A Shelter in Stormy Weather

Have any of you wondered what the name Open Hearth Studio is all about?

stormy weather - hail on grassWhen I think of the image of the Open Hearth, what I see is an old fashioned kitchen: a shelter from the stormy weather outside. I envision a life centred around the fireplace where it is warm, bright, and comfortable, and where conversation is intimate. This is the environment that I try to create, despite not having a fireplace in my studio! This is the atmosphere where I believe healing can happen. I’m writing this in a brief sunny moment, right after a sudden and surprising hail storm.

People usually come to Open Hearth Studio in the midst of the most stormy and stressful periods of their lives:

when they are grieving, or struggling with a big change, either happening in the present or coming up on the horizon.

Grief, loss, and change can arrive much like that hailstorm – we might know that it’s natural, but it might have surprised us if it arrived without warning. We’re certainly having a lot of feelings, and some of them might not make sense or seem “right” to us. A move, retirement, or job change can be exciting and full of potential, and it can also bring feelings of loss and fear. A divorce can feel devastating, and sometimes we see a glimmer of new possibilities.  A new diagnosis can be frightening, and yet there may be some relief that at last you know what is wrong. Death can come with terrible sadness, worry about the future, and confusion. Yet alongside it may live tender memories, feelings of love, and gratitude for suffering ended.Stormy Weather

So the invitation is to come in out of the cold, stomp the snow off your feet, and settle down for a healing conversation, where all the parts of you – the pain, doubt, confusion, love, and hope within you – can be met with warmth and acceptance, and where you can move towards reconciliation and healing. The Open Hearth (even without a real fireplace) is waiting for you.

This month, I am offering an introductory Art Therapy Workshop for grief called “Art to Ease a Grieving Heart” where you will

  • Connect deeply with yourself so you can discover exactly what you need to avoid emotional overwhelm as you grieve.
  • Learn how to communicate with family and friends about expectations so you can make plans and decisions without defensiveness or guilt.
  • Create a concrete self-care plan for dealing with important milestones and special days to help you stay grounded and moving forward in your healing.

You can find out more about it on my workshops page.

Poetry as a Meeting Place

heartswirlPoems have the capacity to be so many things.

From silly limericks to the grand historical sonnets, to the rawest spoken-word poetry-slam creations, they are used to communicate an incredibly wide array of feelings and intentions. I’ve been thinking a lot about poetry lately. I use it frequently in my small groups and in my own life as a starting point for thinking, talking, and making visual art. It’s a beautiful way to get a glimpse of what’s going on inside of us, without staring straight at ourselves, and maybe scaring ourselves off.

While the writer of a novel can take hundreds of pages to say what needs to be said, a poet is trying to distill the essence of a feeling, thought, or experience into something small and concentrated. Imagine a mad scientist hunched over a bunsen burner, watching liquid in a flask bubble up through coiled pipe until a mere dribble of something more precious comes out the other end.

So few words, to express something immense like love, or loss. The fascinating thing is how much space there is – infinite universes of space – between those few words. They allow me to see my world, and you to see yours, all the while also containing the poet’s world. I think poetry is a lot like visual art in that way. I can draw something – let’s say a flower. What I might mean by that flower, and what you might feel or understand on viewing that flower, can be miles apart, and yet we can be together in compassion while looking at it.

I’d like to share a poem with you here, one of my favourites. It’s called Love After Love, and was written by Derek Walcott. It was published in 1976. Here it is.

Love After Love

The time will come
When, with elation,
You will greet yourself arriving
At your own door, in your own mirror,
And each will smile at the other’s welcome,

And say, sit here, Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
To itself, to the stranger who has loved you

All your life, whom you ignored
For another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

The photographs, the desperate notes,
Peel your image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

I read joy in this poem, and a promise that I can find myself – that I am always, and still, there to be found. I’ve read it different ways on different days. For today, I’m mostly playing with the idea that I’m reading it at the same time you are (or pretty close!) I’m enjoying the picture of an imaginary space where all our possible meanings are meeting together for a moment. Hmm… I wonder what that might look like?

mixcolours

Pet Loss: Grieving For My Dog

Audrey - by Marion Evamy
Audrey’s memorial portrait by Marion Evamy of Red Art Gallery

I’ve been preparing to write this post for about 8 months…

thinking that it would be helpful for those who have felt left out of the discussion around grief because they are “only” grieving the death of a pet. For those who have been told that pet loss is “not the same” as mourning a person. In a sense, that much is true. There is no such thing as “the same” grief.  Every death is a terrible loss. Every grief is a complex experience of memory, pain, and myriad other emotions. No one wins in the competition of “who hurts worse?”

