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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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.

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 

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?

Being an enigma

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A photo from the Seattle Underground

In preparation for my show at the Jung Center, I’m rereading “Undiscovered Self.”

In the chapter entitled “The Individual’s Understanding of Himself,” Jung writes “Man is an enigma to himself.” He discusses the difficulties of relying on religion, politics and psychology to probe into identity. He outlines how humans struggle to see ourselves, because we have few other animals that closely resemble us. We turn instead to our relationships with other people to try to gain insight into who we are.

I’m preparing to tear down my installation “Life, Examined” which has been up for about two months at a gallery in Issaquah, WA. The piece is a lab that serves as a stage for exploring emotion and memory. The title is from “The unexamined life is not worth living,” a quote Plato attributed to Socrates during one of his lectures.

Putting together the show required me to do some life examining as well. I read old letters, leafed through journals and searched through the boxes of memorabilia, which usually remain tucked away in a corner of the closet.

Jung says that people are afraid of diving into the unconscious. They worry perhaps they will find something buried there that they do not like. He says that often it is easier to follow the masses than to discover the basis of your individuality, to remain a child with a parent figure to tell you who you are or what to do.

He urges his readers to take another path.

“It is, unfortunately, only too clear that if the individual is not truly regenerated in spirit, society cannot be either, for society is the sum total of individuals in need of redemption,” Jung writes.

A few sentences later he adds that the “salvation of the world consists of the salvation of the individual soul.”

And when talking about salvation and redemption, Jung is addressing the need for greater understanding — of ourselves and each other. If allowed to develop our own inner strengths, and band together as authentic individuals, imagine what a world we’d live in.

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.

Capacity for Delight

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Untitled painting in progress

“The quality of life is in proportion to the capacity for delight,” Julia Cameron writes in her guide to creativity, “The Artist’s Way.” She points out that attention to detail and awareness are powerful forces.

For me too, taking time to notice the little things has been a valuable lesson. Sometimes I feel so rushed with work, deadlines and to-do lists that I struggle to even completely read an article in the newspaper or make time to do nothing at all but breathe in an afternoon moment.

The “New York Times Magazine” ran a fascinating article called “Head in the Clouds” by Jon Mooallem in May. The subheading read, “An improbably tale of 19th century adventurers, crowdsourced meteorological discoveries and the poetic wonders in the sky.”

Near the end, the author attends a conference of the Cloud Society. He writes “Somewhere in this story about clouds and cloud lovers, I’d found a compelling argument for staying open to varieties of beauty that we can’t quite categorize and, by extension, for respecting the human capacity to feel, as much as scrutinize the sources of those feelings.”

It’s essential to look, to listen, to learn. It’s important to allow ourselves to linger in emotion, to explore desire, to daydream.

I feel like too often we want to dwell in what we already know. It’s comfortable there. But the problem is, when we stick too closely to already categorized information, we cease to notice mystery, wonder and greater beauty. Instead perhaps we should strive to be explorers, pioneers, adventurers, seeking something more.

Karl Ove Knausgaard wrote in “My Struggle Book 1” about art — and its move into abstraction.

Now, art has gone even further, he explained:

“The props of art no longer have any significance, all the emphasis is placed on what the art expresses, in other words, not what it is but what it thinks, what ideas it carries, such that the last remnants of objectivity, the final remnants of something outside the human world have been abandoned.”

He seems to believe this applies to even more of our current culture. “Art does not know a beyond, science does not know a beyond, religion does not know a beyond, not anymore.”

He continues into a discussion of reality and death.

But my mind wanders. Isn’t there something spectacular to admitting there is something more than our own self, something bigger than our little worlds, larger than the constraints of our own egos? I think pondering wonder itself — no matter how vast or small — is also part of the capacity for joy.

 

 

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 . . .

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.”

Life is an experiment

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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.