Where I Fell In Love

It was a small fishing boat, a khaki-colored, weighty vessel we dubbed The Brown Hornet.  A nod to our childhood when Fat Albert was cool, and Bill Cosby was the world’s best father-figure.  It was tiny, not more than twelve feet long, made for rivers and small lakes.  We christened her with a graceful tip from a can of beer over her bow, which was held together with screws, duct tape, and what was left in a tube of industrial strength adhesive. We set out to the inland channels that spilled into the expansive blue of Lake Michigan.

 

It was barely summer. The water was still numbing and cold.  But the day was splendid and warm. We followed one small river into a larger river, than through a large no wake channel that flowed into the big lake. The water was calm—a personification of glass as far as the eye could see, and the Brown Hornet skidded along its surface gracefully.  We stopped to watch the sun go down—the horizon filled with color.  I jumped in, my body shocked by the sudden cold, but I took one moment to ponder, to look at the boat above me, the expansive water around me.  I held this beauty in my heart.

 

It was when we left that we noticed the leak.  In our moment of calm watching the sunset, the v-shaped hull had steadily taken on water.  The boat had an outboard motor, and the hand held throttle was open as far as it could go, but the boat could not get on plain. I realized the water was inside the boat. It was past my ankles, and rising.  We were close to going under.

 

With night coming and a boat almost submerged. With miles between us and our car with no plan B, I fell in love.  I fell in love with the messy, vibrant, wonder. With the thrilling need to be together.  To watch the sunset by any means necessary, even if it meant going down with the ship.  I fell in love regardless, in the most beautiful place on earth, with the one person who was worth giving up the certainty of my solitary life for the mystery of two being one.

Listen to the story told on The Story Gathering Podcast here:  http://storygatherings.com/podcast/

 

 

Let Your Life Be Wild

My mentors taught me, when it came to painting, to aim for intelligence with layers of crazy. A cocktail of childhood with a driver’s license, blasting a mix tape of Beethoven’s Fifth tempered with a strong work ethic. What they were teaching was not how to make paintings, but how to live a good life. I used to think art took place in a studio and eventually showed up in a gallery, or somthing like that.  Now I know it is just how I bring my soul, my full self, and share it in what I do. I have come, through lived experience, to understand it is the only way to bring lasting change into this world.

Last night, you could have found me in the studio, hours after the kids where tucked in bed, scraping the paint away-layers of hard work-gone- just like that.  Out of frustration. Out of failure. But falling in love with what was revealed. What happened when I just went in deep to the experience was Joy. You see, it’s not a quest for perfect. I don’t even care if you like it. I just want to know-can you feel alive and be astonished? Can you let it be wild?

 

One Effortless Way to Be More Creative in Seven Days

When I first decided to join in The 100 Day Project, the online community committed to creating and sharing work, the first fear that came up was the lack of time.  Kids, work, errands, the long list of things to do...I just wasn't sure if it could be done.  When you want to make something original, sooner or later you will run into Resistance.  Resistance as defined by Steven Pressfield in his classic book The War of Art, is the universal force that acts against human creativity.

Resistance showed up for me as a fear of lack of time.

After awhile, I remembered something I had written in my journal. When my daughter was three months old I decided to cut back my full time work schedule to part time.  I figured that I would always have my career. By staying part time I would avoid large gaps in my employment history.  But once my time was spent...it was gone.

The truth is the only thing we really have is time.  Until we don't anymore.

I knew I needed help.  It came in a very unexpected way.  It came in the form of an Excel spreadsheet.  

For seven days, I set my phone to go off every two hours, after the timer I would record my activity.  The results changed everything.

With this data I saw patterns.  I saw ways that I could batch tasks together.  Times when I could take one hour a week to run errands after I dropped the kids off at school or after work instead of two or three hours.  I began to understand that every time I shifted gears between activities, I lost productivity.  So I became committed to organizing my time more effectively.

The fact that I was recording my daily activities made me more aware and present in my day.

