Pears

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Three Pears; Acrylic on paper; 8×10

I haven’t done much painting lately, but on Christmas afternoon I got the itch to pull my acrylics back out. It was a way to mentallly and emotionally regroup in the aftermath of holiday chaos. Still-life paintings call to me lately and this little line of pears became my latest subject matter. They seemed to represent the Christmas season in shape and color. They are a reflection of the three little people that fill my life, elbows touching, each with their own personality.

I’m always interested in how painting and poetry intersect. Paintings are images in color. Poems are images in words. I love to see how the two different forms of art speak to each when they are placed side by side. Many of my poems overlap in subject matter with the paintings I’ve done or the photos I’ve taken. One inspires the other, and vice versa. As I was painting these pears the other day, I found myself thinking of a Linda Pastan poem from her latest collection of poetry, Traveling Light, entitled “Pears”:

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Do you find the different forms of art overlap for you?
What inspires you to create?
What images speak to you during this time of year?

I hope you all had a lovely Christmas!

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remains of the day

It’s Friday night. Not a normal time to write a post. But here I am, at my computer, unwinding from the day and “de-bulking” my thoughts. A haphazard and unplanned post. Random thoughts with no correlation, other than this is how my brain thinks…

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Ren and I were back at the doctor today. This little dude has a very strong immune response–>skin inflammation–>excessive itching–>open wounds–>resulting infections. The above scene felt familiar this morning as we sat in the office waiting for the doctor. We had already read all of the books, played all of the kid’s apps on my phone, and eaten all of his snacks. Taking selfies was a last resort for entertainment. He’s back on antibiotics and high-octane band-aids that he can’t pick off in the middle of the night. I am thankful for modern medicine.

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Christmas:I have a love-hate relationship with it. I love it from the time I wake up until about 3pm. Then I’m tired…and the school parties, the traffic, the pressure, the presents, and the low-quality milk chocolate get to me…and then I hate it. But then I get a moment to sit down and journal and I read a verse like John 2:14, and I love it all over again. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. God among us, on earth, mingling and saving humanity.

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I had to Google “Duck Dynasty” yesterday because I am clueless about these sorts of things. All of these social-religious-media-driven controversies make me want to tune-out even more and perpetually bury my head in poetry books.

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from “For Annie” by Joseph Millar

Speaking of poetry books, I’ve been reading Joseph Millar’s collection, Blue Rust, and loving it. He is one of my favorite contemporary American poets. I first discovered him after reading this poem in Billy Collin’s anthology, Poetry 180, and then coming across a few of his poems in other journals. I love how Millar writes about ordinary life, ordinary moments, the way he enters a poem in one place and exits in another, and his gentle and precise way of experiencing the world.

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I took the above photo today. A scene from my dining room. Perhaps it will be my next still life project? These colors cheer me on gray winter days.

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Motherhood is hard in a way that no one can prepare you for. It is hard in a way that you wouldn’t want anyone to prepare you for. It is so all-encompassing. There is no part of me left untouched by it. There are days when I feel that all of who I am has been squeezed out and I wonder what is left. Perhaps the biggest struggle for me in this is the feeling that there is no end in sight. It is chronic. People always say, “Enjoy it…it goes by so fast.” I know this has to be true, but it doesn’t feel true, for the most part. The time that it does feel true is late at night, when the hard work for the day is over and I wander into my children’s rooms to kiss their cheeks as they sleep–as they are quiet and unconscious–and I think to myself, “Wow, enjoy this, freeze this moment, you will someday miss this.”

I think of the quote–it’s not verbatim–but it goes something like,

“I don’t like to write…I like to have written.”

Perhaps that is true of many things. Putting in the labor is, well, labor, but looking back on the accomplishment is priceless. And perhaps that is why I love “to have written”–it is a tangible end product that is frozen in time–a symbol of labor and love. Raising children is less tangible and one often wonders if there ever is an end product. Where does the work go? When are you ever “done?” Is there a way to know if you are doing it right or not? What kind of impact do your actions have? The answers to these questions may not even reveal themselves until our children are in their mid-twenties and seeking a therapist to deal with their childhood issues. But even then, that’s not a black and white indicator of whether or not we were good parents…because we ALL have issues…and mostly likely would all benefit from therapy.

