Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Life's Little Ironies


Isn't it ironic that in search of simplicity--my ongoing Discardia and all--I seem to "need" more books about simplicity?  (Mind you, I have books on the subject I bought in the 1960s...and 70s...and...)

I am terribly tempted by "A Handmade Life: In Search of Simplicity"...and just got Breating RoomBreathing Room recently.  And glad I did.


And absolutely LOVING Andy Couturier's A Different Kind of Luxury:Japanese Lessons in Simple Living and Inner Abundance.

A lifelong interest in Japan, China, and India and other ancient cultures makes one that a natural...combined with the simplicity and creativity of the people in this book, I find myself drawn to ancient craftsmanship all over again.

Making tea on my little pottery majmar from Morocco, cooking in our tagine, binding books, culturing food, growing a garden, printing fabric, hand sewing, making my own art supplies...


And so, I am treating myself to reading breaks daily.  And find myself more and more inspired to get rid of excess Stuff.

Except books...

I am, however, going to be crowded out of house and home, and finding time to read all this is problematical.

Not to mention time to listen to my various meditation CDs...

Ironic.  Yes.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

TRUE obligations...mine, at any rate...


I have agreed to teach a class in Danny Gregory's Sketchbook Skool (and yes, my spellcheck cringes at that K in school, too) and some delightful people are signed up for it.  This is the third day of class and I am truly enjoying the interaction, the work, the responses and questions.

I am glad to finally be DOING it rather than preparing for it, which engaged my attention for months.

It is overwhelming, confusing, challenging and marvelous.

The platform we are using for the classes is much more complex than I'm used to, and I worry about missing questions directed to me (and as a reminder, there is a "Questions for Cathy" page at the end, and that's where I look, several times a day...otherwise I may not find a question.)

I do miss being able to hit a "like" button!  It would be nice if people knew I saw their comments without trying to comment on all of them, which is, in fact, just not possible.  I regret that reality, but there it is.  It would be nice to be able to reply to individual comments or questions, as you can on YouTube...but it is what it is, and with a class of thousands, it works amazingly well.

Interestingly, I ran out of time to do the one lesson I really felt closest to, finding a Heart Home...but that can be another day, another class all my own.

My obligation, in this case, is to the students who signed up for the course, and specifically to those dear people who are working through my week.  I do care, even if I can't keep up, or respond fully.  Time and age conspire to prevent that!

And I take time to remember that my other true and ongoing, eternal obligations are to God, to spirit, to my husband and our cats, to nature, to life, and to creativity itself.  Those things will be here long after Klass is over, and for that I am beyond grateful.  They don't feel like obligations, they are joy itself.  Gifts, pure and simple.

The gratitude list above--one of many in my journals--attests to that!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Thoughts on Social Media...is it the new workaholic's trap?



Does blogging or sharing or putting things up on Facebook or Flickr or Yahoogroups or Instagram or Pinterest (the latter two of which I DON'T) become an obligation rather than a pleasure?  Do we become addicted to our "likes" and comments?

I journal for me, because I need to.  Response, exploration, celebration, learning, coping...

But scanning, tweaking, editing, uploading, and so forth, becomes, let's face it, a chore.  Several of my blogging artist friends and I have talked about that--and some have wisely cut way back or virtually disappeared altogether, at least in that format.

If I am not mis-remembering, even Duane Keiser, the father of the Painting a Day concept, eventually found he needed to simplify, to step back, to take his time.  To do larger works, and not be under quite so much outside pressure.

Living, creating, sharing online can indeed be a trap--a silken one, but a trap.  Creativity crack.  (And yes of COURSE I look to see if someone has commented, and what they said, and...I have an addictive personality, I'll admit it!)

People apologize for not posting--as if this were a promise we had broken, a job we'd fallen down on, an obligation unmet.  It's not.

What is important is that we create.  It is that which we have in common with the Creator.  It's what we owe ourselves.  We are given a great gift--whether we create a painting, a book, a good dinner, a garden, a piece of music, a decent life, order out of chaos.  We create.

And while sharing it can encourage others, and yes, it can be fun and gratifying and even edifying, it is not our job.  Imagining it an obligation and apologizing for our "failure" turns it into work and sucks the joy out of it.

Don't do that.

I'm trying not to.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Life, Creativity and Work


I'm a self-employed artist, a freelancer and have been for 30+ years--and I've discovered over those years a sometimes deadening tendency to turn almost anything creative into Work.  Not just painting or writing--but pottery, jewelry making, sewing, cooking, you name it.  Being broke for a substantial period of time has a tendency to do that to you.

