Waiting for …

There has been a lot of topsy-turvy here in our tiny household. Much transition.
The cat has been a bit stressed out at all the activity, Nervous Nellie forever waiting for the worst. It’s become a bit of a sport to tease her about her Chicken Little tendencies, while the humans stumble through Harvey, Irma, and the sabre rattling of North Korea as if everything were hunky dory.
Ah well. Who knows really.
Meanwhile, summer was…

…as summer should be.
Road trips and friends and lakes and chili hot dogs on Sauble Beach and misty river mornings and dragonflies buzzing and the sudden swarms of mosquitos on the Bruce Trail and an impromptu dinner party crammed around the tiny table of an RV.
Through it all the strange part for me was a health issue – I’m not usually a person with health issues, but 2017 has presented health issues as a distinct new concept, so there’s a new sense of the body as something potentially treacherous, fickle and demanding – an ally to be carefully courted – not the effortless ease of yesteryear.
Ah well. So be it.

Then beginning of September my boy moved out – after 23 and a half years, with the hope of a job on the horizon, he packed up his things and went to live with some friends in a hipster part of town.
Ah well. Very very happy for him.

And so with a bit of extra space at home, slowly I’m packing up my studio.
A few things are in progress on the walls, and I go over after work and look at them and feel unsure of what to do, where to begin, when to end.
I sit and look, waiting.
Waiting for some kind of sign, some kind of indication of what’s the next move…

Weekly Photo Challenge – Waiting

Summer Textures

Summertime lake.
The endless blue of the sky.

Approaching the island across the lake, I think of the book I’ve been reading: The Zen of Creativity : Cultivating Your Artistic Life by John Daido Loori.
He has a series of exercises on “Direct Experience” or “Experiencing without Identifying” – exercises closely related to the practice of mindful meditation, with the intention of quieting the mind and seeking to simply feel or experience things before the thoughts come in.

Most of us – seasoned meditators included – will find that it is very difficult simply to listen. We hear sounds and immediately name them, or we associate them with something else, we compare them, analyze them, or try to find their source. It soon gets boring just to listen and our minds wander. It’s not easy to let things simply be and let go of our running commentary.

As we approached the island I practiced with these trees –

Trying to just feel the trees without thinking about what KIND of trees, or about their size or colour or all the things one could think about trees.
Even so, even as I sensed them as a group, as a collective presence, an alive beingness in front of us, I found myself searching for the words to describe the sensations.

And again, trying to just allow the experience of the pebbles… much subtler, so small and ubiquitous, almost imperceptible yet hinting at eternity…
And from this place one might take a photograph.

One way that our spiritual power begins to manifest is through the emergence of the intuitive aspect of our consciousness. This is one of the reasons why Zen and creativity are so intimately linked. Creativity is also an expression of our intuitive aspect. Getting in touch with our intuition helps us to enter the flow of life, of a universe that is in a constant state of becoming. When we tap into our intuition, whether in our art or simply in the day-to-day activities of our lives, we feel a part of this creative continuum.

How can any of us gain entry into this unique way of perceiving the universe, where every breath is the first breath, every sight and sound is fresh penetrating the universe, reaching everywhere? 

At one time or another, each of us has experienced this way of perceiving. It comes upon us unexpectedly. Suddenly the music moves into our being and our body responds. There is no thought, judgment, or conscious effort. The music freely passes through us. We pick up a brush and the painting flows from its tip. the poem creates itself, almost without effort

A photo here and there, I also pick up strange things from the ground and bring them inside.
I’m teaching myself to draw on the iPad – it does not yet feel very Zen at all, it is still a lot about thinking through how the mechanics work, but there is a certain amount of non-thinking possible in the presence of strange things, just looking at them and trying to sense and feel the way into a drawing rather than think.

Weekly Photo Challenge – Texture

Natural Friends

Work has been more than a little intense lately – a good thing, of course – but the rare free moments are spent with friends or scribbling at the studio or, as spring springs and the weather gets nice, seeking to carve out wee moments that allow a few breaths of connection with nature.
In the mornings, if I hover at home for long enough, I can hear the coo of the turtle doves – maybe my most favourite sound ever – their gentle melancholy coos so delicious I just can’t rush myself out to the bus and begin the descent into the city, moving through the increasing urbanization into downtown, the sea of condo-building cranes and growing gridlock, to sit perched alone in a room with a computer.
If I opt to bike or walk a ways before hitching up with some form of public transit, there’s the kind of long short cut through the park.
And well, look who’s here – the rough croaks from the ponds and puddles all along the flooded walkway freeze time and I squat to take a closer look. Who cares if I’m late? I mean really – let’s talk priorities. There is a rarely seen friend here, the moment suddently so exquisite, it’s impossible to rush.

