Thursday, September 27, 2012

30 Days, Days Three Through Eight

That's right: My Little Pony Princess Celestia. 

Now that I've posted the third of three parts about my retreat, as promised here's an update to my 30 Day Creativity Challenge project. I'm not sharing everything I've done (but have listed the dates/day number/topic), especially the bits I've written; some things I think I'll only share with my cohorts of this challenge, and other bits I might not share at all. I welcome your comments, always. Enjoy.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012- Day #3= Tablescape.

I had a bit of trouble with this one as I kept thinking about food, which led to me remember that I don't really have a table at which to eat; I mostly sit at my DIY counter top bar, and weather permitting I sit outside on my tiny dollhouse deck in my red plastic Adirondack chairs, or I'll often just stand at the pink Formica counter top. So I walked around my tiny dollhouse, looking for a place to stage my food for the day (um...trail mix, coffee. That's it.), when I spied my journal on the bedside tabletop. See what I did there? 

Probably more important to me than food right now, my nightly bedside journaling has proven to be an immense and comforting outlet for me. So it seems only fitting that my books and journals be my image for this day's challenge.

This is what I see every night before I try to sleep- that beat up table, that stack of books, that lampglow, that plainly dressed bed.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012- Day #4= Best Friend(s).

This is where I wish I had curated the list of challenges a bit more harshly. "Best Friend?" What am I, twelve? Ugh. I was feeling incredibly low and frustrated that day, and while I had friends to use as sounding boards, I couldn't pick just one to call "best." I also didn't have the words to explain any of those people without sounding like Stuart Smalley. So I went for a run to try and get some headspace.

I ran through the park, along the shore of Lake Michigan, legs pumping faster than they needed to be, music helping set the tone of my thoughts and the pace of those legs. Sitting outside after my run, I was drinking coffee from a treasured mug from a "best," and it dawned on  me that my Best Friends that day were all right there: music, running (with my favorite threadbare socks, even), and strong, hot coffee with cream. Those are the items I needed that morning, those are the items that helped me get dressed and go to work, those are the items that gave me a bit of strength. If that doesn't describe a Best Friend(s), I don't know what does.

Thursday, September 13, 2012- Day #5= A Favorite Place.

Another hard one! Challenge, indeed. I though about my favorite places- my little rental dollhouse, my parents' house, the beach-any beach, anywhere with my friends and laughter, or anywhere that made me warm all over and brought me joy. As I added more and more places to my list of favorites, I quickly came to the conclusion that my favorite Favorite Place was a feeling of joy and contentment rather than an actual, physical place on a map. And so I decided to describe some moments or scenes that, when I have them in my present thoughts as either memory or fantasy, I am transported. But the picture I'm posting here to go with these words is someplace I recently fell in love with, despite it literally being my back yard for the past 16 years.

A Favorite Place

The warmth of the sun on my bare skin, the sound of the water breaking on the shore, the stillness of the air.

The smell you catch in the grocery store that has you looking around for your grandmother, or mother. It is a certain perfume, or a mixture of garlic and coffee and dish soap from the kitchen, or (I don't know what other words to use).

The darkness of a navy-black sky, with swarms of stars punctuated by the brightest, closest constellations.

The sound of a laugh or a cough or the baritone of a voice you swear is your father’s, but it cannot possibly be, because he is five hundred miles away, asleep in his recliner or out fishing the Hennepin Canal for blue gill and crappie and bass and solitude.

The happy, floating, invincible feeling between a first and fourth vodka gimlet.

A lover’s arm across your body, or the linger of a kiss from their mouth in the crook where your shoulder and neck meet.

The smiles captured in a photograph when your children were smaller, happier, and unconcerned.

Three weeks ago, your Life swirling around, when you had no reason to be anything other than unconcerned.

A song that links to a memory of a place and time and another life and a person you used to be and whom you are grateful to have grown from because it means you have become who you are right now.

Friday, September 14, 2012- Day #6= Favorite scene from a book.

Saturday, September 15, 2012- Day #7= Favorite scene from a movie.

Sunday, September 16, 2012- Day #8= Self Portrait (#2 of 3).

I love this photo for a number of reasons: 1) It is my favorite part of my body, my neck/collar bones, shoulders, decollete; 2) I had just had a day so profoundly needed that I didn't want it to end, and so I love that this is a memento of that day; 3) I love the coloring of this shot, the way the flash of the camera illuminated my body and the room and caught all the right angles to highlight.

