Things came together today.
I made a phone call I had known I would have to make, but making it made me nervous. Then the time was suddenly ripe, I made the call and everything is good.
For those of who believe this sort of thing I spent the morning in prayer, but it was not an isolated thing. I have been weeks, months (though I didn't know it, it seems, years) building up to this.
It all sounds a little melodramatic, maybe, but sometimes things are. Wouldn't life be dull otherwise?
I have always liked the concept of "Waiting on the Lord". This is the idea that we wait to see God working his purposes out in our lives in his perfect timing. I sometimes read others refer to a similar notion in terms of the universe answering.
At the beginning of the year, I chose a word for myself: Intentionality. It seems strange, perhaps, that having chosen to live more "intentionally" this year, I should at the half way point, declare a breakthrough after "waiting on" something outside of myself.
But need these two things be contrary to one another, or might they not sit side by side?
I have been intentional this year, choosing deliberately as the choices arise, taking action to keep things moving forward, taking responsibility for the decisions I make.
But at the same time I have been waiting. I have let things take the time they have needed to blossom into what they could - or indeed must - be. And I have shown myself the same generosity. I have moved forward, but not pushed beyond what has felt right. I have known I have been taking a journey, but have not felt hurried (nearly desperate sometimes, but still not hurried) to reach my destination.
And this has been liberating. And beautiful (even in the angst).
And today I got somewhere. At the right time.
Have you experienced this in your life? This dance of moving and waiting rewarded with the joy of the right time?
If you have I'd love to hear. If not, maybe practice it for the next step in your own journey.
I think this has been the longest period I have had away from my blog since I began it and I apologise for my absence. That said I don't want to get into the habit of beginning blog posts with apologies and excuses.
I have been in overwhelm of late, a continuation of my personal drama that prompted the poem of my last post. Blogging has been a refuge for me over recent months, but sometimes we need to step outside our sanctuary and deal with our challenges head on. That's what I've been doing.
(You know, just writing that last paragraph, it suddenly feels so good to be back!)
Over at 21 Secrets Tamara LaPorte's lesson on Collage, Paint and Soul (now also available as an individual course by Tam if you're not part of 21 Secrets) demonstrates how to paint over a collaged image to transform it into something original and new.
That is what I hope I am doing in my life: transforming into something wonderful.
This is what it looked like on paper:
The words on the side read: You are a Jewel of Creation
The words on her neck read: Don't forget to sparkle.
In the original painting the jewels of her necklace do sparkle.
It is to remind me of how I am made and therefore what I can be.
I hope you know these things about yourself too.
As you may have noticed I have recently updated my profile photo - I am now no longer a doll but a real person! My 11 year old daughter took the photo of me while I was painting. (I'm keeping my doll photo up too, though, because she is still my presence on several other sites and I like her).
On a similar theme, Violette Clark has been leading us through some shadow work in the 21 Secrets art journaling workshop, allowing us to explore and express both our public face and our shadow side.
My public face is naturally pleasant and light. The words I associated with my public persona included calm, good, caring and teacher. She is on a pedestal (Violette's suggestion, but I felt very fitting - I have spent a lot of time up there).
Next comes the darker version, the side not seen. I found it liberating to reveal her over a background of writing about who she really is. And you know, she's not so bad really!
As well as benefitting from the emotional exercise and producing two different faces (the shadow was done straight onto the page with no initial sketch which was scary to do, but successful!), I also enjoyed pushing myself a little with the mixed media backgrounds of colours, textures and texts.
I feel like I have been away from here for too long, but real life has taken over for the last couple of weeks and I have had to take a break from blog land. I think going computer-free for a bit is a good thing for us all. I didn't plan my break, though I saw it coming and chose to enjoy it. But it's hard coming back to know where to pick things up from.
So I was pleased to find this post about linking up with a poem about mothers (L.L. Barkat offered me inspiration a few weeks back concerning fairytales so I'm happy to join the fun again).
This is supposed to be in honour of approaching mother's day (U.S.? we had ours here in the UK back in March) and incidently it is my own mother's birthday this week, but...
