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A Page from the Past

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A Page from the Past

This week I will be going to high school. I’m a bit nervous and it feels strange. It is for a student’s assignment. She was required to interview someone and present a speech about them. Some how, she chose me. I will go to listen to her speech and answer any questions.

In ways, I am looking forward to it. So much of our interview led to conversations of success: what I studied in college, what some of my favorite past times include, how I enjoy spending my time, and what I do for a living. But it also triggered something within. I was surprised to find myself in a surreal sense of being after the interview. Had I really lived this life of mine? How did it all seem to work out so well? What about all the craziness and uncertainty that led me here? Did I really tell her that the best thing I did for my career was quit my job!? Did I really agree to go to a high school class!? Shit, I did.

My experience of high school still haunts me. By no means where those the best years of my life. I began working during my sophomore year, and was living independently by my senior year. School was a daily obligation in which every else seemed to be living a normal life. Mine seemed to be caving in on itself- and I was struggling to get out alive. That is where my addiction began.

I have known it for some time, and it remains difficult to reconcile. In fact, over two years ago, I wrote a letter to my seventeen year old self. Every word of it still rings true today. I think my seventeen year old self is a little frightened to share her story with other high school kids. It is hard to believe that such success can emerge from and be part of truly difficult struggles. They are not separate. They belong together. And amazingly enough, they are a part of who I have become. And it still feels strange.

Dear Self of 1999,

I’ve seen the work you are doing. You are working so hard- to make money, to be accepted, to understand, to dream, to forget, to hide. I see how stable you look on the outside. You hold yourself as a professional, yet you are a child. You work long hours and have profound insights to how things could be better. You see the world with wide eyes and a strong heart. You commit yourself to excellence, as if you are trying so hard to prove something. And yet, you are not able to appreciate how young you are. I know you feel far older than 17, but that is because you had to step up. You have an ability to take charge on a moment’s notice. It is as if you set fear aside. Or perhaps you let fear become your motivator. Either way, it has gotten you far in just a few years.

I remember how scared you were. How alone and worthless you felt. Rejection doesn’t even scratch the surface.

It is no wonder acceptance feels like a god send.

It is no wonder you are delighted to get to know people who might give you some sense of what “success” might look like.

It is no wonder you cling so tightly to the arms of your boyfriend.

It is no wonder that his arms are so strong. He tries so much to protect you and provide you a place that feels safe. He offers you a space you can rest your head after nights of on-going battles. In his arms, you can rest easy. You can let some of that fear go. You can express your frustration, shed your tears, and let go of shame. He helps you stay strong.

I know it is hard for you to understand, but as “normal” as this spot feels for you, it still is not healthy. You cannot depend on your parents, even though you are still so young. Instead you depend on someone else, someone who seems more stable. Yet you are desperately trying to take hold of your life by saving money, planning furiously, and trying to prove that you are “worth” something.

You see though, you don’t have to try that hard to prove it. Because your worth is based on who you are, not what you do. But I understand, what you do defines you as separate from your family- because when you are part of the violence, control, dependency, despair, and illness you feel shame and embarrassment. You feel as though you are bad. But you are not. I promise.

The praise and acceptance you get at your jobs tells you different. It tells you that because of what you do, that you are good. You mitigate these disparate messages by dissociating- splitting your self in two on your way to and from work. Shuttling your mind toward and away from cycles of struggle and success. As you build this defense, ruin continues. Chaos ensues and with great intensity. You feel it all around you and fear what the world knows of it. You fear your scars will be noticed, detailed and all.

The saddest part is that by employing these defenses, you are putting little pieces of yourself away in a box- hidden and misunderstood. Soon you will begin to miss these pieces of yourself. You will blame the one you love for not letting you be you. You’ll become scared again and feel unstable again. You will think you are free from your familial responsibility. It will be good, you need to know you can stand on your own two feet. You will need to know how not to let others drag you down. In time, you will learn so much.

I am proud of you. You are brave. You are strong, compassionate, sincere, creative, insightful, beautiful, and talented. This is who you are- appreciate the world around you. Each moment. Each person whom you admire. Each taste of egg drop soup from your favorite restaurant. Each conversation with your grandpa, each time you harvest blackberries. Enjoy your words, your art, and your gift.

