Many times over the years Don and I have philosophised about golf being a metaphor for life. It is often uncannily so. Lately, I have been thinking of my journey with painting in much the same way.
Some weeks ago I painted a small experimental piece, based on a YouTube lesson I’d watched. As I was finishing it I tossed the pastel in my hand over into the little pile I’d been using and murmured to myself ‘No, no, no, I’m just not getting it’. I turned out the light and that was it for the day. The next morning I came in and looked at it with fresh eyes, expecting to loathe what I’d done, and instead realised I loved it. I had learned a very good lesson. My discouragement had been that my piece didn’t look like the artist’s in the lesson. Silly me, that’s not what I want at all! I want it to look like my style, not hers—and it does! It is not great, the composition is was not wonderful at all, but the ‘look’ of it is a step closer to what I have been dreaming of, and there it was right in front of me. I didn’t recognise it because I was so preoccupied looking for the other artist’s style.
There are many things to learn when one is creating. It is equal parts thrill and frustration. Frank Gehry, the well known architect, described it well:
For me, every day is a new thing. I approach each project with a new insecurity, almost like the first project I ever did. And I get the sweats. I go in and start working, I’m not sure where I’m going. If I knew where I was going I wouldn’t do it.–Frank Gehry
For me it’s boring to repeat the same journey over and over. I too ‘get the sweats’ every time I start a new painting–as if my life depends on its success, which it certainly does not. Such is the standard to which I hold myself, the self flagellating behaviour I have learned, and am trying to unlearn. But once engrossed in the process everything else falls away when I get those colours in my fingers and see where both my conscious mind and intuition wants them to go. Being swept along in that flow is the payoff.
We need to explore our inner depths, solve new problems and gain new insights. Part of that for me has been the very basic task of sourcing supplies. The challenge of living in a remote area with few resources for art supplies has meant that some weeks I spend almost as much time sourcing materials as I do painting. A lack of good paper has been my biggest problem. I can order it and it will be here in two weeks, if I know what to order. Which I don’t. Until very recently, when I had completed enough painting on different surfaces to finally have a preference, I was stumbling around with this one. I watch videos and learn techniques for applying marks to a variety of surfaces. And then I practice. At this point in my learning trajectory it is hard to know if the problem is with my technique, or the surfaces…probably both! I’ve even learned how to apply a rough surface to smooth boards and papers making homemade pastel paper. Now, if the ordered supplies do not show up as scheduled, I won’t go completely without. It’s all part of the process and no doubt will change time and again over the coming years.
I’ve had a couple of worrying breaks in the process while we had more urgent things to attend to in our life. Always I reminded myself I only needed to return to the task for one minute. One break was planned–the pastel dust was a problem. I was trying to paint in the office with carpet on the floor–light carpet at that! So I made the decision to move out to the little space that is our ‘shedio’. Two thirds of the space is my studio and one third is Don’s tool shed–so christened ‘shedio’. It is not a glamorous space, but it is very practical and not unpleasant, having been renovated about ten years ago. It is surprising how far that journey is, however–those ten steps between the front door and the shedio door. And because of break-ins in the town I have to always lock the front door behind me when I’m in the shedio, and likewise the shedio door if I come into the house for a break. That transition happened a few weeks ago now and along with the new car, I’m starting to feel comfort with both situations. Always in the back of my mind, though, is the thought that if I feel pressured or lost, I only have to be there for one minute…no matter the result.
We don’t know what we don’t know. With every painting I am finding new problems to solve. Somehow the information I need to keep moving ahead comes into my life and I move forward one baby step at a time.
Sweaty hands, learning, solving problems, making preparations, small victories, crappy results, baby steps…how is art anything but a metaphor on Life?
I have been psyching myself up and out–for months, years even, trying to re-establish an art practice. I have gone the way of the parent who decided to stay at home and raise a child(ren) and then never went back to work outside the home. Having done freelance work from home for years I thought I would just naturally drift back into that once the child had left home. But the husband was used to someone to run the home while he traveled for work, and the child didn’t leave home until she was 23…and then there was breast cancer. The practice was well and truly buried. Deeply.
I drifted from dribs and drabs of painting, to jewellery making, to various crafts but I never developed a discipline. That was probably because I didn’t have to. But something in me really wanted to. It felt like I wasn’t finished yet. I’d gleaned all these amazing shapes and colours and textures from living life where I wanted to be and it felt like they were meant to live through me in another form.
In recent years I’d have a burst of creative energy or ideas once or twice a year but somehow I couldn’t convert it to a sustained practice that was taking me on the journey of discovery I wanted to have. What to do?
Not even the stay-at-home days of the pandemic had given me the push forward I needed. I searched and read and listened and scrolled to get inspired. While all of that was interesting, I had not yet figured out how to convert it to a practice.
One podcast inspired me to take an online course presented by an artist who came to her practice in her middle life. I enjoyed the course but when it was over once again I found myself with a few new skills and no practice, no direction.
The next time I was inspired by an online course, I was not even that successful. I followed the instructor’s lead, but realised it just wasn’t my thing. The next course I never even started. I loved the idea and his lessons were good but it just didn’t float my boat. Once again, it felt like I would be working in his style, rather than developing my own.
The holidays came and I was back to doing what I’ve become pretty good at, being a homemaker, wife and mother. I love all those things and don’t want to abandon them, but I want more. So when the holidays were over and I had caught up on rest, I was back to trying to get myself inspired. I thought what was lacking was inspiration so I followed more people on Instagram, watched YouTube, read inspiring stories and occasionally visited my drawing table with sporadic and unfulfilling results.
