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.
Yesterday afternoon was warm and sunny, and I did not resist. I took myself, my writing, and an iced decaf latte, outside to the porch swing. I spent most of the afternoon writing backstory for my book, working out why my main character wants what she wants, and laying out her defining misbelief that constantly throws her off track.
Halfway through the writing, I sensed something was off track and it wasn’t the character I was writing about. It was me. Somehow I lost the main point and sent myself chasing words down a side track.
I completed the piece anyways, and ended it with “Rats, rats, rats, this is wrong!”
It is not lost on me that I went off track writing about my character’s misbelief that sends her off track.
Today I will go back.
Again, I will write about my character wanting what she wants, and her tricky misbelief. This time I will deliberately aim the writing in a different direction, and see where I end up. But first, I’m going to reread what I wrote yesterday. There may be a gem of an idea I overlooked, one that really does have a place in the story. Even if I see no gem, I will keep the draft of what I think is wrong stuff.
I keep my drafts because of what I learned and use all the time as an artist. Sometimes mistakes point me in a direction I had not considered, and sometimes it takes me a while to see it.
I keep my drafts, even the ones that seem wrong, because they tell me where I have been in the story, and they remind me of what wasn’t working and what I didn’t want. Been there, don’t have to go there again.
I keep my drafts because of my Dad. He told me once, when I was fourteen and suffering through a high school course I felt was useless, that everything I learn I will use at some point in my life. I listened, and the words stuck.
So here I am, choosing to find a use for my wrong-stuff-writing, instead of judging it a wasted writing session and tossing the pages. Even if I discover no gem in the words, it prompted my blog post for today, and that is gem enough.
In this post:
I am using the book Story Genius by Lisa Cron, Ten Speed Press, 2016, to guide me through my main character’s backstory. This book is definitely a gem. http://wiredforstory.com
I moved to my southern studio in late March. It takes a couple weeks to find rhythm and routine when I shift from one studio and home to the other. I’m always a bit off balance during those two weeks, but I notice this time it is seven weeks plus and I am still not settled.
I know that I haven’t been writing my morning pages. When I count back, I see three days written out of the fifty-three days I have been here. “Not very good,” my mind comments on the obvious.
It’s a direct route for me, from an absence of morning pages to an absence of writing and drawing as my daily priority. Morning pages are the doorway. They remind me how vital creating is to my life, and how I am not paying attention to something that is breath for me.
Not only am I not paying attention to what I need, I am not allowing myself to choose that creating comes first in my day.
Do I not love myself enough to let myself do the thing I love?
This is a new studio and home. I am taking care of the new-home tasks, and not taking care of myself and my creative practice.
No one is pushing me to do the home tasks first. There is only me pushing me, and I need to quit pushing. Better yet, I need to write my morning pages because always, solutions and the right choice show up in those pages. Balance shows up.
Here I am, reaching for balance in my life again.
When I don’t write morning pages, I am no longer at home to myself. I am not living in the centre of me, my life, and my creativity. No surprise, then, that I am currently out of sorts and resenting the to-do list I wrote.
This is an old pattern, putting all else before my creative needs. I struggled with it in art school, and made it the theme of my graduating body of work. I’ve been through this so many times, I thought I had it solved. I should be more like a friend’s mother, who frequently served burned dinners because she was at the other end of the house, painting in her studio. She had her priorities right. I should hang one of her paintings (I have five) on my studio wall, just to remind me. Yes, put that on the to-do list.
This is all about choice and loving myself. The choice is always mine to give myself permission and do something I love. The choice is always mine to make creativity my first priority. I choose, again. Write my morning pages, find my centre, then write and draw myself home.
In this post:
Morning pages come from Julia Cameron and her book The Artist’s Way: 25th Anniversary Edition, Penguin Publishing Group, 2016. I purchased my first copy in 1994, the year before I entered art school. I have two more copies, 2002 editions, with my teaching notes scribbled all over the margins and end papers. That first one saved me in 1994. Thank you, Julia. http://juliacameronlive.com/
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/
It should have been easy. One phone call would have sorted it in less than sixty seconds.
I waited. No phone call. And then, a mess which is now getting sorted and settled.
It fascinates me how something small and simple, when it does not happen, can really muck up what follows.
I had other plans for today, which mainly consisted of sitting on the beach and writing. Sadly, instead of the beach, ocean, and sun as my environment, I am in my studio, waiting for phone calls and a delivery company. Do I sound upset? Uh huh. However, I am using this time and the dregs of my frustration wisely, and writing a blog post.
The point is, it’s one of those days where some things go sideways. I could get angry, and I did. What I didn’t do is stay angry. I used to make that choice when my day went mucky. I would stomp around, snapping and biting and letting myself be angry for the whole day.
I rarely make that choice any more. When I do, it’s for an hour or two, not a day-full. My heart has become bigger, and as a result the rest of me has become wiser. The bigger my heart, the more I see in the world. The more I see, the easier it is to let go of my old patterns and make a different choice.
What I see right now is me sitting in a studio space I love and which loves me right back. Out of the windows I see sunlight, blossoming trees, perfect blue sky. The air smells of pollen and Spring. I hear silence, then birdsong, then silence again. Waffles the cat, whose fur and eyes are vividly orange, wanders by, doing her routine check of where-everyone-and-everything-are in the house. When she is done, she’ll go for a nap in the puddle of sunlight on the dining room floor.
I am reminded with everything my senses know in this moment, life is good.
I have choice—feel good or feel angry. I choose to feel good. The sideways mess will sort itself upright again. I know it.
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/