Tributary

So I had been planning on starting over on this piece you might recall from a couple months ago.  I was really excited to make this weaving bigger and better than it was before.  And then, everything came to a stop.  One of my closest friends passed away.  Even though I knew she wasn’t doing well, the suddenness of her passing knocked me to my knees.

I have never experienced a loss quite like this before.  My friend was a witness to my journey as a young woman, who offered me courage and wisdom, who saw my beauty and flaws, and loved me for all of it.  She never let me settle or deny myself all of the goodness that life has to offer.  She saw my true essence, my creativity, my soul’s calling, and always supported me in pursuing my dreams.  She was also hilarious and witty and we shared a similar sense of humor that would put us both into fits of laughter that would make my stomach hurt.  She was my rock.  And I miss her.  I miss her every single day.

When she died, a part of me died, too.  I stopped playing piano.  I had no desire to create ANYTHING.  I didn’t want to pick up a pencil or open a sketchbook.  I didn’t want to sit at my loom.  I was lucky if I even thought about coloring in my coloring book.  I wondered when and how I’d ever want to create again, and what would that look like.  The odd thing is that my beloved friend was an incredibly creative person.  A huge admirer of Van Gogh’s work, she was a self-taught painter who had an amazing ability to capture light and shadows, and her colors radiated off the canvas.  During a time when it felt like I should be creating something as a tribute to her, I found that I was just completely empty.

Vincent Van Gogh, Cypresses with Two Women, 1889

Vincent Van Gogh, Cypresses with Two Women, 1889

And life kept moving forward.  I had to continue to go to work and keep myself together.  I still had bills to pay, I had to feed myself, get enough sleep, and most importantly I had to make time to be with the uncomfortable and, for me, unfamiliar feelings of grief.  We don’t really get enough time to mourn and process our grief these days.  There’s this expectation from society that we get about three days to mourn and then we have to be back on our game.  But from my experiences with grief, both mine and that of friends, is that it’s always cyclical and it has its own timeline.  It comes and goes like the tide and the seasons.  Sometimes it just sits there quietly like a dull ache and other times it feels like a vast and painful emptiness.  But I turn towards the grief and honor it, and in that same way I’m honoring the love I have for my friend.

I’ve been listening to a talk by Martin Prechtel, a Mayan shaman, on grief and praise and how both come from the same place.  To paraphrase a line from his inspiring talk: “You gotta love the thing you lost just like you gotta love the thing you’ve got.”   I grieve for my beloved friend, and I praise the beautiful gift that was her coming into my life and sharing in my journey. I’ve used this time as an incredibly humbling and deepening experience.  I’ve never felt so raw or so totally human before.  It’s given me fresh eyes to look at how I’m living my life, how much love I’m giving to myself, how much praise I have for life and all of the beauty that it offers.  And loss, even profound loss, is part of that beauty.

My friend, who is just a tiny speck doing a backstroke down the river!

My friend, who is just a tiny speck doing a backstroke down the river!

So here is my tribute to my friend, one of the many I will create as a way of celebrating her life and her love.  One of her favorite places to be was at the river, soaking in the sun and swimming in the cool clear water.  Like a tributary, her life and her beauty flows into the hearts of her loved ones who carry her spirit onward.  I’ve been spending lots of time outdoors lately, being in the woods and recently hiking to some frozen waterfalls.  Spring has arrived and these once giant frozen icicles are flowing again, and I feel the same sensation of thawing out, melting into water, the soft flow of a river in my soul.   Nature has always been my creative inspiration, so I’m going back to what I know.  I also have plans to create a piece honoring my friend and the beauty she brought to my life.  I’ll let you know how my new journey goes!

Can you find me?

Can you find me?

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Committment to the Creative Spirit

I’ve known for a while now that when I start to feel negative about one area of my life, it will usually spiral downwards into other parts.  I often start off not feeling all that great about: a. the work I’m producing, or b. the work I’m not producing.  I  consider myself a pretty optimistic person 90% of the time, but I’m most definitely my own worst critic, and it seems that the only person whose kind words can get me out of this mess is, well… me.

I was in this funk just the other day, facing a deadline at midnight for a scholarship application to take a workshop at Penland this summer.  My college professors had written me glowing letters of recommendation, I had spent countless hours on my essay, and all I had left to do was to add a few more images of my artwork and then hit “submit”.  I was almost finished with the thing a couple of weeks ago, but I suddenly became completely absorbed in playing the piano, writing music, practicing scales and arpeggios, and feeling for the first time in my life that I actually might be really good at this whole music thing!  I’ve been playing off and on for almost 20 years, so this isn’t exactly a new passion, but it is a new sense of confidence for me.

