I love that my heart loves. It collects people, places, things, ideas. My heart is what makes me a writer and an artist.
Love ignites my curiosity and imagination. Love gives me ideas. Love lets me stretch myself, lets me be brave enough to walk into unknown places, consider wild ideas, and meet people who would otherwise scare me. Love shows me the way into creating things that didn’t exist before now.
Love includes. It includes generosity, kindness, compassion, forgiveness, joy, happiness, patience, wisdom.
Love includes loss.
These last three weeks I have been walking a pattern of love and loss. Back and forth, one then the other.
Among a layering of losses, the largest. The health of both my parents is failing deeply and rapidly. Knowing loss is coming prepares me some, but never enough. Knowing rises from my mind. Loss, for me, is all feeling. Not mind. Not word. Not logic. Not reason.
What surprises me is how my heart finds ways to accept loss, to grow large, and hold the pain in a cradle of love. It’s doing that now as I write.
I watch my parents experience what is happening to each other. They know what’s coming. Their pain and loss is terribly visible, but there is sixty years of love that cradles it.
It amazes me, heartens me to witness how bright is sixty years of love. It gives me the strength and courage to keep my heart fully open through all that is coming.
Loss hurts. My parents are in the deepest place of it right now. Yet it is not breaking them.
I think of our family’s home where I grew up, and the cedars, six of them, that grew by our front walk and at the side of the sundeck. I never knew the age of those trees. Dad figured maybe 150 years old. One hundred and fifty years cradled deep in the earth.
I watched the cedars shake and bend through every winter storm we had. Watched them give up branches, sometimes, to the winds that howled around them.
I am imagining I, my parents, my sister and brother are our beloved cedars. Standing in the storm. Shaking. Bending. Letting go. Our roots cradled deep in a sixty year love. A love so visibly bright it heals me even as the storm blows through.
You who are reading my words, I have never asked for anything from you, but I am asking now. The storm is huge and the wind strong. Please lend me your love, so that I may stand as my beautiful cedar trees, shaking and bending and letting go and never breaking.
I’m sitting in my dining room, on a camp chair, my laptop and papers and pens on our camp table. My iphone is tuned to Jazz24 for background music. The bedroom down the hall holds an air mattress and bedding, clock radio on an upturned box. My son’s bedroom downstairs has identical furnishings.
The dining room window is open to a warm breeze, sun, blue sky. I can hear the hummingbirds talking. They are nesting in the white lilac next to the house. Last year they were in the holly tree at the far corner of the yard. I won’t see the babies learning to fly this year. I won’t be here.
This home is pretty much empty. Everything was moved to storage this past weekend. I have a week of camping out in my house, and then on to the new house-home-studio. (Excited? Yes!!!)
I am finding it interesting how little I need to be comfortable. And interesting how the floors and walls have become a kind of furniture.
I am thinking, these past few days, about doing long work. The big projects that take time to come together and mature. This home project is a big one.
Becoming an artist and writer have been big projects. More than big. More like continual. Can’t help it. I keep discovering new things to play with.
In all the packing, junking out, giving away, I uncovered a box full of old morning pages journals. Pages written when I began this I-am-an-artist journey.
Most of these journals I fed to the woodstove. Letting go of old beliefs, angst (there was lots of that), limits I’d built around my creativity, limits I’d built around me.
I read a few pages here and there, as I fed them to the fire.
What I noticed—the Cat in these pages is no longer me. Someone else’s story. The incremental shifts really do add up to change in a good way.
As much as I love creating, it was a battle for me at first. I had to fight my way past massive fear and anxiety. Fear of making mistakes or a mess. Fear of making bad art. Whatever bad art is, I never did define it. Anxiety over wasting art supplies (read ‘money’) because I’d screwed up a drawing. Fear I was fooling myself; I wasn’t really an artist but no one had told me. All fear.
What saved me was love. When I fought past the fear, I loved creating. Loved the ideas that grew. Loved the surprises that arrived in my drawings. Loved the inspiration sharing with other artists of all disciplines. Loved what I discovered about myself through the creative process. All love.
My love of creating was bigger than my fear of screwing up and making bad art and being a fool.
Inside the front cover of a journal, ten months after graduating from art school, I wrote notes to myself:
“You have to give the drawing everything, all of it, and now.”
“There must be something rattling in the brain and trying to fall out of the pen.”
“Okay Cat, tell me what I’m keeping out of these pages?”
“Imagine what an artist I could be with a heart fully open and aware (this terrifies me).”
“Do the long work, and trust.”
I read these words here, today, and realize despite the daily fear and anxiety, there was wisdom coming through. I did the long work. I trusted. And now here I stand. Artist and Writer.
I held onto the love in my creating as a life line. Love gave me a path through the fear.
Love helped me trust there was a way through.
