It's time for a new visual journal! I only have 5 or so pages left in my current visual journal, so it is time for making a brand spanking new one. This is my favorite part: collecting and sorting all of the papers and ephemera to be bound together. My last journal was a monster of a book and has ended up lasting me 3 years. From the beginning, I was committed to completely filling it, but three years is waaaaayyy too long to be working in the same book. Too much baggage to carry around. So, as much as I love a thick, meaty journal, this one will be much thinner and easier to finish. Not much feels better than holding that overflowing book in your little hands knowing every single page is covered with words and images from your own mind and imagination. So rewarding, especially for those of us who sometimes have trouble actually finishing a project. It is a major accomplishment. But this next time around, I plan on making it a little easier on myself.
My poor, demented bunny was supposed to look like this adorable one. But, he's kind of endearing in his own way. In an attempt to improve my drawing skills, I've been experimenting with blind contour drawings. They are tons of fun and are supposed to train you to see with your eyes instead of your brain. (My brain thinks it doesn't know how to draw a bunny, but my eye says, what bunny? You just draw this line, then a curve, then a circle here, and pretty soon you have a bunny!) The best part is that it frees me from the self-imposed obligation to draw perfectly. A blind contour drawing isn't supposed to look exactly like anything. And often something pretty crazy turns up so you get to laugh at yourself, too. Being able to laugh at yourself is a necessary ingredient for art and for life in general.
Blindly is the only way I'd even attempt to draw a person at this stage. Poor Craig and Eddie. They are actually really good looking guys. You might be surprised to learn that both of Craig's eyes are actually on his face IRL. And those are dreadlocks, not worms coming out of his head. But, hey! I'm learning here.
Strictly speaking, these are more like semi-blind contour drawings. In a regular blind contour, you never take your eyes off of your subject or lift your pen from the paper. Here, I've done a section at a time then stopped to evaluate how far off the mark I've come. I restart with my pen where it should be, but once that pen starts moving, all I see is my subject, and it is harder to make your hand to draw a 4 inch line curving down to the left midway toward 5 o'clock than you'd think.
This one, I am most proud of. I had to say a little prayer before attempting to draw Giraffey, my daughter's most honored and beloved stuffie that has been with her since her first Christmas. I could just imagine the nightmares Maisey would have after seeing my bad drawing of a demented giraffe, but she turned out lovely! Except for the extra circle on her head which will eventually become a crown of flowers. Oh, and the blue dots that bled through another drawing onto her head. But, her lovable giraffey-ness has been preserved though, I think. Thank God.
Before you criticize me for storing baguettes in dirty water, those are paint brushes, thankyouverymuch.
If you think you could do better (I agree, I'm sure you could!!), why not take a stab at it and send me a pic or a link to your blind contour experiment. I'd love to share it here with my next round of drawings! Seriously, try it! If art is good therapy, blind contour drawing is the yummy orange syrupy cold medicine you used to fake a cough to get your mom to give to you. Or was that just me?
In an effort to get back to creating something every day, I've started keeping a pattern journal. I love patterns. Floral, geometric, black & white, simple, intricate--they all intrigue me. My thinking was simply to reproduce a pattern (rather than creating my own) in marker and pen each day and hopefully learn a little something about color and shape in the process.
Working on patterns has been "my time". Time for me to shut everything (and everyone) out for a little while and just focus on creating in a way that is easy and fun. And leaves me eager to come back tomorrow for the next round. On days when I have a little more time, I chose a pattern to reproduce that is more detailed. On days when I am pressed for time, I chose a simpler one. I don't worry about reproducing the pattern perfectly. I don't use rulers or covet straight lines. I've been surprised at how much I enjoy the process. And right now for me, that's the point.
Things I've learned so far:
~Copying a pattern, even a small one (my journal is only about 4x6 in.), takes more time than I thought. The simplest patterns take me about an hour. But I am not hurrying and I allow myself to thoroughly enjoy the process regardless of how long it takes.
