A friend shared this TED talk on her face book page and I’m glad she did. Charlie Mackesy is an artist, a cartoonist, an author of the children’s book; The boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse. In this talk he shares his experience of bringing together a group of elderly people and freeing them up through drawing. His story is quite profound and inspired. Be Messy !
“Have no fear of perfection, you’ll never reach it.” Salvador Dali
These words bring me some comfort. Of course we all want to do things as well as we can, become “proficient” at our craft, take pride in a task well done, a skill mastered. And we do want it to be perfect. When it isn’t, many of us chastise ourselves feeling we’ve missed the mark (hello). I hold myself accountable to that, and with following through with a project, and I feel a little anxiousness build when I begin to slip. A fear of not perfectly accomplishing what I set out for myself; if I let that slip then all may be lost. (which, I am aware, is a ridiculous thought- but there it is). I also understand that to let this anxiousness dominate is counter-productive to creative thought and practice, nothing will come of it but tension. But, I can get caught up in a vicious cycle when this dynamic happens.
I am noticing more often now what my mind set is when I enter into a creative head space; funny I never paid attention to this before. But I do believe that over the last several months, maybe the last year, and with the help of committing to this blog, I’ve been conditioning myself to build and recognize the climate that allows creativity to expand and to overtake the mundane, and I have become aware of how this “feels.” I have been able to keep more ideas for art/creative work as the frontrunner in my thoughts and daily structure. Interestingly, I am becoming familiar with how I prepare myself internally, how I encapsulate my attention and focus. And I’m familiar with how satisfying it is to blur my surroundings and sharpen my vision to only the creative work at hand. This is a space I love to be in. A space I had forgotten I once inhabited a long time ago when an art student. I can honestly forget everything (and everyone) else and submerge into that space. An alienating prospect for an artist’s non artist spouse! (fortunately, he understands and supports)
Life has had, and continues to have, its myriad of distractions, pleasant and otherwise, that will always vie for attention. My aim now is for balance while keeping my inner eye trained on a soft but protective boundary that encircles my creative space. I can find a modicum of perfection in that arrangement. As for the work coming out of that arrangement, I will look for the perfection in its imperfection.
A bit of a ramble.
For this Monday’s motivation I am sharing a bit of what I had written in my Morning Pages the other day. But first I need to clarify, in case you haven’t read the book The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. He writes about The Resistance. It doesn’t relate to any political agenda, not waging a war and overthrowing the powers that be. But it does relate to a war of sorts. The Resistance is the critic, the chattering monkey in your ear that says; just stop doing what you think you can do, because you know and I know you can’t do it. Why are you wasting your time? “Resistance is the war within.”
We’ve all had this inner dialogue at some point, if not all the time, anytime we take up a new venture or work away at an ongoing project and self doubt rears its poopy head. The chattering monkey, the self doubt, the self defeating inner critic IS the Resistance.
In my M.P I wrote:
I’m fighting against Resistance right now. I’m fighting against the challenges and expectations I’ve set for myself. I’m fighting to believe I have anything worth saying. One part of me says why set challenges or goals? The other part of me frets over each hour of the day when I’m not meeting the challenges and goals I’ve set; not doing the work. I can be near frantic if I let time slip or lapse one day- then two, that it will be too late to regain ground. I worry I will lose all momentum. I have a raging conflict of interest within. A part of me appears to have an interest to give up with the self imposed expectations, hang out, I’m sixty-three, it’s done. Any work I do or input I have from this point on has no merit, so chill. The other part of me says the exact opposite.
The other part of me ( the stronger part) has an interest in the exact opposite.
This is classic Resistance at work. My inner dialogue was sliding under Resistance rule, I was almost believing those words to “give it up”. It was only as I was writing it out in my Pages that I saw it for what it was. In fact as I was in the act of writing it out, I recognized immediately the seductive, slithery, slippery voice of Resistance.
How could I tell? Looking at what I wrote I knew I didn’t believe the words “give it up”. I think I saw those words as what others would expect of a sixty-three year old woman. The status quo who says, why put yourself in situations of having to meet “unnecessary,” self-imposed expectations, why challenge yourself when you don’t have to? What do you really hope to gain at this point? Because I recognized where that voice was coming from I had an opportunity to rally my better self and shake off the self defeating babble.
