The Artist’s Way: Being a Froot Loop

The worse part of a trip for me are the last two days. I start to think about the adventure ending and a sadness mixed with slight panic sweeps over me. When I inventory all the things I still want to do and see, I wonder how on earth I can possibly make them happen. And then my mind wanders to the routine of life that awaits me when I return home.

The final evening of The Artist’s Way felt much the same way for me. We were asked to bring a final creative project to share and some light hors d’oeuvres. Professor Profound brought a lovely red blend wine – called Creative Block of all things – which he found on one of his recent trips. He shared it with pride and generosity, a true reflection of his heart. Hard on Herself Virtuoso (now a sweet friend of mine) brought a big pot of vegan chili (the adventures never stop for me) which was surprisingly good even with the foreign matter she referred to as vegetable protein. Sadly, the group was incomplete. Pet Healer was missing, but as it turns out she needed healing herself at home. Somehow though she still felt present.

We sat around that familiar rectangular table which had strangely become our temporary shelter of sorts. With each class, the accommodations became more and more comfortable, more homey as the inhabitants added pieces of themselves to the space. It had become a safe harbor from the storms of perfectionism and the thunder of criticism.

In the middle of the banter, the Silver Desiderata handed each of us a handwritten note expressing her love and gratitude for not only who we were but also for the unique creative expressions we brought to the class. Her words were a sweet addition to the warmth and love already present. Between taking pictures and engaging in snatches of conversation, I sat back to watch the scene unfold, to soak in the laughter, to take in the love and color radiating from their faces.

The lovely Lady of the Box invited us to join her in the living room and indeed it was a living room . The walls were covered with oil painting her father had created; plants and candles tastefully dotted the space. Every inch felt alive and inviting.  She was the first to share. The woman who had given us so much over the past twelve weeks, was giving us yet another gift – our own personal collection of photographs of the symbols she used at the start of every class. Our snapshots were enclosed in a black box wrapped with a red ribbon. Like a flight recorder found on every commercial airplane, our black boxes contained images, reminders of what happen during our flight, our journey on The Artist’s Way. My heart was full.

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Color Lover shared a journal she had been working on, every page filled with vibrant images and rich hues. The girl who came to us in black and white was now full of color much like the collages she had created in her book. Super Hero Zombie Girl was next. She showed us bold and textured canvases of comic book superheroes she had painted. She explained how when she was unable to sleep she would create these pictures, pictures of her friends. What an image – a super hero painting her super heroes.

And then it was time for The Quiet Man to speak. He read us poetry whose source came from the deep well within him. As he read, tears puddled in my eyes making him a blur, and yet we all could see him more clearly that night than any other we had spent with him. One by one, our members shared their creativity. They were generous. They were vulnerable. They were alive. We were a tribe, a tribe of artists.

Finally, it was time to share my offering. What else would a want-to-be illustrator share but an illustration representing my experience of the last twelve weeks. It was simple, a watercolor study of a bowl of Froot Loops. I had decided if I was going to be authentic with this group, I needed to share my initial impressions from the first night of class. I explained how I felt like a Bran Bud in a bowl of Froot Loops. Many laughed but some didn’t. Perhaps they were recovering from the sting of being labeled a Froot Loop. I further explained as the weeks passed, I started to wonder if it really was a noble thing to be a Bran Bud. After all, people only eats Bran Buds because it’s a have to of life, but for a child, eating Froot Loops is a definite want to.

I continued as each of them handled my offering, reading the little notes I had written throughout. I expressed how over time their creativity and love seeped into that room like the color of Froot Loops bleeding into the milk they float in. Over our journey, we shared, we mingled, we realized we were all in the same bowl. We were a bowl of artists who struggle, who create, who sink at times yet float to the surface again and again.

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And I concluded with my big reveal…I AM NOW A BIG ROUND FROSTED PINK FROOT LOOP! A metamorphosis of sorts had taken place in me on this journey. And now I get to create in beautiful, messy, imperfection and hopefully help color the world with my artistic expressions.

