Friday, December 4, 2015

Hokusai Says

a poem by Roger Keyes

Hokusai says look carefully.

He says pay attention, notice.
He says keep looking, stay curious.
Hokusai says says there is no end to seeing

He says look forward to getting old.
He says keep changing,
you just get more who you really are.
He says get stuck, accept it, repeat
yourself as long as it is interesting.

He says keep doing what you love.

He says keep praying.

He says every one of us is a child,
every one of us is ancient
every one of us has a body.
He says every one of us is frightened.
He says every one of us has to find
a way to live with fear.

He says everything is alive --
shells, buildings, people, fish,
mountains, trees, wood is alive.
Water is alive.

Everything has its own life.

Everything lives inside us.
He says live with the world inside you.

He says it doesn't matter if you draw,
or write books. It doesn't matter
if you saw wood, or catch fish.
It doesn't matter if you sit at home
and stare at the ants on your veranda
or the shadows of the trees
and grasses in your garden.
It matters that you care.

It matters that you feel.

It matters that you notice.

It matters that life lives through you.

Contentment is life living through you.
Joy is life living through you.
Satisfaction and strength
is life living through you.

He says don't be afraid.
Don't be afraid.

Love, feel, let life take you by the hand.
Let life live through you.

~ Roger Keyes

Monday, November 30, 2015

head in the (lavender) clouds

A few weeks ago, I said, "I desired my own creative spotlight on my own life's main stage." 

I'm realizing, via the duality (even more than two aspects) of the self, that I am the performer and the audience (and the critic).  I am the voice and the listener (and the editor).  I am the creator and the beloved (and the destructive).  From a jungian point of view, one of these aspects of self may grow to become stronger than the others.  For me, it has been the self that is critic, editor and destructive.  It has been a path of self disregard in my art-making and avoiding the embodiments of voice, ear, hand, heart, dance, and the body that feels the result of these embodiments.

Seven years ago, when I first arrived in Denver, I met a man who, after we had become friends, told me he has intuitive abilities.  Because he was exploring this ability as a second career, he asked if he could practice with me as the subject.  I gladly obliged.  I've always loved hearing about myself and thinking about myself!  He said many great and grave things about me as we sat facing each other with our eyes closed.  He didn't describe my history or my future and he didn't ask questions other than to ask if what he was saying sounded familiar to me.  He described visions that he could see in and around my body.  One of the most poignant that has stayed with me since then was his description of a misty, lavender cloud around my head that was creative energy.  He spoke of my brain holding a sharp and perfect diamond, a representation of my honed and perfected intellect.  He told me that the creative aura was meant to be embodied, but as long as the diamond continued to be my priority, that separation would remain between my body and the creative.

My head, my rationality, my intellect, my ego - the diamond - all of these things are so highly valued in the world, but perhaps these as foundation are flimsier than we understand and keep us from living a wholehearted existence.  I am fearful of letting any other aspect of myself guide me and direct my work because the intuitive, creative essence may be perceived as wild and chaotic.  The reality is, as long as I focus on the diamond, which needs no more perfecting, I forget the heart, the body, the soul, the spirit, the unknowing knower, the Intuitive that is me.  What may be perceived as wild and chaotic is, in fact, the creative self, the one who knows without knowing

Recently, I listened to an inspiring interview between Krista Tippett (interviewer of radio show/podcast On Being) and Artist - self titled, Maker, Ann Hamilton.  Ms Tippett said that it is "humanizing when we rediscover [needlepoint, knitting, hand-crafts, etc.]" in a discussion with Ann Hamilton about her work as a textile artist.  Ms. Hamilton talks about it as "embodied knowledge."  The making, the putting on of the hands and trusting one's intuition to make the thing that exists from somewhere inside you, this is a kind of knowing.  It is not revered in our society's traditions because it is not cerebral.  Unfortunately, we can get stuck in the process of art-making at that moment when we realize we are in the body and not in the head.  Ann Hamilton discusses this as the moment when we "give it away" because it is not understood, we couldn't complete the work, it was impossible to describe or prove.  
[W]hen you’re making something, you don’t know what it is for a really long time.  So, you have to kind of cultivate the space around you, where you can trust the thing that you can’t name. And, if you feel a little bit insecure, or somebody questions you, or you need to know what it is, then what happens is you give that thing that you’re trying to listen to away.   [S]o how do you kind of cultivate a space that allows you to dwell in that — not knowing, really[?]  That [which] is actually really smart.  And can become really articulate.  But, you know, like the thread has to come out, and it comes out at its own pace. 
[my edits]
In this interview (please listen!), I find that Krista Tippett and Ann Hamilton are describing the wild and the chaos that I fear, but they are describing it in much more humble and settled reality.  I have felt anxious about releasing into my creative power because I have worried that the power would hit me like a tidal wave!  In reality, I am already doing the work that is the wild and the chaos and it is as quiet as I need it to be so that I can breathe the wildness and relax into the realm of unknowing.  I am making quilts by which I immerse myself in color and repetition and process.  I am making cross-stitch images that offer me time for intense meditation and thinking.  

