Letting Go Of The Story

I am not very kind to myself.  I call myself lazy.  I say I am a master procrastinator.  The fact that I am in year five of my book draft must make these judgments true.  The additional fact that I’ve done several projects during this time, so that I didn’t have to write, also makes this true.

Not true.

Today I woke and realized these years of off-and-on writing and the projects-in-between were necessary.  I had to get myself to the point where I could let go of the story.

I had to break my heart open.

In all the time I’ve been writing my blog, I’ve never talked much of my book draft, other than I was doing it or not doing it.  I’ve never talked about the content because that wasn’t what my blog was for.  My blog has always been for the sake of writing, not for the sake of story.

I am changing that today. 

For thirty-four years I had an overtaking illness, fibromyalgia, that shrunk my life and finally, fully cut away my ability to make art.

I was always a good girl.  I did everything the doctors told me.  I took all the medications.  I cared for my body.  I adjusted my life, managed, made changes, made excuses.

None of it mattered.  The disease slowly stole away the core of me, my truest self—artist.

The week I understood I had finally completely lost my art was the breaking point.  The book begins here, and the story traces the healing path I created.

I know this story intimately.  I lived it.  I was sure that five years of writing was too long and wrong.  I called myself lazy and procrastinator, and it felt appropriate.

What I had not taken into account, when I began writing the book, was how numb I had been for all the years of illness.  I was living through loss repeated over and over.  I was living through pain and grief, and I had to numb myself to my emotions.  Numb was survival.  The only place I allowed my emotions was in my art, where I had control over what I expressed.

Numb is an emotion.

But, telling a story where numb is the primary emotion doesn’t work.  The reader needs something more to connect into and feel. 

My first draft was all numb.  The facts were there.  It had a story line, but the emotional connection was ice.  I was skating on the surface of everything I described, and I knew it.

I stopped writing and spent time working on my emotions and my beliefs about myself.

My second draft was better.  I was able to move into fear and love, how they felt, and how love melted away fear.

Better, but still not deep enough.

Then I did two things, perhaps accident, perhaps instinct, and experienced yet another that broke me through the numbness and let the story go.

I wrote a parallel draft during Nanowrimo 2017.  I wrote all around the edges of the story, every other part of my life, and the lives of my family and friends, during the period the primary story took place.

Because I believed the parallel draft was not the story, I felt free to write whatever showed up.  Because I’d given myself permission to accept whatever showed up, emotions started breaking through and I recognized them.

Loss, grief, rage, desperation, depression.  Everything I’d buried beneath numb showed up, demanding to be acknowledged and written.

So I did.  I felt the feelings and wrote the words.  Painful, tearful, cathartic, necessary.  For my eyes and heart only, and those of a few very trusted friends.  I made it through the parallel draft. 

While I was preparing to begin draft three, I discovered Lisa Cron’s book Story Genius.  I put the draft on hold and instead began writing the back story, following Lisa’s process. 

While I wrote back story and grieved the losses imposed on me by this now-healed illness, both my Dad and my cousin died, and my Mom fell hard and deep into Alzheimer’s.

So many griefs.  They smashed the few defenses I had left.

I was naked and lost.

I kept writing.

There is something to be said for having my heart blasted open.

I felt everything and I feel everything, pain and joy both.  There is no numbing a blast site this big.

And somehow, for some reason, I no longer wish to.

The emotions running in me have freed my heart and my story.  I can let the story go, and trust the writing.  I can trust the words to carry what I feel and have felt.

I have a broken heart.  And I survive.

_____________________

In this post:

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

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.

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/