What Lies Beyond the Garden Gate?

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This dear red-haired fairy with a wise and perhaps mischievous look is ready to lead you beyond the garden gate.  She has something interesting to share with you.  Are you ready to follow her?  This painting is currently on exhibit in an art show.  I love this painting and don’t intend to sell it.  There are some things that I don’t want to part with yet.

Being that my art is mostly intuitive, I consider the possibility that there is a message for me within a painting.  And perhaps it wants to be shared with others.  “What Lies Beyond the Garden Gate?” could be a metaphor for us today.  What lies beyond what is familiar?  It takes courage to lean into that question.  And it takes courage to be with the not knowing.

I had a friend who went on a vision quest to East India.  He encountered block after block in his travels.  Exhausted and disheartened, he landed in a small household with an elder man and his wife.  He told the elder man of the travails on his journey.  Feeling frustration and disappointment,  he finally surrendered and said “I just don’t know how to proceed.”  The elder man smiled and said, “Ah, master Edward, you’ve reached the end of knowing.  Now you can discover something else.”  I’ve always appreciated this story.

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As a writer, poet, artist, it’s fun to engage the imagination and let a story unfold from my art.  Today, looking at this painting, I ask myself “What is the story that goes with this painting?”

Following is an excerpt from some writing I did to begin to create her story.

I followed her.  It seemed as if her feet barely touched the ground.  I lumbered along behind her, feeling a bit clumsy.  My little garden gave way to a meadow of waving wildflowers, yellows and purples puddled like splashes of paint on an expansive canvas.  I’d always felt that earth was a constant paradise.  Now, I knew it.

I caught my breath, a sudden crack in my demeanor,
“I can’t be gone long,” I said aloud.  “I’ll be missed.”

I thought to myself “probably not for weeks though.”  Living alone, an artist living alone, leads a somewhat solitary life.  I just wanted to reassure myself, to assert myself to her that I had connections.  So I definitely needed to be returned to where we started from before too long.

Then, curiosity overtook me and I followed quietly losing any sense of time.  My senses were heightened.  Sight was crystal clear.  In fact, my glasses seemed an unnecessary annoyance.  I took them off and slipped them in the pocket of my shirt.

She had wings. Did I mention that?  And red hair, not ordinary red hair, electric red hair!  And she wore a hat like nothing I’d ever seen walking down the streets of Brisbane, California.  It was sort of conical or maybe like an Egyptian headpiece.  It suited her.  I called out before I could stop myself.

“Who are you?”

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Story-writing is fun.  You don’t sit down with an outline (or at least I don’t).  You are guided by your imagination, whimsy, flow of creative thought, perhaps, in this case–the fairy realm.

If you want to take your art to another level, study your painting and let it inform you as you give it voice.

Why not?  Have fun.  Then share it with someone you trust or someone you think would appreciate it…or perhaps really needs this story at this time.

Being in the Creative Stew

Sometimes, I make a request into the ethers, “Which direction do I pursue in my life/career?” or “What is the next step with this short story I’m writing?”  or “Where do I go now with this painting in process?”

The next uncomfortable position is to find myself in the creative stew!  For awhile, I simmer there without understanding what is going on.  Feelings of uncertainty, doubt, discomfort arise and I probe these feelings.  “What?  What?”  I forget that I asked the question(s) or invoked help and that I’m on the edge of unknowing, the precipice of what’s next.

I have been known to call this the “fertile void”.  Though there is nothing apparent on the horizon, I have invoked the powers that be to show me a direction, how to proceed.  Inwardly, I churn.  I feel discomfort.  An inner edginess.  And resistance too.  All these things and feelings bubbling in the cauldron of “where do I go from here?”  Sometimes, the harder you push, the more elusive the answer.

When a writer, poet, artist is creating something…there are bound to be times when they are stuck and can’t see the next step.  They’ve been deep in process, things seemed to be flowing and then…nothing.  Flat out, nothing.  Whether at the desk or canvas, they are inwardly working something out.  When I remember that this is what is going on, there is some relief.  “Ah, yes, I’m in that disconcerting void place.  It looks like there is no forward movement.  How long is it going to last?  Is there something that I need to do to get unstuck!!??

At these times, I’ve found, the best thing to do is to walk away for awhile, literally and figuratively.  The impasse is in place.  Do something to take your mind off of it.  Dance, do the laundry, get out in nature, do something you are good at.  Anything that isn’t related to the dilemma.

Simultaneously, it’s a time of deep listening and seeing.  Sometimes, answers come to us indirectly, through metaphor.  Other times, someone says something like “You are really good at painting portraits.”  or “I appreciate your sensitivity.  It comes through in your poetry.”  During this time of uncertainty, it pays to be alert to clues as to what the next step is.  Sometimes, a direction presents  in a dream.  You might wake up one morning and know exactly what to do next.

