Not a process; a practice

I recently moved myself and my family into a new space – both literally and figuratively. One of the myriad reasons for moving was my desire to free up some time-space for things I want to do. One of those things is art.

After the relative ease of placing bookshelves and beds and couches, I am now getting to the stragglers of unpacking, much of which are art supplies. Materials: I have them. Baskets and boxes full. Paper, canvas pad, fixative, tape… tins and brushes. Giant, thickĀ  paper with unfinished edges, ready for me to swipe chalk or charcoal across with my whole arm, oil paints enticing me with their names: vermillion, cerulean, burnt umber.

Today, a Saturday, I have suddenly decided it’s time to put them away; no, to organize them. For use. I completed round three of student-work purging; sketch books half full of assignments from classes five years old, filled with information I have long since internalized. I no longer need to reference the definitions for pointillism or hue or value. In five short years the printouts that my instructor required have faded, and I’m helpless before the information to find meaning beyond sentimentality. Goodbye.

I kept some work – student work that I like, a portrait of my son that he loves, some paintings I began and never intend to finish. It’s stashed safely under my bed, awaiting the next purge.

And then, taking inventory of my supplies and materials. What do I have? Everything I need. Too much, even! What shall I do?

I’ve been hoarding materials for the day I be able to make some art worthy of something more than the sentimental space beneath my bed. I’ve thought about my process. I’ve studied and learned and asked questions. I’ve examined pieces I like, and analyzed artwork for otherwise unrelated classes, and spent my free time around artists.

Today, I realized that creating art isn’t just a process, it’s a practice. There is no arrival; for me, art is not a means to an end of artistic worth. It’s a practice. So what shall I do?

I’m going to use up those materials.

The Weight of Blame

It is heartbreaking for me to be judged on a standard of privilege to which I don’t have access.

When I graduated high school, I was told I would not receive financial aid and my parents didn’t help. I didn’t have a lot of guidance at the time, so it seemed student loans were the only option. I didn’t want to bury myself in debt, so I worked instead. I deliberately developed a skill set that I believed would serve me well, wherever I went.

I never imagined that my intelligence, positive attitude, skill set and strong work ethic would not be enough to make a good life for me and mine. These days, I am transitioning to something better, and applying the work ethic I learned as a child to attaining my goals. I am making strong, long term plans for the financial future of myself and my children. But transitioning during mid-life as a single parent is harder than I ever imagined. It’s a long road ahead of me. Maintaining an attitude of hope and positivity takes every ounce of willpower that I have. And you know what? I’m lucky! I have privilege too: I have access to quality housing, I live in a relatively safe neighborhood, I don’t suffer from medical or mental health issues. I have the support of my community and friends. And still, it’s hard. It’s the hardest and most difficult thing I’ve ever done, and I’ll be grinding away at this for many years to come.

To be judged for my perceived financial failure, outside of the context of my life, is a blow to my soul. It makes me want to lie down and give up. I feel your blame. I know you believe that my circumstances are a result of my poor choices and inadequacy. That I’m doing it wrong. I can hear it in your voice, I can see it in your eyes. You’re judging me as a failure as if it were some kind of choice I made. I feel hurt, and sad.

But mostly, I feel compassion for you, for that tiny little box that you live in. I hope the bottom doesn’t ever fall out for you the way it did for me. And if it ever does: I’ll be there with open arms, to catch you, to support you, and to help out as much as I am able.

Because that’s how I roll. I always have, and always will. And in the meantime, I’ll put on my happy face for you, because deep down, I think you need it more than I do.

The Carrot of Happiness

This morning as I enjoyed my coffee and breathed in the fresh air (oh, it was so very fresh this morning, I could taste it with each breath), I thought, I am happy.

Immediately following that thought, I thought – I am?

And then I had to wonder. Am I? What does that even mean?

My brain was off and running at the pace of galloping horses. What about the stress I felt over my papers due tomorrow, and the cavity that seems to be growing in my uninsured molar, and the worry over my weight gain, how I’m going to fix the exhaust on my car, are my kids getting enough love and attention from me… Surely if I have thoughts like those, I can’t be happy.

And then I breathed in that fresh air again, and this time I wondered, How DO I feel?

I wasn’t feeling any negative emotions. I felt pretty good, in fact. But I thought it was strange that I couldn’t really decide if I was happy or not.

I was feeling gratitude for the beautiful weather, the fresh air, the sunshine, the gentle breeze that blows my perfectly tuned chimes and makes its own song. Grateful. I felt grateful.

What a lovely emotion to experience: gratitude! Which led me to satisfaction and contentment. Also wonderful, and specific emotions. The beauty of these positive emotions is that they are emotions that happen all by themselves. All I have to do is notice them when they happen, and I think, This is nice. I like this.

All too often we are faced with this vague feeling of desire around being “happy.” I don’t know about you, but it’s a concept I’ve been chasing after for a while. My search and desire for “happiness” has led me to all kinds of places… some of them that, in hindsight, were never going to get me to that happy place.

For now, I think I’ll just be a little more specific in my thinking, and forget about that silly carrot called happiness. Gratitude is a good place to start, I think.

Hello world!

The idea behind this blog started a couple of years ago in a neighborhood bar with a good friend.

Jake and Tamara, at Meiji.

Jake and Tamara, at Meiji.

Once a week or thereabouts, my good friend Jake and I would meet at Izakaya Meiji, to share beer, tapas, and some big ideas. Sitting at the honey-colored bar under the filament-burning bulbs, we talked in low voices and laughed out loud about the ridiculousness of… well, everything.

Jake did me a solid by being there for me and never judging me as I sloppily navigated getting divorced, becoming a single parent, moving to a new town, and building a new life.

Part of building that new life included returning to school and moving into an intentional community. A natural side effect to making such momentous lifestyle changes is a perspective shift; a spiritual awakening, so to speak. One evening our conversation turned to the idea of “sheeple,” which of course neither of us claimed. After some discussion, however, we did come to the conclusion that maybe, just a little bit, we are part of the flock… hanging out along the fence instead of right in the thick of it.

The conversation ended in a burst of laughter with one (or both) of us exclaiming, “I’m on the bleating edge!”

This blog is dedicated to Jake.