Seeking balance

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“Tell me where you’ve been, and I’ll tell you where I’ve been” one of my paintings inspired by Art Farm Nebraska

The title for my last show at the Jung Center in Houston, “Unconscious Conscious,” was pulled from Jung’s quote: “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

Jung essentially made a battle cry of the importance of realizing your “unconscious.” It can seem like murky territory, but I think of it as understanding your soul, your gut, your dreams and desires, your fears. It’s your real underlying essence — that sometimes gets placed on hold in the name of work, relationships or trying to be whatever you or someone else thinks you should be.

Yesterday, I was talking to my friend Chance, a talented musician who is doing important work at an important nonprofit. Still, despite having the job and skill set, he has this drive to run away, live in an RV in the mountains, take long road trips, explore.

We spoke about finding balance. Knowing that we have to work jobs, trying to find ones that don’t suffocate us, continuing to find opportunities to expand, be creatively stimulated and better ourselves. It can be difficult.

I recently started reading Jung’s “Man and his Symbols.” He writes about how “primitive” cultures often believed in several types of souls — one might be linked to an animal or even a tree.

“This means that the individual’s psyche is far from being safely synthesized,” Jung states.”On the contrary, it threatens to fragment only too easily under the onslaught of unchecked emotions.”

We have vulnerable souls, in other words.

And we live in uncertain times, where things are changing so quickly that it’s easy to get out of breath. It’s easy to feel unsure of our footing. At the same time, we are bombarded with images, stories, social media, ads that can make us question our self worth, that can disrupt our priorities and can command our total attention, distracting us from other important aspects that make us whole.

I’m making some changes in the near future with the hope that they will lead to a more balanced life. I know I’m not alone in this, that a lot of people are searching for more meaning and more authenticity.

“Human consciousness has not yet achieved a reasonable degree of continuity. It is still vulnerable and liable to fragmentation,” Jung writes.

All the more reason for us to take time to fortify it, to do our part to promote understanding and togetherness in our world and in ourselves.

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Keep Flying

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My new painting, “Keep flying/ Don’t pull back/ stay in motion”

I’m nostalgic for drinking bourbon out of coffee mugs with Ben Clark in my room at the Art Farm. I miss a lot of things, deeply and sincerely, about that little patch of trees stuck between the cornfields in Nebraska. Perhaps it’s peace, perhaps it’s friendship, maybe it’s community or space or time that I miss most of all.

My friend Mac Scott sent me a poem he wrote recently: “It’s best to be patient and respect the uncertainty of life. Because uncertainties hold the mystery. Mystery is where the best part of life lays.”

Easier said than done, sometimes. This whole blog has been about my attempts to be strong and to eliminate fear. To be a real artist means to live authentically, to drink life down to the dregs. But it’s exhausting. It’s hard. It’s difficult to acknowledge something is scary and dive in anyway.

In his poem, “Reluctance,” Robert Frost wrote, “Ah, when to the heart of man/ Was it ever less than a treason/ To go with the drift of things,/ To yield with grace to reason,/ And bow and accept the end/ Of a love or a season?”

Seasons always end — and come again. So this makes for an interesting analogy to love in the poem. Just because we know something will end doesn’t mean you don’t put up a fight for it, does it?

I’m a big believer in pursuing passion — and trying, at least. I feel like there’s enough apathy in the world. I want to be surrounded with people putting up the good fight, even when we feel it to be futile.

Mark Twain wrote “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

I hope to retain the wild-ness I was able to capture in my brief but excessively beautiful Art Farm life — even though it’s a struggle. To keep moving forward and to fly.

Ben Clark sent me his collection of poems “If you turn around, I will turn around.” I sat and read it, quite a haunting and heavy exchange about love, longing, change, aging.

One of the lines is sticking with me lately:

“But why allow life to become a frail bone you settle on until it snaps. Why not eat what you can and carry the rest in salt, paper and twine. Why not walk with purpose through the undergrowth, toward the moon of the forest clearing you remember and trust to still exist.”

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Photobooth pics from Ben’s visit 

Chosen surrenders

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Yesterday evening, I decided to go sit by the ocean and write a letter to Aimee. I have been struggling to write lately — whether for work or pleasure or simple log-keeping. A couple of times, I posted up at a bar with a glass of bourbon, pledging to put pen to paper and nothing happened.

By the water, with the sun setting, I found myself writing, “I want to be open to love, open to emotion. I want to regain the energy to grow and change and not feel so worn out all the time.”

And as the words came out, I felt a queasy recognition. How long have I been saying the same thing? I think back on when I first started writing this blog, during the Art Farm days, and reread “So the reason I want to start this blog is to reconnect with my old feelings about art, to highlight the artists that I believe in and to document my life among the artists. I am the one having the identity crisis, I suppose, and I want to fix it somehow.”

Sometimes my roommate Rob and I talk about progress. We discuss what it’s like to know better — and yet still slip into the same patterns.

There was something in the air last summer that made me feel like I could make a fresh start. And here I am basically longing for the space (and the people) who could make me feel the same way.