My dog, Audrey, died four weeks ago, and the preparation made no difference at all.

I have been conscious of watching myself grieve pretty constantly since then. It’s an odd experience, being fully immersed in the feelings and direct experience, and then unexpectedly finding myself popping back up into my head to think “I’ll have to remember this, so I can write about it later.” I don’t really recommend it, but it’s what is happening, so I guess I’ve just got to go with it. My hope is that both you (and later I, too) will find it useful.

Having to hit the “reset” button every other moment …

For me, anyway, that’s what it felt like for the first few days. That scuffle I’m hearing: no, that’s not Audrey following me, it’s just wind outside. Her collar jingling? No, that was a cellphone in the next room. Thinking that I should wait a few more minutes before getting up to go to the kitchen to make sure Audrey’s soundly asleep so I don’t disturb her? Oh, she’s not here; I can get up and do anything I want without bothering anyone. Except what I want is to have her here, to have to (to be privileged to) consider her, to be irritated by her constant needs. While I am surprised less frequently by her absence now, after a month (which feels like about two weeks), it still happens more than I expected, and I imagine that it won’t go away entirely any time soon.

Self-Care, whether you think you need it or not

I  thought it might be a hard decision to cancel appointments in my Art Therapy practice when Audrey died. I knew I’d “probably” need to give myself the same time and permission I advise to others to deal with her inevitable death. Good old ego, thinking only in terms of “probably,” and thinking that all the other pet losses I’ve “had experience” with would have anything whatsoever to do with this loss. I thought I’d feel responsible and a little guilty, so I might let myself waffle a bit on self-care. In the end, there was no question. I didn’t want to see anyone. I wanted so badly not to see anyone that I gratefully accepted my clients’ graceful responses to my last-minute emails telling them I had family circumstances that required my attention for two days. Thank goodness I did. And thank goodness there was a weekend and a “business and paperwork day” as a buffer zone in there too. I would have been good for absolutely no one if I had stuck it out and kept my appointments. I’m still catching up on paperwork.

So what would be useful for me to say here?

It surprised my “witnessing self,” how many of my assumptions about my own reactions were inaccurate. I thought my previous experiences were going to make more difference for me than they did. I thought I was completely committed to one particular course of action, and in the end I went with something else. What my heart wanted in the moment was stronger than any of my rationally considered plans. Perhaps what I want most to get across here, and what I know is still just outside the reach of my language, is the sensation of grief, beyond the whirling thoughts that want to explain explain explain – not really able to mask the true experience. No matter how often I slide upwards into heady observations, turning clever words and ideas over and over in my mind, that I would write a great little essay with, the solidity of the feeling remains, and grows oddly comforting. Stay with that, I remind myself. That is the truth; that is the medicine that will heal me.

Since my own art and poetry haven’t quite come through yet, I leave you with the image of Audrey painted by Marion Evamy of Red Art Gallery (above) and the words of David Whyte, a master of finding words for grief:

THE WELL OF GRIEF

Those who will not slip beneath
the still surface on the well of grief,

turning down through its black water
to the place we cannot breathe,

will never know the source from which we drink,
the secret water, cold and clear,

nor find in the darkness glimmering,
the small round coins,
thrown by those who wished for something else.

from River Flow
New & Selected Poems
Many Rivers Press © David Whyte

Acceptance and the Unexpected

audreynov2016I’m pretty sure I owe you all some news. I’ve been asked off and on for the past few months, often tentatively and apologetically, whether my dog Audrey was still alive. I wrote some months ago about the expectation that she would die soon because of an inoperable cancerous tumour. It’s a funny thing, expectation. When a vet (or a doctor in human medicine) tells you that illness has taken hold and that death will come immanently, you tend to make plans based on the numbers given. “You have about six more good months; you should do what you can to wind up your affairs and make every day count.” “She’s close to the end, you should come and visit now while she’s still lucid.” Or in my case, back in March, “July’s a really long time from now, for her, I don’t think you will be needing a pet-sitter for that trip you have to take.”

