Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Myth of Mastery

I’m sure most of you have heard the saying, “Jack of all trades, but a master of none…”  I’ve always wanted to be a master of something, whether it was piano, or guitar, or baking, or drawing, but nothing has propelled me to want to be a master like tapestry weaving.  While I was sitting at the loom working on figuring out how to create a particular effect in this latest weaving, I started to really ponder my drive for mastery.

I began imagining what it would be like to create a tapestry and know exactly how to execute everything.  How would it feel to just weave that design and not have to re-weave a certain area three times in order to get it right?  What would it be like to know exactly which colors to blend and how to use them?  To just magically be able to do it all on the first try?

It actually sounds ridiculously boring.

Yes, I hope to gain skills and knowledge, to grasp techniques and be able to execute them.  I want to be able to troubleshoot and problem solve so that I can one day help others who are just starting out on their own weaving path.  But more than anything, I want to always be learning and growing and trying new things… because that’s the good stuff.  I live for those “Aha!” moments, like working through a challenging design and finally getting it right.  As a self-professed Instagram and Pinterest junkie, I absolutely love seeing the innovative and creative ways that other tapestry weavers and artists are doing their thing.  There’s an endless stream of inspiration out there because everyone has a different approach and a different way of creating.  Some might be more traditional while others are a bit off the wall (that may or may not be a tapestry joke), and it’s all great inspirational material.  Tapestry is both ancient and contemporary, and there’s about as many ways to do things as there are weavers.  That’s what I love about it and why it’s a medium I feel really passionate about.

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My first attempt at weaving the highlights on a tree at the bottom. On top, and after ripping the work out three times, I finally got it right! I love the feeling of success when I work through a certain problem a bunch of times and then discover the solution!

My mom, who is a prolific and versatile artist, has always told me that art should be an adventure.  To me, mastery has meant reaching a level where you can go no further, and that few have reached.  Right now, I’m going to bust my own myth for myself: I think a master is someone who has reached a level of expert skills and knowledge, but they always have the spirit of the student within them.  They continue to play and explore and learn because they know that the creative journey has no end.  They seek out challenges and innovative ways of doing things.  So now, being the master sounds just as exciting as being the student, because it’s all about the journey.

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Open Fields and Endless Skies

The last line from Mary Oliver’s poem “The Summer Day” always makes my heart skip a beat, like a wise elder asking you the quintessential question that has the power to change your whole life if you allow it.

Around the end of this past February, I knew it was time to make a change, and not just a change-my-job or change-my-haircut kind of change, but a true life-altering, get-rid-of-your-stuff, move-across-the-country kind of upheaval of everything I knew and loved.  At times I told myself ‘You must be crazy to give this all up’.  But I did it because I felt there was more out there for me, if only I could trust the guidance of my deep wellspring of intuition.

It takes a lot of courage to listen and trust the wisdom of our intuition, because it doesn’t speak in words, but in hunches and feelings.  It can also feel heartbreaking to follow your intuition as it leads you down your path, because that also means leaving people and places that you love behind just to follow a “feeling”.   I wish my intuition would send me clearly written emails saying “Hey, do this” or “move here” or “you should take that job”.  But instead I have to learn the fine art of listening to and following where my intuition wants me to go, and right now it wants me to be back home in New Hampshire.  Forget what everybody else says and does.  Forget if all the cool young people are packing up and moving out west.  The one thing I’ve learned through this whole experience is all that really matters is where I want to be and what I want to do with my life.  There may be loss and deep grievances along the way, but I believe there are also blessings and miracles to be had as well.

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Right now I need to live amongst trees and birds and summer rain and wide open spaces.  A few days ago my parents and I went out hiking with one of the neighbors in Northwood Meadows.

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These are exactly the kind of views I need for my health and happiness, and ultimately for the vitality of my art.  Open fields, endless skies, wind, bird songs, the sense of limitless potential, my spirit soaring among the clouds.  I really don’t know what I’ll be doing here besides weaving and drawing and painting, and maybe even taking a dance or music class.  But I can say, it feels like the next right step, and that’s all I need to have faith in.

