Sometimes, social media makes me feel pretty stabbity. The last few days have been intense, with stupidity ranging from Caitlyn Jenner is not a woman to we shouldn't let refugees into our countries because TERRORISM.
I just. cannot. even.
I unfollow people who post shit like that, but that thought that we might still be connected in any way makes me itchy. I know that everyone has a right to their opinion but there are some things that I just can't abide. I won't bother hijacking someone's post to tell them how ignorant they are, because the Internet is not a place where one attempts, through shaming, to change minds and hearts. What I can do, though, is focus my attention where it will be most useful. Loving. Listening. Uplifting where I am able.
My glorious tribe is full of compassion, kindness, empathy, and love. My glorious tribe, a tribe that I've been building since 2000 when I started penning my on line diary, is glorious. My glorious tribe doesn't post shit that makes me stabbity. They inspire, uplift, offer succor, care passionately. They are a tribe of leaders-by-example. They don't crap on people for disagreeing with them. They don't practice boundary violation in their attempts to make sense of a senseless world. They hold their own.
They make me proud to be one of them.
Today, I don't want to focus on the stabbity stuff. I want to focus on how lovely my tribe is, and equally on how important it is *for me* to remember that these moments that feel somehow gross and unpure, these times in which we come face to face with our shadowy recesses, when we are triggered, when our self-righteousness rises up within us and threatens to choke off all kindness, are necessary.
They grow us. They refine us. They allow us to tend to unknown parts of self - parts that lay in wait to be discovered, and loved into the light.
Sometimes I think I am too much like the Princess & The Pea. You know the story. No matter how buffered she is against that pea, she can feel it. Pile on the mattresses, and it won't matter. That pea will still leave her bruised, and sore, and sleepless, and miserable. I have to remind myself over, and over again that I have the privilege of filtering out the things that make me stabbity - I'm so fucking lucky in that I can walk away from ignorance, hatred, rudeness. I have to remember that there are many people for whom the hatred, and ignorance, are a part of their every day existence, and that sometimes that hatred, and ignorance leads to their very death.
They can't just turn it off and walk away. They are in it, eyeball deep, and there is no escape.
So, averting my eyes *entirely* is not an option. It isn't just. I must contend with the things that hurt and bruise and wound and rend. I *must*.
But not all at once, and not all the time. Today, I'm taking a break from world to do some self-care - art, journaling, therapy at 5, a talk on the Camino with a new friend (Hi, Rosemary!). Today, I will rest my eyes on what is good. I will believe in a softer world, and lend my energy to its emergence from the mud of what is happening out there all around me right now.
Trust is a huge topic of conversation between myself and my Self. It tends to go something like this:
"But I'm shit scared!"
"Trust that whatever happens, you can handle it."
"But things could go wrong!"
"And things have gone wrong before, and yet, here you are. Alive and well."
"But he might/she could/they are..."
"Who's the boss of you? You're the boss of you. Trust you. You've got this."
Maybe this sounds familiar. Maybe as soon as that voice pipes up with "But I'm shit scared!", that's it. You freeze, or veer right or left, and go under. I get it. That was me for a long time. But freezing, or veering, or going under never got me any closer to where I wanted to be, to what I wanted to feel.
I am nothing if not brave because lately, when confronted with terror, I rush in headlong - within reason, of course. I mean, if I'm terrified to walk down a dark alley at night when I'm alone, I will probably heed that terror and seek the light. That's just common sense. But if I'm afraid to try something because I might fail, well, that fear gets put in its place and I pull up my boot straps and gird my loins and strap on the helmet of REASON and I go in like a badass.
Most of the time. But usually not until I've grappled for a good long time. Because UNCERTAINTY.
Trust, for me, is very much related to uncertainty. I crave certainty like a seed craves good soil, clean rain, and sunshine. I crave it obsessively. I crave it because I lack *trust* in myself and in life itself, and I have been given plenty of reason to lack said trust. There was a very long time there where I didn't trust my own instincts. I would often move in the very opposite direction of where my instincts were telling me to go. Usually, my instincts told me to stick with the devil I knew. Stay in the abusive relationship. Keep the shitty job. Live in the house that did not feel like home. Keep falling into the same known pitfalls rather than take a different route.
But I grew up some, and while I haven't entirely mastered the whole 'trusting my own instincts' thing, I am working on it.
