My body’s talking to me, and being loud about it. Tensing up, aching, being off balance. It’s been doing this for the past week.
I’m listening and I know what’s going on. It’s all about my Mom. The first anniversary of her death is nearing, and my body remembers. It’s calling for her and she no longer answers.
Last year, right from the start, the grief for my Mom was physical. My body was pain, muscles tensed and cramped, nerves agitated and on fire. I took medication to help ease and get me through, and it helped, but only time brought relief.
At first I wondered what was happening, then two weeks in I began to remember Mom caring for me through every childhood illness, helping me feel better, memory after memory after memory.
She wasn’t here to make me feel better.
I began to feel how physical my connection to her was.
Of course it was.
Her body created and nourished mine before I was born. The whole of me relied entirely on her for life after I was born.
Of course my body—I, we—grieved for her. I grieved for the hands that carried me, for the warmth I rested against, for the voice that soothed and reassured me.
There is no fast track through grief. It comes and go as it pleases, and I will not, can not, close the door to it. My grief comes out of the love I carry, and I would never close the door to love.
For me, the only track through grief is patience, kindness, and care. Though the learning has been hard, I know now to allow my body to feel what it must feel, allow my heart to be broken, healing, scarred.
This is another face of love, the face of allowing and letting go, giving grace and release to one I love and to myself. Watching her take her path and branch away, as I remain standing, both loving and bereft, on mine.
I have a two-word mantra that guides my days. Choose love.
This morning I decided to put my blog on ‘pause’ for the next few weeks, or months. I’m not sure how long.
The reason is simple. I’m pausing for the sake of love of the book I’m writing. I love the story, love how the words are coming together, love the structure that is building itself as I write, love what is showing up to be expressed.
Don’t get me wrong. Loving how my book is growing doesn’t mean it isn’t work, because it is, and doesn’t mean it’s easy, because often it definitely isn’t. I want this book to be the best I’m able to create, and the combination of love, work, and not-easy tells me I need to focus my time and energy and creative power on one thing–the book.
It feels odd to think I won’t write my blog for the next few weeks or months. My blog and I have been writing partners for close on five years, and the weekly writing fills my heart. Yet, I know this is the right choice, and I trust what I feel.
I may change my mind and be back here sooner than I think. I really don’t know.
In the meantime, while my blog is on pause, thank you for the past five years, and bless you for reading the words and hearing my heart.
Voice is a big deal in the arts. Every teacher I’ve had, and every creativity
book I’ve read, talk about voice.
Most don’t explain it.
Instead, they make it a mystery, something undefinable. “One day you’ll find your voice,” they say,
as though voice is a game of hide-and-seek, or the tap of a magic wand from
your fairy godmother.
I’ve decided voice is simple and it’s standing in plain sight.
My voice is the intersection where the whole of my life and
the act of writing, or drawing, meet.
I think this is the same for anyone in the arts. If you are a dancer, it’s your life plus the
act of dancing. If a musician or actor,
it’s your life plus making music or acting.
My words and images arise from inside me. They come out of my life and who I am. Every life experience, every thought emotion belief
doubt, all I learn and every choice I make.
Everything I love and gather around me, everything I reject and push
away. All I remember, all I forget.
Add to my life the repeated action of writing and
drawing. The more I write and draw, the
easier it is to connect with the well of life experience inside me, and pour it
into the piece I create.
This is my voice. It
is my individuality as a person, and how I see the world, expressed to you. When I put my individuality into words and
images, my voice sings.
My voice as an artist and writer has always been with me. I didn’t need to learn it, but I needed to learn to recognize and trust my unique voice. It took me three years in art school and three years as a full-time artist to reach the first time I consciously recognized and chose to trust my voice. Before that, although I knew to my core I was an artist, I was unconsciously relying on my teachers, my peers, and the art world to define my voice.
I remember the shift, because the moment was terrifying and
I know the drawing, too, and which part of the drawing was
the terrifying, freeing moment. The
drawing is at the top of this post. It’s
titled “Everything I Know About The Human Heart, Part 2”, and the moment burned
into my memory is just before I added the tally marks at the right edge of the
I drew from a still life tableau, always. I played with the colours, using my instinct and intuition, but otherwise kept my work true to life.