As I dedicated myself to perfecting my playing of Ave Maria and writing my first original piece, I had naturally kind of forgotten all about the scholarship.  My lack of enthusiasm for my latest weaving coupled with my focus on music left me wondering, “Why bother? I never seem to stick with anything so why bother seriously pursuing one thing over another?”

“But then again, why bother playing piano?  I hate performing, so no one is ever going to hear me play at Carnegie Hall any time soon, nor am I going to start making an album.  In fact, I live at home with my parents, I work at a grocery store, blah blah blah…”  You see what I mean about this downward spiral?  Once I start on one thing it’s only a matter of time before all the other aspects of my life get dragged in for a harsh and unrealistic beating.  “Why bother being an artist if you can never be renowned?  Why bother being a pianist if no one will ever hear you play?  Why bother making tons of needle felted wizards that no one will ever buy because you put them in a shoebox under your bed and wont sell them on Etsy?”

Why bother making art or music if I’m never going to be seen or heard? Because what else am I going to do to add interest and beauty and substance to my day to day existence?

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Seriously, what else is going to give me the same sense of fulfillment and satisfaction and creative expansion and growth and joy and hope and self-expression that music and art give me?

So after mentally rolling around in this imaginary pile of stinky, negative, self-sabotaging poo all day, I sat down at the computer and I finished my application.

I wasn’t forcing myself to finish the application, but rather committing to what I had started.  I was putting the brakes on my fear and taking back the steering wheel.  When I finished uploading all of my images, it was the first time I had seen almost all of the tapestries I’ve woven in the past several years together in one place, and it was the first time I honestly reflected on how far I had come as both an artist and an individual.  I saw brilliant colors and imagination and stories.  I saw all of my growth, progress, discoveries, successes, failures, and most importantly, the emergence of my own authentic creative voice.

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While it’s kind of sad to see how harsh I can be on myself, the realization has given me a catalyst to commit to making some positive changes in my life.  I know fear and self-doubt and criticism will visit me again in the future .  But the one thing I know for certain is that I have never, and will never, give up on myself or my creativity.  Even if I don’t get accepted for this scholarship, the most important piece of this story is that I committed to my creative spirit, and that’s what really matters.

I Love a Good Beginning

It’s true, I love a good beginning.  That feeling when you sit down with a book and after a few pages you think, “Oh, this is gonna be good.”  Or when you hear a new song and the rhythm or the harmony or the vocals hit you right in the feels.  A newly discovered walking route, adorable neighborhood, or path in the woods. When you meet the person who becomes your best friend.  A fresh start, a clean slate, when all things seem possible.

I also love the beginnings that slowly unfold.  When your not so sure about that crazy leap of faith you just took, but then you start noticing the tiny miracles that occur as the result.  The person who you never imagined would be a friend, and what a wonderful friend they turned out to be. The quickening plot, the road that delivers surprisingly stunning views, the blossoming romance, springtime.

beloved1But while these good beginnings are nice and certainly welcome, I also appreciate a difficult beginning and everything it teaches me about patience, courage, and self-compassion. Rough starts come in many forms, and currently mine is with my latest weaving.  I’m really jazzed about it and really frustrated all at the same time.  I planned the whole thing out to be a certain size and only now do I realize I easily could have made it bigger.  Why do I automatically tend to work so small with such tiny detail?  Sometimes I feel like weaving so small makes me want to rip my hair out.  Maybe I could weave with that….

Well, I decided to take the whole thing apart, right back to when I tied on the warps.  It’s amazing how three to four hours worth of work can be taken out in less than half the time.  The process of tapestry weaving is so much more than just following the cartoon.  The techniques and experimenting along the way can add some time onto the piece.  However I tend think of it as time well spent because I always learn something new through trial and error.  I’m sure the more experienced weavers out there have a better understanding of how to get the effects they want, but I’ve also seen evidence of these weavers ripping hours worth of work out, too.  It may be that we are our own worst critics, but I also think it’s something else…design1

