juxtaposition

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ocean snow

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 sunbathing, anyone?

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 black & white

Juxtaposition. Two things seen or placed together with a contrasting effect. The snow this week provided a perfect backdrop for contrast, for unexpected pairings.

Also, I love when little bits of life converge all at once, like this poem and our current weather…

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“A Hymn To Childhood” by Li-Young Lee

I’ve recently been reading more Li-Young Lee, one of my favorite poets. I found two of his collections–Behind My Eyes (which the above poem is from) and The City in Which I Love You–at the library last week.

I don’t know if it’s the fact that he’s a Chinese male, like my son, and that his lyrics feel like some sort of link to my son’s culture, which we long to preserve in some way, or the fact that he has this elegant and sensual way with words. Probably both. He is one of those poets that feel very special to me in some indescribable way.

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In any case, this poem felt like the perfect one to share today, as we are holed up in the house, the city shut down from snow…

Still talking to God and thinking the snow
falling is the sound of God listening…

What juxtapositions do you see or experience in your life lately?
What unexpected pairings?
What convergences?

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Aside

snow and mystery

It snowed again. This is a freakish occurrence in our particular pocket of the world. The snow has accumulated to almost a foot in some places. As I look out the window, I feel like I’m dwelling in some dreamy Scandinavian room with white walls, white floors, a few accents of natural wood, and sparse decor. Pristine and clean.

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So, we are home again. As much as I struggle with the lack of light in winter, or the cold temperatures that get into your bones, I am thankful for the creative space that winter provides. It’s always suitable weather to retreat to your favorite corner of the couch with some coffee and just think.

There’s been this poem in my head over the past few days–a poem I remember reading years ago–but couldn’t remember exactly where I’d first read it. After some digging, I was delighted to find it again. It’s by one of my favorite poets, Robert Hass. The poem, “The World as Will and Representation,” is featured on one of my favorite poetry blogs, How a Poem Happens. In this post, Hass shares the poem and discusses the process he went through to write it, as well as the process he goes through to write many of his poems.

I enjoy getting to see a bit of the “behind the scenes” in any creative work, because in my own experience, “behind the scenes” is not a composed, refined, or finished space. It is not a pristine Scandinavian room.

This particular poem that Hass shares is a narrative poem about his childhood. I suppose it suddenly came to me because I’ve been working through a few narrative poems this week and I feel that I tend to get stuck inside of them, obsessing over the details and order of how things happened, which tidbits are important to include, which things should be left out for the sake of the story and the rhythm, and what, in the end, the meaning of the story is, what the heart is. Hmmm…sounds a bit like life.

I like that Hass says he can come back to a draft after months or years before it is finally finished, and that certain poems, no matter how much struggle has gone into them, don’t ever come together, but how these poems are often precursors to the ones that just flow onto the page with ease.

The creative process is a mysterious one–mysterious like the snow we keep receiving in this coastal town–like the way our past experiences form the people we are today–like the way our minds suddenly remember something after years of forgetting.

…We get our first moral idea
About the world–about justice and power,
Gender and the order of things–from somewhere.”
–Robert Hass

That’s all for today…but one more fun tidbit…and a bit mysterious to me…I just realized yesterday that three of my favorite songs by different artists (Coldplay, Gregory Alan Isakov, and Imagine Dragons) are all called “Amsterdam.” There’s something to that city…and I suppose there’s a poem in that.

Any little mysteries in your life recently?

French Press

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“French Press”
9×12; mixed media

It’s been a long week here. The children staying home from school 4 out of 5 days this week completely derailed my plans. Plus, I have a willful first grader at home and it appears that she is six going on sixteen! We are facing the sobering reality that as parents, we can do what we can to teach our children what is right, but a lot of what they decide to do is out of our control. Terrifying. All at once I want them to be self-sufficient but also do exactly what I say. I guess it doesn’t work this way.

Enter: God…

…and faith that the big stuff that’s out of our hands is in His. It’s hard to do what you can and detach from the rest, but I am learning that it’s essential to sanity and survival.

In any case, amidst the hard work of parenting, there was magical snow…waking up to snow on Wednesday morning, the entire yard covered in smooth and unsullied white. I remember drinking my first cup of coffee that morning standing at the window, looking at the beauty just beyond the glass, life seeming to stand still for just a moment.

Life is such a blend of struggle and beauty. I suppose we are always bouncing between the two and grappling with where to land amidst the polarity.

The above painting is one that I did a few months ago, but it felt appropriate to share it today. Coffee and poetry in scripture have helped sustain me this week. Trusting in Him…pouring out my heart to Him. I am thankful for faith–for freedom that comes in trust–and for creative endeavors that bring me peace and calm even when life doesn’t go as planned!

Window

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Window to San Lorenzo
watercolor on paper, 16×20

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a painting and a photograph,
a window to a world much bigger than us.

