Woman Standing On The Edge

Last week I received an email from a dear friend who has recently relocated cross country. A new life chapter marked by finding a new home and community with her husband. After weeks of nest-making they did some day tripping, ending up at an enchanting spot that, when she mentioned its name, I knew it was familiar. In fact, I knew where I’d confirm my hunch – in one of the two dream journals I’ve been making since 2002. Sure enough, within minutes I found the magazine pictures I’d clipped and pasted, the impressions I wrote, the founder’s quotes that inspired. Remarkably, the entry was dated August 20, 2004 – seventeen years almost to the day of receiving my friend’s email, maybe even the day she visited.

Last week, too, I hosted my women’s circle, one that I “called” a year ago, where we met virtually every two weeks to help us navigate life in covid. So good to be with each other in real bodies, in real time – “to feel them in my bones and by my body” – to feel the energy of the circle, to see and share a common centre and talking piece.

And I realized it continues to be liminal time for so many of us. The uncertainties, the unsteadiness…feeling on the brink of …what??? Rilke reminding us now is the time to sit in the questions…the answers not yet here, and perhaps, even if they were, we might not be ready to live ourselves into them. I replied to my friend’s email that it was time to dust off what had originally drew me in to that enchanting place and so today, sitting in the dog days of summer sunshine, I gazed at the images and read the words of my

“collection of ideas, wonderings, snippets and snaps
that speak to the wondrous and whimsical,
from dreams to destiny,
musings to manifestations,
to satisfy my Soul.”

I wondered if by looking through those hand-written, painted, and collaged pages I might get a glimmer of… what? Within moments, on the third page:

“Woman standing on a hillside peering,
peering into the blue space…
…what will woman be?
…not yet fully seen
…not yet fully revealed
…but coming
…coming.”

Judith Duerk, Circle of Stones: Woman’s Journey to Herself, 1989
woman standing on the edge

This, too:

“A dreamer – you know – it’s a mind that looks over the edges of things.”

Mary O’Hara, OPRAH, September 2002

So I jotted down in my current journal – the gift from the recent Creator’s Retreat – those page numbers from 2002 to 2013 (making a retrospective path, footsteps in the sands of time) the words and images that shimmered, some even transposed onto those pages from the mid 90’s. With the bold “Chaos is the Soul of Creation” and Florida Scott-Maxwell’s clarion call “I grow more intense with age,” as preamble, Robert Henri unabashedly advised in his classic The Art Spirit (1984):

“You can do anything you want to do. What is rare is that actual wanting to do a certain thing: wanting it so much that you are practically blind to all other things, that nothing else will satisfy you…
I know I have said a lot when I say ‘You can do anything you want to do.’ But I mean it…blunder ahead with your personal view…The real work of art is the result of a magnificent struggle.”

Coming through her own “magnificent struggle” Agatha Christie claimed:

“I like living. I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow, but through it all, I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing.”

Imagined colour palettes for home renovations; menu notes, invitations, photos, and keepsakes from hosted dinners; timeless poems; captivating cards; business ideas and creative ventures; splashes and blazes of colour and I arrive at a page on PASSION, where half hidden behind a vibrant bouquet of parrot tulips, amaryllis buds, and lilies, my green handwritten quote from Toni Morrison:

“You’ve got to keep asserting the complexity and originality of life, and the multiplicity of it, and the facets of it. This is about being a complex human being in this world, not about finding a victim. This is no time for anything than the best you’ve got to give.”

And then the page CONFIDENCE, where again I’m taken in by Florida Scott-Maxwell:

“You need only claim the events of your life to make yourself yours. When you truly possess all you have been and done, which may take some time, you are fierce with reality.”

This echoes a premise of creative expression – that of meeting yourself – outlined in Life, Paint and Passion (2002), Michele Cassou’s guide to intuitive process painting, my field of play sparked by its reading in 2004.

“Painting for process…you listen to the magic of the inner voices, you flow with the basic human urge to experiment with the new, the unknown, the mysterious, the hidden…to be yourself.”

Picking up the threads from my last blog post, When Women Create, Cassou reminds us:

“…creative process is a living thing; it breathes and its heartbeat is in your soul. Done for its own sake, it is an act of love, part of the movement of the Universe, merging with it. It is a gift to life, a prayer, a song that disappears in the wind. Why gather yourself when you are already so heavy with inner and outer possessions? Why invest in something impermanent, something that in an instant will become the past? Spontaneous process touches what lasts, which is out of time.”

Finally, I arrive at the pages that invited this meandering…photos of Tangled Garden founder, artist Beverly McClare pouring a local wine, another with sun shining through the window shelf of jellies and vinegars crafted from their herb gardens and locally sourced fruits; the shed; a welcome sign.

“I want to keep it hands-on and small enough that it doesn’t lose its magic. As corny as it may sound, this business is something that we grow and harvest, and at the core if it all is an essential love of gardening.”

Beverly McClare

From all accounts, two decades later the magic remains, so much so, that when named in an email from a friend,
it summoned me to look,
invited me to wander through dreamscapes,
to stand on edges peering into pasts.
Not yet fully revealed,
but coming,
coming.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Self Portrait

For the past couple of months I’ve been participating in another Abbey of the Arts online program. “Way of the Monk, Path of the Artist,” a thirteen-week study into the archetypes of contemplative and creative – two of my deep affinities – was another of those intentional activities undertaken to flourish during these darkening, distanced days. Again, each week corresponds to a book chapter, this time, The Artist’s Rule, authored by abbess-host Christine Valters Paintner.

