Taking Stock

Last year at about this time I talked about setting goals. I tried not to call them New Years resolutions, but we all know that was what I was making. It’s exciting to start anew at the beginning of the year and plan to be better, but more often than not our resolutions become a kind of tyranny of ‘shoulds’ and if we fail even once to comply with our self imposed rules we mentally shout at ourselves until in a complete failure of confidence we give up. After which we call ourselves dispicable names until next year.

So this year, no goals, no New Years resolutions. There are some things I’d like to get better at–there always are–but I won’t mention them here or anywhere else either.

Instead, this year I’ve decided to take stock of what I did accomplish in 2018.

Paintings:

 

In 2017 and early 2018 I had a terrible time painting. I felt as though I did nothing but repeat myself, and everything was boring and lacklustre. In the summer I had the privaledge of visiting the studio of Lorenzo Dupuis,  I love his egg-tempera paintings and I began riff off his work. (Steal like an Artist, eh?) And just like that I was back and excited to work. In 2018 I paintinged more than ten paintings in oil, acrylic or egg-tempera. This is a small number compared to my usual output, but I’m so delighted to be back.

Sketches

 

I filled up a Moleskine sketchbook and part of another sketchbook with drawings. In totally this amounted to more than seventy analog drawings in 2018. There were many more digital drawings.

Digital Drawing/Painting

I’m not going to post my digital work because my last two post featured digital artwork, and surprise, I can’t remember which works happened in 2018 and which works came before. Note to self: Include dates in file names.

Writing

There were times in 2018 when I was pretty discouraged about my writing.  I’ve been writing fiction for over ten years, and during those ten years I have submitted work to various publishers. I’ve had some near misses, but to date nothing has been published. Yes, we live in the age of self-publishing but when you no longer have the day job the expense of edits was more than I could manage. Ten years is a long time write and have no readers. This depressed me no end.

Nonetheless, I rewrote and revised my 75,000 word young adult fantasy novel, The Spell, as well I wrote and revised a Boomerlit novella (35,000 words) I called Hannah’s Hearing, and I’m in the midst of  a major revision of my time travel novel The Chronos Project.

It turned out I couldn’t stop writing, drawing or painting even if I had no gallery exhibition in the works or a publisher for my stories.  Why is that?

I suspect there are many answers, but one of them for me is that as long as I’m learning and creating, I’m alive. More alive than at any other time. I live in a vivid world of my own making, and I swear to you that the ‘process’ of painting is a form of deep meditation. Time disappears and scratchy everyday problems fade away. How could you not pursue that?

This was my first year of retirement from my day job. Surprise, surprise, retirement calls for a bigger psychological adjustment than expected. Also, two close family members died, both in their fifties. My husband got a promotion and a pay raise. My grandchildren and children are wonderful. It was the worst of time and the best of times, as is every year.

So, at the beginning of this New Year, I’m super proud of what I’ve accomplished in 2018.

Take a look at what you’ve accomplished. I bet you did a heap of great things in 2018 that you forgot about. We tend look at our failings more than the positives in our lives. That might be something worth changing. Hmmm….

In Process

In Progress_0127
Iterations #6, 2018, egg tempera on panel

It occurred to me this morning, that no matter where we are in life, young or old, we are always in process. We never “ARRIVE”, we’re always on the journey.

Alright, you’re all smarter than I am and figured this out when you were five, but have you reminded yourself of it lately?

Thirty-year-olds think, that by now, they should know it all, have it all. And for sure you should have arrived by the time you’re 45, 60, 70…

Oh, wait, it’s all over when you hit seventy. Too late. No soup for you!

Except that you haven’t arrived. Still, you’re in the process of becoming. You always will be. You live all your life in the process of one thing or another. The wonderful thing, the amazing thing, is that we get to decide what we want to work toward. Hey, kindness is a good goal. How about that? We can work toward being kind, or courageous, or both and everything else too.

