Don’t Let Anyone Call You Stupid

‘I Rode A River Of Words And Heard Wisdom (Bryan)’   https://www.walkingowlstudio.ca/gallery/dancing_the_ghosts/

Last night I watched one of my favourite Christmas shows, Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.

This morning I woke thinking how, as kids in school, we labelled each other.  Those labels did a lot of damage.  Unlike Rudolph, some of us were never able to rise above the words we were called.

I love words.  I love playing with words, putting them together and taking them apart.  I love crossword puzzles, word games, and Scrabble.  I love reading other people’s words and writing my own.

When I was thirteen years’ old and entering high school, my parents gave me a thesaurus.  I never dreamed such a treasure existed.  I read it cover to cover, like a novel.

My husband didn’t have a love affair with words.  For him, it was much the opposite.

He struggled with words. He couldn’t make the connections between sounding out a word and spelling it.  Spelling was a disaster for him.  He had to consciously, repeatedly memorize the sequence of letters for each word. Otherwise ‘celery’ came out ‘clegery’, and ‘chimney’ was ‘chibmny’.

He was told he was stupid, and he felt stupid.

I know the English language has weird and wonderful word spellings, but his struggle was beyond that.

By the time my husband reached high school, he’d struck a deal with a friend who was an ace speller. His friend struggled to come up with ideas for writing assignments.  My husband always had loads of ideas.  So he provided his friends with ideas, and his friend spell checked my husband’s essays. Win win.

My husband is not stupid.

His brain came equipped with a different pathway to understanding words, sounds, and spelling. He had to find his own way, and did, into learning how to spell.

It’s so easy to stick a label on someone, easier than taking the time to consider the whole of the person standing in front of you and finding an understanding.

No one is stupid.

I have twenty years of experience as an artist, but ask me to sculpt something and the result would have you seriously doubting I have any artistic ability at all.  I am a disaster at sculpture.

My brain doesn’t see and understand the way a sculptor needs to.  What my brain naturally sees and understands is drawing.  Give me paper and drawing materials, and I am a wizard.

I’ll say it once more.

No one is stupid.

This life is rich because of the uncountable paths we have for seeing and understanding.

I have a very old dictionary from Great Britain, a school discard dated 1954.  It contains a definition for ‘stupid’ I find interesting. The dictionary defines it as ‘wanting in understanding’.

This definition surely describes me trying to sculpt and my husband trying to spell.  We want to understand and are unable to.

There are other layers in this definition.  We all want and deserve help and understanding from others when we are struggling.  And for those who label others then walk away, describing the label-ers as having a ‘wanting of understanding’ works for me.

_________________

In this post:

Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, animated stop-motion Christmas cartoon, first aired in December 1964, produced by Videocraft International Ltd. (later known as Rankin/Bass Productions).  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rudolph_the_Red-Nosed_Reindeer_(TV_special)

Failure and Success

Archangel (Raguel) - Cat Fink (blog)
‘Archangel (Raguel)’

I have a pattern of not celebrating my successes.  Mostly I ignore them, occasionally I allow myself to briefly enjoy them.  Never do I allow myself full appreciation of what I have successfully completed, be it writing or drawing or anything else in my life.  Always, I immediately move on to the next thing.

I’ve been wondering why I do this.  Two days ago, I discovered a big reason.

In school, I was one of those brainy kids.  The A’s on my report card came easily to me.  Because of this, my teachers gave me extra enriched work, mostly math and science.

I loved, and continue to love, learning new things for the sheer enjoyment of it, but this was not something I chose for myself.  I loved school, but this extra work felt like work, and I wanted to be with my friends playing and having fun.  I rarely completed the assignments.  The teachers eventually gave up, which was a relief for me.

In my child-mind, this experience created a belief that stuck in my subconscious.

I believed I was a failure.

I did not do the enriched work and become someone who changed the world through discovering amazing scientific things.  I did not meet expectations.  I did not fulfill my potential.  It did not matter that the expectations and ideas regarding my potential belonged to someone else.  As a child, I knew I was smart and I trusted my teachers, so I took this on as something reasonable.

