I’m starting an eleven-day trip today. In anticipation of this I made little art cards from an old pack of playing cards (an idea from Nichole Rae’s book Art Journal, Art Journey), with the intention of letting them go along the way. “Art abandonment” was developed by Michael deMeng. The idea is that you make some art, attach a note to it explaining that it is up for grabs, and leave it in a public place for someone else to find. I wanted to try it because I liked the idea of scattering a little art during my travels and maybe, just maybe, adding a tiny bright spot to another person’s day.
Here’s a little sampling:
If you happen to find one of these guys or have any questions about them, please feel free to comment below.
I was recently going through some old mixed CDs—you know the things we made back in the dark ages before Spotify? Anyway, several of the CDs were titled with particular emotional tones like sad or contemplative, so that I could listen to them when I was in the corresponding mood. One of the CDs I came across, however had no such label. I gave it a listen, and remembered that it was my creativity playlist! It’s a bunch of songs that for one reason or another made me feel encouraged to be artistic—to write, to sing, to make things. And I realized, giving it another listen, they still do.
There’s a lot of music from the soundtrack of The Lord of Rings: TheReturnoftheKing on it which is not surprising because much of my first manuscript was written with Howard Shore’s orchestral brilliance pumping into my ears.
There’s also two songs from Stephen Sondheim’s SundaysintheParkwithGeorge—one (Move On) taken from the original cast recording of Bernadette Peters and Mandy Patinkin and the other (Putting It Together) a cover and partial rewrite by Barbra Streisand. These tunes support me in my creative pursuits because “art isn’t easy” and even though “there’s nothing that’s not been said”, it hasn’t yet been said by me.
It’s interesting to me that there are two songs about vulnerability: BareNaked by Jennifer Love Hewitt and I’m Sensitive by Jewel, but it shouldn’t be surprising, after all, how else can you be when making and showing your stuff, if not open and vulnerable? I particularly like Jewel’s determination to embrace her delicate senses by saying “Please be careful with me. I’m sensitive and I’d like to stay that way.”
There’s one actual folk song (Fair and Tender Ladies sung by Rosanne Cash) and another (When Love is New by Dolly Parton and Emmy Rossum) very close to that style which, for me, always seems to get inside an emotion, but often with a sort of matter-of-fact kind of practicality that I like. I guess some might find lyrics like “Love is pretty when love is new, like a blushing rose in a dazzling dew” and “Come all ye fair and tender ladies, take a warning how you court young men” somewhat cynical, but I find the words and the voices that sing them wonderfully evocative.
The remainder of songs are basically singer-songwriter-y. There’s Dido’s reminder that I need to grab living with both hands in Life for Rent. And Eva Cassidy’s poignant cover of Sting’s Fields of Gold. The drums and vocalization at the beginning of Rubén Blades’ Patria are enough to get my creative juices flowing. And Joan Osborne’s One of Us makes me want to try look at things with God’s eyes and, to be honest, I really just love belting that chorus. That I Would Be Good by Alanis Morissette prompts me to remember my intrinsic value as a person, not for how I look or what I can do (even and especially artistically!) And the lyric, “That I would be good, if I got and stayed sick” never fails to give me chills.
And of course, no playlist can be complete without a rousing call to action song—in this case, Defying Gravity from the musical Wicked because “Everyone deserves a chance to fly.”
Recently, I added one more song to this list: Emily Maguire’s Start Over Again—because, in most situations in life and almost always in creative ones, I find myself needing this advice “Go Slow. Be kind. Be wise. Start over again.”
What about you? What music makes you feel creative? Do you have a playlist?
I spent a lot of last weekend in doubt. This is not an unfamiliar place for me. I frequent the land of doubt on a regular basis. The source, this time, was my last two posts on running. Should I, as a CFS sufferer have written about that? Should I have admitted that I can run now and again? That right now I am choosing to run, even when there are many other things I cannot do? When, on a good day, I can only work about four hours?
