At 5:00 this morning I found myself lying in bed, wide awake, thinking about this painting and wondering what marks I might add to lift it out of the ordinary and "make it a winner."
Eventually I fell asleep, and began to dream, and in my dream there were several people I've known and admired through the years, beautiful people, who appeared (in the dream) to take an interest in me but either didn't follow through on their promises or were just using me; some couldn't even remember my name.
I woke up thinking, "What on earth was that about?" I mused for a bit, then settled down with my current reading -- John Daido Loori's Zen and the Art of Creativity.
After a few pages I settled into meditation, and realized I was remembering what it felt like to paint this painting. And it was, quite possibly, the first time I have ever been fully engaged in that act. I was using a short brush, so I was close to the canvas, and I could feel the memory of it in my heart; that I was listening to the painting, letting it tell me what to do rather than "thinking" -- what would look good here, what should I do next.
So coming back to it this morning, I realize -- it doesn't need a thing, a mark; something I arbitrarily come up with and apply. It's not about what's beautiful, or what I "think" is visually appealing. It's about presence, about collaboration, about listening and learning. It's done, it's complete, it's whole, in the same way that I, in this moment, am done, complete, and whole. And it doesn't matter if it's a winner or not: it's my child, and I treasure it. It's my teacher, and I have learned something truly special from it, about what painting is, about what it means to be in the moment, about acceptance...
Just because I'm not all "My way or the highway" doesn't mean I don't have control issues. It's just that they're not about controlling outcome; they're about controlling process.
This came to me this morning as I was reflecting on a number of issues -- the dreams I had last night after watching a local production of August, Osage County; a recent decision to leave a board I serve; and painting -- always painting.
It's really about impatience, I think: I'm always itching for resolution, and I don't have a lot of patience for what it takes to get there. As a mother, I noticed it was impatience that made it hard for me to let my children learn to do things themselves.
As a meeting leader and participant, I grow impatient with deliberation, endless discussion, and indecision. And as a painter, I have trouble allowing paintings the time they need to evolve, even though the reason I took up painting was because of the pleasure I found in working with paint, brushes, and the various techniques required to bring a work to completion.
So my question today is this: what is it I'm rushing toward, and why is it so important? What could I possibly accomplish that would have more value than the work it takes to get there? And when will I stop itching for the future, and just appreciate what's Now?
A subtle shift -- no reason why --
and suddenly I'm at the edge: Fear's cliff.
The yawning chasm looms,
the foot begins to slip, a pebble drops,
and in the space before I hear
the echo of its landing,
my knees grow weak, my head begins
to spin, and then I drop to clutch
the ground before I fall, while my whole body
pulses with it: Fear.
What have I done? What will I do? Why now?
... and so the work begins, painstaking shifting
through my thoughts, like rocks or grains of sand;
slip through these mental fingers to fall heedless
to the boulders far below.
Caught in the throes, I cannot tell:
Which is it that came first -- the feeling or the fear?
Is this my body, rallying, responding to some chemical imbalance or disease?
And if so, what pill or potion might bring cure?
Or was this pulsing, shaky fragility triggered by some thought?
And what elusive memory must I track back to its source
to reassure the trembling child within?
... and then, sweet miracle, having written down this poem, the pulsing ceases.
It's gone -- whatever demon had me shaken by the roots -- my soul pervaded now
with light, ease, and well-being.
Breathe deeper; let the gratitude begin.
Taking risks is an inevitable part of the creative process. But for most of us -- however much we long to push the envelope and grow, to find and build our own individual contribution to the world -- risks are scary. Some more than others, to be sure, but still: stepping out on a limb takes guts. It's so much easier to find something that works and then just keep doing it.
The problem with that, of course, is that life has a way of interfering with "business as usual." Take me, for example. I've found this painting technique that's really fun (not the one you see here). I don't have to worry much about composition, I can just enjoy playing with texture and color; I am applauded for having a "style," it sells -- all is good.
But then, I go to the opening of a juried show, and there, hanging not far from my own piece -- a piece I painted early on, before I discovered my "style," is a piece that looks like it could be one of mine. Oh, no! My work is not original! In fact, this piece is SO like mine it almost looks like she found one of mine on line and copied it. Quelle Horreur!
No, that doesn't mean I'll stop doing that kind of work. But it does mean I need to keep growing and exploring; I can't rest on my laurels. Time to try something new; time to see if there might be other techniques out there that I haven't tried yet. Time to explore -- as I did here, finding a new way to get paint onto the canvas. All of which can be fun and exciting -- as long as you have a steady base to work from. When risk becomes less fun and exciting is when you have nothing to fall back on; when life depends on making good choices; when everything else around you is also in flux.
I'm lucky; I have the luxury of a home, and food, and warmth, and a studio to play in. But my comfort levels are impacted by those around me. Though I try hard not to read or listen to the news, I can't help but know that there are refugees risking their lives trying to cross our border into Canada; that the ICE are raiding subways in NYC after hours looking for illegal immigrants; that Jewish synagogues and schools across the country are experiencing bomb threats. Closer to home, in my own family, the risk levels are smaller but still higher than usual: one daughter is buying a house with a new boyfriend; another is spending a week alone in an unfamiliar city; my husband leaves today to drive a truck of furniture across the country -- and he'll be stopping in Chicago to drop off items for his sister, which means he'll be taking the northern route, and going through snow...
So, being a mom, I worry. But, being an artist, I will do my best to channel those worries into my work instead of letting them shut me down. Risk is inevitable; what's important is learning to trust that somehow life works through it all for good.