With this new information, I knew that no matter what, I could find 20 minutes each day to participate in The 100 Day Project.  I also gave myself an out:  If after 20 minutes I felt done for the day, that would be fine.  If I wanted to continue after 20 minutes, even better.  This kept me accountable, but also made my brain feel like it had a choice.  This prevented me from feeling overwhelmed.

How will I feel after 20 days?  After 60?  After 80?  I'm not sure.  You'll have to tune in and find out.  I can say, after almost a week in, the word that comes to mind is:  Empowered.

If you would like a copy of my Time Spreadsheet, click Here, and I'll send you one.  If you would like to follow along with my 100 Day Project on Instagram, click Here.

 

Safe Space Painting Project

I wanted to make a series of abstract paintings for an exhibition this fall, but the figure kept coming into the composition. You may not be able to really see the figure yet, it's partially cropped out, and not clearly articulated.   This image began to emerge after hours of painting and wiping everything away, and starting over.  Again and again.

After I got past my own trying, this movement came, and I knew it was the beginning--it just felt right.  It's incomplete now, in the raw, unfinished.  But it's real.  I plan on keeping things unrefined for now, but we'll see where the process goes.

Here is a start of a series inspired by my daughter.  Who says that the only place she feels safe is at home with mom.  I've wanted to create a space for a seven year old who is smart and sensitive, who somehow has figured out why she and her classmates have lock down drills at school, and understands things I wish she didn't have too.

I don't have answers for all of her questions.  Just an endless amount of love, and encouragement to persist with a messy grittiness.  I tell her over and over that she is innately good, and loved just the way she is.  That the whole damn thing is one bittersweet gift.  Except I don't say damn, she's only seven, after all.

Now that I've stated working on this series, I realized that there is an ache in all of us for this.  Hemingway wrote about it in "A Clean Well Lighted Place."  Dillon sings about "Shelter from the Storm."  Many artists have tried to articulate what shelter looks like.  Or what the absence, or lack of shelter feels like.

So here is the beginning of the Safe Space Painting Project.

I Failed And I'd Do It Again.

What do I love so much that if I failed, I would do it anyway? 

It’s a question that has been following me around lately.  It’s become helpful in all sorts of unexpected and compelling ways.  It has taken mental and soul weights off of me, if you want to know the truth.

You see the question used to be “What would I do if I knew I could not fail?” 

The answer was always the same:   I would live authentically.  I would love myself and others well.   I would make things and share with others.  I would pursue a life well lived.

 

But I found that question seemed to have the opposite effect on me.

Instead of taking weights off and finding freedom to pursue a good life, I felt elevated pressure and anxiety.  The question was unrealistic, because failure is always part the picture of being human.  It is unavoidable.  So the question of ‘not failing’ never gave me peace of mind.

“I should not be worried about failing.”  I’d say to myself in quiet moments.  Then worry that I was not living up to being a loving wife, or mother, or artist.  That I was not being authentic enough.

Recently I’ve begun to ask myself a new question: 

What do I love so much that if I failed I would continue on?  What is so important that failure, when it happens, loses its power?  

When I started asking this question, immediately, my heart got lighter.  I felt a new shift in perspective.  It was as if I had been walking around with large weights tied to my feet, and I was able to take them off.

Because failure is part of living fully.  Living fully is what I wanted all along.

In spite of the certainty of failure, imperfection and life’s inevitable setbacks, I continue on with resolve and resilience.   My heart knows heaviness, but it also knows lightness…and lightness is winning.

 

 

When Enough Became Enough

 

When I was completing my Master’s Degree in Fine Art, I studied abroad in Italy.  What I learned there changed everything.  I had come with the idea that I would encounter an ancient culture, and by ancient I mean a culture that was less advanced than what I knew.  I found just the opposite. As I was walking through the remains of the city of Pompeii, I realized that we have not done things better than in Renaissance Italy.  Partially because of the intelligence, the design, and the innovation.  But mostly because of the hand-made craftsmanship that is everywhere.  The handles on cutlery found in a Pompeiian home are painstakingly well crafted.  The quality of the marble floors and intricate detail of the mosaic walls, the expanse of the architecture, it all holds up and surpasses anything that would be made today.  In a postindustrial, information saturated age, the cost of such craftsmanship is irreplaceable.  We couldn’t afford it.

