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I’m Afraid of What is in My Freezer

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I’m afraid.

I’m afraid I have addiction problems.

I know I have addiction problems.

Often associated with work, accomplishment, and success.

That high that I achieve when I just work a little bit harder.

When I do just a little bit more.

Over the past two years, I’ve made great strides in overcoming my workaholic tendencies.

I don’t let the tasks control me.

I don’t lose sight of my priorities.

I don’t over multitask.

I clean up in between projects.

I strive to start everyday as a new day.

But yet, I am still afraid.

It is autumn in North Dakota.

The instinct to squirrel food away for the winter is strong in this part of the world.

Harvesting, hunting, freezing, drying, canning, preserving.

If you took a look at my Facebook feed everyday, you’d be amazed to see what friends are preserving.

At times they look like super heroes.

At times I feel a bit like a super hero myself.

When I know that we have chicken stock, tomato juice, pickled beans, apple sauce, and even ketchup in the basement.

We have been busy filling the larder.

But along the way,

Amid the finished gleaming jars,

Among the produce waiting to be canned,

Somewhere between the pressure canner and the stove,

There is a bit of disappointment…

A bit of sadness…

A bit of feeling that comes when an recovering addict realizes they are living a “sober” life.

While we’ve been busy,

I haven’t caught the buzz.

The drive to make one more recipe,

The high that comes when you are so deep in the process that you forget about everything else.

The only thing that matters is the finished product.

Forget dinner, forget dishes.

This is awesome!

THAT- I haven’t felt that this year.

Yet.

I’m about to tap into the goods in the freezer.

I’m about to embark on my favorite process of preserving.

Making jam and jellies.

I have a freezer full of fruits.

Hand picked luscious fruits.

Chokecherries.

Blackberries.

Blueberries.

Juneberries.

Black Currants.

Wild Plums.

Buffalo Berries.

Amazing goodness waiting to be unlocked.

And yet, I am afraid.

I’m afraid this is where I will “fall off” the road to recovery.

I’m afraid that after 7 jars of juneberry jam and 10 jars of blueberry jelly,

And 14 jars of blackberry jam,

And 21 jars of chokecherry jelly,

That I will not know how to say no.

I’ll dig into the Black Currants,

“Just a small batch.”

And the wild plums.

“I’ll have to prepare to more cases of jars…”

And more blueberries.

“We have so many! Let’s do pancake syrup.”

And more blackberries.

“Maybe I’ll make a pie for after dinner…

Wait, dinner? Did I eat lunch? What did the kids eat for lunch?

What day is it anyway?”

So wish me well,

As I venture into the basement.

As I open the freezer.

And I try to say,

“That’ll be enough for now.”

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.

cropped-dscn7677.jpg

~Fear~

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.

DSCN8066

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.

~Enthusiasm~

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

 

 

 

 

learning to work again

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learning to work again

It occurred to me today, “Wow, I’m busy again.” Why yes, I am.

Last week, I wrote about the confusion that had overcome me when I started getting busy.

A reminder of what a slippery slope addiction and recovery can be. I found myself disappointed in myself. “I want to prove that I can be successful in breaking through my addiction.” Then I have to laugh at how ridiculous that it. I have to draw boundaries. I have to turn off my email. I have to know that I have a choice in what I do and how I choose to be. I have to remember that I am recoveringI have to focus on breathing. I have to remember the value of balance.

That was last week! That was my last post. I have been busy!

I’ve missed writing. I’ve been needing to write. I’ve been wanting to share about the intense artist breakthrough I had on Saturday. But now is not the time. Maybe tomorrow. Today, I found I had that feeling of determination pushing me along. As I left my part time job at the local coffee shop, I felt that feeling pushing me, in my car, down the road, to pick up child #1, then back the other way to pick up child #2. That feeling has to go for now, I am at home. That feeling cannot take over me.