I think about all of this, but then I come full circle, back to the moments when my children are content and asleep, back to Millar’s poem and the final stanza, and hope that maybe, just maybe, I am doing an okay job…

There’s a song women sing
you know all the words to,

to make a child stop crying and sleep,
a song to make a grown man forget.

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zoom out

A friend of mine once said that raising young children is like looking at life through a straw. It can feel confining and constraining, as though you are being forced to view too few things in too much detail, over and over again.

But I suppose we each live in our own little bubbles, which are limited and flawed in both perception and perspective. Currently, my bubble feels very small, confined mostly to my home, the 4 by 6 ft center of my kitchen, and the little people I continuously feed across its countertops. Sometimes my bubble expands to include my church community, my neighborhood, and on a really exciting day, it includes the 5-10 mile radius of stores and businesses along my path of errands.

[Perhaps this is the appeal of writing/blogging for me? It is a way to temporarily cross the boundaries that daily life has drawn for me–a way for life to feel a bit bigger than it actually is?]

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In any case, when I had the chance to get away last weekend, I was extremely excited. The ordinary sphere of life that I see through my straw suddenly expanded and I got to feel like a real woman in the real world. I got to zoom-out, to see the bigger picture, to see all the colors on the horizon.

There is something about air travel that expands my perspective. Seeing so many people coming and going from so many places–so many lives woven in and out of each other–brings with it the realization that this world is big, and that we, as individuals, living our own little lives, are a part of something collectively huge, mysterious, and sometimes overwhelming!

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And yet, one can see so much more from a great distance. Interstates become little lines that glow. Entire cities can be captured through the lens of a camera. Once far removed, the world doesn’t seem so big at all. Size and significance are relative.

This past weekend left me thankful for the chance to see and experience life beyond my own little bubble, but it also left me grateful to return to it.

It left me questioning the notion that small = insignificant.

Our little lives might be but a tiny blip in the grand scheme of things, but perhaps the most profound impact we will achieve in life is in the smallness…in the handful of close-knit relationships that God has given us. Perhaps changing “the world” means merely showing up and being present in the little bubbles where we currently exist. And perhaps, for the most part, that’s how it’s designed to be?

Who, or what, is in your bubble? Do you wish your bubble was bigger, or smaller? Do you think that impact = quantity or quality?

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GRAND

GRAND

The summer of 2001. 5am. The front steps of the Duomo in Florence, Italy. Our bodies are merely specks amongst the magnificence.

Though this photo was taken over ten years ago, I still look at it in awe. I know there’s a poem hidden in this picture–I suppose I’m still trying to find it.

We had been out all night, my friend Molly and I, along with a few other Americans we had met that summer. We were walking back to our apartment close to sunrise, so we decided to head towards the Arno and watch the colors from there. From the Arno, we circled back to the long corridor of the Uffizi, abandoned by tourists at this early hour, only the pigeons and cigarette butts remaining, the stoic statue faces of artists and philosophers watching us.

The Duomo was on our way home. We had never seen it so deserted. It felt scandalous to be alone with this masterpiece of art and architecture. While the city was still asleep, we frolicked on its front steps.

That summer, we began to find our place in the world. A few twenty-somethings, so small in the grand scheme of things.

the creative process

There are many artists who argue that the key to success is just sitting down, everyday, and doing the work, regardless of whether or not you feel inspired. I think that this is a great discipline, and it’s a practice that I’m trying to instill in my own schedule. I can’t always afford to sit down daily. Raising three children and tending to the myriad of associated details makes this difficult, but I’m learning that it is realistic and fruitful to set two to three mornings aside each week to “do the work.”

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I’ve been working on my MFA for an embarrassing amount of time. I started back in 2008. To my credit, there have been a few children, an adoption, and several moves wedged into this time frame, and I’m grateful that I’ve been able to work at my own pace. I am finally finished with my coursework and I’m slowly plugging away on my thesis, so the end is in sight, but somedays it still feels like I will never finish. I fear that I’m not a great finisher, especially when it comes to things of a creative nature, so I am determined to prove my inner voices wrong and just get this thing done.

