Don’t hold your breath

Inhale: One, two, three, four, five – hold for two beats; exhale: five, four, three, two, one – hold for two; then repeat.

Concentrating on controlling my breathing creates space inside of me. Like wind blowing a sail, I am buoyed. In the space between breaths there is the peace of a placid ocean. When I greet that space there is a deep sense of homecoming that I too often deny.

I find that meditation for me is most efficacious through physical exercise that forces me to control my breathing.

When I was in labor with Maya, I got through it by focusing on my breathing and regulating that breathing through chanting. The Anusara invocation is a chant that feels at home within me. I would breath in for the duration of the 4 line verse :

ChantAnusa

and then release my breath slowly through a second repetition. This allowed me to control the fear and the pain.

When I’ve been in my best yoga form, I would be able to channel endurance and grace through my postures by focusing on my breathing. In those times, I would feel that elusive sense of transcendence that keeps you coming back to the floor. I would feel power, beauty and sweaty exhilaration beaming through me like I was the sun.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to get there. Years really.

Though I’m not back anywhere near there, I’ve learned something about strength. There is the strength it takes to do something awesomely well that you are innately good at. That is honourable and beautiful. What’s also beautiful and perhaps more meaningful for me at this point, is the strength required to journey back from a place of difficulty to a place of strength. When you’ve fallen far down a hill you’ve already climbed, it takes an incredible amount of will and self forgiveness to journey back up again.

I don’t show up to the challenge each day. I wish i did. But I’ve reopened the door and am taking steps. I tend to run in fits, stop for long rebellious periods of: “well I don’t need you either”, and then sprint again until I’m out of patience and breath. This is not a winning strategy.

Lately I get the feeling that I should try walking the whole way back up that mountain. I think I should try going steadily, one breath at a time.

One word at a time.

One difficult choice at a time.

One harrowing conversation at a time.

With painting, with yoga, with many creative endeavours and perhaps even fitness – it’s most important to show up with whatever regularity you can muster. If it’s 5 minutes of vinyasa a day – beautiful. If it’s one jagged sketch on the subway each day – lovely. If it’s 10 non-work or list related words a day – amazing.

The daily return – or the making of the ritual is the hardest part and often the most rewarding.

 

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Monday mornings

The thing about deciding to empower your creative self, is that once you do, your non-creative exploits start to grind you down. The thing about being a working mom, is that you wake up on Monday mornings, see your sleeping child and quietly grieve that you won’t spend all day with them again for another 5 days.

For me, my creative energy is not purely tied up in any one aesthetic pursuit, but rather, a certain dedication of spirit and current of ingenuity that I try to live with. It’s as much in the things that I make, as in the energy, planning and commitment I give to my loved ones, to my job and even to my diet. I began feeling this way about art and creativity when I was a teenager. I would look at the many Mechanics and IT people in my family and see how heavily invested they are in their work. How ingenious and commanding they are in their knowledge and skill; and I would think – Wow! What art! What soulful dedication! What worth!

In a sense it’s the mental action or inclination toward artfulness and really makes the difference to oneself and the world around you. Where, in our daily lives, the artifacts of our labor are so often disappointing, or not our own, it’s good to remember that the expression of our creative minds has value to ourselves and those around us.

So, as I begin my week, I try to remind myself of this. That, even though the work that I do in my professional life is often unremarkable and repetitive, that there are still parts of it that I can fully commit my creative spirit to. Sure, I really have to work at it sometimes, but really – who doesn’t? That’s just the shape of things. Sure, I miss my daughter, but really – she needs to eat and she needs to live somewhere, so I have to suck it up and work. Pretty much, the only thing that I really have control over is the attitude and spirit with which I approach my life.

So here’s to an awesome Monday. We’re going to make it one.

Screamers

Between night time feedings tonight, I got to thinking about my first forays into art. Oh, how to describe Screamers to someone who has never seen it… I’ll try by starting from my introduction.

When I was 12 or 13 I started going to the mall as a social excursion. It was the beginning of any sort of independent narrative. I had never cut my hair before in any way other than my mother approved little girl trim. My older brother had started dating a girl who to my adolescent mind was the epitome of cool. She was 18, with long stylish hair, sexy clothes and a flirtatious attitude. What’s more, I never had any sisters and she was the first older girl who had ever taken the time to get to know me and to take me out in public. She must have been a mall regular, or maybe worked there at some point because she seemed to know all the young people. When we went to the mall, she’d stop at different stores to chat with attendants – all of whom were young and hip. It’s funny, I don’t remember buying anything at any of those stores. We just hung out.

One such place where we stopped was Screamers. It was run by a tall, handsome guy by the name of Leo. He had long hair, beautiful oak skin and tattoos. I had never seen someone with tattoos – far less the the more elegant tribal designs that he had. My memory is fuzzy on that point, but I remember that he was striking and memorable, though many years older than I.

Time and again we visited. She chatted and I walked around the kiosk, looking at the work in the display and the easels around the centre structure. You see, Screamers was an airbrushing studio. It was also a tattoo parlour but I don’t remember if it was or wasn’t at the time that I met it. Foremost to my eager eyes was the airbrushing. In retrospect what was most unique about this small San Fernando airbrushing studio, was that it was a showcase for Leo’s artwork. Airbrushing was truly his medium and he was so good at it, he had made a living selling t-shirts and posters, that were sometimes recreations of images, but often times unique pieces of his own that had come out of his dreamy imagination. When I look back, I know that that was the first time I had ever seen real art in action or an authentic artist in action.