Regardless, this gestation period is part of the creative process, not separate from it.  We ride it out.  We trust.  The flow returns.

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Synergy

I appreciate the concept of synergy…better yet, I appreciate the actuality of synergy.  To consider that things are more effective when they work together than when they stand in isolation is fascinating.

Alphabet letters, individual symbols tossed in a heap, would be a jumble.  Combine them meaningfully, a word is created.  Then string words together to make a sentence or grouping…have we expressed a concept?  A concept can then be the basis for a story or a poem.

As a writer, your particular perspective or voice has influenced your choice of words.  Those words are poured into a form–an essay,  poem or story–whatever your chosen vehicle of expression.  Have you related something that has personal meaning to you?  Ideally, it would have meaning for others beyond you, the writer.  There is great synergy in that blending, isn’t there?

Definition:  “Synergy is the creation of a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. The term synergy comes from the Attic Greek word συνεργία synergia from synergos, συνεργός, meaning “working together”       Wikipedia

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What I especially appreciate about poetry, as concerns synergy, is that poetry is typically a synergy of feeling, thought and artistry.  And, when a poem is effective, it touches others. Poetry has the capacity to unite us on the universal themes that apply to anyone regardless of what separates us.  

beyond this doubt
© by Christine O’Brien

Sullen is the feeling of this new day.
Who would choose to be in my company?
Are there words of wisdom I could relay
to soothe this hurt, a better way to be?

It seems I’m frozen in this sorry place.
Writing words, drawing images to abate
this well-contrived and crafted stubborn face
which staunchly hides behind this well-wrought gate.

We’re each here, wondering as we go
what is this “mortal coil” all about?
How do we find a path that is in flow?
Is there relief and trust beyond this doubt?

Is there a best way to be with the unknown?
What is this curious life I strive to own?

Haven’t we all felt sullen at times?  Don’t we ask the larger questions?  Wouldn’t we like to feel lighter as we face uncertainty?

 

 

Sometimes, it is just practice

a bright idea, a rush of enthusiasm…these spark you and you begin to write and then…nothing…flat…blah…halt.  a false start.  the flow is gone and you put the poem or manuscript in the bottom drawer of your file cabinet…the shame pile…more unfinished work!

what if it was just a momentary thing.  not meant to be a love affair of any note or a long term relationship.  can you accept that?  could you even shred it?

For me, these false starts are a way of moving the energy.  As a writer, especially one who writes almost daily, I am open and available to ideas that zoom in…and then often they zoom out without coming to fruition and completion.  Not every idea has to be developed.

One question to ask of yourself is…”Do I always need a product?”

Sometimes, writing is just practice to facilitate your process.  You jot down the bright ideas, but you’re already working on something that is going somewhere. When you get to a stuck place in your life’s work writing, you can get easily distracted by yet another brilliant idea.   You then get waylaid from your story that has to be told, the one that you deeply desire to complete in this lifetime.  These engaging nova star ideas that race across your mind are a way to keep the channels open while you wait for what’s next in your great work.  You follow the star–and then, it plummets.  Nothing.  Nowhere to go with it.  Oh yes, where were you with the project at hand?  Get back to it.

These fleeting ideas show me that I’m in the flow, receptive and available.  I wrote it down, followed its lead and then realized that it is going to land in the bottom drawer of my file cabinet.  Perhaps I’m going to pick it up again one day and follow it further.  Or, I’m going to shred it immediately after I write it although the temptation to keep it is there as what I’ve written so far is, to my thinking, splendid.  These little writing flings…sigh.

 

 

What Do You See?

As a writer, how do you PRACTICE describing what you see?

Following is one of my favorite poems that illustrates deeply seeing and then portraying what the poet observes.

Nude Descending a Staircase
© 1961 by X. J. Kennedy

Toe upon toe, a snowing flesh,
a gold of lemon, root and rind,
she sifts in sunlight down the stairs
with nothing on. Nor on her mind.
We spy beneath the banister
a constant thresh of thigh on thigh;
her lips imprint the swinging air
that parts to let her parts go by.
One-woman waterfall, she wears
her slow descent like a long cape
and pausing on the final stair,
collects her motions into shape.
I appreciate this poem because it not only succinctly describes a nude woman walking down the stairs, it creates an imagery whereby I, as the reader, also see her.  And, in her descent of the staircase, I note the action of her walking, the movement.  This is a great feat in poetry.
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We’ve seen artists with their pencils and art journals sketching what they see.  As a writer, do you practice writing word sketches?  These word sketches can be used later on in other writing that you do or to simply facilitate your ability to observe.  Either way, it’s not time wasted.
Writing Prompt:
Here’s  fun exercise.  Take yourself outdoors to a park bench and sit with your pen, a  journal and notice people, your surroundings, the array of dogs?  Find the precise words to describe the flowers, trees, any movement.  What adjectives or metaphors come to mind as you allow yourself to really see someone or something?  Jot them down.  Practice doing a word sketch…or several.
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Thank you to X.J. Kennedy for permission to print his poem.
“From In a Prominent Bar in Secaucus: New and Selected Poems (Johns Hopkins University Press), copyright 2007 by X. J. Kennedy.  By permission of the author.”