All the times with frogs come back to me – the streams filled with tadpoles when we were kids, the rims of ponds and lakes, long slippery legs swimming amongst the lilypads…

One of the jobs that’s had me busy is with one of my most beloved friends, Nicky – making a film of the play she did – a kind of hybrid of documentary meets play on film. Oh, her breathtaking performance – gives me goosebumps still after so many viewings. But the lines also follow me through the city, their poetry –

Love is love, and hard enough to find.

Oh indeed. It comes how it comes.
So when the cat, the center of our little home universe, gets diagnosed with something that will cost an extra $60 / month in medication for the rest of her life and griping about it to Nicky in the afternoon at her kitchen table she shrugs in a way to suggest maybe it’s time to rethink…
Oh but no.

Love is love, and hard enough to find.

Heading home at the end of the day, I’ve a bit of a long, elaborate route involving 3 buses, all to be able to watch the evening skies and shifting neighbourhoods and avoid the bad air and dank dark underground of the subways.
The streetcars on Queen have been replaced with buses and by about Carlaw at 8:30 or 9 on a Friday, heading east from the studio after work it occurs to me, Hey, I wonder if I should text Tom & Bea…? Cause they live somewhere along the route here in the east end and it’s Friday…
Tom & Bea arrived in my life in the strangest way – when my husband arrived from Cuba, the 2nd day he was in the country we went down to Harbourfront to catch a free concert with Femi Kuti.
Like, just soak that in for a moment – a free concert with Femi Kuti –

Sometimes Canada just rocks.
Anyways there we were, milling around in the crowds in the beer tent, my husband fresh off the plane from Cuba, and a woman stops and says to him: Hey! I know you!
That was Bea. With her husband Tom. They’d been tourists in Cuba, and well, whadyaknow, small world.
Right away there was something so familiar about them – Tom lanky with a sideways smile and a glass of beer, Bea vibrant and beautiful and laughing and always moving – there was almost a kind of deja vu, like I KNOW these people.
Several years and a divorce later here I am on the Queen St bus wondering if I should drop Tom & Bea a line.
Even just saying their names makes me happy, makes me think of the kids books, Ant & Bee –

But no, no, it’s late already, too late to be starting evening plans.
Until the bus passes the patio of that Cottage joint on the south side just after Leslie, and I glance over and could swear that’s Tom stretching to make a point to the fellow beside him at a table right there in the middle in the thick of things.
Without thinking, I scramble to jump off the bus.
What’s the worst that could happen? Maybe it’s not them?
I can always catch the next bus.
Totally worth the risk…

Love is love and hard enough to find.

Weekly Photo Challenge – Friend

March wishes

Oh I wish, how I wish I were a flying fish.

Oh I wish I wish I were the spray from an ocean wave
the wind in the trees
the stretch of a cat
the sparkle of a star in the night sky
a floating colourful anemone in the warm Caribbean sea
a coasting bird, soaring, casual as I move through the clouds…

* * *

We are in my dad’s house in Philadelphia – he has recently inherited it from his parents.
It still has old lady wall paper and old fashioned furniture and such, but some areas, by the staircase for example, there are some bare brick walls and boards.
I know I’m going to inherit this house soon, very soon, and so I look around with eyes to renovation – imagine it with the old lady wallpaper gone, and clean modern lines…Oh, it is exciting, the possibilities ahead!
And I start to pull away more of the old boards at the bottom of the staircase thinking of opening up more space, but I discover curled under the stairs in the crawl space the corpse of a fox terrier.
This is rather disturbing.
Creepy, and there’s going to be a smell problem.
It’ll have to be cleaned up.
But suddenly it gets up, now it’s glowing a rich blue colour, and is a real fox fox, a wild fox.
Away it trots, glowing blue.
I am relieved that this corner of the house is now clean and clear, blessed by this magic glowing ghost-fox.
Outside I am driving, and I realize this is going to be whole new phase of my life – I will move back to the States, to this house in Philly, and I will finally be driving again!
My sister and I are by a kind of river, streaming over rocks, with many many people. But there is a bad man who is a problem.
We drown him, the two of us, holding him down in the river in the midst of the rush of people – visceral, his red throat, bulging veins and tongue – and then finally, the bad man is dead.