In the past, may well-meaning friends have lunged towards me shouting a slow motion “Noooooooo…” as I took an eraser to the drawing I spent countless hours on, or covered up the painting that just wasn’t working, or ripped out seams and rows of weaving.  Sure the work is beautiful to them, but I’m also doing this work for myself.  It’s my dedication to my ideas and creativity that makes me courageous enough to know when to start over, even if I feel a huge sense of guilt.  Even if I fear I may not ever get it right.  Even if I feel I’ve already spent enough time on it.  I think many other artists feel this same way.  We know we wont be able to live with the finished results if we had pushed through and tried to make it work.  Sometimes the solution to a rough beginning is to take what we’ve learned and start over.  Sometimes the solution is to scratch the whole idea all together.  I’ve done that too. Of course, this always has to be kept in check when it’s the drive for perfection that is causing us to continually start over.  Perfection can do the opposite of what we want it to do.  Perfection can be a real creativity killer…

 

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Discovering what didn’t work before has helped me to change a few things about the design, a big one being the overall size.  I haven’t even started weaving this improved piece and I’m already glad I decided to start over.  I’m also glad I don’t have a deadline!  Whether the beginning is slow and meandering, or fast and thrilling, sometimes the most important thing is just to start, and to not be afraid to start over.

 

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Resolution: Make More Art

Sorry I haven’t posted in so long.  I have a whole list of reasons for my absence, but mostly it’s that I’ve been too busy.  Too busy caring about what other people will think of my work to make any work.  I’ve been paralyzed with self-doubt and fear, worse than my years in undergrad sitting through another grueling critique.

“It’s so… trite,” were the words of my art professor in regards to a felted piece I made with an owl on it.  Now I made this piece BEFORE owls came back into fashion and you could wear them on shirts, leggings, and socks and pour salt and pepper from ceramic owl shakers into an owl shaped bowl and eat your delicious whatever with owl chopsticks. You’re welcome.

Despite how crappy I felt after this particular critique, I still brought that felted owl bag with me out in public.  The first day I was out shopping I had three people ask me where I got it.  I probably should have just sold it to one of them, but I still had that lingering feeling, that word “trite” hanging over my head like an unrelenting rain cloud.  It just wasn’t good enough, even for the complete stranger who had to know where I got it. I eventually gave it away to a friend, but my love for putting animals on things has never gone away.

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I’ve often sketched out designs for tapestries or paintings that feature animals, stars, moons, and my passion for adding just a hint of sparkly gold.  But then my art school critic challenges me to consider just how trite it is.  Where is the concept?  The social/political/environmental struggle?  Where does it talk about the important topics of our times like gun violence, equal rights for women and trans people, and justice for the lives of young black people that were violently taken away?

I know what my work means to me, and what I want it to mean to the viewer.  My work is a reprieve, an exhale, the brightness of moon light on a dark, cold winter night.  My art illustrates the beauty and magic that still exists under the surface of the harsh realities of current events.  It’s not naivety, it’s not delusion or denial, and it’s not even trite.  My school had a motto: “Learn the rules to break the rules.”  I may have lacked the level of conceptual understanding my teacher wanted me to have, but I gained the technical knowledge to create what I’m here to make.

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I normally don’t create New Years resolutions because I feel like life is always a work in progress, and positive change doesn’t have to wait for the first day of the year.  And like everybody else who loses motivation for their resolutions, I hate the feeling of guilt when I fail.  However, I think this is the year I learn to stop giving a s**t what other people think of my work.  Not everyone is going to like it and that’s fine.  I can’t let it affect me personally.  There’s lots of art out there that I don’t like, Instagram accounts that I don’t follow, but those artists are still making.  My only responsibility is to make my art.  And to other artists who doubt themselves and their work, you need to make your art too, because there are people in this world who need it, whether it’s trite or not.

 

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.

 

The Journey of Saying Yes

For several years I’ve wondered what home is, where it is, and what it looks like.  Is it an old farmhouse like what I grew up in, with vibrantly colorful gardens and a little brook?  Or is it a sunny bungalow with a big front porch?  Is it here or there, near or far?  Who lives in that home with me?  A loving partner, a giggling bunch of kiddos, a dog, a cat, a chameleon?  Who comes to visit?  Mary Jane’s Farm magazine contributor, Rebekah Teal, said it best in the January 2015 issue:

“I believe “home” might be a special combination of unique things, things that are different for each person.  When those things come together at exactly the right place and the right moment in time, something fabulous and comforting and almost magical happens.  That something is called “home”.”

Lately I haven’t felt at home in a lot of ways.  I certainly have a fantastic network of friends who give me a sense of home, but my soul is yearning for something else, some other missing piece of the puzzle.  I’ve certainly never been a city girl, but this place has it’s perks.  I can’t think of any other store like The Playful Needle that sells hundreds of colors of Appleton Crewel wool that I use for my tapestries.  Or how about the seemingly endless options for health food stores so that I don’t have to eat another donut from all of the seemingly endless donut shops that keep opening up?  And then there’s the nature and the temperate weather… it’s all kept me here for so long, satisfied and secure.