Too, each week follows a similar agenda. Monday is a live video session with a couple of hundred of us tuning in globally as Christine welcomes us into the week’s theme, guides us in meditative reflection and journaling, gives the week’s overview and invitations for creative process, and answers questions. Tuesday features a scriptural interpretation by Christine’s husband and theology teacher, John. Wednesday is devoted to the sacred practice of Lectio Divina, listening with the “ears of the heart” to a scripture or poem, pondering on a word or phrase that “shimmers.” Thursday and Friday are for creative expression via writing and or art making. Saturday for closing reflections and “catch up”; and Sunday for rest and integration – what I like to think of as the yogi’s savasana. Throughout we’re invited to share our reflections and comment to each other, with the proviso that no advice be given. Instead it’s the application throughout of what “shimmers.”

Last week – our seventh and midpoint – focused on “Inner Hospitality and Welcoming the Stranger.”  Scripture, Rumi’s poem “The Guest House,” and Naomi Shihab Nye’s “Kindness” were frames for supporting the encounter with our inner strangers.

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”

Hebrews 13:2

I’m struck how often synchronicity is at play, with the “unexpected” appearance of a poem, a podcast, a picture that deepens, resonates or brings a touch of humor. This favourite appeared on Facebook a few days before the week’s scripture:

Thursday’s creative expression was an exercise to get in touch with our inner strangers via “gush” painting. I welcomed this as an invitation to return to a practice I had left several years ago. I painted according to my teacher, Michele Cassou, and her intuitive process painting outlined in Life, Paint, and Passion: Reclaiming the Magic of Spontaneity.

I’ve written in other blogs about my experimentation in this process, but shared last week in the course, the “back story” of having bought Michele’s book for $2.00 where it sat on my shelf for a few years. That one summer, re-intrigued by the cover, I read it in one sitting. Mesmerized by the paintings, and knowing in my core she was writing truth, and that being sprinkled with Rumi, what was not to love? That I immediately searched online for a class and remarkably discovered there was a retreat being held in – of all places – an obscure little town where we lived before moving to Alberta. It took a few years before the stars and my schedule aligned, but I went for a week, for three consecutive years, to have the requisite hours to go to Taos, NM during my sabbatical year and study at Michele’s master class, where upon my return home,  I hosted painting weekends – a life saver for me and those many who attended, mostly women from work – each of us coping with the dismantling of our department and huge work stress-uncertainties.

Too, I shared that consistent with the “gush” practice, and how I entered into this activity, it’s never about product, but about process: attempting to paint spontaneously, allowing the colour and image to come to guide, without meaning or interpretation, without choosing, but following that often, nearly mute impulse. Typically, not shared, as like pages from a journal, paintings often reveal truths and vulnerabilities that others, upon reading or seeing, or our own critical selves, might judge, and then frighten and subsequently inhibit ourselves from expressing. So, too, when a painting is acclaimed, perhaps even a more insidious trap.

Given it had been a few years since I’d last painted in this way, so long that my tempera paints had dried, I took a “practice run”…just to get back into feeling the brush on the paper, my body into gesture, my head out of the way.

A second painting emerged, attracted to colours and a style that have always evoked creativity, life, vitality, desire, the ooze of life and inner fire.

“This is your body,
your greatest gift,
pregnant with wisdom you do not hear,
grief you thought was forgotten,
and joy you have never known.”

Marion Woodman, Coming Home to Myself, 1998

The third felt the most unexpected, unbidden, honest. A self portrait. Evoked perhaps from the poem I’d shared earlier in the week describing the impact of getting Bells Palsy in 2013.

“We have lived our lives
behind a mask.
Sooner or later
– if we are lucky –
the mask will be smashed.”

Marion Woodman, Coming Home to Myself, 1998

A powerful depiction of the often felt, though less obvious to the outside world – unless I’m stressed or tired – lingering effects: the loss of facial symmetry, the odd tingly sensations and itchiness especially around my nose and cheek, my mouth that droops, my eye that dries or tears up. Not chewing as well, nor singing because of the loss of strength in my palate. Even speaking can be challenging some days. A shyness that developed, though perhaps it allowed for a truer introverted aspect of self to emerge. It certainly broke open my life –shattering the mask that paradoxically invited in a truer relationship to self, in my marriage and in my life. With a daily felt and seen reminder of how lucky I am.

And, in another stroke of lovely synchronicity, this, from the Vancouver poet, bentlily, appeared on Facebook, hours after painting:

“When I start to feel nervous about letting my creativity run free, it’s always because I am afraid of what people will think of what I create. And yet wanting the world to love what you make is not the problem. It’s natural (and financially, it’s very reasonable!). The problem is when I start thinking more about “you” than I do about me…But I still have to trust that if I write my poems for me, you will come. Because if I am too preoccupied with how and what to write for you, eventually, no poems will come at all because I will have lost the “me.”

bentlily by Samantha Reynolds, Facebook, October 23, 2020

Here’s to creativity off leash. Wild and messy and free.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.