Day 15/100 Days of Inviting Wonder

Day 15/100

Stop and smell the flowers, Part 2.

I went to the post office this morning, to renew my passport, right after I finished renewing my driver’s license at the MVA.  It’s 10am and it seems like I’m due a medal, or a nap.

There is the sweetest little post office down the hill from my house, with the friendliest people and the shortest wait times – it’s straight out of another era.  I had a package to mail, and my passport to renew, and as I stood at the counter chatting with Larke, I was aware of the loveliest scent floating about.  Aware, and yet not aware at all, until I had been standing there for what must have been fifteen minutes and I finally noticed the jar of daffodils at the far end of the counter!  Of course I stopped to smell them!  I stuffed my face right into the blossoms and took a deep inhale (or three), and suggested that everyone else in the post office do the same.  And as I made my way back to my car – Package mailed!  Passport sent off for renewal! – I thought about how we are, so many of us, sleepwalking through this life.

Here I am, two weeks into 100 days of inviting wonder, and extolling the virtues of stopping to smell the flowers, and it took me a full fifteen minutes of standing at the post office counter next to a jar of daffodils before I noticed them!  Imagine how many people will walk in and out of that post office today and not notice the flowers at all!?

If I have learned anything about wonder in these first two weeks, it is that wonder is elusive – and it’s not.  The truth is that wonder seems elusive because it’s intangible, but wonder is all around us all the time – even at the post office.  It is our job, if we care about finding it, about experiencing it, to create the circumstances that allow ourselves to perceive wonder – and that, it turns out, is what I’m doing here, these 100 days.  Creating an opening; cultivating a mindset; developing a way of being in the world that enables me to experience wonder when it presents itself.  Which it does, all of the time, whether or not I am awake to see it.  I’m waking to wonder, not inviting it – wonder is already right here.

Day 9/100 Days of Inviting Wonder

Day 9/100

Make a playlist.  

Curate a collection of artists and songs that surprise and delight.  Include unexpected combinations; choose something you've never heard before alongside an old favorite; include a deep track from a favorite album.  Instrumentals and acapellas.  Rock music and musical theater.  Throw in something that makes you laugh, and something that makes you sing along at the top of your lungs.  Play it loud and play it often, and then make another.

I ought to do this once a month, but I nearly never do.  

Here's mine from today, if you're interested.

Day 7/100 Days of Inviting Wonder

Day 7/100 #100daysofinvitingwonder

Wonder: A feeling of amazement and admiration, caused by something beautiful, remarkable, or unfamiliar.

Wonder: A surprising event or situation.

Wonder: A feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable.

Wonder: Desire or be curious to know something.

Wonder: Feel admiration and amazement; marvel.

Wonder: A cause of astonishment or admiration. 

Wonder: The quality of exciting amazed admiration. 

Wonder: Rapt attention or astonishment at something awesomely mysterious or new to one's experience. 

My wonder is all of this and more.  My wonder, the wonder that i'm inviting these 100 days, is noun and verb, known and unknown, an idea and a state of being, a way of looking at the world, a mindset, a lightbulb, a moment, a habit and a happy accident. 

How do you cultivate a way of being that is both tangible and entirely not?  

Day 4/100 Days of Inviting Wonder

Prayer.

Oof, that's a strange and uncomfortable word to write in this context.  Prayer is not something I talk much about here - or anywhere - or think about often, if I'm being honest with you, and myself.  

Do I consider myself to be part of an organized religion?  Yes.  Do I actively practice that religion?  Yes.  Do I attend a house of worship?  Yes.  Do I say prayers there?  Yes.  Do I believe in a higher power in the universe?  Yes.  Do I believe there is a man with a white beard sitting in the clouds pulling strings?  No.  Can I articulate more about what I do believe?  In a lifetime, maybe, but not in two paragraphs.

Prayer is a funny thing; part-appreciation part-supplication, and in my case, spoken primarily in a language that is not native to me.  By the dictionary definition, to pray is to ask something of a higher power, or to express appreciation to a higher power, and yet I don't come to prayer with either of those things in mind.  Maybe it's because of the ways that I do and don't think about that higher power, but for me prayer is as much about tradition and continuity as it is about request and appreciation.  