I gotta tell ya: even though I intended to use this challenge as a fire starter for my visual imagery/art, my writing has been front and center in my head, making my hands ache from wanting to scratch out the words on legal pad yellow paper before transforming them to computer bits. I've dug out books from my library that I haven't touched in years because of this challenge, and they have helped me focus and write and re-write; reading good writing helps you become a better writer, I'm convinced. The margins of my pages are just as filled as the spaces between the blue lines. For reference, some of those books are : A Natural History of the Senses by Diane Ackerman, Where I'm Calling From by Raymond Carver, The Woman Lit by Fireflies by Jim Harrison, and Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage by Alice Munro. Although I've always loved a well-crafted novel, short stories are my favorite things to read. 

I'll post again soon regarding this challenge, something I've written, and/or maybe even something I've drawn. Until next time, friends: read, draw, doodle, write, daydream, DO.

Monday, September 24, 2012

A Recipe For Reconstruction

"None of us knows what might happen even the next minute, yet we still go forward. 
Because we Trust. Because we have Faith."
-Paulo Coelho, "Brida"

Part III of III

In the time since my retreat last month, I've struggled to get back into the swing of things. I've felt unsettled, out of sorts, frustrated, impatient...honestly, what did I expect? Instant enlightenment and an easy transformation/reintegration? Impossible. One thing I turn to when I'm feeling this way is the practice of structured creativity; another thing is to take care of others. 

I know, right?! So strong is the lure of the comfort of old habits! 

I've tried reallyreallyreally hard to break that habit (the care of others) and take care of my Self. I've used up all of my vacation time at work as of this writing (never fear- a new bank of time starts October 1st), and have enjoyed it so much. What's surprised me is that I've had to continue working on identifying my wants and needs more than I expected. I mean, I get that it's a process, this work on Identity, but let me tell you: there is so much more I want to do now, and I'm finally- FINALLY- grasping the full importance of Self first. Yes, I've always subscribed to taking care of yourself first in order to help others (by being an example or through hands-on actions). But post-retreat? I'm able to delve into the why of it being important to me.

Gather some food and some basic supplies- a place to sleep, something to write on, something to write with, something to move you. Take as much time as is available to you and add Introspection liberally.

Part of knowing who you are is knowing how you'll react to certain road blocks or life situations. I know, for instance, that I need to have some sort of schedule to my day in order for me to play. Yep. It helps me to know that I need to get ABC done before I can indulge in LMNO. And one thing I've really been lamenting is my job and how the current lack of structure is paralyzing me and my thought process. I know, right?! You would think that no parameters would make it so easy to be creative; alas, it is a big road block. 

Next, take the Blank Page as the Opportunity to truly present your wants and needs; be sure to check these often, as time may alter their shape. Review, reflect, and edit with prudence.

And the rest of my life? Well, there have been some challenges with Blonde Daughter this year, and those have had me questioning my abilities and intuition when it comes to parenting. Single parenting is never anything I would recommend, especially if you've had a partner at one point to help you and now don't. Not having that confidant to discuss matters of child-rearing with is frustratingly sad, especially when your child is dealing with her own internal battles. Knowing yourself first helps ease this pain, gives you material to tell stories that, whether asked for or not, can help your child come to an understanding about their challenges, can maybe guide them to a place they always thought wasn't really meant for them. 

After a time, share what you have created with those around you, friends and not-yet-friends alike. Learn to trust others, even if it leaves you feeling uncomfortable and unguarded and small and broken. 

My friends have, of course, been supportive and wonderful and encouraging throughout this process. Do they get it, do they understand the importance of this work for me? For what it means to how I'll live out my days? Maybe some of them do, I don't know. I know that I've been able to re-connect with friends on a level that is deeper and more genuine, and that the girl I used to be is lurking around, ready to make a move on those last pieces of the social construct that has been in my mirror for the past 20 years. 

Look around your feet for the sturdy bits, for the supporting bits, for the structural bits, for the shiny bits. Use these to build up not walls, but ladders, maybe, for others to climb onto. Be a Giver of _______. Anything, everything, yourself.

In short, what have I learned from my retreat? More than I could ever put into words, is what I think most days. And then other days I'll draw a picture or write a short story or take a photograph and think, This is what I have in my head when I think about _______ from my retreat. I need to share this before I explode with excitement over this discovery, this tangible and tiny flake. And then other days I'll think I've got it down, and during a three-hour conversation with a Buddhist Hippie Sage discover that, no, I have more work to do, that my pain runs deep and the wisdom at my core is just dying to get out. 