July was four months ago, and while I still think in terms of “will she be here for (whatever the next holiday or visit is)?” I have become pretty used to Audrey still being here. We joke that she is “the dog that never ends, yes she goes on and on my friends…” like the children’s song that goes around and around (and never ends). Under the joke though, is the sure knowledge that one of these days we’re going to have to go through whatever her death will look like. I am reminded of a line in an obituary (and I’m not sure if this is a real memory, apocryphal, or from my own imagination) that says someone died “suddenly, after a long illness.” That’s what it feels like. We can expect the inevitable, but no matter what, somehow it still manages to sneak up and grab us by surprise. And so we waver, caught in that gap between expectation and acceptance.

So I’m writing this little piece to simply let you know, Audrey is still here. She’s even slower, has the same temper, and the same sweetness that lies just under her skin if you take the time to let her show it. I have to help her up and down the stairs, but she still seems to be happy to be a dog, despite her limitations and occasional limp. For whatever reason, she perfectly happily munches up her various pills without needing the bribe of a treat. We suspect she’s trying to make up for her old habit of snapping before thinking. Good dog, Audrey.

Goodbye: Endings in art and life

"Grieve", Acrylic, 2012

Goodbye – What word creates more intense emotions?

It can be said in so many ways. Goodbye can come with an emphatic exclamation point; a slammed door. Sometimes it comes as a question. Is that all there is then? Are we done? Really? Other times, it’s simply the end of a sentence that has gone on too long, and we reach the period with a sigh, perhaps relief.

My preference is for the type of goodbye that is followed by an ellipsis (. . .) 

Pardon me for geeking out on punctuation for a moment! And please, don’t go looking up a grammar guide online – I’m sure my writing wouldn’t pass the test. Let’s just go with the metaphor for a moment here. If we end a sentence with a dot, dot, dot; we are left with the knowledge that something is being left out – with a sense that there might be something more.

Goodbye . . .

Welcome to the Open StudioI made a hard decision this spring. After more than three years, I chose to end the Open Studio program at St. George’s Church here in Victoria, BC at the end of this month. We’ve made art together, laughed, cried, ranted, made messes, and cleaned up. Over eighty people, in all, at some point experienced our little community. At any individual session, our attendance usually didn’t get much above six people, but WOW, those six (whichever six came that day) were invariably brave and sweet and committed to their process and to each other. I got to witness kindness, comfort, and respect. I watched courageous souls take a look at themselves and make decisions to change, to try something new, to stretch and to grow. I watched hurting souls find comfort in quietness and colour, a brief touch or a cup of tea offered by a stranger. I watched the shy and the gregarious, the young and the old, men and women, self-identified artists and those who say they aren’t a bit creative, figure each other out and figure out how to BE with each other. Just to be. What an honour and adventure it has been.

Of course, we’ve had to end things all along in this process. Every piece of art made at the Open Studio has needed to be dismissed at some point. Sometimes the dismissal has been unconscious. I think of the occasional artwork left behind and never reclaimed, its creator having done what they needed to do at the Studio, and choosing not to return. Sometimes an artist needs to put their work on hold, set it aside for a session or a  month or a year, until the time is right to say “hello again!” and continue to work. On those lucky occasions when an artist feels satisfied with their work and can say “I’m done now! It’s finished,” the goodbye can be clean and optimistic, looking towards the next idea, the next canvas. More often though, the ending is fraught with doubt. Is this finished? Did I miss the mark somehow? Where did my original idea go? This looks nothing like what I planned. What can I make of it now? Or even with work that feels good to its creator, there can be the doubt of what to do with the piece. Should I give this away? Am I ready to let it go? And of course, always, the wondering – Will I ever have a good idea again? I loved this creation, and now it’s over, and now I feel so very empty!

Sometimes my job as an Art Therapist is to hold the lamp of hope that there will, of course, be more good ideas. And the lamp of acceptance that sometimes there will be a big, blank canvas. And that that is okay too. There will be different canvases, different opportunities, different relationships. There will be new knowledge. Practice will never make perfect but it will do a much better job than never trying again. I might say. “Art is a way to practice all the hard stuff in life – like letting go and learning something new and tolerating just not knowing!” And sometimes I know I’m lucky no one has dumped a paint bottle on my head (yet.) We want so badly to move on to hello.

