Sunday, January 28, 2018

Creating with my Inner Gremlin.

There's so much chatter out there. Leaders trumpeting. Opinions clashing. Groups shouting. Social media adds more layers to the noise tracks I hear and even though I'm glad I live in a part of the world where all the voices are heard, it's still overwhelming. At times, I just have to shut it all off. 

But when I do, a strange thing happens, another voice comes on. That voice, that inner tape track has many names which are actually listed on Wikipedia. Some of the names are: inner critic, the perfectionist, the taskmaster, the guilt tripper, the judge, the destroyer and my personal favorite, the gremlin.

The voice of self doubt. 

This voice creates not just bumps but real road blocks to my creativity. It chastises me for not working hard enough and when I'm in deadline mode, to be careful not to make mistakes. If I don't have a show for my work, I'm lazy. And if I'm in a show and I don't sell enough, I'm a failure. It's a no-win situation, obviously.

And yes, I know this voice is not unique to me. We all have some version of Sister Mary of the Many Mistakes in our heads. Granted, for me, Catholic school sure didn't help but I can't keep blaming it all on the nuns. There are many schools of thought on where these voices come from: Freudian superego, Jungian animus or the primitive, reptilian brain. 
The sound of silence. Please. 

Even though I understand what, why and how my inner gremlin operates. It still gets in my way. I've struggled to shut it up in many ways. I've argued and meditated,  journaled and jazzercised, binged on caffeine and Netflix. But all that I found out was that fighting with the gremlin is really fighting with myself and that gets exhausting, not to mention silly and ineffective. 

So I asked myself and my inner gremlin, what can I do? I can give it a seat in my studio where it's comfy. When it decides to talk, I can decide to nod but not really listen. I can put on some music that we both like. Music seems to quiet the gremlin. And sometimes, it's a great distraction for both of us, because I've found my inner gremlin really likes to sing off key. 

I'm not crazy(OK, maybe a little, after all I am an artist) or the only one on the planet with a non-stop inner critic. Having doubts is part of life, so as long as I'm living, I'll try to accept it. When I hear the voice of my inner gremlin chatting at me and around me, I'll give up the fight and give it a new place to sit in my life. 

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Creating and Walking.

I love to walk. As far back as I can remember, walking around the block, the neighborhood, the woods was one of my favorite things. Even in college when everyone else was whizzing around town in their cars, I walked. 

While walking to me is calming, please understand when I walk, I walk fast. I just love the feeling of moving through the air, past the houses and down the road at my own quick pace. It's exhilarating to breathe in the outside world around me as I exhale tension, stress and the monkey mind within. 

Seeing the world through new eyes. 

Yes, that's part of a Marcel Proust quote, "The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes." A long time ago, I realized how easy it is to whiz through life without really living. I hung a copy of that quote on my wall to remind me to not just look but really see. It's not always easy. 

Walking through the park everyday, it's easy to slip into autopilot. Last week, I almost missed the great blue heron near the bridge, the egret on the island and the otter swimming by. But thank goodness I didn't because those birds with their ruffled feathers and the sleek, swiftness of the otter lifts my spirits and awakens my heart to the beauty of life all around me. 

Walking follows me into the studio. 

Creating is a step by step process. Some days it flows quickly and smoothly and some days it's a path filled with unexpected dips, curves and bumps where it's easy to slip and fall into frustration. But smooth or bumpy, it's still as essential to me as walking. 

Walking back into the studio this week after almost a month, I saw shelves of unfinished work waiting for me. Some waited patiently, some not. I had a few cracked, overly dry pieces that just had to be trashed. But I also had many begging for color. I put on the music, got out the brushes and painted away. Each piece was a step from the past into the present. What colors did it want? How many layers did it need?

I got my hands in fresh clay with only a foggy idea, like clouds in the distance, of what to create. A new mask emerged from the block of clay. Then with the leftover pieces rolled up, a new little creature took shape. 

I thought the painting would take most of the week, but I was done in two days! The new pieces popped up in one afternoon. 

Creating, just like walking, flowed at a quick pace this week and I'm refreshed, revived and relieved. And just like my favorite quote reminded me, I didn't need the landscape at the park and in the studio to change, I just needed to open my eyes. 

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Bumping into the New Year.

I'd love to say my New Year is going smoothly. I'm contentedly working in the studio, churning out innovative, new work full of energy and enthusiasm. Sorry. I'm really bad at lying. 

Bumpity. Bumpity. Bump. 

I feel a little like Pooh bear going down the stairs with Christopher Robin. I'm seeing the world from a little sideways view, or perhaps upside down, and each step is definitely bumpy. I had a cold for a few weeks followed by the flu, so my aches and pains were real. And many days, I feel like Pooh, a little 11'o clockish.