 

 When St. Paul writes in Ephesians 2:10 that, “…We are God’s handiwork…”  I consider his words in the context of the culture Paul was writing in, a culture similar to what I observed in Pompeii. I am not talking about Religion or a Christianity that is overly Westernized or simplified.  I am searching for what it means to be fully alive and human.  The Greek word Paul used for handiwork is “poiema.”  It is where we get the English word for poem.  Some researchers would go so far as to say that Paul is describing humankind as God’s Artwork.  In Paul’s day, artwork wasn’t in some quiet museum waiting to be observed, it was all around. A part of everyday experience.  Everything was handmade, and considering what I observed in Pompeii, handmade extremely well. Paul was a craftsperson, financing his travel through work as a tent maker.  I imagine craft would have meant a great deal to him. Considering where Paul lived and traveled, he would have been exposed to Etruscan frescoes depicting beautiful landscapes and Roman Architecture with grand and expansive columns and ornate reliefs. I wonder if Paul was thinking about a particular work of art when he wrote this passage, and if so, what kind of significance did it have to him? I do know that he asks me to remember my identity is a beautiful, one of a kind, hand-made thing.  Maybe he knew something about creativity and craftsmanship that we have forgotten today.  Maybe this is how we are designed, to make and invent things.  Innately, just because…

 

I used to think my value as an artist came from what I did, but now I know that the real flesh and blood matters are found in my artist’s heart.  The heart I was born with.  I used to put the mantel of financial success on my work. Or how popular my work became.  Or praise I got for its uniqueness.  Because if I am honest I have a real fear that…when it’s all said and done that I will have missed it. That my life will pass and that I won’t make a significant contribution, that I screwed it up—my one chance—and now I will dissolve like a vapor into the unknown and nobody will notice or care.  There is this primal longing within me to matter.  I try to get a handle on this fear by performing.

 

We live in a culture that affirms the idea that people who work hard enough, who are smart enough, invest their money well and don’t buy expensive jeans, that keep that twenty something appearance well into middle age, or who get all A’s, who exercise when they are supposed to, and who have a diet of only greens and lean protein. That they are the ones.  They are the ones worth it.  They are the ones keeping all the rules just right.  Those who reject this social norm we label dilatants, slackers…they are shamefully insignificant. It’s probably why we don’t value our elderly like we should, or our mentally challenged, or even our children.  Because when you get down to it, we find a person’s real value resides in the status of what they do.

 

But we are poems.  We are artwork.  It sounds too good to be true. It sounds like a lie that dreamers believe who don’t live in the real world where results matter.  But what I have observed is this: Those who are truly doing creative work, who have the kind of lives that everybody else wants, they know this.  They let this belief reside in their bones.  They don’t do work chasing anything, they do work because they already have it to give.  They have changed the dynamic of life from one of a transaction i.e. you do this to get that, to one that starts and ends with joy.  It is life changing.  It is changing me.  It changes the space from which I make my work, whether it is work that supports my family financially or not.  I no longer work for money, I work for money that supports a life well lived.  Money is a means, not a master. It creates more opportunities to be grateful on all kinds of levels.  And when I get a chance, I break bread and wine with others, and maybe cry and then laugh, and then cry some more.  Because poems we are.  Every one of us.

 

If you like the ideas I have shared and would like to take this information to the next level, sign up to my News Letter to receive a free digital download on Creativity and Finding Your Individual Voice, here. 

Where I Fell In Love

It was a small fishing boat, a khaki-colored, weighty vessel we dubbed The Brown Hornet.  A nod to our childhood when Fat Albert was cool, and Bill Cosby was the world’s best father-figure.  It was tiny, not more than twelve feet long, made for rivers and small lakes.  We christened her with a graceful tip from a can of beer over her bow, which was held together with screws, duct tape, and what was left in a tube of industrial strength adhesive. We set out to the inland channels that spilled into the expansive blue of Lake Michigan.