Rebecca Solnit writes in “A Field Guide to Getting Lost,” that “the things we want are transformative, and we don’t know or only think we know what is on the other side of that transformation. Love, wisdom, grace, inspiration — how do you go about finding these things that are in some ways about extending the boundaries of the self into unknown territory, about becoming someone else?”

How do we grow into something that we have yet to discover? How do we become a new person, one we haven’t met yet — and what does that look and feel like?

“Leave the door open for the unknown, the door into the dark,” Solnit writes. “That’s where the most important things come from, where you yourself came from and where you will go.”

She encourages tiptoeing across the borders of uncertainty.

“To be lost is to be fully present and to be fully present is to be capable of being in uncertainty and mystery,” she writes.

The cadence of the sentence, for some reason, reminds me of lyrics to a Stevie Wonder song, “A seed’s a star/ A seed’s a star’s a seed/ A star’s a seed/ A star’s a seed’s a star.”

And as my friend, writer Carmella Guiol Naranjo reminded me on the phone yesterday, it’s a new moon and it’s spring time — it’s a good time to plant seeds, a good time for new beginnings and reaching out to stars.

 

preplungemeandaimeeAimee and I contemplate the stars, then we consider taking a plunge in the lake . . .

Life is an experiment

DSC_0380.JPGCarmella Guiol Naranjo

Carmella and I are in the middle of the woods, huddled over a candle, on a wooden deck overlooking the trees. It’s been about seven months since we last did this –a new moon ceremony. It’s her birthday, and she is brimming with thoughts and intentions about community, love and friendship. I say that my goal is to stop spending time with people who I don’t actually like, to be more aware of how I spend my time in general, to make choices that are better when it comes to those precious free hours and minutes.

The next day, Carmella says, “I want to do more new things.” She has plans to go to Mexico this time next year. We sketch out a future trip to India. She talks about the next steps after earning her M.F.A.

My birthday is in seven days from today — and I too am full of thoughts of future. I have so much I want to accomplish. I think back on my 33rd year, and while it was full of highs and lows — and some very deep lows at that — I believe adventure outweighed dullness. And I am seeking light after all.

Last year, at this time, I didn’t even know Carmella. Or any of the amazing women I met at the Art Farm who have become dear friends. At this time last year, I was not in a good place. I haven’t quite put my finger on it — but I felt tired, exhausted, out of sorts. Today, I am hurtling through the air on a plane, day-dreaming of my next adventure.

To kill time on my voyage, I have been deleting old photos on my computer and stumbled upon a snapshot I took of an article. I don’t know who wrote this but it rings pretty true to me:

“If the historical circumstances had changed, the ancient purpose of literature, to say something about human life, never did. In every age, art is an experiment for every artist, just as, in every age, life is an experiment for every person.”

I’ve quoted this Peter London passage before in my blog but I think it’s worth repeating — “Unless a courageous stance to life is coupled with these ingredients [dexterity,knowledge, taste], tedious and shallow things will be made. Unless a capacity to dream and fantasize is there, derivative things will be made.”

I feel like facing fear has made for better art on my studio walls these days, and I look forward to seeing where the next year takes me.

“You never get nothing by being an angel child
You better change your ways and get real wild
I wanna tell you something, I wouldn’t tell you a lie
Wild women are the only kind that really get by
‘Cause wild women don’t worry, wild women don’t have their blues.”

— Ida Cox, Wild Women Don’t Have the Blues

To learn more about Carmella, who describes herself as “a girl with ants in her pants who wants to learn how to sit her butt down and write,” visit her blog www.therestlesswriter.com.

Being On Time

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Working on my painting “Further and Further Away from Nowhere”

I couldn’t find my grandfather’s grave. I thought I would remember from the funeral. But when I finally reached the cemetery, I was at a loss. It was bigger than I remembered. I should have realized that in grief, I would not note which pathways led where and which stone would mark where my grandparents remained.

I asked Stan to drive up and down the lanes that criss-crossed the graveyard. Maybe we’d see it from the car — or suddenly I would remember. Stan pointed out large markers that read “Peyton.” No, we’re looking for something smaller, I said. There’s something about reading your name on a headstone . . .

I finally gave in and stopped by the small office in the back of the cemetery. A man walked up and said he might be able to help me. How long ago did he pass? he asked me. I said, about a year ago actually. I hadn’t realized that much time had gone by. About a year, actually.

Lately, I have been fixated on how quickly the years pass. The holidays do this to me — I think about where I was last Halloween, last Thanksgiving, last Christmas, last New Year, last birthday. It scares me that all of those days simultaneously feel like yesterday and like a gulf of change separates them from me.

When I was at the Art Farm, the days lingered. I felt like I accomplished so much in 24 hours. I wrote my morning journal, I worked on the farm for four hours a day, I wrote an article for the newspaper, I painted until evening. We had communal meals, every meal. We had happy hours. We had evenings candlelit and full of laughter. We had time to make it to the lake for a swim, and I had time to fit in my run as well.