Setting personal challenges is the prodding, pointy end of the stick I use to ignite, motivate, to see what I can do. What I want to do. Because it can be too easy to succumb to acquiescence and let self discovery, and growth atrophy; and to allow that to happen is a kind of long, slow death with missed opportunities to blossom. And there is no excuse or reason under the sun to deny ourselves that privilege.
“The chief enemy of creativity is good sense.” Pablo Picasso
Easier said than done! As we grow up we become layered over time with so many “should’s” and “better not’s” and “what will people say” that we shrink into a homogenous, bland, colourless expression of our child selves for the sake of “fitting in” to the stats quo.
I’m going to keep looking for ways to allow some of my actions/ activities to fall under the definitions of Just because and Why not.
“What do I want to express? The subject means little. The arrangement, the design, colour, shape, depth, light, space, mood, movement, balance, not one or all of these fits the bill. There is something additional, a breath that draws you into its breathing, a heartbeat that pounds on yours, a recognition of the oneness of all things.” – Emily Carr
It’s the unknowable knowing, that “something” that speaks to us with a volition of its own and completes the dialogue between muse and recipient. Emily’s words capture this eloquently.
“To practice any art, no matter how well or how badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Just do it.” Kurt Vonnegut
The work is important in that it isn’t “Important.” It’s all in the doing. Watch a toddler with paper and paint. She creates like it’s the most natural thing to do, and isn’t it? It doesn’t matter what the subject matter is and of course it doesn’t matter how it “Looks.” A toddler doesn’t care, she is absorbed in the moment, and as adults looking on we don’t care either. It’s beautiful, whatever it is they’ve made, it’s genius. Let’s be that!
Completed under-glazing my mugs. Each one different; seems I can’t repeat myself. Well, I have a couple of fruit motifs, but It would certainly be a faster process if I had set pattern or motif for all my mugs. But no. Too boring. Every piece is pondered over, held, and stared at for many, many (ahem, many) minutes before I make a mark. But, I am still exploring the process too, so I want to try different things. I’m playing with rubbing off some of the colour, and using sgraffito, and loving the process. I use a limited palette; Red, Blue, Yellow, Black, white, and for fun, turquoise. I can mix pretty much all the colours I need with Primary colours, and it’s cost effective too.
Underglazes are similar to working with water colour or acrylics, and so versatile in expression. The only tricky part is the applied colours change somewhat in the final firing so I’m never positive how the end product will look. It’s a surprise when the kiln is opened. Fingers crossed the final firing comes out well, a lot of head scratching went into each piece!
Had an interesting connection with another blogger this week regarding my short story Pocket Watch. MerileeWein.com Doublegeneologytheadoptionwitness found my story and communicated to me that the man I wrote about, Robert McArthur, the owner of the pocketwatch, was her great-grand father. She knew only a little about the 1918 Protection Island mining accident and was happy to have a narrative to flesh out the incident. She told me Robert’s son, her grand father became Chief Mining Inspector for B.C. Obviously he had been deeply motivated after losing his father in such a tragic way. And though I made an attempt to personalize the men in the incident, to make Robert McArthur and the others real and not just names and statistics, that they had lives, and families, and worries, to hear from Merilee further made Robert flesh and blood, with a lineage; I don’t know, I was really moved when she notified me.
I’ve been working over another short story to get it ready for submission to the CBC Non-Fiction Competition. I should say a different story because I had originally began with a story about a sailing trip I crewed on but decided it wasn’t really right for this submission. The story I’m going with now is titled Sue, taken from an event from my childhood that may, or more likely my not, be interesting as an entry or as worthy material; but this isn’t the point. Having a deadline, in this case the end of February, and putting stuff out there is the point. To submit. And I found when I resuscitated the story- I had written the rough draft last year- I heard a “voice” in the narrative that I hadn’t heard initially that I want to expand on. I want to see if I can carry that through, as an exercise.
I still have all my pottery to underglaze over the next couple of days. And I haven’t yet made a mark in my Sketchbook Project. My resolve to “art” every day feels like Dis-solve lately. But all is well, spirit is high and life is good, and we had snow for a few days, so that was fun! (I’m serious, I LOVE when it snows here)
I’ve had a productive week. Sixteen mugs, three small bowls, and a vase thrown on the wheel. I ran the risk of not getting handles attached to five of the white mugs and getting their bottoms trimmed up; I had left them to stiffen a day too long on the shelf, so it was a scramble in getting them trimmed, pulling handles and getting them on. As I was working I knew there would be cracks at the joins, and I really thought I’d missed the window, but with a good roughing and lots of slip I hoped for the best. Then I went on to work with red clay.