20150411_153935Spring will be here soon, in fact the snow that carpeted the yard is almost all melted.  And the one thing that Spring always brings is new growth, new beginnings, new adventures, new everything.  Change is constant in this life, so whether you’re like me and you shipped all of your most beloved possessions across the country, or you’re stuck in an unhappy situation waiting for that calling, listen closely for that little voice of wisdom.  It’s barely above a whisper, but if you leave your heart open and your brain chatter off, you just might hear it’s deep wisdom and simple desire to bring happiness to your life.

 

A New Year’s List for a New Journey

On New Years Eve, I wanted to write something uplifting and hopeful and inspiring to start the transition into 2015.  I wanted to give you, my dear reader, a message to help kick-start your year on the right path, to help you accomplish your dreams and goals.  But lately I’ve felt like I didn’t have it in me, that there was no way I could write something with that kind of positive energy.  Lately I’ve felt angry and frustrated, and not with anything or anyone in particular.  One day I’ll be angry and agitated, the next I’ll be crying.  My close friends who have done a lot of personal healing know what I’m talking about, some of them call it “deep work”.  If you’ve ever been there yourself, then you know what I’m talking about, and I’m sure you know how frustrating it can feel.   But I was reminded of a saying I once read, “the medicine is in the wound”, and that is where I found the inspiration for this post.

I don’t do anger well.  To me, and most other people, its an emotion that feels dark, heavy, and negative.  Who wants to be angry when you could be happy?  Well, I’m sure we’d all agree if we could be happy all the time we would, but then we would have nothing to compare our joy to.  Instead we’d probably just feel apathetic or indifferent.  I’ve always felt that anger was a volatile emotion, that feeling it would turn me into some crazy, out-of-control, violent person.  So I’ve been stuffing it since I was a kid, and I think now it’s finally caught up to me.  I haven’t been able to work on my weaving much because the anger and frustration doesn’t translate well to delicate and detailed work.  So while I’ve been taking a break from my tapestry, I’ve been finding new tools and ideas to help me work through these darker emotions.

In the dark is where the first stage of new life happens, where the seed first cracks it’s hard, protective shell, and tender leaves reach up towards the light.  It’s where we rest, where dream-time brings us insights, where ideas grow, and new life takes shape.  The time in the dark is never hurried; everything that is preparing for growth needs time and care to be ready to be born.  There is vitality hidden in the dark.  And life is very cyclical, we all go through phases of blooming in the garden, soaking up the sun’s rays while others admire us.  Sometimes the weeds choke us and threaten to take us down.  And there usually always comes a time when we retreat back into the restorative cocoon of the darkness, back into our roots to rest and prepare to be reborn again come our next springtime.

During our time in this fertile soil, its important to actually do our personal work, mend what’s been broken, and remember that the darkness isn’t forever.  We will eventually be called back into the light, and to carry with us the gifts we have uncovered from our sacred wounds.

While I’ve been taking a break from weaving, I’ve been discovering new tools and ideas to help me work through these shadow emotions.  I’ve put together this list to serve anyone who is also feeling overwhelmed, stressed, stuck, or wanting change, now or in the future.

1. Gratitude ListsIf you’ve read anything about living a more positive life or how to manifest your deepest wishes, one of the suggestions you’ll find is writing a gratitude list.  But I use it not to just get what I want, I use it to change my perspective.  Whenever I’m feeling frustrated, grumpy, angry, or just plain ungrateful, I write a gratitude list.  It always, ALWAYS changes my  outlook.  On New Years Eve I wrote a gratitude list for everything that happened to me in 2014.  While it was several pages long, it was also filled with simple things.  Like #12: “All of the magical hikes I’ve been on out here.”  Or #15: “Practicing patience.”  #24: “Learning how resilient I am.”  And #30, my favorite: “All of the chocolate I’ve eaten.”

The little things really add up, and they’re not that hard to find, trust me.  Even finding just one thing to be grateful for, like a kind person’s smile, can start to shift your perspective.  Now imagine finding those little things everyday for 30 days.  Imagine a whole year.

