How Far Can I See?

I had a favourite climbing tree when I was growing up.  It was a West Coast hemlock, three times the height of our house and brilliant with branches perfectly spaced for my reach.  I stretched for the first branch at the base, but from there up it was a ladder, easy and welcoming.

How high can I climb?  How far can I see?

I didn’t ask myself these questions, but I could feel them in my body.  The feeling pushed me, made reaching for each next branch as natural as walking.

There was a natural stopping point, too, about three-quarters up, a set of branches grown for sitting.  Here, this exact spot, I’d have nested if I’d been a bird.  Lived my life in the sky.

Here I always sat and hugged my tree with one arm. I rubbed the flat needles between my fingers and smelled their green perfume. I felt the wind push us gently back and forth, and I watched the clouds.

My climbing tree was a different world, and here I was a different person.  The worries and anxieties (there were many) that nailed me to the earth vanished.  I looked out and saw all the world.  I saw possibilities.  From my nest in the tree I saw myself in forever, and I knew who I was.

No one except my tree and the wind knew I was there.  No one saw me when I left the earth.  I made sure of it.  And no one saw me return.

Freedom was my secret.

My climbing tree has come back to me as I work on my book.  The feeling of the questions that loosed me and pushed me into a forever world has returned.

I look at what I have created so far, and I feel the push. I feel the reach, as natural as walking, for the next branch.

How high can I climb?  How far can I see?

Possibilities.

This feeling is joy.  The memory of my climbing tree pulls up the nails that hold me to the ground.  Nails etched with ‘too hard’, ‘be afraid’, and ‘wrong’ are no more than thin smoke as my feet leave the earth.

I see the whole of my book from up here.  I know this view and I know myself, here, in my climbing tree.

I’ve made a note, to post above my studio table where I write.

All the note says is ‘my climbing tree’.  Enough to remind me.  Close my eyes, become still, feel my hands and feet on the branches, smell the green needles, feel the wind rock me, know who I am and the world I see.  Now open my eyes and write from here.

Writing From The Body

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 live.”

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.

Hear us.  We are one.

____________________

In this post:

Composer and musician Joe Hisaishi, piano album Freedom Piano Stories 4. I first met his music through Hayao Miyazaki’s anime movie My Neighbour Totoro. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joe_Hisaishi

Image, Word, Emotion

‘Note to myself at 4 a.m.: I miss you’

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.  Hart.  Heart.

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.

Creating Light

Go ahead. Risk it. Love yourself exactly as you are right now. I already see the beauty in you, and others do too.

Go ahead. Risk it. Create loads of joy in your life. When you think you’ve created things bright enough, don’t stop. Be the light for someone else, too.

This world needs all the light and love, joy, compassion, kindness, play, and peace we can be. Now there is a gift worth sharing.

Wishing you a light-filled Winter Solstice, and a loving and joyful Holiday Season.

Voice And Heart

‘Practice’   https://www.walkingowlstudio.ca/image/garudas_cheshire_cats_and_other_/practice

Find your voice.

I’ve heard these words a thousand times as an artist, beginning the moment I entered art school, and I’m hearing it a thousand thousand times more as a writer.

The artists and writers whose work inspires and teaches me have distinctive voices.  Show me a painting or read me a story by one of these people, and I will tell you who created it.  It’s their voice moving through the work, the unique combination of all the choices they made while painting or writing, that shows me.

But voice is more.

There is a part of voice not easy to define.  For me, it distills down to the feel of the work as a whole.  No, that’s not quite right.  It’s not the feel of the work.  It’s how I feel when I experience the work.

Voice isn’t voice.  It’s heart.

My voice is the heart of me, my truest self.  My voice is my heart expressed, visible, and shared.  Voice in my art and writing connects me to you, heart to heart.

Finding your voice is finding your heart.  It’s finding what you love and beginning there.  It’s finding what gives you joy when you create.

If a beginning artist or writer asked me for advice on finding their unique voice, I would tell them it already exists within them.  It is their heart, their truest self.

Create true to your heart and you have found your voice.

Being A Writer Who Is Writing

joydiary08.page10and11.2018In my second year of art school, I had a painting teacher who taught attitude along with technique.  He talked about how we needed to love making art more than love being an artist.

At first I didn’t understand the difference.

Something happened, though, after I graduated.  His words stuck with me, and the longer I made art, the more I experienced how my love of making carried me through the hard spots.  If I had loved being an artist more than making art, I would have quit.

When I began writing, I carried this experience and understanding with me.  Problem was, it didn’t transfer completely.  I still had to learn to love writing the same way I had learned to love drawing, by doing it.

At first I mainly loved Being A Writer, reveling in how I felt when I said to myself, “I am a Writer.”  The feeling was not so enjoyable when actually writing.  I loved the concept, but sometimes the doing was capital-H Hard.  I became frustrated and depressed at how slow it was, and editing was oh-my-ugly.

What saved me was the fact I loved reading books, and every amazing read made me want to really, truly be a writer who was writing.

I found ways to keep writing.  I read creativity books and let them inspire me.  I listened to writers talk about their work and process.  I freely bribed myself.  When none of those worked, I used guilt.  Guilt always worked, sooner or later.

Slowly, what I had experienced with making art happened with writing.  The more I did it, the more I loved doing it.  The more I wrote, the more I trusted I could write, even the hard bits.

On Monday this week, I took myself to my favourite café and spent the whole day writing.

During the afternoon, a woman came in and sat two chairs over from me.  She pulled out a stack of paper like mine, a pen, and Halloween candy.  Got her coffee and settled, I thought, to write.

I was wrong.

She rearranged her papers.  Clicked her pen a bunch.  Looked out the window.  Looked around the café.  Kicked her chair leg for a while.  Chatted and laughed with people who walked past her.  Looked over at me like she wanted to start a conversation.