This was the view from our apartment window in Florence, Italy during the summer of 2001. I ended up painting this for our final project during our summer semester. The memory now lives in watercolor and hangs on the wall of my living room, thirteen years later. I am thankful for the way that art and photographs help us preserve the people and places that hold significance in our stories, in our small windows of the world.

courage

I’m in the thick of working on the aesthetic statement for my thesis. It feels like an overwhelming task–to put to words what I find valuable and meaningful in poetry, how my own work reflects that, and how it fits in with the larger conversation of art and artists. I’ve been looking back through the books that have inspired me over the years and picking out the pieces that I’ve held onto. A few quotes have stood out to me–ones I thought were worth sharing.

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“…the courage to be an amateur.”

We hear a lot about courage in the new year. We want to be brave, or to do big things, or to try new things. We perhaps want our story to look a bit differently, to get out of old patterns that might not be healthy. The thing that stands out to me though, is that this change doesn’t happen overnight. It occurs over time, over the accrual of many mistakes. It’s a long process and progress is slow. And perhaps, mistakes are not the enemy.

This is a passage from the book The Art of Recklessness by Dean Young. Dean Young adds on to Wallace Stevens’ statement, saying,

“I always tell my students not to worry about originality; just try to copy the manners and musics of the various, the more various the better, poetries you love: your originality will come from your inability to copy well: YOUR GENIUS IS YOUR ERROR.”

Young also writes,

“I don’t believe in writer’s block, writing well is very easy; it’s writing horribly, the horrible work necessary to do to get to writing well, that is so difficult one may just not be willing to do it.”

I’m seeing a theme here…it requires courage to be an amateur, to make mistakes, to do crappy work. We can’t get to where we want to be as people or artists without it. This requires vulnerability, taking chances, trying new things, and being ourselves. “Our genius is our error.”

When we speak of courage, we tend to think of doing big things for big causes. But sometimes, courage is simply putting something out there, again and again. Just keeping at it, whatever it is, growing in the process. Most of the time, the growth is so slow, it is only detectable after you’ve put years of work in.

Here are a few more gems, written by Richard Hugo, another poet:

“When you have done your best, it doesn’t matter how good it is. That is for others to say.”

“An act of imagination is an act of self-acceptance.”

“What a silly thing we do. We sweat through poem after poem to realize what dumb animals know by instinct and reveal in their behavior: my life is all I’ve got. We are well off to know it ourselves, even if our method of learning it is painfully convoluted. When you write you are momentarily telling the world and yourself that neither of you need any reason to be but the one you had all along.”

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Ok, back to work. I hope these tidbits encourage you today!

Solitude

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Solitude
6×8; Gouache on paper

I took a little departure from acrylics and fruit and decided to get a bit outside of my comfort zone for the new year. I’ve been captivated by winter skies over the past few weeks. Though light in the winter feels scarce, when it does shine, it shines with vivid angles and casts breathtaking colors through the trees and clouds. The blackbirds in our area are especially active, moving in dark swarms from yard to yard, collecting on telephone poles before scattering again. I captured the above scene at a stoplight on my way home from dropping the littles off at school yesterday. This little bird originally had company on this stretch of wire, but the rest of his crew flew off while it lingered behind, not seeming to mind a bit of solitude.

Solitude.

In the aftermath of the holidays, I feel like I am starting to reclaim little pockets of it. Our normal routine has finally resumed and I’ve realized that I perhaps rely more on our routine than the children do. Without it, I fizzle out quite quickly. I feel like the little artist inside of me dies a rapid death when there is not space and silence to think and breathe.

I had a pocket of time this afternoon to do some painting. It was a quiet day, rainy but warm for this time of year, which was a welcomed break from the cold front that hit us last week. My old friend and extremely talented painter, Whitney Knapp, recommended that I try gouache paint a while ago. It is like watercolor, except more vibrant and opaque, like acrylic. I am still trying to get a feel for them, exploring how far they can be stretched. Today, I used them more like I would an acrylic, with less water and more paint. It was good practice.

As far as the sky: I think one could dedicate the rest of one’s life studying and painting the sky. Fruit, for me, is a safer bet! As I attempted to paint this winter sky-scape, I was struck by the dramatic shifts in color that we don’t always notice, at least, not in detail. What a glorious work of art hangs above our heads each day! God, the Artist of all artists, always Inspiring!

Here is the photo I took that inspired the painting:

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When I showed my gouache exercise to my husband, he said the first thing he thought of was the album cover from Greg Laswell’s album, “Three Flights from Alto Nido,” which just happens to be one of my favorite albums. (I’m sensing a theme here!) If you haven’t listened to it, I highly recommend it.

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What winter scenes inspire you?
What new artistic mediums or ventures do you want to try in the new year?

I hope you had a lovely holiday season!
Here’s to more SOLITUDE…and space to CREATE…in 2014.