My sister recently told me about this #100daysproject in Instagram. Being in a place of wild transition (I'm about to begin a new dayjob) my drawing practice could use a nudge and a hashtag, so I'm jumping in. I'm including all my creative and spiritual practices in my 100 days, since honestly I'm not one of those artists that believes one MUST draw every day (though it helps). I take more of an ecosystem approach, believing that *everything* I do throughout the day is connected to my artistry/ creativity, which you will see if you follow along in my Instagram posts. Want to see what I'm up to? Come visit me over there! And thanks!
I was born an artist.
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to me that bloomed in exuberant, romping, playful joy around my family (the predictable people who knew me best), I was withdrawn in public, and labeled "shy".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.
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.
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.
Studio Day. There have been a lot of emergencies lately, and one in particular that (as they do) just stings to my core. Things like this always turn my head and set me questioning in confusion and anxiety. Considering I have anxiety- no big shock there.
One things for sure, however: I have a job to do. Take it or leave it, and I keep choosing to pick up that brush again. I love watching my art progress and change over time. I thoroughly enjoy finding new ways to express myself, doing a tango with identity, uncovering stories, and playing with both materials and the ways in which we as artists deliver our goods.
There is a secondary lesson one learns after years of this. That lesson is how to pick up the brush joyfully, to do the work in a spirit of faith, gratitude, happiness and love, despite what is happening off the clock. Maybe even BECAUSE of it. Emergency or no, when I sit down at the desk my work is a love affair with my being in the world, my claiming a spot, my calling my voice, and my making my mark.
This week I have a couple of big projects seeking my attention. I'm sweating. I'm staying up nights. Okay, it took me some time to recognize that anxiety was back and needing some care and attention. Still, when I am at my desk, I give my mind a little fairy dust to muse over: instead of working the numbers, instead of endlessly chattering at me, instead of judgements and presupposing MORE doomsday scenarios.
I infuse my body, my home, and my brush with what I love. I think about berry picking with my nephews, imagining the fresh green scent of Sauvie Island and the slow slip of mud under my feet. I listen to good music. I have lots of fruit handy for my sweet tooth, water to drink, and do many stretches. I make good use of my door to the roof, which looks out to open sky and trees upon trees.
There is truth in the emergencies and pitfalls we fall into in life, and there is also truth in the wonderful capacity we have for reaching down deep into our experience... and making something beautiful out of it.
I am so thankful for each and every one of my teachers, supporters, and cheerleaders who are waiting for me on the other side of this project, of this process, of this latest hurdle to get over. But more: I am doing my work today, and packaging my Post subscriptions this week, with a full heart for you all walking along side me right now.
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.