I have begun work on the four beauties I posted a picture of yesterday, and now two of them are covered in an assortment of papers that speak to the name I have given each of them. Besides the fact that I already have some repair work to do on these first layers, I am excited to be breathing life into these creations, one of whom is, of course, named May. What would she think of an artist living in southern California creating a work of art with a mannequin in her honor?
I decided to flip through Journal of a Solitude this morning and see what grabbed me, and after a few stops here and there to see which passages I've underlined, I came upon this one:
"There is no doubt that solitude is a challenge and to maintain balance withing it a precarious business."
I am barely into the new year and already see that this challenge is going to be one of my main journeys this year, as I feel I am in the midst of a radical outward to inward shift. This is not to say I no longer enjoy my time with friends or that I will start severing connections with my community. May Sarton writes extensively of visitors, guests, travels, speaking engagements, friend and neighbors, and always with a certain level of tension and angst. I relate so well to her deep need for the connections she has in her life, how she knows her house cannot become a home without sharing the space with those she loves most. Yet as an artist, the time she takes to maintain and nurture these relationships takes away from the time she needed as a writer. Her ability to dive deep into her creative process, not to mention create lesson plans for her classes and meet deadlines for her publishers, was compromised by social obligations on a regular basis.
I'm not sure that I need so much more alone time - I have enough to spare in many ways - but there is a certain kind of jagged edge to the extoverted area of my life that I long to wear down and soften. Perhaps I ought to imagine it as a piece of wood that I am trying to level one strip at a time, that this is an issue that needs to be handled gently and patiently. On the very last page of Journal of a Solitude, Sarton writes, "...perhaps we write toward what we will become from where we are. The book is less and more than I had imagined it might be." I cannot help but believe that she was writing about the struggles she had creating a journal of a solitude. So much of what she writes in this book is about walking that tightrope between inward and outward, the perils of each, the joy in both, and the energy that sparks when the two clash together. This is the artist's journey, the push and pull that feeds our work and drives us to be better, write more and love with all of our hearts.
Hello Lovelies...four new beauties who arrived at the end of last week. While I haven't touched a panel or canvas since last month, I have been pondering oodles of ideas for more mannequin projects, so I decided to stop messing around and get down to business. I'll keep track of the progress here over the next many weeks (or months, however it goes). Today I have an entire day with nothing on my calendar so these beauties are going to get a lot of loving attention.
I must also carve out time today for my homework. I am diving deeper and deeper into the Personal Essay class I am taking, in my writing, reading, and explorations of possible topics to write about. Over the weekend I spent time with Writing Down the Bones, Plant Dreaming Deep and The Art of the Personal Essay. In between that was some free-for-all timed writing (a lot of griping and groaning on those pages) and expansion of pieces I began last week. Our instructions are to explain, describe and tell the stories of various memories we wrote down on the first day of class, and this week I have gotten pretty sidetracked by questions of why these stories have stayed with me in the first place. Yesterday I moved very quickly from telling a story to a meandering along questions of "What is it about this story that is compelling to me?" and "How is this story related to the other one I've been working on this week, a story about nothing more than a breeze?" My writing about certain events in my life easily slips into writing about the writing of the stories...what am I supposed to glean from these moments in time that have somehow managed to stay clearer in my memory bank than others?
So today I am committed to working on yet another story, but this time sticking to the story. Doing whatever I have to do to let go of wondering why this memory is important, what it means beneath the surface. I do not aim to squash down my tendency to dig deeper into my experiences, but in the first two pieces of writing for this week I feel like I have taken a handful of various seeds and tossed them haphazardly into the wind. My instinct is telling me that those pages have a lot of great material, but I need to let it all sit for a while and do the work it needs to do to pop up through the soil and give me a better idea of what I really have to work with. In the meantime, I will try to practice simply telling a story, and letting that be enough.
