even when I know the Should helps me, makes my life easier, offers a kindness to another, lets me feel better, I sometimes have this instinct to shove back and say no, not doing it. My inner two-year-old in action.
Except, sometimes the urge to rebel is telling me to pay attention. The Should doesn’t fit my life, I need to choose differently. The Should doesn’t belong to me, it’s someone else’s expectation or need.
Today, I realize, I am pushing at all the Should’s in my life.
‘All’ is a big clue.
I’ve been doing a lot of doing. Too much. Time to stop doing.
It’s time to be.
Being means slowing down. Breathing deep and letting my shoulders drop to relaxation level. Feeling the chair underneath me. Feeling my feet resting on the wood floor. Hearing the clock humming, and the clicking of my solar-powered Japanese Lucky Cat as she waves her white plastic paw at me. Feeling the noon sun on my chest, my arms, my hands.
Breathing deep again.
I am here, present in my life at this moment. Open hearted. Words falling through to the page. Imagining. Creating.
Yes, here it is. My ultimate way to be. Daydreaming. Imagining. Curious. Following ideas like Alice after the white rabbit. Writing. Drawing. Creating.
This is play, pleasure, joy and love and sheer delight. This is me.
Doctor Goswami got it right. When I move my life between doing and being, I have balance. I feel settled. There is no push back at the Should’s because I spend equal time in the midst of being. The joy and play of being carries me through the Should’s of my day.
It’s Thursday, blog day. This gives me joy. And I already know the joy will continue to hum in the background of doing dinner, dishes, a grocery list for tomorrow’s shopping. Nothing in me is rebelling or pushing. I am too busy being.
In the post:
This is one of the ways I use Doctor Goswami’s do-be-do-be-do. You can read his discussion of alternating action and relaxed incubation on page 97 of his book Quantum Creativity, Hay House, 2014.
Here I am. Just barely eighteen. It’s Wednesday in the first week of September. I am walking into my first university art class. A first year Bachelor of Fine Arts student. Totally scared, and determined not to show it.
I know two things. I know I want to be an Artist. I know when I draw, time and the world go away. There is pencil, paper, my hand moving, marks on the paper, breath moving in and out of my body, and nothing else.
What I know is not enough to carry me. At the end of the year I transfer to Business Administration.
Here is what I did not know the first time I started Art School.
No one names me. I name myself. I claim Artist for me.
My professors don’t know everything. But if I am lucky, they are generous and share their experience in creating art.
I am not an empty vessel waiting to be filled. I have knowledge, experience, passion, inspiration, belief, heart, hands, and head.
I know what feels right to me, and what is right for me.
There are as many creative processes and paths as there are creators. What is right and true for me may not be right and true for another.
I create from my heart, from passion and love rather than fear (although fear is information I can use).
My feelings are information and sign posts. Use them.
Use everything, whatever shows up. My entire life is inspiration for creation, if I choose to see it that way.
I have choice. Everything is a choice. Not choosing is a choice. Stuck is a choice. Accepting, or not, anyone’s view of my art is a choice.
Here I am. Thirty-eight years old. It’s Wednesday in the first week of September. I am walking into Art School for the second time. Nervous, and it doesn’t matter who sees it. I know who I am. I know what I don’t know, and what I do know. I know what I need and want. I am Artist. Let the learning begin.
In this post:
What I believe: The list of what I needed to know and didn’t, touches everyone, whether we are Artists or not. The learning never stops. The wanting to know never stops. And we are all Creators.
I’m sitting in my dining room, on a camp chair, my laptop and papers and pens on our camp table. My iphone is tuned to Jazz24 for background music. The bedroom down the hall holds an air mattress and bedding, clock radio on an upturned box. My son’s bedroom downstairs has identical furnishings.
The dining room window is open to a warm breeze, sun, blue sky. I can hear the hummingbirds talking. They are nesting in the white lilac next to the house. Last year they were in the holly tree at the far corner of the yard. I won’t see the babies learning to fly this year. I won’t be here.
This home is pretty much empty. Everything was moved to storage this past weekend. I have a week of camping out in my house, and then on to the new house-home-studio. (Excited? Yes!!!)
I am finding it interesting how little I need to be comfortable. And interesting how the floors and walls have become a kind of furniture.
I am thinking, these past few days, about doing long work. The big projects that take time to come together and mature. This home project is a big one.
Becoming an artist and writer have been big projects. More than big. More like continual. Can’t help it. I keep discovering new things to play with.
In all the packing, junking out, giving away, I uncovered a box full of old morning pages journals. Pages written when I began this I-am-an-artist journey.
Most of these journals I fed to the woodstove. Letting go of old beliefs, angst (there was lots of that), limits I’d built around my creativity, limits I’d built around me.
I read a few pages here and there, as I fed them to the fire.
What I noticed—the Cat in these pages is no longer me. Someone else’s story. The incremental shifts really do add up to change in a good way.
As much as I love creating, it was a battle for me at first. I had to fight my way past massive fear and anxiety. Fear of making mistakes or a mess. Fear of making bad art. Whatever bad art is, I never did define it. Anxiety over wasting art supplies (read ‘money’) because I’d screwed up a drawing. Fear I was fooling myself; I wasn’t really an artist but no one had told me. All fear.
What saved me was love. When I fought past the fear, I loved creating. Loved the ideas that grew. Loved the surprises that arrived in my drawings. Loved the inspiration sharing with other artists of all disciplines. Loved what I discovered about myself through the creative process. All love.
My love of creating was bigger than my fear of screwing up and making bad art and being a fool.
Inside the front cover of a journal, ten months after graduating from art school, I wrote notes to myself:
“You have to give the drawing everything, all of it, and now.”
“There must be something rattling in the brain and trying to fall out of the pen.”
“Okay Cat, tell me what I’m keeping out of these pages?”
“Imagine what an artist I could be with a heart fully open and aware (this terrifies me).”
“Do the long work, and trust.”
I read these words here, today, and realize despite the daily fear and anxiety, there was wisdom coming through. I did the long work. I trusted. And now here I stand. Artist and Writer.
I held onto the love in my creating as a life line. Love gave me a path through the fear.
Love helped me trust there was a way through.
Sometimes, when my love even now is not big enough, I borrow love from other creators. I play recordings of Natalie Goldberg and Julia Cameron reading from their books. I randomly pull books from my studio library and leaf through other artists’ creativity. I leave books open by my easel and on my writing table. Courage and determination are contagious. Others’ images and words hold and inspire me while I walk through my fear and into creation.
During my final year of art school, I borrowed love from poet Pablo Neruda. His words fueled my graduating body of work. Imagine writing poems to a tomato, a pair of trousers, a watch. I borrowed his idea, drawing a pile of carefully folded laundry, a teacup and spoon, a pear and knife, my favourite fuchsia-coloured brocade vest.
On that same front inside cover of the journal, I’d copied some of his poetry.
“The days aren’t discarded or collected, they are bees
that burned with sweetness or maddened
the sting; the struggle continues,
the journeys go and come between honey and pain.
No, the net of the years doesn’t unweave: there is no net.
They don’t fall drop by drop from a river: there is no river.