Letting go of control

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I spent today island-hopping, looking for houses where my parents might enjoy living. They recently sold the farm where I lived from ages 10 to 18 — and where they have spent the past 20 years. Instead of settling into retirement in the comfort of routine and well-known places, they are ready for a new adventure and different vistas. I find their courage admirable.

A week ago, I went to Texas to pack up all the paintings that my parents have been so kindly storing in a shed on their property. I stacked these huge canvases in an 8 x 6 ft box and padlocked the door shut. Around now, all of these pieces I spent so much time creating are on the back of some Uhaul truck, hopefully safely making their way to Seattle.

When the pod arrives at my front door, I have no idea where I will store the paintings. It is among the many unknowns in my life lately. When I was packing up my childhood room and saying goodbye to my parents’ farm last week, it struck me how lost I’ve felt lately. I live in a city just because I wanted to  — with no rhyme or reason to the decision. I haven’t had a steady job since last summer’s lay-off. I don’t have a proper studio for art anymore — or the funding for one even if I could find the right space.

Part of the sorrow of saying goodbye to the childhood home is the feeling that somehow that means you are walking into adulthood. I know I am not the only adult who still does not know what she wants to be when she grows up . . . or what growing up even means . . .

But I do know that I saw a beautiful sunset from the side of the ferry as I headed home from Vashon Island, the glow from behind the mountains reflecting on the water. And I know that all we can do is take things one day at a time, just keep moving forward.

Try as we might, we’re not really in control, as we spin on this planet into the vastness of the universe. I suppose we have to learn to let go and just enjoy the ride.

As Cynthia Ritchie wrote in a story called “The Confrontation” about facing a bear in the Alaskan woods while running on a trail alone:

“So much of life is chance. There are no guarantees. But there are vast landscapes and dangers and wild moments of good luck.”

 

 

 

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Beauty and Communion

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A work in progress inspired by Aimee Herman

I have been hard at work building an homage to memory and a physical space to examine emotion. It’s been perhaps more challenging and more of a heavy experience than I expected. Although, of course, I should have expected exactly that.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about life,” I tell my mom with a sigh. She says, “Of course you have. Your exhibit is called, ‘Life, Examined.’ What else would you be doing?”

I find a note from an ex-boyfriend. He wrote to me, “I wish I felt the same kind of attractions you feel. They seem overwhelming, like you have no control. I don’t think as strong as you feel things. You are a pretty powerful being. So be careful.”

It’s a delicate balance — being careful, but not living in fear, wanting to have passion, but not to be out of control with emotions. Not having a choice about being emotional, I at least want to be around people who can be open and loving and go on a courageous journey with me.

My friend Stan came to town to see the show and as usual we talked about the world’s problems and our proposed solutions. We spoke about art mostly.

One reason that I stepped back from the art scene was because of all the huge egos I kept encountering along the way. (And still encounter often). I don’t think that art should be about your ego, the self, your identity.Who you are, of course, gives you a unique perspective of the world — and if you live authentically, and openly, that will allow you to produce real and effective art. But I believe that art should be bigger than just an exploration of the self.

There was a great article about Chuck Close in the Sunday New York Times by Wil S. Hylton. The painter has also become a bit of a recluse lately.

Hylton has spent a lot of time trying to understand Close. In the article, he describes the art:

What you are seeing isn’t really there. You are no longer looking at the actual surface of the painting, but some apparition hovering above it, a numinous specter that arises in part from the engagement of your own imagination. Through the painting, Close has accessed the perceptual center of your mind, exploiting the way we process human identity: the gaps of knowledge and the unknown spaces we fill with our own presumptions, the expectations and delusions we layer upon everyone we meet.

By painting these portraits, Close is tapping into something bigger. He’s not just showing us who he is — he’s helping us understand who we are and why how we perceive and presume matters.

Hilton writes:

It seems to me now, with greater reflection, that the value of experiencing another person’s art is not merely the work itself, but the opportunity it presents to connect with the interior impulse of another. The arts occupy a vanishing space in modern life: They offer one of the last lingering places to seek out empathy for its own sake, and to the extent that an artist’s work is frustrating or difficult or awful, you could say this allows greater opportunity to try to meet it. I am not saying there is no room for discriminating taste and judgment, just that there is also, I think, this other portal through which to experience creative work and to access a different kind of beauty, which might be called communion.

“Empathy for its own sake” and “a different kind of beauty, which might be called communion” are what I’m after too — exactly what I want to create.

Birthday Blues

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I have to admit that I have a bad case of the birthday blues. It all started with my computer crashing on my birthday eve — right around noon for no apparent reason.

I spent the day on the phone with Apple Support, then at the Mac store. I felt like Harold in that ending sequence of my favorite movie — where he begs and pleads with the hospital staff to save Maude’s life, but alas . . . Similarly, I moved between anger to tears at the Mac shop as they informed me that I would lose all the writing I had done, photos I had taken and music I had stored over the past year.

