Monday, April 17, 2017

What's the difference between being a writer and an artist?

What is the difference between being a creative writer and an artist? Aside from learning different skill sets, of course. This question popped in my mind while listening to a podcast recently.

The Pug Party podcast is hosted by Roxanne Cable, artist, and her husband James Siciliano, writer. They talk about art, writing, being nerds, and occasionally pugs. (They own two.) As someone who has been a writer and is now an artist, it's really interesting to hear their perspectives on their work.

In their first episode, they talked about their creative processes. James spoke about story circles, which is a way of envisioning Joseph Campbell's the Hero's Journey.

Unfortunately, what sometimes happens to me in listening to podcasts is that it provokes my own thought processes and I end up going down a completely different track. Which may mean I'm not as good a listener as I thought I was, but also, I rarely listen to podcasts because I tend to drift off with one voice talking for too long. I am much better at watching or reading. Or in person.

I ended up thinking about my own work both as a writer (I used the Hero's Journey loosely -- it was more about turning points for me) and as an artist.

In writing, there is a ton of work on character etc that doesn't get seen and in the longer format of a novella or novel, you travel with the character through a part of their life.

In my art, it is more a moment, a glimpse into a story: whether it is a moment of my life or an imagined character. 

Artist Michael Reardon in a video teaching painting watercolor cityscapes remarked, " [This] window has all these fancy mullioned patterns, but it’s really not the story...”  The story for him is told in the play of light and shadow around buildings and water, not in every single detail.

This editing is true in creating both art and writing -- unless you're James Joyce or Diana Gabaldon (whose books have reams of detail) -- you choose what to show. (This is why you so rarely read about a character going to the bathroom unless its intrinsic to the plot.)

In my art, the story is still there, often intuitively, not intentionally placed, and the viewer of the artwork can bring as much or as little into the piece as they want. This interaction exists in reading, of course, but a lot more is spelled out. (Baroom ching) The reader gets to imagine the characters and the scenes, helped by the writer but it is ultimately the reader's own story/life experience that comes into play.

What differences do you see between being a writer and an artist?

Monday, April 10, 2017

an Artistic Autobiography

When I went through Education for Ministry, we learned four different ways to tell our spiritual autobiography, where God had shown Godself in my life. Two of the ways were by using a timeline or by using images.

Now that I have recognized that I am an artist and in particular a visual artist instead of a writer of fiction, I thought it would be interesting to see where art has been -- or where I have been an artist -- in my life.

The first story I remember writing was a few sentences on top of a page illustrating a blue monster, which represented the bullies in my young 8 year old life.

I remember my mom taking us kids to the art gallery, and I loved the quiet space and the art on the walls both realistic and expressionistic.

Art was one of my favorite subjects throughout primary (elementary/middle) school and high school. Projects leap out of my memory: using watercolor pencils to do a continuous line sketch of branches and the whorls within; creating a clay bowl without a wheel and the grey lizard I shaped from the memory of the little grey skinks/lizards that are so endemic where I grew up. 

Weirdly, art as a subject was also one where the fear of failure was real. I was pretty much an A student (except for home economics and sewing), but brain smarts had no place in art. At least, so I thought at the time. It was like diving in at the deep end.

Art became an elective in the last two years of high school and I took an extra unit of maths instead of art. It was the practical thing to do. But there was one free period that I had a week and I ended up sitting in on the art class, watching and chatting until the art teacher, Mr. C., told me if I was going to continue to be there, I had to submit art of my own. I bought a handful of pastels and some cheap watercolors.  I did the bare minimum and was a smart arse in the process, submitting a "painting" of a brown envelope, addressed and stamped. 

In the first year of university, I dabbled in recreating costume sketches from Drama class and drawing palms against the sky. (At the time, I was studying computer science and had Drama as my one Humanities course: art wasn't an option.) I also had this cartoon character that ended up in the margins of my notes.

After that first year in university, The visual arts drifted away, but I continued to write. I didn't come back to art until I started scrapbooking. Because, paper, obviously.

Then my part-time, on the side, writing career started to fizzle. I discovered Suzi Blu, a mixed media artist. Scrapbooking became mixed media and art journaling and I was hooked.

All my paintings of girls looked very po-faced, but I was having fun. There was delight and joy despite the frustration of not being able to draw what I wanted.
My paintings are now of strong women, not sulky girls, and I think they might be becoming recognizably mine.

That would be thanks to Lifebook 2015, which is a year of mixed media classes, creating paintings and journal pages with a whole bunch of teacher-artists, including the sweet and kind class coordinator, Tamara Laporte. It's through Lifebook 2015 and 2016 that I discovered different ways to paint faces. It's through Lifebook that I discovered Flora Bowley and got a taste of her intuitive painting method. 

