For The Sake Of Love

pastel drawing 'Containers For The Soul' by Cat Fink

I have a two-word mantra that guides my days. Choose love.

This morning I decided to put my blog on ‘pause’ for the next few weeks, or months. I’m not sure how long.

The reason is simple. I’m pausing for the sake of love of the book I’m writing. I love the story, love how the words are coming together, love the structure that is building itself as I write, love what is showing up to be expressed.

Don’t get me wrong. Loving how my book is growing doesn’t mean it isn’t work, because it is, and doesn’t mean it’s easy, because often it definitely isn’t. I want this book to be the best I’m able to create, and the combination of love, work, and not-easy tells me I need to focus my time and energy and creative power on one thing–the book.

It feels odd to think I won’t write my blog for the next few weeks or months. My blog and I have been writing partners for close on five years, and the weekly writing fills my heart. Yet, I know this is the right choice, and I trust what I feel.

I may change my mind and be back here sooner than I think. I really don’t know.

In the meantime, while my blog is on pause, thank you for the past five years, and bless you for reading the words and hearing my heart.

Ritual To Melt Away Fear

pastel mixed media drawing 'Keeping My Demons At Bay' by Cat Fink

It’s Thursday morning, right after breakfast.

I walk into my studio at the far end of the house.  I place two mugs, one filled with cold water, one with very milky coffee, on the work table, and close the door.  The closed door is a signal to my husband and son at home today—leave me alone, let me write.

This time of year, October, I turn on the heat pump.  Then I go round the room and plug in all three strings of Christmas lights, for the sake of joy. 

If it’s cloudy outside, like today, I turn on the desk lamp as well.  Its pool of yellow brilliance warms me on grey days.

I turn on the music, melody only because hearing someone else’s words interferes with my writing.  Today it’s John Boswell’s solo piano, melody like a river.  There is something in the rhythm of music that translates into the rhythm of words as I write, a gentle flow of sound to accompany flow of thought.

I sit at the work table, formerly my parents’ dining room table, and pull my morning pages book from one of the stacks of paper, books, and binders piled at the edge of the table.  I carefully sharpen my Minnie Mouse pencil.  I rescue my battered pink eraser from where, yesterday, the cat batted it across the table and into a pile of art pens and pencils.

Today I write only two morning pages, not the usual three, before I put the book aside.  This week my morning pages have been full of fear, and two pages is quite enough.  A spillover from my book draft where I’ve been slow-writing about finding the opposite of fear, and how the discovery changed me.

Now I lay a short stack of loose leaf paper in front of me, and resharpen my pencil.  Dull pencils slow me down. 

My heart and mind are open, ready to think and feel, ready to write.

I will tell you the truth of it.

I love writing, it’s a passion and an obsession, and it scares me.  I begin every writing day anxious and nervy, a skittish horse shying at the jump she’s crossed two hundred and thirty-two times before.

Call it its true face.  Fear.

Loaded with fear, yet again I make the jump.

Every thing I do before I set to writing the blog post, I do before working on the book draft.  These actions are a ritual that settles, balances, and focuses me.  I become grounded in my writing place, the space inside me made of thought, word, feeling, and the need to write what passes through my heart.

When I am done, the ritual reverses.  Paper, pencil, eraser put away.  Music silenced.  Lights darkened.  Heat turned off, and door opened.  I am returned to the rest of my world, quieted.

____________________

In this post:

John Boswell, musician and composer, http://www.johnboswell.com/

Morning pages were created by Julia Cameron, and the process is described in many of her creativity books, the first of which is The Artist’s Way. Morning pages save my writer and artist, every time. https://juliacameronlive.com/

What I Should Be Doing

from the Joy Diary Sketchbook by Cat Fink, held in the Brooklyn Art Library Collection

I think I broke my Writer.

I’m so focused on the book draft lately, I’m not giving time to the things that feed my imagination, aka my Writer.  Big mistake, because here I am ready to write a blog post, and the idea cupboard is bare. 

When I’m empty of ideas, I make lists.  Today’s list is everything I’m not doing to keep my Writer happy and brim full of things to write.

