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to me that bloomed in exuberant, romping, playful joy around my family (the predictable people who knew me best), I was withdrawn in public, and labeled "shy".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.

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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.

little scraps

Months before having the idea to launch Post, I had been sending handmade postcards to my nephews. What began as an exercise to make small, quick artwork became a connecting tether, a golden cord as I moved from one sublet to the next in Portland's rental upheaval. Neighborhood to neighborhood I made mail. After asking for and receiving birthday cards this year instead of the (now) typical Facebook archive of wall comments, I updated my address book. My canvas stayed much the same but my characters, themes, colors and messengers multiplied. My budget in stamps is serious business.

When I have outgoing mail these days I scan and take photos of the treats I make for friends and family. But on special occasions I also hop over to Kinkos and treat myself to a few old school photocopies. I love making "clip art" out of my drawings. I love shrinking, expanding, and playing with these little visions. I sit around at night and enjoy the zen practice of cutting out paper. Have you ever read Molly Bang's book Picture This, where she uses cut paper shapes to explain how pictures come to express emotions? It's like that. Pure delight in play.

collage material

sit spot

A sit spot is a place you go for the simple meditative practice of sitting. Sometimes you can use a sit spot to answer a question by sitting with your question until the question is answered... this might take noticing, or reflection, or both. My sit spot this summer has been in the Western woods of Mt. Tabor park in Portland, Or. A refuge from the city, my sit spot is shelter under the boughs of cedar trees. I breathe. They breathe.

Like most meditative practices, having a sit spot does not grant me a transformative experience on the, well, spot. Rather, steeped in the long peace, my day is blessed by the exposure to nature, to focus and the dissipation of my focus. As a child I was drawn to the woods like a magnet. I loved the snap of twigs, the thrill of mystery, the call of birds and the endless play-tools of nature's leavings. I bring that child's wonder with my to my sit spot, and I thank the trees when I go.

"the seeds that you plant"

I began Post with the theme of Seed with intention. September is a bittersweet month in the Pacific Northwest, as we enter into the darkness of the autumn and winter seasons that epitomizes this region. There are the sweet, joyful seeds we plant in spring, even in the cold mud of the twilight of winter, that we know will bring abundant flowers, summer harvests, and herald all the harbingers of summer. But approaching the cold of winter, in autumn we sow another kind of seed. These seeds rest. They burrow deep under leaf and loam. Countless creatures, elements of nature, and coincidences aid in their nurturing to maturity.

It is this type of seed I want to begin, here, with you. I want you to look away from your device, and be bold, daring enough to dream beyond the busyness of our collective culture. From a place of peace, space, and breathing, Post brings you a monthly invitation to reach out in a different way. To recapture a time-honored tradition of love letters, daily correspondence, simple notes sent in the mail with the intention of connecting through distance.

The curve and swoop of your handwriting. The familiar turn of phrase. Someone longs for that, to treasure your thoughtfulness. Let's begin simply, by making the time and honoring it. Let's begin with beauty. In that space, we will be prepared for what newness wants to take root.

seed
Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds that you plant.
— Robert Louis Stevenson

up around town

Posters are going up around Portland for Post, my new art subscription service. At the same time, I'm getting paintings worked out for September's mailing. The theme this month is Seed, a good monthly prompt to begin the project with, and a warm and generative little egg for our time together. Even as the months in the East get colder, here in the Pacific Northwest get darker and wet, I imagine the seed of Post laying nestled underground in the perfect spot. Given time, and the nurturing of nature, so much will come of it.

Posters in a classic style are going up around my city of Portland, Or this week.

Posters in a classic style are going up around my city of Portland, Or this week.

Post by Clover :: original art & writing practice

Introducing Post
an original art subscription service

#limitededition #ooak
#handmademail #heirloomart #timehonored
#penpal #analoglife

Post enriches your offline correspondence by giving you a monthly prompt to unplug, unwind, and set aside a special space reserved for your creative connections through writing and sending mail.

Perfect for collectors, pen pals, art enthusiasts, writers and dreamers. In Post we'll be delving into the art of treasured correspondence through reflection, craft, intention, teachers of thought, and sharing.


So often I hear from friends that they would like to send mail (and receive it!) but they don't have the time or aren't organized. In your subscription to Post, I gather those elements together for you.
 

thumbnail from "seed", the September offering in the first mailing of Post by Clover.

thumbnail from "seed", the September offering in the first mailing of Post by Clover.

For years I have had put my energies toward creating drawings, prints and designs that go in the mail. I love this medium, but I'm very aware of making, selling and sending pieces of work that are ultimately disposable.

Will you join me in the creation of this year's group of subscribers excited to receive, send, and enjoy original art with the hope of more thoughtful correspondence?

Subscribers receive:

·         a monthly packet with a roughly 4 x 6" or 5 x 7" mailable size original painting for you to mail or collect, frame or gift

·         reprints of the month's selection, just in case you are feeling particularly attached that month (wink wink) to your original art and decide not to send your piece in the mail. This changes per month: archival prints, postcards, folded cards, and more

·         Your packet includes postage in the form of a matching stamp for your main piece, and a rotating list of goodies and surprises

·         Each kit is packaged with care, tracked and sent out via USPS Priority Mail the second Monday-Friday of the month

fox

Subscribers are sent an email once a month through my online newsletter with a writing prompt in the form of a quote, poem, or passage. Your kit and monthly email are invitations to pause from the digital world, step into a quiet space, and reflect on your monthly correspondents of choice.


We are going to have an amazing time connecting offline and on, sharing, thinking about and writing to our loved ones.

Make memories here. Start traditions here. Mark time here and celebrate love here, with us, through the simple {wonderful} acts of everyday affection.

Will you join me? Click here!