That life that has kept me away from here is still going strong so rather than write fresh I've pulled an old poem from my files which doesn't exactly have the celebratory tone it should. But relationships are tricky things, and often not what they should be...
Mother is due at three with her hawk-eye
Out for every stained surface, dust-darkened nook
And unshelved book.
So I scrub and scour, feeling like a woman
At the river flaying clothes against the rocks -
Disinfectant my new incense.
Duty done, my mind plays back a childhood day,
When hid in the branches of the damson
I wrote my secret journal while Mother called,
All my woes and then my dreams -
The aubergine ribbon bookmark a bloodstain
Running like a river down my thigh.
Life is so full of seasons, of unexpected twists and turns. Sometimes it's a rollercoaster ride of fun, sometimes the rapid-fire ups and downs can make you nauseous.
Sometimes the changes are slower, the shifts less perceptible.
Life brings its seasons of challenge and then of healing.
Othertimes, life plateaus - this is a good season too, a season of rest, of comfort or fulfilment.
I'm in challenge at the moment. Its not easy, but it's a period of growth.
Where are you?
What is the good in this part of the journey for you?
This poem is an account of two life shifts: from the challenge of loss, to the healing of new companionship.
Earth-spattered roses marked you transition
From one life to another, but unlike your love,
The move took you to no higher world,
No paradise where you might breathe lightly again,
But left you treading the same patterns through the day
As always; at night lying alone beneath an empty sky.
Roses on a coffin lid; the first handful
Of cold dirt fell like rain, but lifted
No regenerate beauty from her cold bones.
You walked away (I imagine all of this)
With the same dignity you have carried all the years since:
Uncowed by fate or chance, bereft not beaten.
The heavy harness of bereavement has not bent your back
(Though the dullness in your eye was absent I am sure
In youth). If I am able to lighten your future
I will never seek to quench your past.
Never will you walk blindly through sun or shadow,
But may I be the blessing you count nightly beside your loss.
Perhaps I know the secret. Or perhaps I know 21!
The collaborative art course 21 Secrets is now open and will remain so until the end of July, giving us four months to learn the secrets and experiment under the guidance of 21 different artists. If you haven't already heard about it, go check it out.
Here are some little faces I drew by way of introduction in Jane's class:
I am also aware that it is National Poetry Month in the US. Where I am here in the UK no such luck. I would like to post some more poetry and some tips or prompts for my American friends during April, but I must be realistic. As well as having secrets to learn, my children also have nearly three weeks of holidays coming up. The environment may not be ideal for writing, painting or posting!
So please patient with me and we'll just see where the month leads us...
I never much liked fairytales as a child, but nowadays I find them fascinating. Or rather, the re-telling of fairytales, the more subversive the better.
L.L. Barkat wrote a poem this week (brilliant poem - did I say brilliant? Well, I meant to) inspired by Cinderella (see here) and challenged whosoever was willing to do the same.
This was so timely as this week I also bought myself The World's Wife: Poems by Carol Ann Duffy which opens with a magnificent poetic re-telling of Little Red Riding Hood.
So I decided to be a willing fairytale poet.
My poem is inspired by the tale of Rumpelstiltskin.
The Name Spinner
You may think I was fortunate to have a father
Who saw fit to boast in a daughter,
A miller who would have his daughter queen.
But I could not spin gold.
I wept three nights as the straw mountains multiplied,
And sighed three nights as the magic man spun
Life from gold for me. My crown was won
With a pendant, a ring and an empty promise.
I have been a bargaining chip my whole life long -
Traded by my father for a royal name,
By the king for riches magic-made,
And now my desperation played on for a babe.
But hear now that I am queen and I have means!
He spun gold from straw, but I spin names from tears.
I sobbed three nights to claim the name of my sovereign king;
The worth of his could not exceed three more.
Since I started drawing and painting faces, I have wanted to try my hand at a male face. I think I first felt the urge when I painted a female angel, for although we all paint beautiful female angels all the time, the traditional biblical angel is portrayed as male. As soon as I painted the female I knew I wanted to paint the male. I haven't got there yet (watch this space!), but I've made a start by sketching a couple of male faces in my sketchbook.
