Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Here's to Bassackwards Thinking

First of all let me say that if you are reading this there has been a minor technological miracle. I wrote this last week and told Blogger to post it for me on this date. I’m not convinced it is going to happen.

This post goes out to every professor and high school teacher who ever made me hand in an essay plan. I always created the plan after I wrote the essay. I learned nothing from doing that exercise.

I started writing a novel some years ago. I have no plan and the story comes to me with no warning and asks to be written down. In fact I now have three novels going, all part of the same trilogy and indeed there is no plan written down. There will have to be some day, when all the major bits are roughed in, and I need to check that all the pieces work together but by then it will be like writing out an essay plan after the bulk of the work is done. But I digress because this post is about all the other things that have started to happen because I am writing these novels.

One of the things that I have been delighted by are the legends and myths that have flowed out of my pen. Like any world full of humans (and others) a foundation of common understanding and story is important. Not content to let this background be simply implied my imagination has served up some rich mythology. And not to be outdone my artistic child has cajoled me into creating artifacts and imagery to go along with the stories. Which brings me to The Tale of Fendrich the Three Feathered and the current bassackwards mess I have gotten myself into.

In truth I started out with the best of intentions. I wrote and rewrote the tale. I had my writing group read it and comment and I worked out the rough bits. I let it sit for a while and went back to it and decided that I was happy with it. In deed I was better than happy and how often does that happen with anything we create? I decided that the tale deserved to become an illuminated manuscript. I started to audition scripts and hit a wall. Nothing felt right. I needed a script that looked a little foreign and other worldly but it couldn’t be so unusual as to make it difficult to read because I want this tome to be read. It couldn’t be too large or too fiddley because the story is long (7200 words). The quest began to feel like the story of the three bears and nothing was just right. So I did what any slightly crazy artist would do - I went sideways.

I knew the book was going to be very large. I envisioned a huge tome like The Lindisfarne Gospels or the Book of Kells. It would need a magnificent jewelled cover. And I needed a bird for that cover. I dove into my files of collected imagery and googled countless words. In my mind the bird would be a combination of Haida art, Celtic knotwork and Russian jewel work. I didn’t know how to do the beadwork that I would need so I took courses in bead embroidery and soutache. I drew and drew and redrew ideas. And then I gathered up the right crystals and beads and cording and spent weeks creating the cover decoration for a book that isn’t written out yet. Yes, the cart was now very much in front of the horse but I was having fun.

Unfortunately the calligraphic problem has not solved itself. I have some ideas but no clear direction. I have some samples of writing that show promise especially for the decorated initials. I’m still not sure what I will use for the bulk of the text but I’m thinking it will be have some of the characteristics of Bone blended with some Uncialesque forms and a style of writing I designed that I call Arezzo.

And speaking of Arezzo, I took a photo of a text book that a Russian calligrapher had with her when we studied with Monica Dengo. I’ve been looking at it a fair bit these last few months and using as a jumping off point for those decorated initials. And here is where synchronicity starts to play into all this. My husband went to Russia on a high school trip back in the 70’s and he has always wanted to return. Spur of the moment a couple of weeks ago he booked us on a Baltic trip that takes us to St. Petersburg for two days. As you read this we should be heading off on our first shore excursion. I've never really wanted to see Russia and with all the events of this summer it certainly wasn't on my travel agenda. But now that I'm headed there I'm pretty sure I am going to find what I need to bring the Fendrich project to completion. Keep your fingers crossed for me today. I’m hunting for the right lettering inspiration to jump out at me. I know it has to be here somewhere!

Here’s to the bassackwards joys of the hunt - you never know where they will lead you.

There is a Thread

Summer of 2013 found me in Colorado Springs teaching a class at the calligraphy convention, The Summit. One day I took time over the lunch hour to tour a merchant mall that had been set up for artisans. A paper maker had a booth there and in the booth she had a quote on display that stopped me in my tracks.

Memorization isn't my strong suit but I committed one line to memory and raced back to my classroom to write it down so I could search for the whole quote after class. I was telling Aimee Michaels about it up in the classroom and she said "That's William Stafford." She picked up her phone and in no time the words were headed for my in box. We shared the poem, for indeed that is what the line came from, with my class, and you could feel the words make the connection within the room.