In the meantime, I was writing and becoming increasingly irritated by this person.  She was distracting me from what I wanted to be doing, which was writing.

I noticed I was judging her, big time.  She had her tools in front of her, yet she was doing everything except writing.  I decided she was one of those who loved the idea of being a writer but didn’t love doing the writing.  A pretender, while I was the real thing.

Wow.  Me being snarky.  Very.

I felt bad, judging myself for judging her.  I should know better.  I’ve been where she is, done exactly what she’s doing.  Maybe she needed a change of scenery after writing all morning at home.  Maybe she needed distraction as part of her process.  Maybe she gained ideas from talking with random strangers.

I kept writing while this flashed through my mind and feelings.

I wondered why I was irritated by her activity.  She was doing me no harm.  I was distracting myself by allowing my focus to wander over to her.

I knew I was in a hard place in my draft.  I was struggling, feeling overwhelmed, not sure I could bring this all together.  Doubting myself as a writer.

I understood.  I wanted distraction.  More than that, she looked like she was enjoying herself, and I wasn’t.  She looked relaxed.  I wasn’t.

I was feeling jealous, too.

I kept writing.

There is the important thing—I kept writing.  I let myself be distracted enough to move out of the writing, realized what was happening inside me and how I was feeling.  Realized I was working my way through a hard spot in my writing, it was getting to me, and I needed to release pressure by putting my frustration on someone or something else.

I understood.  I forgave myself.

I silently appreciated the woman near to me who was enjoying the feeling of being a writer.  I knew how good that felt, and I let myself enjoy her enjoyment.

And I kept writing.

Why I’m Not Doing Nanowrimo This Year

Cat Fink 'What Gives Me Joy Nov 9 2016 (books)'November first.  The clouds are dark grey outside my studio window.  It’s been raining, snowing, and sleeting since midnight.  The temperature sits at zero Celsius.  Perfect weather for being inside, papers scattered across my work table, music playing counterpoint to the drip of water off the roof, writing this blog post.

It’s a perfect day for beginning Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month), except this year I am not.

This is a deliberate choice.

I love doing Nanowrimo.  I love writing furiously, aiming for at least 2,000 words each day.  Love the focused creating.  Love the feeling of a single driving purpose in a life normally split half a dozen directions.  Love the community spirit, the support and mutual cheer leading.  Love the feeling of entering the word count that pushes me over the 50,000 word goal.  Oh yeah.

There is a good reason why I am not already in the depths of all this writing awesomeness.  It’s something else I love–more writing awesomeness.  It’s my book draft.

I am working through the final three chapters of Lisa Cron’s Story Genius.  I have my momentum and I want to keep it.  My book draft needs me.

If I shift to Nanowrimo, my creative focus completely shifts as well.  I know the energy required to complete 50,000 plus words in a month, and it would leave none for my book.  Nanowrimo is a demanding love.

I did Nanowrimo last year.  I wrote a parallel draft for my book.  I explored all the directions I didn’t take in the main draft.

It was worth spending a month discovering the words beyond the path already laid.  I found writing that belonged in the main draft, filling in gaps I hadn’t noticed.  I explored side paths I knew diverted the story so had ignored in the main draft.  I reveled in back story that helped me understand motivations and situations.

Pausing my main draft and doing Nanowrimo last year was totally worth it.  I gave myself month-long permission to experience places outside of the story.  My main draft is richer as a result of the parallel draft.

Saying yes to Nanowrimo this year would take me away from where I am right now, and where I need to go next in my book draft.  I need slower, more considered writing at the moment.

A ‘yes’ this year is an excuse to not work out the hard stuff on my book.  It’s very appealing, and  I know better.  I’ve done enough excuses this year.

I do have to say, this ‘no’ feels sad.  I feel like I’m missing the party.

At the same time, I feel how right my choice is.  I love where I am in my draft process.  I love what I have discovered and learned as I’ve worked my way.  I am so very curious about what else is going to show up, as though I am reading the already published book and wondering what happens next in the story.

I feel rich in my writing life; I have more than one thing to love.

Bon voyage, all you Nanowrimo crew!  May you have fair winds, full sails, and an ocean of ideas and words to play in.  May you have life rafts aplenty should you need them, and a welcoming harbour when your writing reaches home at the end of the month.  Save me a berth for next year.

___________________

In this post:

Nanowrimo aka National Novel Writing Month.  https://nanowrimo.org/  I feel like Dr. Seuss and Willy Wonka had a hand or ten in inventing this.

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

 

Between Writing and Trying to Write

laid-to-rest-east-detail-small
Laid to Rest 80,000 Obstructing Spirits, East (detail)

It’s fun to write.  It’s not fun trying to write.

Earlier today I tried to write a blog post.  Progress was slow, painful, and frustrating.  Finally, I gave up.

This is not like me to give up.

Writing is not a smooth process for me, despite the enjoyment it gives.  Most days I procrastinate, but eventually push my way into writing.  I begin slowly, fishing around for those slippery starting words.  I jump all over my ideas as I write my draft, and have to rearrange sentences and paragraphs until I find an easy flow.  This is my process, and I always get there to the finished piece.

Today I feel like my creativity is offline.  My thoughts are jumpy and disconnected.  Every idea is brief, lacking a depth to play in, nothing to dig into and develop.  I know I am not the first nor the last writer to experience this, but knowing it doesn’t make the experience less frustrating.

What I do know from long experience as an artist–my creativity remains intact despite today’s evidence to the contrary.

Here’s what I am going to do once this short writing-disaster post is done.  I am going to read.  My own words aren’t cooperating, but at least I can revel in another writer’s world.