The first still looked very female, but I kept adjusting (thickening eyebrows, squaring the jaw) until I got this which I think could just about pass for a man, although I think he/she could be suffering from some gender confusion still:
Not yet satisfied I immediately embarked on a second, this time in profile, which I think is more successfully male:
Do you draw men as well as women? What adjustments do you make to the features to emphasise the gender of your portraits?
With all this sketching and painting filling my free hours, my poetry writing has just about dried up. My thoughts are elsewhere with pretty-faced girls and art journal pages. I am not sitting still for long enough with pen and paper and a jumble of words in my head.
I need to rectify this. So this week I have written two short poems. They were written quickly and fall far short of the masterpieces I would like to write (!!), but they serve their purpose in just flexing those poetry muscles a little in preparation for some more serious exercise in the hopefully near future.
I share them with you because their simplicity allows us to ask some questions about poetic technique. I would love to know your thoughts on the points I make below.
The house I grew up in had a line of poplars at the end of the garden, a lasting image of my childhood scenery that came to mind as I racked my brain for a starting-point image:
Poplars stand sentry
As the field is ploughed
As the soil is turned
As the seed is sown
Poplars stand sentry
As the crop is grown
The harvest taken
As you come home.
And as it is painting that is keeping me from the poetry, I took the hindrance and charged it to be my muse:
Painting your portrait
I take care
As my brush sweeps the tender
Curve of your nose,
As I colour your eyes
With the shine of experience.
Painting your portrait
I swirl joy
Into the curls of your auburn hair,
But at your cheek
My brush slows to uncover
The tear I know is hidden there.
How about a little analysis?
Do you notice how each of these poems repeats the first line in each stanza? I used this as a simple technique to lengthen the poems, by building on the same ideas a couple of times.
Do you notice how there is a slight twist at the end of each? This provides a reason, a justification, for capturing these scenes in poetry in the first place: they are not quite as ordinary as they seem. Having these changes at the end of each poem also provides a proper end, a completion, without which the poems may have just petered out unsatisfactorily.
The first poem is not very creative in its use of language: "the seed is sown" is unoriginal and an automatic, common description of the activity. Should the seed have been "flung" instead? Or perhaps it should have been "bedded?" But neither of these would have created the uneven rhyme with the later word "grown".
"The harvest taken" is a very minor improvement on "the harvest gathered", not because it is a better word, but just because it is slightly less obvious. Do you think the use of familiar descriptive language is sometimes helpful to the reader, or does it simply make for a poor poem?
The inspiration for the second poem came from the drawing you can see here. This one I posted without the tear, but I have a copy of this girl in my sketchbook, with a tear on her left cheek. Hence the hidden tear. However the poem changed the girl substantially: the poem paints her in colour and curls her hair. What do you think of these developments? Should I have disciplined myself to describe what I first saw, or was it better to let the poem go where it would?
I would love you to let me know what you think of these ideas.
And why don't you follow similar inspiration to write a simple poem or two of your own? Again I'd love to see.
I have taken the brave step of pulling pages from a book (sacrilege!) in the name of art.
I am quite sure people fall into one of two categories : those pure and perfectionist souls who worship a pristine book and those practical pensives who will happily deface one to extract its goodness.
Amongst readers there are those who handle their novels with care and insert respectful bookmarks. Then there are those who bend the covers backwards for easy reading and fold the corner of a page when there is no bookmark to hand.
In churches there are those who wrap their bibles securely in a leather cover and fret when the thumbed pages turn a little grey. Then there are the annotators who scribble notes in the margins, underline and even highlight in neon colours.
There are those who must buy new, to smell the pages and display on the shelf. Then there are those content with second-hand who can let the book journey on again after reading.
Which type of bookworm are you?