In these first two pieces I feel like I peeled back the layers in a way I'm not sure I ever have, and in this unveiling have exposed pieces of my past that have not seen sunlight in well over two decades. I had a moment in one piece of writing where I shifted from a perspective that was very much outside of myself to one that was completely in my own skin, looking out through 16-year old eyes at all the details of the house I lived in, what my parents were doing, what sounds I heard. What was so extraordinary about this is the way the energy of these thoughts changed, how my mind suddenly became incredibly quiet and my senses were able to hear and feel every tiny detail in my memory. You know that buzzing sound you hear when a stereo is on and the volume is turned up, but no CD is in the player so all you hear is a steady, deep hum? Imagine that volume knob being turned all the way down, and it is only then that you realize how loud that hum was. This is how that moment felt, that I turned a corner in my memory and made the choice to examine one very specific part of my past and that volume knob went all the way down, and suddenly I saw things with fresh eyes and a clearer view. Everything became very still and very quiet, and I was free to walk around and take notes.
In these journeys through my past I find myself feeling rather vulnerable, like I am walking through time bare-skinned - no combat boots, no armor, nothing to shield me from experiences that might be unpleasant or downright horrifying. I keep having to remind myself I am free to share or not share whatever I am writing, and in that freedom trying to be brave, to not shy away from stories that are dark or sad or angry or shameful. The fact that I am reaching spaces that feel deeply uncomfortable is a good sign. I know the stronger the resistance I feel the more important it is I push myself farther. It feels silly to talk about needing courage to write, but sometimes that is exactly what is needed - courage to sit still with things we don't understand, courage to let a day we were scared re-play in our mind like a scratchy film shown on a flimsy white sheet.
Datamancer.net takes your keyboards, computers and what-not and transforms them into objects that look as if they were pulled from 1920's steamers that carried women with feathered hats and men in white tuxedos.
The One Word website has four steps:
* simple. you'll see one word at the top of the page.
* you have sixty seconds to write about it.
* as soon as you click 'go' the page will load with the cursor in place.
* don't think. just write.
Praise Song for the Day - Elizabeth Alexander's inauguration poem - will be out in a commemorative edition book February 6th.
Business Council for Peace is doing extraordinary things for women in Afghanistan and Rwanda - get involved!
I love Goddess Leonie's Resource List for Artists & Writers & Creative Beans. Inspiration galore!
As I drove home last night after my second writing class ended, I felt as if I were floating in a sea of stories - memories from childhood, college, last week and eight years ago, experiences, snippets and brief flashes of time that all seemed to be bubbling up at once as I swooped along Sunset Boulevard in the darkness. Even the act of driving in a car by myself at night evoked memories from high school, a time during which I often dropped off my friends after a movie or a party and drove all over town listening to music. Even back then I wanted time alone to process what I was experiencing; perhaps those quiet drives planted the seeds for my life as a writer today.
All these stories began to feel overwhelming last night as I made my way home. Instead of feeling them gently brush past my feet just beneath the surface of a crystal blue body of water, I imagined a swath of ocean filled with debris – tables, chairs, a dollhouse, a bright yellow globe-shaped clock radio…ballet slippers, a German Shepherd, and a silver VW bug, all crowding around me, threatening to send me drowning. It was a struggle to stay afloat amongst all these stories floating and bobbing and bursting up from the depths.
In Plant Dreaming Deep, May Sarton speaks of "experience [as] the fuel." She elaborates by saying, "I would live my life burning it up as I go along, so that at the end nothing is left unused, so that every piece of it has been consumed in the work." My writing has been fed by my own experiences, memories and interpretations of them from the beginning. I have always been far too fascinated by the truth of my own stories - and those of everyone I know - to think about trying to create new ones. When I re-read that sentence, it sounds terribly narcissistic, but it isn't about being so fascinated with ME as much as it is having a compulsion to dissect all my own points of resistance, my fears, quirks, blocks, beliefs and habits. It isn't about looking adoringly in the mirror, but about stepping outside of myself and observing my own behavior, attitudes and reactions.