 

It was barely summer. The water was still numbing and cold.  But the day was splendid and warm. We followed one small river into a larger river, than through a large no wake channel that flowed into the big lake. The water was calm—a personification of glass as far as the eye could see, and the Brown Hornet skidded along its surface gracefully.  We stopped to watch the sun go down—the horizon filled with color.  I jumped in, my body shocked by the sudden cold, but I took one moment to ponder, to look at the boat above me, the expansive water around me.  I held this beauty in my heart.

 

It was when we left that we noticed the leak.  In our moment of calm watching the sunset, the v-shaped hull had steadily taken on water.  The boat had an outboard motor, and the hand held throttle was open as far as it could go, but the boat could not get on plain. I realized the water was inside the boat. It was past my ankles, and rising.  We were close to going under.

 

With night coming and a boat almost submerged. With miles between us and our car with no plan B, I fell in love.  I fell in love with the messy, vibrant, wonder. With the thrilling need to be together.  To watch the sunset by any means necessary, even if it meant going down with the ship.  I fell in love regardless, in the most beautiful place on earth, with the one person who was worth giving up the certainty of my solitary life for the mystery of two being one.

Listen to the story told on The Story Gathering Podcast here:  http://storygatherings.com/podcast/

 

 

Story to Spill: Three Hacks to Experience Art in Your Daily Life

 

Picasso famously stated that, “Every child is an artist.  The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”  It’s true, I believe.   I’ve never met a child who sat in front of a box of Legos worrying about what they were going to make, or sat with of a bunch of crayons or markers wondering what in the world they might do with them.  In contrast, more often than not, a common response I observe when people find out I am an artist is this, “Wow, that’s great.  I couldn’t even draw a stick figure.”

For some of us art become a problem to figure out, some kind of elite challenge only for qualified experts, or a certain kind of people.  A select few of creative, talented, skinny-jeaned and trendy-glasses wearing people.

But here is the deal:  The arts are a conduit to tell a story about what it is like to be a human being.  That’s it.  If you are a human being, this stuff called the arts is for you. There are parameters to be sure, of design principles and critical discourse, and they are important.   But this thing, this deeply inventive notion that we can engage with, is for everyone.  It is perhaps the most democratic of agencies we possess.

Here is what I think happened for some of us:  Think back to your elementary school experience.  There were probably a handful of your classmates that did well in art class, and even fewer who were celebrated or recognized for their talent.  The reality is, unless an adult, most likely an art teacher, recognized and pointed out your creative potential when you were young, you likely stepped through your early development believing that you were not creative.  This can leave a gap in understanding of the arts, and a longing to reconnect with the part of ourselves that engages with creativity. 

Here are some suggestions that may help from being an observer of the arts to actively engaging in them:

1.      Trust Your Curiosity.  You opened this article to learn more.  I believe that creative experiences are tangible in everyday, ordinary life.   While in the midst of running errands, going to work, and other standard necessities of day to day, a sensitivity can be cultivated to engage with and experience wonder.  In fact, it is often during times of mindful idleness, experienced in ordinary tasks, that our minds can wonder and daydream.  This is an important component of engaging with creativity.    One of my favorite poems is by Gregory Orr, the inspiration for which came to him while he was washing dishes.  Let wonder engage with you by following your curiosity in the midst of routine tasks.

2.     Accept That Beauty is an Everyday, Common Occurrence in this World.  With so much of technology culture and news cycles relying on negative stories to generate ratings and “clicks” it is easy, I would argue likely, to be overwhelmed with the heaviness of the news content in our modern society.  Art reminds us, and makes us more sensitive to, the beauty that surrounds us every day.  I’m not saying to live life with blinders on, just live with a more balanced and nuanced perspective.

3.     Realize that You Have Been Changed by Art Already, and Make Room for More of That Experience.  I bet you can think of at least one song, photograph, movie, or play that connected with you.  Maybe the idea that life is a rich and varied experience that is meant to be enjoyed was somehow communicated.  Or perhaps it was the loss of something wonderful that needed expression.  Whatever it was, you encountered something that made you feel more alive.  There is room for increased amounts of that kind of experience.

