My Pocket Demon

keepingmydemonsatbay
‘Keeping My Demons At Bay’

It’s all grey cloud and wind outside today.  I saw the first leaves fall from the aspens this morning.  More than fall.  They were pulled, snatched by the wind, tossed to the ground before they could ripen.

I’m not ready for bare branches.  I want those brilliant, glorious golds, reds, and oranges shining against the sky.  Then yes, Wind, take the leaves as your toys and let the trees rest.

I am happy to be inside my warm studio today.  Like the wind, I have a new toy to play with, a book of course.

Yesterday afternoon I read 100 Demon Dialogues by Lucy Bellwood.  I read slowly.  Not only read, but looked.  These are one-page drawings.  Lucy is a cartoonist.

I love this book.  I love Lucy’s take on the inner critic, and how she doesn’t push it away (which is my preferred method of interacting with the demon in my pocket).  Instead, through her cartoons, she and her demon have a conversation.

I know I sound surprised.  That’s because I used to do that and mostly ended up either angry or depressed.  The conversations were battles, and my pocket demon won.  However she didn’t win the war.  I continue drawing, continue writing, continue finding ways to create things I love and enjoy.

In her cartoons, Lucy doesn’t see this relationship with her inner demon as a battle.  Instead, they alternately talk, argue, discuss, yell, lay down ultimatums, and hug.  Yes, there are hugs and compassion, both for herself and her demon.

This is new to me.   My pocket demon is a part of me I have fought with throughout my life, not only in my creativity.  I have battled, ignored, silenced without listening, trampled, and left her behind as often as possible.  I’ve never thought to have compassion for my pocket demon, much less hug her.

That’s brutal.

My pocket demon does not ever stop trying to get me to hear her.  I know, in her own weird way, she is attempting to help me and keep me safe from what she perceives as dangers.

Maybe I am doing as the wind, tossing something away before it ripens.

Maybe I need to do as Lucy does, and listen.  Listening costs me nothing and I don’t have to agree with what I hear.

I know my pocket demon mirrors my emotions, usually fear.  As Julia Cameron told me throughout her book The Artist’s Way, emotions are information.  I am a master at hiding things from myself, especially emotions.  Maybe I should listen, hear what my pocket demon has to say, and find out what is going on in the background that I am not seeing.

Honestly, not sure I want to.

Which tells me something is coming to the surface that I need to know.

Here’s an idea.  Use Lucy’s book to talk with my pocket demon.  Flip through the pages, find a cartoon that connects with my heart.  Oops, all of them, but let’s do this one at a time.

Choose that one cartoon, and start writing.  Have a conversation with my pocket demon, and let fly.  No one else needs to read this.  Toss the writing afterwards, if I want to, or maybe keep it because it’s the seed for a future blog post.

I can do this.

Pocket demon, sweetie, we are about to get cozy.

Thank you, Lucy, for sharing and showing me something I needed to see.

________________________

In this post:

Lucy Bellwood, book 100 Demon Dialogues, Toonhound Studios, 2017.  https://lucybellwood.com/

Julia Cameron’s books are rich with ideas on working with pocket demons aka the inner critic.  I frequently use Supplies: A Troubleshooting Guide For Creative Difficulties, Penguin Books, 2003.  https://juliacameronlive.com/

Kim Piper Werker’s book Make It Mighty Ugly, Sasquatch Books, 2014, is another resource loaded with ideas.  My copy of Kim’s book is dog eared, underlined, highlighted, and stuck full of post it notes.  https://www.kimwerker.com/

When all else fails, chocolate, good music, a comfy chair, and my latest fiction read.

My Get-Up-And-Go Got Up And Went

'Building a Sky to Shelter Me'--Cat FinkMy Mom worked at home.  Three children, a husband on shift work, and a big house to care for.  I remember her sitting at the kitchen table in the late afternoon, resting before beginning dinner preparations.  Especially when my brother was a toddler roaring around the house, she looked worn through, and her day was still hours away from being finished.

She’d look at me and say, “My get-up-and-go got up and went.”

That’s exactly how I feel when I wake this morning.  I had an excellent sleep, yet I feel worn out.  I lie here, wondering what this is.

I don’t want to get up.  I don’t want to start the day, even though my days are my own.  I don’t feel like writing or drawing, unusual for me.

Wrapped and warm in my blankets, I let my mind wander, and then I understand.

I am emotionally exhausted.

I’ve been riding a roller coaster of grief and love, and it has worn me out.  Worn me to the point of affecting my creativity.

