We had a ferry incident yesterday: the Tacoma (pictured here) unexpectedly lost propulsion just before coming into the Bainbridge harbor and had to be towed into the dock. So ferry service was temporarily suspended, and when it was restored we were down to only one boat.
No lives were lost, but a LOT of people were inconvenienced, with a fairly predictable balance of good and bad reactions. On the good side, neighbors were scurrying to care for children and pets of islanders who were stuck in Seattle, some even drove boats over to pick up friends and family, and lots of people were posting updates.
On the bad side, there was apparently a lot of squabbling in the ferry line, particularly among the bikers who are used to getting priority loading. But by loading on the extra piles of waiting bikers, other passengers -- walk-ons and cars -- were limited because the ferry is only permitted to carry as many people as can be accommodated by its life-rafts.
The difference -- as always -- between good and bad reactions in situations such as these seems always to stem from the ability -- or inability -- to see that others' needs are just as valid as our own; to look beyond our own challenges to the common good. The willingness to share information and resources; to help others; to patiently await your turn; to look beyond our own trials to see and comprehend the difficulties of others... all, I think, are hallmarks of the kinder, gentler civilization our community likes to believe it is. But the aggressiveness and entitlement issues remain, and I find myself wondering: will humans ever be able to evolve past that? And how can we help that happen?
Bathed in light
we raise our heads
slowly from the sand;
great lumbering beasts,
following the scent of the sea.
Hatched from the caverns of the earth,
we lift each limb,
the suction of the past,
struggling to become
more fully seen,
more fully known.
The door to my studio is actually a dutch door, left over from the days when it was a daughter's bedroom and she needed to keep our dog out due to allergies. I generally leave the upper half of the door open and the lower half shut -- again, to keep the dog out, as he has a way of parking himself underfoot and inhibiting movement.
Yesterday I had finished this painting except for glueing down the collaged bits, and had set it down on a table to stop the drips and let it dry. I came back in the evening to discover one of our cats (who are not in any way restrained by the threat of a dutch door) had leapt onto the table -- presumably in pursuit of food -- and landed on the painting, dragging a claw-sized streak of white across its width and impelling the loose papers off into some never-never land of paint, paper, dropcloths, towels, etc.
I did manage to repair the damage. But you know (and I had had ample opportunity to discover this on Saturday as well, stuck in a hellish traffic jam in full sunlight in the city until well past suppertime with no food or water in the car) that you are not as serene and centered as you'd like to think you are when such relatively small provocation sends you into paroxysms of frustration. And, in fact, you can kind of see from this painting that my life lately has perhaps been a bit busier than I might prefer.
So please -- don't ever get the sense that I am "holier than thou." I've just lucked into a relatively serene environment so I have the luxury of spending lots of time relaxed and calm. I figure my job is to share as much of that calm as I can; to spread the wealth around a bit -- and to be honest about the fact that it's circumstances more than temperament that allow me to be as generally tranquil as I appear to be...
Once a young woman said to me,
"How does it feel to be a man?"
And I replied, "My dear, I am not so sure."
Then she said, "Well, aren't you a man?"
And this time I responded,
"I view gender as a beautiful animal
that people often take for a walk
and might enter into some odd contest
in hopes of winning a strange prize."
My dear, a better question would have been,
"How does it feel to be a heart?"
For all I know is love,
and I now find my heart infinite, and everywhere.
"In a way, I see [making music] as a spiritual
thing, where people are all connected in a certain way—music being a way
to connect people. There are a lot of other ways, too, but music is one
You can connect people who know how to make music (musicians) with
people who don’t (audiences), and they can both deal with it if the
music has a quality that communicates. That’s the challenge for the
composer, performer, improvisor: to create music that does that, that
It seems to me that every truly remarkable advancement, every truly creative act, is born, not just of desire, but of the combination of desire and frustration. The child learns to vocalize because he's hungry, or wet, and that situation is not automatically resolving itself. She stands and begins to walk because she wants to get somewhere and crawling isn't fast enough.
The inventor creates something new because she's dealing with a problem which can't be solved by familiar means. The artist's strokes of genius arise because something within him desires to be seen, or known, or heard and habitual patterns can't seem to express that effectively.
So it is, in fact, the intensification of the conflict between frustration and desire, and the anguish that tension triggers, that somehow ignites the creative spark that impels us into something new.
Welcome, then, those situations and limitations which look like insurmountable blocks: they may be just what your heart needs to bring some new wonderment into the world...
and say nothing that is not true.
