Sweetness & Madness

Sweetness & Madness

In Book Of Days this month, we're working with the word 'sweetness'. And by 'working', I mean, we're tearing it down, poking at all of our feelings about it and what it stands for, invoking the good stuff through our art, ridding ourselves of the negative associations as best we can.

Sweetness is loaded with significance. For some, it means 'saccharine'. For some, it means 'weak' and 'doormat'. For some it means naivete. For some, it means exactly what it says - sweetness - with no subtext.

I'm not one of the latter. I struggle with sweetness - with my desire for it as a quality both in myself and in my life, and with the opposition to it that I feel in almost equal measure. Sweetness is vulnerable. Sweetness gets you taken advantage of. Sweetness can't be trusted. Sweetness is risky.

But I still want it. I still want to embody it. I don't necessarily want to eschew all else in favour of it. It's not an all or nothing proposition. But it feels like it is sometimes. Like, if I embrace my sweetness (and it is in here somewhere buried underneath all the armour and bitterness and abject terror), I'll lose my resilience, or my boundaries, or my righteous anger.

I don't know where that comes from. I suspect conditioning. I half laughingly blame Disney and those princess movies of my youth (they got better, but too late for me!). Sweet and demure and in need of rescue. Sweet and in peril that only the prince can prevent.

The struggle, I think, is with how much I prefer feeling sweetness rising in me vs. armour or hardness. I love my sharp wit, my sarcastic sense of my humour, my ability to give as good as I get in a healthy session of mutual teasing, but I also love  my ability to melt into a puddle of unconditional love. I love the way my eyes open wide and my pupils dilate when witnessing someone - really seeing them. I become a portal through which their experiences and feelings may enter my body so that I, too, can hold what's happening. I love that side of myself, but I mistrust it lately because it *hurts* when you are that soft, that sweet, and it isn't reciprocated. It's also a true thing that some people see that kind of openness as an invitation to get their stuff all over you without even bothering to ask if you're okay to be there in that moment.

Sweetness, yes. I want it. To feel it. To experience it. The trick, I think, is balancing it with boundaries. The trick, I think, is choosing your self even in choosing sweetness. Who has proven safe to be sweet with? Who will not take advantage of your softness? Who will respect you when you have to say "enough, please..." so that you can breathe again? Who will return sweetness with sweetness?

The world is maddening right now. There's so much against which I fear I must harden or die, but there is something in me that is insisting I not do that, and I'm listening. I'm not necessarily succeeding in staying soft, in welcoming in sweetness. I am wary. I am weary. I am aware of the madness that is happening outside my door. How do I witness, how do I let that all that in and meet it with sweetness?

One story, one pair of eyes, one moment, one heart, one day at a time.

Grief, Anger, & Whiplash {Trigger Alert}

Grief, Anger, & Whiplash {Trigger Alert}

I wrote recently about wanting to be soft.

This is a struggle for me because I don't yet know how to be soft AND have healthy boundaries. I seem to swing between extreme poles of so soft I'm leaking life force all over the place, and allowing (and even welcoming) boundary violations, or so hard nothing can get in and nothing can get out. I'm either melting, Dali-esque, all over my own life, or I'm a brick wall of fuck you.

Anger is hard for me. It feels so unseemly. I don't think I'm alone in this, either, and when I asked my peeps on Facebook how they felt about anger, I got some confirmation that some people - especially women - really struggle with expressing anger at all.  Many of them shared their fears about expressing (or even feeling) anger. To summarize, it is the experience of many women than some men seem to feel entitled to a world in which they don't ever have to experience a woman's anger. They call it a 'turn off'. It is obviously 'unattractive', and we all know that women exist to be ornamental paragons of all things bright and beautiful. They call us crazy. Turn on the gaslight. They demonize it. They think it is an indicator of mental illness. They beat us for it. The belittle us for it. They abandon us for it. It's no fucking wonder women have trouble expressing anger.

TRIGGER ALERT FOR CHILD ABUSE AND DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

I am pretty sure that most of what I am healing from lately is rooted in having been raised to be quiet, good, nice, docile, ornamental, undemanding, sexually yielding, and eternally full of nothing but praise, and gratitude for my keepers. Obviously, I failed to live up to these expectations. I have been estranged from my mother since my teens. My step-father (a self-professed rageaholic when I knew him) could not tolerate anger in others *at all ever*. I was berated for anger. I was beaten for anger. (Hairbrush, wooden spoon, and once, I had my head slammed into the door jamb so hard that parents took me to emergency, but made me lie about why I was there. I 'fell' into the door jamb, don't you know.). One of my mother's lovers orally raped me for using the word "BITCH" in anger against someone who stole something from me. I was six. In terms of my adulthood, I've had men lunge at me in a threatening manner, which never fails to shut me up. I had my finger broken once. I've had my things destroyed in front of me. One guy urinated all over my journals when I expressed anger over his lack of consideration for my privacy. When expressing anger over having been cheated on (he slept with my sister), I was beaten and choked to the point of having subconjunctival hemorrhages in both eyes. While I was five months pregnant. That guy did time.