I will admit that I'm a lousy employee.  I got fired from my first real job--after 8 months that had to be almost as miserable for them as it was for me!  I didn't fit in well...and I have almost no patience with make-work, arbitrary rules, or, face it, office politics.  Not just at that first job, but my subsequent ones as well.  Self-employment was a godsend!  It's tough, sometimes (thank God the 14-hour-days seem to be relegated to my past!), but at least I have no one to blame but myself for my slave-driver "boss."

Mind you, I have to work; it's part of me.  Bills must be paid, and although that is considerably easier than it was after my first husband died in 1997 without retirement or savings, still...I feel the need to work.  It's good for the soul.  I need to feel that I'm contributing--and that I have that freedom of choice.  I am independent, and it feels good.  Productive.

My beloved husband Joseph takes wonderful care of our finances now, and I will admit it IS a relief not to feel the need to say yes to every single opportunity that comes down the pike.

A HUGE relief. 

But still I do have to watch myself and my tendency to take on too much, to spread myself too thin, to say yes to things that really aren't me (I'm getting better with that one, and learning all the time!)  I have to make sure that at least some of my art (all right, most of it, in my journal) is simply response to my life.  Expressing my own personal vision.  Recording and responding and paying my respects to this gift I've been given--this Life.

I say that a lot to other people, because it's important to me.  To any artist.

And two of my favorite books reinforce that need, that truth--Nick Meglin's wonderful classic Drawing From Within, and a newer book by Mary Whyte, An Artist's Way of Seeing.  Neither are how-to books.  Both are pure inspiration, treatises on seeing and responding authentically, through the lens of our own experience.  Neither tell how to deal with perspective, what color to use for that distant hill, what brush or pen or magic pencil or brand of pigment to buy.

Because truly, that's irrelevant.  Basically, really, it is.  We don't learn to really produce our own expressive art by copying someone else, or by following rules.  We may be stifled by those approaches, in fact!  There is no magic tool...beyond your own soul, your own artist's eye, your discerning brain.  Your heart.

And no, I'm not saying anything goes.  I am saying I have to respond to my life.  That's why, when I write an art book or teach a class, I MUCH prefer to say "I chose this color because it expressed what I was after. I love a big juicy brush. I decided I wanted to change this or that..." instead of take this brush and dip in in that color and make this mark.  (Shoot me now!  Do not even SUGGEST I should say things like that.)

I like to encourage my students to respond to what they see or feel.  Choose a subject that speaks to them. Learn to really see.  And see the why, as well.  Why do we respond the way we do, why does that scene speak to us, why do we suddenly see the way the light bounces off that bird's wing, or the lavender or jade in that shadow?  Why do we notice some small thing that someone else might overlook?  What does it remind us of?  Why does it elicit an emotional response, and just what IS that response? 

Really, what else is even worth painting?  Dear God I hate to give assignments, yes I do.

And you know what else? I don't give a rat's patoot what the Color of the Year is.  I don't care what's selling in NY or Taos.  Those things aren't me, and there's no way I could paint them authentically.  Any works I'd produce under those circumstances might be technically adequate, but they'd be soulless.

Frankly, I'm too old for that.  Time's too short.  I'm going to live, thank you very much!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Paying Attention



...I know I've talked about mindfulness before, in a number of contexts and in a number of places, but it is an ongoing goal, an ongoing discipline for me.  It covers a lot of ground.

Being grateful for what I have.

Knowing what I need.  Really need.

Taking time for spiritual needs.

Listening.

Journaling.

Stopping to think before reacting (yes, that one's a hard one for me.)

Remembering to breathe.

Knowing what's important, and taking time for it--love, nature, creativity, reading, sharing, quiet.

Recognizing what my path is, what my work is--and isn't.

Learning to say no--and learning to say YES, to the Universe.

Realizing that just because something is a good idea doesn't mean I need to be the one to implement it.

So yes, I've kept gratitude lists like this one in my journal for many years, off and on.  Some days there are several columns, if I have time!  And interestingly, the more I am grateful for--small things, everyday things, even challenges--the more I find I HAVE to be grateful for.

I bought the Presence key necklace this winter, to remind me...but by the time summer's heat arrived and I couldn't stand anything around my neck, I was more aware.  (I hope!)

If I walk mindfully, I hurt less.  If I pay attention to what's behind my husband's words, we communicate better.  If I am present to my life, really present--not thinking of yesterday, not worrying about tomorrow--I appreciate it more. 

And life is indeed good.

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