Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Learning to Be Messy

I think I've reached a transitional time in my journaling (and my life.)  Looking back through my pages completed in the course of a year, I can easily see shifts in style, subject matter, focus.  And I am sort of delighted by where things are headed.

For as long as I can remember, I've longed to be a "messy journaler."  I look at the pages of Dina Wakely and Samantha Kira and simply sigh.  For me, messy journaling represents the ability to attain a certain state of mind, the ability to let go of the outcome and revel in the process.

I am a control freak.  I love and crave order (often obsessively so) and after years of contemplation (and therapy), I understand that my need for order is hardwired.  It is an essential part of who I am.  That doesn't mean I can't let loose here and there.  In fact, it is imperative that I do so.

I will always make neat, well-composed journal pages (and paintings and quilt objects and so forth.)  That is my personal comfort zone.  However, I want to flirt with danger as well.  Balance in all things means practicing the opposite of what makes you comfortable.  I need to go off the rails, blaze new paths, improvise, and make do.  I need to embrace the wonky, the misprinted, the accidental, the sloppy.  Because in reality, life isn't really about control; it's about hanging on during a wild ride, hoping for a soft landing.

The last couple of journal pages that I've done are a good beginning.  The composition is still pretty orderly but I feel the creative process is starting to relax a bit.  I'm kvetching over the outcome far less and spending less time choosing materials.  This "new me" is, as always, a work-in-progress but after years of being in a hard, dark place, I think I am finally coming up for air.  And my!  It smells so sweet!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Remembering & Preparing

Remembering March 11, 2011:
I only noticed the early morning sirens because Tuscany, snuggled up against me in bed, suddenly became tense, her head alert, listening in the dark.  The sirens sounded at first like a passing fire engine but instead of growing louder and then fading, the sound kept on going.  Just as I became conscious enough to try and react, the sound stopped.  Tuscany dropped her head back onto my pillow with a small sigh and I drifted back to sleep.

A couple hours later, I finally came awake for good and began my usual morning routine.  I flipped the switch on the coffee pot, fed the cats, turned on the heater and once the mug of caramel-flavored caffine was warming my hands, I settled in to read the news headlines online.  There, I discovered that Japan had experienced an enormous earthquake, a geologic shudder of historic proportions.

Now I live in earthquake country and I happen to also live in a tsunami hazard zone.  Tremblors and tsunami warnings are nothing particularly unusual but as I turned on the television and watched video footage of black seawater angrily barreling ashore in northeastern Japan, I began to wonder if something dramatic might show up here on the California coast.

At about 6:45 a.m., a fire vehicle screeched into the parking lot outside my apartment building.  Red and yellow lights flashed and rotated, throwing sickly color onto the building walls.  A loudspeaker declared:  "There is a tsunami coming!  You live in a tsunami evacuation zone.  Please evacuate.  This is not a test!"  Now I already knew at that point that any waves resulting from the Japan quake were not due to hit our coastline until 7:30 a.m..  We had time.  But somehow, between the sirens, the lights, the noise, the neighbors rushing to leave, a terrible sense of panic took over.

My son and I managed to drop Marley into a box but Tussy was vehemently opposed to crating.  As a rehabilitated feral cat, she is extremely sensitive to and frightened by loud noise and sudden movement.  She hissed and spat and hid and we finally gave up trying to take her with us.  We seemed to spin in place, unsure of what to take with us, our voices sharp, unkind, frantic.  The unknown was terrifying.  We drove away from our home, unsure of when we would return or what we would return to.  We despaired over leaving Tuscany, our bird Milo, my son's fish.  I thought about my journals.  We left without taking much needed asthma medication, warm clothes, food.

In the end, the tsunami activity in our local bay and harbor was noticeable but non-damaging.  However, just an hour and a half up the coast, the harbor of my childhood hometown was completely destroyed.  A young man was killed, the only tsunami-related fatality in the United States.  (He went to the beach to take pictures and was swept out to sea.)  All I could think of, was "We had time."  In Japan, there was only the earthquake and then a mere ten to fifteen minutes to flee ahead of what was, in some places, a 46-foot wall of water. 