My current creative projects are long ones, writing a book (years), and filling a sketchbook with drawings (months).  Normally I love long projects.  I enjoy the feelings of where I have been and where I am going, seeing how an idea expands, shifts, and finally fulfills itself and me.

Today, long is more than I can handle.

An idea pops in.  How about shotgun creativity?  Get the idea, aim, fire, done.  Except, generally, firing a shotgun requires dealing with the resulting mess.  Clean up is necessary.  I live in a rural area.  I know this.

How about creativity that is like laughter?  Sudden.  Surprising.  A joyful explosion of fun and play.  Nothing afterwards but feeling good.

Yes, this is my kind of creativity.  Unexpected creativity that is joy.

I get out of bed and start my day.  Eventually I am here at my studio table with my Mickey Mouse pencils and stack of loose leaf paper, writing.

Interesting that my get-up-and-go is back, and I know why.

I started exactly where I was, recognized and allowed my feelings to be what they were.  I let my thoughts and imagination, and then my words, run where they would, no limits, no expectations.  Whatever showed up was fine with me.  With all this space to play, ideas showed up—shotgun creativity, and creativity like laughter.

I gave myself permission to be.

Making Stuff With Friends, or, One Plus One Plus One Equals Cookie

banners.DancingTheGhosts.small300ppiYesterday I was with friends, beginning a new group art project.  We are each filling a sketchbook for the Brooklyn Art Library’s Sketchbook Project 2019.

The time spent was perfect fun, relaxing, inspiring, and energizing.

Mostly I work and play alone in my studio, and I choose this.  I need and love my quiet alone time, in order to see and hear the ideas coming through, in order to draw and write.  I also need and love time with friends and fellow creators.

Here is what I love about creating with my friends.

The conversation and ideas and actions that flow are always unexpected.  We don’t create in a straight line.  Instead, our ideas are starbursts.  One of us offers a comment or question, and off we go in every direction.

We are not one plus one plus one equals three, although we can be, and have been, if needed.  No, we are one plus one plus one equals cookie.

Laughter is frequent, as is opening our hearts and learning the shape of our souls.

What always fascinates me is this.  We begin at the exact same point, but the flow from each of us is unique in theme and look and final destination.  It does not matter that we all hear the same conversation, begin with similar art materials, play together in the same room.

It is our individual histories and life experiences, our separate needs and wants and focus that shape the vision each of us sees.  This is what sparks the curiosity that arises to follow a specific path in creating.  This is also what creates such fertile ground when we are together.

Together we are a garden, wild and joyful with growth, weeds fully included.  Watered with tea (double chai yesterday) and lattes, nourished by sandwiches and soup and goodies.  Held close in the sunny heat of friendship and shared creativity.

Nothing better than one plus one plus one equals cookie.

__________________________________

In this post:

The Brooklyn Art Library.   https://www.brooklynartlibrary.com/

Absence and Presence

seebeauty.fordad.600ppi

Presence:  I can’t say I feel much like writing lately.  What I have been doing, instead, is wandering through my art books, inviting line and colour to fill me up.  I have a new sketchbook from the Brooklyn Art Library waiting for me, and no ideas yet around what this book needs from me.  The ideas will come.  They always do.

While I wait, I am reading and delighting in other artists’ work.  Two days ago, the book was Takashi Murakami: The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg.  Yesterday it was Arthur Rackham: A Life With Illustration, and today it’s Turner Monet Twombly: Later Paintings.  The book planned for tomorrow is Jim Dine: Flowers And Plants.  My taste in artists ranges wide, the common elements being colour (as much as I can get) and line.

Absence:  Grief keeps ambushing me.  I’m okay, then I’m not okay, then I’m okay.  Insert some rude words here.

I have discovered I have no patience with feeling sad for very long.  After two or three hours, I am compelled to go find something to cheer me up again.  I wondered if I am simply denying how I feel, but I think not, mainly because when the moment hits me again, I feel it fully.  No one told me grief was a roller coaster, or maybe this is only my version of grieving.

Absence and presence:  A few days ago, I hung a small drawing by the living room entryway.  I created this drawing for my Dad when I was halfway through art school.  It was his seventieth birthday, and I could see the influence of his example in the subject matter I chose for my class assignments, why I was fascinated by still life and the everyday objects I used in my life.  The drawing was a thank you to him, my first art teacher.

Every time I walk by the drawing, I remember him.

And now there is no more to say.