~Because the patterns take a little longer than I initially thought to reproduce, I try to do a pattern every couple of days instead of every single day as I originally intended. But if I can eventually commit to a pattern a day, it seems the best way to get the most out of the process.
~Although I love the simplicity of working with markers, the limited color palette is always disappointing. But it does require me to think about color combinations more deeply. How to simplify a palette, how colors work together, etc.
~Quilt patterns are my favorite and my best.
~I cannot draw a straight line to save my life.
If you'd like to try your very own pattern journal, start with a small blank notebook (I used one I already had on hand). Begin collecting patterns from books, magazines or online to copy. Remember patterns are found everywhere--literally! Visual patterns simply repeat certain design elements, whether flowers or triangles, and can be regular or chaotic, symmetrical or mathematic. Consider patterns in clothing and other textiles, advertisements, architecture, nature, and art. Check out my Patterns Pinterest board and soon you will have way more than you need to fill an entire book. Better yet, you may begin to "see" patterns everywhere you look.
The advantage of a simple project like this, besides cultivating daily art practice, is that it challenges you to "see" what's around you and what you are drawing more actively. Plus, you can begin to notice what aspects of certain types of patterns or color combinations you are naturally drawn to for use in your own artwork. Your pattern journal will be a repository of ideas for backgrounds, detailing and other mark making for future projects. Best of all, it is just another place to explore and enjoy the process of art making without the fear or intimidation that often comes with creating an original work of art.
Does this sound like something you'd like to try? Please share! I'd love to see what patterns you come up with.
Some journal pages, either finished or nearly so.
I went through a brief period wanting to draw my surroundings. Until I got bored with my surroundings. Then I attempted drawing flowers from the seed catalog that had just come in the mail. I quickly got bored with that too.
A beautiful envelope and gift from a dear friend. The advantage of having such a huge journal is that it can hold everything. This one is, quite literally, bursting at the seams. I may have to rebind the whole thing once it's done. (Yeah, like that's going to happen.)
Have you noticed that when listening to Pandora, you can read lots of cool information about your music, including song lyrics, the most perfectly written bios, and--my favorite--"features of this track"? I get all kinds of giddy just wondering just what exactly "repetitive melodic phrasing," "acoustic sonority," or "extensive vamping" actually mean. If I knew, it wouldn't be half as exciting. I'm content just to roll the words around on my tongue.
I used to think facing a blank canvas was hard. But you know what is really hard, as in suffocating every creative or original thought that you might possibly have? A blank blog post. Especially when your blog has already been languishing away with barely a once-a-month post for the past year or more, the blank screen can be paralyzing. And it's not like I haven't tried. I've written and rewritten this post in my head a hundred times but never made it to the computer. Some of the problem is just not having the time I'm used to to blog and search the internet for new inspiration. But mostly, it is just facing that Blank Screen, getting back into the swing of writing, creating, and sharing. I want to do it. I need to do it. I'm not ready to let go of my blogging past. I do occasionally have ideas worth sharing, but it takes a lot more motivation than I seem to have had lately.
So I've been waiting around for the perfect get-back-to-blogging idea to pop into my brain. A segway from the spotty blog post past to the happy blogging-is-second-nature-to-me-now future I envision. Then it occurred to me, I tell myself and everyone else not to be intimidated by the blank canvas. Not to worry about the outcome, but to just jump into it and trust the process. Get some color on the page and just have fun. And it's darned good advice. So I decided (for lack of a better idea) to apply that to blogging. I'm just going to jump back into it and try to have fun with it again! Don't judge me too harshly if you notice my eyes are closed.
So, here are some journal pages I've worked on since I last shared in, oh, October 2012 or so. Most are as complete as they ever will be. Some may have a few things added here and there eventually. Did anyone else get hooked on that show Lie to Me? Not the best show on earth, but I loved it. Especially learning tricks to discerning when someone's lying or not. An awesome skill to have. Must research microexpressions when I have a chance.