2. When energy gets stuck and needs to be released, it can’t always come out as art, even ugly, dirty, messy art, or beautiful, light, and inspiring art.  Believe me, I’ve tried.  Occasionally it needs a physical outlet in order to be set free.  The mornings are usually when I get fresh hits of inspiration, and the other day as I got out of bed and felt the angry energy rise up in me, I saw myself in a boxing class.  I never thought of myself as someone who would ever want to try boxing, but there I was in a safe environment, able to release my emotions.  I signed up for a no contact, women’s only boxing class.  Thankfully we wont be fighting each other.  I may want to punch a punching bag, but I have absolutely no interest in punching someone else or getting punched in the face!

3.  Faith, and I’m not just talking church or George Michael.  When we find ourselves feeling like we’re drowning in sudden changes, forces beyond our control, shadow emotions, and feeling unable to get our heads above water for long, having faith in something is what can get us through.  I have what I refer to as “a spiritual posse”, a collection of various spirits, teachers, and guides I’ve chosen that I turn to when I need help.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a saint, an angel, the woods, or your cat, just start with having faith that you will get through, and you will get through.

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4.  Have patience.  Sometimes when we’re looking to create change in our lives, or to get through a storm, or to reach our goals, we can lose patience.  Keep in mind that we’re all on different paths.  Keep an open heart to what personal success looks like for you.  Sometimes when I feel like I don’t have what I want, I do step 1 above and I discover that I have everything I need.  What you want will come, just keep an open heart and give it time.

5.  Be easy on yourself.  This isn’t a competition, no ones’ perfect even if they appear that way.

“Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has many, not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.” ~ Charles Dickens

6.  Take inspiration from the success of others.  Seeing someone climb the ladder of their dreams and accomplish big goals can make anyone feel jealous, and wonder when it will be their time to shine.  I used to feel jealous of others’ success stories, but now I use them as a great source of inspiration to follow my own dreams.  Hearing about anyone making a living doing what they love and bringing positive change to the world fills me with so much joy, hope, and motivation.  Someone living their life through the gifts they bring to the world is also a gift for those of us wanting to do the same; it shows us that with unwavering dedication, patience, and a pure passion for what we do, we can also accomplish incredible things.  Usually after hearing or reading such good news, I’ll sit down at my loom and work away, feeling pure inspiration for what it is I do.  I simply love these stories.  Because if they can do it I can too, and so can you.

7.  Have funI don’t wait until the storm passes or things to get better to go forth and make the most of life.  I don’t sit around thinking that because I’m in a funk, I have to stay there and wait for it to be over.  Whenever I’m feeling grumpy, I watch youtube videos of The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, or clips from Louis CK’s stand-up performances.  I often find myself laughing so hard I’m crying, and I’ve totally forgotten about my grumpiness.  Like gratitude lists, laughter has a profound ability to drastically change our outlook, even if for a few minutes.  And that’s all it takes to ride the waves to smoother sailing.

8.  Do something nice for others, and something nice for you.  It doesn’t have to cost you a penny.  It can be offering an ear to listen, a compliment (as long as it’s sincere!), or bringing food to an ill friend.  Last night, I decided to do something nice for myself that I know I’ve needed to do to help me grow as a professional artist.  I bought the domain name for this blog! 

One thing I do know is that crossing that threshold from the darkness and into the next stage of life will make me feel more confident, with a deeper sense of faith and trust in the work that I do and the life I live.   And that although there will be more hard days to come, having practiced these steps will give me the strength to keep weaving through the storms with serenity and grace.

My mom took this picture of South Sister in Oregon from this past summer.  My step-dad and I are the two tiny specks on the trail!

My mom took this picture of South Sister in Oregon this past summer. My step-dad and I are the two tiny specks on the trail!

Happy 2015 to you all!  I wish you great happiness, success, and opportunities to heal and let go of whatever is holding you back from accomplishing your dreams!

A Celebration of Life’s Bounty

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Ah, Thanksgiving, a holiday that I once thought of as a day off from school and an opportunity to eat too much mashed potatoes.  This time of year is different for me now, as I live thousands of miles away from my family.  I usually don’t know what I’m doing until a week before the holiday, when I get invited to some sort of Orphans’ Thanksgiving.  Every holiday for the past eight years has been different, some with old or new friends, strange or traditional dishes, simple or extravagant parties.  This time of year is always exciting, but it’s also taken on a new meaning to me personally.

