In Love With The Words

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

I am halfway through reading Mary Karr’s book The Art Of Memoir.

I’ve yet to read her other books (my friend just lent me The Liar’s Club), but this particular book’s title showed up three times in the past two weeks, twice in random emails, and then at my friend’s home where I was visiting.  When something shows up repeatedly in my life, it’s a clue.  I need to check it out.

I love how Mary keeps moving back and forth between her passion for memoir and the truth of how fugitive our memories can be.  There’s a fascination with the words, and how the words make her feel, and how odd memory is when we try to pin it down into a story.

I loved hearing stories long before I started school, yet I know for sure I became a different person the day I learned to read for myself.

I see flashes of this particular memory.  Sitting with my classmates at the back of our classroom.  New reader open on my lap, the hand-painted pictures, and the words in large black print underneath the images.  Words printed so big, they feel like they are yelling.  I can smell the reader, its singular dusty, papery odour.  I can feel the stiff round edges of the cover in my hands, the coolness of it as it lies on my bare knees.

I don’t know if I took this reader, or the next, home.  I do know at some point in Grade One I began taking home each new reader as I received it, and read the whole thing in one huge swallow.

I needed the words and story and how they made me feel.  I could not go slowly with a new book.  I had to eat it all right away.

A new book burned in me.  Fierce anticipation.  Curiosity that yelled “Now!”  Satisfaction—too dull a word for the fire I experienced.  Fulfillment and wholeness are closer, yet again nowhere near the wild, bright joy I felt, and still feel, with each new book in my hands.  I understand why ‘voracious’ is paired with ‘reader’.  Even the sound of ‘voracious’ when I say it out loud echoes my feelings.  The word growls.

I became a different person the day I learned to read.  I became hungry for words and story and books.  Addicted.  Completely.

There was a wild, bright, fiery space in me waiting for words, story, reading, books to show up.

There is always a wild, sharp, open space in me waiting for the next new book.  Words have taken over my life.  I read.  I write.  I play with crosswords and Scrabble.  I even write on my drawings; plain image is no longer enough.  My friends are readers and writers.

Some might mutter “obsessed” with a kind of tsk-tsk tone.  I say “Glorious!”

At six years old, in Grade One, I did not know the words I’m using here.  If someone had asked me what I felt when I was reading, the word I would have answered with is “Love.”

Thank you, thank you, thank you Mrs. Johnson, for teaching me to read and love words and story and books.

_______________________

In this post,

Mary Karr, The Art Of Memoir, HarperCollins, 2015; and The Liars’ Club: a memoir, Penguin Books, 1996.  https://www.marykarr.com/

It’s true.  We human beings can’t help it.  We are words and memory and story.  We create and recreate ourselves and our world when we say “let me tell you a story.”  It happens every time.

Writing The Wrong Stuff

archangel (raphael).small
Archangel (Raphael)

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

Asking The Right Question

Cat Fink 'What Gives Me Joy Nov 9 2016 (books)'I discovered, at six years old, that words and books were magic.  I read a story and became a different person in a world and experience new to me.  I saw and felt the story like a movie in my body.  I became the characters.  Total magic.

That first magic of reading stayed with me, and out of it grew a second magic, writing.  I love the magic of writing, how it leads me to discovery and understanding.  The magic was busy this week as I worked on the backstory of my book, and something new came home to me about creating the truest story I can.

Here is what I realized.

As I write, I ask myself questions about the story being created.  I do this each time I write, but what I came to this week is beyond asking questions.  It is about asking the right question.

I write intuitively, so while I always ask who, where, what, how, and when, I don’t need to ask why.  In writing intuitively, the why is already present for me.  It drives the initial idea, the writing, and the story, even though I do not consciously articulate it to myself.

The problem with not consciously asking why is that the answer remains silent.  The information stays in my unconscious.  I might get close to expressing it, but much of the information is running underneath the surface of the words.

I know, as a reader, I don’t need why spelled out for me all the time.  I see it in the experiences, beliefs, needs, and wants of the characters.  The choices they make come out of that, and the story shows this to me.