Regarding this realization about the wild as quiet and the chaos as freedom, this is what Tippet and Hamilton's discussion has left with me: 
  • The work has to come at its own pace. 
  • When the articulation hasn't yet come and it's too early to define the work, cultivate the space around it and protect the unknowing.
  • Dwell in the not-knowing and resist giving it away before you come to know how to articulate. 
  • Believe that your embodied knowledge (the knowledge of the senses and of the soul) has authority.
  • The wilderness is medicine, chaos offers freedom, and neither were ever in effect to harm.


Thursday, November 19, 2015

the artist's assertion

In thinking about this past year, I see it as a year of regaining a stronghold on my personal desires and activating a listening ear to my own intuition.  What of a person's desires?  I'm realizing it's possible to live decades of one's life aspiring to the desires (sometimes demands) of others, of societal norms, of institutions - all the while putting one's own desires aside or behind in priority.  Add to that the lack of attention (at least in American, East coast, protestant tradition) given to identifying and valuing one's own intuition.  Intuition, that inner knowing that percolates, converses and sometimes screams as the counterpart to rational logic takes a back seat and often just gets left on the side of the road in our thinking and feeling.

The most complete critical thinking and authentic living comes from a balance of intuition and the rational mind.

I believe I have had a strong intuition since childhood.  I relate these natural emotive and sensory driven gut feelings to experiencing fulfillment, self-direction, clear thinking, creative work, and relationships.  When I have ignored or put aside my intuition (as a way of fitting in, as a way of staying in a rational mode, because I feel like a weirdo - the only one feeling this way), I have suffered disappointments, felt confused or disoriented, and have spent much time, sometimes decades feeling the consequences of pushing a good friend aside.

This has been a critical topic in sessions with my therapist, and I have regained a sense of confidence and belief in that beautiful and wise, old woman who resides in my soul, Intuition.

I bring this up in this forum because, as an artist, the intuitive voice is a critical component of the creative work that I do.  I could talk extensively about my thoughts on intuition and self realization and the part these play (or not) in contemporary artists' work, but I decline that unintelligible rant because it's sometimes upsetting enough for me to lose all verbal acuity.  It's upsetting mostly because of my own habitual ignorance to intuition within my creative work and the American Higher Ed's lack of attention given to developing one's intuitive guide in creative work.  And that's what I really mean to get at: the intuitive voice as guide in the creative work - from the choice to place blue here, and red there to the choice to make a collection of drawings depicting my dreams (a brave undertaking).  Seems simple stating it like that, but conversely, when the intuitive voice is ignored or weak, creative work may focus mainly on pleasing professors, making art that sells, making art that's safe for conservative audiences, or just making the same art for years because the first time we made it, enough people "just LOVED it."  Am I talking about myself?  yes.  And despite making work that I still think was good work, I neglected to make even more work that was important to me.  I dismissed ideas as too weird, too personal and instead focused on ideas that fit better into the popular program of design and art-making.  Even now, I still put others' desires ahead of mine and often find ways to put my creative work (which my intuition is calling me to do) behind what I think are my responsibilities to others.  I would go so far as to say that the 3 year project called, GroundSwell Gallery became a way of ignoring my own desire to make art in order to fulfill others' aims to exhibit art.  It was good work, and I am glad to have had the experiences and relationships from that chapter of my life, but...  admittedly, I desired my own creative spotlight on my own life's main stage.