And that, friends, can only mean that the old saying must be true: the Journey is the Destination. And I'm so glad you're all here. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

30 Days

So I'm taking a bit of a break from posting about my retreat (here, here, and here) to share one of the projects to come out of the retreat: the 30 Day Creativity Challenge.

Have you heard of this? There's lots of versions floating around, lots of lists of what to do, what to create. One of the goals of my retreat was to tap back into my creative Self; I did, after all, graduate from art school. But saying you're going to be creative while you're still high on the bliss of a successful retreat and putting that bliss into action are two very different things. So like any good person, I Googled "creativity challenge."

The list I've come up with is a re-working of several different lists culled from several different sites. The only rule is that you use the item on the list to create something. For me, I'm focusing on imagery- drawing, painting, and thankyouJesusforInstagram- as well as writing; you could easily incorporate music or singing/songwriting, too, or even cooking or clothing choices. The main goal is to get you to think outside of your normal-ness. I'll try to post once weekly during the challenge to share what I've been up to, but no promises. My next post will be part three of my retreat posts. And so-

Sunday, September 9, 2012- Day #1= Self portrait.

What I like about this photo is how green my eyes look against that top. And that it doesn't look like I need Botox or Juvederm yet. And that I don't have bags under my eyes, and that they're not puffy, and that I look kinda okay with my face bare naked like that. 

Monday, September 10, 2012- Day #2= Animal.

For this challenge, I had to think a bit. I love birds, but didn't really want to draw a bird. So I thought about other animals, and naturally thought about people's pets. My friend Tha Doctah has cats. Hmmm. NO. I know several people with dogs, but...these pursuits were taking place in the evening hours, in my basement. What to do? A photograph of a pet? YES. Instagram to the rescue? YES.

So I found a photograph I liked and rendered a simple drawing in pencil. But as I was studying the photo and the drawing, I thought of a story to tell. So I did both. 

An Evening in August

She sat on the steps of the deck, looking out over the back yard and the items there: lawn chairs, a swing set, a rake, a garden hose, dog toys. And the dog. She was an old dog, maybe 8 or 10 years old, and her hips bothered her, you could tell. Some kind of shepherd mix, black, mostly, but with white on her muzzle and some on her chest.

"She can be a bit skittish with new people," he had said. But she had dealt with dogs like that before. Wasn't S____'s dog that way? All bark at first, and then quickly a mutual respect was established? That dog, Rezzy, was also a shepherd mix, but smaller, shorter, like a corgi or something.This dog was tall with matted fur that came off in clumps every time she petted it.

She picked up one of the dog toys and threw it out towards the fence; the dog retrieved it and brought it to her, tail wagging, excited barks. She did this- played with the dog- for a good 30 minutes or more. The dog tired and lay by her feet, which she tucked under the dog's belly, feeling the warmth and weight of this animal, feeling content.

What was it about a skittish dog? They were often her favorite ones. The docile and dumb labs or retrievers just lacked substance for her, even though they looked nice. She absently ran her hand over the dog's back, scratched its ears, massaged its neck. She grabbed the dog's face with both hands, rubbing under its chin, touching noses and telling it through a half-closed mouth, "You're a good girl. Such a good. Girl."

The patio door opened and the dog's attention shifted from the feel-good-ness of her hands to the figure in the doorway. The dog got up slowly and climbed the three stairs and walked into the house. She followed, sliding the screen door shut behind them both.

Get creative, friends. If anything, it can serve as a pleasant diversion from life for awhile.

Friday, September 7, 2012

It Takes A Village (and a List)

Take what you find and create something meaningful, write a message on the sandy shore,
leave part of your heart there, and yet take back a heart full of joy.

Part II of III

I am a list maker. I love making a To Do list, or a Top 10 list, or a goals list. I love the orderly way the items sit there on the page, each one waiting patiently to be completed and crossed off or read aloud and contemplated in conversation. I love the way that the single items merge to create one new, singular item. As the Queen of Procrastination Nation, it is indeed an achievement when I am finished with a list.

So as I was getting ready for my retreat (go here and here), of course I made a list. Actually, I made four lists: vacation plans, campgrounds, camping supplies, and people. Solo camping trip, though, right? The names on that last list were for meditations and prayers: twelve names, including my own. And so-

Once I got to the campsite, I really tried to let go of my regular routines. After all, that's partly what this retreat was about, wasn't it? Letting go of long-held habits and beliefs and identities? YES. I soon found out that my proclivity for list making was something I would not be able to abandon. 