* * *

Last night I sat down in the studio for a wee break from painting the latest fox – lots of foxes these days – and the angle from the chair to the patiently waiting half-finished or half-started crow on the wall with the Dollarama flowers on the table in front made it look as though the wing of the crow was decorated, almost tattooed with a gorgeous string of pink flowers…

And I wished, how I wished I was THAT kind of artist.
An artist who makes pretty pink decorative things or beautiful tattoos or things you might want to use as wallpaper in your kid’s room…

Moments, just fleeting moments where the desire to be other, to be more, to be different, to be something else, to be someone else bubbles up.

It’s not so terrible in a way, as it’s all clustered into what has become a fairly conscious process of change I’ve been working on for some time now, deep thinking about the things that are not working, the things that need to be better, the places I need to step up, become a better human being…
But here’s the thing… change is HARD!!!!

Maybe you already knew that.

So one thing I always find myself doing in these moments, is reading.

Have a seat by the fireside and enjoy some Joseph Campbell:

The basic story of the hero journey involves giving up where you are, going into the realm of adventure, coming to some kind of symbolically rendered realization…
If the call is heeded…the individual is invoked to engage in a dangerous adventure. It’s always a dangerous adventure because you’re moving out of the familiar sphere of your community. In myths, this is represented as moving out of the known sphere altogether into the great beyond. I call this crossing the threshold. This is the crossing from the conscious into the unconscious world, but the unconscious world is represented in many many many different images, depending on the cultural surrounds of the mythos. It may be a getting lost in a dark forest, it may be finding yourself in a strange city. It maybe be depicted as an ascent or as a descent or a going beyond the horizon, but this is the adventure – it’s always the path into the unknown, through the gateway or the cave or the clashing rocks…

Weekly Photo Challenge – Wish

Relax into colour

The desk is piled high with homework and projects past due.
Lists of Christmas gifts are scribbled on post-it notes around the computer.
The vacuum cleaner is plugged in and ready to go.
Recycling sits by the door ready to be taken out.
The chicken bubbles on the back burner. The rice is poured but unrinsed.
And yet, and yet…
The faint bling and winks of brilliant colour call…
abalone-hillscape

abalone-moonscape

abalone-rivuletAn abalone shell, sitting hidden for weeks in a scrunched up paper bag on a shelf, was rediscovered this morning.
And, oh, but what worlds it holds within…
abalone-nebula

abalone-kali

abalone-snout-and-hoofs

abalone-tunnel

Weekly Photo Challenge – Relax

Tiny Steps

tiny-clouds-can-flagIs it the dark of November, that flu I just couldn’t kick, or the malignant gloom of the American election?
There are days when it feels like nothing gets done.
Days when doing the laundry is a big accomplishment.
Days when I think it’s the perfect day, free of obligations, to go down to the studio and paint – smudging and scribbling and sharpening the image, listening to music for hours – and yet somehow I never get there.
Days when I get up with last night’s promise of a morning run ringing in my ears and I flop on the couch and flake out on facebook on my phone.
Days when I’ve told myself it’s really time to finally sit down at my little corner writing desk and enter the zone – the zone of happy struggles, of exploring interior worlds, scaling memories and imaginings and sensations and the secrets of the human heart, searching for all the right words… and instead I spend hours glumly in front of the computer catching up on email.

Do you know these kind of days?
Switch out the particulars for your own personal Important Goals list that never quite happens?

Well, I’ve been pushing against the dark slide of lethargy with some new tools…
Chief among them the concept of Tiny Steps.

kaizen-book

Tiny Steps comes from the Japanese tradition of Kaizen, elaborated on in this book by Robert Maurer: One Small Step Can Change Your Life.
He says,

Kaizen is an effective, enjoyable way to achieve a specific goal, but it also extends a more profound challenge: to meet life’s constand demands for change by seeking out continual – but always small – improvement.

The key is to start small.
The key is to make it SO small you can’t NOT do it.
Reading some of the bios and creative practices of the greats can be totally intimidating – they seem to be on their game ALL the time, productive all the time – so much so that it’s a world away, unreachable.
Twyla Tharp in The Creative Habit describes her mornings –

I begin each day of my life with a ritual: I wake up at 5:30 a.m., put on my workout clothes…walk outside my Manhattan home, hail a taxi, and tell the driver to take me to the Pumping Iron gym at 91st Street and First Avenue where I work out for two hours. The ritual is not the stretching and weight training I put my body through each morning at the gym; the ritual is the cab.