This utter suppression of anger has had far reaching consequences, but the one I want most to share with you is this: If I feel angry, I always feel subsumed by a combination of shame and terror that I think of as 'shameterror'.

So, the pendulum swings. Anger leads to shameterror, and that leads to a desire to melt into softness *where I should not be soft*. The desire to be soft that I wrote about when last I typed is almost never, as I believed, about wanting to feel better. It is about wanting to be safe from the consequences of feeling, and expressing anger. It is about trying to escape the anger/shame/terror spiral.

Grief comes with anger. This is the point I'm trying to make here. This is a huge part of my current struggle, my 'not wellness', my unease.

I have had intense protracted grief for much of my life. Yes. That long. The grief is the result of a complex pile on of losses that I will not recount here, but trust me. It's a big, 40 some odd year old festering pile. It grew, over the years, into a kind of tower of precariously balanced things - think Jenga. I was functional. I was numbed out, and my tower was leaning, and swaying like a drunk, but I was functional. If grief induced anger threatened, like a storm on the horizon, I did everything I could to control it. I self-injured. I self-medicated. I *smiled*. I went soft, like a possum - played dead to the anger, and hoped the coyote would move on. When my ability to suppress was exhausted, I had tantrums, hurt myself, wrecked my *own* things, but as quickly as I humanly could, I shoved a lid back on it, swallowed it down, and apologized like my life depended on it.

"Anger-turned-inward", I realized a few years ago, leads to depression, and one day I woke up knowing that it was time to come to grips with my history, so I went looking for, and found the world's best transpersonal psychotherapist. At least, that's my opinion after three years of meeting with her once a week.

As a very important aside: I could never afford it before, but my business made it possible. You, my loves, you made it possible, so I just want to acknowledge that right here before I continue.

Feel that? It's me hugging you in gratitude. Thank you.

Therapy is a little like a game of Jenga. At least, that's the metaphor that's felt most relevant to me lately. I have been pulling piece after piece after piece of the puzzle out of this dizzy, crazy tower of 'barely functional' out of place. I have been lining the pieces up before me like trophies. I rate the fucking things. This was a hard piece. That was an obvious piece, This piece came out of the blue.

So, you know what happens when you pull pieces out of a Jenga tower?

The tower is coming down. There are pieces of me everywhere. I am dancing with anger. I am confronting the shame. I am saying what's true, often without apologizing - not always, but often.

I have whiplash, though. Because I crave softness. I want to go limp. I want to flop over on my back and give a little shudder of surrender. Being angry & being safe has never been possible in my life. Never. It has always come with consequences, so I have a built in switch to 'soft' when anger means abandonment, being disliked, being beaten, being intimidated, being gaslighted, being labeled.

And I still want softness. I still aspire to it as a virtue I would like to embrace, but I've changed my thinking on the kind of softness I want. I still want to be soft, but I want to be self-respecting in my softness. I want to be soft, but I want to be self-protective. I want to be soft, but I want to be soft for the right reasons, with the right people, under the right circumstances. I want to be soft like this:

The trick is to hold the space for two things at once- a deep belief in everyone’s possibilities, and a deep regard for your own well-being. It’s okay to pray for everyone’s liberation without joining them in prison. Pray from outside the prison walls, while taking exquisite care of yourself. It's okay- you can't do the work for them anyway. Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries… don’t leave home without them." ~ Jeff Brown

But before I can do that, I *must* let myself be angry. I must find people who can be witness to and hold space for my anger. Otherwise, this is just another fucking bypass, and the whiplash between overwhelming anger/shame/terror & playing dead will continue.

Thanks for listening.

"Pieces of Me that I lost that you stole" Mixed media on paper.

"Pieces of Me that I lost that you stole" Mixed media on paper.

P.S. I am honoured to be collaborating with Karina B. Heart as a guest in her workshop on personal and collective grief. I will be sharing art journaling techniques for working with grief in the latter part of the workshop. For more information, please click here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Exist When No One Is Looking

I Exist When No One Is Looking

The art I've scattered throughout this post is stuff I've done since I moved into my new apartment. It's here so I can break up all the text, but I also want to show off a bit. :)

03.02.16I've been working on having less of a reflexive 'on Facebook all the time' kind of life, and more of a 'in my life without a screen between me and it' kind of life. It's been going well in that I my laptop lives in a corner of my living room, and when I feel like maybe I should mindlessly surf Facebook, I go stand in front of my easel instead. It's still a kind of screen time, but instead of engaging a screen full of curated and/or triggering posts and invitations to my inner comparison monster to come out and play, I engage the screen of my mind - that space in my head that opens up onto my internal landscape when I close my eyes.

