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/

Life Is Not A Test

 rainbow.alexiscreek

Life is not a test.

I realized a few days ago that I live my life as if it’s a test I have to pass. Something in me decided this a long time ago, probably in elementary school.

The test never ends. I never know if I have aced it or failed it. I don’t know who the tester is, or if there is one tester or many. I don’t know what the questions are and whether I’ve been asked one, and if I answered correctly or not.

This explains a lot. It explains why I am keyed up and have to consciously work at relaxing my body and mind. Why I often look at others and feel I can’t stand equal with them. Why I always feel I am being judged. Why I don’t play enough and feel vaguely guilty when I do. Why everything I do has to have a purpose. Why I am frequently not satisfied and pass by my successes, barely giving them and me any acknowledgment. Why I make something, love what I’ve created, then it’s bang—onto the next thing right away because I have no time to waste.

How sad.

I can say, and mean it and know it, that I am happy most of the time in my life. This is true. My heart is open and present and connected and creating. I can feel it, most of the time, loving and joyful.

Yet there is this sneaky background tension running the other stuff I listed three paragraphs back. These are feelings I have been ignoring, that creep in between my love and joy and happiness.

Time to make a choice and let this go.

I choose there is no test. No Test. None. Nada. Zip. Zilch.

There is only my life and what I choose to create in it. And no test.

I am letting these words, and my choice, sink in. This feels better. This feels GOOD.

My shoulders drop two inches. I can breathe. I can enjoy what I am doing. I can play.

Tigger and Totoro--Go Play!
Tigger and Totoro–Go Play!

Yes. I can play. I can wander out of that stuffy Life Classroom I caged myself in, give the door a slam on the way out, and watch the whole place collapse in a heap. Better yet, invite Wile E. Coyote to blow it sky high with one of his Acme missiles. Right on target. Ka-boom! Wile E. takes a bow. The Road Runner and I applaud. Then we all go play. Dibs on the slide!

Yes. Life is not a test. Go play.

___________________________

Note:  This piece was originally posted two years ago.  I am re-posting it today because these last two weeks I managed to trap myself in the Life Classroom again.  Yes, feeling tested, feeling not good enough and not worthy, feeling anxious for no good reason.  Most important of all, not allowing myself to play.  Today I am choosing all over again.  I choose I love all of myself.  I choose life is not a test.  I choose I am allowed to play and enjoy life whenever I please.

After this post is done, I am playing for the remainder of the day!  Yahoooooo!   Maybe you should go let yourself play for a while today too.

 

Resisting Resistance

Cat Fink--'Old Coyote Trick (sticks and stones)'
Old Coyote Trick (sticks and stones) — Cat Fink

I wake up in an I-don’t-want-to-do-anything mood this morning.

I push through my morning routine.  I do my set of shoulder and neck stretches.  There is a flash of “that feels good” when I finish my last stretch, but it’s not enough to crack my mood.

I feel, as I eat breakfast, the desire to remain here at the table, reading.  The book is good, Closer To The Heart by my favourite fantasy writer Mercedes Lackey.  I do not want to put the book down, but this is more than desire to read a good book.  I am resisting moving into my studio and beginning my creative day.

I love drawing and writing.  Yesterday I played in the small sketchbook I received from the Brooklyn Art Library’s Sketchbook Project 2018.  No resistance showed up.

Today, though, there is a brick wall, ten feet high with “I don’t want to” stamped all over it.  I’m on this side.  My drawing and writing are on the other.

I know the trick.  Find the door in the wall.  If no door, then a ladder.  Maybe a bulldozer (I like that).  Or maybe I need help.

Asking for help is never my first choice.  Sometimes it should be.  Okay, help it is.

I reluctantly drop my book mark at page 148 of Mercedes’ book, leave the kitchen table, and move to my studio. I take my morning pages book from the pile of papers just to the right of me.  I pull a Mickey Mouse pencil from the collection sitting in the Starbucks grande frappaccino cup.  Morning pages are my first and biggest help.  I’m ready.

I start where I am.  Kicking my toes against this brick wall of resistance.  Leaning my back against it and muttering, “This feels crappy.”  And then adding, “You’re in my way.”

I built this wall.  I’m in my own way.

I begin wondering what it is I don’t want to do, that has put me in this mood. Continue reading “Resisting Resistance”