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Tag: Art=Life

It’s Not Them

Winter at Heart

Even shielded from news most of the day because of the internet ban at work, it’s impossible to avoid all awareness of an earth-turned-inferno and humanity’s own seeming desire to immolate itself in war. Sometimes it’s hard not to wonder, “What’s the point?”

But the minute I start asking that question, I know it’s not the news. It’s me.

Hammering out a few words each day has seemed to be a Herculean task, and, until last night, I hadn’t touched a canvas in months. I know that, even though in some cases, things really are that bad for some of the world, right now, depression is warping the lens of my mind’s eye.

Sometimes depression is like seeing through a fog, but there are times when it is like living with a lens stopped down to the smallest aperture. It throws everything into sharp, extreme focus. There are no soft edges. There is no cropping out ugly details that make the world seem like an overflowing landfill that hardly needs anymore pointless paintings or posts.

And I know it’s not the world, it’s me – at the moment.

I like to think the depression isn’t who I am, but it’s been with me, off and on, since I could crawl. It’s at least as much a part of me as being near-sighted, and there are even times I’m glad for the hyper focus (this isn’t one of them).

I was driving home tonight, still struggling for what to paint or draw. I knew my head needs me to but couldn’t reconcile my need with the resources it would use, the waste it might generate, or the pointlessness of making anything.

Usually Facebook is the opposite of an anti-depressant, so it was against my better judgement (already shaky this week) that I launched it on my phone when I got home and sat down to decompress. The first photo that hit my feed, however, was a screenshot of a September tweet from Dan Rather that went like this:

“Somewhere, amid the darkness, a painter measures a canvas, a poets tests a line aloud, a songwriter brings a melody into tune. Art inspires, provokes thought, reflects beauty and pain. I seek it out even more in these times. And, in doing so, I find hope in the human spirit.”

It was one answer to a question I ask all the time – especially when my focus is sharp but corrupted .

Is art selfish?

I know art is therapy – a softening of the lens. When continents really are on fire, when children are living in prisons and adults are making more misery from war, however, I hope for it to be a light in the darkness. For tonight, the hope is enough to let some softness into my view.

Poem – Stopping Down

I stopped all the way down

And now my field is deep,

Focused and sharp,

Too treacherous to roam.

Something New

Depression may inspire creative bursts of energy once it’s gone, but, more often, I’ve found that giving into creativity has to happen before the depression can truly start to recede. Sometimes, that surrender starts with trying something new.

I recently stumbled onto a quote by Plutarch that goes, “Painting is silent poetry, and poetry is painting that speaks.” The quote has been rumbling around in my brain for a few days now, seemingly more accurate each time I recall it.

I often paint because I cannot find words that vent emotions without being destructive. Whether or not it leads to good or bad art is irrelevant. The creating on canvas is the path away from hurt and from hurting others.

Lately, I’ve been writing more and painting less (it goes in cycles), But there are still nights I struggle to distill churning feelings and events into text. Last night, watching our orange tabby embrace his carefree, hedonistic identity and, as always, still wondering about my own, I got stuck between picking up a brush or opening the keyboard. Then, instead of sitting and stewing about it for another half hour until I was too tired to do anything useful, I got up and retrieved a journal from my office and decided to try something new.

I decided to try and make a painting that spoke.

I’ve written maybe three or four poems in the last seven years. It is certainly not a forte. As with the act of painting that leads me away from hurt and hurting, however, trying to write poetry was not about making something good, it was about actively surrendering to creativity.

Poem: The Business of Being

Fat, orange, arranged on the table

Like an idol on an altar,

The tabby invest his life, without reservation,

In the business,

Not of being born or changing or dying

But of being the libertine he is.

And I, still changing, still searching,

Craving substance, loathing indolence but filled with envy,

Can feel the faith of one who’s found

A business of being meant just for him.

Presence

I mentally patted myself on the back as I got out of the driveway only 5 or 10 minutes late. The town was covered with a fresh 6” dusting of snow, and, as I made my way down the mountain and my favorite scene came into view, I had to stop and snap a photo and then remember to breathe again. The world looked – and, thanks also to my cargo, felt – a lot like Christmas, but something nagged at my spirit.

The backseat of my car was filled with orange drawstring knapsacks, each filled with art supplies (art kits) for kids in need. This delivery was different from others I had made in the past because I know the girls who will be receiving the kits. I teach them every day.

About three years ago, I started raising money to buy art kits for kids in foster care and for recently-arrived refugee children. When Thing1 got sick, I pushed pause on the project. This month seemed like a good time to hit play again, even if only for a few days.

Most of our girls are in the custody of child services because of myriad family issues. Some of them may go home for brief holiday visits. There are more than a few girls, however, who will wake up in their dormitories on Christmas morning.

The school works hard to make the season bright for the students, but, as we prepared activities for them, I became much more keenly aware of how many ways this season can be difficult for a lot of people. Almost every movie celebrates this as a season of family, but all of our students are at our school because of family issues. We can’t replace their families, but we can remind them that they are cared for, that they are precious to someone.

