Do the Long Work

 

Cat Fink 'What Gives Me Joy Nov 24 2016 (learning to be me)'
What Gives Me Joy Nov 24 2016 (learning to be me)

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.

Sleep doesn’t divide life into halves,

or action, or silence, or honour;

life is like a stone, a single motion,

a lonesome bonfire reflected on the leaves,

an arrow, only one, slow or swift, a metal

that climbs or descends burning in your bones.”

______________________________

In this post:

Natalie Goldberg, http://nataliegoldberg.com/

Julia Cameron, http://juliacameronlive.com/

Pablo Neruda, 1904 – 1973.  The quote is from Still Another Day XVIII.  I am not sure who did the translation or from which book of his poetry I copied this.  His words continue to inspire me.  https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poet/pablo-neruda

 

Packing and Unpacking

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3 Crows a Letter, 4 Crows a Boy

I am writing this post in the midst of controlled chaos.  Namely, I am packing.  Everything.

Last time I wrote I had just decluttered and sold my home.  I did not have a new home to go to yet.  Now I do.  I also have a moving date, so I am packing with a purpose.  The perfect thing about having already decluttered?  No decisions to make about what to keep and what to let go.  No decisions complicated by memories or by dreams yet to be fulfilled.  That bit is already done.  Yay!

I have a new home with my perfect, amazing, big-with-awesome-light studio.  This is the studio I have been imagining since I began art school.  Twenty-one years of imagining have created me this wondrous place.  There is room for my writing desk and reference books.  Room for my art table and easel and supply shelves.  For my library.  An area with sink and tiled floor for mucky projects.  Storage space.

I saw a studio like this, owned by a master artist, a few years into my art practice.  Always I have remembered it.  Now I have one like it.

A blessing.  A gift of abundance.

I am dancing inside.

I’ve heard tales of artists and writers who freeze up when they finally have the creation space of their dreams.  Like somehow the expectations of results have been upped beyond what they can easily deal with, and it scares them into silence.

I’m mentioning this because when I first walked into this space I said out loud, “Too big.”  It scared me, this huge lovely space made for creating.  This perfect space that could be mine, and I was rejecting it.  This space I had imagined, and I was turning my back on it.

But something interesting happened as I turned my back.  I caught myself in the middle of no.  I felt the abundance being offered me here in this light-filled space.  I stopped, and I began to laugh.  I began to feel joy.  I began to dance with the possibilities of creating image and word right here.  Right here.

In that moment, something unpacked itself and I saw it clearly.  Old beliefs limiting my worth, my abilities, what I do and don’t deserve, what I can offer through my creativity, how big or small I should be.  For the first time, these old beliefs stood fully in the light, and I discovered they are not mine any more.

Oh, I know their ghosts may still show up once in a while, as I create in my new studio.  That’s okay.  They no longer have the same power over me.  When I see my beliefs clearly, I know what to do with them and how to handle the feelings they carry.  I have choice.  They won’t stay long, and I’ll wave goodbye as they leave.

Then I’ll go right back to creating.

_____________________________

A note re unpacking limiting beliefs:

Jennifer McLean teaches a gentle and effective method of releasing old beliefs, emotions, experiences, and trauma.  Spontaneous Transformation Technique (STT) is an easy and quick process to learn and to use.  I know, from personal experience, how beautifully it works in clearing creativity blocks and glitches that slow us down and limit our creative lives.  As a Certified Level 2 Spontaneous Transformation Technique Practitioner, I use STT’s powerful process in my creativity workshops and coaching.  This link will take you to Jennifer’s information page.  http://go.spontaneoustransformation.com/powerhealing

 

What The Dream Said

 

birdsonwithbluefeathers.detail
‘Bird Son With Blue Feathers’-detail

I am asleep.

I’m dreaming.

I’m sitting in a rowboat.  The boat is all wood.  We, the boat and I, are floating on a deep pond.  A fir and cedar forest rises beyond.  The water is rimmed by a grey rock beach.  The boat and I are still.

I watch a small, black and white cat step from the forest, across the beach, and into the water.

The cat swims, and then dives deep.  ‘I didn’t know cats could do that,’ I say.

I can see her, as though I am under water too.  The cat catches a large fish in her mouth, swims back to the surface, and returns to the beach.

She eats the fish.  She looks very satisfied with herself.

I wake.

I write my morning pages after breakfast.  Purple ink today.  It is snowing again.  The thermometer says -10 degrees Celsius.  The forecast says expect the same through this coming weekend.  Hmmm.  My eyes are beginning to get hungry for green.

I write out my dream.  I hear my voice again.  ‘I didn’t know cats could do that.’  I again feel my astonishment at something unexpected and new.  Since when do cats not only swim, but swim underwater?