I know you all know this.

Life includes endings. Without Goodbye, we do not get to say Hello. We’ve heard them all. I’ve said most of them. And sometimes I’ve said those things at the right time, but not always.  And despite the truth in all of them, and despite my desire to go zooming past the ellipsis . . .  right away into the next truth . . .

That would be unfair. And grammatically incorrect. Those dots are there to tell us something is missing, or left out. And to rush past that space is to deny the time we need to feel the absence. For me there is a breath that happens at . . . .               I think it’s an inhalation – an anticipatory gathering of my energy. Something in me probably knows I’m going to need it.  So let’s take a minute to breathe here. We know there will be a helloBut right now it’s vital to recognize the loss. Whatever loss might be up for you right now. If you’re one of those who is directly affected by the ending of the Open Studio, or if you’re someone who missed it, or someone who is just here checking this space out – take that breath. What’s missing that needs to be acknowledged? What has life required you to say goodbye to – with all the pain that entails – right now? And what needs to be felt and known in this time of ending? Not what your friends think, not what our culture tells us we should feel, or know, or do, but what do YOU feel and know about goodbye right now, in your own soul and bones?

Let’s just be here for a while. Take the time we need. We can wait together until it’s time for the  Hello  after the  . . .

 

If you are feeling overwhelmed, misunderstood, or alone as you mourn a loss, ending, or other goodbye, I help people find their way to the other side of their unique grief. Please contact me if you feel I might be of service.

Living in Dying

2013-09-02 19.50.03I know my dog is dying.

Audrey has been with us for almost three years, and, honestly, she rescued me, not the other way around. She is 15, of uncertain heritage with something of a wolfhound, and something of a border collie in there somewhere. Her temperament has always been uncertain as well. Not too trusting, not always polite, but quick to feel terribly ashamed of her bursts of temper.

We have a lot in common. I have always been a person who experienced what an old teacher of mine called “creeping enlightenment” rather than those sudden cataclysms of joyful change. As I watch Audrey move towards what is inevitable for us all, in her own doggy way, I find myself experiencing those new and painful cracks within that tell me I’m growing again. The creeping vines of changing awareness are once again at work inside me and I’d better be prepared to make some room for them. Open a window, let more light in, drink more water … and find the courage to let people in to support me, to be my trellis.

I watch her for cues and clues to what she needs, and find I need those things too as I prepare to wade into grief again. We walk much more slowly now. We save our energy for when the foolish squirrel  wanders into our vision and THEN we put on a burst of speed, and enjoy the hell out of the 10 second run, goofy grin on both our faces. She needs to watch what she’s eating, so as not to disturb the very inconveniently placed tumour that won’t stop growing. It wouldn’t be a bad idea if I paid more attention to my diet too… We stop and smell every … single … thing …. I stop multi-tasking with my phone while I’m walking her and let myself notice that there’s a certain flower bed in our nearby park that has been planted with hundreds of hyacinths that bring me memories of a t-shirt in grade 5 that had (yes, really) a scratch-and-sniff decal of a hyacinth on it. She is clear when she’s done and wants to go home. I have a harder time with that one.

Each new grief brings back memories of every dying we have ever experienced.

I remember my friend who died on the last day of high-school. I remember the boy who took his own life in middle school, who I so regret not making my friend. I remember my grandparents, each of whom died in their own way, consistent with who they were. I remember other pets, from Tippy to Sean to Nanna to Zeke and on and on. I remember and revisit the traumatic experiences when death has come too close to my beloveds. Through the surgeries I’ve had to wait through, breathlessly, when the mortality of my parents, my nephew, my child, my friend reaches up and slaps me in the face. And then not just theirs but mine, and yours, and every living thing. If I’m not careful, I step back into the fear. I step back into the closed room where the sun doesn’t shine and the vine cannot grow.

Instead, I’m going to choose to walk with Audrey. She’s smart, this dog of mine. When she hurts and needs our help, she does let us know -thanks to that wonderful temper! When she’s happy she does not hide it behind dignity. I’m going to honour my memories, the painful and the good, with gratitude. I’m definitely going to be making a lot of art to help me see and hear what my soul needs more clearly! I’m going to keep facing forwards, into the sun. And if I should happen to fracture a bit, in this wonderful tension between past and future that is our current life, then that’s where the vine will creep through, blossom, and bear fruit.