And then on January 14th came a TED talk. Even they had been falling a little flat for me in recent months. Everyone was trying to communicate their idea of something great. I didn’t want someone else’s ‘great’, I wanted my own. The TED recommendation came via email, and didn’t interest me. But I scrolled down the same page. An unassuming small talk by a woman I’d never heard of, piqued my curiosity. ‘The one minute secret to forming a new habit’…and it was only ten minutes long. I was in.
The talk was given by a novice video editor presenting from home, as per the covid-norm, and so it was a little annoying, but I kept telling myself, ten minutes is not that long unless you are having root canal work done, so hang in there. She stated her case for taking one minute out of every day to establish a new habit. Her new habit had been running. Her only stipulation? You have to be okay if you suck at it! C’mon, that is doable, right? I can suck with the best of them! That very day I began. I would take one minute and sit at my drawing table and doodle. To be honest, from day one, I took more than a minute. And I did suck most of the time. But I loved that sitting down, and embracing the suck-ness freed me up to keep coming back. It wasn’t about the quality of the work, it was about showing up.
Every day I sat down, and curiosity would take over. In seconds I was wondering what this colour or this mark would look like with that one and where it would all lead. And I reminded myself it didn’t matter if it sucked, I was just establishing the habit. Even the days when I didn’t feel like doing it, I sat down and did a little something.
After a few days my mood lightened. I felt happier within myself. Maybe it was just coincidence, I thought. After a week or so I noticed that I was having more creative moments throughout the day. I would look at something and immediately wonder what kind of drawing or painting that would make. I was taking more photos again, and not to post on Instagram, but as reference for potential drawings or paintings.
On day 10 I had taken a striking photo of the light at sunrise, of the houses and trees that we see from our place. That day I made the first pastel work that I have ever liked out of several attempts in years gone by. The next day I went back to sucking again.
But the day after that, I still showed up for another minute…and another minute…and then more than a minute and then more than an hour! I couldn’t believe this simple change could make such a big difference so easily. Soon I found myself watching YouTube videos to learn how to use the soft pastels that are my new enthusiasm. Watching the videos was not included in my one minute session, that was in addition to the one minute, which by then, were almost never only one minute but stretched into half hours and more.
I began to employ a little trick I used to use when painting more regularly. Years ago I’d noticed if I began a painting and had it, say, two thirds completed, enough to see where I was going with it, I would walk away from it for a day or two and then come back. It beckoned to me to come back and finish it, so it got me back into the studio again. This time, I found that I would not fret about how much time I had spent on an image, but I could leave it to return to later. As I walked in and out of the room, passed the table, I would glance at it and mull it over all the remainder of the day. Then, fresh with enthusiasm I would return and finish it next day. For many artists this doesn’t work. They find the mood is broken and they can’t get back into the flow of that work again. But in my case, it works. For me it’s important to self evaluate, not judge the work good or bad, but evaluate effective procedures and practices, study the colours and composition so I can modify things or use the time to advantage.
For me, this little one minute change relegated my relentlessly judgemental self to a position that was much less inhibiting. It reduced the task to the smallest increment and allowed that to be crappy. I just had to show up. I’m good at showing up, just not very kind to myself about the results—or I wasn’t, until now! I will be writing more about my journey which is now beginning the sixth week.
I have not missed a single day, but if I do, I will know how to begin again.
I spent the morning in a brain fog that simply left me feeling zombie-like. It was just the tiredness that accompanies fibromyalgia but nonetheless, immobilising. At 9am I had a nap. It was a dreaming sleep that removed the fog, if not completely restoring my sense of self. Restful and adequate sleep has eluded me most of the last 20 years. Some days I can nap and compensate but others life demands more from me.
None of my creative endeavours will flow when I am in deep, sleep deficit. Just over a week ago I received notice from WordPress that my subscription was due, so I renewed. And then wondered why? I sometimes go ages without the muse visiting me, or without being able to act upon it when she does, because my brain is so tired it simply doesn’t want to play.
But here I am clicking along on the keyboard after my dreamy nap, wanting to tell you that there is still magic in life. That is always my intention, though my writing skill may not always accomplish the goal.
We seem to have dodged another bullet…or two. Last week we were in Adelaide, primarily for me to have my yearly oncology check. As the years tick by and things remain clear I sometimes wonder if this is a waste of resources to keep checking. But it is part of the self-care we need to do for both mental and physical reasons, not just for ourselves but for those who love us. This year was particularly difficult to organise due to Covid restrictions and regulations, but we did it…a few months late, but we did it. The bright spot is that we always get to visit with our daughter who lives in Adelaide when we go for the appointment. And that is never a small thing. A parent loves to see with their own eyes that their child, who has been through a difficult time, is doing well.
We always enjoy our time in Adelaide, good food, coffee, a little shopping, a little nature, more coffee, and a change of scenery.
This time we also enjoyed new street art that has appeared and enlivens the place.
After a couple of days in the city, I usually feel the need to get closer to nature. A botanic garden is seldom far way here. It was such a lovely morning spotting all kinds of native and wild flowers and plants, as well as some exotics. As we were leaving the Mt Lofty Botanic Garden something called me to look back, and up, the way you feel when someone across the room is staring your way. When I turned around there were eyes looking at me…from trees. Do you see them? Thinking I might be the first weirdo to have seen this, I photographed them. Turns out an Australian, artist Joshua Yeldham, observed the same thing in Aspen trees of Colorado. I have only today learned of the trees and his short film, called ‘Providence’. It was a tiny little gift to see this after having that recent experience. Had I not seen the eyes with my own, I might not have believed him when he spoke of feeling the woods looking at him. These marks are made when a limb falls off. What if the woods can see us, but by means we are yet to understand? Read The Hidden Life of Trees if you think I’m being silly. I would almost believe anything is possible after reading this.
