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Speaking with my sister this morning, I found myself describing my latest prayer flag as “incredibly challenging.” She didn’t even breath, I swear it. “Good!” she exclaimed, “that’s great! It means you’re growing!”

 

How often I forget to be grateful for challenges because they mean I am growing. It was so good to be reminded. So often it feels like challenges just keep following one another into this life without respite. Somewhere in my psyche I still seem to think this isn’t how life is supposed to be. Something in me still thinks life flatlining means all is well and I can relax. In reality, flatlining means death. Death of the artist just as sure as it means death of the body.

 

Apparently, sometimes I also still pretend making art will someday really be all joy joy joy!. I am learning though that Joy is rather a bit more complex. Joy resides in the deep place in one’s middle where our deepest and most honest feelings originate.I think that may be part of why it is so hard to access. It can sometimes be found alongside heartbreak, disappointment, frustration, fear. Not that we feel joyful in those moments of heartbreak or fear, but I do think those more challenging deep feelings block our access to joy. It sometimes is hiding beneath them.  Some of my favorite authors are able to make use of this in powerful stories that take one to the depths of despair in one sentence and in the next have one laughing until tears form, or vice versa, take one to the height of hilarity and in the next line plummet one into utter disbelieving shock at what the human experience can bring. This to me is a super-power some writers possess. Through it they let us know the vast expanse of experiences we can hold in an instant. Through it they show us how gloriously strong and brave we are to live this life.

 

I am learning that joy, and perhaps bliss (which is closely related), coming from the middle, the center of the self is far more beautiful and perhaps truer when it flows from the midst of life as well. Joy is not the sunny vacation at the Riviera (though I’d not turn that down!) so much as it is the rippling laughter upon noticing one has put on mismatched socks or found just the right answer to a child’s earnest question. Joy is not ease of creation. Joy IS creation, grueling, challenging, fun, inspired, messy, lovely, silly, sorrowful LIFE. In a sense, one gives birth to joy. Some labors are short, some take more energy. All bring something into being which before was hidden. Joy is like this. It shows us something of life we cannot see. It allows us to express that which cannot be seen.

 

 So, Yay, today I was challenged. Today I didn’t flatline. Today was a day well lived and Joy was indeed created.

 


 

I walked along the beach today with my little dog. It was a gorgeous, if unusual, 88 degrees at the Oregon Coast today. Even the water was warm. Treasures from the sea lined the water’s edge. The beauty reached deep into me to a place where all feelings originate in the magma of my being. When some emotion or experience slices through the layers of my daily living to touch that place in me, generally there is a sense that all emotions are One, or at least are so connected as to be instantly drawn to the surface one by the other. So my marveling gratitude and joy felt walking along the beach cut a path to where loneliness and sorrow also reside and I found myself remembering how rich my life was with my husband by my side and my child running along the beach and out two dogs playfully exploring. And now we are two.

 

Experiences like this are dangerous, or at least used to be. They could plummet me instantaneously into despairing thoughts that darkened my path back to the surface of day to day living. It has taken many years and much trial and error, and hard work to come to a place of feeling that experience of joy unlocking the path to all emotions including painful ones without free-falling. Today, the beauty of the day pierced my heart then sliced down to the marrow of my being and I felt the fall, I felt despair and longing and aching regret as I looked again at my little dog ahead of me, walking purposefully, as if he thought, if he just walked far enough he’d find the rest of the pack. Then I began simply saying “thank you.” And I spoke to God the Universe and Everything about how grateful I was for those moments, those days on the beach with the love of my life, our child and those two amazing dogs, one of whom still very much needed someone to play with him in the surf.

 

This to me is joy. Joy is all of it. The beauty reminding us of the pain reminding us of the moment reminding us of the gratitude reminding us of the love. One can start anywhere in that lineup. It’s the strand of pearls. Circular. Separate and unique treasures of the human experience;  but one necklace.