Collage: The Path of Least Resistance?

Are You Feeling Resistance?

Collage: Familiar Materials
What might it take for me to grow through this resistance?

When I’m feeling it, what I notice first is all the excuses I make. For instance, in the case of getting down to my self-prescribed practice of making daily art I might procrastinate by saying, “I don’t have time right now.” “I’ve only got a pencil and I want paint.” “I’m hungry.” “This paper is the wrong size.” “I’m not in the right place.” “I’m alone and I’d rather do this with someone.” “I’m around other people and I’d rather do this alone.” I’m sure most, if not all, of those phrases sound familiar. Even if we don’t say them about art-making, we say them about something in our lives: exercise, making a doctor’s appointment, contacting an old friend…  We avoid. We resist. It’s in our nature. And yes, I’ll get to talking about collage in a minute.

Human beings favour stasis over change

We prefer the known to the unknown, and the same to different, in general. Sure, we all know an adrenaline junkie who thinks it’s great fun to leap off cliffs to feel the rush, but that rush is created exactly because adrenaline is produced when we are confronted with something we don’t expect or that our system interprets as dangerous! It triggers our biological fight/flight/freeze response!

And that’s a good thing. We are this way for a reason. It’s best to avoid the lions and tigers and bears. They bite. But not everything our bodies or our minds interpret as a tiger is a tiger. And that’s why we’re lucky to have the ability to think things through and to go beyond our first glance or our innate assumptions. That scary shadow in the corner looks like a monster, but I can turn the light on and see that it’s my pile of dirty clothes. If I worry about making art in a group, I can come to realize that everyone is not looking at me.

Resistance to our own creative urge

Open Door Collage
What treasures might I find if I walk through that door to the unknown?

In my experience as an Art Therapist, I’ve found that for those unused to making art, it’s important that I find a way to introduce the idea in as non-threatening way as possible. “I have to warn you: I can’t draw!!” is a panicky statement that I hear from many clients, even those who have bravely chosen to see me for counselling specifically because I do work with art. I hear that kind of exclamation as an expression of past hurts – someone, at some time, has judged you. Maybe it was just you doing it to yourself, but as often as not the judgement came from outside, and from someone whose high opinion was really important to you. It probably wasn’t even intentionally hurtful. “Neat! A pretty flower! Shouldn’t the leaves be green though?” Little corrections to our creativity when we are young or vulnerable can create a sense that we are somehow “wrong” in our selves.  Interestingly, even positive feedback (especially of the praising sort) such as, “Oh, that’s beautiful! Let me put it on the refrigerator!” can create resistance too. Even though it might feel great in the moment, somehow, underneath the praise, we can still hear the comparison to a hypothetical piece of art that isn’t good enough to be displayed! The result is sometimes the opposite of what was intended. Now I’m afraid I can’t live up to the expectations that have been raised by this success!

Overcoming Resistance

Fear drives resistance.
What I fear may be merely an illusion.

We don’t want to be governed solely by our biology or by the habitual thought processes that we’ve developed to deal with that biology! So what do we do when we know we would be better off just doing the thing we’re feeling resistance to? Sometimes we need to find a feeling of safety – an anchor if you like – that we can hang on to while we jump into the unknown or the frightening. The adrenaline junkie ties himself to a bungee cord, and he probably  has a trusting relationship with the person who set up the adventure in the first place! When I ask a client to jump into their creativity, it’s important for me to find out where they feel safe, and where they feel vulnerable. We move outward from a point of comfort and familiarity, with the assurance that we can always backtrack to safe footing if it gets too rough out there. 

Collage as the Path of Least Resistance

Collage has a few characteristics that make it a good choice for working through resistance. Magazine images, pictures from old calendars, catalogues, and greeting cards, and scraps of coloured paper of different types (origami paper, tissue paper, wrapping paper…) are all familiar materials that we do not necessarily associate with art, and especially not with that really scary thing, Fine Art. This is not to say that collage can’t be Fine Art, capitalized and everything: it definitely can. But when we are looking for materials and techniques that are going to ring fewer warning bells about lions and tigers and bears in our primitive brain, using the familiar and “everyday” is the way to go! You aren’t required to have particular skills in drawing. You don’t have to manipulate special tools; you might want to use scissors and a glue stick, but you can tear the paper instead, and you might even just want to arrange your images without anchoring them down permanently. Taking a picture of the arrangement and keeping that can work just as well!

