Symmetry: words in brief

This morning I came across photos of Australian artist Shona Wilson’s work with ephemeral nature mandalas, intricate creations of precise symmetry constructed out of the tiniest plant parts. My breath seems to slow down when I am presented with this order, or when I can conjure it myself in small symmetrical experiments on paper or in compositions of collected parts. My favourite folk art from Poland is the circular cut-paper wycinanki of the Lublin region where I was born, delicate wheels of geometric shapes, foliage and repeated creatures, paper snowflakes taken to a higher plane. I’m soothed by balance, by the perfection of mandalas and medicine wheels, all those radiating mesmerizing mirrors of quarters and eights. Most of us are. We crave the visual representation of the ideal, of the divine. Of a perfect reciprocity and balance elusive to our brittle messy entropic world.

From my current daily writing practice with three women across the continent. Word prompt: symmetry.

 

Shrug: words in brief

The first real garment I knit for myself was a shrug. Blue, the colour of the summer sky. For some winters when my kids were small, I survived through the slow counting of stitches reeling after desperately sleepless nights. My exhaustion was anchored in the repetitive flutter of my hands, condoled by the softness of alpacas and merinos, comforted by the hypnotic alterations of variegated colour and handspun texture. It was colour that kept me sane on gray winter days, that mesmerized my brain with jewel tones and contrast and the soothing lilt of monochromes. It was enough to see beautiful things emerge under my hands. Sometimes it was more than enough.

Word prompt: shrug. Brief daily writing with a small group of women by email. Day 32 of this new format. This is from the backlog.

Backward: words in brief

This afternoon I spent hours wrestling with 400-pound fishing line in front of the wood-stove at my parents’ house, finishing off the first pair of snowshoes I’ve ever woven. Many times as the line buckles and tangles and my fingers cramp I swear that it will certainly be the last. But at no point do I either scream or throw the snowshoes across the room, for which feat of self-possession I mentally pat myself on the back, both hands otherwise engaged. I weave in and clip off the last ends as the sun dips down behind the trees; I am determined to get out before dark. I loop the perimeter of my parents’ small property, snow powdery as icing sugar, gold light angling over the tall cedars, waxing gibbous moon hanging high overhead. It’s hard to move backward in snowshoes; they are a forward-looking means of locomotion, one foot sliding past the other, awkward and graceful both. Like small rafts floating through the snow, silently skimming the skin of it, they drift me ever towards the future, lightly.

From 100 Words: The Beauty of Brevity. Word prompt: backward. Day 93.

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Once-in-a-lifetime: words in brief

This morning we made more maps for our calendar, which late in the day was re-themed. More play with watercolour, ink, pen, pencil crayons. More strange geographical features labeled. “How do you spell ‘serpents’”? So many details to finish. Twelve is a detailed age, perhaps, but he’s always been a perfectionist. Nine on the other hand, apart from occasional wild bursts of tears, is convinced that most things he does are brilliant. Children are not born a blank slate. I drop them off with grandparents, take an out-of-the-way subway ride to fulfill a complicated arrangement with a car pick-up. For other complicated reasons, the car is not there. I pick up a tourtiere for dinner instead, decide that a brisk walk makes up for my annoyance, rush home to paint my one contribution to finish off our joint project, which I insist will be for March, my birthday month. The house smells like fir tree, beeswax candles, paints, and Sharpies. The shortest day, the longest night. Today, once it has passed, will never come again.

From 100 Words: The Beauty of Brevity. Word prompt: once-in-a-lifetime. From the day of the Winter Solstice, Day 87.

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Cry: words in brief

I’m losing steam. I’ve been working on an big art project with my kids: our annual calendar, a gift for their dad. I love the result, but the process is laborious. Too many hours spent indoors at a table, too much creative pressure, too much self-criticism, too much paper thrown away. Most days I love my life, the flexibility and freedom of it, my sense of resistance to the status quo, the pockets of time for my own creative projects. This evening my husband sang carols at a hospital, came home forty-five minutes later than promised, and I exploded into tears. Why am I the default parent? What if I’ve made all the wrong choices? What if I’m wasting my life? He told me gently about singing in the dementia ward, the man who sang loudly along, the nurse who couldn’t hold back her own tears. He said, I’m grateful that you made it possible for me to be there. That was all I needed to hear. The tears washed through. We will keep compromising. We will keep finding time for ourselves, for each other, for our small offerings to the world.

From 100 Words: The Beauty of Brevity. Word prompt: cry.

From yesterday, day 86 of 100. This week has been the hardest to keep up since I started this in September. For the first time, I missed two days in a row.

Mistake: words in brief

I’ve rarely knit a sweater all the way through without unraveling a sizeable section. This seems to be my process: I notice that the fit is off, something doesn’t add up, but I persist. “It will be fine,” I think, “It will work out. I can see it through.” A month of knitting later, I can’t ignore it any more: the sweater is too tight, too loose, awkwardly striped, not what I intended. I pull the needles out and unravel, either with resignation or with a strange glee. “Look at me practicing non-attachment. I can retrace my path. I can start again.” And I do.