Experts say (and they reiterated this after March 11) that a seismic event the size of the Japanese quake is expected here on the Pacific coast due to the highly volatile Cascadia fault line.  Note this entry from Wikipedia:
Recent findings concluded the Cascadia subduction zone was more hazardous than previously suggested. The feared next major earthquake has some geologists predicting a 10% to 14% probability that the Cascadia Subduction Zone will produce an event of magnitude 9 or higher in the next 50 years.  However the most recent studies suggest that this risk could be as high as 37% for earthquakes of magnitude 8 or higher.  Geologists have also determined the Pacific Northwest is not prepared for such a colossal earthquake. The tsunami produced may reach heights of approximately 30 meters (100 ft).
My eyes have been opened since March 11.  I realized that I am not properly prepared for a disaster.  Coming this weekend, look for a special edition of Lost Coast Studio as I detail what should be included in a "Go Kit" in the event of a natural disaster and/or evacuation.  It is something I think everyone should have in their home.  Every part of the country experiences its own brand of destructive natural forces, from earthquakes to tornados to hurricanes to flooding to wildfires.  A little bit of preparation goes a long way.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Taking Things Stitch By Stitch

As I stated in my previous post, I've been spending my days trying to figure out where my artistic life is headed and one thing I know for sure is that part of my heart lies deeply buried in my fabric stash.

For the better part of two years, an insistent internal whisper has been floating around in my head:  "Get out of the house, you crazy, shut-in lady and go find your tribe!"  So last month, I finally jumped in with both feet and joined a local quilt guild.

I've made exactly one quilt in my lifetime but even though I never really did much else with it, I've collected fabric over the years because...well, I could.  I mean, look at it all!  So luscious!  I'm not planning to ditch painting or journaling or mixed media any time soon but for a while now, I've wanted to take my relationship with my sewing machine to the next level.

My goals are very, very simple.  I want to get out of the house and make contact with like-minded adults and secondly, I want to learn enough about quilting and sewing to make soft, functional goodies for me and mine.


And as it happens, the quiet, deliberate act of sewing (either by hand or machine) is extremely meditative and it appeals to that part of me that longs to slow down and listen to time tick away.  I absolutely believe that balance in all things is important but I really haven't been very good at applying that principle to my own life.  Too often, I am frantically playing catch-up after a bad run of health issues, holding my breath and hoping I have enough time to get everything accomplished before it all hits the fan again.  Instead of always running ragged, I need to make time for gentle living.  It is time to learn how to take things stitch by stitch.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Riding the Waves of an Artistic Sea-Change

"Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange."

The Tempest; William Shakespeare 

It has been a strange couple of weeks here on the Lost Coast.  I'll address the Japanese earthquake and tsunami in a later post as that monumental event impacted the coast of California in its own way.  For now, I'll stick to some studio news.

Something grand and mysterious and not quite definable has been brewing for months now. Sometimes, I have been impatient, trying to force all the swirling ideas into solid reality that I can then organize and analyze.  This, of course, backfires and results in long periods of inactivity.  And sometimes, I am able to just let go and get out of my own way.  When I finally take a breath and examine what materializes on the journal page or canvas, I am surprised, perplexed, excited, scared.  I want to ride the waves of this sea-change but I am often held back by old thought patterns.  I am compelled to know "why" and "how" and "what"; I'm not very good at just letting things develop in their own time and way.

Here's what I've been able to pin down so far:
  • I'm losing interest in long, drawn-out "confessional" journaling.  I feel satisfied in that department, like I've said all I need to say to myself.
  • My imagination is starting to assert itself more often and more confidently.  I feel stuffed full of characters who are demanding to be known.
  • While I still in love with paint, I am falling equally hard for fabric.
  • I've always thought that my leading sense was sight but I'm discovering that more and more, I am driven by the sense of touch.
  • I'm longing for slow, leisurely projects, things that become like soft kitties who snuggle up for warmth and leave behind love.
  • I am still firmly rooted in my bright palette; that particular aspect of my work remains steadfast.
  • Previous mediums that I adored and then left behind are generating renewed interest.
Where will this all lead?  I've tried to visualize where I will wash ashore after all this upheaval but in truth, I haven't a single clue.  And I suppose, that's what magic is really all about.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Remembering How to Get Back Up

"Defying the Current;" mixed media
I've been thinking a lot lately about perserverance, about sticking things out even when all seems impossible, about picking up the pieces of failures and building anew. 