Whew! Am I ever glad that's over with! They say taking that first step is half the work. Honestly, it felt like the 3 hours I just spent editing photos was at least 2/3 of the work--but whatever! With that weight lifted, I feel like nothing can stop me now! Right after I take a nap. I'm exhausted.
I've been going through some shit here. That's about as nicely as I can put it. As it turns out, my best friend is moving away, which means the church plant will also be losing its main teaching pastor leaving us feeling overwhelmed and alone to "run" the church by ourselves. John's been working 50+ hours a week for months, putting away extra money before his foot surgery in November (when he won't be able to walk for 6-8 weeks). And our old, beat up truck was stolen from the back yard, leaving me and the kids without a car most days (It was found a few weeks later, filled with the nastiest trash imaginable including some skank's panties in the front seat. And it only cost us $200 we didn't have and the truck wasn't worth to reclaim it from the city. Getting the thing running again will cost even more, of course, leaving me wishing the damn thing would have just stayed gone.). I wake up in the morning feel so lost and confused and angry and, most of all, weary to the bone.
Since we realized we'd be losing our best friends, not to mention the Pearl's lead pastor, the conversations around here had been heavy with disbelief, confusion and worry, not to mention profound sadness and loss. For weeks I would wake up in the morning and think, "What's the point of going through the motions? Shannon's leaving. Why bother painting my nails? Shannon's leaving. Why not lay in bed all day and watch 14 episodes of Mad Men? What else can I do with myself?? Shannon's leaving." I can't even imagine the church plant without them. I can't imagine this town without them and I especially can't imagine how I will make it through the next year without the comfort of her presence, our long semi-drunken conversations, and her daily friendship. She gets me, and she still loves me! How will I ever find anything like that again? I know I would never have made it through the last 3 painful years without her. How am I going to make it now? Do I even want to keep trying? As if I had a choice in the matter.
But sometimes it feels like I do have a choice. Like I can say to God, "That's it, I'm done! You can go on with your little plan without me because you've finally asked too much of me." Then I can...what? Say to hell with this miserable town and its miserable people? That would be a relief, but I don't even have that luxury because I know our time here isn't done yet. There was never even one luxurious moment when I could entertain the thought of leaving this seemingly god-forsaken place behind me and joining them. After years of begging for confirmation, I finally know this is where we are supposed to be. And I don't want to leave! It is a wonderful relief, but it's also a burden I fear I am not strong enough to bear.
One problem is my lack of imagination when it comes to my own future. After a year of cognitive/behavioral therapy, I've managed to uncover many of my core beliefs. Core beliefs are usually established in childhood and we spend the rest of our lives unconsciously collecting evidence to support those beliefs even completely ignoring evidence to the contrary. Mostly, we aren't even aware how strongly we hold these beliefs or how they constrain our lives. I was raised by a single mom and spent most of my years growing up with sitters or alone. The predominant emotional memory I have associated with childhood is aloneness. My core belief (to my shame): I am destined to a life of pain, loneliness, disappointment and despair. I've been collecting experiences my whole life that only prove how true this is, more than ever in the past 3 years. But now that I've uncovered the lies, I want to blast those destructive beliefs away. Especially when I know they contradict other, more tentatively held but certainly more true beliefs like God is good and He loves me and my life is in His hands.
But the trouble is I can't imagine what that "good" future might look like, and when I'm left to my own imagination, it usually ends badly. Somewhere in my deepest depression I stopped living and clicked into survival mode. My only goals were just to survive this moment and the next and maybe the day. I stopped even imagining anything beyond that. But then I got back on medication. The darkness lifted, the constant debilitating anxiety lessened and I began to imagine what it would be like to live again. To dream and set goals and keep lists of prayers answered to counter the fears that remained. So I stepped out and took a risk to live again, and the sky didn't fall on me. But the last month I've found myself right back where I started. Like a dog, weary of being beaten, I'm now crouched and waiting for the next blow to come.
