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.

 

2.14.17

I stopped at my beloved local flower shop this morning on my way to the studio.  It’s Valentine’s Day and I’m finding it hard to muster the love. 

I had already cut out a pan of heart-shaped brownies and given my kids their annual Godiva chocolate boxes, and last night’s dinner was all shades of red (purple cauliflower!  mashed sweet potatoes!), but I’m not feeling it this year.  So I stopped by the flower shop to soak up a little beauty and inspiration, and to spread some cheer in the form of those heart-shaped brownies. 

The shop was full of blossoms and goodness, and it was an instant lift to stand there among flower artists and their stunning medium.  Two gentlemen came in to buy flowers while I was there, and the simple act of bearing witness to their intended gestures of love was uplifting.  I bought an entire bucket of tulips.

I told my friend Ellen, the shop’s proprietor, about my struggle to find meaning in my work these days.  She related and we laughed about how we both sell flowers.  Ellen’s are grown from the local ground and arranged into stunning bouquets and mine are painted on paper in response, but it’s not a stretch to say that we both use flowers to bring light - in the form of joy, goodness, beauty, hope and possibility - into the world.

At it’s very essence – and if this is too much woo-woo for you, I understand because it’s almost too much woo-woo for me – I see myself as a light worker, my work as spreading the gospel of light – of hope and joy and possibility and the opportunity to choose those things in this world.  I’ve seen this light seeking and spreading as my work for a few years now, and it’s manifest in my paintings and in my writing and in my daily goings on with family and friends and the person in line next to me at the market and the cashier and the mailman and my neighbor and her dog.  My work is about being the light – about embodying it and reflecting it back into the world around me.  

It’s not easy work, this light seeking spreading sharing thing I’m fumbling around trying to describe - it requires tons of self-care and attention, and in a darkening world it’s exponentially harder.  I have to work harder to find the light; I have to work harder to shine the light; I have to work harder to share the light with others, all the while knowing that the work is more important than ever.  So I push on.

But how?

How do I talk about paintings in this moment of political and social turmoil?  How do I shout cheerfully from the rooftops that there are prints for sale?!  How do I even make pleasing pictures of flowers when I can hardly see goodness through the fog?  How do I begin to convince you that you need artwork on your walls when I’d rather you donate those dollars to help protect and defend the organizations we believe in?  How do I push on?

And how do I not? 

I am horrified by the notion of a world without beauty, it sucks the wind right out of me.  Without color or joy or laughter or light, it’s not a world I want to live in, and so I keep painting.  I keep showing up to the work and pushing on and making artwork that says there is hope and beauty and goodness in this world, there is something bigger than this moment.  I keep sharing my paintings with you because they are made to be shared, to be seen, to be reflected back into the world.  I keep digging deep for the light and buying myself the whole bucket of tulips when it seems that nothing else will work.

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There is light in each of us.  Find yours, reflect it back into the world, shine what you can on our neighbor and your sister and the stranger in line next to you in the market.  Let your light ignite another if you can.

This is how we rise.

postcards.

In this moment in time when my telephone-shy self has made peace with calling my representatives, and my crowd-averse self has been rallying, I've made some postcards to send to Washington, and I'd love to share them with you.  

There are several different designs for the front - in addition to what you see here, there is: PERSIST, BE A LIGHT, and PROGRESS IS FOR EVERYONE.  

If you have a suggestion for another, I'd love to hear it.  Positive messages only, please.  

And they all have the same back:

 

If you'd like some postcards, simply send me an email (there's a nifty button over on the left) with your mailing address and I'll send an assortment your way.  In return, you agree to send them to your representatives or to the White House or to whomever you feel needs to hear your message.  

This is how we rise.

Let the work speak.

If you are an artist or a maker, how do you use your art or craft to speak?  I've been thinking hard about this lately.

As artists and makers, does all of our work speak in one way or another?  

I think about my friends who make small-batch clothing or beauty products, or dye with natural materials or do local flower design and I can see - literally - the connection between their clothing/moisturizer/bouquets and a statement of some sort, whether it’s slow fashion or buying local or waste reduction or the elimination of harmful materials, for example.

Visual art speaks too, but it’s different.  What I’m thinking about or exploring when I’m painting isn’t necessarily what you see when you look at my painting, or at a sculpture or a weaving or any other work of visual art.  (And maybe that’s true for my maker friends too - maybe everybody doesn’t see the supply chain when they look at a vase of flowers.)  The viewer certainly thinks or feels or sees something when looking at a visual artwork, but does it matter whether what the viewer sees is what the artist intended?

These questions have been on my mind for a long time, and I’ve often said that I have a story to tell in words that lives beside my paintings.  This has never been more true then it is today, this week, lately, as I struggle to find meaning in the aftermath of a shift in our society that has, quite honestly, shaken the foundation of everything I believe in.

I have long felt that my work is about light; about bringing light into a darkening world, about seeing through a lens of possibility, about opening to joy and hope.  My flowers, brightly colored and bold, I hope say, “this is the light, this is what is possible, join me in looking at the world this way.”  My horizon paintings, entirely similar and altogether different, speak of endlessness, a vast opening, of possibility.  This has been my work these last ten years - flowers and horizons and possibility and light.

And now.  

It is as though I thought we were speaking one language and suddenly we are speaking another.  I find myself looking for a different kind of meaning in my work in recent weeks.  What is it that I want to say?  I’m finding a whole new vocabulary, a whole new language, as though I'm starting from scratch.  Can I still make paintings of brightly colored flowers?  What do those brightly colored flowers say?  And how am I using my work to speak my truth in the world?

As I approach painting in the last few weeks with a different world view, my perspective shifted, with dramatically different imagery on my mind and coming out of my brush, I'm feeling a total unfamiliarity about where I go from here - as though starting from an entirely new beginning.  Suddenly I feel an urgency – I want my work to roar.  It's not enough to make pretty pictures anymore and hope the viewer find solace inside and maybe some meaning, suddenly I want my paintings to shout about action and human interaction, I want to tell stories of hope that jump off the page.  I want to paint about justice and love and kindness towards other human beings.  I want to shout from the paper, not whisper.  I want to bang down doors.  And I don't know how to do that yet.  So I draw flowers and I cover them over with paint.  I draw rudimentary female reproductive organs and I layer on top of them, erasing them too.  I write JUSTICE over and over in charcoal and paint.  LIBERTY and ACT, too.  I write my senator’s phone number in the middle of the canvas with a big fat brush and magenta paint.  I cover it all over again and find another flower form in the wet paint.  I'm going to have to move to painting on canvas or panel soon because the paper just won't hold all of these layers of paint as I figure out how to do my work in this new world.

This is how we rise.