I’m not reading enough.  I haven’t stopped reading, but I’m shorting myself on how often and how long.  My stack of unread books is lonely; it might even be whimpering quietly like a sad puppy.

I’m not playing enough.  I need to go out to play every day, get a change of scenery, have long, loving, occasionally silly conversations with friends and family and kind strangers, play a board game or card game.

I’m not laughing enough.  Self-explanatory, as my book is a tough topic.  Balancing it out, choosing to experience its opposite when I’m not writing would be a happy idea.

I’m not wasting enough time daydreaming and doing nothing.

A short list, and it’s given me a plan to repair my Writer.

Today I’m going for a long, lazy dinner with my husband and son.  No special occasion.  Just because.  If the weather is good, we’ll go for a walk as well, and if the weather is lousy, we’ll play board games.

Tomorrow my sister and I are going to a matinee movie, and our lunch will be popcorn and pop. Then, I’ll read all evening as long as I wish, and go to bed late.

Saturday there’s a family birthday party for my nephew, who is now thirteen and terrorizing his parents via the adolescent emotion roller-coaster.  Very very glad my son is far beyond those years.

Sunday I’ll visit my Mom.  We’ll eat cookies straight from the package and forget to count how many. When I come home, I’ll sit on the porch swing and day dream, or sit on the couch and and do nothing but look out the window.

And next weekend I’m visiting with friends for the entire weekend.  A sleepover, with wine and chocolate, walks along the beach, and talking way past midnight.

There.  Play time all set.  My Writer feels better already.

Desire Lines

pastel drawing "Archangel (Sariel)" by Cat Fink

When a story has happened for real, you’d think possibility and imagination have a lesser place in the writing process than in a story of fiction.

Not so. The very first time an adult asked me, as a young child, to tell them “what happened”, I understood I had more than one path for telling the story. The things I knew had happened, the things I wanted them to know, and what they wanted to know were three very different lists. You can bet I chose the path of my desire over theirs.

If I know my desire lines, I know how to tell the story, because desire lines inform my choices.

My reason for writing the book is a desire line, and the readers I’m focused towards are another desire line. These lines work together. They guide me to specific story-telling choices and structures, and they point to aspects of the story to emphasize, include, or leave out.

There’s a desire line within the story as well.

The person I was eight years ago was desperate to heal her body, desperate to be well enough to work in her art studio. This very specific desire is what drove her into choices and actions she would never have otherwise taken, and it changed who she was.

This desire line drives the story, and it runs through all the writing I do, whether it’s a direct part of the book draft or in support of it. If a written piece doesn’t touch the desire line, I know right away it doesn’t belong in the story.

There’s a desire line running through me every time I write and every time I draw. I’m in love with creating, and that’s the biggest, most wide open, most full of possibilities, most imaginative desire line of all.

Life Plus Writing Equals Voice

Pastel drawing 'Everything I Know About The Human Heart Part 2' by Cat Fink

Voice is a big deal in the arts.  Every teacher I’ve had, and every creativity book I’ve read, talk about voice.

Most don’t explain it.  Instead, they make it a mystery, something undefinable.  “One day you’ll find your voice,” they say, as though voice is a game of hide-and-seek, or the tap of a magic wand from your fairy godmother.

I’ve decided voice is simple and it’s standing in plain sight.

My voice is the intersection where the whole of my life and the act of writing, or drawing, meet.

I think this is the same for anyone in the arts.  If you are a dancer, it’s your life plus the act of dancing.  If a musician or actor, it’s your life plus making music or acting.

My words and images arise from inside me.  They come out of my life and who I am.  Every life experience, every thought emotion belief doubt, all I learn and every choice I make.  Everything I love and gather around me, everything I reject and push away.  All I remember, all I forget.

Add to my life the repeated action of writing and drawing.  The more I write and draw, the easier it is to connect with the well of life experience inside me, and pour it into the piece I create.

This is my voice.  It is my individuality as a person, and how I see the world, expressed to you.  When I put my individuality into words and images, my voice sings.

