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/

Life Changes

familytiedtolife
Family (tied to life)

There is no easy way to say this.

My cousin is leaving this earth tomorrow afternoon.  It is her choice, after five years of dealing with a malignant brain tumor and standing up to every change it placed into her life.  Yesterday, she decided it is time to let go.  The biggest change of all.

Our families spent summers together, and the occasional Christmas.  We went swimming in the ocean and the lake.  We folded fleets of paper airplanes and flew them around the house.  We leaned against the railing of the second floor sundeck and spit watermelon seeds as far as we could send them.

I miss her already.

Life is all change.  The past year has shown me this in abundance.  It has also taught me it is possible to find my way through each shift.

Today I am doing things my cousin and I both loved.  Listening to music.  Playing with word puzzles.  Having time with family and friends.  Writing.

The small things in life walk me through life’s big changes.  The small things, and love.

Bon voyage, cousin, and much love.  I am glad we’ve been family.

The Learning By Doing Writing School Part 2

summerbookssofar

After writing last week’s post, I started thinking about what I have read in the past two months.  This morning I walked around the house, stacking into my arms exactly those books I have played with lately.  They are sitting next to me as I write, two tall piles on my studio work table.  The non-fiction pile includes:

Story Genius by Lisa Cron, The Art Of Memoir by Mary Karr, Zen In The Art Of Writing by Ray Bradbury: all on writing process.

Let The Whole Thundering World Come Home by Natalie Goldberg, Terry Pratchett The Spirit Of Fantasy by Craig Cabell, Waking Up In Paris by Sonia Choquette:  all memoir and biography.

Freehand by Helen Birch, Your Life In Color by Dougall Fraser: books to feed my artist self, on drawing, and using the energies of color.

Here is the fiction pile, which threatened to tip over and crash when I attempted to alphabetize it:

The Girl In The Tower by Katherine Arden, Sword and Sorceress XII by Marion Zimmer Bradley, Brief Cases by Jim Butcher, Babylon’s Ashes by James S. A. Corey, The Third Nero by Lindsey Davis, There Are No Ghosts In The Soviet Union by Reginald Hill.

Fated by Benedict Jacka, The Outsider by Stephen King, Three Moments Of An Explosion by China Mieville, The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett, The Martian by Andy Weir, An Incomplete Revenge by Jacqueline Winspear.

You already know I love reading, and here are more reasons why.

In how-to books, I learn directly from their content, but I also learn how a writer captures or loses my interest in something that does not contain a obvious or inherent story line.  They teach me structure, and the balance between telling and showing–information, instruction, questions, personal example.  Ray Bradbury’s book, in particular, shouts his passion for writing.  He proves that how-to can be disguised as story and reach into my heart as completely as fiction.

In memoir and biography, I learn how the writer chooses to structure their story, what they choose to tell and to withhold, and how the writer as an individual shows through, or not, in their writing.  I learn the ways of telling and obscuring the truths of a life.  Again and again I see how easy it is to fool myself into thinking I’ve reached the truth of an experience, when all my words have only bounced off the surface.  I learn how I can be both blind and biased in what I choose to express, and admit that to the reader.  I learn how I can be honest to the bone.

I love love love reading, and I love love love learning new things.  Reading and learning all in one?  Probably why I also started writing.  These books show me if I want to write, I have to read.

Reading fiction is no less a teacher for me than reading non-fiction.  Fiction sets a pushing need in me to write, and the stories continually challenge me to go beyond what is comfortable in what I create.  These books set a demand within me that my writing reach their level of story, of structure, of flow.  That’s a high bar, but every time I write I work my muscles.  I and my words get stronger.

Some of these books swallow me whole, leave me dazed with story when I finish the last page, leave me sitting unable to move or think beyond the words still spinning in the air around me.

That is how I want to write.  That is the writer I want to be.

 

 

 

 

 

The Learning By Doing Writing School

joydiary05.page4and5.2018I am a person who learns best by doing. I can be told something, but I don’t fully understand until I get my hands right into it.

I am in the long process of learning to be a writer.  These days I alternate between writing, rewriting, and reading.

Reading other people’s words inspires me, whether it’s a how-to post or article, a nonfiction book, or a novel. Something in their work connects with and triggers the writer in me.

It seems I can no longer be only a reader when I read. There’s the writer-me in the background constantly taking notes. I have to read with a pencil and sketchbook close at hand to catch the flashes of insight into my project.

I know this happens to other writers. I thought it would interfere with my enjoyment of reading a novel by a favourite writer, would prevent me from relaxing into the story.

Surprise. It adds to my pleasure. As always, I move deep into the story I’m reading, but now I also move into the background process of the words and how they are building the flow of the story. I am not only learning by writing, I am learning by reading. Every book is a teacher for me.

In art school, I learned that the artwork I didn’t like taught me as much as the artwork I enjoyed. Both what I loved and didn’t love showed me who I was as an artist.

It’s exactly the same now, as I learn to be a writer. What I love and don’t love in other people’s words and stories helps me define what I wish to write and how I wish to write it.

I have as many teachers as there are books on shelves. How amazing to be a do-it-yourself student in the biggest learning-by-doing university in the world.

Thank you, all of you who write and share your words, and teach me by doing so.

Writing Between Work And Play

misc.pics 128It’s hot and humid today. There’s a breeze that smells of the ocean and green growing things.  When I look up from my writing, I see a horizon of water that is every shade of turquoise and blue. There’s deep purple at the farthest edge.

I am on the big island of Hawaii.  For the past six glorious days I have been playing.  Swimming, snorkeling, reading, eating, napping, playing cribbage and crazy eights with my husband.  Walking.  Writing.  Sitting doing nothing except watching the ocean.