The good news is, you will not have to go far to find art in your community, so choose an event and go.  Which leads me to a shameless plug alert:  First Friday Gallery Hops are coming this November 4th.   If you live close to the Grand Rapids Area, I would love to see you at this event.  First Fridays happen every month on the Avenue for the Arts on South Division.  There you will find artwork by local artists, handmade goods, and food and drink specials at local eating establishments.   

For the upcoming First Friday, I have been involved in coordinating an exhibition at Spiral Gallery, located on 44 Division Avenue, which will be showcasing the work of Kendall College of Art and Design of FSU (KCAD) Painting Alumni.  The exhibition will feature the work of five artists, all graduates of KCAD’s Master of Fine Art Program in Painting.  The work of these artists is distinctly different and varied.  Some working within the boundaries of realism, others working with more expressive techniques and subject matter, while others are using unique and diverse materials in their work.  This variety of processes makes this exhibition an opportunity to engage with the varied medium of painting in new and unexpected ways.  The opening is from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.  I would love it if you stopped by and said hello.  I would be interested to meet you, see your perspective, and continue this conversation.

Artists Included in KCAD Painting Alumni Invitational:  Katie Moore, Nancy Oaks-Hall, Dustin Rogers, Beth Siewert Purdy, and Michael Breakiron.  

To follow Spiral Gallery on Facebook and view the Invite for the KCAD Painting Alumni Invitational:

https://www.facebook.com/SpiralGalleryGR/

For more information on Avenue for the Arts First Friday Gallery Hops:

http://avenueforthearts.com/first-friday-gallery-hops/

To Read the Poem:  After the Guest, by Gregory Orr:

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/browse?contentId=34400

 

Story To Spill: Three Unexpected Ways to Stay a Creative Adult

In 1968, George Land conducted a research survey to test the creativity of 1,600 children.  His results were astounding.  Here are his test results:  Children age 5, 98%, age 10, 30%, age 15, 12%.  That same test given to 280,000 Adults: 2%. "What we concluded," wrote Land," is that non-creative behavior is learned."  

I believe we are wired to be engaged and connected to our world.  You can stifle it, you can even deny it and shut it down for awhile, but we are meant for it.  In this blog series, Story to Spill, I am connecting us to people who are pursuing the fullest expression of themselves through the work they do.  Just to be clear, this does not necessarily mean the job they do to make a living and pay the bills.  But it is true work just the same.  So what are some unexpected ways to stay connected to creativity? Here are a few I find effective, but they are not as obvious as you might think.

1.  Know your identity is not in what you make or do, it's how you make or do.  Here's what I mean:  When somebody asks me what it is I do, I no longer say, "I'm an artist."  I say this:  I have found that some people find it difficult to stay connected to their creative selves and to find meaning in their work.  So I have a process that helps people to be more authentic and connected in their daily lives."  I find this a much more accurate statement of my work.  I've also seen this description lead to stronger and deeper conversations allowing me to elaborate further.

2.  Find the place where your deepest curiosity connects with the world's greatest need.  Doing creative work is about service.  When you pay attention to what really brings you to life and begin to pursue it, you'll find that you will naturally want to spill that talent into the lives of others.  I love the Howard Thurman quote," Don't ask yourself what the world needs.  Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that.  What the world needs is people who have come alive."

3.  How do you know what your deepest curiosity is?  Find the thing that you would do no matter what, even if money was not as issue, and pursue that.  I would never say not to take care of your family, or to not provide stability and opportunity for the ones you love.  Never.  I will say the moment you can introduce into your life work that makes you curious and connects with others, head toward it.  Because the longer you stay in an environment and work that you are not curious about, the more ordinary you will become.  Start small, start with 20 minutes a week if that's all you have.  But start.

Stay tuned, in the next few weeks we will be meeting some individuals who will inspire us further.  How about you?  Are there unexpected ways you have found to stay a creative adult?  Just curious...