On Wednesday, November 11 we returned home. Four days later it was announced there was a new Covid outbreak in Adelaide, where previously there had been no community transmission since April. It has now been a week since our return and we appear to have once again had good juju on our side. Yesterday we have learned of the hard lockdown of Adelaide for six days, in an effort to create a ‘circuit breaker’ and keep the virus from becoming transmitted more widely. It was brought into Australia by a person traveling from the UK and the strain is a different one than we have previously had. It appears to infect people more easily and make them infectious to others more quickly. It began in a quarantine hotel, probably from a contaminated surface, and then transmitted to a large family group. Tracing practice is gold standard and they are on top of it, but things are changing daily, of course. With holidays nearly upon us…we wait…and hope. Our governments, both state and national have looked after us during this time. That is no small thing either.
Meanwhile, I have harvested my first cherry tomato. A very small pleasure, to be sure, but very enjoyable. The garden is demanding regular care and attention at the moment as our temps hit the 40’s (105F-111F) last week. The pests are out and have my juicy morsels in their sights! I have erected shade cloth and added more watering to my schedule. The promised rain did not reach us here in town, but 15 kilometres away at the airport, where the official gauges are, they measured 14mm. Who said nature was fair? We have had more dust and hot, dry winds. With the din of cicadas whirring at high pitch, The Apocalypse is seeming more possible.
Those three small falcons that hatched high atop a sky scraper in Melbourne six weeks ago, are no longer small. The day before we left for Adelaide they looked decidedly ugly, but on our return they had nearly finished with their downy feathers, looking as if they had put on fine suits to attend their launch into the world. The next day…they were gone. I miss them, but am so happy to have seen them grow and that all three survived is a testament to the miracle of nature.
There is always a small thing to be grateful for, whether it is the sleep of dreams, the miracle of nature or a small red orb that disappears in a single juicy mouthful, pungent with the warmth of summer sun and dispensing childhood memories.
I love it when things in my life collide with one another—in a good way. I wrote a couple of months ago (hard to believe it’s been that long) about the garden I built and planted this winter. It continues to be a revelation in all kinds of unexpected ways.
I have learned that it is better, in most cases, to plant seeds in situ, rather than be tempted by the faster route of seedlings that are bobbing their little heads fetchingly from their tiny pots in the nursery and garden centres. Seeds sprouted in the exact place they will grow seem to understand they are at home and can grow accordingly. So, given enough water and some sunshine they get on with it. Whereas seedlings, sprouted and grown in their little pots thousands of kilometres away, in most cases, in hothouse conditions or entirely different places from where they finish up, are in shock when they end their journey in the middle of dry Central Australia. Even taking all care, I’ve watched them struggle and eventually not yield very well and then go to seed quickly. Whereas the things I’ve planted from the right, well chosen seed, take a couple of weeks longer but kick on and look hearty and the yield is very good. Don’t we all do better when planted in the right place?
I’ve also learned I can plant less than I thought, now that I have a good growing base. We are about to drown in lettuce and rocket (arugula), for example! And don’t ask why I thought I needed 7 basil plants! Must be a throwback to the Italian genes. I’ve already put away one lot of pesto in the freezer and it’s not even summer yet. I dug up and gave away one of the basil plants because things were growing into one another. My lovely friend who does little paving and brick laying jobs was the happy recipient. I traded him for some pieces of old pavers on which we could sit our pots up out of the excess water that sometimes accumulates in the saucers.
In addition to the plant growth, it appears a potential family of Magpie Larks has moved into the palm tree that overlooks the new garden bed. They are not my favourite bird in appearance or sound, which is rather strident and irritating, but there is no bird who shows more joy having a bath in the residual water after rain. And I especially love the way they patrol the garden and eat insects! Whichever of the species builds the nest, I assume the female, decided this was a friendly place to raise her chicks. I keep a bowl of water for animals, there is soil around to build the mud base of the nest, and sugar cane mulch to fluff out the upper layer, ready for eggs and long spells of sitting. We also have a lot of native vegetation to attract birds, and no pets to bother them.
A few days ago I was tending my garden and there was a noisy crow sitting atop that chimney on the neighbour’s roof, only about six or so feet from the Lark who was working on the last stages of the nest. Suddenly the crow, about four times the size of the Lark, lunged at it, hoping, no doubt, to eat eggs in the nest. The little Lark loudly called out, threw her little feet in the air, flapping wings wildly to fight off the crow, just as her mate flew up from very nearby to assist and save his lady love. The crow was chastened and left immediately. I fear he will return, however. It’s a bird eat bird world out there.
Today I have seen the Lark sitting on the nest as if there might be something worth sitting for. I hope so. Or maybe she was just testing it for the fluff factor. It has been National Bird Week here and I participated in a bird count every day this week. Wouldn’t it be nice to boost the count with some little hatchlings? A bit too soon I know, but a girl can dream.
I’ve been doing further chick checks on the Peregrin Falcons in Melbourne, and taking photos for those of you who don’t have time to check. There isn’t always much to see except sleeping chicks, and gathering debris. Ugh, it’s a very unhygienic looking area now. Today I was watching the three somewhat comatose chicks rearrange themselves when one in the back raised its bum and squirted poop in a very impressive arc all over the one in the front–still asleep. Siblings, eh? Feeding time is not appealing either, but very interesting. I was lucky to catch both parents there for one feeding session and snapped a screen shot for you. The female is the larger of the two and if I may anthropomorphise for a moment, looks quite unimpressed at her mate who is doing the feeding and perhaps sneaking a bite for himself? Imagine raising triplets! These two are really working hard at this parenting thing.