Working on it is a little like flooding myself with experiences in which there is ABSOLUTELY NO CERTAINTY just so I can exercise my trust muscles. This started with my writing practice many years ago. It started with Anne Lamott's permission to write a 'shitty first draft'. She taught me that I could always edit *after*. It segued into art journaling, into letting go of the desire for perfection, pre-selected palettes, composed spreads with rules and rhyme and reason, and trusting that I could just fling paint, and keep flinging until I was happy - that it wasn't finished until I said it was.
Not bad. :) Closing the gap a bit.
Trust came into play with learning new skills, too. I had to trust that my crappy first attempts would not kill me, and that the more crap I created, the LESS crap I'd create. I had to stare down that weird face I drew - the one with the wonky eyes and mishapen lips before moving on to create ANOTHER weird face with a too long neck or too flat a head before finally creating a face that *pleased me*. I had to fill a few art journals with bad colour choices and zero understanding of composition and too much glitter (there is such a thing as too much!) and text that took up too much room or not enough before I started to fill my journals with spreads that made me really happy.
Closing that gap.
If, as a beginner, I'd needed to be absolutely certain that I'd create a perfect face every time I drew one, I'd have taken up cooking instead of art journaling, because it took a long time before I developed that kind of certainty. Many, many weird and ugly faces led to my first really pleasing one.
When we start something new, whether it's taking up a hobby or learning a language or embarking on a new adventure, we must *trust* ourselves. We must trust that we *can* learn that skill, that practice WILL make progress, that trying is WINNING and not trying is BORING.
I'm not saying it's easy, though. It isn't easy. If you're human, and you've had some life experience, you're probably shit scared most of the time where uncertainty is present. But it is possible to overcome that fear, to employ trust, to be brave. I'm living proof of that, and every time I exercise my trust by taking on uncertainty in the journal, on canvas, in my life, I grow that trust little by little.
My life (and maybe yours) resembles the creative process like crazy. Try a thing. Grapple with terror. Let things be uncertain. Rest in not knowing. See what happens. Wonder and then move in the direction of wondering with NO IDEA where it will lead. Bicker with Self, who keeps insisting that trust is key. Resist. And then when resisting is untenable and you feel like you might bust a nut if you resist any longer, surrender. Go for it. Make mistakes. Fix them. Throw out a first draft or two. Pour the gesso liberally. Erase. Let those first attempts be 'texture' and 'practice runs'. Keep going...
I'm learning to trust that I'll get where I'm supposed to be as long as I keep moving forward with my own best interests at heart.
P.S. I grow my trust muscles through intentional creativity, which I teach in Book Of Days.
Use coupon code audacious for a steep Effy style discount.
When I first began art journaling, I was very invested in being certain of what it was I was trying to create. Because I didn't know I was an artist (I really didn't), I approached art journaling as a craft. I wanted a pattern. A predetermined palette. Composition. The rule of thirds. Without some idea of where I was heading, I felt like I was bound to fail.
Over time, though, I moved into working intuitively. I started to push myself to begin without knowing where I was going to end. This was a natural progression for me, since my writing practice was very much based on this kind of 'stream of consciousness' practice. I eased in to uncertainty in the art journal as well, and now, I never really know where I'm heading when I begin.
Uncertainty in the journal has become easy. I don't have to know for certain where a spread is going to end up because I know with 100% certainty that I don't have to stop until I'm happy. I can have multiple failures, make eleventy billion mistakes, use the wrong thing at the wrong time, put something in there that doesn't quite fit - and it's all okay. It's all fixable. It's all good.
I have no idea where this is going. The end result is completely uncertain. It is admittedly a little like standing on the edge of a cliff and peering over into a vast, thick, foggy soup of nothingness. Do I dare leap?
And I am absolutely certain that I will end up with something that makes sense to me, expresses what needs expressing, looks the way I want it to...
I remember thinking, when I first began to work in this uncertain, intuitive way, that life would be a lot simpler if it were like art journaling. I had a relationship with uncertainty (and still do, if I'm being honest) that could not be called friendly. Uncertainty made/makes me extremely uncomfortable. There have been times when being uncertain has sent me spiraling into a deep pit of anxiety and even despair. I am not good at not knowing. There is no way to control the outcome when I proceed from a place of uncertainty. I want contracts and guarantees. I want to know for sure that I'm making the right choice, that I will not fail, will not lose, will not be hurt...