But I don't want to merely exist in survival mode. I'm tired of protecting myself from the pain that may or may not come. I'm tired of numbing myself to stay alive. I've come too far and I'm terrified of going back. But what if we can't do it? What if I don't have what it takes? What if our friends leave and the church crumbles? What if I'm not strong enough to handle whatever comes next? How can I possibly do it without Shannon? In the deepest part of my soul, I just want to believe that life can be good, full, beautiful and meaningful, even when it is difficult. I want to believe that God can use me, that I haven't wasted my life, that some good can come from my suffering. I want to believe that it has all been worth it and that, in the end, it will all be worth it--regardless of what the future brings.
So, I've been spending a lot of time in prayer. Working through the worries and the fears with the One who knows me better than I know myself. Countering the negative thoughts with more appropriate positive ones. Trying not to drink too much and finding solace in my journal again. I'm nearing the end of my current enormous visual journal and am already planning for the next one. Last night I even started reworking an old canvas. A true miracle from where I was at the beginning of the Summer.
But if there is one thing I've learned, it is that everything, especially our sanctification, takes a lot more time than we want to believe. And God doesn't seem to be especially bothered by this, despite the fact that most of the time we are anxiously rushing from one thing to the next, eager to prove ourselves and leaving Him behind in our wake. So, for the first time, I'm trying not to figure it all out. To be patient with others, with myself and especially with God. I feel a renewed passion to abandon myself to the things I know only I can do and to do them well. Love and teach my children. Plan and cook healthy meals for my family. Try to keep the laundry under control. Encourage and support my husband in his work and calling. Live in deliberate Christ-centered community with the friends and neighbors God gives us. Make a little time for my art, good books and this blog. Truthfully, that's more than I feel like I can handle most days.
And I'm way more hopeful than I once was. I trust that, whatever happens, God is in control. He is not freaked out like I am and He knows better than I do what I need and what will truly make me happy. I really think things will work out, although I have no idea what that looks like. I think we'll be ok. John tells me every night that as long as we have each other, everything else can slip away because we have everything we need. I'm choosing to believe him. And I'm counting down the pages until I can start my new journal. With more thick, blank pages for paint and marker. Something smaller that I can carry around with me. Somewhere to put goals and plans, a place to dream again instead of merely vent. Where maybe I might imagine a glimpse of that good future after all.
It's crazy busy this week. Saturday we're having our first neighborhood house party and are expecting 50+ people to fit in and around our little house. Besides the usual party preparations--food, decor, entertainment--we're laying stone in the back yard and pretty much overhauling the whole thing to set up a stage and seating areas. So, naturally, I chose this week to paint and redecorate my living room, too. Just in case I had an extra few seconds without something to worry about. So, that makes this the perfect week to show you a little of what I've been doing in my journal this summer. Because I can guarantee that there will be no time for fascinating new content to the blog this week. Why, oh why, do I do this to myself?
Since 1997, the year after I graduated college, I've kept a reading journal with a list of books I read each year along with lists of books I hope to someday read. I imagine my children one day marveling at the great and fascinating books their mother read; o how she accumulated wisdom! (And lived it too, of course.) I even have a simple yet elegant star system to rate my books: 1 star = exemplary, 2 stars = life changing.
The year after I graduated college, I was in a reading frenzy. I had been told what to read for the last--ahem--5 1/2 years and I wanted to read what I wanted to read for a change. Having spent so many days and nights pouring over literature and classics, I spent the next decade reading mostly non-fiction. (I majored in English, minored in Classic Civilizations. And I still believe in a liberal arts education, but that's for another post.)
