Saturday, 19 January 2019

Word for the Year

Choosing a word for the year was on the list of topics to think about a few weeks ago, when I was doing my retreat. Last year’s word, SUBTRACT, was based on the quote by Meister Eckhart:

And how did subtract work for me, you may wonder. It was a good word – I thought about it and lived by it when I decluttered my clothing shelves, my book shelves, my art supplies. Marie Kondo, the decluttering queen, would have been proud of me. I noodled on it when my life was too busy. The KISS principal (Keep it Simple, Stupid) saved my bacon more than once. It reminded me that life was way, way more than just an accumulation of more...more things, more experiences, more production, more commitments, and yes, even more creative ideas to explore. The essence of life is a gift, but it’s easy to forget that when I am distracted by a pile of clutter. How can I grow spiritually, when I am so preoccupied by material things?

But now it was time to think of a new word. For a while, I thought about the word REFINE, with a view to setting down, once and for all, what my values and beliefs are, writing a personal creed by which to live. If I typed it up and printed it out, a creed would be so handy to refer to when I was puzzled or indecisive! But somehow that word just didn’t seem to tickle me, to make my heart sing. It was too much of a cerebral exercise!

It was while I was working through the second day’s retreat objective – Taking Stock – that a lightbulb began to flicker on and off. I was creating an art piece around the following idea:  what if there was a box under your bed full of treasure to discover this year? what might it contain? As I filled in the empty spaces on my fabric background with symbols and pictures of those things I treasure, I was overwhelmed by the bounty. But I also realized that there are so many boxes of treasure that I haven’t even opened yet. They’re all sealed up, gathering dust. Subtract, refine: they’re good words, and we can learn from them, but there’s a whole world out there, and once we’ve subtracted the non-essentials from our lives, we might just discover new treasures to enjoy.

And so, this year, my word is ... TA DA! ... Explore. 

Checking out the dictionary, I read this: Explore means to travel in or through (an unfamiliar country or area) in order to learn about or familiarize oneself with it (Wiki).

Yes! I like it. To explore means to set aside your preconceived perceptions and be open to new ways of looking or thinking. To explore means that I can immerse myself in a creative process without knowing if it will work out. To explore means I will try things I might not have tried before – travel to new destinations, eat different cuisine, communicate with people I might not have a lot in common with. To explore means I will open those boxes that are still all sealed up, to see what might be inside. The corollary, after all, of Explore, is the word Discover.

Wait a minute, wait a minute. I’d better count the cost of making Explore my word of the year. It means that even when something new frightens me, I at least have to explore my fears; I will have to jump over that border wall into foreign territory where signs warn, “There be dragons here.”  Or, I might decide to try something I really don’t like at all (pole dancing, anyone? Maybe I won’t open that box quite yet!) I may have to listen to someone saying things that I can’t agree with – and then exploring that conflict. Why do I turn off right-wing news on TV or snooze negative posts on Facebook, for instance? Why do I dismiss zealots out of hand? Oh, I can see already that this year may not be all fun and games; on the other hand, it will be enriching. It will be about enlarging my world. And there is no time like the present to get started.

for info on this art medium, google resin art
So let me show you what I have been exploring this week in the studio. The members of our small quilt art group were each asked to choose a small abstract poured resin art piece; the challenge was to create art based on what we saw. We could focus on colours, shapes, associated ideas, or just about anything that occurred to us. Explore the options, in other words, then get to work. This was my chosen “pour”:

What I saw was a crow. (Of course I would!) Was the crow sticking her head out of a hole in the tree? But crows don’t nest in holes. And trees are grey, black or brown, aren’t they? After exploring pictures of juvenile birds on google, I found one of a nest full of pileated woodpecker babies. Hmm. And maybe trees can be green with splotches of red and yellow. But how do I do that? And so, off I went, to my decluttered shelves (sort of) to find fabrics, threads, ribbons, tulle, organza, and dissolvable stabilizer.

I started working with a technique I hadn’t used before, layering all these fibres on soluble stabilizer to create a new fabric. And this is how far I’ve gotten:

Collect yummy eye candy to start with...

...layer the bits and pieces on a framed piece of soluble stabilizer...

... cover with a layer of tulle and stitch down.
Cut finished piece from frame. Soak in water to remove glue.

I think I have enough pieces to create a tree trunk, but how do I stitch these pieces together? How do I make a background? How do I create a nesting hole? How do I create a juvenile woodpecker? Questions, questions, questions...and I will be doing a lot of exploring as I attempt to answer them.

My word Explore is off and running through uncharted territory, and my heart is singing.