My voice as an artist and writer has always been with me.  I didn’t need to learn it, but I needed to learn to recognize and trust my unique voice.  It took me three years in art school and three years as a full-time artist to reach the first time I consciously recognized and chose to trust my voice.  Before that, although I knew to my core I was an artist, I was unconsciously relying on my teachers, my peers, and the art world to define my voice.

I remember the shift, because the moment was terrifying and then freeing.

I know the drawing, too, and which part of the drawing was the terrifying, freeing moment.  The drawing is at the top of this post.  It’s titled “Everything I Know About The Human Heart, Part 2”, and the moment burned into my memory is just before I added the tally marks at the right edge of the paper.

I drew from a still life tableau, always.  I played with the colours, using my instinct and intuition, but otherwise kept my work true to life. 

This time, my instinct and intuition saw tally marks. 

Those marks really really wanted to be a part of this drawing, insisting they belonged.  The tableau held plain, white, cut paper and scissors, and definitely no tally marks.

I became frightened.  Drawing the tally marks felt like a huge action, as though I was defying a rule while others watched, as though I was pushing through something I could neither see nor define, and beyond was the unknown.

I drew the marks, and suddenly felt the freest I had ever felt in my life.  My instinct and intuition saw tally marks on the paper hearts, and I drew those in, too.  I watched my still life drawing become something more than copying objects on a table.  With those marks, I added scars, fences, wounds, stitches.  I added emotion and story to my drawing.

I drew from my truest self, using what my heart felt.  I drew my heart on that paper.

I let myself be seen.

I let my voice sing.

______________________

In this post:

This drawing is part of a body of work that became my first solo show. The entire collection is online at my art site, in the gallery titled ‘Everything I Know About The Human Heart’.

https://www.walkingowlstudio.ca/gallery/everything_i_know_about_the_huma/

Feeling What I Write

mixed media pastel drawing 'All The Other Angels Fled' by Cat Fink

My book’s third draft requires what I call bridges, written pieces to fill the gaps that exist in the second draft. 

Right now I am writing a series of bridges showing an emotional shift from denial into curiosity and the beginning of a willingness to look at a long, traumatic experience of illness.  Because this third draft is all about adding the emotional layer, I need to move deep into my emotions every time I write.

Yesterday I wrote about numbing out.  Numbing out is an emotion.  It’s a way of coping with and surviving other emotions which threaten to overwhelm. I know it intimately. It was my primary emotion for a very long time when I was ill.

Writing about a denial of emotion and, at the same time, providing the emotional connection for the reader is tricky.  I struggled with the words, I persevered, but by the time I was done I was numbed out to my writing.  I left my studio in doubt of any success.

This morning I realized what had happened.  I’d not only written about the emotional wall I lived behind when I was ill with fibromyalgia, I’d recreated it.

My mind, body, and heart don’t register a difference between an emotion felt via memory and an emotion felt via a current experience.  When I feel something, I feel the experience right now.  Present.  Immediate.

I’ve learned things today.  Trust my mind and body and heart to know what needs to be written, to feel the emotions truly, and to write that truth.  Remember that the emotions I am expressing on the page colour how I feel after the writing is done; bless them, and let them go. Trust my readers and their emotional experiences to understand and complete the emotional connection I’m offering.

The shorter version—trust and write what feels true.

All Around The Writing

There are days I’d like writing a book to be only writing.  Pencil to paper.  Fingertips to keyboard.  Mind and heart to telling a story.  That’s the best part.

I resist the other parts of writing a book, the planning and organizing parts.  I know they are as essential as the actual writing.  I do them, but I can’t seem to convince myself to approach them with the same joy.

Already I can see this is about heart and head.

Telling the story, for me, is rooted in my heart.  I feel it, and words flow from the feelings.

Planning and organizing are rooted in my head.  I think, I don’t feel.  No wonder the joy is missing.  I find satisfaction here, but I’m in the wrong place to expect joy.  Silly me.

I need to find a way to partner my heart with my head when I approach the non-writing parts of book-making.  Find a way to leave aside the resistance, and bring a peaceful curiosity to the work instead.