Being Rich, Dark, Ink is Not a Mistake

 

Today I painted the canvases thick.  Red, Yellow, Blue. Zinc White. Galkyd Gel. Mix. Repeat.  Gradually.  Slowly.  Until the deep rich darkness of the three primaries coupled with white blended down together and began to take on the appearance of think black ink.  Not too purple, not too brown.  Dark and heavy and viscus.  It’s the color of black tar, of murk, of lurching echoes underneath the Milky Way night sky.  

It longs to become clear fresh, crystal clean water, but for now ink it remains. 

I have come to believe that it is not a mistake to sit in the dark ink places.  Maybe, as Sister Glennon says, it's a response to being a sensitive soul in a messed up world.  The veil of time that keeps us suspended in the ink needs to find expression.  And that's okay.  In fact it's a healthy and wholesome act.  A vehicle to truth telling in a world largely more comfortable with glossy and perfect and presentable. Especially from a girl.

Because that girl has been called beauty.   Skinny jean and hip enough to play a part with the arty girls, wearing oversized eyeglasses and dyed hair.   Or she's felt that she needs to be jock enough in a man’s art world, speaking all moxie and bravado to be heard.  And/or smart enough for the Deconstructionists, the philosophers, the smart people in the know.   Or how about just sexy enough for plain good old fashioned advertising, let's just start there.  Edited enough on Photoshop.  A body with all the right proportions, a vehicle to sell.  I would be remiss if I did not add a curated Facebook feed, complete with memes and updates at just the right times with just the right about of content. And on. And on. And on.

I’ve wanted to be something other.  But what I’m finding is to be the dark ink.  I want to look like the water.  But that would be dishonest.  Pretending.  Because it’s not a mistake to be the ink.  In the light, water may get the attention.  It may speak to perfection.  But in the ink is where the Know is.  It's good soil for creativity if you let it be.  And there is power in that. 

Because I’m tired of putting on roles that don't fit, and never did.

Today, in the studio, a small dismantling of those roles took place, leaving me to speak from my voice.   In writing these words, too.  I need both paint and words just as much as the ink to make them.  

If this is you, if you have been feeling like ink when all you want is to be the water, then let’s find places to dismantle together, you and me. 

Because that is where the life is.

 

For further resources and reading, and to connect with others who are finding their voices through dismantling, I recommend:  

Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton, Finding God in the Waves by Mike McHargue, The Artist's Way by Julie Cameron, The Poems of Mary Oliver, especially The Journey.  Shauna Niequist quotes this poem in her new book Present Over Perfect, which is wonderful as well.  Anything written by Brene Brown, especially Daring Greatly.  These authors have taught me so much about being brave.  It's possible to be in this world and do the work that brings you to life.   In fact, I believe we are wired and created for it.

 

On Creativity: Confessions of a College Art Educator

I remember the first time I stepped into an art classroom.  Way before Seth Godin introduced us to the idea of finding a tribe, or before social media became the platform for connection it is today, I remember entering into this space of creativity and of making things and feeling like I had found my home.  The second feeling I had, almost immediately after that,  was that I was an impostor.   I was nowhere near as cool, or smart, or as talented as all the other 'real' art students in that classroom.  I became afraid.

That was a long time ago.  Now I am the art teacher in the classroom.   If I am honest, I still feel the fear of not being enough:  smart enough, cool enough, talented enough.  Not much has changed, except that I have learned that what I do is not grounded in "enough," but in something deeper than anyone's opinion of it, including my own.  

What I know for sure is that creativity is for everyone.  It is something we are all born with.  There is no such thing as creative people and non-creative people.  The only way I know to feel like I am not just skimming through the top layer of my life is to be creative.  I define creativity in the words of Sir Ken Robinson, as using your mind to make something that is original and has value.  It takes on many forms, but it always elevates us into our truest, most whole selves.  

I am still learning, failing, and getting back up and trying again.  It is worth it, though.  There is nothing more powerful than speaking from an undiluted and authentic voice.  I would love to know, how do you dig deep into creativity?  What helps you to connect with your truest voice, and what is its worth to you?