Yes, writing is here, listed under playing.  Tuesday morning I played with my book, and ‘played’ is accurate.

I pulled out my notes and Mickey Mouse pencils.  I had no expectations.  I only knew I needed to write.  I was missing something I love.

Tuesday I turned work into play.  I wrote with curiosity and wonder.  I opened to possibilities that might show up, even if they shifted my direction and caused a need to rewrite.  I explored the story.

It’s true writing is work, yet it is work I love.  Tuesday I got to be curious and wondering, open and exploring.  I got to watch possibilities arise from my words, and experience creation.

Yes, it  required work in the form of attention, focus, time, and energy.  It required commitment to saying “I will rewrite this” when something was not the best it could be. It needed willingness and courage to move into my truest truth when it felt  painful or frightening.

Something pulls at me if I don’t write for a few days.  Desire, need, obsession.  Yes.  Even more, it is curiosity and love for writing.  I can’t not write.

My attitude has slowly shifted work into play.  I love that writing has become a mix of both these things.  Saying yes I’ll write today, with a feeling of curiosity, opens my heart.  When my heart is open, possibilities open as well.  My writing takes a direction my mind did not expect, I go exploring, and learn something new.

This is play and work as one.  I love that I get to write.

 

I Was Supposed To Be Writing

3.'Laid to Rest 80,000...Spirits (west)'--Cat Fink
Laid To Rest 80,000 Obstructing Spirits (west)

You who love words and books, you know this.  The inability to stop reading a story.  The not caring what other responsibilities are sitting to the side.  The vaguely conscious decision of being okay with missing an obligation and figuring out an excuse later.

I was supposed to be writing my blog post after lunch today.  I promised myself, after not getting time to write yesterday and being cranky about it.

Now it’s today.

I eat my lunch (hummus, tzatziki, chunks of fresh tomatoes, pepper ham, oh yum).  While eating, I read Natalie Goldberg’s new book Let The Whole Thundering World Come Home.  I finish lunch.  I keep reading.

I can’t see a clock from where I’m sitting, and I don’t care.  I know I promised myself I would write the post, and I don’t care.  I keep reading.

How can I stop reading when someone offers me the truest, barest, words of their shot-through-the-heart life?

Natalie’s words in this book are stark.  She offers no consolation and no place to hide, not for herself and not for me.  I can’t stop reading.  These words are her life, everyone’s life, pared to the bone.

Finally, I am done, the book finished, Natalie’s story complete for now.

I feel like crying.  Empathy, recognition, sorrow, relief, love for a fellow human being.

I decide I’d rather write than cry.  I get up and walk to my studio at the opposite end of the house.  I carry Natalie’s book with me.  I am still wrapped in the experience of her story.

I sit at my work table.  I pull loose leaf paper towards me.  I pick up a pencil.  I don’t start writing.  Instead, I remember a September afternoon, years ago.  It is the third or fourth day of a silent writing and meditation workshop.  The air is warm.  There is no air conditioning.  I can smell the wood of the building, hot from the sun.  We are doing walking meditation, a slow circle around the room.  Natalie walks beside each of us in turn, taking our hands, gentle, quiet.

“You’ve got it,” she says to me, smiles wide, and moves to the person behind me.

Why am I remembering this?

The woman who walked beside me for a few moments was teaching me to find the truth in my words, and to settle for nothing less than meeting and loving my life and writing with both hands and my whole heart.

I am not all the way there yet, to the deepest truth, but I am walking the life that stands before me every day, finding a way to love all of it, laying one truest word after another.

Thank you, Natalie, for your hand, your heart, your words, and your teaching.  You are present in your books in my studio, every day whispering “You’ve got it.”

_______________________

In this post,

Natalie Goldberg, book Let The Whole Thundering World Come Home: a memoir, Shambhala Publications, 2018.  http://nataliegoldberg.com/

Pleasures Of The Day

Coyote Calls to the Protectors-detailIt’s the Summer Solstice.  My husband calls this the lightest day.  (The Winter Solstice is, of course, the darkest day.)

We have sun and the bluest sky.  There’s a breeze running through the house, in and out the open windows, playing tag with itself.  It’s carrying the scents of cedars and maples, warm from the sun.  There is the dusty, sweet smell of arbutus leaves, and the perfect scent of wild roses blooming next to the studio window.

The house is quiet at the moment, only George Winston’s Forest album playing on my Ipod.

I am at my studio work table, writing.  Iced coffee at my side, in a decades-old McDonald’s “Good Morning” mug.  Another mug next to it, half full of cold water from our well.

This is Heaven.

My days are made of Heaven moments, when I remember to become present to my life and notice what is here.

These moments remind me of my Dad.  We began going for walks together when I was three and he was thirty-three.

Our walks were slow, not only because of my toddler legs.  We were slow because we were busy noticing beauty, pleasure, and joy, noticing the day we had around us.

Stop and notice the perfect, round, grey stone at our feet.  Notice the feel of the wind pushing against our bodies, and the sound it makes as it moves through the branches of the fir trees.  See the clouds scraping the tops of the hills, leaving tatters of white behind.  Notice the hot, earth smell of the dust clouds raised as we step, and the sound of crows we cannot see, squabbling over something they both desire.

This is beauty, pleasure, joy, receiving the gifts the day offers me.

Yesterday I didn’t do so well at noticing.  Now I am making up for it, deliberately moving slowly, feeling one by one the pleasures of today.

When I allow it to be, this is Heaven.

_______________________

In this post,

George Winston, music Forest.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Winston