Advent Day 23: Revise or censor?

Today’s collage if examined closely, contains numerous layers: papers that initially created cohesiveness, but after further consideration really did not. When that happens, I whip out the gesso and mask the area in question, hoping that it might neutralize the composition and help establish clarity. And while the gesso is out, it’s hard to resist the impulse to make little dots.

But really, what’s at play here is censorship. For those of you who know my Calendar Project, you may know that I battle with self-censorship on a daily basis. Once I realized that other people would look at and sometimes pour over my calendars (which happened nearly immediately), I began to censor what I included and couched other things in my own symbolic language.

So what is this collage really about?
12-23-15

This collage began with an homage to my bionic breast. A year ago today I joined a club to which I never imagined I would access when it became clear that there was something suspicious going on in my right breast. (I am sure many of you have memberships like that of your own.) And I consciously decided not to write about it in this blog. I did not and do not want to be that artist who used her blog and her art to heal her journey through breast cancer. (Which was and is pretty crazy, the second part at least, because I know full well the healing power of art.)

Here I am, just shy of three months from getting my bionic breast and a little over six months from having a mastectomy, and I am far from healed. Physically, yes, as my sister-in-law said to me at the start of this “to cut is to cure.” And indeed that cutting did cure me.

But as my surgeon told me last week, for some people it takes the mind and the heart about six months to catch up to the cutting. So what I am experiencing right now is completely normal. And I have to move through the anger, the vulnerability, and the fact that I may never comfortably do a push-up again.

There are so many parts of my story that are good. My disease was not invasive. I didn’t have to have chemo or radiation. My Douglas and his sisters are doctors, one of them a breast surgeon and all three were by my side at every step of this. My mom came out twice to help me, and made countless batches of sugar cookies to help me eat something when I didn’t want to eat anything. My friends called, walked with me and visited. My colleagues on Main Street pitched in and helped make PRESS’s final summer on Main Street a success. My parents’ friends and members of their church sent me flowers, cards and a prayer quilt. One of my cousin’s made me the best playlist ever of church hymns written by Jesuits in the 1970′s. Other family members sent food gift cards, mowed my labyrinth, filled my email with encouragement and sent letters and holy cards.

I am blessed that I am on sabbatical this year without the pressure of my teaching and college politics. And I ran five miles this morning at a 9:22 pace. (Thank you Ellen.)

And really, I know now that if I can cut off my breast, I can do anything. (Including getting into cold water.)

Advent Day 22: Happiness comes in waves

Many years ago I made an artist book entitled Happiness Comes in Waves. It’s a fantastic little book that utilizes one of my favorite structures, the flagbook. It was featured in 500 Handmade Books Volume II. Here’s the text:

Happiness comes in waves, like corduroy lined up ready to hit the shore as clarity, togetherness, contentment, joy. I remember sitting on my board in the deep blue-green, watching the sets of waves lumbering towards me. I waited for the one with the right drop that would give me the ride of my life all the way across the bay.

Learning the difference between the waves that would send me in and the waves that would dump me onto the coral reef straight ahead took practice, courage and faith. The best waves often loomed high above and scared me as they came off their line in the set. To get a good ride, I had to kick hard at the right moment and commit to riding the wave, confident in my choice and ready for whatever it offered.

One particular wave dumped me hard; tossing me between rises, gasping for air, choking on salt and sea, clawing to the surface scared and suffering, only to be knocked under again. My mind knew that the torture of the sets beating me down would end, for only a certain number of waves are in a set. But it was easy to forget this in the midst of the whirling water.

Eventually, the pounding ceased, and I was able to kick back out to the breaking point to wait for the next round. I knew that the ride to the bay, alive with bumps and thrills, pure joy and ecstasy would come.