The end of the year is a celebration of life’s bounty, and not just in terms of the food we gather around the table to enjoy with our loved ones.   Whether spent socially or introspectively, it is a day of expressing gratitude for all of the blessings that have graced our lives, big or small, simple or grand.  Today I’m grateful for my good health, a good job, the art I create and the opportunities to share it with the world.  I have love from many friends and family, however far away they might be.  I have warm clothes, a warm bed, and a solid roof over my head.  I have easy access to healthy food and clean drinking water.  I have also grown a lot in the past year, just by showing up to learn the lessons of personal healing and growth.  The difference between the gratitude I feel this year compared to years past is that now I feel it all around me and within me.  Gratitude for the physical and spiritual; for what can be seen, and what can be felt.

Happy day of gratitude to you and yours.  However you spend the day, I hope you can include a few minutes of giving thanks for all of the blessings in your life.

Parting of the Mists

My recently finished piece “Parting of the Mists”

The Old Weaver Woman and the Silver Thread

We approach the open door of the old stone grist mill. A light breeze dances through the grass and across my skin, and the wooden waterwheel slowly turns with the lazy current of the cool black water, ker-chunk, ker-chunk, ker-chunk. Three generations of women walk over the threshold; grandmother, mother, and daughter, past, present, and future, out to explore and listening for stories.

Once my eyes adjust to the darkness of the spacious room, I see a little old woman weaving on a huge wooden loom. She’s not quite a fairy tale old woman – who I imagine would have gray, waist length hair, colorful skirts, and bright knowing eyes – but rather a typical sweet grandmotherly lady with short white curly hair, a pink shirt with white shorts, and tennis shoes. I quietly examine the woman and her loom, half hoping she will invite me to sit on the bench with her the way I do when my grandmother plays piano. She smiles, “Would you like to help me?” I nod my head and climb up on the bench. She explains how a weaving loom operates, but being only eight I don’t understand, and instead become fascinated by the dark patina of the wood. Old and beautiful, mysterious and comforting, like this dark room filled with women and history.

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The old woman instructs me to grab onto the beater and swing it forward to push down the yarn she just wove into place. The beater is heavy, and it requires a good deal of strength from my little arms to bring it forward with enough force against the cloth. She helps me, even though I want to do the whole thing all by myself. I want to press the treadles but they are too far away from my dangling feet. I want to put the yarn into place between the threads. I want her to teach me how to make the loom move in such a perfect rhythm, but I don’t want to be rude. So I sit politely and listen to the soft movements of the loom, up and down, back and forth. And with each new line the old woman weaves, I swing the beater forward. After a few minutes my mom says it’s time to go and let the old weaver woman get back to her work. We say good-bye and walk back into the bright summer day, leaving behind the old loom and the old lady who keeps weaving.

And time keeps moving with every ker-chunk of the waterwheel and thud of the beater.

Twenty years later ( just a couple days ago) my mother told me the story of this loom, since while I had been enamored with its character, the old weaver woman explained how the loom came to be in the mill, in Massachusetts, in America. Sometime before the Revolution, settlers from England stole the loom aboard their ship headed for the Colonies. It was an act of defiance against the British, whose high taxes and regulations on exported goods to the New World kept the settlers dependent. The loom allowed them to create their own textiles, and was a part of the catalyst for the development of a free nation. Where the loom had been kept for all of those hundreds of years is a mystery, but my mom said the woman was a volunteer at the mill, and every now and then she would weave on the old loom and share its story with visitors.

When I was considering studying fiber arts in college, I thought back to this summer day at the grist mill, and the mysteriously magical old loom that I was able to experience. I thought to myself, I think I might really like weaving, maybe I could get a degree in it.  One tiny voice said that’s crazy, and another said to try.  I listened more to the latter, and thoroughly searched for colleges online for a couple months until I found my school. I really had to look to find it, too. I had been to Portland before, and I knew there just had to be a college with a weaving studio in this funky town. I had absolute faith I would find something, like my subconscious already knew that there was a school here.

