Thursday, April 20, 2017

More Reading

I read Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert. For some odd reason, I didn't think I'd like it. I loved it. This is one of the quotes from the book that seemed important to me (even though, now, it seems rather obscure).

She talked some about doing our art while also doing our day job. It seems to be a recurring message for me right now that I have enough time to do whatever art I need to do in addition to enough time to work a 40 hour week. I spend a lot of time daydreaming about being home and working on creative projects all day.  She says we shouldn't expect our creativity to support us, that we should instead promise to support our creativity, that we can "make art on the side of" our "bread-and-butter job."

Meanwhile, in my day job, I've been busy cleaning my desk area and beyond. I had a couple of drawers that had not been cleaned or emptied since I've been working in this position (8 or 9 years). It felt good to be clearing clutter out and purging decades old paperwork that is no longer needed. I can only hope to be able to bring that industriousness home to my house. Time will tell!

Monday, April 17, 2017

Book Reports

I recently told a friend I don't cry over books. We were talking about the ending to the Harry Potter series of books. I'd been slow to jump on that bandwagon. I was surprised that I enjoyed those stories as much as I did. Now I want to see the movies. Sometime.

I inadvertently landed on two books about death in a short time frame. The first one, which I have already mentioned, was The Five Invitations: Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully, by Frank Ostaseki. He was cofounder of the Zen Hospice Project and he writes of his experiences of being with the dying. I borrowed this book from the library for my Kindle. I like it so much that I've since ordered a hardback copy of the book.

Two of his stories in the book brought tears to my eyes (I do not really consider that crying!). One was about a couple whose young son had died in their home. They wanted to stay for a bit with the body, and the author wrote the most touching recollection of the couple washing the son's body. One of the hard things when my own son died out of state was the waiting for his body to be brought to us. I know he was gone from his body, but I kept thinking about how he was traveling all alone with no one to be with him. And I wondered about how his body was handled by the various people who came into contact with it on his journey home.

The other story was about a female doctor who had grown disenchanted with her work, with the part of it that involved her telling people she did not know (in the ER) that their loved one had died. I can't remember the story well but the gist of it was that the author advised her to find a way to approach the task with intentional awareness. Her father and grandfather had been doctors. She brought her grandfather's doctor bag and her father's stethoscope to her work. When she went to inform someone of a death, she gathered up those two things to carry with her. She needed the reminder of her ancestors to help her make her way. She paused at the doorway, holding the things, taking a deep breath, and walked in to tell the family of the death. She no longer took the task for granted. She was no longer hardened to the task. She was aware and present. I don't know why that story made me tear up, but it did. It was probably something about the possessions of the ancestors she intentionally gathered to help her. I often feel very keenly the presence of my own ancestors. We talk about them and we tell their stories. In this way, they are still with us.

Now I am reminded of Dumbledore telling Harry Potter, "Of course it's happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean it is not real?" I loved that quote.

The second book on death was When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi. This one is about a young neurosurgeon who is diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer just as he is finishing his final year of his training. He was in a relatively unique position of being doctor and seriously ill patient. His writing about his diagnosis and his thoughts on his death hit close to home for me (and caused tears to flow). . .

"I began to realize that coming in such close contact with my own mortality had changed both nothing and everything. Before my cancer was diagnosed, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn't know when. After the diagnosis, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn't know when. But now I knew it acutely. The problem wasn't really a scientific one. The fact of death is unsettling. Yet there is no other way to live."

I don't consider myself as having a terminal illness (no more than I consider any of the rest of us having a terminal illness, but there is that quote about life being fatal). But the possibility of that does occasionally loom quite heavily over me. As he said in the book, "Even when the cancer was in retreat, it cast long shadows." So I have this shadow, and in this way, my own diagnosis is a gift, having awakened me to my own mortality and my own desire to live as well as I can (which honestly, quite often, I do not feel like I am doing). I also have the gift of a relatively good prognosis. I do not want to waste it.

I'll also say here at the end, that it's hard work, distilling your life and days down to the values that are most important to you. It's hard to kick the Shoulds to the curb. It's hard to accept (and forgive) your failure to meet up to your own idealized standards.  I keep trying. I keep failing. I keep getting up. And dammitall, I know I'll keep on trying.

"Courage does not always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, I will try again tomorrow." Mary Anne Radmacher.

(Look at me, giving myself a pep talk!)

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Have You Seen the Sacred Ordinary?

I've been doing a little reading lately, gobbling stories up like Peanut M&Ms. I've been using the Overdrive app on my Kindle to check books out from the library. I didn't realize I was so hungry to read again. And there's just something that thrills me about borrowing good books from the library without even having to leave my house!

After finishing "The Five Invitations (What Death Can Teach You About Living Fully)", I moved on to "Big Magic", by Elizabeth Gilbert. I wasn't even sure I wanted to read it, but I did, and I loved it. It was very affirming. She helped me (begin to) resolve a few issues about my art/creativity, mostly by reiterating the fact that most artists have day jobs, and they still manage to create (and so can I).

I like this quote from the book, "Perhaps creativity's greatest mercy is this: By completely absorbing our attention for a short and magical spell, it can relieve us from the dreadful burden of being who we are. Best of all, at the end of your creative endeavors, you have a souvenir--something you made, to remind you forever of your brief transformative encounter with inspiration."

It also relieves me of the stress of worrying about things I can't control and cannot change. My mind is absorbed when I am working on creative tasks. 

I've been working on a few things this weekend, I got back around to my Kelly Rae Roberts class. I feel somewhat transformed and I have souvenirs!

I can't remember if I've already posted this one. It's a souvenir of a weed growing in our yard. The flower grows on a long stem and the bloom is probably no more than an inch wide. They are small but impressive when there are lots of them clustered together.