This writing class, more than anything else, is helping me do what I most need to do - write every single day about chapters from my life and what they have meant to me. Each moment is a thread in the quilt, and my work as a writer is to follow these trails and see where they take me. The afternoon when I rode horses on a beach in Australia in 1994 can be traced directly back to my 8th grade English class in the fall of 1981 when my best friend brought in photos from her family's European vacation. Seeing those pictures lit a fire in my heart that evolved into an intense passion for travel, and I remember as if it were yesterday the decision I made then and there to see the world. Did anyone else at school that day have a personal awakening, a revolution in their heart? Can anyone else point to that classroom as the setting for a moment in time when a significant part of who they are today burst through the soil and began to blossom?
It might feel a tad daunting at the moment to think about wading through all the detritus filling my peripheral vision right now, but as with anything else, the best course of action is to simply begin. To pick one object, one story, out of a sea of thousands and write about it, and on the next day, write about another one. On and on the process will continue, and in the spilling out of words on a page, certain patterns will emerge. As I wrote in my notebook last night during class, my work now is to pluck one petal at a time and explore all the details in each, letting them flutter gently down to the ground when I am finished, where they will nourish the soil beneath and help new stories grow.
Mornings in our household are consistent: my husband and I are at our kitchen table with a pot of coffee and two newspapers, and talking is minimal as we each drift in that space between being sound asleep and beginning our day at work. This morning there was a bit more of a charge in the air as each of us read about today's inauguration, and when my husband headed to his office - where he would be watching the events online - I locked myself onto CNN.com and waited for everything to begin.
There was one other story in today's paper that caught my attention - a tiny blurb a few pages from the front about an Australian writer named Harry Nicolaides being sentenced to three years in a Thai prison for "insulting the monarchy". This "insult" occurred in a self-published novel Nicolaides wrote, of which seven copies were sold. Yes, you read that right: seven copies.
Stories like this are heard all the time, shared as tiny snippets of injustice that don't capture our attention more than a fruit fly. Such things happen far, far away to people we have no personal connection to, so it is all too easy to wave a dismissive hand and send the little annoying tidbit buzzing out of our consciousness. But of all days I've seen stories such as these - stories of people being locked away, abused and even executed for daring to have thoughts and creative expressions of their own - today was a day when it felt especially important to think about the oppression so many people around the world are experiencing right now. After all the finger-pointing, blaming and oh, woe is me attitude flying around this country, all I could feel as I read about Nicolaides was gratitude for the fact that I live in a country that lets me say and express what I want to say artistically, politically or otherwise.
I cannot stress enough my disdain for politics. During the presidential campaign last fall the subject of politics came up constantly at dinner parties and among friends. On the one hand it was a great thing to have so many people discussing all the issues and problems facing our country, on the other hand I usually tuned out early on and always ended up feeling exhausted by how quickly these discussions devolved into vicious, personal attacks. I saw Anne Lamott and Elizabeth Gilbert speak at UCLA last spring, and as inspiring as that evening was, I will never forget Lamott's rant on John McCain - describing him as something like an "ugly little man". I found this very disturbing, because what does his physical appearance have to do with anything and why choose to go down the same road as a third grader on the playground pointing to the kid that dares to do or say something different from you? Whatever political differences exist between people, it is a fine line between feeling passionate about one's beliefs and spewing hatred towards someone who has a different opinion. I say this referring to all of us citizens of the United States, all of whom live in a country that has more freedom than anywhere else in the world. It is my opinion that people forget all too easily that we are blessed to live in a country where we are able to choose who our leader is peacefully and express our opinions and beliefs as much as we want.