The Story of Pandora’s Box

I’m guessing you’ve read this Greek myth.

For the writer, writing has a quality of opening Pandora’s Box. When I write, I’m opening up more than my journal or notebook, I’m opening the unknown.  In the unknown, everything, all possibilities, exist.  What is going to be roused in me or you remains to be seen.  That which has remained hidden to yourself is given an opportunity to emerge. This can feel scary. Feelings can be tweaked, excavated trauma (I’ve referred to this in an earlier blog).  You decide if it’s worth bringing up again in this unearthing.

With writing (especially fiction and poetry) and art-making, there is nothing straightforward.  You don’t just sit down and write and remain unruffled.  You are taken places.  You volunteer for this journey a bit unwittingly.  “Yes, I’m a writer therefore, I write!” What you soon come to realize is that you have gone down a rabbit hole and you are being compelled as much as you have chosen the journey.

Who or what are you going to meet along the way?  White rabbits, card soldiers, tin men,  fairy queens, purple people eaters.  You don’t know.  It’s yet to be discovered.  Which Pandora’s lid is going to be opened in you?  What is going to leap out from your own inner underworlds and scare the heck out of you?  How did that get in there?  You can turn tail and run; slap your journal shut and find another interest.

Or you can continue the venture of discovery and inner sorting through the writing process.

Writing Prompt:
Consider how you manage your own writing journey.  If you are writing Non-fiction, are you less likely to encounter the unknown?  Or, in your research, do you uncover something that sends you there–into the unknown–regardless?  If you are writing fiction, do you get thrown off course when you are diverted down the rabbit hole?  What does getting back on track look like for you?  Or is the diversion where your writing really wants to go?  Is there a best way to sort the chaff from the gold and carry on?  Scan_0004

 

 

 

 

 

Opening my journal…
opening to the unknown.

Making Waffles

web22I light a candle and play soft mood music as I prepare cornmeal waffles from scratch.  With a wire whisk, I  blend the eggs and buttermilk in my favorite bowl.   I add the dry ingredients–cornmeal, flour and baking powder–to this mixture.  I stir in melted butter.  I’ve done this for countless years.  When I am present with this alchemical process, I am truly in my life.  My presence is one of the ingredients.  It is a ceremony.

Preparing an occasional gourmet meal, making a fancy dessert or mixing up a batch of waffles are some of the ways that I stay grounded.  As a writer, it is easy to float away into a world of the mind, ethereal imagination and fluid wordy inspiration.  However, hands-on, food preparation is of proportionate value to me. Isn’t it a balancing act at times?

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I love good films about humans and food.  Babette’s Feast, Chocolat, Mostly Martha, The Big Night, Julie and Julia, Eat Drink Man Woman, Chef, even Ratatouille!  Only a few of  the many wonderful films with this theme.

I am curious as to why I find these films so uplifting, satisfying and inspiring.  Possibly because they elevate something that I have valued throughout my life.  They take food preparation to a sensual and even “glamourous” height.  Food that is so basic to our survival also provides endless enjoyment.  To participate in the alchemical process of the creation of a meal and then to share the outcome with others is sublime.

Writing Prompt:
For your journal, what is something (other than writing) which you enjoy that takes you out of your head and into the moment and/or process? Do you tend to this daily?

 

 

 

Collecting Quotes

quotes2.jpgI seek, at times, (often, daily, always?) insight, clarity, truth.  I quietly quest as I go through the day.  I gather experiences, encounter others, learn lessons (sometimes reluctantly) and discover myself.

Over the years, I’ve collected quotes, though not stashed them in any orderly file. (I should, right?) I sometimes post one or two on my bulletin board. Mostly, I jot them down on a piece of notepaper. Typically, they get sandwiched between piles of papers–ideas that stand alone or that I might develop at some elusive future date. Regardless, when I happen across them as I sort, I am often touched, again, by the words of another.