I felt strange when I started running again in August. I almost didn’t want to see my sister on my run because I was scared to admit that I was able to do it again. The fear came from two places 1)I didn’t want anyone to think that this meant I was all better, and now could do anything and everything, i.e., I didn’t want people to expect more from me, because I knew I couldn’t give it. And 2) I was ashamed. I was ashamed that I was choosing to run rather than do something that might make money or make someone else’s life better.
And when I shared my two posts about running on this blog, I again felt conflicted and scared, and yes, ashamed because I am always scared of what people will think of me. I am scared that they will think I am weak, stupid, free-loading. I am scared other CFSers will get upset because they aren’t able to run, and my posts might give the impression that they should be able to. Or maybe people will think that I don’t really have CFS or any other illness since I can exercise at all. CFS is a highly variable—not only among the afflicted population, but also in an individual.
On Sunday, I listened to a wonderful dharma talk from Tara Brach about how we try to control so many aspects of life and how these attempts ultimately remove us from those things that most make life enjoyable, namely connection and presence. I realized that (once again) I was trying to control what others think of me—my family, my friends, and all the good people of the internet. And the truth is: it’s a fool’s game. There is no way to win. No matter what any of us say or do, no matter how perfectly we curate our feeds and our public lives, someone—perhaps many people—are going to take issue with some aspect of our behavior.
And it’s not always about us. As a senior in college, I took a class that was meant to integrate all that a student had learned within his/her major. At the beginning of the semester, we were given a list of about 75 names and theories which we were instructed to look up and study independently. At the end of the semester, we would be given a test on the information—20 questions, matching. We were warned how challenging it would be and that often students did not excel at it. I (for some inexplicable, bloody-minded reason) decided to attempt to ace it. I spent hours looking up the names and making notes on whatever I thought the professor might think was pertinent enough to test us on. And then I carried my little index cards everywhere, pulling them out whenever I had downtime. When the professor gave back our tests, he told all of us that someone—not naming any names—had gotten a perfect score—something he hadn’t seen in a while. I didn’t show anyone the 100 at the top of my exam paper, but as we filed out of the classroom, the other students looked at me knowingly. One woman, who I had hitherto considered a friend asked, “Did you sleep with him?” I didn’t even know how to respond. I was so horrified and confused. “How could sleeping with the professor have helped me on an objective test?” I wanted to ask, at the same time wanting to demand, ”How dare you? Is that really what you think of me?”
I am convinced now that it wasn’t what she was thinking of me that caused her to lash out in that moment. It was what she was thinking of herself, how she was feeling about whatever grade she had or had not gotten. In that scenario, I did everything right. I worked hard and I achieved success. And somehow, my behavior (or her reactions to my behavior) still caused pain. If I were to get it twisted, I would think that I maybe I should have dimmed my own drives and accomplishments to make her feel better, but I think we can all agree that that would have been ridiculous.
What’s the answer then? I don’t know what it is for others, but for me, it’s to forget about trying to control others’ perceptions, and, instead, whip up as much daring as I can in order to be authentic—because I think that’s one of the ways we help each other (and ourselves)—by being vulnerable, being honest, and sometimes, admitting that which is difficult to admit.
As I think about these things, my eyes fall on a candle that lives on my desk. It’s from a line called Secular Saints by philosophersguild.com. It looks like the regular seven day prayer candle with which most Catholics would be familiar, but instead of featuring the Sacred Heart or Saint Jude, it bears a portrait of Frida Kahlo. I have long felt a deep connection with this Mexican artist, not only because she composed fascinating and bold paintings, but because she did not shy away from letting people know what she was feeling—the physical and emotional pain that walked with her throughout her life. She did not try to be perfect—if anything, she exaggerated her perceived faults. And though she is not a saint in the Catholic sense, I feel myself wanting to invoke her audacious spirit. There’s a “prayer” on the candle which I like well enough, but my personal petition goes something like this:
O feisty Frida, help me to embrace my flaws and everything that is wrong with my life. Help me to know my true self and to show that self no matter who is watching. Help me to be brave and bold and to act with resolve and passion.
What keeps you from being authentic? Do you call on a saint (secular or otherwise) to help?