It was this more than anything that kept me coming back to Screamers. I loved looking at the work happen, so every time I was in the mall, I’d be sure to stop by, say hello and gaze, wide eyed at the work. Sometimes someone was just cutting out a stencil (where i learned doing it on glass was better than cardboard) but sometimes Leo was painting and I could see how he built up a piece. Eventually we started talking more and more as I asked about the work. It was my first look at process and execution.

Leo was neither shy or modest in his choice of subject matter. Though in an extremely visible place, Leo was not detracted from painting nude ladies against dreamlike landscapes. Another first, he was utterly unapologetic about what he did. Perhaps it was his sly smile that let him get away with it.

He was the first person to actually help me with my artwork. At school, when my work had nudes in them, people shied away or made fun of me. My art teacher taught me but she wasn’t of my era. Leo helped me and talked to me about colour and composition in a more visceral way. I remember him telling me that I was afraid to use white in paintings but that I needed it for reflections and then he’d show me on one of his pieces how he used white. He was right too for some reason to that point I had only used yellow for light. He did amazing work with water and underwater scenes. I never really learned how to get there myself, but I remember images of things he’d done over the years.

One time he vastly improved a drawing I did for that same girl who had taken me to the mall (brother’s girlfriend who was now his ex, though current girlfriend of a different brother). He looked at it with me and asked if he could tweak a couple of things. My drawing was ink on sepia paper. It was a depiction of a crescent moon with a woman sleeping on the moon’s curvature. He added highlights of colour to her dress and to the moon and background. His additions didn’t overshadow my work, it simply enhanced the scene. At that point I had never painted. I did extremely detailed pen and ink drawings, but had never thought of adding colour. I think after that I tried out some coloured pencil with the pen and ink but it really wasn’t the same. I didn’t start painting until I was 16 or 17.

I hung out at Screamers throughout my teenage years, until I moved to Canada. The store had changed locations  in the mall from being a kiosk to an actual store. It had also by this time gathered a following of teenage, misfit gawkers who invariably were rockers with no place else to congregate. Tattoos had become The thing and I equally loved seeing the prep work for the tattoos. By this time my best friend was also involved in the Screamers world and sometimes worked there – an additional reason to visit the shop.

I think Leo and I were also friends, though it’s hard to say in retrospect because we never talked about anything too personal. I was extremely comfortable around him, and though there was never any intent there, flirted shamelessly with him. He was and still is, I imagine, an extremely decent man who never took advantage of my naiveté. Instead he was always supportive and teasing. He was interested in my work and helped me in whatever way he could. When I went the way of gallery exhibits he was proud of me and still looked over my work when I brought it in.

We lost touch after I moved to Canada and the shop opened a second location in another mall and so Leo wasn’t in one place anymore. Gradually since I moved, I stopped visiting. I had heard over the years that he married someone from my high school graduating class and that they have a small brood of beautiful children. I haven’t seen him, maybe in a decade or more.

In the silent moments of this morning I remembered the girl on the crescent moon and the care Leo took of a young artist finding her way. I think about how unpretentious he was and how the big thing was the Work. His work was his livelihood and he was happy doing it. I have no idea about his life outside of the studio – but there I saw someone living fully. His work wasn’t in a gallery somewhere – but it remains some of the most beautiful stuff I’ve seen anywhere and it resides happily in my memory.

There are a lot more Screamers stories, but this is what came to me this morning as I waited for my daughter to fall back asleep. I wish I had said Thank you. Maybe I will one day.

Art Rant

There has not been a great deal of actual art happening in my life for the past few weeks. Instead I’ve been dealing with the numerous annoying non-arty things that one must do as an artist. With the exhibition fast approaching, I had to bring my work back from Nova Scotia which required un-mounting and shipping. This is the massive disadvantage of working at a large scale on wood panels. I had to leave 4 or 5 pieces behind. Then once back in Kitchener I had to re-mount 6 canvas pieces for the exhibition, frame 3 paper pieces and touch up the 2 large wood pieces that took a little abuse during the shipping. Yesterday I took all of the exhibition pieces to Toronto to Phil’s house since we are going to mount the show next Wednesday. Upon reaching she pointed out that I forgot to affix the hardware for hanging. So I’m gonna have to take care of that next Tuesday night. Crossing fingers all goes according to plan.

The past month though has really been trying. I was simultaneously working on an architectural competition with a friend as well as working all day and doing the various things for the exhibit. Last week my competition buddy and I decided to give up on it. I hate giving up on things, but since letting it go I’ve been able to breathe easier and I can feel the anxiety ebbing away and the creativity flowing back into me.

There were some moments of absolute frustration this month. Between taking 3 buses to the art store to get the right stretcher bars, paying time and again for shipping/storing my art and my art supplies and staying late at work to do invites etc for the exhibition – I really started to question what the hell I was doing. My boyfriend can attest to the slamming of doors, sullen silences and random outbursts of profanity. Why push so hard? I don’t even have a car to move this stuff around myself. I feel sometimes like I’m inflicting my art on my friends – asking for rides, filling their trunks and foisting art I can’t store onto their walls. There were some big WTF moments.

Following the WTF moments though is always the quiet acceptance that this is just something I do. My benevolent and precious friends actually believe in me and love my work, which has made all the difference in the world. I’m an artist and I can’t help it, even when it’s remarkably inconvenient. This is who I am and this is something that I need to do. Doing the leg work to get my work into exhibitions and even writing this blog are crucial to the way that I understand art, which is as a dialogue. To me expressing myself requires an audience of some kind. Having my work shut up in my living room isn’t enough. I want it out in the world and apparently I won’t take no for an answer.

Thanks for tuning in.