Now, back in reality, I feel like I’m lucky to fit in two or three things a day. Like a run and work feels good — and I’m fortunate if I still have time to paint. Why did time speed up so much? Why are my hours so fleeting now? How do I slow them down?

“We swim in time; it is the medium of our living,” Peter London writes in “No More Secondhand Art.” “Duration alone creates heroes and cowards, victory and defeat.”

Having more time to do what I actually want to do seems like the ultimate luxury — and it is, also, in fact my immediate goal. Instead of feeling like I don’t have time to draw, or that I can only squeeze in an hour to paint, I want to live a life around art.

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives,” Annie Dillard said.

 

Looking for a little inspiration

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Laura from Aurora, Nebraska

Sometimes the best place to go for a little inspiration is simply out of town. My friend, a brilliant illustrator, Annie Brule said, “Being out of your usual context is almost always good for you.” She was telling me a story over a glass of wine in West Seattle about a weekend trip that gave her clarity.

When I boarded a flight to New York a few days later, I had no goals of seeking anything out or looking for perspective or anything like that. I just wanted to go have fun and see a few friends. Instead, I got inspiration in spades.

There were late night conversations with Aimee about love, life, our past struggles and our future daydreams. There was the instant comfort of a conversation with Selina. There was chatting at the Museum of Modern Art with Raluca about her trip home to Romania and her progress on her novel.

My friend Laura stands out the most. It was her first trip to New York and she took it all in with an unusual finesse and zest, pointing out the smallest of details and asking questions galore as we walked around the city. We all met Laura on maybe our first day at the Art Farm in Nebraska. She popped into the house, explaining that she lived in the next town over and gave us her phone number in case we needed anything. She soon became a dear friend.

Laura is a real Renaissance woman. She works with cows all day in a research project for the university. She can tell you everything about antique tractors or the Nebraska prairie. She’s also an artist, crafter and musician, who writes her own songs and plays guitar.

Over the summer, she told me stories about her Native American roots, her great grandmother who wore long skirts, kept a gun at her hip and could roll a cigarette with one-hand. In New York, she sang a song in Aimee’s living room with such courage. When we complemented her voice and her poetry, she admitted to having sung opera in the past and playing saxophone.

Laura-from-Aurora is who convinced me to take the trip east — even though I was reluctant to make a break in my routine. While we were crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, I thanked her. I said that she is that rare type who follows through on daydream plans — and that’s the type of person who I like the most. She couldn’t imagine being any other way.

On my last night of the trip, I drank spiked apple cider from a nearby orchard in Connecticut with my friend Stan and my cousin Lauren in her new house. We sat on Lauren’s screened porch, watching the sun set and bearing witness to the changing temperatures of a cool fall night. I talked about the uncertainties of my life, my struggles finding enough work to keep myself afloat and my desires to see my art go somewhere one day — whatever that means.

Stan offered to help in whatever ways possible. Lauren encouraged me to open a gallery. We all told stories and laughed as it became dark, then moved inside. I am grateful for the people who have recently become part of my life, for knowing Aimee and Trae, Selina, Raluca and Annie, and Laura. I feel like it would be so easy to have never met them, to have never gone to Nebraska and just turned my car around. I am grateful as well for the people who I already know who continue to push me forward. I feel like it is easy to want more — and perhaps more difficult to recognize that what we want, we’ve had all along — courage, love, inspiration, wild hearts, sympathetic minds and phenomenal beings all around.

On My Last Couple of Days at Art Farm Nebraska

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I wake up with a deep anxiety about leaving the farm and facing the real world — and this makes me realize strongly how much my life has changed lately.

My routine is drastically different. The first step of the day is drenching myself in deet to face not only the mosquitos that swarm outside the door but also those residing in the house — and to stop the ones who have been biting me in my sleep and followed me downstairs for further feasting on my flesh. I put away dishes my roommates have left drying; I wash a few left in the sink. I make coffee in the cracked yellow mug with a little blue bird on it that says “Alouette” — because it’s my favorite shaped mug in the house and because it’s the one Ben brought to me full of fresh coffee in my studio before he left. I boil a little extra water for Z before she stumbles downstairs. I find myself sentimental about the smallest things. The girls who I live with are the same way — we cry together over little things and we laugh so easily that the house shakes.

In my day-to-day existence, I have gotten adept at isolation. I’m a master at loneliness. I am used to taking myself out to solitary whiskeys and dinners alone and pretending that I don’t mind and that somehow getting used to being alone will make it easier to deal with the world. This is not the way I used to be, or the way obviously that I am in my heart, but it’s the way that I have become over the past few years. I add it to the list of things that I would like to change about myself. I don’t want to be afraid that people will hurt me anymore. People will hurt me. I accept that.

I keep thinking — what do I do when I leave this place? How do I stay in this cloud of art that I have created for myself on the farm? How do I keep art as my top priority? How do I stay present?

Aimee texted me, “You leave this place a different person.” I sure hope so.