When I look at my life now, I love where and who I am.  I love love love drawing and writing.  I love the learning I do, moving toward life with an open, creative heart.  I love the family and friends I have around me.  My life is good and I know I created this, which means yes I am successful at what I do.

I do not owe my school teachers or the world, or even myself, anything.  I owe neither success nor failure.

I walked the path I needed to walk, so I could be exactly where I needed to be.  As a child, love and joy were the most important choices I made for myself every day.  I didn’t consciously realize what I was choosing, and I couldn’t articulate it.  I didn’t realize love and joy could be choices, yet there I was choosing time with my friends as the most important thing.

That time with my friends shaped me.  We read, traded books, made up stories, and played pretend.  We drew and made things with whatever was at hand.  We were creators who played, loved, and enjoyed what we created.

As I grew up, every choice I made, everything I was, everything I created led me here.

I appreciate what my school teachers did.  Unknowingly, they pushed me into making my own choices, helped me find and experience the things that were right for me.

I know and feel how the words and images I create, the love and joy I share, the life I live changes the world around me.  That is success.

I did not waste my potential.  I have been fulfilling it all along.

Success, Vulnerability, And The Pocket Demon

1.'Laid to Rest 80,000...Spirits (east)'--halfsize
‘Laid To Rest 80,000 Obstructing Spirits (east)’

I’m playing with Lucy Bellwood’s book 100 Demon Dialogues.  I keep going back to cartoon number 83.  In the cartoon, Lucy says, “I think I’ve figured it out: you’re more afraid of success than you are of failure.”  Her demon, who is trying to hide in a box, says, “I’m afraid of EVERYTHING.”

I am afraid of success.  When I succeed in my art or my writing, I am not sure what to do.  What should happen next I can never figure out.

Here is one example.  When someone offers me praise, I don’t seem to hear it.  The words don’t go all the way in.  I feel happy, briefly.  I smile, say thank you, glad you enjoy it.  Then I feel uncomfortable and need to escape.

It makes me sad to realize I am unable to wholly accept a kind comment.  It makes me feel there’s something wrong with me, that I can’t celebrate something I have created when it touches and connects with someone else.

Weird thing is, this is one of the main reasons I write and draw, to create that heart-to-heart connection.

It’s easy, in my studio, to open my heart and be vulnerable as I create.  My studio is a safe place, I am alone with my work, and I trust myself to go as deep as the work requires.  If I don’t get there the first attempt, or second or third, I keep going until I reach the feeling I want.  I’ve done this long enough, I trust what shows up and trust I am able.

Put me in the situation of accepting praise face to face, and I am in fear.  Someone connects with my writing or drawing, it evokes something for them, they appreciate the experience, and they want me to know my work succeeded in touching them.

My deepest success, and yet I am afraid to open my heart to this person and feel what they are offering me.  Instead I feel naked and vulnerable because someone has seen the feelings I place in my work.  How ironic when someone really sees my work and connects heart to heart, I want to run the other way.

My deepest success and my deepest fear.  I got this wrong.  I’m not afraid of success.  I’m afraid of being seen and connecting at my truest self.

I am an artist and a writer who creates heart to heart.  I know no other way to create.  I refuse to allow any kind of fear to stop me.

Next time someone praises my work, I need to remember who I am in my studio.  Trusting, open-hearted, and reaching for connection as many times as it takes.

__________________

In this post:

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

Wanting To Go Backwards, Needing To Go Forwards

Family
Surrounded By Family

I learned something last week.  For the past nine months I’ve been trying to go backwards.

I’ve been trying to imagine my Dad back to life.

Impossible.  And I have caused myself all sorts of pain because of this desperate need to go backwards in my life and in my Dad’s life.

There are many things I can do backwards.  Spelling.  Counting.  Swimming.  Skating.  Skipping rope.  Dancing.  Walking and even kind-of-slow-running.  But I cannot get life to move backwards.  Not going to happen.

I need to grieve forwards.  Sounds funny, I know.  It actually makes me laugh when I say this to myself.  Laughter feels like grieving forwards.

Realizing what I’ve been doing makes a difference in how I feel.  Something has eased within me.  I’m not going forward, but at least the backward pull has stopped, and that is an improvement.