I think of you often.

Self of 2011

Recovering a Sense of Compassion

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Recovering a Sense of Compassion

“Learning is movement from moment to moment.” ~J. KRISHNAMURTI

In my progress as a recovering artist, I felt like I got stumbled up a bit. I wrote about it last week, “I had done so well with Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way.” Then real life started to happen. I had grant contracts, I had deadlines, I took on the project of developing and opening the Upstage Gallery in my community. I got busy. I left the book behind. Still conscious, still grateful, as if I had completed ahead of time.”

Then, I sat down to read the chapters I had abandoned. But wait– they had been read! I even highlighted them. Rereading, I do remember the content of “Recovering a Sense of Compassion,” but I never really felt the words. So today, I make my effort. To go through and re-read (again) with a pencil, paper, and a clear mind. To have an awareness of potential blockages that keep me from hearing the truth. And here, I share that.



One of the most important tasks in artistic recovery is learning to call things- and ourselves- by the right names. In most cases it is fear that blocks us.”

When I first started with the project of opening the Upstage Gallery with Dakota Prairie Regional Center for the Arts, I was absolutely petrified with fear. After the initial meeting, I wrote to a friend, “I find myself feeling very nervous about this and it took me a little to figure out why– I think it has to do with the collaborative aspect of the project and the fact that it is the first “long-term” commitment I’ve made in a long time. I just find myself terrified that I’m going to let folks down. I realize though that these are old dysfunctional feelings…” That was 10 weeks ago. That fear is no longer there, in that way. I was delighted by that collaboration in the project and we had a quite successful soft opening, with the grand opening coming soon. We have work from 15 artists consigned and the list is growing. There has been no disappointment, only enthusiasm and support.

Artworks on display at DPRCA Upstage Gallery. This is the first long-term project I've been involved in since I left my day job in July 2012.

Artworks on display at DPRCA Upstage Gallery. This is the first long-term project I’ve been involved in since I left my day job in July 2012.

This is not to say that fear has gone away completely. It has moved, to a more private sphere of life. Fear permeates me as I prepare my work for display. Even as I encourage artists young and old to honor the value of their works, I have trouble doing the same.

The need to be a great artist makes it hard to be an artist. The need to produce a great work of art, makes it hard to produce any art at all. 

And months ago, I made a vow to stop using the excuse- “I’ve been so busy.” So when one of my collaborators asked, “What about your jewelry? Where’s that at?” I told the truth, “I’m working on it.” And that night I did. I prepared enough feathers for 12 pairs of earrings.


Then the next day, I completed 7 pairs for the gallery and took them in right away. It is part of my habit to silence my critic, to take in my work for consignment nearly immediately. As soon as it is framed, finished, complete, I take it in so there is no room for self-doubt and fear to grow.

Once it is on the wall, it is part of the display.

"Pheasant Feather Series"  Fine Art Photography by Rachel Brazil. 65

“Pheasant Feather Series”               Fine Art Photography by Rachel Brazil                  65–


But, yet the fear still hangs on as I have pastel drawings in my studio, waiting to be sprayed with fixative, mounted, framed, priced, and consigned.


Perhaps the greatest anti-venom for fear and self-critique is enthusiasm. Julia Cameron explains,

Enthusiasm is not an emotional state. It is a spiritual commitment, a loving surrender to our creative process, and loving recognition off all the creativity around us.

And for me, there is so much truth here. I have a terrible tendency to curb my enthusiasm. If I start to get too excited, too giddy, I see it as a sign of irresponsibility on my part. If I don’t curb it, I get scattered. I’m flying high, but I lose my keys, break my glasses, forget to pay the electric bill. I realize now that my curbing my enthusiasm and maintaining my sense of a responsible self, that I let fear continue to have influence in my life.

I am fortunate though, that sometimes I just can’t help it- genuine collaboration breaks down that ill-suited defense against enthusiasm.

Enthusiasm (from the Greek, “filled with God”) is an ongoing energy supply tapped into the flow of life itself. Enthusiasm is grounded in play, not work. Far from being a brain-numbed soldier, our artist is actually our child within, our inner playmate. As with all playmates, it is joy, not duty, that makes for a lasting bond.

This explanation of enthusiasm is so key for me and my recovery as a work addict. Enthusiasm is NOT about work. It is about play. It is about JOY. And with a wonderful group of collaborators to experience the joy of creation with, no longer should I confuse joy and responsibility. Yes, the two can co-exist, and they can be found within one another– but they are not equal. They do not look the same. They do not feel the same. There are differences to be celebrated in both joy and responsibility.

~Creative U-turns~

As I reach this section of the book, it is overly highlighted. It looks like an undergraduate textbook. I’m sure I understood it, I must have recognized myself in it. But it is the sections that I didn’t highlight that are most revealing.

A productive artist is quite often a happy person. This can be very threatening as a self-concept to those who are used to getting their needs met by being unhappy.

This is one phrase that wasn’t highlighted. Even now, in rereading I looked over it. Initially, it didn’t resonate with me. “That must be for someone else,” I thought. But, no. There is startling truth in it. While the statement feels like someone saying, “Oh, you’re just unhappy to get attention…” the truth in it has more to do with the fact that dysfunctional patterns of life lead us to do things in unhealthy ways. For me, I was most productive when I was unhappy. Whether I was physically not well, emotionally scarred, grieving loss, hiding anger, or just simply not quite okay with things– that is when I excelled— as a student, as an artist, as a waitress, as a grant writer, as someone striving to be the best THE ABSOLUTE BEST they could be, just to drown out the unhappiness. In this pattern, I got graded well, recognized, tipped, funded, and promoted. I got my needs met.

So yes, now doing art simply out of joy!? Writing for the creative endeavor of it!? It seems so foreign! This is my creative u-turn. Healthy creativity. Finding support. Nourishing myself. Respecting myself. Honoring my work. Letting enthusiasm drive away the fear.

~Blasting through Blocks~

Now I remember! I do, I do!

In order to work freely on a project, an artist must be at least functionally free of resentment (anger) and resistance (fear). What do we mean by that? We mean that any buried barriers must be aired before the work can proceed. The same holds true for any buried payoffs to not working. Blocks are seldom mysterious. They are, instead, recognizable artistic defenses against what is perceived (rightly or wrongly) as a hostile environment.

I reached this point, and anger swelled inside of me. I couldn’t let it go. It felt like I cut a vein, and it wouldn’t stop bleeding. Anger about my art, led interestingly enough to anger about my past. Mostly on the topics of spirituality and sexuality. It was more than I knew how to handle. I consulted my yogini, “I’ve got some serious pent up rage issues bubbling up to the surface today and quite honestly I have no idea how to deal with it. (If I did, I wouldn’t have this problem, right!?) I do however, know what NOT to do. No breaking stuff, yelling, hitting, and so on. So my question, do you have any suggested yoga poses that can help to open and release some of this?” 

Her suggestions to do backbends like Camel, Cobra, and Upward Bow, and the kneeling arm sequence (Mudhra bind, Reverse Prayer, Half Eagle, and Half Cow Face) to  open the collarbones and extend the spine were followed by opening my hips. She said “it will free emotions and may lead to a sudden overwhelming rush of feeling, but it will help you work through them faster. These are poses like Garland and High Lunge, Wide-Legged Seated Forward Bend, and One-Legged King Pigeon I.” Then, after feeling better I tried an inversion like Downward Dog, Standing Split, Wide-Legged Forward Bend, or even Big Toe.

It worked marvelously. I felt so much better, but physical pain still remained in one particular spot. Physically, meta-physically, whatever, however it works out, that pain became a block for me and I never followed up on the rest of this chapter. So hear I am, reading the notes I made, with an awareness that detects the anger still there and hoping to break the cycle that consumed me before. 

Cameron asks a lot of questions of her readers.

“List any resentments you have in connection with this project?”

I wrote about my involvement as a consigned artist at Upstage Gallery.

  • having let the process of creating artwork go, earlier in my life.
  • feeling an expectation to have some of my work (but not too much) as the gallery manager.
  • feeling intimidated or superior to other artwork I see.
  • not having the space, time, money, or energy to do the work I want.

“Ask your artist to list any and all fears about the projected piece of work and/ or anyone connected to it.”

  • I’m afraid the work won’t be good, or won’t be presented as good as it should.
  • I’m afraid people will love it and come to expect things of me.
  • I’m afraid I will be judged.
  • I’m afraid it will be too expensive for others to buy- that I’ll be at a loss.
  • I’m afraid I will have to talk about my work with others who won’t really understand.
  • I’m afraid I will have to defend myself, my philosophies, and my methods.

“Ask yourself if that is all. Have you left out any itsy fear? Have you suppressed any “stupid” anger?”

  • Is that all?
  • Am I afraid of having things on display?
  • Showing myself to the world?
  • Afraid I’ll be made a fool?
  • Afraid I’ll have to make commitments that I’m not comfortable with?
  • Afraid I’ll have to face the old feelings that I once hid from with art?
  • Afraid I’ll have to face the feelings that led me to stop doing my art?

How strange it is, to go back to these notes I made! To see how deep the fear is… the fear that being an artist will force me to accept myself and my past. How strange it is, to see it all as a learning process. How strange it is, to see that I’ve been here before. Days ago, weeks ago, years ago. How strange it is, to move on, to move into it. And to understand that compassion can be a guide, as we move on, move into, and move through the world.

“We learn to do something by doing it. There is no other way.” ~ JOHN HOLT





a shift in perspective

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a shift in perspective

I had a dramatic realization the other day.

I am exactly where I am supposed to be. Not waiting on the future. Not haunted by the past. Just here, now, in the present. Being.

And being what I am being (rather than doing what I am doing). Is weaving itself into my future. Opportunities arise.

I have time to volunteer, participate, be engaged. And in a way that supports the variety of interests (and strengths) that comprise myself.

In the weeks ahead, I am dabbling in projects. Building my networks. Honoring who I am.

I will be serving as a judge for the North Dakota Junior Duck Stamp Competition at the Audubon National Wildlife Refuge next week.

The week after that, I will be working on the final installations of for the Grand Opening of the DPRCA Upstage Gallery.

And in mid-April, I will be attending the Dakota Grown Local Foods Conference and participating as an onsite blogger.

Each of these projects do not feel as though they are work. They are part of my being and I have a feeling that each will lead me to meet even more wonderful people who will be part of my journey, in some way. But, now is now. I trust that I am where I am, because I am where I am supposed to be.

That little shift in perspective changes everything. How I view myself, my family, my friends, and the world. It isn’t about what I chose to do. It’s about how I choose to be.  How grateful I am! 301787_10100240738380527_2023361090_n

the smallest steps take us the furthest

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Each of us is on a path. Sometimes we stray from it and we must remember it is never too late to turn around.

But what about when turning around means breaking down? We find ourselves at the bottom. Shards of glass scattered around us. We are spent and exhausted, knowing that we must get up and move. Move on.

Today, I look back at that place within myself and see how far I’ve come. The sun came out today, just for me. The wind is calm today, just for me. The snow glistens today, just for me. My heart listens today, just for me.

The world doesn’t seem so dark. It is as though I conquered something inside. I am standing tall. But I still remember.

I remember that fear and pain. I remember the sadness and grief. I remember the guilt and confusion. I remember feeling paralyzed. I knew that if I got up and ran, those shards of glass would find their way into my flesh.

Before I could even get up, I had to look at the pieces scattered around. I didn’t understand how it all fit together to begin with. I didn’t understand how it all fell apart. The idea of picking up the pieces was completely overwhelming.

I started with baby steps. When infants learn to walk they are excited and cautious. The bump into things. They fall down and cry. They try again. They squeal with delight. So did I.

I had to learn to walk again. Not so much in a physical sense, but emotionally, mentally, socially, and spiritually. I had to learn to breath again. I had to find my balance again. I had to care for my soul again. I had to find my path again.

Now that I feel like I am on my path again, I realize I am not alone. I am alive, just the same as you. I am human, just the same as you. I look back and expect to see the mess I left behind. Instead I see a story of strength, endurance, beauty, and triumph. A story I am glad to have overcome. A journey I am glad to be able share. Now I know just how far baby steps can truly take us.

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