Today is my father's yahrzeit, the day that marks the anniversary of his death three days before the start of the Passover holiday, eighteen years ago.  This morning, as is my custom, I went to the Synagogue to honor my father's memory by saying Kaddish, the memorial prayer.  The Kaddish is the very last prayer in the morning service, so before speaking the words of the Kaddish I said a whole host of other words of prayer, some of thanks and others of request, and if I'm being honest I spoke most of those words out of habit and with a strong sense of connection to the generations who have said those words before me, but without a lot of attention to the act of request or thanks to a higher power.  

And yet.

It occurred to me, as I sat there in that chapel this morning, that to pray is to open a channel.  None of us knows where that channel goes, or how - and I'm not sure it matters why we do what we do, but for me I know it matters that I try.  It is the act of prayer that matters to me, and I was reminded of that this morning as I remembered my father, and thought about how prayer is an act of inviting wonder.

Inviting wonder.

#THE100DAYPROJECT begins tomorrow.

(image by Elle Luna)

Last year’s project was transformative for me.  I’m generally a pretty good starter and not such a strong finisher – I never made it through the 365 photo project, for example (though, in my own defense, I did do 6 years of Habit, and I am in year 2 of my gratitude practice) – and I was afraid to begin.  I was afraid to say I was doing the project because I didn’t feel confident I would finish.  But I did!  I started and I finished, and it was strong if I don't say so myself.  I learned about myself along the way, I pushed myself along the way, I let myself off the hook sometimes along the way – all in all, a metaphor for life.

The project I did last year was a combination of painting and words – part process, part product – and just the right mix of the things I needed at the time. Last year, I used the hashtags #100daysofIbelieve#100daysofprocess, and #100daysofpaint– each day’s post had a short (or long, depending on the day) paragraph about my outlook on life, and each day’s post had some kind of rough painting, a sketchbook entry or a detail of a painting in process. 

My objective with the words was to push myself to write, to consider my own perspective, to begin to articulate my outlook and to dip my toe into sharing it with the world.  My objective with the paintings was to keep myself painting, to force myself to share what I painted whether I liked it or not, to push myself outside of my comfort zone.

I feel unbelievably proud of the work I did in #THE100DAYPROJECT last year (you can see all of the posts together here, if you’re interested) and, frankly, a I'm little bit nervous about trying it again.  What if I don’t build any momentum this time around?  What if I don’t finish?  What if I don’t enjoy what I decide to do?  What if I have nothing to say?  Nothing to paint?  Change my mind?  Want to give up?  Well, I’m silencing those voices and doing it anyway.  I’m carrying on with my effort to be brave, I'm pushing myself outside of my comfort zone, and I'm making myself do the next right thing. 

I am doing #THE100DAYPROJECT again this year, yes I am.

. . . . . . . .

I’ve been feeling out of sorts and rather glum since the start of January, not at all like myself, and finding it hard to see my own inner light; this project – and Spring! – come at just the right moment for me once again this year.  Starting tomorrow, I’ll be doing #100daysofinvitingwonder along with #100daysofpaintonpaper.  My intent for each of these 100 days, is to invite wonder into my life and into the world, and to share that with others.  I’ve started a list of wonder-full possibilities, and I would love to know if you have suggestions - because 100 days is a lot of days!  I’ll be doing things like hula-hooping in the yard and painting with my left hand, walking barefoot, leaving encouraging notes in public places, and trying new foods.  If you have other ideas, would you please send me a message?  I will be grateful for your input.

Alongside these wonder-actions, I will be making a series of small draw-paintings.  Unlike last year’s project, this time I will be setting parameters around the size and scope of my work, and letting the wonder be my guide.  I've decided on 8x10 as the size, because that's been working well for me lately - not too big and not too small - and it's possible that I'm going to draw-paint them all with my left hand - we'll see, time will tell.

. . . . . . . .

I plan to write about the experience here on my blog as the weeks go by, and I will be posting daily on Instagram.  I invite you to follow along if you’re interested.

100 days.  Here we go!

figuring.

I sat on the floor for a long time today, sheets of paper spread out before me, some large and some larger, jars of water, a few paints and a brush or two.  Barefoot.  Painting a little, sitting mostly.