This time, my instinct and intuition saw tally marks.
Those marks really really wanted to be a part of this drawing, insisting they belonged. The tableau held plain, white, cut paper and scissors, and definitely no tally marks.
I became frightened. Drawing the tally marks felt like a huge action, as though I was defying a rule while others watched, as though I was pushing through something I could neither see nor define, and beyond was the unknown.
I drew the marks, and suddenly felt the freest I had ever felt in my life. My instinct and intuition saw tally marks on the paper hearts, and I drew those in, too. I watched my still life drawing become something more than copying objects on a table. With those marks, I added scars, fences, wounds, stitches. I added emotion and story to my drawing.
I drew from my truest self, using what my heart felt. I drew my heart on that paper.
I let myself be seen.
I let my voice sing.
In this post:
This drawing is part of a body of work that became my first solo show. The entire collection is online at my art site, in the gallery titled ‘Everything I Know About The Human Heart’.
My book’s third draft requires what I call bridges, written
pieces to fill the gaps that exist in the second draft.
Right now I am writing a series of bridges showing an emotional shift from denial into curiosity and the beginning of a willingness to look at a long, traumatic experience of illness. Because this third draft is all about adding the emotional layer, I need to move deep into my emotions every time I write.
Yesterday I wrote about numbing out. Numbing out is an emotion. It’s a way of coping with and surviving other emotions which threaten to overwhelm. I know it intimately. It was my primary emotion for a very long time when I was ill.
Writing about a denial of emotion and, at the same time, providing
the emotional connection for the reader is tricky. I struggled with the words, I persevered, but
by the time I was done I was numbed out to my writing. I left my studio in doubt of any success.
This morning I realized what had happened. I’d not only written about the emotional wall
I lived behind when I was ill with fibromyalgia, I’d recreated it.
My mind, body, and heart don’t register a difference
between an emotion felt via memory and an emotion felt via a current
experience. When I feel something, I feel
the experience right now. Present. Immediate.
I’ve learned things today. Trust my mind and body and heart to know what needs to be written, to feel the emotions truly, and to write that truth. Remember that the emotions I am expressing on the page colour how I feel after the writing is done; bless them, and let them go. Trust my readers and their emotional experiences to understand and complete the emotional connection I’m offering.
The shorter version—trust and write what feels true.
I am changing the well-known saying by Rene Descartes, “I think, therefore I am.”
I’ve decided writers require their own version. “I feel, therefore I am.”
The writing for my book’s third draft is all about
emotional context and connection. The
book is nonfiction, but it still requires the feeling connection with the
reader. Without it, my words have no
depth, and trusting them is questionable.
It’s no surprise to me that the first two drafts lacked emotional context. I am a master at masking my own feelings from myself. Thing is, this lack is a definite problem when writing a memoir that tells of healing through learning to open my heart.
We are all masters at sensing other people’s feelings. Often we call it intuition, but it’s really an emotional connection that runs below thought. From experience, I am aware how I trust the feeling of someone’s words more than I trust the words themselves. I can’t expect a reader to trust and connect to my story without also sharing with them the emotions that accompany it.
Sharing my emotions leaves me feeling shaky, naked, and
vulnerable. Sharing them publicly is
terrifying, but I am walking myself through the terror, and writing anyways.
I am not doing this alone.
I have my precious group of friends and allies who read my
draft, allowing their truest selves to be vulnerable enough to offer me their
I have an editor, and we are forging a heart connection
between ourselves and the story to create it true.
I have writers and artists who are mentors via their books
and images. One and all, they walked a
path of emotional vulnerability, and now they are showing me how to do the
same. When I get too scared, I pull one
of their books from my shelves and borrow their courage.
Walking willingly into vulnerability is terrifying. What surprises me is how grounded, open, and
strong I feel after each writing session.
Allowing myself to see, feel, and express my truest heart is strength,
Allowing my vulnerability is strength. Opening the emotional connection is
strength. Sharing the words that come of
this is strength.