We have had rain. Not a lot, but enough to green the place a bit. We had 21mm a couple of weeks ago and another 6mm since. For those of you who regularly get rain this will seem like a drizzle, but here it is substantial enough to bring changes. Rain is magic for gardens and everything, in fact. It washes the leaves free of their red dust and everything looks crisp and clean again. And the smell of eucalyptus and whatever magic is in moistened desert dust is divine. The La Niña weather pattern is predicted to bring us more of the wet stuff over the coming few months and we are all feeling a bit greedy for it. We dusted off our rain gauges and send text messages…
‘Did you get rain?’
‘Yes, we got 5mm, how about you?’
‘No, it missed us completely.’
And so on.
The cherry tomato vines are growing like stink, the fig tree has its first babies and they are growing daily, and my lovely Bay tree that is about 15 years old and has survived my benign neglect for most of those years, has hit its stride and joined the happily growing throng.
And finally. Filling in the spaces of time between the many and varied activities of a domestic engineer/gardener/tech consultant/sporadic blogger, I’m trying to again find my mojo as a practicing artist. To take away the intimidation of a white canvas, I cut up a cardboard box, primed it and painted a loose little scene of my beloved Spinifex Pigeons and Finches from our recent trip to Kings Canyon.
There are plenty of unpleasant things going on around us too, but I choose to spend as much time as possible in the realm of nature, Rilke and Mary Oliver…
Minutes ago I was up to my forearms in purple gloves, digging in cow manure for an earthworm. If that sounds oddly reminiscent to you, like the story of the optimist and the pessimist twins who were both given a roomful of shit for their birthday, you may be on to me. The pessimist child was sad and thought all she deserved was a roomful of shit. But the optimist sibling enthusiastically dived into the shit-filled room and declared ‘With all this shit, there must be a pony in here somewhere!’
Last summer was a total disaster for my herb garden, and a new low point for my gardening skills in general. Admittedly, I’ve not embraced a lot of the maintenance and prep-work as I should have. Ours is a harsh climate and we were traveling more. And sometimes I’m just ridiculously hopeful. Given the chance this year to pursue my hermit tendencies has meant time to think…time to prepare, time to get my ass in gear and build a garden, albeit a small one to start with. And I have a secret weapon now that I have not always had…a gardening guru.
Here are her credentials:
It all started back in April when we contracted our favourite paving genius, Scott, to pull up the old pavers in the courtyard and re-lay them, removing tree roots and other impediments to a level paving surface once again. I really didn’t need to break a hip by falling on the way to the clothesline. As we were clearing away the various piles of old pavers and bricks, left over from at least four other jobs, as well as various stacked pots, the garden beds were clearly revealed. They were in an unimpressive state of compressed soil, so poor it was hard to believe I’d been growing herbs in them for some 20 years!
Scott and his helpers came and performed their levelling magic. But something inside me was niggling…level pavers was just not enough. Those garden beds were a wasted opportunity. My large kitchen window looks out over the courtyard, which, in summer when the spa is uncovered is pleasant enough, but the other 8 months of the year it is pretty ordinary. I’d managed to grow enough herbs over the years to sustain my culinary activities, but even that had dwindled to a paltry half dead mint plant and a lonely dwarfed parsley that wanted to survive, but needed intervention.
I’m always in awe of the creativity the human brain can conjure when allowed to ramble freely. Mine began to conceive of a built up herb garden, with completely fresh growing medium and something that added beauty to the area. My good friend who I call my ‘Gardening Guru’ (GG) told me of a growing medium she had stumbled upon a couple of years ago. Manure. Surprisingly, she said that she used PURE, dried out and decomposed cow manure. Knowing she grows the most amazing vegetables every year (see above photo), my ears pricked up. Could this be my transitioning agent, from lacklustre gardener to Miss Confident Gardner 2020? God knows 2020 needs to have been a good year for something!
Like a storm in my brain, the creative waves began to gather. I measured the space of my old herb garden and calculated if I dug down about 150mm, and built a retaining wall around the area, adding about 200mm height from ground level I would have a deep enough bed to put in gravel for drainage, and 3/4 cubic metre of cow poo as my growing medium. It would be deep enough to accommodate the root systems of herbs and some small veggies, like lettuce and rocket (arugula), should I feel more adventurous. Then, came the really creative part. Could I take five different sizes and colours of bricks, blocks and pavers, in varying quantities, left over from four different jobs and build one good looking garden surround?
First things first…transplant to a pot the poor little parsley plant that had survived the summer remaining almost the same size as when I planted it, six months previously. That done, in May I began digging out the 150mm of hard, packed old garden bed. It was just awful soil, full of rocks and very poor, compacted soil. What was I thinking? Knowing my 67 year old back is not used to hard labour, and that I also did not want to agitate fibromyalgia symptoms, I went about the project very slowly and carefully, digging with a pick and shovel a bucket of dirt at a time. I would carry the bucket of dirt to areas of the garden that just needed fill, but in which we didn’t want to grow anything. Engage abdominals, fill bucket, lift with my legs and lug the bucket of crappy soil from the courtyard to the receiving area. I could only do about six or eight buckets in one session. It was hard going.
