holding (creative) space

“Holding on to the past is the riskiest choice you can make. Because when you hold on to the past – you erase any chance that you can change.” -Mastin Kipp

I notice often in my conversations with creatives and small businesses (myself included) that openness will fall along an abundance or a scarcity mindset when faced with new ideas. Willingness to embrace new ideas or fear new ideas has something to do with whether the creative person is hanging onto or can work with failures from the past.

I'm not even talking about Fall On Your Face failures- the kind we think stay with us the longest... but more like when a creative in business tries something, and gains a little momentum from it, and then the wave crests and dies off. Disappointments. Investments. Loss. There is grief there, a specific kind of grief. And unmet, unloved, and unreleased, that grief can consume the creative. It accumulates in the rafters of the heart. It suffocates possibility. 

I've been thinking a lot about my own places where I'm stubbornly holding on to a narrative that needs to be healed, released, and loved. I have specifically been thinking about the amazing creative potential of the human body, and that held, old, unreleased ideas and grief within our bodies creates disruptions within our physical selves. Creativity will not be stopped, so the body creates illness, stupor, depression. The body is nature, teaching us.

I've been thinking about the personal experiences I've had of "tapping into source" (whatever that means to you as a creative person), and the way that my sacred creative space resides in:
1. my body, voice and mindset
2. my home
3. my work and the city where I choose to live
and lastly 4. my *interaction* with the natural world.*

*this list changes and grows, evolves and flows with my own changes.

my way of dealing with a loud and overwhelming bus commute last fall: earth sculptures by the bus stops.

my way of dealing with a loud and overwhelming bus commute last fall: earth sculptures by the bus stops.

I have been waiting, perfecting, and dancing around growing or allowing change in my own artwork since the last big shift. I realized lately I've been holding on to an old image I had of my previous Etsy shop: ouou. I guess in the back of my mind I was waiting for my cards to reach a level of darlingness that that shop had on the one hand, and (somehow, miraculously) then I would allow, be READY for, all these other creative projects to be unfurlled with the other hand.

What am I holding back for?

First of all, my card shop is all fun right now. I'm selling in 6 local shops and I'm completely delighted. When I feel like it (like when I released these Super Birthday cards) I make new cards. On my weekends I get to be my dorky old Etsy self and hang out listening to podcasts; printing, scorring, cutting, packaging cards. So I've only had 1 sale on Etsy with my latest shop. So what!

I am ready to embrace changes. I'm ready to tell stories and bring up my sisterhood with the heroines I've created. I've been burned many, many times in my almost 10 years doing this creative thing in a public way (since Etsy) and I'm not famous. I haven't made it, I don't have a set income or etc etc etc, but I don't want to set limits on my future based on the pitfalls of the past.
I'm not daunted.
This is not my hobby, this IS my livelihood.
Whew. I said it. Art is my livelihood.
Creativity is my livelihood.
Creativity is my bread and butter.
I am here because of creative life force. I am creative power.

In fact, I feel newly refreshed for holding space for creative movement to come through and develop newness. Through my physical body and mindset, practices, and daily rhythm. Through my home. Through my ways of working.  Through my continued exploration of the place I live. Through my ever-evolving relationship with nature.

My cards are cooking, they're doing just fine. I'm happy with them, delighted to make them. Recently I began the practice of blessing my space and blessing my work as I packaged and boxed it up... still able to learn new ways of seeing my own creations!

I am creating a sacred space to invite possibility.
I am opening up a beautiful, held space to invite creative spirit.
I am creating by clearing out, by fully feeling, by allowing grief to have it's say and move along.
I am feeling safe in my creative destruction/ invocation because as a part of nature, I am held within nature, and cherished.
I am allowing my best dreams, wild fancies, belly laughs, and sparkle-colored daydreams to run rampant through my heart, to infuse my body with new energy, and to slowly come into existence.

PS I've really been inspired by the trauma recovery and empowering writing of Rachel Maddox, and linked to her blog above. I also have been just totally in love with the ethos of two working mamas who have built a creative business called SoulKu. They've gotten me singing over my cards and blessing my outgoing mail... those of you who followed Post know I do so love a good blessing! Read their (just lovely!) blog here!

the well

Last year I was part of a group of female business owners lead by a coach learning about spiritual practices and rhythm-based mindfulness as relates to our money, our creativity (on all levels), and our intentions. It was fantastic, and the lessons of an entire year of this sort of attention continue to infuse my days.