Well, this is amazing, I love the sound of it, can just see the dark of the Manhattan morning and the surliness of the cab driver and the sweaty two hours at the gym, and gosh I sure wish that were my life too, but ummmmmmmm…
I can tell you right now I’m not gonna be doing that tomorrow morning. And not just cause I don’t live in Manhattan.
I mean even just thinking about how far all of that is from my life brings up all kinds of neurotic garbage and the harpies of self-flagellation begin to loom and the whole thing makes me feel like, well, if I can’t be like that, then I might as well just give up now.
But…
This is precisely where the small steps of Kaizen come in.
Maurer says –

Don’t let these common roadblocks to change make you feel so guilty or frustrated that you give up your attempts to improve.
Instead, use times of difficulty to remember that fear is the body’s gift, alerting us to a challenge. The more we care about something, the more we dream, the more fear shows up.
During the rough patches, understanding that fear is normal, and a natural sign of ambition, makes us more likely to hold onto hope and optimism – qualities that increase our willingness to take the kinds of small steps that slip right past the fear.

Did you get that last bit?
…small steps that slip right past the fear.
Okay! Now we’re talking!
A step that is so tiny it will neatly sidestep the harpies in my head. Perfect.
So, for me, a small step would be NOT to say I’m going to write a novel before the end of 2016, but to say I’m going to write for 10 minutes each morning.
10 minutes of sitting down to write is something small enough that it’s really really really easy to do.
(and if there’s a morning when even so, even though it’s a tiny step, if it doesn’t happen and I don’t show up, I’m going to remind myself that FEAR IS NORMAL, and try again the next morning)

Going back to Twyla Tharp’s story about the cab – the point that she’s making and the point that really speaks to me is the idea of creating a Ritual.
Creating a Ritual sounds to me partly like a way to make the whole thing more FUN.
But Twyla takes it even further –

Turning something into a ritual eliminates the question, Why am I doing this? By the time I give the taxi driver directions, it’s too late to wonder why I’m going to the gym and not snoozing under the warm covers of my bed…
It’s vital to establish some rituals – automatic but decisive patterns of behavior – at the beginning of the creative process, when you are most at peril of turning back, chickening out, giving up, or going the wrong way.

So for me, for my 10 minutes of writing, I’ve found this one piece of ritual I can bring in to the goal of sitting down at the little writing desk in the corner…
I light a candle.
The beautiful little glass candle holder makes me happy. The action of striking the match marks the beginning, the dancing of the flame keeps me company, and the whole thing signals to my brain that a hallowed space has been created to sit down and hold a tiny 10 minutes of writing.
corner-desk

And you, Dear Reader? Are there Rituals, Practices, Habits, Methods that have worked for you?

Please Note: All this comes from a training program I’m doing currently, called Kaizen-Muse Creativity Coaching. You might want to check it out. 🙂

Weekly Photo Challenge – Tiny

Chaos in the hallways

golden-collageI am in an insane asylum. It is large and labyrinthine with many hallways and rooms and rooms within rooms.
It seems I am a doctor of sorts, a healer.
There are many sweet sweet patients – interesting artists and creative types – lovely people.
But there are also many angry people walking the hallways. Angry men especially.
On closer observation, some of the angriest figures turn out to be animals walking on their hind legs.
There is a lion walking upright in one hallway with a sign around his neck, “You will die if you get too close”.
lion-covers-face-oil-and-grahite-on-terraskinIt’s difficult to figure out how to manoeuvre within this dangerous place.
One room is a large blue-hued glowing-glass high-tech sci-fi X-ray kinda room.
A young man is in there – he is my patient. His head sits above what is like a skin sack – a shapeless sheet of a body.
I tell him to remember to feel his bones.
Feel the bones – remember the feeling of bones.
As I speak, his bones are wheeled in from where they’ve been kept in storage.
His whole skeleton will be reassembled.
skeletal-armBut while this is happening, the angry people and animals in the hallways are becoming more agitated – it is getting increasingly violent and dangerous.
I run through hallways and through rooms into even tinier rooms until I find mine, a small, well-hidden room where I dive under the cot bed against the wall, trembling like a coward, to wait out the violence.
Am I perhaps a patient after all?
standing-stag

Weekly Photo Challenge – Chaos