Thank you, Froot Loops and The Lady of the Box. I have been forever changed along the way – The Artist’s Way.

The Bridge Over Troubled Waters

Today is my mom’s birthday. I had a memory of her today that grew into a gift. This is so like my mom, giving gifts on her special day.

I remember two little girls and their mommy eating out for dinner, a lovely distraction from some of the difficulty we were going through. We were three girls making memories, dreaming dreams, asking questions in the midst of pain and loss.

We scooted into a booth and immediately turned to the individual jukebox mounted on the wall. Mommy gave Kathy four quarters to put into the slot. We were each allowed to pick out four songs and she would select the remaining two. I only remember one of the songs I picked, I Would Give Everything I Own by Bread. It’s so funny I would remember that detail.

After we settled in and gave our orders to the waitress, I remember asking my mom, “What are you going to be when you grow up?” She gave me a sweet smile. She wasn’t offended in the least and if she thought the question was ridiculous, she never let on. She answered me as though it was a perfectly legitimate question for a daughter to ask her mom.

“Well, Susie, when I grow up, I am going to be a hippie. “

I thought for a couple of seconds and asked, “Mommy, what’s a hippie?”

She replied, “A hippie is someone who wears tattered bell bottom jeans, doesn’t take baths, and never cuts her hair but always wears flowers in it.”

I remember tears falling down my cheeks, and my mom asking me what was wrong. I looked into her beautiful blue eyes and pleaded, “Please don’t be a hippie, Mommy.”

She made her way around the table and gave me a two arm hug, assuring me that she was only playing. There was no need, she said, for me to worry. No matter what she did when she “grew up”, she would always be my mommy. Her words seemed to assuage my fears of having a dirty, tattered mom.

Our meal came. We ate our fries first and nibbled on our pork sandwiches. We talked about school and friends. Suddenly, in the middle of our conversation, Mommy blurts out, “Girls, when I die, I want this song played at my funeral.” Her comment seemed so random, but that’s the way my mom is. When she has a thought, it bursts out like hiccup.

She told us to listen. One of her songs was playing on the jukebox. It was Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon and Garfunkle. All three of us sat perfectly still for three minutes or so, until the song was finished. At that moment for me, the words and music were overshadowed by the prospect of my mom one day being gone. I felt really sad. I think Kathy asked her what she liked about the song. I love that about Kathy. She was in the moment with Mommy. She actually heard the words and was interested in what Mommy liked about it. I don’t recall what her answer was, but curious Kat seemed to be satisfied.

The meal continued and my memory ends there.

Once the memory faded, I decided to look up the lyrics of the song – one I am familiar with but had never really examined.

I was blown away. I understand now, decades later, why my mom loved this song. It is her anthem, her heart song. As a young mom, this was her hope, her dream of what she wanted to be when she grew up. She wanted to be a bridge over troubled waters for her three girls (she gave us one more sister when we were teenagers and I’m so grateful for that). She wanted to leave a legacy of I Lay Me Down. And, she did. She didn’t do it perfectly but she did it fiercely. She sacrificed so much so that we could grow into the people we are today.

When I read the final words of the song, I felt like she has been singing this over me my entire life.

Sail on silver girl
Sail on by
Your time has come to shine
All your dreams are on their way
See how they shine
Oh, if you need a friend
I’m sailing right behind
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down

Thank you, Mommy, for being that bridge. Thank you for wanting me to shine. Thank you for teaching me to dream and to sail through this life, even over troubled waters. Knowing that you are right behind gives me strength.

Happy birthday and before I forget, thank you for the gift. I love you.

The Artist’s Way: Nurturing Dreams

I was intrigued by the wooden box sitting on the table off to the side. It didn’t have a place of prominence in the room, but it was there, high enough to capture my attention. There’s something about a box that piques my interest.- a gift box, a  wooden jewelry box, a brightly painted toy box, round hat boxes, even boxes in my garage.  I want to know what’s inside. I want to unearth the hidden treasures buried in a drawer, a closet, the garage.