Recently I have noticed a personal symbol of mine come up at a time of high anxiety and transition. I am moving from one job to another, and feeling stretched very thin. Meanwhile, I'm noticing my creative practice is VERY chaotic. My relationship with food and money, similarly spontaneous. I'm in survival mode. Several times now the symbol of The Well has come up. Last year, when I first moved to this neighborhood, I noticed wishing wells lining my walk. It was quaint and symbolic of a settled, more generations-old neighborhood. Also, at the time, I was setting many intentions and doing a lot of dreaming, planning, magic-making and wishing.

But these days The Well is taking on a new depth... and I recognize the pun here. One of the ways The Well came into my attention was picking up the I Ching and opening to a page on The Well, which talks about different levels of misfortune or fulfillment. The bottom of the well has foul water. The rope is old and tattered and your bucket doesn't reach the bottom. The well is still and quiet. The water tastes of a crystal spring.

Just recently I came across this from John O'Donohue: "It is no wonder that in the Celtic world, wells were sacred places. Wells were seen as threshold places between the deeper, dark, unknown subterranean world and the outer world of light and form." He later goes on,

When a well awakens in the mind, new possibilities begin to flow, and you find yourself a depth and excitement that you never knew you had. This art of awakening is suggested by the Irish writer James Stephens, who said, 'The only barrier is our readiness.' We often remain exiles, left outside the rich world of the soul, simply because we are not ready. Our task is to refine our hearts and minds. There is so much blessing and beauty near us that is destined for us, and yet it cannot enter our lives because we are not ready to receive it.

I must confess, as I have logged in longer hours at work, and construction hit because Spring in Portland also means construction on the roads! As my commute involved long stretches through my least favorite part of town on a bus (ugh), and my window's view was reduced to the side of the apartment next door (instead of the changing season's leaves and trees)... The rope of my bucket just got frayed and old and couldn't reach the bottom.

I really needed these calls from The Well to remind me that not only is there Change, and there is also Blessings all around me (the season of spring blooms! new job! construction!) but that there is darkness and depth as well. ...as well. There is mystery, there is chaos and blindness in creation, and there is the potential for the cool, refreshing water that tastes like a mountain spring.

how shamanism is helping me to separate art and pain

I was born an artist.

me as a baby.jpg

 

You were too. We are all born creatives, and artists. Don't freak out about those words. It is only through culture that our definitions and abilities change.

When I was a child I was also a few other unusual things. I was highly sensitive, and highly reactive to my environment. I couldn't handle clothing in a (what felt like) wide range of insulting discomforts. I couldn't handle sounds, flavors, textures, and social situations. My internal world was so thoroughly sensitive that I was like a pendulum for much of my life, swinging between trying to drown out the "noise" with a lot of other stimulants or conversely shutting myself off from the world, hermit-like. In fact, much to my dismay, these are still some of my most basic coping strategies.


From my earliest memories I was creating things, telling stories, and at war with my body. Any child who is at war with their bodies in this way is also in a fight for acceptance in society, that's just how we do here in America. We have a social agreement that bases our acceptance on appearance, docile behavior, and competition. For some kiddos- the agreement itself stinks for what it is: blindness.

Although I had a side to me that bloomed in exuberant, romping, playful joy around my family (the predictable people who knew me best), I was withdrawn in public, and labeled "shy". It's a word I still unfurl on occasion for a quick social fix, and when I do I know it is a wall. A bland covering for what is really going on: I am overwhelmed with longing, attention to detail, the urge to jump in and run away, stimulus, internal guides have all seemed to flee the scene... I am stranded.

My parents, knowing one fantastic tool for self regulation, gave me what had for a long time become my security blanket between myself and the world:
a piece of paper and something to draw with.

girl in an egg... sketch

It makes so much sense to me now that I know a lot about sensory integration: systems are connected, and disregulated systems show sensory seeking or sensory defense based on a break somewhere in the flow. There's your pendulum.

I could hear better when my eyes were focused. I could learn better when my hands were moving across the page, or occupied, always, with something calming. I don't learn well in social situations unless there is a sense of *relief*, not *taxing* the system. I learned great from books, lectures, experience, challenges where I had a mentor I respected, all exposure to nature, observation and conversation.  I don't learn well from brainstorming, team and class settings, institutional environments, or from charged emotional settings.