So it comes as no surprise that the first person I meet who worked at my new college ended up being a great friend, mentor, and support person, and also gave me my current tapestry loom. I dragged that loom with me from one living situation to another, storing it in the corners of living rooms, bed rooms, and basements, never using it, but never able to part with it either. A couple times I would attempt to give it away. I’d remind myself I had owned it for three, four, five years and never used it. But at the last minute I would change my mind, feeling that if I let it go I would deeply regret it. One day a couple of years ago, I came up with a design I wanted to create. I warped the loom, and created my first tapestry weaving since graduating. Not to sound too cliché, but the rest is history.

Now when I look at the picture my mom took of me sitting at the loom with the old weaver woman, I see a little girl fully absorbed in the work of generations of weavers, spanning centuries and continents. There’s no child smiling at the camera, Look! This is where I met a lady who weaves! Isn’t that neat? Instead I’m too engrossed to even notice my mom has taken my picture, Sorry Mom, kind of busy practicing an ancient art form.

If there really is a guiding force in the universe, is it what drew me to the old woman at the loom? Did it inspire me enough so I wouldn’t give up my search until I found a college that had a significantly sized studio packed with so many old looms, you could barely squeeze through? Did it lead me to my friend, the very first person I met the day I moved to Portland, who would give me my loom and therefore start my career as a tapestry artist? Is it what drives me day in and day out to make beautiful weavings and share them with the world? To pursue my medium as if it were food for my body, for my soul? With the encouragement and acknowledgement that I have received from friends and strangers, I do believe that there is a power greater than me at work in my life. It doesn’t hold my hand, instead it guides me along by a thin, unbreakable silver thread. I wish I could know where this silver thread will lead me in the end, but all I need to do is have faith and keep weaving.

My New (and tiny) Loom

I know I should be investing in a bigger loom, not one that is a million times smaller than my current one.  But the family field trip to central Oregon is this weekend, and I’m packing my bug spray, sunscreen, hiking socks, and my sweet little Hokett Loom!

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It’s a beautiful little loom made by Jim Hokett, who constructs them out of different exotic woods.  He also makes accessories to go with the looms, like these carved tapestry needles.  If you’re looking for a lightweight, affordable loom that will fit in your bag, check out his three different sized options!  I’m looking forward to whipping mine out of my backpack at a lunch spot on the trail to puzzle on-lookers.  I also just want to have some kind of weaving with me while I’m away from the big project.  Speaking of which, here’s how it’s coming along…

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Tomorrow I’m going to share a story with you from my childhood about the definitive moment when I first tried weaving.  And then I’m off to the mountains to soak up the views and find some fresh inspirations!

The Weaving Hour

Almost a week has gone by since I started my newest weaving, and I can tell this is indeed an ambitious design!  My motivation has been low, it is summer after all, and the challenges this piece presents has been helping me to be a better procrastinator.  But I have a juried show I want to enter in November and while that feels like plenty of time, I also might be moving then too.  It’s been hot out lately, and my apartment turns into a little oven in the afternoon.  The last thing I want to do is sit under a hot lamp touching warm and fuzzy yarns.  So I wait until the sun sets, because I’m actually a tapestry weaving vampire.  Also… okay, enough with the excuses.

I’ve gotten quite a bit done and I took some before and after pictures to show you what an hour of weaving looks like.  I’ve always wanted to know how much I finish in an hour too, since when I’m weaving I usually get sucked into a timeless vortex and before I know it it’s 1 in the morning.

Before....

Before….

After!

After!

Of course, completing tricky details and color changes takes time away from the amount I get done, as does winding bobbins, correcting mistakes, and finding just the right song on my ipod.  Working on an elaborate piece like this has also been really enjoyable, even if I only get a millimeter done every day.   The intricacies of this design are enthralling and I love finding solutions to the various difficulties that come up.

Working on a project I’m passionate about makes it easier to defeat the Procrastination Monster.  I feel relaxed and entertained, like I’m solving a great big crossword puzzle, except I’m using yarn and none of the questions are from before the early 90s.  Having great music helps me a lot too; I can definitely feel more motivated to do the dishes, scrub the toilet, or work on my weaving when I’m listening to music I love.  I’m currently into musicians like Loreena McKennitt, Alison Krauss, and Jesse Cook.  Lots of great acoustic instruments, soothing voices, and addictive beats.  Now if you’ll excuse me, the sun has set and it’s time to weave.