Later I headed down the hall to Lisa Englebrecht's classroom. She was teaching a class that combined personal story with layering of lettering and imagery on fabric. Many times during the week I had overheard her students sharing their stories as they stitched and planned and arranged their pieces. I read them the quote. Lisa teared up, some of her students teared up. These were powerful words, words they wanted, words they needed to hear. They needed the words to confirm what they knew about their art and their life -words about what keeps artists lives stitched together, what helps to make sense of the journey.

It is rare amongst my artist friends to find one that has consistently made a living from their art since early adulthood. More common is to find that art has been a constant fitted in around day jobs, families, pets, community work, exercise, travel...life. We are very adept at fitting art and the pursuit of our craft into the nooks and crannies of everyday existence. We have to find a way to fit it in, our palms literally would itch if we didn't. Our souls threaten to wither and die if we don't feed our artistic side.

Often we talk about art as our hobby. Always though, there is that promise to ourselves that someday we'll find more time, a real studio space, more freedom in the budget for the right supplies. We promise our selves that when we have everything in place we'll go deeper, be brilliant, be artists. And although we have often gone to extremes to keep art going throughout our lives we also secretly feel that somehow we have shortchanged others by doing so and that we have shortchanged our art as well.

Here are some truths that I want to share. The perfect time is never going to appear. It is one of the lies we've told ourselves, like the other one about finding balance in our life, that other big lie that we have  swallowed whole. And - brace yourself - we are never going to be perfect artists. I encourage you to accept these truths and get on with it, whatever your 'it' is. Hobby, art, craft - it doesn't matter what it is called. What is important for you and me is that we do it, it is a constant thread in our lives.
Perfection generally isn't what makes a person interesting. Without the mistakes we've made, the wayfaring we've done over rough ground and through life's challenges, without the wear and tear that have worn us smooth in places and uncovered seams of gold in our mettle, we aren't really worth much as artists, or as people for that matter.

At our best we are a walking story and it is the way we tell that story that is compelling and important.

Ultimately it is the way you have woven art into your life and into those nooks and crannies of the day that interests me. It is the fact that you needed to sew or paint or write so badly that you stayed up late, got up early, drew at t-ball games, practiced Roman caps in airports, clipped coupons to save money on the groceries so you could go to the art supply store, kept a sketchbook in your purse, a notepad on your bedside table...you showed up for your art because you had to. Maybe you didn't show up in the way you dreamed of showing up, but you were there and present for it as much as you could be. And you will continue to do that for as long as you can.

My truth is that I've kept Ziploc in business for years. I always have little kits of this, that and the other thing tucked in my purse or travel bag. I've made dinner at breakfast and let the crockpot simmer all day so I could harvest a spare hour or two for time in the studio. I've tangled my way through doctor's offices and hospital vigils. I've practiced calligraphy in pencil in a sketchbook for two decades because I can do that anywhere anytime. I've sewed and embroidered at swimming lessons, piano lessons, flute lessons, t-ball games...And yes, I've been blessed to have years where there was time and money to spare but truly some of my best work was done in the years where I've had to make the most use out of the least amount of time. And I've always felt a bit like a dilettante because I didn't put in the 'quality' time I should have done to be a real artist. Truly, my best work has taken the little snippets of time that I have found and blended with the life swirling around me to create in ways that are sincere and true. Showing up regularly for time with art paid off emotionally and spiritually and I have learned to be grateful for that boon in my life.

Through it all, for as long as I can remember, these words by William Stafford, written just days before his death, would have rung true, would have brought tears to my eyes, still do:

The Way It Is

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Someday Syndrome

Eleven years ago my life changed forever.  It was a hot, sticky August day. I got up before everyone else and organized everything for a family get together. All the time I was packing the cooler and bagging up swim suits and all the odds and sods mothers have to remember to bring I was rubbing my chest and flexing my left hand. My husband left for work and I got the kids up. The rest is a bit of a blur but I know my daughter forced me to take aspirins because she had seen a public service announcement about heart attacks and strokes and knew to do that. She called her father and told him to come home from work and I told him to take me to the doctors office because I thought I was having a panic attack. The doctor called an ambulance which is what we should have done. The clock was ticking and we had been wasting precious treatment minutes. I made so many mistakes that day but I survived. There are a number of takeaways from this:

1. Let your kids watch MTV (or whatever the equivalent is today). It might save your life in some way you could never imagine. It likely saved mine because my daughter knew to give me aspirins.