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And then last month, I realized what my soul needs right now is a return to my roots, to my soil, the part of the earth I grew up on.  I don’t know what I’ll find back there in between the foothills of the rugged White Mountains and the soothing tides of the Atlantic.  Maybe it will be the place I call home, maybe it will offer me some healing, but I know it will definitely give me the space for peace and quiet reflection.  As I’ve put the pressure on myself to find this “home” sooner rather than later, I’ve realized how defining and narrow this goal is.  I’m looking for a place to call home, but more importantly I’m looking for all of the things I can say yes to.

It’s been a heartbreaking past several weeks as more and more friends and co-workers learn of my leaving.  Unfortunately saying yes sometimes means saying good-bye to loved ones as they see you off on your next adventure.  I’ve done this before when I moved here, with no clue how I was going to make it in a place I had never lived before.  And now I can look back with gratitude and awe at how far I’ve come, and the gift the journey has been.  I’ve felt so much gratitude for my job, my boss, my team, my benefits, my amazing friends, discovering my calling as a tapestry artist, the abundance of nature, I almost can’t believe I would ever dream of leaving it.  I actually look forward to going to work because I’ll get to see my friends and nerd out on supplements.  Sure, I’d also really like to nerd out on art and tapestry weaving, but I’ve always felt extremely appreciative of this job I worked so hard to get.  So why am I leaving?  Please don’t ask me, because I’m running out of tissues.

2015-03-05 14.54.56I’m finally back into my meditation routine after several weeks of feeling like I should be spending that special time packing and crying – that was my sign I should have been meditating in the first place.  I’m working on taking things one day at a time.  Instead of dreading my last day of work, saying my final farewells, and that moment when I step onto the plane with a one-way ticket, I’m looking up at the trees displaying their fireworks of blossoms against the bright blue sky.  This spring has come early and with such vibrancy and energy I’ve wondered if it’s just trying to remind me of why I love it here so that I’ll stay.

2015-03-05 14.52.48I’ve been really enjoying my spring cleaning as well, getting rid of so much stuff I thought was valuable to me, but really isn’t.  It’s a wonderful feeling to only own the things that bring me joy, instead of drowning in all of the crap I could… potentially… maybe (never) use someday.  Angel food cake pan?  Haven’t used that in over five years.  The ugly mug I’ve never used?  Gone.  It makes me wonder why I haven’t done this sooner!  It feels so cathartic and freeing, a release of the past so I can step into the new unencumbered and ready to receive the blessings and gifts that life has to offer me.  I’m ready to say yes to this beautiful, sometimes bittersweet, but always inspiring life of mine.

The End and the Beginning

Hey, remember how I said a while back that I was going to finish this tapestry by the end of January?  Well I did it, I just forgot to tell everyone about it!  While I was out for a walk this evening the bright full moon shining down on me reminded me of this piece, and how happy I am that it’s finished…

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Compass, 2015, 14.5″ x 22″, cotton, wool

This piece embodies my own inner journey of finding and following my inner light, my “compass”, to wherever it may lead me.  Often times the voice that keeps me small and safe overpowers the soft and steady whispers of my intuition.  Ever notice how fear and worry sound so big and loud and commanding inside your head?  “Don’t do that!  You’ll never succeed.  Stay right where you are or you might make a big mistake!  What if you fail?”

But the voice of truth and wisdom is delicate and heartfelt, like bird songs in the morning.  “Why don’t you give it a shot?  You never know until you try.  This opportunity might be just what you need,” or even, “you can do great things.”

By finding and following our own inner compass, we find what our truth is, what our goals and dreams are, what we want to bring to the world, and the courage to follow that through.  This tapestry marks the end and the beginning for me, a time to get more in touch with the art I want to create.  I realize I want to work more with the symbols and stories in my own imagination, and for my own sense of personal and creative satisfaction.  I’ve been trying to design and weave tapestries to fit the demands of competitive juried shows, and while I’ve certainly had some success, it hasn’t felt authentic.  I don’t enjoy creating something to hopefully appease the aesthetic tastes of the jurors, just for the hope of tacking another show onto my resume.  I want to make art for myself, and let it reach out to those who are meant to be touched by it.  I’m not a contemporary conceptual artist, at least not right now.  My interests lie in nature and animals, mythology and storytelling.  Once I get back to the loom, it will be to weave the stories of the world into life.