Above is the beginning of an egg tempera painting I’m working on. I don’t know what it will become. I have lots of snarling, buzzing thoughts that tell me it will come to nothing, but I’m excited by it. It has potential. Anything that is in process has potential.

I might be edging my way back into writing. Maybe.

Considering and Reconsidering

 

EasterLilies
Lilies, watercolour and ink on paper, c 1990s

Last week, I wrote about how it was that I began to writing fiction. This set off a chain of introspection and emotion. You see, despite all the years, and the seven novels and various short stories later, I still write in complete obscurity. I have not been published and I’m concerned about self-publishing because frankly I have no idea how good or bad my storytelling and writing ability are. I know I am a better writer than I was at the beginning of the process, but I don’t have readers, and they are the final piece of the whole writing gig. Mostly, you only know yourself by looking at your community and seeing how or where you are alike or differ. Approval and appreciation, or the lack thereof help you know where you stand.

I can poke you in the eye with a bright image from my visual arts portfolio, every now and then, either here or on Facebook and Instagram and I get appreciative responses, but writing doesn’t enter your perception all in one go like images do. A reader is a more equal and intentional partner in the process.

So much mulling things over in my mind. Of course, the blues ensued. The upshot is that I’ve decided to take a bit of a break from writing to see what happens. It might be a wonderful relief, or maybe I’ll miss it so much I’ll be back at it in no time. We’ll see.

I’ll continue to post here every Monday morning, but mostly I’ll poke you in the eye with an image I’ve created.  [picture a sticking-out-tongue emoticon here and then a smiley face]

Morning Pages and Magic

The Spell Card2
Dragon, 2018 Digital An, illustration of a scene in The Spell

Years ago, while going through a tough patch, I picked up Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, and I began to write Morning Pages. This, in case you don’t know, consists of writing three full pages, in cursive, about anything that comes to mind. The idea is, I think, to help you introspect, to figure out what you think, and believe, and if those beliefs and thoughts are true to you. They are meant to give you a voice, when you’re voice has shrivelled up and gone away.

Morning Pages are what started me writing fiction. Two things happened. I got very tired of my whiney daily litany of misery. The repeat, repeat, repeat pathos made me dispair. One morning I wrote three whole pages of Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

One day, I ended up writing in third person, and made my first attempt at writing fiction.  Here is the first chapter of The Spell, if you’d like to see what happened. The Spell is young adult fantasy fiction. An dark plague has come to Erdry, and young Averil, third daughter of Doft the Mender, must create the spell that will destroy the darkness.

You know how, sometimes, there seems to be more than one person in your head? There is the smart wise person, the endless nag, the I know better than you guy, and the mouse that is the daily you? Sometimes, in the drivel that showed up under my pen, someone else spoke. Someone who was like my dad, wise and caring, but not my dad.  Bit by bit I found out “D” was a dragon. Uh, huh, my own personal dragon. Not the indiscriminate terrorizor you read about in some books and comics, more like John Hurt in the TV series Merlin.

I still talk to “D”. Here’s what happened this morning after a whine about how a medication I’m taking isn’t doing enough:

D: I would roll my eyes, dear, but dragons don’t trouble themselves with eye rolling.
Me: [sticking tongue out at D] You’re a right bastard today. Go breath somewhere else.

A little conversation, not nearly as wise as some, but it reminded me not to take myself so seriously.

 

Being Social, Being Creative

Visitors
Visitors, 2014, encaustic on panel

As a creative person I find I have two major modes: the inner mode, which is the one that rummages around in my mind looking for patterns and divergences. And the outer mode that engages in the world and socializes with other people.

For me those two ways are very distinct. When I’m in a creative groove I’m inner focused, sometimes to an extreme. I do not want to be disturbed by disturbing things, like the wrong kind of news, the wrong kinds of sounds, the wrong kinds of light and people.

But, soon enough something curious happens. Idea generation begins to stagnate, and boredom and self-doubt set in.