Considering.

I made a big mess and I listened to Alicia Keys “HERE,” and I took notes: 

·      It doesn’t have to look like anything

·      There is no instruction book

·      Soften into the resistance

·      Dissonance

·      Find a new language

·      “What if love was holy and hate obscene?” ~Alicia Keys

·      Maybe I’m doing it right

·      Maybe I’m doing it wrong

·      Does it matter if I’m doing it right or if I’m doing it wrong?

And then I made a list of things I love in my work:

·      Bright colors

·      Carving into paint

·      Flowers

·      Horizons

·      Imaginary flowers

·      Vessels

·      Partial vessels

·      Spreading paint with a palette knife and making little clouds in the trailing paint

·      Color matching, color mixing, color surprising

·      Flower forms - O U V

·      Suggestions of stems

·      Drippys

·      Scribbling – back of the brush, pencils, charcoal, chalk pastels, oil pastels

·      Incorporating words

Yesterday, at the art supply store, when I went to pick up a few more yards of the primed canvas I’ve been painting on un-stretched, I fell in love with some giant Sennellier oil sticks in a whole rainbow and then some of colors.

I was drawn to their size, and their wild colorfulness.  I treated myself to two – they’re not cheap! – and I’m paying attention.  What are the oil sticks telling me? 

Sitting there on the floor, it became clear to me that the daily bravery paintings weren’t serving me.  Not the bravery part, I am craving that now, but from trying to fit myself into a box that isn’t the right size.

Maybe the paintings were too small?  Maybe my own parameters weren’t clear enough to me?  Maybe I wasn’t clear enough to me.  Do the paintings stand alone?  Are they parts of a whole?  Are they working things out?  Or part of a process?  So many questions, and I’m listening for the answers.

(Incidentally, five of the six have sold and are off to their new homes.  The fourth sits on my work table, reminding me of the power of the project.  I'm not letting it go.)

Courage.

My first gallery show was almost 10 years ago now, in a local gallery that was also an outpost of a high-end frame shop.  The gallery faced the courtyard in a fancy outdoor shopping center filled with carefully curated little boutiques and restaurants, a few benches, a fountain.  It was a spectacular location once I got comfortable with having my artwork on display for all the world to see.

I had done some framing at that shop, of my own work, and the gallerist was quite complementary of the paintings.  I didn’t tell her were mine until I went back to pick them up and I summoned every once of my courage and asked her if the gallery accepted submissions.  It turns out she was the shopkeeper AND the gallery’s curator, and she encouraged me to submit some sample images and an artist statement for consideration.  I was both thrilled and terrified at the prospect.

Thrilled – a gallery was interested in seeing more of my work!  And terrified – a gallery was interested in seeing more of my work!

I had never done anything like this – never submitted my work anywhere for consideration, never prepared images in Photoshop or burned a CD (ha!  A CD.  Remember those!?), never written an artist statement; the exercise exposed every one of my vulnerabilities, it laid me bare.  And I did it anyway.

I generally consider myself to be one of the least courageous people I know; I steer clear of the edge of the trail at all costs, literally.  I wish I had a video of us, hiking at Yosemite, with me hugging the mountain the whole way up, saying to my kids, “One day, when you tell your children about how scared I was hiking up this mountain, make sure you tell them that I did it anyway!!!”  And I did do it – hike up the mountain, and prepare that packet for that gallery.  I don’t remember the ins and outs of making the CD or writing the statement, and I don’t remember delivering the packet to the gallery, but I can summon the angst like it was yesterday.

What I do remember clearly, and now we’re getting to the crux of it, is picking my kids up from school that same day – Lucy must have been in Kindergarten, Bennett in 3rd grade – and telling them on the car ride home that I had done a brave thing.  I distinctly remember telling my children that it didn’t matter if the gallery wanted to show my paintings or not - and I think I meant it - that what mattered was that I had pushed the edge of my comfort zone, that I tried.  I think I felt brave that day.  And proud.

I have pretty much followed that hug-the-wall approach in my work since the beginning.  Create, share some, and wait for opportunity to smack me in the face so hard I fall over before doing anything about it.  There have been gallery shows and commissions and studio visits along the way – and sure, I’ve peeked around some corners looking for an opportunity from time to time, but at the end of the day I have hugged the wall, and carried on. 