And it is with Flora that I discovered painting *created* joy. Whether I was angry or upset or frustrated, painting abstractly on a canvas cleared out the negative feelings and brought a quiet and very real joy and even delight.

So that is where I am now. I manage to get into my art studio three to four times a week, despite working full time. On the weekends, I can spend hours in there, while during the work week, it might only be 15 minutes or so and it'd be a sketch, or putting down a layer of gesso or some collage.

Art is for myself, right now, no performance anxiety or "will they like it?" is needed, although I was excited to share two self portraits that are recognizably me and more recently got even more excited when two other artists I admire (Annie Hamman and Misty Mawn) complimented me on a third self-portrait and encouraged me to do more.

Wanting to do more is definitely something I want to do! As I've been reflecting on my word for the year, joy, art is a central part of that. This month's one little word project was to create a vision board of our word. Here's the art related one:

And that's the story so far!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Kindness is Infectious

A few people from my church have been standing with some friends outside a nearby Islamic Center with signs saying “We stand with you”, “We are all brothers and sisters” etc. They started doing it after the first travel ban executive order and are there during the main Friday prayer services. A little way to show love in a country that screams hate at Muslims.

I’d been wanting to go but there was always a reason not to. Friday is my tie-up-loose-ends, get ready for Shabbat day and I was concerned about the amount of time it would take from work. I had some overtime up my sleeve, saved for taking time off to make art, but doing this act of love was more important. So I finally went.

I’ve now been three times and it’s such a life-giving and life-receiving experience. We’re a mix of Christians, Jews and “just people”. We welcome all coming to prayer and they smile, wave and thank us … and return the kindness by feeding us and making sure we have something to drink, etc.  This is part of who they are, the great Middle Eastern core value of hospitality. It is a wonderful feeling, everybody loving on each other. It no longer is us vs. them, but brothers and sisters, humans acknowledging each other's existence and being kind.  It's kindness creating kindness creating kindness.  The love and kindness shown remains in my heart and ripples out to be shared with others into the next week. 

I think this is what the theologians (and the prophets and Jesus) mean when they talk about compassion and loving-kindness. The effects stay with you, growing your heart and you keep wanting to come back and give more love and kindness and receive more love and kindness.

How are you showing love and kindness?

Saturday, March 4, 2017

What I Learned This Winter

When I meet with my spiritual director, the first question he asks me are: what are the fruits?

Sabbath is so important. I've just started disconnecting from Facebook on Sundays. I figure POTUS will tweet or sign an executive order whether or not I am there to witness it and share my outrage. So far, it has been sanity-giving. I've been considering extending it to Saturdays for Lent. (Although I've already been on Facebook this morning, oops.)

Meditating. This month's prompt as part of one little word was to take on a daily practice. I figured that my initial idea of praying through frustration and anger would be a much needed daily practice but it has come down to a simpler (and yet difficult) practice: closing my eyes and breathing and observing thoughts and feelings rather than chasing them down the rabbit hole.

Watercolor. After completing the Ever After course run by Tamara LaPorte, I determined that watercolor is all very well but not for me. Three of my last four paintings in my art journal have been predominantly watercolor. So, um, so much for that decision. I have fallen in love with Daniel Smith's Moonglow in particular.

Raincoats. It turns out that raincoats only last about 25 years before they completely lose their water resistantness. I found this out during the last batch of heavy rains that hit Southern California. Thank goodness I also had an umbrella. A new raincoat is on the way.

House-cleaning. I now know how to clean under our sofa. Throw a ball under it. Turns out Miles-the-dog can wriggle into and out of some tight places. I nearly fell over laughing.

Quote of the Quarter: "Every act of hatred should be met with an act of love and unity." (from an article by the Southern Poverty Law Center)

linking up with Emily's "What I Learned This Winter" at "chatting with the sky"

Saturday, February 4, 2017

God's Love Stories: Links of Listening and Love

This week I'm pulling together a couple of videos and a few other links that have been helpful since the election (and before you think they are political, they are not. If you want politics, you'll need to find me on Facebook. I post a lot of stuff there. The visa/travel ban has been the on that's upset me the most.)

If you only have time for one video, please watch the first one:

Rev. Stephanie Spellers on the Revolutionary Art of Listening, from December 1, 2016 at Tedx New York (click on the picture below):

If you have only time to read one thing, read this: Continue, 2016 by Leeana Tankersley, always we begin again.