Who wouldn't put this adorable animal first? 
Questions about self direction, career, calling, purpose all came up along the way in this year of separation from all things past (we closed the gallery, left another long-held job, built and then moved into a new house, got a dog, etc.).  Despite my intuition's percolating doubt, I tried on the Real Estate professional's shoes, I considered exhibiting in local galleries, I poured myself into training my dear dog, and found numerous other ways to fill my time... whilst my desire to make art was placed to the side and the creative work was left undone.  It seems that even quitting jobs and wiping the slate clean can still lead to two choices:  1. reforming the same behaviors of self diminishment and avoiding creative work or 2. forming new behaviors that respond to the intuitive voice that's been speaking all along - i.e. listen to the beckoning intuition that says, "Make your art now.  this is your chance to do it for yourself.  You have that freedom."

Perhaps I begin a meditation practice whereby I repeat such assertive words to myself:

I am making my art now.
I possess the opportunity to do this for myself.
I am free.


Friday, October 30, 2015

over a year

Canopy inspiration
Over a year since posting to this blog and I'm thinking it would be overwhelming to update everything that has happened since the last post.  Really, what I think is more important is the impetus to simply begin again now.

My most consistent work for the past 10 months has been the design, fabric dye, cutting and sewing of Canopy, the next quilt.  Images to follow.  Coincidentally, the last post on this blog before now, was "quilt, quilt, quilt, quilt, quilt, quilt, quilt" where I was talking about, now titled, Bridge, the quilt inspired by Anni Albers' work and by the work of psychotherapy and dreams that I had begun to focus on at the time. This too is a work related to psychotherapy, dreamwork and active imagination - inner contemplation or diaglogue with the symbols of my life.  The canopy of trees that I reference is the forest canopy in my childhood patch of forest next to our house where I would play with my sister for hours during warm seasons.  Lying on the forest floor, smelling the humus of the leaf decomposing soil, and seeing the sunlight filter through the leaves - this is a wholehearted memory self as Self.  That memory was reinforced by love, love of another childhood place that seemed to love me and later a place for falling in love with my now husband, Christian.   Christian and I would lay on the forest floor and talk for as much time as we could steal away while working at the outdoor summer camp, Camp Hanover, in Virginia.  That place, the forest there, memories before and after knowing Christian were rich with life and self as Self for me.   When imagining a place that holds great potential for healing and self knowing, I think of the forest floor, protected and created by the beautiful forest canopy.  Perhaps this quilt already begs a sister - the imagery of the rich and aromatic forest floor.

Canopy sketch for quilt, Jan. - Feb. 2015
The work of Canopy, designing and creating has proven to be what I expected in a way - "I want this to be a part of an ongoing practice.  I don't want to get hung up on the idea of this work being an 'opus,' as the pressure to do so often keeps me from trying new things and keeps me from relaxing into the process of creative work."  This has, thankfully, been the case for this project.  I feel less attached to my vision/plan as the unexpected differences come up, and I am willing to take it as it comes - I think more so than usual.  The unexpected:  how the dyes act with the fiber and what colors emerge despite what colors were planned.  I wasn't expecting the swirling, flowy look of tie-dye, but...  there it is.  I expected a minty green; I got an aqua blue.  Thus, I stand on the fence of "fix it" and "accept it."

My fingers, my sewing machine, my quilt
"Fix it" or "accept it." That's probably a good metaphor for my life and my work as of the last year too.  Through 2013, I'd say it was my normal mode to "always fix it."  The urge to make everything better (better, in my opinion) was practically irresistible to me and I might push myself beyond my energies and boundaries to make it so.  Everything - my projects, our projects, even your projects!  I realize this sounds very self critical, but even if I didn't actually do the fixing, there was this inner voice that said, "but I want it to be better.  I want it to be mine."  So in learning acceptance, as in "accept it," I am hearing that voice saying "fix it," and I am responding, "is it necessary?"  It's been a shift in thinking and living that gives me great relief.  I believe my artwork will benefit most from my willingness to see the long game of the artist's practice as critical to my creative development.  Perhaps that opus that the younger me desired so fervently is simply further down the road, and releasing myself from the pressure to produce it enables the creative work to get rich with time and decomposition and cycles and repetition and know - all that stuff that keeps a person alive.