Those of you who know me know that things have been rather challenging for me for the last few years. I hung on to some things I shouldn't have (a relationship that wasn't right for me no matter how right I believed it was), let go of some things I shouldn't have (self-respect, a vision of myself as capable, self-care, being in my own life), and adjusted and adapted as necessary - sometimes in ways that served me, and sometimes in ways that didn't. I'm coming out on the other side of all this now - slowly, laboriously, and with much therapy - but I am still not out of the woods. I'm still in love with someone who isn't ready/willing to partner me, BUT I don't reach out to him every second of every day anymore, and in fact, I'm about to embark on a two month blackout with him - no contact - to see if I can move my heart a tick closer to letting go for good.

03.04.16There's a lot of shame in all this. There's nothing more pathetic than a woman who can't let go of a man that doesn't want her - at least, that's what my inner mean girl tells me. My therapist would argue that I've been fed so many mixed messages that it is no bloody wonder I find it difficult to move on, and I know this to be true in my head, but my innards are very self-denigrating about the whole thing - so much so that I find it enormously difficult to be open about it. Loving someone who OBVIOUSLY LOVES YOU but doesn't want to be with you except in the most casual, uncommitted way is hard enough without adding the judgement of others to the pile on that is an already craptacular situation, so I went dark, for the most part, and that made writing hard. It made arting hard. It was/is isolating. It sucked mooseballs.

Open is better.

So, this is me. Coming out with it in the hopes that I can come back to writing in a way that serves me.

03.04.16.2I'm in love with someone - and have been for twelve years - despite the fact that this guy wants nothing to do with a long term, committed relationship - not because he's an asshole but because he has issues he can't grapple with within the context of a long term committed relationship - and I am ashamed about it. I am ashamed about it, and I've been mean to myself about it. I've been fighting for this relationship since March of 2013 - the first time he broke up with me - and instead of holding my head high and moving on, I have been holding on, nursing hope, waiting (sometimes patiently, sometimes not so patiently), cycling in and out of all the various stages of grief...

I want you to understand where I'm at right now:

I want to get on with it. I want to forget him. I want to move on. I want to heal. I don't want to be subject to the highs and lows that come with mixed messages and unrequited feelings. I want to be firmly planted in my own life. I want to know that I exist even when he isn't looking. I want to orbit my own sun.

That's where I am right now, and no, this doesn't seem to have anything at all to do with art journaling or mixed media art, but in truth, it has everything to do with it. It has everything to do with the way I started to get bigger and shinier and more likely to stand up for myself once I started to run my own business and connect with myself through self-inquiry and art. Even though I have this shitty inner mean girl who tells me I suck and I should be ashamed, the truth is the opposite. I have been working on this at my own pace with the help of my therapist, and I have not fallen apart. I have not quit my business. I have not stopped taking care of myself. I have not collapsed in a heap of useless. I have dealt with a continuous game of 'come here, go away' for *twelve years* with grace. I have stood up for what's best for our family for *twelve years*. I have been present to the people I love to the best of my ability for *twelve years*. As life threw me curve balls - my father's death, losing my hobbit hole - I rose to the occasion. I have been there to take phone calls from kids in crisis. I have *shown up*.

And I'm still here.

IMG_5038

wk10.2 - 1So, yes. I have some shame about loving someone who is fundamentally bad for me. But I am easing gently into pride over how I keep making and remaking my life in the face of some pretty outrageous challenges. I have friends who know the whole truth about what I've been dealing with and they are a little bit freaked that I'm not completely batshit. They are a little bit in awe of my resilience. And I am, too. I wonder sometimes if I'm just going to fall apart one of these days, completely, irrevocably - but I don't think I will. I think I'll keep meeting life from a place of deep peace. I think I'll keep on rising to whatever occasion presents itself. I'll keep writing curriculum. I'll keep making art. I'll keep investing in myself. I'll keep doing my dishes and walking my dog and taking care of myself.

I'll keep on keeping on, but here's a thing I need: I need to be able to talk about it. I need to stop avoiding the blog because I feel ashamed. I need to come out of the closet.

Yes, I picked a Sunday to do so. No one reads blogs on Sunday, right? It's okay, though. I did this for me. I did this so I could get back on the horse. Writing is important to me. It feeds my creative spirit. It jump starts my art practice. It is something I *need* so that I can continue the good work of healing.

IMG_5023My life is a beautiful mess. It is not a curated show for the masses. I'm not here to sell you my lifestyle so you'll buy my classes. I have nothing easy to offer you or promises to make. I'm in it, and some days it feels like shit's creek and other times it feels like sanctuary.

However it feels, I want to be willing to meet myself where I am, both here and in the pages of my art journal, my written journal, on canvas.