After ten days or so the base soil was removed. Next I bought gravel to put in the bottom, for drainage. Then it was time to play with my blocks. I lost count of how many different patterns I considered but eventually I reasoned that the back of the bed could use the least attractive and even broken pieces because it would nearly all be covered by soil eventually. I began placing the best blocks and bricks into symmetrical patterns at the front, and things began to fall into place. After I laid the firm base using leftover driveway pavers, I could start at the front of the area, using the best bricks to make sure it looked attractive. Of course levels had to be maintained evenly so that once it was filled with the manure, it would look even and be easy to work around. Again, this phase had to be done in a number of sessions because… bricks. are. heavy. And they had to come from three different areas around the garden, where we had neatly stacked them. Fortunately, our little red hand-truck, gifted to my husband many years ago, was my valuable friend. (Thank you Chappie)
Purple gloves have been my gardening friends for years. They are sturdy and impervious and I know where my fingers are at all times. After months of serious hand washing and sanitising, the hands didn’t need any more wear and tear. Gradually the edge took shape. When I had finished, I had only ONE piece of a paver left. Every single other spare brick and paver had been used. No one was more amazed than me. In fact, I’m sure NO one will be amazed at all! When you look at the bed, it just looks like ‘oh, yeah, that looks normal.’ End of story. I hasten to add, I was not using cement to hold it all together, that would have been one skill too far for me, I think. But Scott had said he didn’t think I would need it, and so far it appears he was right.
Next I needed the cow manure to fill the remainder of the bed. Problem. The manure that was delivered had large chunks of very hard, decomposed material. GG told me it would be fine, just water down once it was in place and then use the spade or garden fork to break it up. Sounds much easier than it is, believe me. She said hers had been well broken down when she got it, but mine was still quite lumpy. She guessed that it was probably a local source and given our very dry couple of years, there had probably not been enough moisture to foster dung beetles who would have aided in breaking it down. The earth’s ecosystem at work, or not, in my case. Once again, my trusty bucket and I began shovelling shit and carrying it. This time it was actual shit. I carried from the pile on the edge of the yard, back to the courtyard and into the hole. Engage abdominals, shovel carefully, lift with your legs and carry to destination. Eight buckets a session. Every few days I would water it down and let the moisture soak the clumps then break it up with the gardening fork or the spade. And every couple of days I gave my body a rest day.
Somewhere during this stage of things I realised my fitness was improving. I began to look around toward continuing the activity once the herb garden was established. I finished up with some extra manure, so I decided to dig up the other small areas and incorporate the remaining manure into them. I could feel my courtyard beginning to love me back. After previous success with water rooted basil cuttings, I began to make cuttings of some succulents I had bought last summer but not known how to care for properly. What was left were some wilted branches, which I snapped off and put into water. Presto, I now have 10 perky cuttings all with roots, six of which are planted into pots for future transplanting. Then I took my mostly dead, wholly root-bound mint and divided it into three clumps (mint will survive almost anything, even me) and planted those into pots of fresh potting mix. They have bounced back like curls in a hair commercial. Totally giddy with success, I gratefully accepted my next door neighbour’s offer of seeds from her very interesting looking basil that has purple tips on green leaves. I scattered them into pots of fresh mix and I have lots of tiny green leaves poking their heads up.
We are still a couple of weeks away from planting seedlings, due to frost risk, but I am hopeful. The nursery of seedlings grows, the growing medium becomes more lush by the day, and my soul has been gently lifted by the effort and achievement. GG and I realise, we are at our best when maintaining our positivity (see others who find solace in nature here and here )
So, what does digging around my garden wearing purple gloves, looking for a particular earthworm have to do with this story?
As I was preparing the last little space of garden bed to receive its share of the cow poo makeover, I moved the rescued, and completely transformed, pot of parsley from the bed, up out of the way of the digging. As I did so, there was a lovely fat earthworm enjoying the moisture. Not wanting to cut him in half with my spade, I carefully picked him up and placed him in the new bed. After consulting GG as to whether I’d done the right thing, she suggested he might like a more moist area. So I donned the purple gloves and raced back outside to retrieve him and place him elsewhere that is consistently moist. But I was too late. He had already made himself at home and disappeared into the moist manure, hopefully to enjoy many years of happy digging. In fact, maybe that will make two of us. Nature shows us in myriad small ways how to dig around and be grateful and move forward. I’m always looking for my pony.
Why do we need someone to remind us that our view of the world is unique? Why is it so difficult to understand that each and every life on this planet has had a different trajectory? Siblings can grow up in the same household and have extraordinarily different lives. We can stand side by side seeing the same view and appreciate very different aspects.
Maybe it is scary to think that others are different to us, even though we know that for the most part we are the same. We have the same motivations, though they modify with the individual. We have the same emotions, again, greater or lesser, from person to person. But it’s that teeny tiny little fraction of difference that we either focus on, and fear, or forget to celebrate…or find it necessary to express creatively.
Over a year ago I started listening to podcasts. I imagine most of you have been doing that for a while and I’m a lagger in this pursuit, but timing is everything in life. We discover when it is our time to discover. When the student is ready, the teacher will appear, as the wisdom goes. In podcasts I have found a great resource for inspiration at a time when I wanted to make some changes in my creative practices. One of the best quotes, among many excellent ones I’ve heard is…
breathe in experience, breathe out poetry –Muriel Rukeyser
A friend of mine says to me that the art I make is as a result of ‘having a life’. The first time she said it I knew it was true, the way you recognise truth by feeling it in your heart, rather than thinking it in your head. But this recent quotation was a beautiful reminder. And so if we breathe in our experiences, and we wish to be creative with them, we can breathe out whatever art we want to make. And it will be unique. No one else can replicate it. We can strive to be the very best version of ourselves because no one else can do that.
As a result of my creative quest and podcast listening, I began a new drawing practice. I can only say to you that the previous way I had of drawing seemed to impede my self expression. Perhaps I had not practiced enough, but I was bored with trying it that way. And so I thought I would begin again, as much as that is possible.