 

Image of the new prayer flag, Joy, coming soon…


Someone recently asked me, “so, do you follow some kinde of plan, like, sort of a paint-by-number, when you lay out the pieces and then sew?” It’s a good question. Do you follow some kind of plan? My answer, whether satisfactory or not, was, "I’m not at all certain," pause, then, "but, no. not really." Piecing and sewing the prayer flags is an intensely intuitive process, i went on to explain. I pointed to the flag I was showing her at the time. “this part here, this piece of fabric was part of my patron’s father’s shirt. I’d found a place for his bluejeans but hadn’t seen anywhere the plaid could fit in until the entire flag was finished being pieced. Then it occurred to me the shirt fabric would make a nice pattern in the shallow water. So everything in the lower 1/3 of the flag had to be lifted so the piece could be included.” I added that my dry hands always pose a challenge, as does my benign tremor. I have a few different size tweezers in my studio to help.

 

Inevitably, with every flag, at some point, things aren’t feeling quite right and a major or if I'm lucky, minor, unduing and rebuilding of layers takes place. Sometimes it’s near the beginning of the process, sometimes when I think I'm just about finished with piecing it. Sometimes when stitches have already been laid in.

 

So I do a lot of undoing and re-doing. It takes a lot of patience. A tailor, when looking at my flags, once said she’d rather make a three-piece suite than make one of my flags. Without missing a beat, I responded, “and I could never make a three-piece suit.” We all have our own particular type of patience and making these flags has taught me much about mine. Making them has given me practice through which I have learned great patience in allowing something to unfold. Most significantly though, I have learned that if I listen well enough, I can catch subtle indications that something doesn’t quite fit and from there, if I take the time to undo and redo or make right what didn’t quite fit, the result always, always, always will be far better than the original “plan.”

 


I continue to work on staying present in my life and in my art. This sometimes makes it challenging to take a moment and write about what all is going on. Living in the moment is one thing. Writing about living in the moment sort of skews time a bit and takes one out of the moment. That said, Life (with a capital "L") continues to be about not slipping into despair or neurosis in the wake of my husbands death. This is below the surface of what I present to the world most of the time. Most of the time, I simply look busy, or relaxed, or greiving, or I don't know, "Ok." At least that's what I hear. Within there are thunderstorms and whipping winds and torrential rains and waves crashing against rocks and washing away sands. And in the center of it all is the tiny house of me. Wondering and waiting. Hatches battened. Keeping up with the leaks as fast as I can. Dancing to maintain every critical evidence of security if not stability.

 

There you are, here I am.

 

In the meantime, I do create art. It continues to be the best caulking to seal up the leaks, so to speak. It repairs me as nothing else can. But too, it also breaks me open. In any given moment, I cannot know which it will be. Repair or breaking open. Yet I do it. Why?

Simply put, I can't not. Making art is like breathing. And just because my ribs are bruised and my body feels wracked (and my world rocked) in the wake of my love's suicide, I cannot stop breathing. Infact, breathing is what will keep me alive, though it will hurt for a while and perhaps from time-to-time for the rest of my life.

 

Hard is a four letter word, I've learned (thank you Roberta) to use the word "Challenging." Art is extremely challenging at times. It turns me inside out. And sometimes what's inside is pretty messy, pretty rough and scary, painful and dark. And turning it to the outside makes me feel very raw.

 

Right now I am working on a commission. A prayer flag with the theme and intention, "Joy." Ironic? Challenging? Yup. It is taking me twice as long to complete this flag than I'd estimated. It has challenged me to go inside and search the halls and rooms of myself with a flashlight, looking for joy. It's there but it is extremely skitish right now. Like a feral cat, it hides from the any attempt to capture it. I have to act as if I am just going about my life and pay attention to when joy creeps out from some corner and brushes up against me. It has been a complex journey. I've never taken so many stitches out of a flag as I have with this one. I've never gotten nearly finished and wondered if I should start all over again only to see that, no, this one is unexpected; but it is perfectly complexly joyful. 

 

I will post a photo when the patron has seen it. Give me a couple weeks...


SO happy with how this "cairn" worked out in a recent flag. This is part of a quadriptych for which I now have two flags finished. the largest flag is of Mount Hood with the Zigzag river flowing off it. The flag with the cairn is one depicting the foreground in the quadriptych. Just wanted to share some of the details in colors through stitching and fabrics and fibers.