And I cycled again through the same emotions as they explained to me their prices for not helping me save my suddenly suicidal machine — but simply to restore my one-year old computer to being functional.

My actual birthday was basically spent in an anxiety attack trying to figure out how to met all my mounting work deadlines with no tool for typing. After attempting to purchase a tablet and keyboard as a back-up plan from Best Buy, I went home to find the products that the salesman had promised would work for me, in fact, would not.

Disheartened from a failed day, I concluded my birthday by crying by myself in a bar until my dear cousin rescued me and saved the day. It was just the loss of all my writing — creative and otherwise, and all my photos, including from the Art Farm, photos of my friends over the years and photos of my paintings, now all gone.

But also, as we grow older, birthdays are so tied into what we hope to accomplish and what goals we have not met yet, the passage of time, loneliness and changing friendships. My friend Justin reminded me that friends are busier now — with children, houses, routines. And that can make for lonelier, solitary birthdays.

And then, I got notice of a speeding ticket and I’m practically the slowest driver in the neighborhood. I checked the stars and sure enough Mercury is in retrograde and I should have spent the past two weeks safely in bed.

Two days later and here we are. I still haven’t heard back from the Mac shop. I’m typing away on my cousin’s old, bulky — but yay still functional — borrowed laptop. I’m late on all my deadlines, behind on all my calls and exhausted. I haven’t painted since Tuesday. I’m feeling like a failure and yet . . .

I still am going through the motions and pushing myself. Today I went to my second ballet-for-adults lesson. Our instructor guided us through the French words for lifting your pointed toes to the left, the front, the back. We moved from first to second to fifth position and stretched on the bar and laughed while we sloppily learned basic waltz steps.

The teacher Christine told us that she is stricter with her younger students. She likes to push them, because she explained they seem so timid these days, so much more afraid of getting hurt than we were in our rambunctious childhoods.

She talks about how she and her brothers used to climb trees and get scraped up on the bark and how they would play Red Rover and push so hard against the inter-locked limbs of the children on the opposing team, to break their chains by running hard and fast enough.

“The point is to get hurt and see that you heal,” she said. “You learn that you’ll live.”

The Company We Keep

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Yesterday, I met my friend Andrew for coffee. He’s a religious person, a former preacher who now focuses on music as ministry. He talked about “the void” and “the glory” — that vast unknown that is reality and the emotional transcendence that is on the other side.

He said that most people think of the two as opposing forces, but instead he believes people must traverse the void, live in it, face it fully — to find God.

The idea hit home to me. Andrew and I talked at length about how we have to face hardship to grow, to die to be reborn. Andrew said the void is the only thing that’s real — everything else is a creation, a distraction from reality, which in actuality, is chaos, the unknown. He said that we have to face “death” as we constantly evolve on our journeys.

Sometimes, we find ourselves feeling lost — and we long for change, renewal and growth. To get there, we might have to suffer, to pass through a rough spot, to let certain go of certain past traits, experiences and people. We have to let part of our old selves die to become who we will be in the future.

Andrew said that to get through the void, it’s essential to have faith — to believe that you are loved and that there is a purpose. For him, that comes from religion. For me, love comes from family and friends.

“When you agree to be someone’s friend, you are basically saying, ‘I allow you to shape who I am as a person,'” Andrew said. “We are giving someone permission to help shape us in our continual transformation.”

He cautioned about letting the wrong people in. He said we should be careful about the company we keep.

My friend Mac Scott said, “When you are around extraordinary people, you will learn extraordinary things. Let this be a lesson — pick your friends wisely.”

Even Cowgirls Get the Blues

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Artists are known to suffer from occasional depression and regular mood swings. But creative types are not the only ones who may from time to time dip into fits of melancholy or instances of doldrums.

I usually like to dive into my emotions, dissect them, figure out the root cause and act accordingly. Depression may stem from a living arrangement that no longer suffices, the lack of strong friendships, missing someone — just as an episode of anxiety may reflect a need to exercise, eat, sleep or do something you love/have to do.

Sometimes, however, there’s a deeper blue. Sometimes, it all feels too overwhelming to analyze. Perhaps it stems from things that have happened to you. I admit to being the type who is more consumed by the past than I should be — and despite efforts to not act the victim, I often find it a hard habit to break. It simply hurts to have a broken heart, to have misplaced trust or to have someone cause harm to you in whatever way — and these are things we adults must face as we venture out into the world.

Meghan Austin wrote a story for the New York Time’s Style section on Modern Love, saying “I don’t regret any of it. Love often doesn’t arrive at the right time or in the right person. It makes us do ridiculous and stupid things. But without it, life is just a series of unremarkable events, one after the other.”

Even those things that haunt us — past mistakes and past pain — are markers on our journeys. They give us guideposts. They give us turning points. They give us identity as well.

We venture out even though we may feel scared. We open up even though we are scarred. Sometimes taking a risk is not a poor gamble but just a sign of a life being lived. I think it’s important to be a little wild, to try regardless. And perhaps learning to live with a bit of pain is a part of the process.