But all the certainty my body tells me I need is *impossible* to attain. There are no guarantees. Life doesn't come with a predetermined story arc. There is no way to know if one will get a happy ending or a tragic one. There are no contracts. There is absolutely no certainty on offer except that I will die some day. That's it. That's the only thing I get to know for sure.
And that's not very comforting for someone for whom certainty is so desperately desired.
I journal from a place of uncertainty all the time, though, so I'm learning how to be a little less anxious and a lot more open to 'what might happen if...' as a way of being in the world.
There's also a lot of 'this is what is right now' going on. And surrendering to the impossibility of knowing what the outcome might be.
I don't know that I could forge this new relationship with uncertainty without my journaling practice. Journaling is teaching me to trust myself enough to let go of the outcome. It's teaching me that no matter what, everything will be okay. It's teaching me to remember that it isn't over until it's over, and nothing is really ever over until we slip this mortal coil.
It's not a guarantee or a contract, but in those moments when uncertainty rises up like a big swarm of anxious hornets ready to sting and paralyze me, I can self-soothe with a little trip into the journal, where uncertainty is a gift that leads to beauty.
And it always, always leads to beauty.
Oh. Hello uncertainty! Let's go wherever you're taking me. I trust that we'll end up exactly where we're meant to be.
P.S. I'd love it if you'd consider joining me for Book Of Days: Mixed Tape. It starts on May 4th and it is certainly going to be awesome. :)
One of the questions I hear most often is "How do you start a journal page?"
I sit down, pick up the first thing that attracts me, and I make a mark.
Sometimes, though, my page is all gross and manky because I am not very mindful of what's happening to the other pages when I'm working on a spread, so if the gross and manky bothers me, I collage or gesso.
And then I pick up the first thing that attracts me, and I make a mark.
Composing a piece beforehand, doing preliminary sketches, choosing a colour palette - all these ways that one might prepare to create art - have their place in my practice, but generally, they don't have a place in my art journal practice. Preparation of that variety isn't useful to me when I am simply wanting to meet myself on the page.
It can interfere with the operation of my intuition. It can interrupt the flow of inspiration.
So, when I want to art journal, I just begin.
Morning pages (as taught by Julia Cameron in The Artist's Way) have been a huge influence on the way I art journal. Like Natalie Goldberg, who advocates stream of consciousness writing practice for its own sake rather than for the sake of the end result, Julia Cameron advocates writing three long hand pages of brain dump every morning to prime the artistic pump.
While art journaling is my 'primary' artistic practice with forays into canvas and other visual art forms (digital and hybrid journaling, photography and memory keeping) being supplementary, the fact is, if all I ever did was process journal (journal for the sake of it), I'd be a happy camper.
So, beginning is the most important step. That act of deciding to grab something and just go for it - that's where the juice is for me. It is empowering and thrilling and I never know where my inner artist is going to take me. It's an adventure every time.
Because this is the way I work, I keep all my supplies out in front of me or in easily accessible bins beneath my work surface. If everything was 'away', I'd never think to use any of it. I am very inspired by the array of mediums right there at my fingertips.
I live in a tiny space, though, so I've limited my 'at hand' supplies to the following:
Fluid acrylic paint
Sakura Glaze pen (black)
White paint marker
Matte medium (fluid from Liquitex because it comes in a handy bottle)
Grungey texture or text stamps
A few flesh coloured Prismacolor pencils
A few flesh coloured Copic markers
A few Gelly Rolls in favourite colours (pink, gold, green, blue)
Scraps of paper (patterned, text)
A few rolls of washi tape
A small pan of watercolour paints
A few favourite stencils
A few ink sprays
I have way more stuff than that, and I will drag it out if I really want to use it, but for the most part, having a limited collection of supplies means I can have them all out in front of me, and I can just sit down and begin.
Beginning is everything. :)
This spread began with text pages glued down in my little fauxdori because the pages were super manky. I used matte medium to do the gluing because I find that other mediums 'stick' better to matte medium than they do over gloss medium.
I spread some paint around - the first colours that called out to me - and then, as I was fiddling and swirling Nikel Azo Gold and Fine Gold, I saw the image of a bronzed face pop onto the screen of my mind. It looked like a statue to me - like a goddess...