So as the leader spoke, my gaze periodically turned to this wooden box. I listen as she spoke about the journey were all on and the need for our class to be a safe place for our dreams to be shared and nurtured. But, if I were to be honest here, I was a bit distracted by that darn box.

Finally, she opened it and carefully pulled out a bird’s nest complete with feathers and even a piece of twine woven into it by it’s feathered builder. It was masterfully crafted and it’s current owner not only handled it with care but saw it’s tremendous value. Week after week, The Lady of the Box would open the lid revealing a symbol for the week’s lesson – a seashell for safety, a kite for possibility, headphones for connection, and so on.

Week nine of The Artist’s Way, our assignment was to bring a totem or symbol to class. I wasn’t sure about a totem, but a symbol worked for me. Symbols can be concise and powerful reminders when words are abundant. We were asked to bring a totem/symbol to class representing one of our dreams fulfilled. When I considered the dreams I have, I realized many are in the gestation stage. Growth is happening, but they are not necessarily ready for the world.

My symbol, as it turns out, ended up being a nest – the first item our leader took from the box. I went on Pinterest and saw a small nest pendant made from wire and beads. Instead of purchasing it, I decided to try my hand at jewelry making, a feeble attempt, I might add. Jewelry design is not in my wheelhouse of creativity. My bird’s nest would contain three small beads, each representing the dreams that are still growing inside of me. I threaded my bright blue dreams onto the 20 gauge wire, weaving, twisting, bending the silver to create their shelter.

This is what I wrote in my morning pages after I had finished my symbol.

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Dreams are fragile

Dreams take time

Dreams grow on the inside even when there’s nothing to see on the outside

Dreams must be birthed

Dreams must leave the nest so they can soar

I made a nest for myself and one for The Lady of the Box as a gesture to thank her for being part of the nurturing process. She handled my dreams and the dreams of the other Artist Wayers as carefully as she held that nest on the first night of class.

As it turns out, this group was a very safe place for dreams whether they were still being incubated or standing on the edge of the nest poised to soar.

Hanging Onto Every Word

We didn’t plan it. Actually it started as solution I came up with to help my husband gain some strength in his voice. More and more he was speaking at conferences on Technology and Ethics and almost every time, his voice would strain near the end his presentation. Being the fixer I suggested reading aloud might help. I grabbed a book I had on my shelf, and the metamorphosis began. I call it this because what started as a potential remedy to a problem actually grew into a lovely weekend activity that my husband and I have enjoyed together ever since.

We sat at the table with freshly brewed coffee and a copy of Ruthless Trust by Brennan Manning. Kevin began reading the foreward, “When our children were young I would sometimes rise early on a Saturday morning and fix them pancakes for breakfast. It was great fun – the broken eggs, the spilt milk, the batter and the chatter.” The words cascaded from his mouth, gently, fluidly, all in his beautiful South African accent. I so love that accent. When he would call me when we were dating, I felt my knees go weak when I heard his voice on the other end. He continued to read, page after page, until the words were interrupted by the clearing of his throat, a sign of strain. He eventually passed it to me to carry on for a bit, and I gladly accepted. Back and forth, we handed the book to one another, taking turns reading. I don’t know where the time went. Two hours passed like it was a quick 15. Such a lovely morning it was.

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Sunday we decided to do the same, except this time our coffee would be accompanied by scrambled eggs with sauteed peppers and onions, sliced avocado, and toasted English muffins topped with real butter and locally farmed honey. After breakfast, Kevin took the lead, and I listened, sipping my coffee, hanging onto his every word. Something he read evoked a memory from my childhood, so he paused as I shared an experience from my adolescence, a painful memory that I hadn’t thought about in years. He listened intently to the details.