I’m thinking about this artist book, the day after the solstice, largely because of the words that happened to become part of today’s collage. I wanted to use yellow and the paper with “catch a wave” kept coming into my trial arrangements. The text for Happiness Comes in Waves was written during a time when I needed to remind myself that the “dump” (the technical term for getting tossed off your surf board) into the churning water is part of every joyous ride. You practice, you learn. You begin to master a skill. Yet sometimes, no matter how practiced, primed and prepared you are, something dumps you off your ride. And only you can decide if you are going to get back on that board and go in again. photo (21)

Last night I built a fire for the solstice and got it going in less than five minutes with only one match, and it was raining lightly. All I could think about was all the times when it took me what seemed like forever to get the fire going. And that’s when these two different metaphors came together for me. Just as I am the only one who can decide to get back on my board, I am also the only one who can light my fire within. I can choose to stay off the board and in the dark, or get on and get that fire going.

Advent Day Twenty-One: Into your groove

One of my favorite podcasts is Krista Tippett’s On Being. She broadcasts a new episode, or sometimes a popular previous episode, nearly every week. Last week she published her conversation with Martin Sheen which revealed a whole new side of this actor to me. A devout Catholic and activist, not just an actor, Martin Sheen was good friends with Daniel Berrigan, Jesuit priest, poet and activist, and often stood side-by-side with him at demonstrations and rallies for peace and justice. (I bet he also knew Corita Kent!) What surprised me the most is that he has been arrested over 60 times as part of his activism. It’s a good listen. I recommend the unedited version. It contains a few extra morsels of thought. photo (19)

This part of the conversation totally relates to what I wrote about yesterday:

I have another phrase I use so often when I’m faced with having to do something that I know I have to do and yet I want to put it off, procrastinate a bit. It’s, “We must accept the cup as offered, not altered.” And so, you know, we always want — “Could you pour some out, please? It’s too full,” or, “Could you put a little sugar in there, please?” “Maybe not today. Can I take some tomorrow?” No, no, afraid not. We have to accept it as it’s offered.

I feel quite blessed to have found these words today and the whole conversation between Krista Tippett and Martin Sheen. I hope you find the time to listen to it, especially on this day of looking to the light. So much of this is about getting to this day, moving through it and then beginning the great anticipation back to the summer solstice. We wait and we listen, and hopefully accept what is given, with as much gratitude as we can muster, when it is good and when it is bad. Happy Solstice. Look to the light.

Advent Day Twenty: Try transforming

Lots of shapes, colors and line converge in today’s collage, and many of the collages made in the past three weeks. Some are down right chaotic. Sometimes the photograph makes them appear less so…other times, like today, the photograph seems to emphasize the chaos. photo (18)

I’m grappling with what my doctor said to me on Wednesday about the need for me to stop avoiding my feelings, and to let myself move through them, creating all kinds of chaos in my brain. These words came to me this week: “I’m guessing there is something comfortable for you about not changing.” Have you ever consider that in your own life? How staying in whatever pattern you are in is easier and even comforting?

It’s like getting into cold water for me. Exhilaration pulsates throughout my entire body when I am able to immerse myself into cold water. The pain and discomfort evaporates because the success of completing the challenge is so great. I know this to be true. But the anticipation of the first part paralyzes me and prevents me from getting to the second part.

Try transforming. Find that thing that is easy and comfortable for you, but is not serving you well and see if you can work through it–in spite of the pain and the discomfort. You are the only person who can do it.

 

Advent Day Nineteen: Let Go

I received some feedback on Wednesday that forced me to take a look at some of the things I am not doing and avoiding in relation to my mental and emotional health. I even work to avoid considering why I am avoiding it. So do I need to let go of the feedback OR do I need to let go of the things stirred up by the feimageedback. Truly the latter is what I must do. Wish me luck.

Advent Day Eighteen: Keep at it

Anyone who has tried to eliminate a bad habit, or start a new one, knows how difficult it can be, and frustrating. Especially when you know that you actually feel better when you do or don’t do whatever it is you are trying to stop or start. And we all have some sort of thing we want to “work on” so we can feel good. photo (17)

Kelly McGonigal wrote a book dedicated to this called the Willpower Instinct. It is based on a course that she teaches at Stanford designed to help someone stop or start something. She gets at the science behind the willpower muscle, essentially saying that like any muscle you have to keep it in shape, and that when it gets tired, it may not function as well.