My point is this: as Americans, we have a responsibility that much of the world's population isn't blessed with. By the simple lottery-winning fact of our being born in the United States, we come into this world with a gift, the gift of having the freedom to take full responsibility for ourselves, our livelihood, our happiness, our life's journey. We have the freedom to shape our lives however we want, and the basic ingredients of this process is the same no matter what the specific goals are: hard work, commitment, persistance and honesty. Barack Obama spoke of these responsibilities today and it is my hope that we all take his words to heart, that we all stop griping and groaning about all the ways the world isn't serving us and all the ways the government should be making our lives easier. It is my hope that we all look in the mirror and take responsibility for where we are right now, the decisions that got us here and what it is going to take to create a life for ourselves that is based on gratitude instead of entitlement, commitment instead of shortcuts, compassion instead of greed. And it is my hope that in our political, social, moral and ethical disagreements, we can still find space to show one another respect and try to understand one another's beliefs. We might not ever be able to agree, but we can at least find our way back to the truth that we are all on this path together, this path of being citizens of a country that supports our right to believe what we want to believe.
This is my hope for today, and I write of this hope in honor of Harry Nicolaides, a writer like me who is now looking at the next three years of his life from behind the bars of a prison somewhere in Thailand, dreaming of freedoms like ours.
Ask much, the voice suggested, and I startled.
Feeling my body like the trembling body of a horse
tied to its tree while the strange noise
passes over its ears.
I who in extremity had always wanted less,
even of eating, of sleeping.
Agile, the voice did not speak again, but waited.
"Want more" --
a cure for longing I had not thought of.
But that is how it is with wells.
Whatever is taken refills to the steady level.
The voice agreed, though softly, to quiet the feet of the horse:
a cup taken out, a cup reappears; a bucketful taken, a bucket.
~ Jane Hirshfield ~
[Thank you Nina]
[How cute is this pincushion? From Loosestring's shop over at Etsy, the first item on this week's list!]
I have to say I think this is going to work brilliantly. I was feeling a bit torn about my decision to stop posting over at Sparkletopia, but this is the best of both worlds. I can still spread the inspiration love without it feeling like a big drain on my time. As I come across things each week, I add them to the list, so by Friday the entry is all ready to go. Voila!
Right now the sun is shining on my desk at such an angle that I can see every morsel of dust. Good thing I now have a wee bit of extra time because my workspace is, um, in need of some dusting love.
1. Loosestring has a slew of colorful pincushions in her Etsy shop, one of which is shown above...the perfect little gift!
3. This made me weepy.
I have homework...every day for the next solid week. Even weekends. Weekends! But I have to say I felt like a bit of a writing geek when our teacher was telling us about this "boot camp" she wanted to put us through. As I sat there listening to her discuss projects, prompts, assignments and readings all I could think was "Yes, yes and more yes!"
What a nerd.
I was then reminded of the freedom of college life, where before my 7:00 - 10:00pm class began I must admit I was ever so slightly nervous about having to walk across campus back to my car alone, only to find people everywhere as I strolled to the parking garage after class ended. And then I remembered - "Right, when you're a college student you (most likely) don't have, you know, husbands and wives and kids and car payments...mortgages and whatnot." I then had the sudden impulse to run screaming through the groups of students "Enjoy your freedom!!! Savor it for all it's worth!! You are wild and beautiful and full of hope and possibility!"
I know this sounds like I am feeling nostalgic for my college days, but I am, in fact, quite happy being a grown up. I had a ton of fun in college and in those first years after graduation where I was still granted a great deal of leeway in the dazed and confused department, but I would not go back if I could. Still, I liked this up-close reminder of all the loose-ness college life provided (although it could easily be argued that the grown up life provides its own kind of freedom and wide-openness). I had a similar feeling when my husband and I were honeymooning in Florence, Italy in 2007 when I saw all the backpackers sitting along the Arno drinking cheap wine and writing in their journals, where I wanted to go up to all of them and congratulate them on being bold enough to take the adventure they were on. The hunt for the cheapest hostel, the thrill of finding dinner for under $5, the student ID cards, Eurail passes and loaves of bread, all of these details of traveling as a broke student are what made the experience so universal and full of life.