So I grabbed some charcoal and sketched it out, elongating the face and exaggerating some of the features to really drive home 'goddess'. I added black paint to the right side of the spread because I really wanted the contrast of her bronzed appearance against a very dark background.
Then I played with shading in fluid acrylics to get the 'bronzed' look I saw in my own imagination. I think I did a pretty good job of it. :)
The rays of illumination were just an impulse, and I always obey my own impulses (unless my impulse tells me to toss the whole thing out - that I *never* do). The words came naturally, emanating out of the image itself. I did those with a Sakura Glaze pen.
The joy of spring springing up around me.
The longing for more time out of doors, and less virtual time.
The body's hunger for skin, and its equal love of solitude.
The mellow dog, the geese flying over head, the coyotes yipping in the night, the chickadees.
The blissed out tears over my daughter's wedding dress.
The sadness that I never did wear a dress like that and likely never will.
The worry for my adult children.
The relief that they are adults now and I can be flawed and human without the kind of consequences that come when one is flawed and human and still raising little ones.
The therapy. The hours and hours of self-reflection. The silent walks by the creek with questions tucked between my tongue and teeth (they rattle if I don't hold on to them).
The neighbour passing a honeycomb cut fresh from the frame across the fence.
The children playing in the yard next door, excitedly showing me their new Frisbee.
Couples meandering up and down the trail at the end of my garden, holding hands, breathing deep.
All of it.
The moments of regret that hit like a rubber hammer against the knee - jarring and stirring up reflexive reactions.
The way I have to talk myself down off the ledge of 'it will always be this scary, this uncertain' back down to 'sometimes you're scared, but mostly, you're not.' The sudden burst of social followed by the protracted period of hermity.
The cold pizza at midnight. The hot coffee at 7 a.m.
There is a quiet percolation beneath all of it - a rising up of a self I have never known. She takes it all in stride and let's it wash over her the way a breeze might. It stirs her hair, but doesn't knock her over, and yet she's light as a feather. Life is light as a feather.
There's room for all of this in my journal.
My journal can take it. It soaks up the paint and glue and ink and transforms it into proof of my existence, of my moving eternally in the direction of my longing, of my prayers. The journal is a constant where there are few. It is a vessel I can pour into and then, when I'm done, it pours back out into my eyes - always surprising me with its unexpected beauty, hidden meaning, little bits of the profound peeking out from underneath the profane. It's an inanimate object, has no life of its own, and yet it is easy to anthropomorphize it, to talk to it and stroke it as though it is the hand of a beloved friend, to look forward to meeting it for coffee and a long talk.
This is my ode to all the space it makes for me - to all the space I've made for myself to engage it.
This is my ode to my awareness of how valuable a practice this meeting myself on the page has become. It's my ode to my life's work, to my vocation.
And this is my way of beginning anew with this focus on the journal - not on canvas or on product or portraiture or whimsy. Not on the Gelli Plate or the spray inks or the Stabilo pencil or the *stuff*, but on the process.
I marry the process. I give myself up to it. I commit.
My earliest artistic influence was Natalie Goldberg, who wrote Writing Down The Bones. My journal practice, the way I am process driven instead of product driven, emerged organically from years of 'writing practice'. Writing was the way I prayed, reflected, and sat in stillness. My journal was sanctuary and my pen was a magic wand.
The same can be said of my journals now. The point of my practice is not to create pretty things for other people to look at, though that is a lovely icing on the cake. The point is simply to practice. The point is to engage the practice, to let the practice be as simple as that. Practice. Sitting with myself. Meeting myself on the page. Letting myself come through.
It's not (as I used to think) about fixing yourself. It's not about figuring yourself out or digging out all the ways you are flawed so you can eliminate them. It's not about fostering awareness as though awareness is some kind of panacea (it's not). It's about accepting was comes through. It's about accepting what is. It is about seeing the beauty in it, (in you), flaws and all.
Practice makes presence. There's room in the journal for that.
I've been mostly alone since March 25th with a few breaks in my solitude for social time. The journal has been my constant companion. Everything got poured into it from my initial panic at knowing that my best friend would be gone for THREE WHOLE WEEKS to my surprise when that didn't, as I expected, utterly slay me. It made room for some dark stuff I was going through with one of my kids. It made room for celebrating a beautiful thing that was said to me in the moment I needed most to hear it. There was space for musings about memory and the clock in us that makes time feel like friend or foe depending on the context. There was room for mindless doodling and self-soothing.