Sometimes, when my love even now is not big enough, I borrow love from other creators. I play recordings of Natalie Goldberg and Julia Cameron reading from their books. I randomly pull books from my studio library and leaf through other artists’ creativity. I leave books open by my easel and on my writing table. Courage and determination are contagious. Others’ images and words hold and inspire me while I walk through my fear and into creation.
During my final year of art school, I borrowed love from poet Pablo Neruda. His words fueled my graduating body of work. Imagine writing poems to a tomato, a pair of trousers, a watch. I borrowed his idea, drawing a pile of carefully folded laundry, a teacup and spoon, a pear and knife, my favourite fuchsia-coloured brocade vest.
On that same front inside cover of the journal, I’d copied some of his poetry.
“The days aren’t discarded or collected, they are bees
that burned with sweetness or maddened
the sting; the struggle continues,
the journeys go and come between honey and pain.
No, the net of the years doesn’t unweave: there is no net.
They don’t fall drop by drop from a river: there is no river.
I’m in the midst of creating a mixed media drawing for the local gallery’s summer show. Their theme is the story Anne of Green Gables.
The entire gallery, upstairs and down, will be filled with mannequins and miniatures by artist and costumer Korene Kidd of Prince George, BC. The walls will be hung with artwork by local artists.
I read Anne of Green Gables four times, probably more, as a child and teenager. Anne was my kind of hero. She had red hair which I longed for. Funny, that I had the raven hair she wished was hers. I grew my hair long just so I could have braids and pretend they were red.
Although I didn’t get into Anne’s kind of scrapes, I did have the same imagination, loud and busy. Beauty would stop me in my tracks, literally, as it did her. Cherry blossoms against a blue blue sky. A thrush deep in its morning song. The stream that moved through the dark of the trees beyond our house. Wonder and joy.
I’ve been reading bits of Anne’s story as I make my drawing. I’ve discovered something.
When I read Anne years ago, I focused on the actions and thoughts of the characters.
When I read Anne now, I am pulled in by the emotions expressed in the story and mine arising in response.
Anne lives her life wide open to the world. Her heart feels joy and sorrow, love and pain in ferocious, instant, equal measure.
As a child I read the words but did not understand. I was cautious with my heart. I kept my feelings private. There were emotions I didn’t know what to do with. They were either too huge or too terrifying to set free. Love. Joy. Anger. Grief.
I am no longer that child. My heart lies open to my life, as Anne’s does in her story.
I learned to be open. I began with feeling love and joy, and now I also know what to do with anger and grief. Emotions no longer mystify me. Well, most of the time.
This, I am sure, is why I am reading Anne in a different way. I am reading with an open heart.
It’s the same story, same words. It is me that is different.
Anne was written with an open heart. I get to feel that now with every word I read. What perfect joy to have discovered this piece of Anne’s story that had previously passed me by. A gift.
My Anne drawing is titled ‘What Gives Me Joy (Anne of Green Gables)’. It holds a list of joy that begins with ‘blazing red hair’.
My drawing ends with what I’ve learned from Anne, what has nestled in my heart.
Notice beauty. Notice joy. Cradle anger and grief, for they too need to be loved. Find people and places and things to love in your life.
Thank you Anne and Marilla and Matthew and all. Thank you Lucy Maud Montgomery, for letting Anne into your imagination and out to the world.
In this post
L. M. Montgomery, 1874 – 1942. Book Anne of Green Gables, Running Press, 1993. ‘I wrote it for love…’ page 286. http://www.lmmontgomery.ca/
It’s Thursday. Blog writing day. I want to be all sunny today, writing lovely positive words.
Nope. My inner two-year-old took over on Monday and is having an extended tantrum.
‘No’ is my word right now. No, I don’t want to work on my book. No, I don’t want to draw. No, I don’t want to read anything enlightening. No, no, no, and no.
The funny thing is I am totally okay with writing my morning pages. Usually these are what I resist doing. Not this week. My inner two-year-old is taking great delight in having permission to whine, complain, be ratty and growly as much as she pleases in the morning pages.
In fact I have given myself full permission to be as ornery as I want for as long as I want. I have decided to embrace my inner tantrumy-self.
Usually I try to push my bad attitudes away. Cure them somehow. Cheer myself up. Force myself to be upbeat.
But halfway through Tuesday’s morning pages I write, ‘I am tired of pushing myself.’ Six words. They stop me in my tracks. I sit there, pen and mind stilled. I say out loud, ‘Oh.’
I can feel the truth of this. I want to love myself exactly as I am. Always pushing and always reaching doesn’t let me be settled with who I am right now. Instead, it keeps saying ‘not good enough’.
I’m tired of being not good enough.
I need to love myself now. My inner two-year-old needs love and hugs. I need to be loved for who I am, however I am, always. No exceptions. Love myself whether I am having a tantrum like now, or whether I am feeling clear and light and joyful.
Love all my moods. Love all my flaws. Love all my talents. Love all my beauties. Love the whole of me that makes me human. Love me, Cat, the wabi sabi human.