I want to know I exist when no one is looking. I want to learn how to orbit my own sun.

Your eyes on this page are all the encouragement I need. Thank you.

 

cowlegend - 1

My first painting for Color of Woman training with Shiloh Sophia.

 

 

 

 

Permission To Suck

Permission To Suck

When I started knitting, I didn't start out knitting granny squares. I started with socks, because there is a force within me that says "If you master the hardest thing first, everything else will feel easy."

It took me several months to master socks, and I got to the point where I could, without a pattern, knit up a sock, gusset included, on double pointed needles, in a matter of a few days. I could knit knee high socks and crew socks, and pretty much any kind of sock you can imagine. I could add cables to my socks, too. I slayed socks. Socks became my thing.

Socks taught me lace because lots of the socks out there have lace as part of the pattern, so for a while there, I knit lace shawls.

I wish I had pictures, but they went with an old laptop that died. Trust me. I could knit, and I was right. Having mastered socks, I could knit pretty much anything. (more…)

Permission To Suck

Permission To Suck

When I started knitting, I didn't start out knitting granny squares. I started with socks, because there is a force within me that says "If you master the hardest thing first, everything else will feel easy."

It took me several months to master socks, and I got to the point where I could, without a pattern, knit up a sock, gusset included, on double pointed needles, in a matter of a few days. I could knit knee high socks and crew socks, and pretty much any kind of sock you can imagine. I could add cables to my socks, too. I slayed socks. Socks became my thing.

Socks taught me lace because lots of the socks out there have lace as part of the pattern, so for a while there, I knit lace shawls.

I wish I had pictures, but they went with an old laptop that died. Trust me. I could knit, and I was right. Having mastered socks, I could knit pretty much anything. (more…)

The Year Of The Blog

The Year Of The Blog

I want 2014 to be the year I blog my face off. I want to be back in touch with my soul. I want to shed the armour I built up in 2012 & 2013. I want to extract all the thorns I've been wearing for self-protection. I want to let them fall to the ground. I want to risk. I want to be open. I want to trust. I want to write when the spirit moves me to write without feeling like I'm walking a tight rope of propriety or non-offensiveness or TMI.

Fuck the fear of writing, of self-revelation. It gets me no where. It gives me a headache. It renders me voiceless and small and dull and boring.

I declare 2014 'The Year Of The Blog". I will be coming in here often and with no holds barred. I will be venting my spleen and waxing poetic. I will share my art and my process. I will share my dreams and my fears. I will share my disappointments and my triumphs. I'm not interested in having a 'niche blog' that only covers mixed media art. *Yawn*. I'm not interested in using my blog to 'market' myself. I'm interested in using my blog for self-inquiry. I'm interested in writing because writing is good for me. I'm interested in connection, in being out there, in dreaming out loud.

It's what I do best.

***

I have nothing earth shattering to begin with today, though, so sorry for the anti-climax. Hah! I started the New Year off with a gorgeous spread for Moonshine, and then I sat down to play in Life Book. (Snapshots below!) I did a bunch of written journaling that helped me really nail down what my word of the year (EASE) means to me and how to go about getting more of that into my life. I made a huge pot of homemade beef stew and a loaf of French bread in my new bread maker (oh my god, fresh bread!). I tidied. I puttered. I planned.

Moonshine 2014 #1 - The Open Door

Life Book 2014 Warm Up

1 warm up

Life Book 2014 Lesson #1 (In Progress)

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It's been really cold here. We open the door to let the dogs out, and BLAST! Icy wind comes barreling through the house like a runaway train. The air feels hostile and it hurts to breathe. The ice storm we had Christmas week took out one of our beloved trees, and the backyard looks like a tornado hit it, what with all the fallen branches all over the place. It's been too damned cold to get out there to do anything about it, so we've left it there, looking sad and ruined.

I have to venture out today, and I'm grumpy about it. It's therapy day (every Friday at 1!) and I don't drive, so I'll be bundling up in layers for a walk. I'm hoping my nose doesn't run because I HATE THAT and I'm planning on treating myself to a manicure when I'm done. Then home to heat up leftovers for dinner and get some more work done.

***

My inner landscape is weird lately. I had to make some difficult decisions over the holidays that left me feeling like I shut the door on adventure and fun. I opted for rooted and comfortable instead. There is a sense of relief over this choice because it is totally in alignment with what I need right now, but there's grief, too, because letting go is never easy even when we know it's the best possible choice we can make. Despite this grief, despite the regret, I am content. I have eased into being at peace with the life I've chosen. I've fully embraced my desire for uncomplicated, for no stress, for home base, for the devils I know. Being here, now. Being in it and fully committed with no 'outs' or 'ifs' or 'buts' or 'maybes'.

Here. Now.

In this life I'm making.