Friday, February 22, 2008

Ice 3 and Unschooling

The latest storm came through Evansville yesterday morning and made its way east to us by mid-afternoon. My art class at Patchwork was canceled. Cars can't make it up the very gentle incline of my street. The BBPiT is in Blackhawk, Colorado, where they're having better weather than we are in the typically mild-wintered Ohio Valley.

So: Ice 3. When we get in the vicinity of Ice 9, there'll be cause to worry. For now, Dragonstar and I can stay put, she at the computer, drawing wolves and dragons with her Wacom tablet, keeping up with her Webkinz routine and multiple ongoing role-playing threads, while I go through threads of another sort, at a manic rate, making fabric ATCs. I emptied two spools yesterday -- not full spools, but still! When I finish something worth showing you, I'll post it on the Out of Hand blog (link in the sidebar) where I put my art stuff.
Meanwhile... I've had a couple conversations with friends this week that brought home to me the stickiness of expectation, and the vigilance we sometimes have to call upon to remain true to the music of our hearts. Dragonstar is a natural at this, never having been subject to the ranking and sorting of school. She does what she does, loves what she loves, and makes no apologies for who she is. She doesn't have to resist the expectations of others because she is not generally subject to them. Would that we were all so free!

So much of what we assume about how things ought to be is based on nothing more than inculcated norms -- social and cultural conditioning that may be useful (particularly to those in positions of power) but doesn't necessarily serve our best interests as creative, soulful human beings. The stickiness of this conditioning is evident wherever we accept the notion "that's just how it's done." It happens more than we realize. Kids go to school. Adults go to work. Nations go to war. That's just how it's done.

When people ask me -- and they do -- about my daughter's future, when they wonder aloud how she'll "manage" when she's never been forced to do anything, when they tell me "we all have to do things we don't want to do," I hear the voice of that sticky culture in their words, and I hurt for them, and for their children. They see value in children learning to do what they're told. I see the resulting culture of alienation and learned helplessness, full of people who cannot connect with their heart's desire because they've spent their lives doing things they didn't want to do.

There is a difference between doing what needs to be done, and doing what we're told. Right now, the greatest work of the world -- the work of compassionate, creative cooperation, the work of healing, the work of helping -- goes undone while we all run around doing what we're told, sending the kids to school, sending the soldiers to war. This is not a good thing. And it's not a paradigm I wish to perpetuate.

When Gandhi said we need to be the change we want to see in the world, he wasn't speaking rhetorically, like a politician running for office. He meant, we have to BE the change. We have to live differently. Today. Now. And that means shaking off those norms and beliefs that don't serve us, don't nurture our hearts, don't feed our creative souls. We have to imagine the world As If... and act in accordance with our imaginings. That's how transformation happens.

And that's one big reason we're unschoolers: so we can BE the change.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Saying Yes to No

Sitting at my desk this morning, reading through my morning email and Google reader deliveries, I glanced over at my work table and saw this.

I'm not exactly sure what question is being answered, but it certainly is emphatic.

Over the past several days I've been thinking rather more than usual about how I spend my time. And it's come to my attention that even in the generally mindful routine of our lives here, where almost everything we do is what we choose to do, there are days when I wish I hadn't said yes to one thing or another.

Typically the things I regret saying yes to are things that require that I step out of my comfort zone and stretch a bit.

Stretching is good. Stretching keeps you fresh and vital, and retunes your perspective. Trying something new demands focus, and when life gets a bit fuzzy, an injection of focus -- sharp attention to detail -- is a useful antidote. It sweeps away the cobwebs. When I learned to ski I remember focusing intently on every aspect of the task at hand, which was to make it down the mountain with some semblance of grace, all limbs still functional when I reached the bottom. I was paying such close attention to what I was doing I didn't have room in my head for any thing else. My mind -- a beginner's mind -- was scoured clean, and what a refreshing experience it was.

But sometimes I don't want to stretch. Sometimes I don't want to try new things, or leave my comfort zone. Sometimes my comfort zone is exactly where I need to be. Novelty for the sake of novelty is not expansive, after all, it's just time-consuming and wearying.

This is not so much a question of balance as it is one of discernment. When our creative souls are reaching out for delight and inspiration, we want to say "yes!" to all the opportunities that come our way. How else will we grow? We need to remind ourselves that growing is not the whole of life's experience. There is also ripening, and maturity, and dormancy. Every skill, every talent, every desire, has its own season. It is not always in our creative soul's best interest to stretch. Sometimes we need to relax our quest for new and better and more, and allow those talents and abilities and pleasures we already have to ripen.