One of the first thing she has participants do is begin meditating. Because when you are distracted, you are more likely to give into temptation…meditation helps you cultivate focus. It’s amazing how it works. (Try it. Meditate for five minutes a few days in a row and see how it enhances your focus the rest of the day.) But she also talks about failure, forgiveness, really understanding why you want to make the change and embracing the process versus the outcome.

I keep picking-up The Willpower Instinct, as well as the The Power of Now, and the Power of Habit. I need to return to varying practices of my own that help me deal with stress and process whatever emotional/mental/spiritual blocks that I currently slither through my system.

I keep reminding myself to keep at it, that I can feel good. But I have to do the work. It isn’t just going to happen.

Advent Day Sixteen: Eagle

On Monday as I was driving along the Massachusetts turnpike I luckily spotted a bald eagle perched in a tree. A friend recently recounted an experience in the same part of that road where a bald eagle was flying nearly parallel to her as she drove along. These moments where we spot another species in “the wild” stay with us.

While this was my first bald eagle sighting, it wasn’t my first eagle encounter. Ten years ago I spent a month in Tasmania on the most magical piece of earth cared for by my friend Peter Adams. On one of the hillsides near an ancient she-oak tree, an eagle nearly dive-bombed me. While this was a completely different kind of experience compared to Monday’s observation, I take away similar feelings and gratitude for being present and attentive to my surroundings.

Then yesterday, I was introduced to this poem by Joy Harjo, entitled Eagle.

To pray you open your whole self
To sky, to earth, to sun, to moon
To one whole voice that is you.
And know there is more
That you can’t see, can’t hear;
Can’t know except in moments
Steadily growing, and in languages
That aren’t always sound but other
Circles of motion.
Like eagle that Sunday morning
Over Salt River. Circled in blue sky
In wind, swept our hearts clean
With sacred wings.
We see you, see ourselves and know
That we must take the utmost care
And kindness in all things.
Breathe in, knowing we are made of
All this, and breathe, knowing
We are truly blessed because we
Were born, and die soon within a
True circle of motion,
Like eagle rounding out the morning
Inside us.
We pray that it will be done
In beauty.
In beauty.

And while this college is not filled with eagles, let’s pretend it is. photo (15)

Advent Day Fifteen: Converge

What exactly is converging here?photo (14)

Little dots and pathways back and forth and back and forth finds its way into my work regularly. Often the dots are red. Lately they’ve become white. And in my mind’s eye, I see them suspended in three-dimension. Ideas, thoughts, obligations, time–moving through the ether. When I pull back to see the full picture I understand how they converge together…but so often I am caught up inside the movement, tumbling within the chaos.

And I ask myself, when do I need to be the movement and when do I need to push back against it or diverge from it?

Advent Day Fourteen: Chimeras

Chimeras, what a great word. It definitely goes onto the list of possible titles for future exhibitions. The origin of the words comes from Greek mythology, Chimera was a fire-breathing hybrid of a monster but I prefer the meaning as it is used in the quote below from Muriel Barberry’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog. (A fantastic book you must read if your haven’t.)

Personally I think there is only one thing to do: find the task we have been placed on this earth to do, and accomplish it as best we can, with all our strength, without making things complicated or thinking there’s anything divine about our animal nature. This is the only way we will ever feel that we have been doing something constructive when death comes to get us. Freedom, choice, will and so on? Chimeras.

We think we can make honey without sharing in the fate of bees, but we are in truth, nothing but poor bees, destined to accomplish our task and then die.

I know, I know, not the most uplifting quote for a Monday. But these realizations also remind us of something that Paul Tillich said, “Suffering introduces you to yourself and reminds you that you are not the person you thought you were.” photo (13)

I embrace the chimeras. Every single day. Sometimes I call it magical thinking, but more than once it has gotten me through a challenging day. And with that, I am going to ride my bike in the woods in the middle of December, because everything is better amongst the trees.