I want to draw more childlike, I have decided–from my imagination, playful, and relaxed.
It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but the rest of my life to paint like a child.
Having actually seen a painting by a teenage Picasso, I can vouch for the fact that he was a classical painter at a very young age. Most people don’t think of his work in that way at all.
So for the year 2018, I wish you the ability to breathe in life and its experiences, and breathe out whatever creative expression you choose. It may not be easy, but it will be your unique legacy. I leave you with wisdom from poet ee cummings, who fought all his life to be recognised as himself…
A poet is somebody who feels, and who expresses his feelings through words.
This may sound easy. It isn’t.
A lot of people think or believe or know they feel — but that’s thinking or believing or knowing; not feeling. And poetry is feeling — not knowing or believing or thinking.
Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being can be taught to feel. Why? Because whenever you think or you believe or you know, you’re a lot of other people: but the moment you feel, you’re nobody-but-yourself.
To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.
It seems a month or so ago when I wrote there was change in the wind, I was correct. The change in the wind has not altogether been the weather. True, we have had an extended winter/spring, but the changes were also born from inner need, and a rash decision…
Our weather here in Alice has been like no one local can recall. We have been here 25 years and it is certainly different than we have experienced. When I started writing this, a few days ago the morning temperature was 3C. Yesterday at the same time, it was 20C. In anyone’s book that is quite a variance. The miraculous result of our ongoing winter/early spring weather is that both the domestic gardens and the bush have made huge strides in recovering from last summer’s plague of giant grasshoppers and heat, followed by the early winter hail storm that pretty well finished things off. That Mother Nature, you can’t beat her and you can’t figure her out!
today’s same lemon tree bursting with new foliage
unripe lemon on denuded tree five months ago
While the outer kingdom has been busily regenerating, my inner dominion has been a little volcanic. I made a couple of habit decisions a month or so ago. I first decided to start meditating again. To do that I needed to modify my morning routine. For approximately the first three hours I am up, starting at about 4.45am, I am doing self-nurturing things. I begin with meditating for however long the urge moves me, sometimes 30 minutes, sometimes as long as 50 minutes. I then go for a 40 minute walk. I don’t time it, but I have two routes and they both take about that long because that is how much my body will tolerate and still have energy left for other activities as the day progresses.
Desert Pea near Botanic Garden
During the walk I have begun listening to podcasts. I have immersed myself into a new world and I am learning. What is the saying? When you know better, you do better. And that means change. Listening to people who are able to articulate their inner and outer journey is valuable to me. It has reminded me to trust my inner voice, which is so sweet and persistent, compared to the ‘self talk’, ego voice which is mostly berating and negative. I now realise I hear them as two different voices and it’s important to differentiate. It takes some getting used to. The self talk must change…starting with, the crisis of writing confidence I have also been wrestling with. I have been reminded that all great artists, a category to which I do not, nor do I care to, belong, have confidence issues most of their lives. I know my writing is improving all the time, and I’m satisfied with that. It is the subject matter I have been a bit worried over. What do I possibly have to say? And then…at about the same time I was writing this post, I had one of those shower-epiphanies–you know, when you are showering and allow your mind to wander and suddenly it bestows upon you a revelation.
Cue Hallelujah Chorus.
‘What if I see my writing as snapshots of the ordinary, but light-filled, similar to my photographs?’ I can happily live with that. Time will tell if others can happily read that!
So, “Go away negative self-talk, it’s a new day!“
native grass and button daisies
native grasses in early morning
field of button daisies at Olive Pink Botanic Garden
Season for the trees to get their gear off
Jacaranda blossoms fallen after rain
Also part of my new morning routine; I am not writing emails first thing, as I have done previously. I am writing ideas. Some might make it to the blog one day, most won’t. After about an hour of writing I allow myself to check emails and answer them. I have to make exceptions to this practice if there are family things going on with our daughter or with my Mum and close friends/family overseas.
The new routine was going well, though not easily. But that was to be expected. And then… I tried to fix a ‘little’ computer problem that was a result of upgrading my operating system. As these things often do, the ‘fix’ was waaaaay worse than the original problem. I back up everything, always. I knew I would get it all back together eventually, but did not expect it to take 8 days 22 hours and 42 minutes, but who’s counting? Two days into that process, my left arm developed a strange ‘rash’ that I decided must be eczema. I’ve had problems with this in the past, but nothing as nasty as this one, and I’ve always been able to identify what I had eaten that had caused it so that I could avoid the food in future, or eat in limited quantities. This time my efforts were for naught. Finally after a week with no improvement I went to the doctor. He took one look and said ‘If you hadn’t had the Shingles vaccine three years ago, I would say you have Shingles. It is classic looking for that.‘(That’s why he’s the doctor, ahem.) I had a quick flashback to the nurse who administered the vaccine telling my husband and I, ‘The efficacy of this one is only 80%.’ Whether it is hubris or a case of positive thinking, one does not think they will be in the unfortunate 20%. Still, I consider myself very lucky that my experience was not as bad as that of my Grandmother or my Mother-in-law. I’m sure the vaccine* has helped mitigate the more miserable and serious symptoms.
I can now go back to eating normally, having eliminated a whole swag of foods from my diet for the passed week, and the rash should be healed in two-four weeks.
So, my friends, life is never dull. If it is, you aren’t doing it right.
(*If you are over 60, I would recommend getting the Herpes Zoster Vaccine. We had to get a script from our doctor, take it to the chemist who ordered it and then we picked it up and took it to our GP, whose nurse administered it. If you have ever seen anyone with normal to serious Shingles, you would not hesitate to do this. It is a very painful and nasty thing to experience. My own was only minor pain the first few days and lots of itching.)