Yes, Dad, I was trying to head in the wrong direction, backwards.  A mistake made out of a long love, and an unwillingness to stop seeing you here in front of me.

Dad does not want me sad.  He loves me too much for that.  I can feel him gently putting his hands on my shoulders and turning me around, so now he stands behind me and my life stands before me.

I don’t want to do this.  I am crying, but I feel Dad behind me and there is strength in that feeling.  Love, and a kind of steadiness I had lost.  He has my back, and I can make the first tentative steps forward again.  He won’t let me fall.

________________________________

In this post:

The excellent, imaginative book I was reading last week, that sparked my aha, is Lost & Found by Brooke Davis, Penguin Canada Books, 2016.  I love the three main characters, a seven-year-old girl and two seniors who create themselves as family, take a road trip to find the girl’s mother (who has left her behind), and emphatically refuse to be anyone other than who they are.  I keep thinking about them.  I want them to be happy.  Thanks, Brooke, for writing this.    https://www.facebook.com/brookedavisauthor

Brooke also wrote an article, very much worth reading, about her experience of grieving.  A shortened version is included at the end of the book, and the full version is at www.textjournal.com.au/oct12/davis.htm

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.

 

Beginning Where I Am

Drawing For Anna
Drawing For Anna (I need a shatterproof heart)

I know how I want to begin this post, but it feels so stark, I’m not sure I can say it.

The thing is, I know the best place to start is always exactly where I am.

These last seven days, I begin to understand how someone dies of a broken heart.  I always thought these words overdramatic.  A diva phrase.  Exaggeration.  Hyperbole.  I am not so sure after this year, the deaths of my Dad and cousin, and my Mom lost deep in Alzheimer’s.

I am not really in danger of dying of a broken heart, not in this moment or the next several, but my heart does feel broken.

Music eases the pain.  Right now I am listening to John Boswell’s albums Trust and Garden In The Sky.  Hugs, as many as possible, ease the pain.  Old photographs and letting my heart move through the beloved memories attached to the images.  Talking with my family and friends.  Spending time in my studio, writing and drawing.

Yesterday I was unpacking the final box of household odds and ends from our move last Spring.  At the bottom, rolled around a cardboard tube, was a 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics pennant.  The pennant was a gift from my cousin.  No coincidence it showed up yesterday.

In 1988 my husband, three-year-old son, and I spent a week of those Olympics in Calgary with my aunt and uncle.  It felt like the entire city was partying.  My cousin was working at the Olympic Village, and had her evenings free.  We ate dinner together, with the television on to catch the sports events we hadn’t seen in person that day.

Months later we received the pennant in the mail.  My cousin had purchased it at an auction.

Yes, beloved memories.

Today, the pennant is draped over a chair here in the studio.  Later I will iron it, and hang it in the kitchen, the same way it hung in our previous home for twenty-nine years.

Memories and love fill the cracks in my heart.

__________________________________

In this post:

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

Sunny With Cloudy Breaks

rainbow.flowers 017How happy am I allowed to be?

This question has been coming up since the weekend.  I’m not getting anywhere thinking about it, so I am writing about it instead.

I had an awesome good Sunday.  Everything and everyone was sweet in some way.  Basically, I swam in joy all day, no matter what I was doing.  Play or household tasks (there were a few), it made no difference to my mood.  I sailed through the day, fair winds prevailing.

I woke Monday feeling the opposite.  Monday, my mood was resistance and struggle, no matter what I was doing.  Reading?  I love reading.  Monday, I could not find a book that satisfied me, and I have a lot of books.  Word puzzles?  I love those too.  Monday, I had no patience for them.  They made me feel angry instead.

Monday’s mood continued on and off, mostly on, through Tuesday and Wednesday.  Today I have had enough of this miserable weather.  I am writing it out of me and onto the page where I can see it.

Something happened after the sweet Sunday.  Something said I’d used up my quota of happiness, and I turned off the flow.

Yes, I did that to myself.  I am the one who chooses how I feel about everything in my life.  Here, now, I can either choose to find ways and help to lift my mood, or not.

How happy am I allowed to be?  How happy do I let myself be?