I’ve completed many projects this way.  And yet… Why not value my time and labour?  Why not trust myself in the first place? Why not stop at the first suspicion, the first misgiving, the first hunch that something isn’t right?

From 100 Words: The Beauty of Brevity. Word prompt: mistake

Drawing from nature: on seeing, recording, and reclaiming

DSC06925I am feeling grateful and excited recently to have resumed a semi-regular drawing practice. When I was a child, art was the thing that I did. Art and reading. Writing came much later, and writing was for a long time functional and obligatory – I wrote because it was something that had to be done, for school, for work, and sometimes for myself. I was a “good writer” and so I was asked to write and I wrote; and as I wrote, I learned to love writing.

My personal writing in my teens and twenties was sporadic and unsatisfying. I would start a new journal, write in it for a while, lose patience with the self that emerged in my writing, and discard the notebook. Simply put it away in a closet. And then a year or two later I would find a new notebook, the beautiful blankness of which would lure me into trying again.

It was only in my early thirties, when I was working on an education degree, that I started to recognize that the self who I recorded in my journals was incomplete. I had the epiphany that I should stop separating out personal writing from all the other parts of my life. Personal reflection, class and workshop and meeting notes, outlines for papers and presentations, quotes that inspired me – all went into the same notebook. It would be my “everything book.” This was the only way I could integrate. It was what worked for me. It meant that I would no longer lend out my notes to classmates, that I was more conscious of where my notebook was when I was out in the world, but it also meant that there were useful things in it that I wasn’t prepared to discard, so I pushed on. I didn’t hide the parts of myself that I didn’t like. I allowed all of me to stay in one place, and kept on writing.

DSC06928It seems strange now, having for the past eight years or so developed a more and more regular writing practice, to think back on a time when I would journal once or twice a year, in times of extreme emotion. Now I watch my notebooks pile up. I remember the first time I filled one in six months, I was pleased. Then in four months. Now I’m down to two. I wonder what I was doing all of those years that I wasn’t writing, how I managed to process and observe and spill out everything that needed to be spilled, record everything that needed to be recorded.

I wonder when something moves from a sporadic choice to an indispensable and life-sustaining habit. Where is the tipping point?

When I was a child and into my mid teens, I spent a lot of time drawing. It’s not that I ever fully stopped, and there was no-one who forbade me to further pursue art, but there was a point in my late teens when there was a rueful sense that it was not something that had a future. My family were all scientists, practicality was valued over creativity and risk, and there wasn’t a mentor, in that particular moment, who could have pulled me through that disconnection between the things I loved and what the world seemed to demand of me. It is something I often wonder about, how that happened, why I agreed to it, what would have been different if I hadn’t. Whether I was also in part afraid of being seen, of creating work that would have to be shared, which would force me to emerge from a protective armour that I was then diligently constructing. Whether I was afraid of making mistakes, of not being able to compete in the way I felt I was required to. All of that.

DSC06926I don’t want to linger on the reasons and regrets right now. Looking at the past or the future, of course, creates a heavy burden of meaning on something that I simply enjoy. Something that focuses my awareness and attention, takes me out of the discursive realm and into the parts of my brain that aren’t constantly needing to explain themselves with words. Something that brings me joy in the moment. And that helps me observe and integrate things that I want to be more present with, that I want to see more clearly.

My sporadic sketchbooks over the years were like my sporadic written notebooks – a burst of enthusiasm and then frustration and rejection. And maybe years later, trying again. And so now that I am keeping everything in place, not ripping out pages or putting my writing or art into dark boxes and closets, what happens? Where do I go next? Can I sustain this?

In the past couple of years, because of the naturalist learning I have been doing, I found myself drawing more often again: plants, animals, tracks. It was a place of integration for me, to find a way to use my attention and record something that I could look back at, both for learning and pleasure. A way for my eye and heart to take in and savour the details that I might otherwise pass by.

I saw this quote from Thoreau written on a wall the other day: “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”

DSC06927Recently, I have found myself taking some classes with a wildlife artist, and have found a friend to meet for regular drawing sessions of animal specimens at the local museum. And the past couple of months, I have been drawing/painting/collaging something for inspiration every day. I’m finding this very satisfying right now. And I don’t know where it’s going, if it’s going anywhere at all. I am staying present to following the threads, watching them weave together to see what continues to emerge.

Do we all have those secret childhood passions? Who puts them aside and who doesn’t?  How do we make sure our children hold on to theirs? Why does it sometimes feel harder and riskier to reclaim the deepest, oldest passions? And how long do we need to beat ourselves up about the things we loved and left behind before we can simply put those regrets aside and start doing all the things we love, day by day, even if only in the spare moments?

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I am not finding this free wordpress format super satisfying for placing photos in the way I want.  Apologies for the slight clunkiness of the formatting.