I feel, therefore I am.
In this post:
In case you were wondering, a few of my mentors include Natalie Goldberg, Julia Cameron, Dee Wallace, Tom Hart, and Brene Brown.
I was one of those children who regularly insisted, “I can
do it myself.” My parents heard those
words a million times. Bless their
Now I am in the messy middle of writing a book, and I can
most definitely not do it myself.
I didn’t fully realize, when I began this process, creating a book is a communal effort. I kind of knew, but hadn’t considered it at depth. After all, book covers say “by author’s name”. They don’t say “by long list of names.”
The clue is inside the book on the acknowledgements page if the writer has added one, and most do. Right there is the long list.
When I think on it, I had help long before the book idea
crossed my mind. Every creativity book I
have worked my way through, and every author of everything I’ve read throughout
my life have helped me. They’ve laid
paths and rhythms of language within me.
I move to that beat when I write.
I learned from every teacher ways I wanted to play with
words, and ways I didn’t.
My circle of friends are artists, writers, and readers,
book lovers all. They patiently read my
drafts and ask exactly the right questions to unstick me from swamps of my own
making. They celebrate, commiserate, and
push when I need it. I do the same for them,
and gain a deeper understanding of my own creative process.
In my future beyond the drafts stage, there is a stream of
wise partners who will help me create, support, and present the book that shows
up online, in bookstores, and in readers’ hands and minds.
The help list is long and growing.
I wouldn’t have it any other way. I treasure the community coming into being,
the wisdom and experience shared with me, the yes they are offering my project.
I was a do-it-myself child.
It’s a good thing I have changed.
(Written at a friend’s home, grey-blue ocean beyond the windows and a morning sky clearing towards a sunny day. Thanks Wren, for lending me your place!)
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.
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
I felt everything and I feel everything, pain and joy
both. There is no numbing a blast site
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.
Picture me standing knee deep in turquoise ocean waves. Bare toes, all ten, digging into the sand to keep balance. Leaning my body forward, a telescope to my eye, searching the horizon line.
I want to know what is out there, what’s beyond the range of my vision.
Writing a book has turned me into an explorer, and what I’m exploring is the edge of my creativity. How far can I push this seeming edge? How far can I expand my capabilities as writer and artist?
I’d always thought a project of several years’ length was beyond me. I’d get bored and dump it.
I was wrong. My curiosity for what is next in my book remains as bright as when I began. Not only am I curious about the book, I am curious about my creativity. It keeps changing, reaching and expanding. Every time a new idea shows up, it is something beyond what I have already done.
Helen Frankenthaler, an artist whose work inspires me, talked about not wanting to do something she already knew she could do. I feel the same way.
I don’t mean wildly leaping into complete unknown. I mean standing on what I know, reaching toward what I don’t know, combining the two, known and unknown, and experimenting.
My book project is becoming an experiment. As I complete the work in Lisa Cron’s Story Genius, my vision of the book is shifting. I see something that sits between all text and all image. Not a graphic novel, and not a standard word-only book. I am marrying my capabilities as artist and writer, and challenging myself to go further than what I already know.
As yet, I have little idea where this expanding vision of my book and my capabilities is taking me. My telescope shows me only the open space at the edge that is labelled “here there be dragons.”
I am curious about dragons. I hear they can fly, and some can be ridden. I hear they guard treasure and need to be coaxed to share. I hear they are made of fire. I hear they were invented by someone like me.
I want to write a dragon of a book. A book made of fire and treasure. A book that takes flight and I need to hang on and fly with it, the ride of my life. Guessing I may need asbestos pants in order to stick my seat. I’ll find some.
In the meantime, every day I learn something new about the edges of my book and my creativity. Today it is realizing my interest in my book remains firm, and this makes me happy. Today it is discovering my creativity is capable of handling both short and long term projects, and this makes me happy too.
Today I push out the far edge, and place my new knowledge there. Step forward and stand on the new edge of my creativity, lean forward and balance. Put the telescope to my eye, and see where my vision takes me next. There is an amazing dragon of a book out there, and it’s mine.