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What Clay Taught Me About Shame

I’ve been rehydrating some clay

ClayIt has been sitting in my supply cabinet for over a year. It was once a gorgeous cube of perfectly wedged high-fire clay with the potential to become anything. Due to some serious laziness, inattention, procrastination and denial on my part, it eventually became a solid, bone-dry lump of something fit only to hide in the back of the garden until it washed away with the rain (along with my shame.)

FrancesBryant-Scott Clay SculptureThe resuscitation process is not a pretty one.

There are appallingly biological sounds as the lump slurps and farts while it absorbs the water it’s soaking in. The part of me that resembles a 9 year old boy finds it hilarious. The rest of me is a middle aged woman who is mostly embarrassed at having left the task so long, and feeling the burn of old shame because, once again, I let an artistic pursuit drop that used to give me a lot of joy, before ever getting really good at it.  Old messages like “Frances never finishes what she starts,” and “I’ll never be more than an amateur at ANYTHING,” burble up to the surface, squishing and popping like the bubbles in this clay.

Of course, that’s what shame is like, isn’t it?

If we don’t deal with it, it sits there like a lead weight in our hearts. We tuck it away in a cupboard, hoping that if we don’t look at it, we won’t feel it. Unfortunately, that just never works. We walk around with it on our shoulders, like a heavy, tantrum-prone toddler, and if anyone notices or asks a question, “Gee, is that clay? Do you make pottery?” we’re liable to bite their head off. “Leave me alone! Stop pressuring me!” We’re afraid to deal with it head-on, because we’re afraid it will make a whole lot of noise (and sometimes a smell!) when we bring it out into the light – or in the case of my clay, into the sink.

Healing Shame

Well, you know me and my love of metaphor. Working with this lump of hard clay over a long, messy week, I started to get into it. It’s great stuff! I got to remember what I liked about it in the first place, and the voices of shame began to back off a bit. My wonderful realization was that there was nothing essentially wrong with the clay. Once rehydrated, it is what it always was – good, clean, simple earth. And just maybe I’m what I always was – a simple human being. I start things and finish some of them. I’m always going to be a learner – and “amateur” means “lover,” and there’s not a darn thing wrong with that!

I’m so happy I pulled it out of the cupboard and didn’t hide it in the garden.

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

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.

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.