I'm over starting every post with "The One In Which..."
It was fun for a while but it started feeling a bit limiting. It was a trick I used to get myself blogging again after feeling like blogging was too much work, and it helped A LOT but I don't need it anymore. Besides, "The One In Which I Talk About Artsy Restlessness" isn't exactly rolling off the tongue today.
I posted a vlog two weeks ago in which I talked about impostor syndrome. I had all these feelings about not being good enough to do what I do. So many teachers put up images of absolutely perfectly beautiful work. It's like everything springs out of them fully formed and absolutely gorgeous.
Most of my peers in the on line journaling/mixed media art world were artists before they started teaching. That is not the case with me. I was a writer before I started art journaling, and art journaling was something I took on so I could unblock myself as a writer. I didn't ever dream (or even imagine) that I would teach art journaling. I didn't ever even want to be a visual artist.
I came to art as a rank beginner in 2009 and dove into teaching because, essentially, someone dared me to. It was accidental - or maybe serendipitous - and it was entirely unexpected.
This means that I STILL spend a lot of time feeling like what I want to create and what I'm capable of creating are just not jiving right now. I *do* feel good about how I have progressed over the years. I do see great progress in my skills. I do feel proud of how much I have learned and how I've integrated all I've learned into my own personal art practice. I feel really good about the content I create in terms of how well it facilitates ART as PRACTICE. I am very proud of the writing I do in the classes I teach - especially Book Of Days. I like my classes and if I weren't teaching them, I'd want to take them.
But I am also painfully aware of how much better I think everyone else is at the ART part of what I do.
Yes, expressive, and yes, done, but HOT MESS!
I have a few personal mantras that get me through those periods of time when I feel like I'm utterly deluded and should just pack it all in. One of them is "Enthusiasm counts" by which I mean that my enthusiasm for my chosen art form (art journaling) counts as a valuable contribution to the arena. Another is "Done is better than perfect". I pull this one out especially in reference to the weekly spreads I create for Book Of Days because sometimes I create a hot mess, and I have to cut myself some slack. Weekly spreads are easy if you're not ALSO editing, filming, creating screen shots, writing accompanying 'step-by-step' instructions, and formulating musings to go with the post. The fact is, sometimes I create something I'm not fond of, but I have to get it up there, so I have learned to live with these problem children that spring from my creative loins.
I think it's good for me. It's an antidote to perfectionism to throw up work I'm not crazy about and say WHATEVER ELSE HAPPENED THIS WEEK, I MADE SOMETHING! TA DA!
But the whole "It's about practice, not product" line is starting to getting old. I'm getting restless. I want to feel as good about the art part as I do about the self-inquiry part, the practice part, the encouraging part.
I want to love my art.
This week, I've been asking myself a lot of questions about symbols and meaning. I'm building a library of things I find beautiful and meaningful on Pinterest. I think of it as seeding the mud. The mud is my subconscious, from whence all art comes. The seeds are images, symbols, palettes - inspiration.
Right now I'm collecting things and I'm working up the nerve to start doing sketches of things - working out how to get these symbols into my own paintings in a way that pleases me.
This seems a bit counterintuitive to me at the moment because there's a voice in my head saying JUST PAINT - but I *also* know that a part of my restlessness comes from feeling like I'm in an art rut. I use the same images over and over again - mostly faces. Occasionally a tree. Bird stamps. I need to have a better stocked library of personal imagery to work with before I can "JUST PAINT' because otherwise, I'm just painting the same old thing over and over and THAT is BORING ME TO DEATH! *lol*
Two days ago, I was all about birds and especially women with birds. Today it was 'fish' which led to 'Koi'. It feels like I'm learning my own internal language, and that's helping the restlessness a lot. It's also helping me to feel like I'm *doing* something to close the gap between what I want to create and what I'm capable of creating.
When you want a thing, it is extremely important to begin moving in the direction of that thing. Otherwise, I find myself getting bogged down in impostor syndrome and stinkin' thinkin' and other poisons. I can't really call myself an impostor when I'm actively moving towards having a greater personal library of symbols to work with, can I? I mean, I'm doing the work.
That makes me a real artist.
If you're doing the work, you're a real artist, too.
I'm an apprentice artist, for sure. I'm a beginner artist. I'm a baby artist. But that doesn't mean I'm *not* an artist. It means I *am* an artist.