It's afternoon. We need to be quiet
for a while. Speaking would be
such an orchard to walk in,
if we could do it
without alphabet and sounds,
these stories and images and conversations
through which we try to show
the inner life..."
Don't berate yourself
for being a little slow
to figure things out.
Life's a complex path:
don't be afraid
to take your time.
You might even consider
crawling back into your shell --
just for a bit --
when things get
No-one can tell you
what is real,
or what is beautiful:
you need to touch it for yourself.
Follow your eye where it is drawn to go.
Let the flesh at your fingertips assess:
a cheek, a flower,
the fuzz upon a peach --
each has its own story to tell,
for your ears only.
Drink it in,
both real and artificial
and let the heart respond
as it likes.
What the artist adds to nature
comes also from the heart.
It's been a wild and crazy week, what with our 30th anniversary and my 65th birthday coming back to back: it feels like we've been celebrating for days! So it was lovely to hear that my husband had three local meetings to attend last night: I went to dinner with a friend, and then curled up in my favorite rocker on the deck, holding a good book and a handful of chocolate amaretto rainier cherries and keeping my camera close by in case of another good sunset (I missed the last one).
The temperature was perfect, the cherries were delicious, the breeze was cool, the book was fun and the sky cooperated by offering some gorgeous colors to feed my soul. How can I be other than grateful for all these blessings?
Before I paint, I need to gesso my canvases. Normally people use white gesso, but a few months back I bought some black gesso out of curiosity, wondering what difference it might make if I start with a black canvas rather than a white one (here's a current unfinished example).
And I find that I enjoy the dark canvas more: that the work that flows onto it feels more me, that I am less tempted to follow patterns set by other artists, and that -- well, it's just fun!
All of which made more sense, somehow, when I read this Rilke poem this morning:
You darkness, that I come from I love you more than all the fires that fence in the world, for the fire makes a circle of light for everyone and then no one outside learns of you. But the darkness pulls in everything: shapes and fires, animals and myself, how easily it gathers them -- powers and people -- and it is possible a great energy is moving near me. I have faith in nights.
Remember that old TV show, Queen for a Day? That's how I've felt the last couple of days -- not the "clap if you think her life is terrible" part but the "showered with riches" part.
It's mostly because my paintings were juried in to two different art shows this week, which is a wonderful affirmation after that rejection I received last month. But people have just been really kind to me the last few days -- you know how that can go in cycles which don't seem to be related to anything -- and it's been... well... lovely.
But it seems really easy to allow a string of good days and successes to seduce us, not just into thinking, "Ah, at last I have arrived," but, more importantly, into looking for affirmation outside ourselves. It's all too easy to grow addicted to praise and good fortune, and to feel the loss intensely when it (inevitably) passes on. How do we stay steady through the good parts, the successes of life, as well as the bad? How do we stay conscious, and not get caught up in thinking we are whatever is being projected onto us in any given moment?
I think the secret to not getting too caught up in our successes is exactly the same secret that keeps us from not succumbing to negativity in response to our failures: we need to remember that we are not our egos. We can acknowledge the feelings we are experiencing -- "I feel happy" or "I feel sad" -- without internalizing them as "I am happy" or "I am sad."
It sounds like it's just language, I know. But as we learned from the feminist movement back in the 70s and 80s, language is enormously powerful, and even the most subtle distinctions can have a pervasive impact. So if we can say "I am not my happiness" or "I am not my sadness" it's easier to remember that happiness and sadness are like clouds that pass over us, shading us for a moment and moving on...
I found myself in a long late-night discussion on the phone with my daughter last night about Impostor Syndrome. Impostor Syndrome, according to the Wiki, "is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be."
Because she works in a software firm where there are few women, K has initiated a "Ladies Lunch" where they discuss topics of interest related to their roles as women in the workplace, and yesterday's topic was Impostor Syndrome. Apparently lots of women, particularly, find their success at work is impeded by this one (see this excellent article in The Atlantic about The Confidence Gap) but at some point in the conversation I pointed out that in some ways Impostor Syndrome can be a gift.
Consider this: if you don't believe you know everything you need to know, doesn't that impel you to learn more? If you don't see yourself as an expert, aren't you more willing to listen to the opinions of others? While my "success" in life hasn't been all that great, many of the things I have been able to accomplish came about as a result of my struggles with IS.
When I knew I knew stuff, but was concerned no one would believe that I knew what I knew, I took courses so I could "have more authority." And each time I did that new revelations occurred and new directions emerged that had little or nothing to do with what I went in to learn. It was all good!