It is at this point that being social, meeting with people, and being outwardly focused is the thing I need. Now, as an introvert, I find it difficult to breach that ‘being social’ barrier. I go kicking and screaming into socializing. When I, finally, capitulate I have a wonderful time. I forget all about creating things. I don’t have solutions to a paintings in my head. I don’t connive ways for my story characters to find their way out of a difficult situation. In fact, I don’t think I could do those things if I tried. It takes me days after a social period to get back into my head, and into a creative mind-space. I make tentative attempts. Again I doubt myself. But little by little, I move back into that inward space, and lo! All those things I experienced during a social time well up and become energy for something new. And the cycle begins again.

We all need social connections and community. Some of us need more than others, but everyone needs at least a little and if you do creative work you’ll do well to remember that you need it more than most. Think about it. Without input there can be no real output.

 

 

On Writing: What’s your process?

Synapse
Synapse, 2014, encaustic on panel

I’m not thinking of whether you outline, write your thesis sentence first, or how you develop your characters. What I’m considering is the physical process.

It’s interesting to hear about the processes writers employ. Many get up very early in the morning before any other family members are up, and in this early morning solitude they invite their characters to play, blithely typing away as they watch. Some only write late at night. Some write in coffee shops and so on.

It is said that Thomas Wolf wrote with a pencil on paper, using the top of his refridgerator as his desktop. And yes, he was tall, and refridgerators were shorter in those days.

A number of writers, Kevin J. Anderson is one, dictate their novels into a small recorder while they hike or walk. They then use Dragon Naturally Speaking software to transcribe the spoken word to text.

I find that I have a more intimate connection to my story if I write longhand in a lined book. And it is easier on my back to sit in a recliner and write in a notebook than on my laptop. The problem is transcribing drives me crazy. Writing with a pen or pencil isn’t the hard thing. Reading handwritten narratives, is for me the hard thing. Tougher, still if you’re trying to type what you are reading, while you’re reading.

20180903_101106

Recently, in a Joanna Penn podcast, her mother, Jacqui Penn, also a writer, described her writing process. She writes her stories longhand in a notebook, reads it into a recorder and let’s Dragon take care of the transcription. She then edits on her computer.

This sounds brilliant to me. Her reasons for working this way, is that she finds sitting at the keyboard for long periods of time very hard on her. Yes! Me too. Sore neck, sore back, sore wrists…

I know that people write longhand less and less often. Times change. Technologies come along and do a brilliant job, but I hear that longhand writing is actually very good for you brain. (Check this, and this) And Google Docs has a facility whereby you can dictate a document on your cellphone without an intervening software like Dragon. There are plenty of issues to be sure. You have to tell dragon your punctuation marks along with the words, and Google only understand things like period and comma, but hey, what’s another learning curve! I’m going to give it a try.

What’s your best process?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dog Days of Summer

Red Trees
Red Trees, c1990s, gouache and wallpaper paste on paper

“The dog days or dog days of summer are the hot, sultry days of summer. They were historically the period following the helical rising of the star system Sirius, which Greek and Roman astrology connected with heat, drought, sudden thunderstorms, lethargy, fever, mad dogs, and bad luck.” —Wikipedia

Wow, that describes my condition perfectly: lethargy and erruptions of irritation. Occassionally an idea will seek me out and I’m in a fever until the lethargy comes back in taking with it every bit of energy and leaving me, dare I say, mad.

I am overstating things, but yes, there is too much smoke in the air, it’s hot, I need a new project. My old projects, though not finished fill me with lethargy.  This happens.

Funny thing is it is exactly these hot, grasshopper hopping, cricket-singing days I remember from my childhood with nostalgia and longing. It occurs to me that perhaps I need not produce every minute of every day. Maybe it’s good enough, sometimes in the dog days, to lie back on a lawn chair with a good book, and look up every once in a while to watch the birds practise their flying and see the heat shimmer in the distance.