Lastly open-endedness (unclear roles, unclear strategy, unclear sequencing) remains one of my personal dragons... which is a big deal to any adult creating her life seemingly repeatedly from scratch, seeking innovations and the creative void, and at the very least- not wanting to live Groundhog Day.


In my adulthood, using my exuberant, romping, playful brain to put myself to work creatively... I have started and sustained a few artistic businesses in my time. Trying, building, failing, tweaking, this is familiar territory for the artist and the entrepreneur. Yet in my process I would always find myself at a boundary that was wildly uncomfortable- moving art way deeper than its original role: self regulation.

Of course, I didn't know how to articulate that until I started practicing Shamanism this year, and gave my self regulation over to something else.. it took a very, very, very long time to name for myself that this is the edge I'm playing with. I am moving into a deeper self knowing, and a deeper connection with humanity. Finally.

Shamanism, which is a brilliant way of getting in touch with
1. the body and nature within,
2. the earth and nature all around us, and
3. rhythm and ceremony
... all of which have given so much to my life in such a short time. Most especially beginning with learning about rhythms, and my own (creative) cycles. In a unpredictable world where time and again I seem to disappear when overwhelmed by stimulus, a greater timeline (what we call "sequencing" for children) was the most illuminating light in my chaotic darkness.

As always, my sister (who is also a brilliant artist and creator, herself) trailblazed the path, and I came stumbling onto it wiping my eyes and pitching my tent to have a look around. Exploring Shamanism has brought me great relief that I could love and still learn about my body. I could even heal after years of trying to fit myself into uncomfortable boxes, push myself, my body and my art way too roughly, or question my intuition (even my intelligence) in light of my constant struggles.

one of my first altars, this one to the earth. though, in truth, I have been making altars since childhood- I only just recently began making them with some intentions beyond aesthetic beauty.

blog secret self.jpg

I have tried to offer my nephews a world where living with Autism was a world of possibility- not a prison, a thing to be curious, open, and accepting about. Just think about what a range of beauty and expression exists on a spectrum! What are your special gifts? I want them to grow up in a world where they can embrace the unique bodies they were born with, and not suffer constantly from (what society does) trying to force, train, or aggressively bend themselves into shapes to make "everyone else" comfortable. Still, I know they get tired. And I get tired. And being misunderstood to such a chronic degree (it IS a communication disorder, after all) wears on the heart in our darkest hours. Will it always feel this way? Who are my allies? Who will sit with me in my rage, in my confusion, after I have made this mistake the hundreth time, and still love me?

Aren't these questions inherently human? Autism is human.

I wasn't shy- not really, and yet I thank God for my creative parents, I thank God for my art and all the trees that gave their life in my rearing so I could find my path. I love my mind! Without it, and my thirst for answers, I would still be exhausting myself in the endless expectation race.

When we treat parts of ourselves as enemies, we feel surrounded by enemies. When we greet all parts of ourselves with kindness and compassion, we feel some of the validation, acceptance, and acknowledgement we seek. -Sonia Connolly Wellspring of Compassion


Studying Shamanism has allowed my spirituality to take the lead (slowly, slowly, as I have learned to let it) in this conversation about my place in the world. I no longer will allow that conversation to be between my productivity and what people say my place is. For women, for the misfits, for those with disabilities, the marginalized- there will always be proof that we aren't wanted, are scorned and unloved.

Collecting that proof is simply just another tactic of the hungry mind trying to understand What I Need To Do To Fit IN. I sat on my mountain for 6 months before I saw how heartbreaking a cycle that was.

 

My disability has haunted my life for so long because I often saw (well, often FELT first, and painfully)  the limitations it created, and I grieved a life I kept failing at making... a life like everyone else had.

In placing the awe of Creation back in MY hands through celebration of the seasons, monthly rituals, a respect for the earth and its beings, playful curiosity, and exploring new ways of healing (and thanks to my amazing coach), I am just beginning to see a deeper power that I can tap into. I understand that I have my own animal medicine for the healing of this world (and isn't that wonderful and wild???). I know I need more support than that, but it will come. I long for a family, and friends who understand me... but I am learning so much on this path in understanding and accepting, of loving myself. A precious gift of this lifetime.