I'm not always a very good "get back upper."  I am a champ at falling down, gold medalist and straight A student in that department.  My record for recovery from missteps, stumbles and outright fall-on-my-face blunders is, however, rather inconsistent.  Sometimes, I bounce back, roaring in defiance and ready to kick failure in the teeth.  And sometimes, ugly truth be told, I do nothing more than splash around in my own tears and lament my fate.  I'm working on that, in art and in life.  It helps to remember (and learn from) past successes.

This piece is really, really old and I remember exactly the circumstances of its creation.  It was early 2001.  I was recovering from back-to-back hand surgeries: the removal of three bones from my right wrist and the shortening of my left radius.  I was in physical therapy and it was long, difficult, painful work.  I'm right-handed and after surgery, my only task was to simply wiggle my fingers.  I slowly progressed to making a fist and gently moving my wrist.  In the middle of all of this, I was just starting my art degree while raising my son alone.  The diagnosis of and subsequent treatment for Kienbock's disease had knocked me to my knees.  But I absolutely refused to be defeated and this collage was the first art piece I completed after surgery.  The fishes were painted on watercolor paper and then cut out with an Xacto knife.  It was tough work with tender hands and ill-advised according to my physical therapist.  I didn't care; nothing and no one was going to keep me from doing what I loved.

In both art and life, it is so very important to hang on to memories of success because that is what fuels and instructs you when you fail.  If that painting/drawing/journal page/poem just isn't working, skip back to one that did.  Think about why it worked.  Mine your past shining moments for clues to handling life's belly flops.  My fish collage reminds me to be tenacious, positive, unrelenting.  In this piece, I see courage when others say all is lost.  It reminds me that even when I am broken, I remain powerful.  I reach for that memory, harness it and use it to pull myself upright again.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Just Be You (Runny Nose and All)

Yesterday, I literally sat and stared at this yellow background for an hour and a half, uninspired and distracted by the intense pain in my face (thank you sinus infection!)  Slack-jawed, with eyes tearing up from the pressure, I just sat there, vainly trying to summon something - anything - to the page.  Checked my temperature...yup, running hot...damn!  Still, I sat there, trying to be just as stubborn and unrelenting as the obstacle I was fighting.

Now I don't always push back so hard against health issues.  There are times to be flexible and there are times to be unyielding.  I wanted to do some art, plain and simple, and in truth, I was actually sort of angry that some stupid bacterium was getting in my way.  So I was trying to stick it out even though head pain is my primary dealbreaker when it comes to art-making.  And for that hour and a half, I was at a physical and creative standstill.

Finally, a bit of inspiration made it past my angry sinuses and I began to paint.  This colorful fellow is the result.  The page itself isn't anything groundbreaking and I'm not sure I even like this image.  But I am happy that I was able to create a little something to soothe my soul.  Those pesky bacteria are still kicking my ass but I am hopeful that the antibiotics will soon start kicking right back.  So remember: healthy or hurting, the best you can do is to just be you!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Waging War

Well, the upper respiratory virus my son has been harboring for about a week decided to jump ship and get cozy in my head and lungs...ugh!  It feels like someone is standing on my chest and I make this curious little whistling sound when I breathe.  As you can see, Miss Tuscany Jane (aka Tuss or Tussy) disapproves of my coughing fits because they disrupt the serenity of her spot on my lap.  I can practically see the thought bubbles above her head:
"What's with all the noise, human?!"
"Can't you see I'm trying to sleep here?"
"Please try to keep it down.  All the snorting and hacking is rude.  I mean, really!"

While I battle the microscopic invaders making Tuss and I miserable, I'll pop in to Lost Coast Post as I can...for now, I only have appointments with the tissue box and cough syrup...best wishes (and good health) to all!
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