I am ready to dive into my homework and do the best job I can in this class, and to approach my new syllabus, writing assignments and class discussions from an entirely new perspective - that of an artist with a clear vision of why I am in this class in the first place, eager to soak in as much as humanly possible.
The adventure begins...
In her journals, May Sarton writes extensively about her love of "order and beauty" and all the ways she works to stay on top of clutter, piles of mail, and flowers, flowers, flowers. This is but one of the many topics about which she writes that make me feel as if she were reaching out from the pages of her books directly into my mind, reading my thoughts with such accuracy it is almost eerie.
I returned from my latest journey away from home this past Sunday, and yesterday morning I came downstairs feeling a fierce need to have one of my not-at-all-infrequent purge-fests. I spent the entire day filling bags and boxes of donations, re-organizing my inventory of books, throwing away, shredding, storing, clearing out files and hauling trash. I am actually sore today from all the running around, but as always, feel absolutely giddy over the fact that I have very tangibly lightened our load.
This is my neurosis - the most powerful OCD part of my brain that cannot cope with the idea of having too much stuff. You know when the best time to be around our house is? When we move, as we are prone to giving away as much as humanly possible - furniture, linens, kitchen appliances. I would not be surprised if one day we handed over the keys to a perfectly good car. Giving things away is one of my passions, and one of my proudest achievements is showing my husband the thrill of passing our worldly goods along to someone else who can use them. During one of our many moves these past few years, he was ready to haul everything we no longer needed to the dump, but I insisted we take three full truckloads to the Salvation Army, where he was astounded to see that many of the things we dropped off with one load were already gone by the time we came back with another load.
This drive in me came from an experience with someone I used to know, someone whose obsession with obtaining and amassing material possessions had grown to such an extent that I could not help but feel the emptiness in this person's life as I stood amongst piles and piles and piles of things with nowhere to walk but a narrow path through the entire house. I do not speak of this from a place of judgment, but of sadness, where I feel pity for someone so sorrowful inside that the outside must be filled with so much material distraction.
I have such a profound aversion to having anything that resembles any part of that in my life that I have developed a rather peculiar skill of x-ray vision into every nook and cranny in our home. This is a wonderful gift to my marriage as my husband's most frequent questions begin with, "Where is..." or "I can't find..." or, my personal favorite, "Where did you hide....?" I then proceed to tell him, and he goes to said drawer or cabinet, opens it, gives it a half glance, shuts it immediately and tells me I'm wrong. When I walk over to my secret super spy hiding place and show him that - gasp - the item he was in search of was actually in the drawer but - gasp - under another item, he marvels over the fact that I remembered precisely where that week old half eaten bagel was. I suppose this could easily be labeled "photographic memory", but I like to call it, "having to deal with the fact that I am married to my husband and without me to provide him with a treasure map of where things are, he might have to spend - gasp - more than five tenths of a millisecond looking for his glasses." Perhaps a little more wordy than necessary but spot on nonetheless.
So that was my Monday and today I'm finishing up a few more odds and ends. I have signed up for a writing class through UCLA Extension which starts tomorrow evening, and the main source of inspiration for giving my home another round of "getting rid of" is my wanting to set up a new writing space outside of my studio. This journey into writing, where I am wanting to write more than I ever have, has had a surprisingly slow beginning, where I have to admit that maybe one of the reasons I spent an entire day clearing things out was to, in fact, avoid writing. It sounds ridiculous, I know, but I have to acknowledge it as a possibility. As much writing as I've done over the past couple of years, this still feels like a huge shift, and as far as I'm concerned these are a lot of very common modes of resistance. The most important part of my work right now is to keep this resistance in check, to fight it every step of the way.
"Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul's evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it." -Steven Pressfield, The War of Art