In the process, I am learning how to make my creative efforts a part of my life as reliably and unemotionally as any other task, whether it be feeding my children or taking out the trash. It’s easy to think that creative work is somehow superfluous to life, and therefore, should responsibly be dropped when life gets crazy. It’s taken me years to realize that my overall wellbeing is benefitted by regular times to let my creativity out. It doesn’t seem that our culture respects the fine arts in the way that it does, say, business or law or medicine, so I think that in-between the lines and starting at an early age, we learn that creativity is extra and elective. There is some truth to this, of course, and I realize that when one is in survival mode, creativity gets trumped by more immediate needs such as food and shelter. But when we are in a place where the needs on the bottom tiers of Maslow’s Triangle are getting met, I think it is wise to challenge the idea that creative efforts aren’t a true human need. They may not generate much monetary income, but in the economy of the human spirit, creative efforts are rich and rewarding. They speak to the soul.

I hope to start unpacking some thoughts on the creative process in future posts, and I would love to hear what helps you in your own creative endeavors. I suppose it looks different for everyone depending on their brain chemistry and life circumstances. At this season of life, I don’t have all day to spend on my creative projects, so I am realizing that it’s important for me to “get in the zone” quickly. That way, I can utilize most of my time actually producing rather than staring blankly at the blank page.

Being “in the zone” for me translates to coffee, music (something moody, melancholy, and soft), good sleep, my journal, and a stack of books. Sometimes I like to get out of the house and work at a coffee shop, but sometimes I like to work at home. As long as there are no screaming or whining children demanding attention, then I’m good to go! I usually have some sort of prompt to get my thoughts going, whether it’s a photo I’ve taken (images, in general, yield a wealth of ideas!), a quote I read, a poem, etc. Holding onto all of these sources of inspiration has been helpful–being more intentional about storing these tidbits away for my next work session helps me plan how I want to spend my time. My journal is scattered with random, one-line musings that I hope to some day explore further.

One of my favorite writers, Donald Miller, says to “write where the wind is blowing.” This has also been huge for me. Whenever I feel pressure to just work on one thing, my imagination tends to start shutting down. Therefore, I love giving myself permission to have several projects going at the same time. (The challenge, then, is choosing which ones are worthy of finishing and actually finishing them!)

In the same vein, I have wondered if keeping this blog is a distraction–a form of resistance in finishing my thesis–but I am realizing that keeping this blog actually helps me unpack and unload my ideas in a way that keeps the creative juices flowing. It’s been important for me to remember that I don’t need to limit myself, and that spending time on something that I “shouldn’t” be writing or painting will somehow link back and inspire the thing I “should” be doing. Nothing is wasted. Most of my ideas for poems come out of left field and at times I least expect, so keeping my options open has been beneficial for me. I came across this graphic the other day and it concisely expresses this same thought:

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The more I engage with my creativity, the more I feel generating inside of me. The more I release it, the more it fills back up again. I am learning that the creative process is circular, not linear. There is no end. Everything is connected.

I was talking with a friend of mine a few weeks ago. She is a writer but also has a day job, so she doesn’t always have a lot of time to spend on her own projects. She writes bi-weekly for an online publication, though, and she says that this habit helps to keep her creativity going. The articles she writes aren’t always what she would choose to write, but the act of sitting down and writing fills her creative bank nonetheless.

So, all of that said, what practices facilitate your own creative process? Do you have a process or a routine? What has helped you to progress and produce as an artist?

lyrics/love

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It’s a cold, rainy, December morning. The house is quiet except for a new album I bought last week that plays quietly in the background. Winter is the perfect time for new music. I find that it helps fight off the drab and darkening weather–it makes life feel new and fresh and inspiring again.

I bought the album “Strict Joy” by The Swell Season. You may have seen this pair of talented musicians (Irish musician Glen Hansard and Czech singer/pianist Marketa Irglova) star in the movie “Once.” They also created this beautiful album together back in 2009. If you are looking for new music to combat, or perhaps embrace, the winter blues, I recommend this one.