Early one morning I came upon a pair of thongs. They lay in the middle of the footpath, as if someone had just walked out of them, and gone on their way, barefooted. It is not the first time I have discovered homeless thongs. The humour-loving, curious artist in me took a photo. I edited the photo so it would be viewed more as an art work than a photo. I tagged it on Instagram #thongsasart and wondered if anyone would be as amused as I.
They kind of were.
Right and Left Thong, as found.
The next day as I walked by the same place, the pair of thongs had been moved. Not by me. I almost never move anything that I photograph outside. It is kind of my little challenge to myself to photograph things as I find them so that I have to work with the existing light and environment. The thongs now looked as if they were escaping into the tall grass at the side of the footpath. I photographed them again.
Day Two, the great escape…
Day three. Separation of the pair gnawed me with anxiety for their future. It was not good for a pair to be separated. Now there was nearly 30 feet (pardon the pun) between the two. They had lost sight of one another.
Day three, the separation. Left Thong as found.
Day three. The separation. Right thong as found.
Day four. Before setting out for my morning walk, I found myself nervously anticipating what might have happened to the separated thongs. The closer I got, the more wary I became. Grass. Had. Been. Cut. Town Council workers using their big mowing machines would never see the thongs. The pair meant nothing to them. They would take no notice if the blades transformed them into mulch.
I was almost afraid to look. There, in the newly mown grass, was Right Thong, face down. But where was Left Thong? Hesitatingly I stepped slowly into the grassy area, running my eyes along the ground. Something blue was at the base of a small tree. Ah. It was what makes a thong, a thong…the flexible, rubber wishbone that embraces the foot. It lay disembodied from its sole. A metre or so away lay a star emblazened remnant, once part of Left Thong. To its right lay another piece. I felt like a forensic scientist collecting data, though I already knew the truth of Left Thong’s demise.
Day five. Right Thong in mourning.
Day four. Remains of Left Thong.
Day four. Remains of Left Thong.
Day four. Remains of Left Thong.
Day five. You know that feeling of being curious, but not really wanting to know if the outcome is bad? I walked and tried not to look too far ahead, thinking perhaps I should just leave the story to its own conclusion. The podcast I was listening to distracted me, and before I realised, I looked down and there I was next to Right Thong. Right Thong was facing up again. I could see small signs of its ordeal, but it was gently smiling at me–as if to say, ‘it’s okay’. I stopped to photograph the survivor. As I was taking care to focus, a young woman walked by, sending a nervous glance our way.
I said aloud, ‘I know this looks crazy’–as if somehow my saying it, made it less so. We both knew it didn’t.
Day five. Right thong smiling at me.
Inside I thought of the words I’d just heard in my ear. They were by Frank McCourt who wrote the wonderful memoir ‘Angela’s Ashes‘.
[By writing] ‘I learned about the significance of my own insignificant life’
Yes, it was an insignificant thong, the image of which was made by an insignificant artist. But if we are to believe that nothing ever leaves the ethers, those images are forever. Making art makes us human. Being aware of that makes us grateful.
I’m not a water person. I’ve tried wading into the sea many times— just in case I’d changed my mind since the last time. I’m a mountain person. Mountains wait for you to come to them, but you can enjoy them from afar too. If you wade into the sea, sooner or later you will find a wave that is larger than you think it is going to be. It may swamp you—knock you off your feet, even, and take you where you don’t want to go. This is not always a bad thing, I know. But this post isn’t about swimming in the sea, it’s about how I avoid being swamped by the deluge of modern media, and use it to inspire.
A few days ago I happened across an article written by James Clear. I’d never heard of him before. Had I not signed up for a curated series of articles through a site called Medium, I would still not have heard of him. The article was titled ‘Forget about setting goals; Focus on this instead’. He talked about goals being the things we want to achieve, but the systems we put in place being the manner by which we achieve them. I liked the clear (pardon pun) way he set out the article and at the end he offered a subscription to a free newsletter he writes; which led me to a free article he had written called ‘Mastering Creativity: A Brief Guide on How to Overcome Creative Blocks’(you have to sign up for his newsletter to get access to this article or I would give you the link). I have been trying to start a new creative practice of drawing for some months now. I’m getting nowhere. Ok it’s probably because I’m just not drawing much. Ahem. Other areas of creative endeavour are flowing along, some better and some less so, but not the drawing. I thought perhaps reading someone else’s view on the pursuit of creativity might be called for. I liked his simple and direct way of making practical suggestions, most of which were things I have read before, but it never hurts to be reminded again.
James’s article and subsequent information is an example of how I am often led through a logical progression to break up the cobwebs and introduce new thought patterns. You probably have your own ways to use things like Instagram, Twitter and blogs as inspiration. In some cases I deliberately follow accounts I know nothing about. I don’t necessarily want to learn how to do whatever the subject of the feed, but it helps expand my thinking toward what is possible. I follow an Instagram account about sourdough bread baking by a fellow who is an artisan baker in Italy (Insta: ca_mia_breadlab); also an account about extreme knitting by a young woman who uses custom made knitting needles the size of drain pipes (I know!); an Instagram account about a young woman who executes incredible street art; also an artist who draws unusual little characters that are tremendously empathic beings (I’m so infatuated with her work). I also follow a few photographers(this link is for Australian based photographer Leanne Cole, whose work I love and who remains very accessible) that publish images I can relate to and learn from, as well as people who live in other parts of Australia and other countries. It’s a big world out there. What is the point surrounding myself with that which I’m already familiar?
inspired by Instagram tag #lovelydeadcrap_bw
Inspired by Leanne Cole’s macro work
inspired by Instagram: ca_mia_breadlab
inspired by Instagram account: thisismytree
recipe and inspiration for ‘brined vegetables’ all gleaned from internet
• Twitter – I often see articles of writing that interest me, most recently a book titled ‘We’re All Going to Die’ by Leah Kaminsky—not a grim reaper sort of book, but a book about culture and our experiences and conversations around death.