So, to get back to my promise to myself to make art every day as a way of taking care of myself, keeping my “baggage” to a minimum, and generally staying happy: what about those days when I’m feeling particularly burdened by anxiety about it? What about my days of heavy resistance? What about those days when the good paint and the high quality paper scare you and your self-talk is all “you’re going to waste it!” “what’s the point?” “it’s not going to be good anyway?”

No specialized materials necessary!
The familiar can be a safe gateway to the adventure of traveling beyond our resistance.

Pull out the recycling bin. Take a deep breath. Spend at least five minutes roughly tearing out images and words that just feel right – whatever appeals or feels important in whatever way. Try not to get caught up reading the latest article! Then look through the pile you’ve collected and refine it- cut or tear the images more precisely if you want, and start to arrange them on a larger piece of plain paper. Glue them down – or not. Stand back and look at what has arisen out of the exercise. What feeling tone does the new image have? How do you feel while you look at it? You can write about it in a journal, or just ponder it for a while. Give collage a try and see if it might be a way to move through your resistance! (…and while you’re at it, make that appointment for a mammogram, and get in touch with an old friend!)

What is an Open Studio?

An open studio is where you are accepted and encouraged, wherever you are on your creative journey.

The Open Studio
Ready for you to come and make art!

Open Studios are places that are built on the principle that engaging in the creative process is a healing activity.

The Open Studio is a concept that has been in place in Art Therapy for many years, and many examples of them exist. Some are found in institutional or residential settings, and others are embedded in communities, offering a place for artistic engagement to people of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds.

Open Studios are OPEN! They invite the participation of everyone who comes, at whatever their skill level. The Open Studio at St. George’s in Victoria, BC is an almost-two-year-old program held in the Parish Hall of an Anglican Church in Cadboro Bay Village. Begun in 2013 as a brief, 12 session pilot project, it has bloomed into a vibrant community of artists – teenagers and twenty-somethings right through to retirees – who hang out with each other once or twice a week to create everything from hand-made clothing to acrylic paintings. Certainly sometimes you will find a senior helping a teen learn to sew, sometimes it’s the younger ones helping their elders with taking a digital photograph with their phone, but it’s rarely a stereotypical interaction. I’ve seen tears shared, subtle and tender expressions of caring, and raucous laughter. There is mutual respect, a sense of fun, and true joy in this varied and expanding community.

Lately I’ve noticed that at least once a week, someone we’ve never met before walks in to the Open Studio and tells us “I saw your sign outside and I was curious!” As often as not, that contact is the beginning of another person’s journey at the Open Studio. Of course, it can be intimidating to join something new, especially if your personal history does not include a lot of positive messages about your creativity. Our invitation to you is to check out that feeling of discomfort when you think about creating art in the company of others. What’s it like? When have you felt it before? What  might be different in a place where the focus is on how you feel while you make art instead of on what you make? We try our best to make everyone as comfortable as possible. You can work in solitude; you can work at a table with several others; you can ask for help; you can ask to be left to your own devices. We’ll offer you some coffee or tea!

The unique thing about an Open Studio that practices Art as Therapy is that you will have the opportunity to reflect on your creation with an art therapist. An art therapist is trained to help you look at the images with compassion for yourself, encouraging you to listen deeply to your own inner wisdom. You may find parallels between the way you make art and the way you live your life, or between the image you have created and your life circumstances, or between the way you feel about the image and the way you feel in a particular situation. It is your interpretation that counts – we are there to support you in your search for meaning.

You are invited to join the adventure! Come to the Open Studio at St. George’s on Monday mornings from 9-12 or on Wednesday evenings from 6-9!

Musings on Autumn Changes

The smell in the air, the changing colours, the shorter days, all reminders of the inevitable turning of the world…

And of our own changes…

OneLeafWhen I walk on these cooler mornings with my dog, I am finding myself unexpectedly grateful for her advancing age. She doesn’t pull ahead, and has the patience to allow me to fiddle with the camera in my phone, as I try to capture bits of beauty.

