Tuesday, August 26, 2014

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.


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