Saturday, 12 January 2019

Be Well

It’s the beginning of a new year. Hope springs eternal in the human psyche. This year, I hope, will be even better than last year. But only if I change a thing or two about my life.

So, when a New York Times article caught my eye, I was in like a dirty shirt. Take the thirty-day Well challenge, the writer, Tara, urged readers. Only a few minutes a day to a new, better version of yourself. I push a key on the keyboard, and I’m enrolled.

The program is all about 4 words: Move, Refresh, Nourish, and Connect. “The science is clear,” writes Tara. “If you move your body a little each day, you will be far better off than if you are sedentary. If you nourish your body with real food (the kind that doesn’t come in packages loaded with sugar or via a drive-through window) you will be healthier than if you eat junk food. If you allow your mind to take a break and refresh from time to time, you will feel better. And if you regularly connect with loved ones and friends, old and new, you will be both happier and healthier.”

Each day, an assignment is sent to your email box, and if you complete it, you can click the “I did it!” button. It’s like pulling a handle at the slots and getting a sack full of gold coins. Tracking your progress is a good indicator of finishing the program, says Tara. Tell your friends that you’re doing it. That’s another good sign. So that’s why I’m writing this.

The program started Monday morning. I awoke with great anticipation and clicked on the link. A video with instructions for my first Move Assignment appeared on the screen. Oh, oh!  I was in deep trouble. The model who would demonstrate the moves looked like this:

I look like this.

The voice-over told me I would be doing 30-second intense workouts, followed by 15 seconds of rest, through a set of 4 exercises repeated twice: Jumping Jacks, Forward Lunge, Bent Knee push-ups, and The Plank. Yup, I was in trouble. Obviously, these exercise were not designed for me, with my arthritic knees and my carpal tunnel wrist problems.

Still, I wasn’t about to give up on day one. Maybe I couldn’t do those exercises, but I could still move in 30 second intense segments. I could maybe chase the resident sweetie up the stairs, rest for 15 seconds, and chase him back down again. On second thought, maybe not. Jack and Jill fell down the hill, and Al and Jess came tumbling after. So: 30 seconds of intense vacuuming, followed by 15 seconds of rest. Repeat, repeat, repeat till you’ve done the 6 minutes. That should do it. Hey, look at that – visitors coming tomorrow, and the floor is clean! This program works!

Day Two: The assignment is labelled Refresh. Hmmm....maybe a nice nap? Or a long hot bath? Nope.
illustration New York Times
This assignment is called Toothbrushing Meditation. Toothbrushing Meditation?

Today, chirps Tara, we’re going to take one small step to help you quiet your mind. Today when you brush your teeth, try this challenge:
When you're ready to start brushing, close your eyes. ...Now listen to the sound of the brush on your teeth, taste the toothpaste....Stay present....Now, slowly, stand on one leg and keep brushing. You might wobble, but try to stay present and focus on the moment — the sounds, tastes and feelings throughout your body. Feel the ground beneath your foot. Feel your strength. Be present.

I admit, I am skeptical. This sounds way too whoo-whoo. But, I’m a good sport. I will try it. To my horror, I find I cannot even stand for 2 seconds on one leg while brushing my teeth with my eyes closed. Aghghg. I’m a failure on day two!

(The next day, my sister reminds me of the Yoga Tree Pose. This adaptation helps tremendously. But still? Do you brush your teeth for 6 minutes twice a day? You do? Oh.)

Day Three: Oh, no, not another Move day. Apparently Move assignments will appear on three days each week. A new model is demonstrating the moves, and the exercises are marginally easier than the first day. At least, they looked easier. Another failure notch on my belt.

I look forward to Day Four: A Connect assignment. Tara greets me cheerily: “What say we make a love connection today?” The assignment is to Reinvent Date Night. Apparently, planning an outing or social experience that is different from what you usually do with a partner or friend will enhance your connection to each other. Like go to a restaurant you don't usually go to -- A&W instead of McDonalds. Or, maybe instead of watching Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy, we could try watching a new show? We could even hold hands!

Day 5: Groan. Another Move assignment. Enough said.

Day 6: Nourish. That means food, eh? Tara tells me that it is time to snack. Good, I can do that. She tells me that potato chips and chocolate brownies are not good snacks. Oh. I need to arm myself with good things – carry them in my purse, have a supply in the car, put a container by my reading chair, for instance, so when the growlies attack, I can ward them off with good stuff. The good things are .... ta da! ... nuts. Boy, does that make me feel good! Nuts have been my go-to snack for quite a while now. Finally! I’ve succeeded at something. I can even click the “I Did It” button.

Six days down, 24 to go. At the rate I’m going, I may get the thirty day challenge done in a year or so. Well, it will keep me out of trouble.