And the others:

Video: Brene Brown on why your critics aren't the ones who count at the 99u conference. Which seems to be the inverse of listening, but there's the listening to understand the other person, and then there's not listening to the attacks that keep you small. Rev. Stephanie would say you would then ask your critic what their hurt, their dream is.

And finally a photo with a story:

This is all that is left of a purple papier mache box (the tiny knob) and my Associates cross (the cord is missing), both presumably consumed by one or both of my dogs. So far, no ill affects, but I am a bit worried about that cord.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

My Word for 2017

I don’t actually remember if I picked a word for 2016 (possibly, unofficially, it was Breathe which was a theme in my meetings with my spiritual director) but I certainly have in the past: Selah, Behold are two. This year, my word is joy.

It’s not just focusing on what delights me — although that is part of it, but making joy a core part of who I am. The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu’s The Book of Joy shares 9 pillars of joy. Here are a few off the top of my head: generosity, gratitude, acceptance and forgiveness. I’ve explored the practice of gratitude before but I have let my practice of writing down three things lapse.

“Joy” as a word chose me for 2017.  Toward the end of 2016, I had resigned as Chair of my church’s worship committee and dropped out of the church choir. I had held onto the chair position because my church was in transition in finding a new rector. I didn’t need to hold onto that any more and I needed to take care of me.

So I can see me continuing to shed the “ought to”s and things that no longer give me joy and continuing to make my priority those things that do give me joy: the process of making art, fresh air, bubble baths, etc etc. 

And maybe even finding joy in God. (I have not yet explored where I stand with this but the sentences popped into my head so there it is.)

I already had in mind to work slowly through the practices shared in The Book of Joy but then Liz Lamoreux in her blog (be present, be here) referred to Ali Edwards’ course one little word.

I took a look at it and realized that not only would it help me keep on track with exploring The Book of Joy but would potentially help me to go deeper into all aspects of the word. One creative prompt a month didn’t seem like too much of an additional burden — although y’all know I will make a journal to put it in. Probably.

I hope to share here my explorations of joy -- but we shall see!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Mary of Aleppo

Every year some part of the Jesus birth narrative strikes me differently. For the past few years, it has been that the birth wasn't a pretty, sanitized thing, but was full of dirt and muck and loneliness. The song, "Labor of Love" by Andrew Peterson, has been my song of the season in the past.

This year it is Mary's Magnificat that has captured and held my attention. I've read a couple of articles about how Mary was not meek and mild but that she was a revolutionary, a rebel against the occupation.

I'm sure you've seen the video footage coming out of Aleppo. I watched one yesterday that started with a shell-shocked child sitting on a gurney, like so many of the shell-shocked Syrian children we've seen lately. Blood is on his forehead. Beside him was a woman from the same building that had been bombed. She is mourning and crying for her lost children. Her face is bloodied also.

"Omran, Angels Are Here!" by Judith Behr
The camera moves to a teenage boy standing in the door way. He's holding a baby, cradling it, a baby that has suffocated in the collapsed building. He is the last of his family.

The camera returns to the boy, his baby brother wrapped and on his lap. He is sitting next to the mourning woman.

The teenaged boy pats her on the shoulder and says, "It's okay, God will avenge us against the oppressor."

I think: you're going to get yourself killed.

And it hits me. That's Mary.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.

He has filled the hungry with good things

    but has sent the rich away empty.
(from the Magnificat, Luke 1:52-53).

It's a gut reaction it is backed up by history.

Nazareth is one mile from Sepphoris, which in 4 BCE (per Josephus) was sacked by Judas ben Ezekias in a revolt against Herodian rule. (This was after Herod the Great.) [Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews] The Roman governor of Syria burnt down the city and sold its inhabitant into slavery. That last is probably hyperbole on Josephus' part. Archaeologists have not been able to find traces of burning. But the governor of Syria surely responded to put down a rebellion. [Josephus, Wars of the Jews]

Mary lived through that. In her village of Nazareth, one mile away, although later tradition also has her growing up in Sepphoris.

One mile from Aleppo would be close enough. She would say "God will avenge us."

It is my hope, that as Mary gave birth, and witnessed all the wondrous events surrounding the birth of her son that as she pondered things in her heart, she realized God had bigger plans than mere revenge, that she had given birth to the Savior, not just of her corner of the earth, but of the world.

But this story has not finished working itself on me and I have perhaps tied too neat a bow onto the end of it.

Mary of Aleppo, hear our prayer and save your people.

[Video link for the last hospital in Aleppo: the images are "upsetting" as the very British news announcer put it.]
[Video link for the song "Labor of Love"]