As I was listening through the tracks this past week, this lyric hit me…

GIVE YOURSELF TO A LOVE THAT CONQUERS.

It’s a beautiful image and one that feels so central to what we celebrate this time of year as we anticipate the birth of Jesus, the One whose Love conquers all, today and forever. I wrote the lyric on our chalkboard so I can think about it for the next few days.

How do I give myself to His Love…on a daily and tangible level? What struggles does His Love conquer in my life? Where do I still need some conquering? Good questions to think about during this advent season.

Today I’m thankful for little inspirations, for colored lights, new music, moody gray skies and hot coffee.

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” — James 1:17

His love conquers. His love is permanent.

momentary, ordinary

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Fragmented thoughts on a Wednesday morning, the week after Thanksgiving…

I look out the window at such an ordinary scene. Gray skies and a wet gray parking lot. Early December and the trees are nearly done shedding. The holiday bustle has begun. This morning I write in my journal–fragments of sentences, fragments of thoughts, trying to psyche myself up:

“Trying to stay grounded in the holiday season. Live in the moment! Just do the next thing! Don’t think too much!”

Gosh.

What I find today is a mind jumbled by a series of broken to-do lists. Return this. Register for that. Buy that. Throw it away. Get to this appointment. Paint that wall. Pay this bill. Finish the laundry. ALWAYS, finish the laundry. (It is never finished.)

I sit here at this bench at Starbucks, the first glimpse of stillness in about a week, the children back to school after Thanksgiving, and I am giving thanks.

There are so many roadblocks to creativity, I think. So many things that make us feel caught on a crazy-making hamster wheel. It takes a good hour of just sitting and staring blankly out the window before I can even begin to hear some semblance of truth, to skim the edges of the creative space inside.

Like I said–I struggle with the demands of this time of year. Stress. To do lists. The million details involved in raising a family. Tantrums. Messes. (I currently have two 3-yr-olds.) Doctors appointments and flu shots and antibiotics and missed dentist appointments. The appointment I’m running late for. This…on top of the extra celebrating and joy to make room for! Writing mumbo jumbo posts like this at least help me feel like I’m keeping my head above the water!

The season of Advent calls us to set time apart from the stress of the season. It’s ironic, isn’t it? In attempt to celebrate the birth of Christ, I feel that I can travel so far from the heart of Christmas and inadvertently create things that can lead me away from the core of it all. The simplicity and reality of a baby in a stack of hay, God incarnate. Huh? What is that?

I even feel pressure within the Christian culture–pressure to rise up and get my heart in proper emotional state to celebrate the birth of Christ, to viscerally FEEL the significance of the occasion, to do an Advent calendar, to light the candles and read the proper verses, to dress my kids up in coordinating Christmas outfits and get a professional photograph taken and then have Christmas cards printed and mailed out to everyone on our contacts list (can’t even begin to attempt this one!), to create and implement holiday traditions into my family and then post pictures of it, gingerbread houses, sprinkles all over the floor, cookies, lights, decorations, gifts, Santa’s lap, HOLIDAY CHEER!!! Do you feel this pressure, too?

For me: the pressure of being a “good mom” during Christmas = PARALYSIS.

This is what I’m thinking about, though. This one sentence:

“Let every heart prepare Him room.”

It’s a verse from “Joy to the World” that I saw posted by a friend on Instagram the other day. It resonates.

How does a heart prepare room for God to dwell…not just as a one-time deal, but on a daily basis, and especially during this time of year? I suppose it’s different for everyone. The preparation, for me, today, means an hour at a coffee shop, sipping regular coffee, sans kids, watching regular scenes of ordinary life unfold outside the window. He shows up in mundane moments, to-do lists aside. I prepare Him room today in the monotony, in the moment, in the relative silence. No agenda. No duty. Just sip and listen.

These are the un-fancy thoughts floating through my mind in this brief moment today. How about you?

What practices help your heart prepare Him room? (and stay afloat during the holidays?)

What things block your creativity?

How do you stay grounded, especially during this time of year?