Much of the work I did during the Story Genius process was planning and organizing, yet I didn’t resist.  I didn’t resist because I was learning something new, and I could see and feel how this process was enriching and expanding the story I wanted to tell.

My heart was invested in getting this done because it loved the story I was creating.

Here is the key.

I love this story and I need to invest my heart in all the parts of creating it. I need to feel how all the work around the writing teaches me something new, and gives me the knowledge and experience to make me a better writer. I need to let myself be curious and enjoy exploring the possibilities around putting a story together.

Invest my heart. Feel how everything I do gives my story a base and bones to stand strong. Gives my story detail that offers connection for my readers.  Gives my story flow that creates a living place for my readers’ imaginations.

The time I spend on planning and organization is not stolen from the writing.  It adds to it.

I’m not losing.  I’m gaining, and then my readers will gain too.

It’s all a win.

_________________

In this post:

Story Genius by Lisa Cron, published by Ten Speed Press, 2016.  http://wiredforstory.com/story-genius-1

Writing Pain

pastel drawing 'Archangel (Raphael)' by Cat Fink

It’s strange.

Writing well and true doesn’t always leave me feeling well and true, or happy.

This knowledge came home to me yesterday.

I had two days of writing draft for my book.  I knew what I needed to work on.  A bridge was necessary between the book’s opening pieces and the first moment when I discover a process that eventually heals me completely.

 I knew the writing must focus on the shift I experienced, moving from desperation and grief into the first flash of a kind of hope.  I knew I was capable of writing this.  I also knew I would have to dive into intense memories and feelings to find the words, and dive out again to get the words onto the page.

All my life I’ve been a master at hiding my feelings from myself.  I learned this while growing up.

Now I have to do the exact opposite.

I have to open to all I feel, and feel it deeply enough inwards, to capture and express it outwards.

This is exactly when I question what I am doing, writing what I’m writing.  A story which requires me to be wildly vulnerable, not only to myself but to my readers.

Oh my.

Yet here I am, open and writing as I intended.

I finish the draft.  It needs a few more bits here and there, but the bridge is mostly built.  Good for me.  Well done, Cat.

Except I don’t feel well-done and good-for-me feelings.  Instead I feel frustrated and, if I be honest, angry.

I have enough experience by now to set aside both feelings and writing once I am done for the day.  I know how to move myself to other things.  Yet I continue frustrated and angry through the afternoon and evening.

Distractions.  Things I love, that move me towards joy.  I read a good book.  I play with a new crossword puzzle.  I make an awesome, tasty dinner.  I water the garden while the dinner cooks, and let the scents of water, earth, and new roses surround me.  My husband and I go for a walk through the neighbourhood.  I watch episodes three and four of a fantasy series I am greatly enjoying.

Now I’m in bed.  The frustration has dissipated, but the anger remains.

I look at my day—it was a good one.  I am mystified at my mood.  Since I am nowhere near sleep, I decided to pick apart the anger.

I spent two days writing emotional pain.  Two days writing memories, seeing and feeling clearly what I had not allowed myself to see or feel at the time.  It was pure survival, years ago, pushing my life to be bearable.

Bearable.  Here is a word with edges, sharp with anger and heat.

Here is why I am angry.

Why should I have had to live a life, back then, that I could only describe as bearable?

Should I not have had a life that was joy and play, wonder and beauty and love?

Should I not have been able to love my life?

I couldn’t say that during the fibromyalgia years.  There were some things I loved about my life.  There were some things that gave me joy, things that allowed me to bear what the other side of my life held.  There were things I found that could carry me through what I would not think about, would not let myself look at or feel.

I survived.  That’s the best this anger will allow me to say.  And with that, to my surprise and relief, anger drops away.  I am left feeling a blessed, quiet emptiness.

I have seen and felt and understood.

I have acknowledged what was there, and said yes, that was true.

That was true, and now this is true—I no longer have to use ‘bearable’ to describe my life.  I can use the words I was desperate for, back then.  Joy, play, wonder, beauty, and love.

Here, on this side of the bridge I’ve written, I have a life I love, and I can feel it.  Well, true, and happy.