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The entirety of my formal art training consists of a Basic Drawing class I took as an elective in college. It was not a happy experience. For, while I discovered that I could, with charcoal and paper, make a reasonably accurate representation of whatever still life I found in front of me, this did not seem to be enough for the instructor. No matter how diligently I worked at measuring scale and shading objects to make them look three-dimensional, I was consistently, emphatically told that what I really needed to do was “Relax!!!”
Now, I don’t know what the average person’s reaction to an order like this is, but as a Type A, perfectionist who had spent her whole life attempting to be responsible and do things right (just like her parents and teachers had urged her), I found it extremely stressful. I had never considered myself an artist before that class, and after, felt resigned that I never would be.
Still, I love color and pattern and texture, so, when a few years ago I stumbled on art journaling, I was immediately keen. Art journaling can be different things for different people, but, in general, it’s some combination of art and writing that is done in a consistent fashion. Often, art journals are places to try new things, record events (verbally and/or pictorially), or even, just get the creative juices flowing. For me, it’s a place to play, learn, log my daily activities, and keep photos and other random ephemera.
It’s been a winding road developing a practice that works for me. The first book I bought (Diana Trout’s JournalSpilling), was a lovely primer and I still have not exhausted its resources, but it told me to open my art journal to any page at random and start there. I followed instructions (I’m still quite dutiful), but not having the pages in temporal order really irked me. Also, I realized that I didn’t want to feel like I had to wait until I had finished a page artistically (a process that could take days), to do some word journaling.
NoExcusesArtJournaling by Gina Rossi Armfield felt like a good fit. It pares down the process by making use of a desk calendar, giving one artful tasks that help to record daily happenings and feelings. I followed this plan for a while, but, though I got a lot of great ideas, I found myself becoming boringly repetitive.
A few months ago, I picked up ArtJournal, Artjourney: CollageandStorytellingforHonoringYourCreativeProcess by Nichole Rae. Its process is quite different from other books of its type in that one makes entries in a computer file for several days or weeks, before printing them out, embellishing and collaging them with pictures and other artifacts into a book format. I felt energized by many of the projects in this book and even took to doing a version of her “Words I Carry” project in the calendar I was using as my art journal. The result wasn’t super arty, but it satisfied me to some degree, by adding more color and verve to my records.
Soon though, I felt the itch to do whole pages again. I figured this wouldn’t be that big of a deal since my journal is really small (4.5” x 6.75”). The problem here became legibility. I wanted the journaling to be readable since a lot of what I put into my journal are log notes and it’s important for me to be able to go back and track my activities and the way I was feeling.
At first, I decided that I would write on the individual calendar dates and, through the wonders of washi tape, attach a small piece of art that I would complete daily. This was cool, but I realized that some days, I didn’t have much to write—or felt too lousy to write at all—and, as a result, had all this insipid white space glaring at me.
Recently, I decided to switch. I art journal directly on the calendar pages (the paper’s not exactly what you’d call artist grade, but it’s fun to see how it reacts with various media), and tape in my log/journal notes as I go. This allows me to work on an arty page for more than one day and provides for those days when I just can’t get to writing.
I don’t know if or how long this strategy will work, but for right now I am enjoying it. I love looking back at my old entries. Even though I am primarily a writer, I find that the illustration, so to speak, reveals so much more about what I was thinking and feeling. And because it’s all just for me, it doesn’t matter what it looks like. If something turns out terrible, I just laugh and say to myself, “Well, that sure didn’t work!” This is the main reason I value my art journaling—because it’s one of the few areas in my life where I can easily have that kind of attitude. I consciously tell myself not to think, just act. It’s a safe place for me to leap without looking and, even, you know . . . relax.
Do you art journal? If so, what’s your style? If you don’t, and would like to, here are some great online resources to get you started:
Julie Fei-Fan Balzer does a weekly Art Journal post on her blog, has a whole section of her site devoted to it, AND she has all kinds of other cool arty stuff on her site. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Just go there and subscribe to her blog already.
France Papillon’s site—a totally different almost subdued look, but with a lot of interesting texture and other design elements. She also offers a weekly video tutorial of her work in her own art journal!