Its not a surprise that feeling creeped up on me now. As I reflected on how busy I was, it dawned on me, “I have three jobs!” Time to update the resume!

~~~~

2013- Present         

Upstage Gallery Manager

Dakota Prairie Regional Center for the Arts—New Rockford, ND

Assist with the integration of visual arts into current DPRCA programing.  Organize and oversee the opening of a visual arts gallery, including the development of appropriate space, marketing for the gallery, recruitment and cooperation with consigning artists, and management of sales.

2012-Present         

Independent Artist and Writer

Pages of Paradigm—New Rockford, North Dakota

Produce and sell various drawings, paintings, jewelry and creative non-fiction. Manage a blog site at pagesofparadigm.com.

2012- Present         

Grant Writer

Rachel Brazil Professional Services— New Rockford, North Dakota

Provide professional services such as writing, consulting, planning, and project management to a variety of organizations. Expertise in projects related to rural community development, sustainable agriculture, and environmental education.

~~~

The hard part of stepping away from the determination that strikes with these projects, is that they are fueled by excitement. They are part of the life I created. This dynamic, wonderful life! They are parts of other people’s lives as well. I share the excitement. I gain from others. It is contagious! Its so much fun!

So whats the problem!? The problem is that feeling can be addicting. I have a problem with it. I hit bottom with it. I took a long time working my way back up. I’ve been working hard to overcome this addiction. Now its time to put these lessons I’ve learned into practice. Its time to balance.  It’s time to keep the feeling of excitement from dementing itself in compulsion. Several months ago I finally recognized the terrifying power compulsive behaviors have on me. 

However, when it comes to setting goals, to-do lists feel like time-bombs ticking in my brain. Several of my former students witnessed the after-effects of these explosions as a sat on my office floor, surrounded by piles of papers, trying to find some orientation in the surrounding crowd of priorities. Since I no longer have an office floor for my thoughts to explode out on, I have come to find that to-do lists simply instigate my compulsive tendencies. My jaws tighten and tunnel-vision sets in. I begin to ignore my body’s need to eat, drink, rest, or contemplate. The compulsive actions seem to happen without awareness—only going forward with a bold confidence that thrives on escalating stresses created through excitement and achievement. It is not joy or happiness. It is not complete or compassionate. Any pleasure of success does not belong to me, but to the compulsion.  Sadly, such behaviors can be easily mistaken for motivation, determination, or excitement—which is why its existence is so strong. It has been nurtured greatly and for too long.

The weekend is near and luckily, my work week is over, so to speak. My writing and art will continue. Or at least I should hope. But looking back on the past few days, I am surprised to add up all my hours.

Sunday-  

4 hours- preparing a grant document for a contract

2 hours- preparing artwork and jewelry

Monday –        

6 hours- painting items for the Upstage Gallery

2 hours- preparing a grant document for a contract

Tuesday-  

3 hours- working at the coffee shop, preparing for the official press-release for the Upstage Gallery

(now featured on the New Rockford City Website, will be in the paper on Monday)

2 hours- preparing a grant document for a contract

Wednesday-    

6 hours- completing and submitting grant document

Thursday-  

6 hours- working at the coffee shop, attending a production meeting, developing space and contacting artists

If I can do math, that’s 31 hours, on top of my home management duties, on top of training a puppy, on top of grieving the loss of our pet duck, on top of recovery. I’ve done pretty well, I feel pretty good. But, it would be all too easy to jump into tomorrow and the next day, following this pace. Which might not be all bad, depending on what it is I choose to do. Whether or not the chosen activities restore the energies I have expended during the week, or if they continue to use the energy I have stored up. If its the latter, I’ll become compulsive for sure.

It feels like an experiment of mindfulness. A process that might be well initiated with some reading, maybe catching up on The Artist’s Way, revisiting The Mindful Path through Shyness, or spending sometime with one of my favorite blogs Zen Habits.

Wish me luck through this experiment and trust I have the tools I need for success… or perhaps I have more lessons to learn.

rachel, in her natural habitat