These are not the same question.  The first implies someone else puts the cap on my happiness.  The second says I own the happiness control in my life.

My heart is my happiness control.  I learned how to open my heart to love, and I know how this feels.  I also know how my closed heart feels.  Sunday, my heart was open to life.  Monday, I closed down and stayed closed.  I was missing my Dad, and it hurt too much so I closed my heart.

That simple.  I closed my heart, and then all felt like struggle.

Enough struggle.  I have an idea about my happiness level.  Yes, I miss my Dad fiercely, and I also love him fiercely.  So, I choose I can miss him and love him at the same time.  Let my heart be open to both feelings.  My heart is big.  It can handle it.  I know how much Dad loved me and still loves me though he’s not here in body.  I feel it every day, and I love him right back.

I choose.  I give myself permission to be happy as much and as often as I please.  I give myself permission to not be okay when I need to not be okay.  Be happy and be sad, and let my heart play fully with all in my life.  Not bittersweet.  Sadsweet, and more sweet than sad because the love is so huge.

I feel sunny again.  There are clouds too, but fair winds prevail and the clouds will pass.

_______________________

In this post:

I learned how to open my heart to love through Dee Wallace’s Red Dot exercise, and I wrote about it here   https://catfinkknowtrustchoosecreate.com/2014/12/23/   and here   https://catfinkknowtrustchoosecreate.com/2014/12/24/  ,  with Dee’s permission.

You rock, Dee!  Thanks, with love as always.  https://iamdeewallace.com/

The Way Through Is Love

ibuiltmycastles
I Build My Castles in the Sky

I led a writing workshop last Saturday.  In the conversations and the writing, two life experiences showed up common to everyone.

Early in our lives, we discovered we loved creating with words, images, music, or movement.  Then later, someone told us with great certainty that we would never be a writer, an artist, a musician, a dancer, an actor, a you-name-it creative person.  Invariably, the someone making this pronouncement was in a position of authority or trust.  We were told by parents, teachers, and peers.

When this happened to me, the someone was a university art professor.

I heard “You will never be an artist.” and I stopped drawing for seventeen years.  Mine was not the longest gap.  One person in Saturday’s writing workshop was coming back to her love of creating after fifty years.  I have met people who never recovered from the experience.

This happens not only to those in the arts.  This happens to all of us.  We love doing something.  We have a dream.  And then someone says to us, “You will never be.  This will never be.”

Why does someone tell another person, “You will never be.  This will never be.”?

What makes someone so sure they know another person’s future?

I don’t know the answers to the questions I ask.  What I do know is that the way through hearing “you will never be” is love.

I left the visual arts degree program after hearing “you will never be.”  I still grieve the loss.  I wonder what I would be doing now, what kind of life I would have if I had stayed.  And at the same time, I know the life I did have prepared me to return to the art I loved and claim the title of Artist as mine.

During the years of not drawing, I kept my love of making things with my hands.  I found other ways to create.  I crocheted and embroidered and sewed.  I learned to weave, loved it, acquired a floor loom, and took over the extra bedroom in the house as my loom room.  I learned to spin and dye yarn.  My family and friends were the recipients of all this making.

I began calling myself a fibre artist, and loved how I felt when I used those words.  They felt like me.

Then I discovered a new love, weaving tapestry.

I saw complex images in my mind, the tapestries I wanted to weave.  But I discovered I was not able to recreate the images on paper, in preparation for planning the woven piece.

The Universe stepped in to support my love of making, and offered me two things.  My sister introduced me to the book The Artist’s Way, and I discovered there was an art school ten blocks from my home.  I said yes to both.

Love brought me full circle, back to drawing.

My love of creating with my hands would not let me go, and I listened to that love.  It helped me find ways of making that carried me through and healed me of you-will-never-be.

If someone says to you, “You will never be”, let yourself feel the hurt.  Then find a way to walk back into what you know you love, and walk through.  Love is your power.  I believe in you.

_______________________

In this post:

Book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, 25th Anniversary Edition published by Penguin, 2016.  Originally published by Tarcher Putnam in 1992, and republished by Tarcher Putnam in 2002.  Julia’s website is at http://juliacameronlive.com/