Looking online, it is obvious that I’m not the only one who appreciates other people’s wise words.  These gems float on the internet, are sprinkled throughout books and magazines, graffitied on walls, in literary articles, etc. We read them in store windows or on hand-crafted signs.  Hallelujah to the immortal quotes that remind us of higher human values or that help us broaden our awareness or that become a lifeline in a moment of need.

As a writer, a quote can inspire me or find its way into something I’m writing. It can be food for thought that expands my view of the world.

Following is a quote from Frederick Buechner from his book entitled Now and Then, 1983.  

“Listen to your life.  See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness; touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis, all moments are key moments and life itself is grace.”

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I came across this quote many years ago, yet today, I find value in it.  My understanding of it is that the body, on it’s amazing sensory path, is a worthy vehicle and when I’m intimately connected to it, I can be transported to the very center of my being over this life of great variety.  How do you interpret this quote?

WRITING PROMPT:
Have you been collecting quotes to support, influence, enliven, expand, enhance and inform what you’re writing? Are they easily accessible? Have you contained and organized them or are they scattered? Do you plan to use any of them in your writing?

WRITING TIP:
To discover the correct formatting of quotes within the body of your work, you can Google the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL). This is a great resource (there are others). You can also find out how to properly document your resources. And so much more!

Depending on the genre in which you are writing, there are various style guides–MLA (Modern Language Association), the Chicago Manual of Style, CSE (the Council of Science Editors) and the APA (American Psychological Association).

More Practice with Noticing the Details

When I meet someone new, it is not unusual for my mind to form “judgments” or “conclusions” about him or her.  Before I can count to three, I’ve made up my mind in some way.  Once I have this inner judgment, I log it as “true” unless or until I learn otherwise.  First impressions are powerful and I wonder how many times they are correct?  I’m guessing there are a few studies.

How certain can you be about what you actually see?  What filters do you wear as you view something?  I know there have been tales of five individuals witnessing an event and, afterwards, each one relates it differently. Interesting.

Years ago, I was hiking in a designated wilderness area.  I don’t wear my glasses while hiking.  As I passed this grassy meadow, I was certain I spied two white horses, grazing in the relative distance.  What a lovely sight! Returning along the same path hours later, I realized that it wasn’t two white horses grazing, it was two large white immobile boulders! If you’d have asked me, I would have sworn that I’d seen these two beautiful white horses.

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As an observer and writer, I have an active imagination and can fill in the details around someone or something without having facts to substantiate what I conclude! 

Writing Prompt:
Here’s an opportunity for you to practice constructing a story based solely on what you see. Select a photo of a person in a magazine–National Geographic?–any magazine with great photos of people is desirable.

Tear out the photo or copy it so there are no distracting elements aside from the picture you are studying.  Using image detail, describe every aspect of the person in the photo. Clothing, expression, age, coloring, a “dissonant detail”, etc.  What are you assuming about this person based on the photo? Write that down also.  Make up a story based entirely on what you see.

Whimsy

Writing about serious topics can “weigh” on a writer after awhile. Yes, even when you are passionate about your subject.  Sometimes, you need nonsense. You need to break the spell of the seriousness of life.  Perhaps you need to go whimsical.

Why whimsy?  I started painting in 2014 because words weren’t working for me. The down-trodden, restrictive cycle of my thinking was binding me to false beliefs. I was stuck within a “circle of wagons” (an archaic phrase insinuating protection, but feeling like entrapment to me).   I wasn’t happy.

Registering for the online painting class, Brave Intuitive Painting, taught by Flora Bowley, I purchased a few canvases, paints and brushes and played. However, there was a seriousness even to this play. I wanted to do it “right”. Flora’s initiation into painting was a doorway into experimenting with color craving, abstraction, layering, personal symbols, intuition, freedom and more. While I wanted my outcome to be “like hers”, my own process and style overtook. What I needed, apparently, were images…though not realism, whimsical images. In fact, to my dismay, that was all that I could paint. Each painting began with no particular intention (other than following my intuition & Flora’s loose recommendations) and before too long, turned into an exercise in whimsy!

I was slightly embarrassed to post my art on the class Facebook page.  I wanted to produce beautiful, masterful art.  Animals that looked like real animals.  Or a bird that looked like a bird, at least.  Instead, something inside of me had to paint animals that looked like they were off the pages of a children’s book and perhaps rendered by a child.

Finally, I accepted this fact of my artistic life and began to appreciate what I was creating. Whimsical art. In retrospect, this was exactly what I needed at a time when my life was feeling too serious and restrictive.

PROMPT:
So do you have some whimsy in your otherwise serious life?  How does this side of you get to express?  Through silly poetry, made-up words, scribbling, doodling, dabbling in something that you have little experience with for the sole purpose of play?  Consider how you might bring whimsy as relief into your life.

ALLOW WHIMSY.

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