______________________________

In this post:

Book Takashi Murakami: The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg edited by Michael Darling, Skira Rizzoli Publications, New York, 2017.

Book Arthur Rackham: A Life With Illustration by James Hamilton, Pavilion Books, London, 2010.

Book Turner Monet Twombly: Later Paintings by Jeremy Lewison, Tate Publishing, London, 2012.

Book Jim Dine: Flowers And Plants by Marco Livingstone, Harry N. Abrams Inc., 1994.

 

The Learning By Doing Writing School Part 2

summerbookssofar

After writing last week’s post, I started thinking about what I have read in the past two months.  This morning I walked around the house, stacking into my arms exactly those books I have played with lately.  They are sitting next to me as I write, two tall piles on my studio work table.  The non-fiction pile includes:

Story Genius by Lisa Cron, The Art Of Memoir by Mary Karr, Zen In The Art Of Writing by Ray Bradbury: all on writing process.

Let The Whole Thundering World Come Home by Natalie Goldberg, Terry Pratchett The Spirit Of Fantasy by Craig Cabell, Waking Up In Paris by Sonia Choquette:  all memoir and biography.

Freehand by Helen Birch, Your Life In Color by Dougall Fraser: books to feed my artist self, on drawing, and using the energies of color.

Here is the fiction pile, which threatened to tip over and crash when I attempted to alphabetize it:

The Girl In The Tower by Katherine Arden, Sword and Sorceress XII by Marion Zimmer Bradley, Brief Cases by Jim Butcher, Babylon’s Ashes by James S. A. Corey, The Third Nero by Lindsey Davis, There Are No Ghosts In The Soviet Union by Reginald Hill.

Fated by Benedict Jacka, The Outsider by Stephen King, Three Moments Of An Explosion by China Mieville, The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett, The Martian by Andy Weir, An Incomplete Revenge by Jacqueline Winspear.

You already know I love reading, and here are more reasons why.

In how-to books, I learn directly from their content, but I also learn how a writer captures or loses my interest in something that does not contain a obvious or inherent story line.  They teach me structure, and the balance between telling and showing–information, instruction, questions, personal example.  Ray Bradbury’s book, in particular, shouts his passion for writing.  He proves that how-to can be disguised as story and reach into my heart as completely as fiction.

In memoir and biography, I learn how the writer chooses to structure their story, what they choose to tell and to withhold, and how the writer as an individual shows through, or not, in their writing.  I learn the ways of telling and obscuring the truths of a life.  Again and again I see how easy it is to fool myself into thinking I’ve reached the truth of an experience, when all my words have only bounced off the surface.  I learn how I can be both blind and biased in what I choose to express, and admit that to the reader.  I learn how I can be honest to the bone.

I love love love reading, and I love love love learning new things.  Reading and learning all in one?  Probably why I also started writing.  These books show me if I want to write, I have to read.

Reading fiction is no less a teacher for me than reading non-fiction.  Fiction sets a pushing need in me to write, and the stories continually challenge me to go beyond what is comfortable in what I create.  These books set a demand within me that my writing reach their level of story, of structure, of flow.  That’s a high bar, but every time I write I work my muscles.  I and my words get stronger.

Some of these books swallow me whole, leave me dazed with story when I finish the last page, leave me sitting unable to move or think beyond the words still spinning in the air around me.

That is how I want to write.  That is the writer I want to be.

 

 

 

 

 

The Learning By Doing Writing School

joydiary05.page4and5.2018I am a person who learns best by doing. I can be told something, but I don’t fully understand until I get my hands right into it.

I am in the long process of learning to be a writer.  These days I alternate between writing, rewriting, and reading.

Reading other people’s words inspires me, whether it’s a how-to post or article, a nonfiction book, or a novel. Something in their work connects with and triggers the writer in me.

It seems I can no longer be only a reader when I read. There’s the writer-me in the background constantly taking notes. I have to read with a pencil and sketchbook close at hand to catch the flashes of insight into my project.

I know this happens to other writers. I thought it would interfere with my enjoyment of reading a novel by a favourite writer, would prevent me from relaxing into the story.

Surprise. It adds to my pleasure. As always, I move deep into the story I’m reading, but now I also move into the background process of the words and how they are building the flow of the story. I am not only learning by writing, I am learning by reading. Every book is a teacher for me.

In art school, I learned that the artwork I didn’t like taught me as much as the artwork I enjoyed. Both what I loved and didn’t love showed me who I was as an artist.