I'm not a fast reader; I like to take my time and savor the words. I underline and make notes in the margins. I buy my books, I don't rent or borrow them. I'll pay full retail at Barnes and Noble if I have to, but mostly I scour thrift shops for random cheap reads. Unless it made zero impression on me, every book I ever read will probably be with me until the day I die and my children will have to reluctantly haul the boxes around with them until their spouses just can't take it anymore and they drop them off at Goodwill and never look back.
I read 19, 14 then 24 books in the 3 years after college. The 16 books I read in 2001, the year Soren was born, were mostly labor, birth and parenting books, naturally. Secrets of the Baby Whisperer, The Hidden Art of Homemaking, and My First 300 Babies helped me feel slightly less incompetent in my new role as stay at home mom. The infant and toddler years left me little time for reading without falling asleep after 2 sentences, so there were a pitiful 14 books read in the next three years combined. Actually, I'm pretty proud of the fact that I had enough brain cells to appreciate the the Lord of the Rings trilogy and Albert Camus during these lean years. And that's also when I added my 2-star rating, so at least I had quality, if not quantity.
Every reader should keep a reading journal. With "Tips For Storytelling" and lists like "Classics of the 20th Century That Have Shaped Contemporary Religious Thought". (I've only read 6. So 14 to go.) Of course I had to include an outline of the Stages of Analytical Reading from Mortimer J. Adler's (2 star rated!!) How to Read a Book, the high point of 1999's list.
And no respectable reader's journal would be complete without Quotes to Remember:
Real miracles bother people. Like strange sudden pains unknown in medical literature. It's true: they rebut every rule all we good citizens take comfort in. Lazarus obeying orders and climbing out of the grave--now there's a miracle, and you can bet it upset a lot of folks who were standing around at the time. When a person dies, the earth is generally unwilling to cough him back up. A miracle contradicts the will of the earth.
Once in my life I knew a grief so hard I could actually hear it inside, scraping at the lining of my stomach, an audible ache, dredging with hooks as rivers are dredged when someone's been missing too long.
...I recall the black remorse that flapped down and perched on me as we rode....You can embark on a new and steeper version of your old sins, you know, and cry tears doing it that are as genuine as any.
--from Peace Like a River, Leif Enger (read in 2003, 2009)
He thought of getting home and building him a cabin on Cold Mountain so high that not a soul but the night hawks passing across the clouds could hear his sad cry. Of living a life so quiet he would not need ears. And if Ada would go with him, there might be the hope, so far off in the distance he did not even really see it, that in time his despair might be honed off to a point so fine and thin that it would be nearly the same as vanishing.
To Ada, Ruby's monologues seemed composed of mainly verbs, all of them tiring. Plow, plant, hoe, cut, can, feed, kill.
--from Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier (first book of 2007)
There are few things humans are more dedicated to than unhappiness. Had we been placed on earth by a malign creator for the exclusive purpose of suffering, we would have good reason to congratulate ourselves on our enthusiastic response to the task. Reasons to be inconsolable abound: the frailty of our bodies, the fickleness of love, the insincerities of social life, the compromise of friendship, the deadening effects of habit. In the face of such persistent ills, we might naturally expect that no event would be awaited with greater anticipation than the moment of our own extinction. --from How Proust Can Change Your Life, Alain de Botton
Nine books read so far this year. Not bad. (And yaaahhh, I judge myself as lazy & stoopid if I don't read a respectable amount of books each year. By my own subjective standard.) I predict the book of the year for 2013 will be a tie between The Emperor of All Maladies and Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking. (Both 2-star books!) But then who knows what I might stumble across in the next 5 months.
Do you keep a reading journal? If you love to read but don't have a reading journal, I highly recommend you start one right away. I'd love to write a review for each book, or even for my favorite books, but who has time for that? Just keeping a list is fun enough for me. And occasionally I get to look back and think, "I read that? Wow, impressive! Too bad I don't remember a word of it." But, see, I have proof that it's true. I wrote it down.