As a writer, I’ve discovered I can’t leave the why sitting in my intuition.  I need to consciously lay it out for myself as part of the backstory.  My readers may not need it spelled out, but I do.  Specifically answering why gives me knowledge that informs my writing, and provides me clues as to what needs to be written into the story.  Once I’ve done the writing, this knowledge forms a base to measure against as I review what I have written.

Lisa Cron’s book Story Genius has walked me into this deeper understanding of my story-creating process.  I am working my way through the questions she asks, forming the backstory so I have a clear picture of my protagonist when the story opens.  All of who this character is, is her why.  All of who she is informs and drives the choices she makes as the story progresses.  I know what is pushing her, even when she doesn’t, and the knowledge helps me shape how I show and tell, shapes the words I choose, shapes what I choose to both offer and hold back from the reader.

I will continue to write intuitively but now, after the first draft is on the page, I will go back and consciously, deliberately ask myself the question that needs asking—why.

Thank you, Lisa, for showing me how to ask the right question.

_______________________

In this post,

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

Tea With A Friend

iced tea at Disneyland.blogA good friend came by today, a fellow artist who I see weekly in the Fall and Winter when I am living in my northern home.  She’s on vacation at the moment, so we took our time.  We talked, caught ourselves up on each other’s families and lives.  We drank tea with lemon.

She told me of a painting she’s creating of the clouds of Jupiter, and a show coming up next month.  I read her some of the back story I am writing for my book draft.  Too quickly (isn’t it always) our visit was done.  We hugged and said goodbye, and she left for the ferry.

My friends who paint and write are blessings in my life.  More than a blessing, they are supports in my life.  We trade inspiration and plans, questions and comments, successes and struggles.  Our friendships are a safe space to play with our creative ideas, the ones only yet a glimmer or half-grown, as well as the ones ready for the world.

There is power in our relationships.  I know I am a better artist and writer because of these women.  I trust them to see what I have missed or hidden from myself, and ask me the questions that need asking.  My images and words are clearer and more focussed because of these friendships.  I am more courageous in what I create because I know they have my back and I have theirs.

Our visit today reminds me how essential and treasured time with friends is for me.  Everything we talk of, families and art and writing, strengthens us, makes us laugh, soothes us.  We help make each other whole.

Our visit today reminds me it is coming time to meet some new artist-writer friends here in my new home.  Yes, find more kindred spirits, as Anne of Green Gables would say.

Thank you, Lynn and Kate.  Thank you, Wren and Yvonka and Fran.  You help me be the artist and writer I am.

Writing Home

1.'Laid to Rest 80,000...Spirits (east)'--Cat Fink
Laid To Rest 80,000 Obstructing Spirits (east)

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.

Sigh.

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/

Standing In The Noonlight

joydiary17.page28and29.2018I’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.

____________________________________________

In this post:

Terry Pratchett is one of my favourite authors.   https://www.terrypratchettbooks.com/

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/

The Sketchbook Project – The Joy Diary

joydiary01.frontcover.2018.blogMy 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’.

joydiary05.page4and5.2018For 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.

________________________

In this post:

The Sketchbook Project, Brooklyn Art Library, https://www.sketchbookproject.com/

See my entire sketchbook in page order on my art site at https://walkingowlstudio.ca/  Click on ‘Gallery’, and then click on ‘The Sketchbook Project – The Joy Diary’.

Writing Like Breathing

rainbow.flowers 017There are times when I write, and it feels like breathing.  This is one of them.

Like breath.  Essential, easy, effortless.  A flow that is so simple and natural I have no conscious awareness of activity and my involvement in it.  No awareness of time or place passing.

In these moments, I am.  It is that simple.  Two words, I am.  I feel no boundary between me and all around me.  I am.  We are.

This is pure pleasure, when writing is like breathing.  Writing for the pleasure of hearing thoughts pass through, for the pleasure of feeling my hand roll and loop and form words on a page.  Writing because here in this moment all is perfect.

When writing is like breathing, all is whole.  Nowhere is anything broken or chipped away.  I feel settled, at peace in mind and body, content in heart and spirit.

When writing is like breathing, I am blessed.  Writing this way, when it happens, is pure gift.  I am my truest self.  A feeling through every cell in my body, I am.  I am love, I am joy, I am breath.

When writing is like breathing, I am my river voice, flow and music.  I am life writing life.

I am.