Being largely the former myself, choosing even an unwanted book otherwise destined for the charity shop, to rip the pages from for a little mixed media artwork required several deep breaths and a solid determination. But with a greater purpose in mind I took the plunge and now have these two ladies with book page hair to show for the poor book's sacrifice.
I think they are both mindful of the action required to style their recycled hair and appreciative of the result, as am I.
Last week my eldest daughter turned 13. My youngest daughter (10) keeps saying "I can't believe we have a teenager in the house!"
I'm yet to see what these teenage years will have in store for us, but for now I am grateful.
I am grateful because my daughter and I are still good friends.
I can see she is changing: wanting a greater independence with her own friends, maintaining those friendships with the help of her mobile phone, considering a little make-up an essential part of an ordinary day.
She has (considerable) moments of grumpiness and she's a nightmare to wake up in the mornings.
But these things are to be expected and can be managed.
What thrills me about our relationship, though, is that without shirking parental responsibility I am so far maintaining friendship. Two things I am so thankful for and will treasure while they last:
My daughter still likes to hold my hand when we go out together. She's not ashamed of her mum. We shop for clothes now instead of toys, but we still have this reassurance of touch.
She lets me join in a little hanging out with her friends. Recently she had her best friend stay for a sleepover (who sleeps!!!). We watched DVDs together - the three of us - and then the two of them fussed over my hair, nails and make-up into the early hours of the morning. What a joy that they wanted me around, even if it was only to experiment on!
I know not everyone can maintain such a relationship with their children for a whole host of reasons and I'm truly sorry if yours is fraught or brings you sorrow. Maybe the only thing they want from you right now is space and maybe the best thing you can do for the relationship is respect that.
Whether you have young children, teenagers, grandchildren, nieces or nephews or even younger siblings think creatively about how you can build that relationship. Look for any positive points of contact and take care to keep them ticking over gently.
I let my younger daughter do art with me and we just chat. She says she likes how she can talk to me. I intend to be mindful of this and not let it slip away.
But things change - people change. We now have a teenager in the house. I'll hold her hand for as long as she is happy for me to do so, but on the day she pulls her hand away I will respect that. Hopefully then we will still be friends.
I've put off coming here this week (not because I don't love it - I do. And I am getting more and more fond of you who join me here), but because sometimes I feel empty. Not drained or depressed empty - just I-don't-know-what-to share empty. No wise thoughts, no beautiful ideas. So I hesitate, with a little worry in the back of my mind that maybe that's it, nothing will come at all.
So I've come here anyway and am writing about the emptiness. And in so doing I find words in the emptiness. They may not be my best, but they counteract the worrying silence. Minutes ago I despaired of having a blog post - now I have one, even if this is all it is.
So now I find the lesson. When we get stuck it's up to us to unstick ourselves. Not to worry that the end result may not be brilliant. Just take a few small steps and we will end up somewhere a little different. And sometimes that is enough.
The rest of my life hasn't been empty so I can also share with you my first profile portrait - my blue girl.
Do you ever find there are times when you really ought to take your own advice? Today I have decided that is what I ought to do. What is the tagline at the top of my blog?
Slow down, breathe easy, make a poem of your life. Don't let life rush by; reflect. Look for beauty and rejuvenate your soul.
This week, and particularly today, I seem to be living by the exact opposite principles to these. I am rushing everything because I feel there is too much to do and I am so desperate to move onto the next thing that I am doing each thing badly and certainly not enjoying what I am doing.
I have actually had a good week. When not working I have picked up some decorative and useful charity-shop bargains for my kitchen, found some new gold pens for my artwork, read some poetry, made a white bean salad with a mustard dressing, sipped green tea and eaten cake. I have met with a friend and experimented with my first collage work.
Wow! When I list it like that I realise I have been blessed with a wonderful week. But I also realise I have not enjoyed it!
I feel stressed and over-stretched. I have failed to be in the moment during any of these precious moments. I have spent each of them worried about the next moment. I have missed the beauty in all of them. My life has not been a poem; it has been a mass of scribblings and crossing outs. What a waste of a wonderful week!