2. Call an ambulance. The time you waste may be your last minutes on earth. I was lucky, very lucky, and remember, I had those aspirins forced into me.

3. You likely suffer from Someday Syndrome and you need to do something about it.

This is what I really want to talk about,  Someday Syndrome. I meet people suffering from it all the time. They say "Someday I want to....." or "Someday I'm going to..." or "When I have time someday I am planning..." It became very clear to me that August day that someday might not exist. Yes I still do my fair share of the mundane everyday stuff like cooking and grocery shopping but I am vigilant about carving out time for the things I want to do like art and writing and travel. I fall off the programme from time to time when there is a family crisis or I have over committed but I catch myself and redirect. I'm not saying it is easy.

What I have learned to do is pay attention to my internal chatter and my own conversations with other people. I have become hyper aware of the word someday and every time I use it I take a mental note. This winter I found myself commenting on a Facebook post about a lettering class that Carol Dubosch (http://www.caroldubosch.com/) was teaching. The style of writing is called Bone and for many years I have wanted to learn how to do it. I've tried on my own but never managed to figure out the nuances of the waisting (the skinny parts in the downstrokes of the letters). I found myself saying "Someday..." and then I thought, "No. Soon." And I started to make a plan. Luckily Carol agreed to sit down with me on our half day off at the calligraphy conference in Dallas. I love teaching at these conferences but the flip side of the coin is that I see everyone being creative and learning and I miss doing that too. But this year Carol let me have the best of both worlds and I had the benefit of her one-on-one tutoring. Watching her manipulate the pen was so instructional and it made all the difference. I've been practicing almost daily since the conference and am really happy with the progress I've made.

 Anne Lamott is one of my favourite authors. She really tells it like it is and doesn't hold back. She has said:
“Oh my God, what if you wake up some day, and you’re 65, or 75, and you never got your memoir or your novel written; or you didn’t go swimming in warm pools and oceans all those years because your thighs were jiggly and you had a nice big comfortable tummy; or you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people pleasing that you forgot to have a big juicy creative life, of imagination and radical silliness and staring off into space when you were a kid?  It’s going to break your heart. Don’t let this happen.”

So what is on your Someday List? Choose one thing, even a small thing, and tackle it today. Make a plan and put it in motion. Post it here if that will help you stay accountable. Don't wait until it is too late. Do your bit to wipe out Someday Syndrome.

Friday, August 08, 2014

The Well Articulated Woman

Quite a few years ago now, back when my kids were teenagers, I wrote a poem which was a tongue-in-cheek take on motherhood and aging. I wrote out the piece in large coptic book which doesn't travel as much as it should when I teach because it never fits the small spaces left in my carry on. I've been thinking about it today because of work I've seen on one of the Facebook groups I recently joined (The Enchanted Imaginarium). For the book I made a paper doll to add to each page and they were jointed and 'articulated' to play on the themes in the poem. It seems appropriate to share this as I've spent aweek at the cottage with my parents and my daughter and various bits and pieces of family and have felt very much like the filling in some sort of slightly dysfunctional sandwich whilst also coping with a kidney stone and trying to be largely invisible. So with no further ado...

The Well Articulated Woman

The well articulated woman must be centered and centering...
She must know all, see all, do all.
She must be at the center of all things, for all people, for all time,
yet remain largely invisible.
She must control the ripples and make no waves.

She must choose her words carefully, question but not confront,
have opinions but not be opinionated, educated but not learned.
She may find this puzzling.

She must embrace the myriad traditions of her tribe and cook for them,
clean for them, suffer for them.
She must make the ancestors proud, her progeny guilty and all festivals perfect.
She should be a saint, a martyr, an avenging angel and a pastry chef.

She must swim in deep water and it should be hot.
She should dive in without looking.
She may not use floatation devices.
There will be no life guards.
She must kick harder and swim farther - she may not tread water.
Floating and drifting aimlessly does not look good with cellulite.
She must not sail, but if she does, others will make waves.

She must live in the maze.
She must sojourn not knowing her destination.
She must pack for all climates and occasions,
but not ask for help carrying the load.
If she chooses sensible shoes she must walk
through the Valley of Scorn.
She must not ask for directions.

When she falls apart,....

She can reinvent herself any way she wants.

Cherryl Moote