Tigers swim, I write in my pages.  So do jaguars.  Why not small, black and white cats?

Why not me?  I am Cat.  I love swimming, and my dad taught me to dive.  I know how to dive cleanly and well.

If I dive deep, I will catch the words.  I will catch my book.

I sit very still.  My pen has stopped moving.  Exactly what Natalie says not to do.

The dream is talking to me.  I start writing again, to catch the words.

This second draft I am creating—I need to dive deep.  The dream says I’ve only been paddling along the surface, even staying safely on the beach in some parts of the story.

If I want my book to be fully realized, and I do, I can’t stay on the surface.  The book isn’t here.  The words and feelings I want are down below.

The pond is deep and clear and full of flashing, silver words.  I love words.  There is nothing to fear.  I know how to swim and dive and imagine and write.  I am good at all these things.

The dream says, take a breath, and dive.

The dream says, cats can do this.

___________________________

Natalie Goldberg’s first rule of writing practice is ‘Keep your hand moving.’  She also says ‘Shut up and write’.  I’ve invented a new writing rule for myself, ‘Shut up and dive.’  All of Natalie’s books are my favourites.  You likely already know Writing Down The Bones.  So go read The True Secret of Writing: Connecting Life With Language, Atria Books, 2013.  Really, the true secret of writing is in there.  Natalie spills the beans.  Thank you, Natalie, for showing me a way of being a writer, and spilling the beans.  http://nataliegoldberg.com/

 

 

Public and Private Creativity

mug-blogsize

Last weekend I finished reading Kim Werker’s book ‘Make It Mighty Ugly’.

I love this book.  I love you, Kim, for writing this book.

There are a load of reasons why I love Kim’s book.  For me, the main reason–she is clearly a kindred spirit when it comes to creativity.

On page 116 she describes an aspect of her creative process.  This is the first time, since I began reading creativity books, someone has described a pattern that is dominant in my creative process.

As a writer and artist, I cycle between two creative states.  I work full on, taking everything in, being connected, being public with what I am doing thinking making—art shows, blog, social media, leading workshops.  Then I go dark.  I retreat to my studio, shut the door, and continue making but in private.  I do not want to see, talk, or interact with anyone.  Leave me alone.  In this creative state, I bite.

I have always created in this way, always shifted from one state to the other.

I used to think because I wasn’t entirely one state or the other, there was something wrong with me.  I thought I was being wishy-washy and inconsistent, possibly unreliable.  Isn’t that one of the myths, artists are unreliable?

It took me years to understand this is my creative process.

My creativity has and needs both my public and private states of making.  These states are not opposites.  They are partners.  Each feeds, supports, and inspires the other.

Maybe this is obvious to you, but for some reason I couldn’t see it.  I had to learn by doing, understand through experiencing, that this pattern of creating is my normal.  I learned there is not something wrong with me.  This is the way I operate.

The other thing I learned from accepting my pattern of creating is there is no single creative process.  There are as many processes as there are people.  Each of us has a unique way of making what we make.  The creative process is as wildly creative as creativity itself.

_____________________

In this post:

Kim Werker, book, ‘Make It Might Ugly:  Exercises and Advice for Getting Creative Even When It Ain’t Pretty’, Sasquatch Books, 2014.  http://www.kimwerker.com/  Thank you, Kim, for sharing your book and your creativity.

 

Embracing My Inner Teenager (Tantrum Part 2)

cat-fink-what-gives-me-joy-nov-17-2016-maps
What Gives Me Joy Nov 17 2016 (maps)

The wabi sabi human is here, and she is bored.

I’ve shifted from my inner two-year-old’s tantrum (last week), to my inner teenager’s boredom.

I am bored.  I know these words and this feeling.  I used to be here a lot when I was a teenager and figuring out my life.

I’ve not felt bored for a very long time.  I’ve been busy creating word and image and mostly happy about it.  I’ve had perfect successes and perfect failures.  I’ve learned and grown as a creator.

And then, Bang!  I’m in a week-long tantrum.  And then, Pop!  My two-year-old morphs into a teenager who keeps saying ‘I am bored.’

Boredom is interesting.  That sounds like an oxymoron (love that word), but it isn’t.  I am curious about this feeling of boredom.

What I am thinking:

  1. Boredom and my previous tantrum are really the same thing.
  2. What am I bored with?  And why?
  3. This boredom is an aspect of my creative process and a piece of my creativity.
  4. My morning pages show me I am tired of pushing myself.

I have four puzzle pieces to play with, and here is the picture they are making.  I’ve realized the pushing is towards intentions that are not completely aligned with what I love and how I create.  It’s taking me out of alignment with my heart (where my best work comes from) and my process (how my best work grows and completes itself).