And guess what?  I’m tired of that approach.  I’m tired of walking so close to the mountain, sweaty palms and pounding pulse, looking down at my own feet.  I’d like to look up for a bit, to see the horizon with its peaks and valleys, and trust that it’s all going to be ok.

A few weeks ago, Meredith Bullock announced on Instagram that she would be making a painting a day and offering it for sale right there in the app, and she invited other artists to join her.  My first reaction was, “that sounds horrible,” and that’s exactly how I knew I had to join her.

Offering my work for sale online, putting a price tag on a painting, suggesting that someone may want to buy it – those things are terribly uncomfortable for me, and I can’t say why.  I’ve sold my work in galleries and privately through my studio for years, so why is it uncomfortable for me to put the work online with a price tag?  I don’t know.  But I’m doing it, by baby steps, I’m doing it.  I’m looking up and out at the horizon, moving my body toward the center of the trail and away from the safety of the mountain.  I’m doing it.

Meredith calls them #dailybraverypaintings, and I’m following suit because that’s what they are for me – daily acts of bravery.  I’ve painted and posted four, of which three have sold, and one has not so far – and I’ll tell you a little secret, I’m most proud of myself for the one that hasn’t sold.  Not that it’s my favorite of the paintings, but knowing it’s sitting out there as an offering with a price tag, unsold, it pushes the bounds of my comfort zone.  It makes me feel brave.

Look for my daily bravery paintings here, and purchase one if the mood strikes you.  And see all of the artists embarking on this courageous endeavor here

This is how we rise.

The current state of things.

Now that I'm writing again, it's hard to imagine how I didn't write for so long; and easy to imagine slipping away from it again, though I hope I won't.  Things to say, things to say.

I made crepes for the kids for dinner tonight.  To order.  Standing at the stove with the butter and tilting the frying pan this way and that.  Egg and cheese, egg, cheese, strawberries and Nutella, Nutella, powdered sugar.  I also raised my voice, because sometimes it feels like nobody listens unless I raise my voice.  I'm not proud of it, and I apologized.

And then I ate a pan of roasted brussels sprouts, rutabaga, and onion drizzled with olive oil, salt, and lemon juice, my current obsession.  Dave and I played four games of backgammon; he one three and I won one. 

Last week I almost burned the house down; I put the kettle on to boil and forgot all about it.  I forgot so hard that when I went back to the kitchen and smelled the burning, it took me a full three minutes to figure out where the smell was coming from.  I ruined the kettle and a favorite trivet (note to self: synthetic material sizzles and stinks!) in the process, and now we have a new trivet and a new electric kettle which blessedly turns itself off when the water boils.

None of these things is in the least bit interesting except insofar as I find myself writing about uninteresting and insignificant details, something I thought I might never do again after January 20, 2017.  It feels like a victory to be ruminating on roasted rutabaga and backgammon for a few minutes, and it feels like a betrayal.

I remember saying, back in November, a few weeks after the election when the world still spun on a familiar axis, that I didn't want to be constantly disturbed and I didn't want to stop being constantly disturbed.  How is a person to live inside that tension?  Inhabit the space between reality and the absurd?  

ab•surd (adjective) wildly illogical, unreasonable, or inappropriate.

A new vocabulary.  A new approach.  Unfamiliar bearings.  Sea legs.  Fall down, get up, try again.  

Make calls; write postcards; make postcards and share them with friends; read the news; take a break from reading the news; spend less time on Facebook; listen to more music in the car and less NPR; donate more money to NPR; put senators' phone numbers on speed dial; rally; buy tag board and poster paint; talk talk talk about values at the dinner table; talk talk talk about politics at the dinner table; long for a simpler time; take up yoga; take up meditation; walk the dog around the block in double time; clean out the basement; find every opportunity to perpetrate an act of kindness; recognize acts of kindness, call them out and raise them up and celebrate them because each one is a spark in the darkness; roast vegetables; make crepes to order; raise your voice; apologize for raising your voice; wash the dishes; read a book; read a political book; read a poem; carry on; resist; persist; breathe.

Tomorrow, a word about courage.