The word "abundance," is tossed about quite a lot lately. (one might say, "tossed about with abundance.") It's a good word. So many applications. So many implications. I have been very busy since my last post, digging deeper into it's meaning in my life. The first anniversary of Mike's death was a check-point that carried many and deep meanings, I am grateful the first year of grieving his departure from our life has concluded. It was an abundant year. And, as I've been tested from time to time, I really do not recall a lot that went on. Grief is it's own reality. It is a reality abundant with pain, of course; but grief is also abundant with it's gifts. The depth to which one feels grief is in itself a gift. I don't know that I've ever experienced anything close to the fulness of the human experience I've felt in the last year.

 

Has the year informed my art? Abundantly! This is one of grief's gifts to me. The spectrum of emotions, the richness of the physical ache, the emptiness, the full of emptiness feeling, the return of the joyful memories as the trauma melts away, all of these experiences have been with me in every brush-stroke, every fiber placement, every of the millions of stitches this year. There is an unconditional present-ness that comes with grieving, if one allows themselves to BE present. This allowing is challenging, as we all know. But the gift of allowing one's self to grieve is this poignant sense of present-ness that is rich and, in it's own way comforting. I have found it to be so anyway. I've also found it to be extremely supportive in creating art. 

 

I have studied "abundance," for years. It is a companion word for me. But recently it was pointed out to me that though I may carry abundance in my heart, I do not always receive it well, or even at all. Receiving is the new notion for me to work on it seems. I think I've also talked in this blog about "allowing." "Receiving" is quite similar to "allowing," but where "allowing" is an openness to what is seen, "receiving" is vision.

 

I wish to see better...


I've been a bit absent from here again. I try to eschew absolutes but I will say, when I am absent from my blog, it ALWAYS means a lot, usually MASSIVE amounts of alot-ness is going on in my life.

 

November 6th was the first anniversary of the day my husband drew police fire to end his life in this place. In his memory, and as a sign of gratitude, the set of 7 original prayer flags has been hanging in the reception area in the hospital near where he died. After that installation, I chose to do something he and I had talked about doing, I went hiking in southern Utah. I was able to meet a sister and her family who flew in from the midwest, which was completely awesome. After 4 days of awesome, challenging, beautiful, rich experiences during which I held my love close in my heart while traveling the miraculous landscape on foot, I then flew to the upper midwest myself to spend 9 days with the branch of the family who has completely polar opposite political views from the sister I hiked with and myself. I was there over election day. The fact of my timing was lost amid the fog and static of the month leading up to the anniversary of my love's death, so, it was not something I would have chosen to do under "normal" circumstances. However, i love my family and after all the worst thing that could ever happen had happened to me and I survived a year living through it, so I looked at it philosophically as a potential life lesson that simply may have needed to happen. After-all, there are no mistakes, right?

Before arrival at my parents, I had arranged with them, and I am deeply grateful to them for this, a moratorium on any political talk while I was there. Any television would be muted and CC engaged. I don't watch TV, so this was my request and they abided for the most part. Again, very grateful.

 

So, there you have it. The stage was set for 13 days of new experiences in places physical and philosophical, emotional and metaphorical all of which involved uncharted territory for me. The wealth of messages and lessons of the time will require much sorting. Suffice it to say, I have begun. I will have further posts as I go. Suffice it to say, "surrender," was and is indeed the perfect prayer flag to be working on right now!




Original set of prayer flags: Courage, Tranquility, Peace, Love, Wisdom, Harmony, Joy.

 

This is an installation above the front reception desk at Good Samaritan Hospital in Downtown Portland, Oregon. It is installed as a memorial to my husband but also in gratitude for the many people in the hospital and around the neighborhood, as well as police personell who on November 6, 2015 extended energy in their own unique ways on Mike's behalf. He taught me much about the above intentions, in his life and in his choices that day. A bigger heart, a more beautiful spirit never could I meet. I was the luckiest woman on earth to have loved and been loved by him.

 

The first anniversary is proving challenging on a number of levels. In a sense I feel as if this will be a milepost I simply must step up to and walk past before moving forward in any significant measure in my life. The year has been a foundation built of many lessons. I am only done with it after November 6th. Lessons will continue of course but I anticipate a slight shift in focus. Coincidentally I am building a retaining wall these days (23 feet long!). The foundation was/is vital as a job in itself, insuring level and sturdy base. From there the work is just begun though. And with every layer I construct, the wall shifts 6 degrees in the direction of the work it must do, which is to support the earth.