It's true that saying "no" to the pressure to be more, do more, go farther, go faster, gives us room to say "yes" to those things that may serve our soul's delight in ways we hadn't considered. But I'm not even talking about compensatory benefit here. I'm talking about releasing ourselves from the need to always be growing and expanding, period. Let's just revel in ourselves -- and in those around us -- exactly as we are. And if this sounds like I'm encouraging idleness and sloth, good, because I am. Productivity is highly overrated. Go for the joy instead. In the immortal words of Kurt Vonnegut: "We're here to fart around. Don't let anyone tell you different."

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Ice 2

Backyard Bird Intersection

Dragonstar, the BBPiT and I headed to Owensboro just after noon for a Valentine's Day Lunch at the famed Moonlite BBQ, where President Clinton ate to much ceremony (and was rumored to send jets to pick up BBQ -to-go while in the White House.) The most popular meat at Moonlite is mutton, of all things, and as this was my first visit there since adding meat back into my diet, I gave it a try. As did the BBPiT. Dragonstar wanted none of it. She prefers her meat two-legged and winged, thank you very much.

We followed lunch with a stop at the Owensboro Museum of Fine Art to see the Spirituality in American Folk Traditions exhibit, a collection of primitive religious folk and outsider art from the past 50 or so years. Lots of pieces by folk art icon Howard Finster, and at least a half dozen carved wood depictions of Noah's ark and the Garden of Eden, along with Moses and St. Francis and several images of the Devil looking very much like an angry Tiki.

On the sunny drive over we passed under a canopies of trees still ice-coated and crystalline; by the time we came back most of the trees had shed their ice and were once again upright against the blue sky. As soon as we got home Dragonstar grabbed the camera to capture a few last images of the ice that remains:

So the thaw has arrived, and now we have to beware of falling icicles and thick sheets cascading from rooftops. Once more the world demands that we pay attention (or face the consequences of possible impalement.) Heads up!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


It's everywhere. It's gorgeous. It's treacherous. It's brought tree limbs down all over my neighborhood, and brought an unexpected visitor to my door -- my landlord's uncle, who came with a chain saw (to deal with the fallen branches) and news about my house and my landlord, more food for thought.

So I'm dealing with a surfeit of options right now. It's almost as exasperating as having too few.

After he left, I wandered the spacier side of the web for awhile, wondering if some cosmic happening was fooling with the space time continuum and messing with my serenity.

And then I thought: It's the ice. It's making everything surreal. The creaking of the neighborhood trees that sounds like a haunting from overhead, the deceptive pavement that looks dry but is in fact frozen and slick as, well, ice...

Things are not as they seem.
Tea, I say. Tea and meditation. Or tea and a good book. Sometimes the best course of action is no action at all: just sit tight and see what the thaw brings.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

A Tale of 3 Vision Boards

Once in awhile I'll make a piece of art that's so revealing of what's going on in the recesses of my soul that I feel over-exposed just working on it. I'm midway through a piece like that now, an assemblage that wants to Tell All. I am trying to be brave, but it's hard. So I've set that work aside for now, in order to show you some other revealing work: three vision boards, or what I call my Hopes and Dreams Collages.

Typically I'll make a collage like this when I'm getting ready to launch into a major project and need a strong visual reference to the Big Picture. I'll get a 20x30" piece of posterboard or foamcore board and a pile of magazines, and I'll go through the magazines tearing out anything that resonates with my Grand Idea. Then I'll cut and paste and make something artfully representative of my Big Idea.

This first board is the one I did when I decided to open my coffeehouse eight years ago.

Having a coffeehouse was a long-held dream, 15 years in the "someday" stage. Once I made up my mind that it was time to do it, I was carried on a wave of high energy and "pinch me" anticipation, and this collage seems to radiates that good vibe. The colors are warm and there are happy people in it, including some kids, though it's hard to see them in this shot. (They're playing on a sofa just left of the blue coffeepot at the bottom of the piece.) The central image -- the yellow coffee cup -- represents me. The words just above the cup say "espresso yourself." This collage helped me to bring a dream to life.

This next board is one I did when I started writing my (as yet unpublished) novel, Rochelle's Garden. The story is a bit of a fantasy tale featuring woodland faeries whose lives get intertwined with the book's protagonist, a woman named Rochelle.
Again, the center image of a chair and writing desk and tall bookcase represents me. The rest of the collage is made up of images that resonated with the theme of the story. After making this collage, I wrote daily until I'd finished the manuscript about five months later. It's been sitting on a shelf ever since, which means I probably need to do a "Publish Your Book" collage or it'll still be there when I'm 64.

Here's the third one. Unlike the other two, this collage wasn't created at the beginning of a project, but rather well after the project -- my erstwhile art gallery -- was up and running.

This collage was a revelation. Six months into the gallery, unsure of how to proceed, I cut and pasted with the idea that I was bringing the gallery into greater focus. What I was really illustrating was my sense of being frazzled and overwhelmed. That's me in the center again, hair gone electric, none too happy -- although I think I could have just as easily used the image of the women in the red dress at the upper left to represent me, because she looks as though she might be drowning, and that's pretty much how I felt.