This says I am good enough now. This says I love myself now and I am lovable now. This says I am perfectly imperfect.
I have a long love affair with books. With stories. With words. Longer even than my love affair with drawing, but only by a year or two.
My husband knows about this affair. How can he not? He helped me pack 55 boxes of books last time we moved. The back wall of our suite is all shelves of books, two rows deep. I’ve probably added three more boxes since we moved in two years ago. That makes the current total 58.
This love affair, in other eyes, looks like an obsession. Or maybe a difficulty with hoarding.
Only someone who does not love books would think that.
My parents read to me when I was two years old. A story before bedtime. Thus begins the love affair and my book collection.
Tomorrow is the US Presidential Inauguration. I am having a hard time believing that Donald Trump is becoming the US President, that he was voted in. And yet, it is so. What concerns me most? The divisive way he sees and talks gives others permission to do the same, to pit group against group, to use anger and hatred as the path to what they desire.
I say to this–I Am A Contrary!
I am a contrary. Much of the society and material world I live in tries to tell me all is divided, labelled, specified, separate. It tries to say I am separate from you, from the water I drink, from Raven chuckling in the fir outside my window, from the ground I walk on, from the smooth grey stone I hold in my hand.
Not so. I see, I know, I feel all life, this world, everything as one whole being, one energy, constantly connected, breathing one breath, all flow.
I am a contrary. The material world tries to teach me to see only polarities, black and white, either-or.
But I see pattern, illumination, both-and. I see richness and range. As a child growing up and as an adult living in an either-or world, I remain knowing I am the stars, the sky, the earth water wind, the grey stone, Raven, the fir tree. I am you. I am and we are, both-and.
I am glad I am a contrary. Because of this, I know all is one. I get to see the one whole beauty underneath all of the pieces of this divided material world. I get to see the beauty and the heart living within each person I meet.
I get to see the hearts each of us carries. I don’t just mean the unique shining heart each of us is. I mean every one of us is covered with hearts, all sizes and every colour, one pinned onto us by each person who loves us. We move through life covered, carried, loved, connected by all these hearts.
There is a book by Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried, about soldiers in Vietnam during the war.
I only know this book through another book, Thunder and Lightning: Cracking Open the Writer’s Craft by Natalie Goldberg. On page 127 of my hardcover copy, there is an excerpt from Tim’s book. And then Natalie’s words, talking about this and the truth of a life, and saving yourself through writing. I’ve marked this passage with pencil, and folded over the top corner of the page. What Tim wrote sticks with me.
So now I am wondering, what do I carry?
This is a huge question. My answer could go any direction. I decide to frame the question. As writer and artist, what do I carry?
There is the obvious reply. Paper, pens, pencils. But I want to go underneath this question. What do I carry that no one sees, until and unless I choose to show them?
I am thinking of things that are invisible, intangible. I cannot say weightless because these things carry great weight.
The biggest thing I carry. Awareness. Looking outward into what surrounds me, my moment-to-moment environment touched through my senses. Looking inward. Feelings. Thoughts. Memories. Recording what has been received. Then being aware yet again, in a different way, as I marry outer and inner awareness, and create word and image.
Curiosity. Curiosity is forever with me, perched on one shoulder or the other. Permanently five years old and interested in everything. Her favourite questions. ‘What is that?’ ‘Why?’ ‘What can I do with it?’ Curiosity lets me experience as the child I am inside. Lets me come to my life with heart and mind open, allowing, and fascinated. Lets me experience differently.
Imagination. Inward play sparked by outward seeing and by Curiosity. Sparked by the questions Curiosity asks, especially ‘what can I do with it’. This question is a playground for my imagination.
Creativity. My ever-present need to make stuff and share it. Imagination is the playground. Creativity is the laboratory, petting zoo, and test kitchen. Experiments happen here. The ‘what can I do with it’ becomes ‘what if I try this, then this, or this’, continued ad infinitum. Think pi with its never ending, never repeating play of numbers beyond the decimal point. That is my creativity in action.
I carry something Natalie Goldberg says is her great talent. Strong determination. Twenty years ago, the Director at the Victoria College of Art looked at my student admission portfolio, then at me, and said, ‘Stubborn.’ I said to him, ‘Determined.’ He said, ‘You start in September.’
Finally, I carry love. For myself, for others, for my world, for what I create. Love is at the base of everything I am and everything I do. Without love, passion, none of this would exist.
Tim O’Brien’s characters carried things that kept them alive, more than just physically. Things that gave a small degree of joy, kept heart, spirit, and mind alive in a place of overwhelming chaos and sudden oblivion.
What do I carry?
I carry things that ensure the writer and artist in me survive. The things I carry keep away chaos and oblivion. They ensure joy lives in the whole of me.
Paper. Pens. Pencils. Awareness. Curiosity. Imagination. Creativity. Strong determination. Love. And that is enough.
In this post:
Tim O’Brien, book The Things They Carried, Houghton Mifflin, 1990.