Then I read a bit, and he stopped me to discuss an idea presented by the author he had never thought of before. And this is how it went for the next 2 hours, the back and forth, memories, discussions, laughter, tears.

In those 4 short hours we spent reading that weekend, we discovered things about one another we had never known. We discussed topics that weren’t part of our regular dialogue. We were walking into uncharted territory and loved it.

Many months have passed and several books have been consumed and enjoyed by us both. I cherish our time. I love the unhurried tempo of our weekend mornings. I love that after spending over half my life with this man, I am still learning new things about him and myself as well.

But what I love even more is that I am still being read to in this season of my life. I find I am enjoying it every bit as much as I did as a child, maybe even more. I hope I never get too old for this.

Forgiveness: A Novel Approach

In my senior year of high school, I had to write a 10 page term paper for my Literature class. Since my mom was born and raised in Ireland, writing on James Joyce’s acclaimed novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, seemed like a great idea. NOT!!!  About 50 pages into the book, I knew I had made a terrible mistake, but it was too late – I had already submitted my proposal. My interest level on a scale from one to ten was about a negative 5, so I did what any self respecting, straight A, God fearing Catholic girl would do, I bought the Cliffs Notes.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with this, these are guides that basically give a brief summary and analysis of a piece of literature.  In short, they are a form of bypassing reading a book.

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I did end up reading other critiques, but the point is, I NEVER COMPLETELY READ THE NOVEL.  To make matters worse, I got an A on my term paper.  Instead of engaging with the ideas presented in Joyce’s novel, instead of interacting with the characters, feeling their pain and experiencing their joy, instead of analyzing the conflict and themes presented in his work, I turned to a sterile, fact filled book telling me the gist of the story, giving me a brief description of the characters, the setting, and the themes.  Go ahead and judge me, but please know, this rule follower has spent countless hours since leaving high school judging herself for this decision, and it now hangs on my Wall of Shame.

So, imagine my shock when I realized that I have applied the Cliffs Notes version of forgiveness to most of my life.  I have turned to a formulaic, step by step approach to forgiveness that focused on me and my ability to forgive.  The frustrating part was I would feel better for a while, but the pain never really seemed to go away.  Somehow, I had confused giving someone a pass as forgiveness, but dismissing is NOT releasing.

True forgiveness is the novel approach.  It has characters, emotions, conflict, deception, betrayal, pain, and healing, lasting healing.  True forgiveness is specific, not vague, listing more than just facts. It includes painful, gut wrenching emotions that accompanied the wounds inflicted.  Forgiveness also delves deeper, looking through the emotions into the lies behind them.  But most importantly, true forgiveness does not focus on me and my ability to forgive. It focuses on a Person who is forgiveness personified, Jesus Christ, the hero of the novel.

Genuine, lasting forgiveness is not fiction; it is a reality!  And it is freedom for those who are brave enough to be honest with their feelings and are willing to trust their Healer. Go ahead, list the offenses, the wrongs, the wounds, and be specific.  Write down how they made you feel and be liberal with your feelings. Pile them high, but please feel them.  Ask God to then show you the lies you have embraced because of the wounds that were inflicted onto you. I’m no good. I am only valuable because of what I do, not because of who I am. I don’t need anyone. I desperately need someone. No one cares.

And then, ask God to help you forgive. Acknowledging the debt and release the offender from it. Accept them unconditionally, even if they choose to hurt you again.    Now here is the good part, ask Father God to give you an exchange.  Let Him flip that pain.  Let Him replace the lies with the truth.  It can be a picture, a word, a Scripture, an experience.  It might take time before you get it, but it will come. Forgiveness will actually be the reality of your life.

When it comes to forgiveness, don’t settle by giving someone a pass.  If you engage in true forgiveness, you will forever be changed and that pain that has followed you all your life, the Healer will take it away, making it a distant memory instead of present pain.