So as of now I am going to take my own advice. I am going to slow down and breathe easy. I am going to rejuvenate my soul by looking back over the list of things I have done above and I am going to take the time in retrospect to appreciate them for all their worth and the joy they should have brought me.
What have been the joy-bringers so far in your week? Did you enjoy them in the moment?
If not remember them now and appreciate them in retrospect. If you did enjoy them as you experienced them, remember them again and go on and treat yourself - appreciate them again!
Back in October I wrote a post about how disappointed I was that my daughter's inter-school poetry workshop had been cancelled due to a lack of participants. I am thrilled to be able to tell you now that last week another day was held, this time with full support. So I take back everything I said last year about how our schools are letting young poets down!
I attended the day with my 10 year-old daughter, ostensibly to help the children, but really to gate-crash the workshop and get a few poem-writing tips.
The highly entertaining children's writer Valerie Bloom was our guiding light and she soon had a full classroom of unfamiliar primary children from six different schools confidently joining her in games and the creation of poetry.
Over the course of the day she taught the children to write three different types of poem.
The Kenning - which describes an object by linking related nouns and verbs in rhyming couplets. The ending should reveal the creature, but I will leave you to guess what is described here:
The List Poem - rhyming couplets of 4 words per line in which each word must be related to the words (only) either side of it. The final line should return us to the beginning:
Claw, creature, dragon, flight
Sky, sea, monster, fright,
Dark, cold, shiver, skin,
Bones, white, ghost, jinn,
Angel, blessing, joy, sadness,
Tears, rivers, drowning, madness,
Asylum, patient, anger, fight,
Claw, creature, dragon, flight.
A dream sequence poem - Valerie described a dream for the children to base their poem on, but ideally one would write of an actual dream. These poems have the freedom of following an unpredicatble dream-like narrative.
Interestingly I have written several poems in the past in response to waking from a dream. I remember very few of my dreams these days, but those I do recall often carry emotions or memories that I feel compelled to save in poetry. I will find you an example for another day.
My daughter enjoyed the day and was particularly taken with the list poems, beginning her second last night. These are not the type of poems I would usually write, but I found both the Kenning and the List poem excellent as exercises to play with words and make creative connections: vital practice for the poet.
Why don't you try your hand at one or both of them, as we did?
Flying free would be such a glorious sensation! Feeling the air currents lift us, seeing the earth below nolonger constraining us with vast distances we cannot cover.
Much of my poetry over the years comes back to this theme of flying. There must be something deep in me that longs to soar, that doesn't fear heights, or speed, but revels in freedom. There must be something in me that strains to be rid of constraint.
But I always also tend to write about relationship because it is our dealings with one another that connect us, that give us joy or sadness, purpose or pain. Creativity and Relationship, in my opinion, are the key things that set us apart from the animals. (And memories, reasoning, planning, imagination...)
But I feel myself digressing onto another topic, so lets's pull back...
My poetry is most frequently about relationship and flying is a theme I keep coming back to. The combination of these two more often than not reveal a desire to escape, to leave relationships behind and be free.
Ironically this is not something I am quick to advocate. In my life I tend to do the exact opposite: constrain myself within the bounds of a relationship.Yet my poetry keeps pushing the theme. Plenty here for the psychologists out there I'm sure, so before you or I get too analytical and start uncovering my secrets how about I just share the latest poem with you...
Raise your eye to the sky
And see me there, winging where
The clouds pass by.
Know I have escaped your heart
And watch as I race free,
Against falcon, goshawk, eagle, kite.
Do not call for me. The wind
Flutes your voice into a song
That no more sings for me.
I was just sitting by the window with my laptop when a female blackbird landed on the fence outside.
Looking for beauty, I paused to watch her. She is such a plain creature and so common in these parts, but taking the time to really see her revealed her beauty. She cocked her head, assessing her surroundings with a keen eye. She nimbly negotiated the iron fence upon which she balanced.
Female blackbirds have always given me pause for thought because their name is so incongruous: they are not black. I have always felt a slight unease to hear myself say of a brown bird: "Look, it's a blackbird." Something's not right there.