Sure enough the next day when I checked the white mugs they had indeed formed cracks where the handles joined the mug. I set to work with a paint brush, vinegar and a flat, wood tool and mended the fissures. I had to do this every day until all the pieces were completely dry. Why Vinegar? It moistens the semi dry clay without adding extra water to the clay because it quickly evaporates. So it gives me enough time to manipulate the softened clay to make minor mends.
Luckily I managed to save all the white mugs. The red clay pieces were carefully monitored as they set up. Then I spent a day trimming the bottoms and pulling handles and attaching them. But checking them the next day I spotted a few of them had small cracks, so out with the brush and vinegar.
I have been making a lot of mugs, trying to get them right. When I first started making them they came out of the kiln so small, not taking into account how much shrinkage happens. Then, when I think I have a good size mug and glaze them, I’m unhappy with the end product after the final firing. In the last firing for example the clear glaze applied over top of the underglaze, was too thick and caused some lumpy and cloudy areas in the final fire. So, trial and error, and practice, practice, practice.
I think I’m getting closer to the size I’ve been after, and the thinness. Tomorrow I’ll be under glazing. I’ve stumbled upon some designs I was quite happy with on my last batch and I’m excited to get to work. Fingers crossed this batch is the charm!
Then I made a mini-Apple Pie and Orange-Fennel Ice Cream, because- balance.
I’ve been slow to understand that a belief in ones self and abilities is the foundation to everything worthwhile. And I mean slow- I’m sixty-two. It would’ve been great to figure this shit out when I was a nineteen year old art major, I might’ve gotten somewhere with it. But I saw myself falling into this debilitating pattern of believing that I didn’t have the “Real” talent or skill, or confidence. But others? Sure. They must be more, know more, smarter. I could not see myself as a professional artist. So I didn’t take my art seriously; including the art education I had received, sorry mom, dad, or any other talent I may have, like singing. I coulda gone places, I’m pretty sure now. This belief pattern has stifled years of the opportunity to build on a creative, artistic life. Drat. And thanks for nothing, hindsight.
In High school I was put into an art majors program. Upon my graduation my art teacher wrote on my transcript that I need to pursue this, that he didn’t want to see me become a Sunday Painter. I didn’t become a Sunday Painter. But maybe I should have, at least I would’ve painted once a week!
After graduation I went on to Banff School of Fine Art in Alberta for a summer session. When my parents asked would I like to enrol for a year, I said – no. I had a (fricken) boyfriend back home. I still get nauseous when I regurgitate this memory. Not the boyfriend, at the time he was great, but, me turning this opportunity down turns my stomach to this day.
An aside to that story: My boyfriend was also an art student and we went on to college together that September. In our second year he was accepted on a student exchange to Florida for the year. I wasn’t and stayed behind at our Vancover Island College. So, there ya go.
During my solo second year at college towards a degree in Fine Art, I became involved in theatre. I sang for the first time on stage, I joined a band that had a loyal following. When then it came time to continue on to University to complete my BFA, I bailed. Because I met a man. Oh to go back and slap my young self.
But I continued with sabotage. I was a champ. Every move I made where I had the potential to launch myself in a worthwhile endeavour, to finish my degree, to paint madly and mount a show, to sing, I’d never take the bait. I always felt I wasn’t enough, that I was an imposter, or that relationship was more important.
This has been my life’s pattern.
So, what troubles me is why we lack belief in ourselves. Part of us knows we are qualified or talented or skilled, but some other part of us says naw, you better step aside and let the other more qualified, talented, skilled do the thing. Even when the road before us is clear. I know I’m not alone in this, it’s a universal neurosis. How can we be our own worst enemy? If anyone should be rooting for us it should be – US! If you can’t find a supportive friend in yourself, then where? Who? Why do we self sabotage? It’s what I did throughout my entire youth, my twenties ….and thirties……and….ok, my entire life thus far.