I wish I had Christopher Robin around to bring me a balloon to grab onto and sail away into the bright, blue sky. I could wonder at the puffy, white clouds. Chat about honey pots and bees. And find myself a cozy spot to sit in the sun and pass the tea and honey, please.  

Pooh or Rabbit? 

I'm probably more like Rabbit than Pooh, actually. I'm usually bustling about, planning, making lists, throwing, trimming, painting and doing. Pooh is the essence of non-doing. That wonderful Zen idea of doing without pushing sounds so wonderful. I've always thought that was a great way to live life. Be mindful. Be in the moment. Be Pooh. 

When I'm sick, I can't help but not do. I'm in the moment because my body totally runs the show. When I'm hungry, I eat whatever it wants. If that's Nutella on toast for dinner or chicken soup for breakfast, that's what I eat. If it says rest, I rest. If it says, stare out the window, I stare. 

Not doing gets boring but maybe that's a good thing.

Rabbit, the go-getter of the group, never stops doing. But he also never, ever seems to be done. His tasks, lists, chores go on and on and on. It's exhausting and he's always frazzled and crabby. 

Pooh on the other hand, sits a lot eating honey under a tree. But when he does need more honey, he gets up and finds it. He doesn't plan or make a list or pack a bag or organize everyone around him. He looks up and down and around right where he is sitting. He figures it out, finds the honey then sits down and enjoys it.

I can see that sitting and staring outside on a window seat or under a tree can be a very good thing. 

No, I didn't get anything done in the studio in the last 4 weeks. But nothing bad happened. I sat and stared at the clouds, found some funny faces staring back at me from the tree branches outside my window and saw a rainbow pop up out of the dark, rainy sky.     

My work sat patiently, like Pooh under the honey tree, and waited for me. 

Even if the beginning of the year was a bit bumpy, I think I like being a little less like Rabbit and a lot more like Pooh. 

(Illustrations by Ernest H. Shepard)

Friday, January 5, 2018

2018 Word of the Year: Understanding.

This past year, the world just seems crazy. Charlottesville. Barcelona. North Korea.  People killing people and threatening to bomb the planet. I hear words of hate and anger and fear. I see my country being led by a small, spoiled, stupid person who has no love for anyone except himself. In spite of it all, last year, I tried to hope. This year, I'm trying to understand. 

I did not grow up understanding race or racists. 

I was brought up Catholic and my friend next door used to tell me how bad it was to be Catholic. I didn't understand how the church I went to on Sunday had anything to do with that. I felt sad. All I wanted was a friend. 

I didn't understand why bullets were flying through my Gram's front window and my Dad's hotel was surrounded by tanks in Detroit during the 1960's riots. I felt fear. All I wanted was for them to be safe. 

In college, I didn't understand why my new roommate couldn't be seen with me, because her friends were black and I wasn't. I felt embarrassed.  All I wanted was someone to talk to in class. 

I was the only girl in a family of boys, so I do get what it's like to be on the outside looking in.

So, I try to understand. 

This is what I do. What I've always done when faced with a situation, event or life change that's horrible, upsetting and crazy. I dig in and try to figure it out. I ask myself how did it happen and most importantly, why.

I read as many articles from as many sources as I can find. I ask questions. I read some more. I look back into my own personal experience and see what I can understand from it. I read some more. I seek out wise sources with a variety of viewpoints.

I try to see this old landscape of fear and hate with new eyes. 

My grandparents were immigrants from Ireland. They immigrated through Canada in the early 20th century. At the time, the United States had such an immigration boom they were not allowing any more people in who were Catholic, Jewish or African. Irish were called 'micks', Jews 'kikes' and, unfortunately we all still know what blacks were called.  According to a history professor, this huge immigration influx caused southern white Americans to band together forming many of the hate groups we are seeing again today. Confederate statues were erected to 'honor' their heroes. 

I didn't know or understand that since the turn of the 21st century, our country has seen record immigration again. This time the people coming in were Hispanic, Asian and Muslim. Once again, fear and hate raised its ugly head, the hate groups are banding together again and Americans are being beaten and killed.
Understanding does not mean accepting.
I may understand the facts and history but I still don't understand the 'why'. Maybe it's silly and naive but I don't accept why anyone has to be left out. Why one color, culture or religion is better than another or none at all. Why shooting each other leads to a better life for anyone. Why we can't all treat each other with respect regardless of our outside differences. 

I live in a place that honors freedom but no one is free to kill. I have rights and so do you, but no one has the right to violence of any kind. We are all here because we want a place where we can be free to live, love and be safe regardless of color, religion or gender. 

I understand fear, anger and hate. But I do not accept it. 

Because, you see, I understand that on the inside we are all created the same.

We all need to understand, that here in America, we all get to create the life we feel is right for us. We have laws protecting our freedoms of speech, religion and lifestyles. You get to choose. I get to choose. And we can all work, live and love together. 

Let's ring in a New Year with a new word to live by: Understanding.