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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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.”

 

 

 

Using time

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My new painting, “You can go on home, you got what you need”

I recently stumbled upon a quote attributed to one of my favorite authors Jack London right before his death in 1916: “I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.”

The use of my time has been heavy on my mind the past week. I just celebrated my 35 birthday. I always get a case of the birthday blues, because, around this time of year, I wonder, am I on the right path? Am I doing all that I should or could be doing? Am I wasting time or using it to the max?

I’m guessing this thought is shared by many of my friends during these turbulent times — as we all seek purpose and strive to better ourselves, as neighbors, friends, citizens, activists, artists, family.

When I voiced my concerns to my friend, the uber-talented musician Chance Hunter, he laughed at me and then told me not to be so hard on myself all the time, to realize that I have been a painting robot lately and take some solace in that.

Chance also pointed out that always worrying about not doing enough can also be a waste of time in itself.

And he’s right about that. Worry and fear are not liberating forces, nor will they push us anywhere but down.

I’m a big believer in drinking life to the dregs. I just want to find some time and space to figure out what that means.

And Jack London’s quote also made me think of Tennyson’s poem“Ulysses”:

Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

This ode is to the passion behind seeking greatness, to a character who went to great lengths for adventure. And I think we should all look to achieve, to make positive change big and small — and to engage in a life where we are truly alive, awake and aware.

A little more magic, please

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Work in progress, a painting of my friend Ben Viscon’s wine bar

Sometime during my Life, Examined exhibit a woman came up to me and said, “I don’t understand what you’re doing here at all.”

I tried to explain about installation art — but she stopped me. “No, I mean, you can’t sell any of this,” she said.

The comment shocked me. “Art’s not about selling,” I told her. “It’s about connecting with someone visually and emotionally, communicating an idea or a feeling in a different way than words.”

But I knew what I was saying wouldn’t click for her. And ever since then, I’ve been thinking about how we’ve gotten to this place culturally, where the role of art has changed so drastically.

Art was probably our first way to communicate. And sometimes with a painting or an image, I believe we can still speak more directly, straight to the heart, straight to the gut. You can be moved to tears, or nausea, by a powerful black and white photo for example — without even thinking or putting into words why. You just feel something immediately; you can describe what it was later.

In the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, painting was used as a way to connect people with the feeling of the divine — and even now those frescoes in cathedrals retain the power to take your breath away.

How cheap it would be to make art all about money, about what sells and how to market it. Of course, much of the “art world” and many “artists” are doing just that.

When I invite people to my art shows, it’s not with the hope that they will buy my paintings. I want to share my experiences, thoughts and emotions. I want to see if anyone connects. I hope to put some beauty out into the world.

We all have an opportunity to learn from art, to discover what moves us visually, to connect with communities even. Think about how molded your identity can be by music,  politics, philosophies, religion. When you learn to be an artist, you do the same thing. You discover what symbols speak to you, what visions you have, what visual memories shaped who you are, what pictures hit you. Then, you form your own visual voice.

Everyone can do this — artist or not — and I believe everyone will benefit from this exploration.

Françoise Gilot, one of Picasso’s ex-wives who was an amazing painter and writer, quoted him as saying, “Painting isn’t an aesthetic operation. It’s a form of magic designed as a mediator between this strange, hostile world and us, a way of seizing the power by giving form to our terrors as well as our desires.”

And can’t we all use a little more magic in our strange, hostile lives?

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.