That pattern stops here. Ok, it’s a process. I’m continuing to work through it, and I am making inroads into what has been blocking me.
I’m asking more questions than having answers for because I’m still searching for the answers. I had mentioned somewhere earlier in a blog post that I’ve been working through The Artists Way book with the goal to tease out some of these answers. It’s been instrumental for me. I still continue with writing my morning pages, a year now. I think by doing that work it has brought me to this point where I can see things a bit more accurately. It’s enabled me to stand stronger in my convictions to recover what I tossed mindlessly aside, who I am, in trade for not being abandoned. To please.
I’ve maybe disclosed more than anyone probably cares to hear, but it’s all about self reclamation here. Creative Recovery. I need to hear it. Am I exceptionally talented? Not at all. And that’s what’s important for me to understand. That it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if you think I am or not. But the work I do is important. It matters.
Am I too late? No, there is no time limit, there is no age limit. It’s about picking up where I left off, except this time I have intention. An awareness about myself. Finally. But I have it, so that’s a start. That’s a good start.
Have you seen the memes being circulated that show an artist before, during, and then after the Coronavirus self isolation period? In each phase the artist is doing exactly the same thing- creating. Another meme shows a gardener in each phase of isolation who also continues as usual in working in the garden.
The message is obvious. Creatives, and artists can isolate like champs. Happy in our own little world.
And I’m grateful to be living in a good place while this nasty pandemic is ruling our lives. Not seeing my kids and grandkids is my only heartache.
Of course in the beginning of our Sheltering in Place period, there was quite a bit of anxious focus and energy given to thinking how to retool our lives to fit our New Normal. Like, how are we shopping now? Is it okay to even go to town to shop for food? Do we set up sanitization stations at our front doors? Do we wear gloves? Masks ? Are we suppose to strip off all our clothes before entering our homes after being in town? Do we wash all our groceries and packaging before putting them away? What happened to all the toilet paper? The flour, the yeast?
Because I live in a tiny island community, one kilometre from the main big island of Vancouver, many here don’t have their own boat and rely on the private little passenger ferry to get to town. When the ferry had to implement a severely limited ferry schedule and cut the passenger count from 32 to 14 per run to adhere to health distancing protocol this brought a surge of near panic and mayhem amongst my neighbours.
I’m fortunate (logically practical?) to have always had my own boat. And right about now many of my neighbours are considering hard in buying their own boats too.
Those of us with boats were requested to be available for emergency rides if needed. Our community email feed each day became filled not only with discussions about the virus but also with; who needs a ride in, and is anyone going to town and could they pick up a grocery item, or asking if anyone is going to Costco, or to pick up a package at the post office, or a prescription at the pharmacy. Often times when a neighbour is in town they would post on our community fb page asking if anybody needs anything. We came together and we help where possible. Benefits of a small tight knit community.
There are the daily morning updates from our Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and our community discussions over particular protocols to be followed, with the latest agreement that visitors would be disallowed coming to our island. In fact all of the gulf Islands have banned visitors form coming. Signs saying this were posted at dock heads, and at the ferry waiting area in town. Next was to close the kids playground area and our off leash dog park when the government mandated to close all recreation parks.
There was simply a lot to digest in those first few weeks. And it can take a bit of time to disseminate all of this new information.
Now we have seemingly settled into our respective routines. The community email feed has levelled out. Requests for town item pickups have lessened. We’re tentatively acquainted with how things are to be done. We put on a courteous face, although there is a hum of cautious nervousness just under the surface when in town and interacting with a cashier at the grocery store, or waiting in line outside the pharmacy. We can’t ignore the profound feeling that this is truly a surreal experience/existence.
Being an artist while living through this is a saving grace. Creatives enjoy their solitary time, given there is coffee and snacks within reach. We may not be in the company of others, but we don’t mind because we are in the constant, engaging company of our artist self. We can never feel bored, lonely, or at a loss in what to do. We are constantly inspired by even the quietest muse.
And, what I’m really enjoying right now is seeing the videos of the music, the dances, the skits, the art from all those out there who are embracing this forced opportunity to be creative too.
Give people enough space and time from the daily grind and see what good things can happen.
I hope you are finding your muse to help you get through this time and are staying well ~
March is here and I’m happy about it! Time to start thinking about the veggie garden and other gardening activities, time for being out doors more than indoors, and soon time for swimming in the river and ocean.