This time as I contemplated her browness - a deliberate contemplation - I realised there is a beauty in her difference from the male. She is like him, but she is different. It is as though she is gently defying her own name, the label given her.
"Yes, I'm a blackbird," she says, "but don't think that means I am what you think. Don't think I am like my brother, or my mate. I am female with all the difference that brings. You think being brown makes me plain, but no. Being brown makes me who I am."
We women are the same, although not plain (we are blessed with the beauty of our species!). We are like our brothers, our mates, but we are different. Genesis 2 tells the story of how Eve was created from the rib of Adam. Like the man, but different. Of the same stuff, but uniquely herself. Such is (wo)man.
Some strands of feminism tried to make women the same as men. We've grown up a lot since then. We don't have to be the same to find our value. Our worth lies in our difference in the context of similarity.
This isn't new; like me you know it already. But never before have I seen this truth in the female blackbird's brown plumage. Because of it I will love her more.
Incidently, this reminds me of something that may help any of you who may feel more plain than beautiful.
In the children's picture book by Mick Inkpen called The Great Pet Sale there is a box of "assorted little brown creatures" at the pet shop.
Because they are little and brown they are selling for "10 pence the lot".
"Boring! Boring! Boring!" says the rat who wants to be bought instead.
But here's a word from me to you: the rat is wrong!
Even if we don't have knock-me-down gorgeous good looks (and let's face it not all of us do), the female blackbird teaches us one thing for sure:
Little brown creatures are not boring! They are different and wonderful!
I bought myself a A5 black bound sketchbook at the start of the year to explore my new drawing habit with the aid of a couple of online groups.It is just so exciting to have a pristine new book to work with! Here are two examples of the work I've produced so far.
This first is in honour of "Cosmos" the January theme for Creative Every Day - a literal interpretation.
This one is inspired by the Sketchbook Challenge whose January theme is "Highly Prized". In these winter months "Warmth" is highly prized and I have illustrated two sources of warmth.
I am enjoying being motivated to put pencil to paper. However, though dedicated to honing my new artistic skills this year, this blog was never intended to be just a showcase for them (didn't know I had them when I started!) so I also need to devote some time to sharing other thoughts with you here.
I have a couple of days to myself this week (bliss!) and am making plans for both life and blog, so do stay tuned for what the future holds as I practice my 2011 commitment to Intentionality. Promise to tell you more about what I'm doing soon.
We human beings seem always to feel the need to divide our lives into segments according to the calendar, and the beginning of each new year has a particular hold over us: an invitation to a fresh start. Our penchant for New Year’s resolutions reveals our dissatisfactions with where we are currently going in our lives and provide us with motivation for change.
Some people love the opportunity to review and embrace the hope of improvement and rejoice at the chance to get back on track. For others, resolutions can mean pressure and failure. I tend to avoid setting them if I can, but inevitably find myself secretly thinking I would like to exercise more (my resolutions are always mundane, but important, like that).
Something I have noticed during my short few months in the blogosphere is how intentional so many of you are. There is a deliberate planning and goal setting that stands out and it has certainly captured my attention.
I realise I have not lived my life that way. I have been swept along by circumstances and obligations and the one thing that leads to another. The thought of making more deliberate choices and exercising intentionality I find intriguing. I feel it seducing me, but I feel myself hesitate. I am excited by the possibilities of more actively directing my own life, but like any new venture that requires more from us, it is daunting.
To be honest I don’t even know what it would mean for me, what it might look like. Perhaps this is what 2011 will be about: learning intentionality.
I have been practising though. Over the last three months I have become increasingly intentional about one thing: my art. I have thrown my energies into this new skill and made time to explore and hone it. I have loved this intentionality. I want this to motivate me to extend intentionality into other areas of my life and see where I lead myself.
But for now, art. Since I received Willowing's Fabulous Faces DVD for Christmas I have been hard at work and so here is lesson one. I am new to shading with graphite and I am happy with the result. I imagine she is looking into my new year to see what I will do with it. She is challenging me, but kindly!