I closed the gallery a short time after completing this collage. And because of the way I've told the story, you might be thinking I closed it because I heard the message of my soul coming though loud and clear in this bit of art. I wish I could claim such clarity. But in fact, it took a friend to point it out to me, the frazzled girl, the drowning woman. Not to mention the crazy exploding wizard's hat on the right. I just thought I'd made a cool collage.

So here's my point: art is revelation. Art exposes you, no matter what your ostensible intention. Your soul is going to speak through your work whether you hear it or not, whether you like it or not. Scary? Sure. Lots of really worthwhile stuff is scary as hell to actually do. We need to do it anyway. So in an upcoming post, I'll write a little bit about courage, about sticking fear in your pocket and going forward in spite of yourself. And know this: I'm writing as much for me as for you, because I have an assemblage piece on my work table that really wants to get made, if only I'll let it happen.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Fat Super Tuesday

It's Fat Super Tuesday, and there is a storm passing through, and the lights in the house have flickered twice, though they haven't gone out yet.

The cats are unsettled. They don't like stormy weather, and we've been having it all day.

This morning we were awakened at 6:00 by our town's severe weather siren, so we stumbled downstairs and listened to the radio to learn if there were tornadoes on the radar, bearing down on us like dementors in Little Whinging. No tornadoes, but the temperature then was an unseasonable 65 degrees. At mid-day it was down into the high 50s, now at nine p.m. it's back up in the mid-60s again. It's expected to dip below freezing sometime tomorrow. Very strange.

My state doesn't participate in Super Tuesday voting (tho we love our Fat Tuesday celebrating) and I'm glad for that, because I don't like any of the presidential candidates and I'd rather only have to hold my nose to vote once this year.

Anyway, whoever gets into the White House is going to have a whole lot of manure to deal with, and probably no pony to make it all worthwhile, and I wouldn't wish the job on anyone I really liked.

As for the Fat part of Tuesday, it's the last hurrah before Lent, and tomorrow Christians of all sorts will appear with smudged foreheads to mark the occasion of Ash Wednesday. Fat Tuesday came early this year, falling near the pagan festival of Imbolc, the midpoint between winter solstice and the first day of spring, the day we in the west call Groundhog Day.

But the forsythia in my yard don't know from Fat Tuesday, or Ash Wednesday, or Imbolc, and they're budding already, and the first daffodils are stirring beneath the soil, pushing up dirt in anticipation of spring, or the weather that mimics it, at any rate.

Meanwhile the storm outside continues, and the lights have flickered once more. But the sirens are quiet, and the cats have finally settled down. I hear Obama took Georgia, and Clinton won New York, and Huckabee did well in Arkansas, and McCain everywhere else.

Happy Mardi Gras.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Bad Cake

Last night I baked the worst chocolate cake ever.

I made it from scratch, with my little retro hand mixer. I used really good ingredients: King Arthur flour, good cocoa, real butter, big brown farm eggs. And it looked so pretty in the pan, a little lopsided but deep dark luscious brown, dusted with powdered sugar.

We ate a very small supper in anticipation.

Let me tell you, disappointing doesn't begin to cover it. What a flavor disaster! All sugar, no substance, and the chocolate had, as they say, passed through on stilts. I tossed the thing in the trash. And anyone who knows me knows that had to be some bad cake for me to do that.

Meanwhile, we are once again looking for a new house to rent. My landlord showed up this week with a realtor in tow and announced that the house was going on the market. And reader, I'm okay with it. It's time.

Last spring when he first decided he was going to sell (and promptly let the idea drop when no buyer burst forth onto the scene) I had just moved my studio back home after having it down by the river for nine months. It was too soon, too much upheaval all at once. We didn't want to deal with it, and we got a reprieve.

Now, the timing is better. We haven't proceeded so far on the garage-to-studio renovation that any money was spent, and some of the junk has actually been cleared away. I've organized my art materials and pared back my wardrobe, getting rid of piles of unwanted stuff in the process. So maybe I've been anticipating this. Though you won't find a whisper of it in my 12-18 Months of Artful Intentions.

Which brings up one of those funny thing about Intentions. The path to your dreams hardly ever takes you through known territory. And it's seldom a direct route from A to B to C. Try to plot it out beforehand, and you'll likely just get in your own way, because, in truth, you're not following a path, you're making a trail.

And when you're making a trail, you have to trust your guide, that steady voice inside that nudges (and sometimes shoves) you along. Your guide doesn't whine, doesn't resist. Your guide doesn't complain: "I wasn't planning on having to move..." Your guide says things like, "Now you can have that sunroom... and a real closet..."

I think the Source sent the piano delivery guy to my door in the form of my landlord. And I think I'm going to choose to be very happy about it. Like the story says, with all this manure, there's got to be a pony in here somewhere.