And it gave me something to write about!

Saturday, 5 January 2019

In Search of Solitude

One morning, in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, I snuck upstairs to my studio to be alone. I love my family, and I love people, but I love my solitude, too. Sometimes we need time alone to get re-energized. I turned on the computer, and began writing:

“I’m in my studio, alone, taking a break from people, but....(those dots indicate an interruption)...the resident sweetie has come up the stairs and plopped himself on the sewing chair. “Whatcha doing? Writing a blog? What’s it about?” I tell him that I’m writing a blog about being interrupted, about how I need to get away from people occasionally. He grins, “Oh, it’s about me again, eh? Aren’t you glad I give you something to write about?” How did two people who are so different ever got together in the first place? What’s with that?”

Al says he needs solitude too. But his idea of solitude is different from mine. For him, solitude means being relaxed with no expectations placed on him; it could be in his den, with the classical music pouring out of the speakers, or it could be taking a drive around the peninsula, finding a bench that overlooks the water, and sitting there for a while. Solitude might include me being with him, enjoying his version of solitude.

Not that I don’t enjoy that, but my version of solitude includes stillness which promotes a kind of listening to the divine (or God, or the Universe or whatever you choose to call it.) When I am in the listening mode, my mind and heart are open.  It may or may not involve writing, reading, and artistic pursuits as well as walking and taking long warm baths. The operative word is alone, so I can “hear”, so the channels are not blocked.
V Chanev Photography

Do I ever “hear” anything, you may ask. For sure, but often not something I can put into words. I just read this quote which sums it up pretty well: “I don't ask for the full ringing of the bell. I don't ask for a clap of thunder that would rend the veil in the temple. A scrawny cry will do, from far off there among the willows and the cattails, from far off there among the galaxies. - Chet Raymo.” And I would add, “a whisper from my work table will do, a sense of something true that calls through the darkness urging me on, that too will do.”  Sounds a bit whoo-whoo, but that’s who I am.

Does this scenario sound like a horror movie to you? Not in your worst dreams would you want to get away from people so you can maybe hear a faint signal from the great beyond? You’ve been to retreats, sure, but they involved lots of people learning about things together, with some free time for relaxing.  Fascinating, isn’t it, how we are all different, with different needs? I’ve had someone tell me that retreating from other people, carving out space for yourself, is selfish, but I no longer apologize for who I am, and neither should you. Vive la difference, I say.

It was silly of me to think that I might be able to have some solitude in my studio when people were coming and going, laughing, playing games together. So I made an announcement to my significant others: January 2, 3, and 4 would be my Retreat Days. They have been good about it. They know wife/mom/friend is no earthly good without her periodic times of hiding out. I did come out of my hidey hole for a few hours every day, at mid-day, and for the evening as well, sharing time with the RS. It’s been a good experience.

My three-day self-directed retreat consisted of Day 1: Review (look back); Day 2: Take Stock (look around) and Day 3: Project (look ahead.) Coincidentally, I’d also signed up for a 30-day drawing challenge posed by our local arts council, which started on Day 1. Each day I get a topic in my mailbox which I am supposed to use as a drawing prompt. I decided my drawing would be done with my sewing machine – thread-sketching, it’s called. So I have been incorporating these thread sketches into my reflections. They aren’t great works of art, but they are “creations” and I have had to listen to my head and heart as I worked on them.

The first assignment was to picture the Earth in 2121. I'm not even sure the earth as we know it will be here in 2121, especially not with the way we are treating it. So instead, I created a spiral galaxy with a small dot in the center. The earth, I think, will be whirling through space in some way shape or form.

My second assignment asked me to imagine what was under the bed. (Besides dust bunnies?) I changed it up a bit: if there was a box under the bed full of treasure to explore this year, what might it contain? I began by thread sketching an empty box on a piece of fabric I'd rust printed this summer. All those circles looked like dream bubbles.

I filled the dream bubbles with the things I treasure in life, and put some scraps of fabric, thread and ribbon into the box. It's not finished yet -- I wonder what other treasures I will find to add to my collection this year.

The third assignment was to draw the lyrics to my personal anthem. If I could teach the world to sing, what song would I teach? And this is it, folks... a song fitting for you and for me: "The earth is holy, and everything in it...that means you, too." Don't forget how precious you are.

I am so grateful for this time that I got to myself, so thankful for the support of people I love, so excited and inspired by the gifts and treasures I am uncovering, so curious about where it all will lead.

 In the meantime, another quote I came across during my days of solitude might give you food for thought and inspiration for the continuing journey as we move into 2019: