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Being Drawn In

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This past weekend, I stood in silence. Staring at a small selection of drawing supplies. I had wanted to buy some artist pens. Mine had dried out. Mine that I bought eight years ago, to illustrate an archaeological dog burial.

Clearly, it was time for some new drawing tools. But there were no pens to choose from there.

I almost walked away.

But I kept looking.  Maybe I missed something.

Maybe… I could buy some pencils.

My inner critic’s voice began, “We have boxes and boxes of pencils at home.”

“Yeah, but not pencils for drawing.”

“How can a pencil NOT be for drawing.”

-Hush-

I looked again.

I was almost in tears with the thought of buying them.

(Treating myself to art supplies can be a pretty intense experience.)

A small “artist pencil kit” caught my eye.

Three pencils, a kneaded eraser, two graphite sticks, and a woodless pencil.

$7.49

And cue the critic:

“You’re going to spend almost ten dollars on something you don’t even need? Something that the kids are going to break, the dog is going to eat, and you are going to lose!?”

“Yes, Yes I am. Because I want to draw. Because I need to draw. AND it comes with a tin case.”

So now, I have a brand new set of pencils to entice me when I get that little whisper of a sense that I might like to draw.

Brand new drawing pencils

Brand new drawing pencils

And how glad I am. For I got that sense tonight, when I couldn’t sleep.

I started thinking about leaves.

Again.

This all started late last week when I was walking down the road with my two boys. We took the back alley on the way to the bakery. I had spent most of the week feeling under the weather and was quite unaware of the autumnal changes taking place outside. Lesson one in complementary colors

“Wait! Wait! Kids! Come here!” I called out. They must have thought I found a frog or a grasshopper, because they sure came back quick.

“Do you see how the color of the leaves is so yellow? And it makes the back of that building seem more purple than it ever has before?”

My oldest, interested and sure it must be some kind of magic, replied “Yeah, I do! What’s that about, Mom?”

“What colors make purple?” I ask.

After a little thought and some guessing, he came up with “Blue and Red”

“Yes! Is there any yellow in purple?”

“No….” (He says it in a voice that shows that thinks he might be getting tricked.)

“And that is why the yellow and purple make each other stand out so well!”

And thus began our seasonally appropriate lesson on colors.

IMG_0334And several stops on the way to the bakery.

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IMG_0336 And a trip to the park. IMG_0349And some lessons on photography.

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And a photo session that became what my son called the “Color Catch”

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And left me thinking of leaves and trees.

And thinking of times when I was learning my leaves and trees.

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And so, here comes that whisper.

Draw.

It’s caught on something.

Draw leaves.

It’s drawn to a time.

A time when I took certain routes around the campus of Southern Illinois University, just to visit certain trees.

I may have been dating a forestry major.

But to tell the truth, I was in love with the trees.

So I started thinking about my beloved tulip poplar.

Just outside the Liberal Arts building.

I’d visit it everyday.

I miss the unique blossoms and the strange seed pods.

But I remember the leaf shape so well.

A few image searches left me longing.

Wondering how that tree is now.

Leaf Study Tulip PoplarAnd drawing the shape and uncovering the vein pattern.

I was suddenly grateful that I was treated myself to those pencils this weekend.

I needed them, for not just any pencil would do.

Memories of my wonder that exists in leaves continued to grow.

I thought of sweet gum.

This spectacular tree can have any range and combination of colors at any time in the fall.

It was a childhood favorite of mine. 750px-American_Sweetgum_Liquidambar_styraciflua_Fruit_Context_2500px

We had one at the house where my dad lived. Each fall, I would collect the funny round, poky, seed capsules and deposit them in hoards in the backyard. I loved them. 800px-Sweetgum_Seed_closeup

Come spring when my dad mowed the yard and found those caches of prickly seed capsules… well he didn’t like it so much then. But, I bet it would give him a big laugh now.

And so, I gave my try at playing with pencil shading the beautiful leaf shape and delicate intricacies of the seed capsules.

And was quite pleased with the process. Sweet Gum

And quite delighted to rediscover the joy of being drawn into to nature, one smooth graphite stroke at a time.

Behind those Walls She Stands

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Recovery work is difficult, there is no doubt.

My struggles and challenges find their way into my works just as often as the triumphs and successes do.

It has been a process.

A journey.

And I have shared it.

Not all of it. But some of it.

I share because I know others must be breaking down their own walls.

I know they are.

And perhaps my story can be of inspiration as they work to break those walls down.

And it is true.

Sharing my story has proved to be valuable to others.

And valuable to myself.

I know there are family, friends, and readers who believe in what I am doing.

They believe in me.

For that I am grateful.

And now I find myself in a strange position.

I have broken down the walls.

I am no longer trapped in.

But I found a startling surprise.

I am now face to face with the girl who built those walls.

She is brilliant. She is hostile and angry. She has a quick whit and a foul mouth. She is 15. She is me.

She did the best she could to overcome all that she was face with.

She was assaulted and raped when she turned 14.

Not long after, she attempted suicide.

She was tired of feeling dead inside.

She smoke pot and stole cigarettes.

She ground her teeth and clenched her fists.

She was overwhelmed with fear and anxiety that something awful would happen because she didn’t prevent it from happening.

Awful things did happen.

People she loved continued to get hurt.

She continued to carry more than she should.

Eventually, she found safe haven in the arms of another.

She loved deeply and gave everything.

She cherished this sense of security.

She found confidence in working.

She found ways to show the world that she was okay, maybe, after all.

She built those walls.

Those walls I just tore down.

She is on the other side of the ruin.

Frightened and confused.

And what can I do?

I broke down the palace she created.

I cannot apologize.

I have to hear her out.

To hear all that she has to say.

With all the hostility and rage and four letter words.

I have to hear her out.

Even though I am scared of what she has to say.

I have to hear her out.

After all, if I don’t, who else will?

(Trying to) Navigate Stress in New Ways

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(Trying to) Navigate Stress in New Ways

Stress and I have an unhealthy relationship. It’s kind of a co-dependent relationship. I tend to respond to stress with compulsive behaviors.

Yesterday I put my husband in the hospital and today he might have surgery. It’s only his tonsils… but still, I feel the familiar stress of any set of crisis and unknown outcomes.

Without working a 9-5 job, I am not entirely sure how to spend my time. In fact, I am almost certain that working on any of my projects would not be a healthy option right now. For me, work as an escape is a habit. A bad habit. Using work to escape from the stress of any current state of being is essentially the same as using a chemical substance. And of all the things in my mind, work, play, rest, sleep, spazz-out, be grateful, write, draw, do dishes, walk…the one thing I can confidently know NOT to do RIGHT NOW is to have a drink. So, it would make sense not to engage in any other addictive behaviors, right?

This is day three of being in a stress response mode. And I feel like I’ve done remarkably well up to this point. Prioritizing, eating well, meditating, sharing, sleeping, I even went to yoga last night. And yet it is like speaking a foreign language. It takes great effort and sometimes feels like I’m doing it all wrong.

I think the key here is to remember the choices we have. I don’t know anything more than I did 10 minutes ago in regards to my husband’s condition. However I choose to use this limbo time, it is up to me to make choices that nourish me, reduce stress, and enhance my sense of well-being. Because acting like I’m trying to fix the situation certainly doesn’t fix it.

Interesting… the things we can learn when we are mindful of the situation at hand.

The Creative Balance of Work and Play

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The Creative Balance of Work and Play

In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.  ~ Albert Einstein

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For several months now, I’ve been working through a wonderful book, The Artist’s Way. It was written more than 10 years ago with the intention to help aspiring creatives work through their blocks. I can’t help but wonder what it would have been like if I had gotten my hands on this book when I was 20 years old. I suppose I wouldn’t have been really ready for it. I suppose the universe works out as it should. Because here I am now, continually engaged with this read and so honored to be able to share some of it with my readers.

The book is broken up into weeks, with varying themes, tasks, and reflections each week. Some weeks I start out strong and move right through with ease. Others, I find myself working through bit by bit. This week’s topic is “Recovering a Sense of Self-Protection” and I have been chewing on it for quite some time.

In this chapter, Julia Cameron helps us explore the toxic habits we have that disrupt the flow of creative energy.  My toxic habit? It’s workaholism. And Cameron exposes every little bit about my habit (the one I am trying to break) in this chapter.

In a way, it was a breath of fresh air. A year ago, when I began trying to restore balance to my life, I sought out books to help me realize that I had an unhealthy relationship with work. I was addicted. But the resources I found tended to be written for men in business suits who should take more time for their golf swing rather than their office. No thank you. I needed something that could fit for women, who felt the need to prove themselves, who didn’t want to fail in the face of patriarchal society. Women who were struggling to balance, who had a list of should-do-for-others that was must longer than the list of needs-to-for-myself. I knew I wasn’t alone in feeling this way. I knew there must be many others, men or women, who wanted to redefine their relationship with work to better their lives.

In time, those ideas lead to the beginning of this blog. I’m so glad to have made the connections with others and gained a supportive readership. Thank YOU!

The challenge with redefining one’s relationship with work is that a work addiction is not the same as a drug addiction. It’s not socially acceptable to avoid work. Even when I took a few months off, I was surrounded by work at home. I certainly didn’t feel like I was getting sober. I wasn’t really having fun. I wasn’t sure I knew how.  Cameron highlights the paradox of workaholism so well,

Only recently recognized as an addiction, workaholism still receives a great deal of support in our society. The phrase I’m working has a certain unassailable air of goodness and duty to it. The truth is, we are very often working to avoid ourselves, our spouses, our real feelings. In creative recovery, it is far easier to get people to do the extra work of the morning pages than it is to get them to do the assigned play of an artist date. Play can make a workaholic very nervous. Fun is scary. “If I had more time, I’d have more fun,” we like to tell ourselves, but this is seldom the truth. To test the validity of this assertion, ask yourself how much time you allot each week to fun: pure, unadulterated, nonproductive fun?

Fun? What am I supposed to do with that? How? With who?

rachel, in her natural habitat

I am getting better with this. Seriously, I am. Sharing experiences with others has been the key to learning how to have fun. Building friendships. Exploring opportunities. Laughing. And to the displeasure of my children, singing. In fact, just yesterday, I galloped down the road with my 3 year old. I don’t know if anyone was watching. I don’t really care. Because we had fun. He laughed and so did I. And the best part– I didn’t even get hurt.

For a long time, I had a deep fear of fun. I was terrified that if I let go, just a little too much, that something bad would happen. As if I had that much power in the universe! Ha! But, still the feeling was real. A feeling that if I let responsibility slip just a little bit, that bad, terrible things would happen as a result. The feeling is still there, I realize as I write this. But it is negotiable now. Not all-encompassing or consuming.

 winter woods

The mind is capable of so many things. Our perspective can lead to our ruin or our triumph. It all depends on what we believe. For so long, my work determined my worth and my schedule. It was a viscous cycle. I didn’t do the things that I needed to do for myself when I needed to. I would say, “Just let me finish this up.” or “When I get through this deadline.” or “I just don’t have time.” I believed those statements. I saw my work as a building block to get to the next point in which I could be happier.

Cameron is very clear about this, she says, “Workaholism is a block, not a building block.”

It is amazing for me to share all these bits, to see just how far I have come. Because truly, each step has been a challenge. The path doesn’t always feel easy. In fact, most often I feel like I am not doing anything at all. That’s where this book has been really great. Cameron encourages us to take time each morning to take time to clear our mind and write in what she calls morning pages. Even if it feels useless and silly, those morning pages are the way in which we draw a map for ourselves that includes both where we have been and where we want to go. I love her reminder,

“To write is to right things. Sooner or later— always later than we like— our pages will bring things right. A path will emerge.at the waterfall

Somehow, I find that a path has emerged.

The pieces are starting to come together.

I admit though, it is still scary. It feels unknown. I have several projects lined up in the next couple months. This is a good thing financially. But its a scary thing psychologically.

It will be up to me to find that balance.

To do my work, without overworking.

To make my needs a priority,

Like eating nourishing meals.

Taking time to meditate, write, read, and create.

Spending time outside, with my family, animals, and plants.

Being spontaneous enough to have fun. Pure, unadulterated, nonproductive fun.

Being content with who I am, where I am, at that moment.

Only when he no longer knows what he is doing does the painter do good things. ~Edgar Degas