In what I think is a particularly curious coincidence, my reading this morning about creative blocks (in Lois Robbins' delightful little book, Waking up in the Age of Creativity) brought me this paragraph:
"When we are reluctant to exert influence we may simply not believe that we have anything of value to offer. If we do think so, we are held back by a fear of being thought pushy or aggressive. These inhibitions can be traced historically to hierarchical religious consciousness: only the expert, the priest, or teacher has access to truth. All of what we learn must be handed down to us by "sovereign knowers" -- those in whom truth is invested by divine authority or by institutional credentials.
In a creation-centered theology, contrastingly, we all have the potential of being "sovereign knowers" because we are each an expression of the divine... As we learn to work cooperatively instead of competitively, we will overcome this block and feel more comfortable about exerting our influence."
I'm not certain it occurred to me before that some of my reluctance to accept my own expertise had its results in my religious background; I had always assumed it was tied up with being the only child of two critical parents. But it makes sense, really: not only did I get those messages in church, but how my parents raised me was largely formed by Augustinian spirituality: children are born in Original Sin, and the parent's job is to teach them to control and repress all their sinful desires, thoughts and activities.
No wonder it took until my 50's to get to the point where my creativity could surface! And no wonder I have trouble asserting myself as an artist -- though I've been an artist all my life, I've only had 5 or six courses in this particular kind of art, and have only been doing it for a couple of years so I have no authority: I am an impostor!
So, yes, I find it hard to sell myself, my work, and my ideas -- that's the bad side of IS. But look at all I've had the chance to learn and do over the years! All in all, not a bad life...
After yesterday's post I wrote another sonnet (I'm up to 46 now, yay!) based on an image similar to this one. I won't subject you to that sonnet -- I'm still finding the form rather awkward and sort of hokey -- but I liked the insight that came with it, which was that reflections are only truly accurate on flat surfaces, like mirrors, or water. Any curves will add distortions.
We humans are prone to reflect on things, and to assume those reflections are accurate. But over time life throws us all sorts of curves, each of which forms us in new directions -- which means our reflections are distorted by our experiences.
We can't, therefore, assume that just because we believe something it's actually true, because we always see it through the curved lens of experience.
I realize now that my whole life has been about reconciliation; about building, depicting, or serving as a bridge between opposites -- between right brain and left, between my verbose artist mom and my taciturn engineer father, between the Divine without and the Divine within, between the churched and the unchurched, individual and community, generalized and particular, Christianity and Buddhism, conservative and liberal -- and now, through art, between concrete and abstract, straight lines and curved; planned and unplanned...
Could it be that search for balance is life's task for each of us?
Each year my street indulges in its own Fourth of July traditions: a neighborhood parade to the park at the end of the road, followed by a communal singing of patriotic songs. So yesterday everything we saw was red, white and blue -- the houses festooned with patriotic decorations, and all the residents dressed in variations of the flag, carrying flags. Little wonder, therefore, that these beauties caught my fancy on the way home; such a nice change of pace!
... which makes me wonder: what is it that makes things that are different or rare so appealing and refreshing in some cases and so threatening in others?
And why is it that we spend our young lives desperately trying to fit in, while as we mature it becomes so important to be unique and special? When do we finally begin to set aside all that egoic striving and seek our mutual commonality?
Science, it seems to me, is about seeking the commonality of things, and -- especially these days, with quantum physics -- the unity at the root of diversity. Art, on the other hand, seems more about expressing singularity and uniqueness: the artist discovers her own unique individual gestures, telling her own unique story through her work.
Given that, you'd think scientists would be more spiritual than artists, more in tune with universal connectedness. But I have a sense that the reverse is true; that artists have a greater awareness of divine presence. Perhaps it's because artists know first hand how little control they have over their work, while science is all about control? Or perhaps it's because artists are forced to understand their limitations, and come to trust over time that their best work is not so much their own but done through them; that they are vehicles for some larger communication that flows through them...
Sometimes, when I'm struggling to get back into painting after a long hiatus, I jumpstart the process by copying other people's paintings. It's a great way to learn new techniques, but the results tend to be mixed: sometimes the copy is accurate but lifeless; sometimes I just can't seem to master whatever it took to create the other's work; and sometimes it takes on a life of its own and becomes uniquely mine with only traces of the other's original work.
This one, sadly, fell into the first category, and after living with it a day or two and working on some other pieces I decided to use up some leftover paint to re-cover the canvas as a base for something different.
But after I'd covered about 2/3rds of the painting with random color I had something I loved -- a surprisingly happy accident! So I guess the secret is staying in the moment, watching, listening, and knowing when to stop -- kind of like life...