I woke this morning with an image from the first Harry Potter movie, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, in my mind.
It is near the end of the adventure and of course the stakes are deadly. Harry is on a broom, roaring around high amidst a storm of flying keys. Yes, these keys have wings. He is trying to catch the exact right key to open a door. Harry, Hermione, and Ron have to get through that door.
This is perfectly me right now. I have less than 8,000 words left to capture for my Nanowrimo draft. There are loads of words and ideas whirling around me at the moment, but I need to touch the exact right ones to continue my writing.
True I do not need the exact words. Close to exact will do. Helpful words. Words that will point me in the right direction when I come to rewriting.
There is the saying you catch more bees with honey than with vinegar. My plan is to catch my words with honey. Attract them in. Offer them a perfect place in which to land and nest, a place where they are happy, a place that is home.
I am in my studio at my work table. Laptop on and warm and waiting.
Beside me, coffee with milk in one of my favourite mugs. This one shaped as an over-sized teacup, purple with a pattern that might have been thought up by Dr. Seuss. Next to the coffee, cold water in a Shrek the Third glass.
I have my Christmas playlist running. Diana Krall is dreaming of a white Christmas. I love the holidays, and I start up my Christmas music in the latter half of November. This music always puts me in a loving mood. It opens my heart.
Words love open hearts.
Scattered around me on the table top are things that inspire me, make me laugh, hold memories that feel of home and play.
Here is the Pro Yo-Yo my son gave me for Mother’s Day. A mini Etch A Sketch my sister found for me. A mini Spirograph set from my husband.
Gumby and Pokey, Kermit the Frog, Asterix with his winged Viking helmet, two Minions (Stuart and Kevin), Tigger, Totoro, and Hermione. They are my cheering squad, and they are very good at it.
Words love playing. Words love nestling into the homes we offer them.
This is my honey. Love. An open heart. Play. Home.
It works every time.
The words are landing. The next right idea and theme and word thread for my Nanowrimo draft flies in.
It is near 3:30 pm and I am finally writing my blog post.
The word ‘finally’ tells the story. My determination to write is hiding.
There are days when I back away from writing, and this is one of them. I could blame a so-so night’s sleep and the leading edge of a cold for weakening my determination.
These are only invented excuses, looking for something to blame. I know this because this morning, instead of writing, I spend several hours doing other things, and not once do these excuses show up to stop me.
Eventually, I exhaust the list of ‘other things’. I go eat lunch. I read. I look at the kitchen clock a few times. I feel this creeping sense of disappointment that I have not spent the past hours writing, that I have not opened the way into something I love.
I feel a need to analyze why I did not write this morning as planned, but I know that kind of exercise should be filed under excuses to not write. That’s not where I want to be right now.
Love invites me to invent any excuse for writing. Here’s one. Create a list titled ‘any excuse to write’.
My list starts with three words–I love writing. I love playing with words. I love taking an idea or a question, turning it around and upside down and inside out, feeling what it feels like, then turning feeling into words.
I love reading. I love being inspired by other writers’ words. I love finding words in reply to the inspiration they’ve offered me. I love being inspired by writers who never stop writing because they know writing is as necessary as breathing.
I have as many excuses to write as there are words in the dictionary. I have as many excuses as there are new words being invented and thrown into language just to see what happens.
I have a million million excuses to write. My excuse for writing today is to squash that creeping disappointment that I did not write.
There is a pastel drawing on the wall in my Dad’s room at the seniors’ home. Three tall yellow roses standing amid coloured stones, and a backdrop of words repeated over and over. A mantra. ‘I need a shatterproof heart.’
The yellow roses are my Nana, my Mom, and me. The title is ‘Drawing For Anna’. The drawing is fifteen years old.
I wake this morning, thinking exactly that mantra.
I convince myself to write morning pages. What comes in my pages—I need a heart made of silly putty. Bendable, squishable, stretchable. Break silly putty apart and it always smooshes back together again.
Yes, I say in my pages. I need a silly putty heart.
It is late afternoon now, as I write this blog post, and I decide I already have a silly putty heart. All this summer, my heart has been squashed and broken into every shape of every emotion between joy and grief. And every time, somehow, my heart moves back into the shape of love.
A silly putty heart in love shape, I decide, is two hands cupped together, large enough to hold with care all that shows up.
Right now my silly putty cupped heart is holding a lot.
There are today’s naked feelings around my parents’ aging and illness. There is the wanting of a good life and graceful leaving for them, and the feeling this is not terribly possible despite the best we do.
There is the knowledge of being parent to my parents, making difficult decisions, not something I expected.
There is the desperate need of doing something, anything, creative. My heart knows drawing and writing hold me together.
And in this moment, in my silly putty heart, here is the mid-September sun warm on my bare feet, the breeze that smells of the ocean, the rocking of the porch swing as I sit and move my pen across the papers in my lap.
My heart offers me words that soothe and settle the naked, painful feelings. Offers me this moment of beauty. Sun and breeze and the porch swing. The loud cricket choir that begins singing in just this moment.
I wonder, in my morning pages, what to call this mess of feelings that touch all places between joy and grief.
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.