• Blogs – seem to evolve as friendship as well as inspiration because often the authors write from a very personal viewpoint about things in their lives. I’m more partial to blogs that are well written than I am likely to follow just because they are different. Blog writing is an art of its own. (here is a recent, and very short article with very useful writing tips)
I realised a couple of years ago I needed to curate my social media encounters the way a museum curates works of art, and the way I choose my friends—carefully, meaningfully. If it becomes too much, before long, nothing is special. But that is just me. I am easily stimulated, and equally, easily over-stimulated. I need to follow authors and artists that don’t overwhelm me. Sometimes that means I ‘unfollow’. You may be able to ignore what you don’t want to read, but I have to look at it and digest it before I can accept or reject it and move on. All that functioning and sensory input overwhelms my brain easily.
this serene image wouldn’t be possible if I hadn’t learned to shoot and edit iPhone photos from iPhone Photography School, all online
It seems to me in today’s world, there are two ways to go (probably more). You can purposefully seek media encounters that inspire you, or you can allow the flooding deluge of it all to carry you hither and yon. I may visit hither and yon one day, but when I do it will be a purposeful journey, taken because the inspiration has led me there and not because I was knocked off my feet and washed upon its shores unexpectedly.
How do you use modern media to inspire you?
(note: the link to the Artisan Baker in Italy is for his airbnb residence where he teaches bread baking; Instagram is where I found, and follow him, if you are so inclined)
I regularly see or hear things that give me shivers. It was about 20 years ago now that I first became aware of this quirk in myself. Perhaps you have experienced it too. I’ve heard people explain a feeling akin to which I refer, as something that makes your ‘hairs stand on end’; though mine is a shiver down the spine. Many years ago, I asked a trusted friend who was a massage and colour therapist what she thought of this phenomena and she said ‘it is your way of recognising something to pay attention to.’ I had surmised as much but confirmation is often helpful as we blunder through life, having left our roadmap at home.
Dried native lilies in milk jug. Waterlogue
Dried wild flowers. Waterlogue
Recently, I read a blog post and within minutes found myself purchasing the book to which it referred with great anticipation and still experiencing shivers. It’s unlikely it would be the same experience for most of you, because we all respond viscerally to different things. If you have been sharing much of my creative journey, you know without even reading to the end of this post, it will change my perspective. Everything visceral does this, whether or not we recognise it.
The blog to which I refer, and have included links a number of times previously, is Brainpickings by Maria Popova. The book with which I connected on this occasion is ‘Daybook – The Diary of an Artist’ by Anne Truitt. Brainpickings’ posts are based on books, sharing the views and comparative analysis of other books, essays and life observations. I hope Maria gets a commission from Amazon or Dymocks because she has often moved me to purchase books about which she has written. Maria’s blog post, and the now deceased, Anne Truitt’s thoughtful journal, reinforce the power of the written word to change ideas–even lives.
Last year I wrote about Elizabeth Gilbert’s book ‘Big Magic’. I relished this book so much I did not want it to end. It wrestled with the age old question of ‘what is the difference between being an artist and leading a creative life?’ Truitt, herself an artist, with background education and experience as a psychologist, left that profession to follow the creative life. Her psychoanalytical mind and her artistic soul, have given her a unique voice. She takes this question a step farther, asking whether or not one who practices art can, or should, call themselves an artist.
Devouring this book in near record time, has taken me a step closer to understanding who is an artist?
In the grand scheme of things this is an unnecessary question to answer. Of course. That we exist is all we really need to acknowledge. But my human ego wrestles with it. Truthfully, no one except us probably cares what we call ourselves, though others often want to put us into one crab basket or the other by asking ‘what do you do?’, thus labelling us according to their understanding of whatever you answer. Truitt points out there is baggage that goes with calling oneself an artist, indeed, with any label, but, specifically, there is often (not always) an arrogance and competitiveness in the echelon of calling oneself an artist, with which she and I don’t care at all to be associated.
Grevillea and Rosella Pears
Perhaps the most compelling reason in the affirmative to label oneself, is so that we are not allowing others to define us. Early in the book, Truitt writes “I refused, and still refuse, the inflated definition of artists as special people with special prerogatives and special excuses. If artists embrace this view of themselves, they necessarily have to attend to its perpetuation. They have to live it out.” And isn’t that the dilemma of any label we put on ourself or others? The need to live out the expectation can be heavy baggage. I know personally, I stick to one suitcase with rollers when I travel and attempt the same when accumulating baggage in life!
I see now that one must separate the expectations of the artist, and the process of being an artist; leading the creative life, as Elizabeth Gilbert calls it. To set oneself aside as something special, either because one calls oneself an artist, or chooses not to, is an egotistical rationale that may or may not correlate respective skill, message or intent.
Later, after a period of residence in a community of artists, Truitt is reflective of her former attitude and admits:
So to think myself an artist was self-idolatry. In a clear wind of the company of artists this summer, I am gently disarmed. We are artists because we are ourselves.
This was the nugget of truth that lay in my shivers. My deeper self had recognised this immediately, and felt much more at peace. The process of being oneself doesn’t require a label, it just requires unfolding.