I have not always appreciated autumn changes. In fact, I think I’ve had whole decades where my only emotional association with the  fall is dread at the coming winter. Possibly that’s because I truly despise being cold. More probably, though, it may be because sometimes I’ve simply been less open to the whole notion of endings and letting go, and as you know, I’m a very metaphoric person!

 So today I made a conscious effort to look for the beauty of change on my walk.

Autumn Fungus

I saw some things I just don’t notice during the summer months. I’ll probably do some searching on Wikipedia later to find out whether that fungus is always around, or if it’s just a seasonal guest at the bottom of the tree in the dog park. But regardless of the biological reality, for me it’s something new in the midst of all the other things dropping away like the foliage. It was a chance to get on my knees and really look, to take the effort to see if it was more than “just brown.” When I’m not paying attention, I risk seeing everything in our Pacific Northwestern fall as “just brown” and end up feeling blue! (Isn’t colour-language yummy?)

New among the old, ripe fruit next to fallen leaves, life living itself in full colour!

DewDandelion

 

I wish I had successfully captured the blackberries this morning- a word painting will have to suffice. Everything is on the same branch. There are berries that have already dried into darkened husks, ready to drop their seeds for next year’s crop, right next to some that are still pale, hoping for a last burst of warmth to bring them to ripeness. When I find one that looks still perfectly full, I pop it into my mouth, oh so conscious that I may be disappointed by bitterness or the fuzzy taste of over-ripeness! But daring to try. A good one today! Was it my last chance? Maybe. I’m glad I dared.

On Success and Failure

Walker Doll: Success and FailureA lot of graduation speeches are being  made across the country this month.

I’m sure a lot of them are all about success  and failure, and how to achieve one and avoid the other.

What I liked best about the one  I heard at my daughter’s graduation was that it was mostly about failure.  Success and failure are awfully loaded terms, aren’t they? One gets you the ticker tape parade and the best seats in the house; the other leaves you staring at your own toes, left behind while the “cool” people go to the dance. They seem to be mutually exclusive, but in real life I believe they are merely two sides of the same coin, and you can’t have one without the other.

So why was a speech about failure so great?

Firstly, it wasn’t all about how great and unique and special each one of the thousands of graduates was, and how they were all destined for greatness. I’m glad we, as parents, were allowed to simply appreciate our kids, whatever their potential. More importantly, it was very real. We all fail. We cannot hope to pass through life from one mountain top or cresting wave to the next.

There are downhill sections of every trail. And frankly, those times are what we  need the caring advice of our elders for!

Not the days when everything is coming up roses or when we get the job of our dreams. But the days when we just KNOW we’re not EVER going to get the job of our dreams (even if we might, actually, some day). Those days are the hard ones. It’s good, at the beginning of a long journey, to see someone we admire admit that they have failed on their journey, not once but many times, and admit that the fear of it still causes nightmares!  And when that someone is practically a synonym for success the way Martin Scorsese is, all the better!

Maybe that speech was more typical of one delivered to graduates of an art school, or maybe not- we are living in times where a gritty realism is appreciated- but I do think that the reframing of failure as a natural part of success is more likely among artists. Failure is where we learn, where we refine our ideas and our ways of communicating them.

An artist sees failure as a necessary element of the rhythm in art making.

Florence Cane, in The Artist in Each of Us, pointed out that there needs to be both active and passive modes in creative work. We need to sit still and consider, ponder, and discern just as much as we need to be engaged in actively applying brush to canvas or hands to clay. I believe we also need to experience what doesn’t work just as much as what does work in order to sustain an artistic process (or a happy life!) over the long term.

If it weren’t for our moments of not-knowing, for our mistakes, we would never experience the magic of serendipity or the glorious surprise of something truly new and unexpected.

If we let go of a narrow definition of failure and start to see it as an enrichment of our knowledge and experience, a re-calibrating of our compass, or a refinement of our technique, we can also transcend our narrow definition of success, and begin to enjoy each moment of our creating, our journey, and our life as the jewel that it is!

DISCLAIMER: This information is not a substitute for professional psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment. All content provided by Frances Bryant-Scott, RSW, BCATR is intended for general information purposes only. Never disregard professional medical or psychological advice or delay seeking treatment because of something you read in this blog (or any blog for that matter!)