The Dust of Life

This week I feel dusty. The grit and grime from the wear and tear of life clings to me like grease on a mechanic’s hands. Every grain weighs me down, oppressive and burdensome. I so want to wash away those fragments, to remove the scum that often comes with life? When I feel this way, I know I need to position myself in a place to receive. More and more, that place is creativity.

These times are opportunities for conversation with God, although to begin with, they often sound more like a monologue. I rant. I dump. I cry. I breathe. I let out my frustrations and worries and immerse myself in His presence. He surrounds me. Over time I feel the debris being carried away and hear Him reminding me once again that what’s on the outside is not who I am on the inside. My circumstances, my struggles, my failures or the failures of others do not define me. Who I am is an identity issue and my identity is solid, stable, and constant. I am a child of God, and I am loved. This is the one thing I can be sure of, even when my world is coming unglued.

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Picasso almost had it right. Art doesn’t wash me; it positions me, allowing Father God to wash “from the soul the dust of everyday life”, reminding me – I am held, I am loved, and I am His.

Life: A Gallery or a Working Studio

 

A gallery is an incredible place to visit. Nothing is random or haphazard. Everything, down to the minute detail, is determined. Works of art are matted, framed, and mounted on the walls. Each piece is accentuated by light, catching the object at just the right angle, highlighting colors, textures, finishes. Pieces are grouped strategically in order to take the viewer on a journey. The art may have been created in a less pristine environment, but the gallery presentation is purposeful and flawless.

It occurred to me I have approached much of my life as a gallery presentation. I work, I create, I struggle, I strain, but what I show the world has been framed, matted, and mounted, making sure it’s pleasing to the eye. I have come to understand that my expression of life as art might not be for everyone, but I am going to do my best to make sure my presentation is polished. Trust me, this is an exhausting way to live and over time, you might find yourself coming a bit unglued. I know I did. Life is beautiful but it’s messy and hiding the mess is a full time job in itself.

Perhaps life should be lived more as a working studio rather than a gallery. A working studio is a place where an artist does everything – living, creating, selling, showing. Pieces of art are propped against the walls here and there and a few treasured pieces are hung, maybe even framed. There’s a space where the creative process takes place, and it’s messy, full of art supplies, Post-it notes, cups of coffee, the cell phone, photographs, bills. Life happens here, but it happens in other ways too.

An artist with a working studio has a choice to leave their door ajar or keep it closed with a big do not disturb sign on the outside. There are times for this, times for solitude and contemplation, but there are also times for the open door.

I feel like I am being challenged to leave the door open to the unexpected and the unplanned. Isn’t that what life as art is all about? Am I seeing the people that walk through the door as interruptions or as relationships? Am I so focused on the task at hand that I am missing the treasure before me? Am I open to share my gift with those who wander in? Am I ready to receive what someone may have for me. Yes, some will come just to enjoy what I have created, wanting to know how I do life, and others will come because they have something to give that will impact me as a person and ultimately impact my expression of art.

Leaving the door open is a generous lifestyle and an incredibly uncomfortable one. I might have to put my To- Do list aside for a while. I might have to swallow my pride and be okay with the fact that someone may have to climb over my crap to get to me. I might have to put aside my emotional Spanx to be vulnerable, messy, and undone with others. I might have to have the tissues ready as I sling snot with another over pain and struggle. I might have to look completely ridiculous as I laugh until I almost wet myself. This is life. This is art.

A gallery certainly is a beautiful place to visit, to be inspired, to be in awe, but the studio of life is where relationships are built and art is created.

Have to Believe

IMG_2881When I look out before me, past the sleeping rhododendrons resting on beds of graying grass, into the horizon where sky meets hazy mountains, I just have to believe there is someone bigger holding this all together.

When I see the rhythms of the seasons, the punctuality of the the sun rising every morning, and the dancing of the tides to the magnetic tune of the moon,I have to believe there is someone choreographing these timely movements.

When I hear the skillful duet of two little song birds generously singing their refrain to each other while the wind makes the noise of a shaker with the dry browning leaving hanging on their limbs for dear life, I have to believe there is a conductor behind this organic music.