This is Big.  If I had not gone into tantrum and boredom, I wouldn’t have slowed down enough to see this.

Continue reading “Embracing My Inner Teenager (Tantrum Part 2)”

My Love Affair With Books

 

1.'Containers for the Soul'--Cat Fink
‘Containers For The Soul’ by Cat Fink

I have a long love affair with books.  With stories.  With words.  Longer even than my love affair with drawing, but only by a year or two.

My husband knows about this affair.  How can he not?  He helped me pack 55 boxes of books last time we moved.  The back wall of our suite is all shelves of books, two rows deep.  I’ve probably added three more boxes since we moved in two years ago.  That makes the current total 58.

This love affair, in other eyes, looks like an obsession.  Or maybe a difficulty with hoarding.

Only someone who does not love books would think that.

My parents read to me when I was two years old.  A story before bedtime.  Thus begins the love affair and my book collection.

Continue reading “My Love Affair With Books”

Thursday’s Rant – Just Let Me Create!

cat-fink-what-gives-me-joy-nov-10-2016-flowers
What Gives Me Joy Nov 10 2016 (flowers)

It is blazing sun outside my studio window today.  The thermometer says -10 Celsius.  Even with the brilliant sunlight, I do not go out without doing up my coat all the way to my chin, and adding hat and mittens and snow boots.

Contrast and preparation.  Like the weather, that’s what is happening in my studio today.

Here is the contrast.  I want to be playing with my book draft, but there are other needs today.  What I call ‘administration’.  I am frustrated.  I want to be doing one thing, and need to be doing another.  Ugh.  Contrast.

And here is the preparation.  I have to do the administration in order to smooth the path for my writing and drawing to get out into the world to be shared.

The preparation part of my creative life is the time and effort spent on meetings, questions and answers, contracts, proposals, emails and phone calls.  I try to like this part but, honestly, today I don’t.  Even though these things are a necessary part of the path, I’d rather be writing or drawing.  Today the administration feels like it is in my way and it’s pissing me off.

I have tried to readjust my attitude.  My adjustment dial appears to be momentarily stuck.

I know this would be easier if I wasn’t so growly today.

How do I solve this?

I write my morning pages, asking myself this question.  I don’t get an answer.  Rats.  Now I’m writing my blog post, asking again, hoping for a solution and a settling of my pissed-off-ness.  Nope, not yet.

Continue reading “Thursday’s Rant – Just Let Me Create!”

Getting My Second Draft Right, or Not

 

cat-fink-what-gives-me-joy-nov-9-2016-books
What Gives Me Joy Nov 9 2016 (books)

All the intense, warp speed creating I did through November was fun and fulfilling, and it did me in.  I needed a rest.  So I rested.

Now I’m back.  My well of inspiration is full again, to the brim and bubbling over.  (Watch out.  You might get splashed!)  I am itching to get creating again.  Writing stuff.  Drawing stuff.  Making stuff.

I am in a New Year.  Possibilities abound.

Yesterday I made myself a list, ‘Stuff I’m Doing’, and posted it beside my studio work table.  I used sheets of paper from my sketchbook and my set of fifty Crayola felt pens.  My list covers the first six months of this year, and has lots of room for additions, alterations, and addendums.  Even my lists are drafts.

At the top of the list is the second draft of my book.  I have been struggling with this for more than a year.  The main problem—no clarity on how my book needs to be structured.

Structure did not matter while writing the first draft.  Now it does, and it has had me baffled.

Not anymore.

I was thinking of my book structure as written in stone.  I have to get it right.  Totally scared myself, saying I have to get it right.  Stopped me for all of last year.  That is sad.

Actually, I don’t have to get it right.  I have to get it down on the page.  This is exactly what I tell myself when I am writing content.  I don’t have to get it right.  Just get the words down and then I can change them.

I am now treating my book structure like I treat my content.  It’s a draft, a work in progress that is allowed to shift to meet the needs of the book as I create it.

What a relief!  This feels so much better.  I have space to play with my book’s structure.  Get it sort of right.  Get it wrong.  Get it eventually right.

Why didn’t I think of this earlier?  Probably because I have never moved past first draft in a piece of book-length writing.  No experience at this.  A total newbie.

So here I am.  A New Year.  New ideas and space to play.  I am closing my first week of January 2017 by meeting with two of my artist-writer friends.  Tomorrow we are having lunch together.  We’ve promised to bring writing (two of us) and paintings (one of us) to share and receive help.  The best way of all to begin my year.  Sharing creativity with friends.

Happy New Year, All!  Let us give ourselves full permission to play, and space to create what we love, through love, all year long.

Now go make something.

________________________

Thank you, Meg Ward, for your listening ear and sage advice in getting me started again on my second draft.  Meg has an info page at http://www.shareyourbigidea.com/