Half of the month of February was taken up by a minor injury that required five stitches and two weeks to heal. I was pushing down on a large bag of my recycling bag to make room for yet a little more, and a can sliced into the fleshy part at the base of my right hand thumb. A nice fillet of palm.
I buy hardly any canned products, but that little can of evaporated milk got me. I clean all my recycling, because I’m an obedient citizen (insert sarcasm ), but it was still a can, and a deep slice. Off to the walk-in clinic and stitches, and a tetanus shot for good measure.
A note about the young resident doctor at the clinic. I chatted with him about where and how long he has trained, etc. He says UBC and eight years, then the residency. He put his rubber gloves on, got the tray of sewing gear ready, then he reached in his pocket and pulled out his cell phone- had a look, swiped it to read something, then slipped it back in his pocket. I said, “Would you mind changing your gloves.” (it wasn’t a question) which he promptly did; I think he realized his slip. I thought, Didn’t they teach you hygiene in med school? Cell phones are petri dishes!
The cut kept my right hand in limited use. I managed to get some more pottery under-glazed, but throwing on the wheel was out of the question, or hand building.
I got some writing done too, class work, but also concentrated on a non-fiction short story to submit for the CBC competition that ended yesterday, the 29th. I had changed my submission story three times. I started with a story from my childhood and a grade five bully. Wrote 2000 words on it, then thought who wants to read about an old woman’s little bullying episode from 1967?
So I started another story based on the life of a good friend of mine, someone I am close to and love like a brother, and who has overcome real hardship. 2000 words. Then thought- is this my story to tell? Then I started the third -and last story, because I was running out of time! I chose an event from a 1997 sailing trip from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas I was crew on. Some interesting things had happened on that voyage, so with one week left till deadline I wrote another 2000 word story and got it in last night.
Writing non-fiction is harder than writing fiction. More fun to create a world. Writing fiction is far more entertaining than trying to unearth anything interesting from my own mundane middle-aged life to write about!
I’ve submitted to this competition three other times in the past. Spoiler alert- I’ve never won, or was ever short listed. Never expected either, and still don’t. Right now I’m just working at getting comfortable with submitting! Of course my writing is garbage, that’s ok. Maybe it’ll improve, it’s why I’m taking a writing class. Each time I polish something for submission it’s good practice, working with a deadline, all that. I know I get better by increments. And that’s quite enough for the time being.
Happy March !
So, it’s been an awfully long time since I’ve bought artist paints. Too long to contemplate. I went to my universities Book Store to gather materials, they carry limited art supplies and I get 30% discount. Even still I was taken aback at the price of paints. Funny, I never gave it much thought when I was a devil-may-care art student at this very same university forty-two years ago. Forty–two years ago?! WTF.
Okay, I’m breathing again.
I’m starting small with a few tubes, picking up some new brushes too. But back to purchasing artist’s materials. The price. I realized, as I returned my visa card to my wallet after ringing it through, that I have difficulty reasoning the purchase. Even with a 30% discount. In the past I have done large graphite drawings for the real reason that I was seriously deficient in funds while a single mom. Graphite and paper is not cost prohibitive. A small tube of Cadmium Red can certainly be. Notice here I’ve bought Red, Yellow and Blue. The primary colours that will blend into a range of colours. My effort at cost effectiveness. Why?
Because my inner monkey- you know, the over critical monkey nattering in your brain that causes you to second guess your motives and efforts? Well, this monkey leans into my thoughts and whispers, ‘You’re spending money on something you haven’t practiced in eons’, those “paintings” better be really good to justify the spending’, and, ‘Are you sure about this? These will just sit in the basement never opened, you’re just kidding yourself and wasting money.’
This is part of creative recovery. I have to be patient with myself. I’ve been away too long, it takes time to reacquaint with that atrophied part of myself. I wish it was more like a long lost friend where we just pick up where we left off like no time had passed between us. But it isn’t.
I have an innate compulsion to be timid when what I need is to practice opening up and suspend inhibitions and get painting, paint anything, on paper, canvas or board. To dare to suck at it for a while without self-chastisement, without feeling the need to justify my doing this.
And what I need to be doing is practice pulling zero punches on the monkey. Boom, Boom. Hoping it stays down for the count.