This is my not quite finished "sacred ordinary" angel. I toned down her blush after I took her picture! I haven't come up with her words yet. Or maybe I'm waiting on her to tell me something. "It has to be short and pithy, little girl," that's what I'm telling her. One of the other of us will come through. I just know it.

Friday, April 07, 2017

And Now It's April, Just Like That!

I drove over to Galveston to meet up with SpookyRach and then went on to spend the night with my sister. It had been to long since I'd had a short little adventure. Of course Rach and I made our way to a cemetery so we could take a few pictures. The next day my sister and I went to visit my favorite cemetery angel of all time. She (the angel!) was much smaller than I remembered (my sister is smaller, too, but that's a whole 'nother story!).

Here are photos from the Galveston cemetery.



This was a bas-relief piece which was fairly wide but there were buildings in the background so I got in close. I like her a lot too.


And here are the (phone) photos of my favorite angel of all.


I don't know what it is about this angel that I love. Not far away there were many small graves in an area called "The Baby Garden." That name makes me want to laugh out loud and wail with grief all at the same time. There was another woman there, kneeling in the grass as though in prayer. The tears did well up when I looked over and saw her. The last time I'd seen this statue, my son was still alive. My sister and I talked about young people we knew who had lived short lives and tried to make sense of it all, though we both know you can't make sense of it all. So many things we just can't know and must do our best to accept.

I haven't been doing much more in the way of art. I have been reading a lot. And thinking about writing. My thoughts don't seem to stay collected long enough to write anything. I'm in a bit of a funk, to tell you the truth. So it was good for me to get out a bit and see a different view for a while. I'm grateful I got to go.

Oh! Here's a "death poem" I read in one of the books I've been reading (written by Kozan Ichikyo, who died in 1360)! I don't know why I like it so much, but I do.

"Empty-handed I entered the world
Barefoot I leave it.
My coming, my going--
Two simple happenings
That got entangled."

The book I read the poem in is called The Five Invitations (Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living), by Frank Ostaseski. It's a book that is filled with little pearls of wisdom. It's well worth checking out.


Saturday, March 18, 2017

Confessions

I've had a few instances lately where I've wondered to myself (and may have found myself discussing the situation with others) how people can see themselves as being a certain way when clearly they are not that way. How do we get deluded ideas of who we are or what we are in our heads? How can we be so clueless about our blind spots (well they wouldn't be blind spots if we were aware of them)?

I decided a while back that I was going to work hard on not asking why he/she can't see the distortion in how they see themselves. I know I have a few big distortions of my own. But I'm not confused about the look of my reality.


I know what it looks like and I am often taken aback by the vision. I have this view of myself that does not reflect this reality. And I don't know how to explain the disparity. There is this inner core in me that remains serene (most of the time), in spite of the messes that often surround me.

One of my tennis friends once said something to me about how people see me, and don't expect me to play as well as I do. I never quite figured out what it was about my appearance that might make people think I couldn't play (my age?), but that's beside the point of my remarks.

Here's the thing, on paper, if you had a black and white list, I'd look a lot like a failure. I cannot not feel that. The fortunate thing is, I have friends who see me in a different light. They are not checking off a list of achievements and accomplishments (which is what I do, and how I see myself as having failed). They are seeing that inner core, the part of me that is not apparent to anyone who doesn't do anymore than skim the surface and move on. They are the ones who remind me: when I judge myself as a failure, I am looking at a list that is not mine to complete. Today, I am grateful for those friends.

I forgot, remembering the Johari window concept helps bring acceptance.We all have these parts to our selves. And our windows are not always the perfectly square window we see in this diagram! Some are more self aware than others. Some are more open than others. Some are both closed down and unaware. I think remembering the Johari window will help me to be a bit more patient myself and others.


Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Hello, March!

Here we are, already pushing into the third month of the year, and the Lenten season. As usual, I'm surprised that the time has passed so quickly. And I think about how to better manage my time so it won't feel like it's slipping through my fingers.

Doing arty things is, for me, a way of stopping time. I get into my zone (flow, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_(psychology). It's a very good feeling. And it doesn't matter whether I judge the art I'm doing as good or bad, the relaxed feeling is still there (the fact is, I am not judging the art at all, that's how I know I'm in a flow state, I am totally immersed in the pure joy of the process). It isn't always that way. There are times when I'm doing things and I'm so frustrated that I can't make the drawing look like what I'm trying to draw. That's when making art is painful! 

My sister gave me a set of pastel pencils and I had to try them out. I'm pleased with how my apple turned out (though some think it looks more peachy than apple-y, which is just peachy with me!). I did it in my journal so you can see the shadow of my writing on the page underneath.
I sketched out this woman using my Stabilo All pencil. It's a pencil that can write on almost anything and it's water soluble so you can use the brush to soften the lines and make shading. I bought a couple of water brushes (http://www.dickblick.com/items/05133-1000/) several years ago and I haven't used them much. Since I have this pencil, and have been playing more with my watercolors, I'm finding that I really love this brush.

If I am nothing else, I am solid proof that you do not have to be particularly skilled at making art to gain benefits from your attempts at making art! 


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Root, Hog, or Die

I forgot to say that since plants are pushed on by "coded cells," (they're gonna do what they're gonna do) and I'm ready for spring to be here (while still grateful for all the things already blooming), I threw some wild flower seeds out in a bare part of our woods, hoping one or two or four will push through and bloom. Otherwise, my bad self says, "Let 'em root, hog, or die." I know, that doesn't exactly sound like a loving or hopeful sendoff but it's the best I had at the time. I'll let ya know how they do.