I made mental lists of where things should go (the tent there, the firewood there, kayak there, backpack there). I made lists of all the ways I wanted to enjoy nature (kayak daily, swim, run Bruno's Run trail, explore the far shore of the lake). I made lists of what I wanted to accomplish creatively (read one book, meditate daily, complete at least three drawings, free write in my journal). I made lists of what to eat and drink (oatmeal and coffee for breakfast, eggs for lunch, trail mix whenever, potatoes and beer for dinner). 

And then, like all best-laid plans, my lists got pushed aside by the internal work I ended up doing, the challenging of myself to tear down my Self to the bare studs and get rid of the Secrets that were weakening my foundation. Damn. Damndamndamndamndamn.

All of a sudden, nothing was going as planned. It was the first full day and I was deeper into my demolition much sooner than I expected. The early morning rain dampened me, figuratively and literally. By late morning, though, the rain had stopped, but my center was lost. A run on the trail helped clear my mind some. A paddle around the lake helped me focus a bit more. Food. A fire. 

And then the stars came out.

It was one of those nights where you first look up in the sky and see only a few stars, only the major constellations, perhaps: Ursa Major and Minor, Sagittarius. And then you stoke the fire and look up again, and there are more stars than before. Take a drink of your beer, and there are more stars. Each time you look, the spaces between stars are filled in with more stars, and the sky is filled with bright star clouds. 

And then you see a shooting star. And then another. And another. You will see five in all, and after each one you'll say out loud: "Oh! Did you see that?!" or "Oh God, _______. I hope you saw that one." And you'll catch yourself smiling and crying at the same time.

Once I was certain the shooting stars were done with their show and the fire was only embers, I made my way to my tent for the night. And then the rains came again. And I quickly made another list of what was still outside and where: my beach towel, my life jacket, my coffee cup, my kayak and paddle. And then I held up the lantern inside my tent and inventoried more: my quilt made from race t-shirts, my Escanaba Eskymos sweatshirt, my Starbucks Via coffee packets for the morning, my bird wing necklace. 

And then I stopped. And I thought: these things, they are what helps define me, they forge my Core Identity, not the socially constructed one. The individual elements of what I brought with me are tangible symbols of my journey, of my Life So Far. They've helped shape me and helped define who I am and what I need and what I can offer. 

The tent and its somber colors, used once previously on an ill-fated camping trip with the wasband. The coffee cup, a gift from one of the girls I mentored. The coffee packets, a last-minute add-in from my training partner. The towel, bought on an excursion with a trusted confidant. The life jacket, borrowed from another lifetime. The sweatshirt, an advertisement for my newly embraced home. My necklace, a gift- an urging, really- from a friend wanting me to fly. My quilt, stitched from race t-shirts, all journeys taken before now, all a search for a challenge, all a reminder of my daily struggles on that date. The campsite itself, even. The place, the trail, the solitude, gifted to me by Fate in more ways than one. 

What to call these things? What is the heading on this list? Mementos? Touchstones? Souvenirs? Talismans? 

totem (noun)- an object or representation of such an object serving as a distinctive mark or symbol.

These items made up my totem, representative of the people and related experiences that helped me define Self, helped sharpen the focus on my True Identity- not the socially constructed one that up until this point, I'd simultaneously fed into and fended off. These items were a Visual List.

I was content with this revelation, laying in the tent, listening to the rain hush through the trees. My mind began to wander again and I began to dream in images of these items, stacked one on top of the other, bringing a message to the viewer. Did they serve as a warning or a welcome? Which did I want it to be? What was the approach?

That demolition, that nakedness, that discovery could only lead me to a place where I could rebuild. My foundation was stronger now, and my next list would consist of what I had left, what I was willing to pick up and embrace, and what I wanted to incorporate. What kind of story did I want to tell?

I fell asleep with my thoughts wandering further, asking what our stories reveal about Self. I had already learned about telling stories to myself, betraying my own confidences. Was it keeping secrets, or omitting the truth? How much do semantics matter? What is the lesson? We listen to reason and don't repeat mistakes and sometimes still fail to grow. It comes back to Balance and figuring out what works best for all of the Loves of Your Life, Self first. 

Until next time, friends.