I’m giving the art kits anonymously, hoping they get some enjoyment out of them. I know, however, that what these kids need is for the adults in their lives – parents, teachers, caretakers — to be present, physically and emotionally.

They will have caring staff with them on Christmas Day, but, as I’ve heard so many other teachers say over the years, these kids are, in a way, my kids. There’s more than a small part of me that wants to spend some time with them on that day (a few other teachers at school do).

Our family will be out of town with extended family, keeping a biannual tradition, but as I took in Mother Nature’s holiday finery, I made a silent promise to make sure that my next Christmas will include these kids. It will be as much about being present as it is about giving presents.

What Next?

This time last year, I was holding Thing1’s hand as he recovered from major surgery and navigating an unwanted gap year. I was still working at home, and Thing2 was still getting his feet wet in middle school. They were the center of my world and the center of my life, and I thought I knew who I was – a mom, writer and artist. The last twelve months, however, have changed all of that.

When I first started this blog seven years ago, I was a work-at-home-mom. The boys were 12 and 6 and, in addition to being the center of my world, were the centers of my days. At the time, the messes and chaotic rituals that go with raising creative kids in the country were endless sources of entertaining and, sometimes, heartbreaking, inspiration for post after post. Trying to preserve the moments, I got back to drawing/illustrating and then found my way to painting.

While Thing1 and Thing2 starred in many posts, I resisted making this a “mommy blog“ for reasons I couldn’t explain then but, after this year of change, I am starting to understand now.

I changed work venues and careers at the beginning of summer. Then Thing1 left for college after a summer of work. Thing2, a case study in extroversion, waded enthusiastically into the middle of middle school, and, while they are still the centers of my life and my heart, they are not always at the center of my day. Thing1 is carving out his own life. Thing2 is working his heart out to be better than his brother at everything. I’m getting to know them both as young adults, and it is an exhilarating experience. It’s also a confusing one.

The kids seem to be forging their identities almost effortlessly. I’ll always be a mom, but with each snip of the apron strings, my ‘mommy’ days seem to be slipping away. I’m still new enough at teaching to think of it as something I do and not yet as something I am, and that distinction has, over the last few months, repeatedly prompted a question about the other important part of my life of “What do I create?” Am I a writer who paints or an artist who writes?

With our family stories evolving away from the kitchen table near the wood stove, for the first time in seven years, I don’t know what to write. I don’t know what to paint. I even started taking internet personality tests (always a reliable source of wisdom), hoping the results would spur an obvious answer and direction.

Then a friend reminded me that an artist is an artist, regardless of the medium. That meant the answer was simply in getting back to creating again. The task, now, is to start with writing something – anything – every day.

I know he’s right.

I know that the act of creating will be the discovery of the next stage of life. So bear with me as I get my new bearings. All topics are on the table, and the journey has just begun.

Saturday Gave Away

Friday the 13th rounded out this last week which also included a full moon and a lead into the upcoming week before Christmas creating what one meme called a “Teacher Trifecta of Terror” (it can be kind of scary for parents too).

Friday was actually pretty lucky for me. There were no meltdowns. Everyone got most of their work done. And, for the first time all week, I got to bed before one in the morning.

Teaching has turned into the toughest, best job I’ve ever had. The nature of our school population combined with a nationwide teacher shortage has translated into opportunities to take on more challenging responsibilities early on in my new career. The only drawback is that, some weeks, everything — creativity, fitness, diet, sleep — gets moved from the backseat to the spare.

Friday night, though, I headed out with a plan. Dinner, then Art, then sleep, followed by a day of creativity on Saturday. But, as I fought my heavy eyelids as I drove home, I felt the itinerary change. I got home and, in between moments of shut-eye interrupted by an iPad or iPhone falling to the floor, I managed to make myself a lovely burnt supper before passing out and bumping the rest of my itinerary to what I promised myself would be a “makers“ Saturday.

I kicked off Saturday, however, with an impromptu contest of “you get up first“ with my husband. After a late breakfast and laundry folding, I was determined to hit the studio. Lethargy has other ideas, keeping me on the couch long enough for the orange cat to settle on my lap (which everyone knows, by law, means staying in that exact same position until kitty is ready to move again). The day was ticking away, and guilt turned into doubt.

The sun set, and after a miraculously unburnt dinner, I thought I had just wasted one of the only unscheduled Saturdays we’ve had in months.

But the funny thing about brains is that letting them nap for a day is a lot like finally getting an overtired toddler to sleep. There’s a lot of fussing getting it to quiet. When it starts to wake up again, it can be disoriented and cranky at first, but then it really starts to acknowledge the recharge and wants to be friends again.

Mine fired up last night again about most peoples normal bedtime. After hours vegetating and dozing in front of the TV, sketchbooks started calling from down the hall. I retrieved a pad and a journal From the studio. For the next hour, my pen scratched, whispering ideas in my ear faster than I could scribble them, and reminding me that sometimes clearing your head — and your day – can be an act of creativity too.

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