I can see and feel my sense of belonging without waiting for or needing to ask for a spot to be given to me. My art, and the voice I am beginning to trust, is not the place I go to heal my pain any longer, or solve the question of where I belong in the world. That dear piece of paper was never meant to hold such heavy weight, but it did a good job sailing me through the ocean of my life to a safer harbor. My art is the place I pour everything- all the feelings- and we call that LOVE.

blog.jpg


Blood Moon

Wow. How was that magical Harvest Moon for all of you? There were so many rich symbols there: the blood of birthing something new, the eclipsing of old patterns, the emergence into a new way of being. I took a winding path on my way to my moon viewing (because here I am in a city)... but again it was a lesson in letting go, and trusting, and I ended up like everyone else: under that stunning moon, blessed by the show.

This photo I took in the last week at the preschool I spent last year part-time teaching. We were looking at a book of Andy Goldsworthy photographs and one of the kids, inspired, asked me to re-create this pattern with him. He called it a zig-zag, but I see a path. Winding, sometimes broken at the edges. Looks a little like our digestion, a little like lightening. I'll take it.

paths


At the time he and I were both walking through the threshold into a new unknown. He was off to Kindergarten, I was off to invest in my arts again. Fully on this path, again. Last night, under the red swell of the Harvest Moon, walking through the darkened streets (so many sirens! such wind!) as the moon was eclipsed, I felt fully immersed in the spacious mystery that is the wide-open field of self discovery, of creation, and process. Sometimes the path is not so clear. You take one step in the darkness... you take the next...

What are you out there creating today? Have you found yourself claiming your path, or are you in the dark of night, breathing through trust? Honor those moments, your process of becoming. Whatever you are doing, I hope your harvest is sweet, and your path is met with helpful spirits lighting the way.

Bread

I love Taproot magazine. I only have one issue though, borrowed from my sister's bookshelf, one that I read again and again. It is the Bread issue from November 2014.

Now, this is a funny issue to appear on my shore because I have a BUNCH of food allergies. One of them, one of my most severe, is to gluten. I am also allergic to eggs, soy, milk and almonds. This often means that even "bread alternatives" are out for me.

For a long time I didn't exactly read this issue, then. But, having borrowed it for a little bus reading and then finding it a perennial visitor in my bag, eventually I just gave in and devoured the whole thing. Cover to cover.

I do, after all, love to read.

The bread issue really got me thinking. First I thought about how much I miss bread. No kidding. All of these accounts of home, hearth and warm tummies against the winter cold weren't helping.

So what IS my bread? What is the thing that I kneed, the staple homesteading product of my hearth. The answer seemed obvious to this artist: paper. Paper is my bread.

Illustration has left artists like me in the dust in the digital age. Most illustrators who still work on paper (as far as I can tell) scan in their work and color, edit, or complete the project digitally. I have a whole other blog post about computers in illustration, and what computers do... but in the kind of work I like to create- there is no good reason WHY I don't work digitally. Except... paper. I love paper. I love my tools on paper. I am a believer in the sensory world, and making art that exists in, uses, the sensory world. Start to finish.

Just as these homesteaders write lovingly about dough rising, the magic of yeast, feeding their children, scooping soup, and the hearty, time-held tradition of baking bread... something I had the same joy in doing before that dreaded allergy test 4 years ago... I am committed to making art with real materials.

I believe because paper comes from living things (plants)- as a material we infuse it with experience, our own special magic, as we make. It's a very Like Water for Chocolate kind of belief, sure. When you read a book 2, 5, countless times... don't you begin to leave a trace of your experience in that book? When you send mail (ahem) you have written or made, something you have put your mark on, is it not like the yeast striking that chemical spark for the rising dough? Maybe the process we are embarking on by making materials and art out of nature is a longer process than the rhythm and steps of baking bread, sure. You certainly can't eat it (and how many of us artists have wished, when things are rough, that we could?)... but we want it to feed you, and your children, and your children's children.

We absolutely want our art, our stories, to live on. And best if they have been lovingly well-worn, lovingly passed- like soft leather, like a beloved baby blanket, like a family recipe, like that book- you know the one- that when you pick it up you remember all the selves you have been upon readings of the past... we want our arts to be passed hand by hand. Like a basket of warm bread.