It’s exactly the same now, as I learn to be a writer. What I love and don’t love in other people’s words and stories helps me define what I wish to write and how I wish to write it.

I have as many teachers as there are books on shelves. How amazing to be a do-it-yourself student in the biggest learning-by-doing university in the world.

Thank you, all of you who write and share your words, and teach me by doing so.

Writing Between Work And Play

misc.pics 128It’s hot and humid today. There’s a breeze that smells of the ocean and green growing things.  When I look up from my writing, I see a horizon of water that is every shade of turquoise and blue. There’s deep purple at the farthest edge.

I am on the big island of Hawaii.  For the past six glorious days I have been playing.  Swimming, snorkeling, reading, eating, napping, playing cribbage and crazy eights with my husband.  Walking.  Writing.  Sitting doing nothing except watching the ocean.

Yes, writing is here, listed under playing.  Tuesday morning I played with my book, and ‘played’ is accurate.

I pulled out my notes and Mickey Mouse pencils.  I had no expectations.  I only knew I needed to write.  I was missing something I love.

Tuesday I turned work into play.  I wrote with curiosity and wonder.  I opened to possibilities that might show up, even if they shifted my direction and caused a need to rewrite.  I explored the story.

It’s true writing is work, yet it is work I love.  Tuesday I got to be curious and wondering, open and exploring.  I got to watch possibilities arise from my words, and experience creation.

Yes, it  required work in the form of attention, focus, time, and energy.  It required commitment to saying “I will rewrite this” when something was not the best it could be. It needed willingness and courage to move into my truest truth when it felt  painful or frightening.

Something pulls at me if I don’t write for a few days.  Desire, need, obsession.  Yes.  Even more, it is curiosity and love for writing.  I can’t not write.

My attitude has slowly shifted work into play.  I love that writing has become a mix of both these things.  Saying yes I’ll write today, with a feeling of curiosity, opens my heart.  When my heart is open, possibilities open as well.  My writing takes a direction my mind did not expect, I go exploring, and learn something new.

This is play and work as one.  I love that I get to write.

 

I Was Supposed To Be Writing

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

You who love words and books, you know this.  The inability to stop reading a story.  The not caring what other responsibilities are sitting to the side.  The vaguely conscious decision of being okay with missing an obligation and figuring out an excuse later.

I was supposed to be writing my blog post after lunch today.  I promised myself, after not getting time to write yesterday and being cranky about it.

Now it’s today.

I eat my lunch (hummus, tzatziki, chunks of fresh tomatoes, pepper ham, oh yum).  While eating, I read Natalie Goldberg’s new book Let The Whole Thundering World Come Home.  I finish lunch.  I keep reading.

I can’t see a clock from where I’m sitting, and I don’t care.  I know I promised myself I would write the post, and I don’t care.  I keep reading.

How can I stop reading when someone offers me the truest, barest, words of their shot-through-the-heart life?

Natalie’s words in this book are stark.  She offers no consolation and no place to hide, not for herself and not for me.  I can’t stop reading.  These words are her life, everyone’s life, pared to the bone.

Finally, I am done, the book finished, Natalie’s story complete for now.

I feel like crying.  Empathy, recognition, sorrow, relief, love for a fellow human being.

I decide I’d rather write than cry.  I get up and walk to my studio at the opposite end of the house.  I carry Natalie’s book with me.  I am still wrapped in the experience of her story.

I sit at my work table.  I pull loose leaf paper towards me.  I pick up a pencil.  I don’t start writing.  Instead, I remember a September afternoon, years ago.  It is the third or fourth day of a silent writing and meditation workshop.  The air is warm.  There is no air conditioning.  I can smell the wood of the building, hot from the sun.  We are doing walking meditation, a slow circle around the room.  Natalie walks beside each of us in turn, taking our hands, gentle, quiet.

“You’ve got it,” she says to me, smiles wide, and moves to the person behind me.

Why am I remembering this?

The woman who walked beside me for a few moments was teaching me to find the truth in my words, and to settle for nothing less than meeting and loving my life and writing with both hands and my whole heart.

I am not all the way there yet, to the deepest truth, but I am walking the life that stands before me every day, finding a way to love all of it, laying one truest word after another.

Thank you, Natalie, for your hand, your heart, your words, and your teaching.  You are present in your books in my studio, every day whispering “You’ve got it.”

_______________________

In this post,

Natalie Goldberg, book Let The Whole Thundering World Come Home: a memoir, Shambhala Publications, 2018.  http://nataliegoldberg.com/