I’ve decided this societal norm is not my norm. In fact, believing this does me harm.
Here’s how my mind translates ‘bigger is better’.
If bigger is better, then I must always be reaching, and
never be satisfied or celebrating where I am now. I always have to be more, which really means I
am never enough.
I am never enough.
Because of this belief pattern, I set out to do too
much. Today I’ll get this, this, and
this completed for my book. Then, I don’t. I finish one or one-and-a-half.
Instead of celebrating what I have accomplished, I focus on
what didn’t get done. I tell myself off for
not working hard enough, for being too distracted, for being too slow a writer. I need to do better in order for others to
Funny, when I don’t even appreciate myself.
‘Not enough’ has been a pattern in my life since elementary school. It makes me sad to realize I am so unkind to myself, and that I’ve been doing it for so long I accept the unkindness as normal.
I would not do this to someone else. Instead, I would praise them, be excited for what they have accomplished. I’d encourage them to pause and enjoy it before setting off on the next step.
Why do I not say this to myself?
I have a lively life of which writing is a vital and essential part. But writing is only one part of my life, and it’s the fullness and variety in my life that enrich my writing.
I am a slow writer. I have days between working on my book, and each time I return to the book I bring with me new experiences and ideas, and a new understanding of myself. I am a better writer because of all else in my life. The balance of my life fills my well.
I trust my creative process. Even though I’ve been telling myself off for being too slow, I truly trust the process of my writing enough to create the book I am creating.
Now I need to transfer the trust of my creativity and writing into knowing Iam enough, and allow myself to enjoy my writing process in the midst of enjoying my life.
My home is set in a half acre of trees, flowers, and
grasses. I love its mix of wild and
cultured growth. A thousand shades of
green (maybe more), dotted with roses and wild flowers, populated by five kinds
of bees (I counted) and two kinds of hummingbirds. Paradise.
This Eden came with our home. Someone who was very much a gardener loved
this land and created this beauty. I am
the grateful recipient of their creative soul.
You will see me outside watering, clearing pathways,
pruning back the abundant wild blackberries lest they completely take
over. They would. Their joyful growth would cover all in a rush
for the sun. They have the area along
the fence at the bottom of the garden, and will have to be content with that.
Today I realized being the writer of a book is like my
shifting not-gardener status.
I love books, but I always claimed I’d never have the
patience to write one. All that time on
a single project—not me.
Look at me now. Here
I am, determined to see this book into full, abundant growth.
The secret is the same as with my garden. I loved what was already present, and out of
that love, I began tending to it.
I love reading. I love
words and what they do for my heart. I love
playing with word puzzles. I’d started
writing a book when I was eight, and again when I was eleven. I loved writing stories in school and university,
and I let myself forget that during my love affair with drawing.
Writing was within me. For years, words showed up as background and foreground in my drawings, as poems that burst forth in the midst of my sketchbooks, as morning pages, as essays accompanying my art shows.
Like the wild blackberries, writing showed up all around
me, asking for a place of its own to grow and flourish.
Unlike the wild blackberries, I chose to let writing sprout up everywhere in my life. The more I wrote, the richer my writing time became.
And now here I am. I
am an artist who writes. I am an artist
creating a book.
I’ve surprised myself. I do have enough patience to take the time to grow a single project.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
I felt everything and I feel everything, pain and joy
both. There is no numbing a blast site
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.
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.
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.
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.