When I feel the hand of my beloved grasping onto mine, feeling his love pulsing through my hand like a gravitational force holding my feet to the earth as my heart soars to the stars, I have to believe that a love like this has to be patterned by a skillful designer.

And when I walk the streets of the River Arts District and peer into studios of working artists, seeing countless expressions of creativity flowing from each one, I have to believe there is a Creator, an Artist, who is taking delight in watching His beautiful children expressing themselves, being just like their daddy, Papa God.

I just have to believe.

No Editing Required

31 Days The Create Experience 2

I know this sounds funny, but I think the most personal and intimate relationship I had as a child was with my diary. She could be trusted with all my thoughts. She didn’t judge me. She simply listened as I poured out my heart. She heard my fears and my dreams, and she kept them under lock and key. She knew things about me no one knew, and she was no snitch. No one could have been a more faithful companion to me.

As I got older, she had a name change. Diary was too childish. I would now call her Journal. She was as faithful as ever, but me, not so much. My time with her was spotty at best. She did hear about the big things though – the birth of my sister, the first kiss, Homecoming, my first heartbreak, trying to learn to drive with my mom, finally learning to with my step dad, tennis trophies, graduation. She was there through it all.

My journal relationship has morphed over the years. It has evolved into a journal to God, and the biggest change is that it is now a conversation instead of a monologue. He has been a trustworthy friend. I have really enjoyed our time.

Last year, I was introduced to The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. This book is “a course in discovering and recovering your creative self”. In the early pages, she asks the reader who is serious about taking this journey to commit to Morning Pages. Here is her description of them, “Simply put, the morning pages are three pages of longhand writing, strictly stream-of-consciousness…the act of writing down whatever comes to mind.” She suggests that you do this first thing in the morning. This was an assignment I had already been doing so YES, I could commit.

WRONG! I wasn’t doing morning pages at all. Morning pages are unedited, unfiltered. They are raw, real, and messy. My journal was neither unedited nor unfiltered. I reevaluated my commitment, and decided to give myself with abandon to my morning pages. And you know what? There has been more fruit coming from those pages than all my filtered ones to God. Thoughts, ideas, worries, emotions, all land on those pages. I don’t have to write Dear God because He is right there while I am writing. We still have conversations about some of it, but I am no longer editing myself. And you know what? I think He is okay with that.

 

A Present Wrapped in Creativity

31 Days The Create Experience 2

Music touches the soul like nothing else. Songs can transport me to a moment, evoking the same emotions I had when the event took place. It’s the closest thing to time travel for me. I may not be able to travel into the future, but I can count on music taking me on a trip into my past.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine called me up, wanting to link up before I set out on a coastal adventure with my sweet daughter. She had a gift for me, but in order to give it properly, she would need to come to my home and stay for about thirty minutes. We made the arrangements. Her gift was steeped in mystery, making her arrival even more exciting. She came through the door like a burst of sunshine, bringing warmth the moment she stepped into my home. We hugged me, and she immediately asked for my iPhone. What was this girl up to?

This was her gift. She had purchased an iTunes gift card and wanted to create a playlist for our trip to the beach. She selected songs from the decades, songs of my childhood, songs from the teen years, anthems of our youth. Our trip would be one down memory lane. And those really were her instructions – take a trip down memory lane. She suggested that as we listened together, if a memory came to me, I should share it with my daughter. What an amazing gift! My friend and I looked at the list and giggled like a couple of adolescents. Just seeing those titles triggered pictures in my mind – my dad slipping a quarter into a jukebox to play CSNY and America, slow dancing with a boy, my AM radio.

My daughter and I did take that trip together, but it ended up being much more than we had planned, thanks to my creative friend. I love that creativity is not limited to a canvas. It can be found in everything and everyone. My heart is filled with gratitude for my friend who used her talents, her gifts, and her creative ideas to bless 2 girls in a car on their way to the beach.