Sunday, November 29, 2020

a place of in-between

This collage was made as a part of Viral Collaboration during
COVID-19 quarantine. Each artist created a 10X10
monochromatic piece with a single word to describe
a feeling during this unprecedented time. 

When I am in desperate need of help, when I don't know what to do, I backpedal a little.

I linger and loiter. 

Wait and sniff.

Which is also what I usually do when I have a date with the ocean.

See, we have a little routine when we have a date.  The ocean and I.

It takes less than an hour to get there from our house. This serves well as a much-needed transition time allowing me to re-program my mind and let go of my inland-bound life which tends to grow these long tentacles all into and around me. 

It's not necessarily a bad life. In fact, it's rather comfortable and predictable, and most importantly I am (or think I am) in charge.   This life makes me think it's all there is - jobs to do, chores to knock off, responsibilities to fulfill. Sure, like everyone else, I weather storms, withstand pressures and navigate the chaos and turmoil of our world with various degrees of success and failure.  Then, at night, I watch a couple of episodes of Criminal Minds because it makes me feel my life is not so bad after all. It may not be as Pinterest-perfect as the life of my friends on Facebook, but it could be much worse. I could be having a serial killer breathing down my neck! Thus calmed, I brush my teeth, double-check that all doors are locked and tumble into sleep until the next morning. 

Inside my head I know that life is not about checking off a to-do list, but you wouldn't know it watching me scurrying around my moments and days. Some people may call this condition a 'tunnel vision' and they might be right. Going to the ocean helps me to get outside my tunnel.

The drive is usually smooth and quiet. This, along with physically leaving my little claustrophobic inland life behind builds anticipation and excitement that goes with it. 

Even though the ocean never ever fails to deliver, I admit I am tormented by questions and doubts each time.

Monday, November 23, 2020

a place of tug-of-war

This all-out, way-beyond-my-little-fist's-grasp extravagant greatness seeps through my pores and sinks down to the place I am mostly unaware even exists deep inside me. I feel the tension in my neck melting away and my fingers loosening the choke-hold of the impossible and petty demands I place on myself, others and even God!

The noise of the small claims court,  as well as the grand jury investigation which somehow always seem to be in session inside my head are tempered by this outrageous unwarranted mercy extended above, and below and all around me. 

Tempered, I say, not completely silenced.

I admit it's a struggle, an exhausting daily labor dealing with them... 

The Scrooge. The Judge. The Critic. The Editor. THE PREACHER!

They are all so very smart.  They know A LOT. 

But, they have absolutely no clue how to sit back and relax. 

As valuable as their gift of responsibility might be, they don't understand that their services are not always needed. 

But how do you convince a band of scowling crows that hovering over my head and pecking at my brain with their particular point of view as if it had absolute and eternal significance may not be the calling from God? 

In the past, I would simply hand them a particularly engaging and impeccably thought-out book on spiritual theology and that would keep them distracted enough. Quiet if not happy.  They would much rather sit in a comfortable chair inside their library, sipping lemongrass tea than deal with the screeching of unruly children and seagulls, and the annoying untamable wind messing up their hair and flipping their pages before they had finished reading them.  

Today, however, I want to try a different approach.  

But, I know I will need some serious help here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

a place of acceptance

The ocean has been here long before I made my little grand entrance.  It will remain here long after I depart at my days' end.

Every person dotting the beach is here today because they want to be or somebody who loves them brought them along.  Of course, there might be few who feel forced, manipulated or guilted into coming. Sadly, such approach, even if it's driven by good intentions, effectively ruins the fun available to all who come of their own free will. 

The ocean doesn't need anything from me nor does it place any expectations on me.  It doesn't judge me for being fat or skinny, smart or stupid, introvert or extrovert, clean or messy. 

This is hard to grasp for most of us who grow up and live under the burden of impossible demands our surroundings - family, school, church, social media, and even our own deluded selves - place on us.  Sometimes I don't even realize I've compromised my soul in my futile attempt to fit in and be accepted.

The ocean in turn says to me,

"You already fit in with me! You are already accepted here just the way you are."

I am a blessed beneficiary of all its affection, generosity and grandeur.

There is no age limit to enjoying the ocean - you are never too young, never too old to play.  

All our little labels - what you do, who you are, who you know, how many followers you have, even what you believe - matter little here.  The ocean is equally at ease with the scarred used-to-be's and the naive wanna-be's; the woman covered from head-to-toe in burka, the bald guy in Speedo showing off his full-body tattoo and the wounded artist plagued by unresolved anger and angst.

Surrounded by the vastness of the sky above, the endless sand beach under my feet, and the great big blue, my huge, unsolvable problems, my enormously unbearable burdens are scaled down to size.  

Curiously, as my problems are being reduced, I don't feel diminished as a person.

There is something deep inside me - something good, and gentle, and kind - that actually gets at least a little bit enlarged. 

Or perhaps, awakened...

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

a place of safety

I have discovered that palette knife is my favorite tool.
I love the rough texture it leaves and the message it conveys,
that even when we find ourselves in the rough waters of life
there is plenty of beauty all around us.

My daily dose of three pages of longhand sometimes feels like wading through a layer of muck that reaches up to my eyeballs. Other times it's as exhilarating and terrifying as a free-fall off a cliff while I count seconds before crash-landing.  

Even though I sure can talk, I want to think of myself as being a pretty good listener.  I am discovering, however, that I might be listening to everyone else except to my own soul. 

In my head I know I am safe, but my heart is unnerved by the torrent.  I need a place that would assure this anxious heart that it's O.K. and calm the rush of swirling thoughts.

Going to the ocean for my first artist's date seems most appropriate.  

Ocean has always been a dependable wellspring of safety for me. It never fails to welcome me with open arms, no questions asked. Not once have I heard him pout,

"Where have you been??? Why haven't I seen you in so long??!"

I admit that I do tend to say to myself,

"God, I MISS this!", every time I make it to the beach. 

I must be imagining because in the rumble of its roaring waves I think I hear an echo, 

"I missed you too. I'm glad you are back."

No cold shoulder. Not a hint of reproach.

Friday, November 06, 2020

mother courage

Mixed media collage replica of White Angel from monastery Milesevo
greeting the disciples on Easter morning with the words,
'Why are You Looking for the Living One among the Dead?' 

The little butt-naked word, the escapee from the rigorous sentinel of my Internal Editor, turns out to be a kindness of sort. The raw energy of its un-Photo-shopped truth does its magic inside our group.  

It scrub-cleans our ears, dull from being accustomed to hearing only what others think we want to hear. 

It acts like a mouthwash that wakes up our tongue accustomed to saying only what we think others want to hear.

She volunteers to be next.  A mother to many; a faithful, dutiful wife of a respected leader. Mostly invisible accessory to a greater mission.

On the outside her bowl is beautiful and rich and full of opportunities and experiences the rest of us can only dream about. Fascinating people and exotic places. We've known each other for years and I never bothered to look, to ask what's on the inside.  

Perhaps I wasn't ready then for what I may find there. I am not sure I am ready even now...

The bowl she brings to our communion table is full of emptiness, loneliness, depression, and meds that work and don't, and an ocean of unshed tears over a lifetime of losses. 

She attaches a label to herself that makes my heart sag. Somewhere along the way, in the crucible of life and ministry, her vast capacity for experiencing the exquisite joy of this life as well as its gut-wrenching grief was reduced to a mental illness tag.  To be numbed by alternating the assortment of religious platitudes and daily dose of Prozac.

We listen to each other and bow our hearts to the One who knows us better than we know ourselves. Worn out from carrying our own, we lift up each other's bowl to Jesus.

She wraps up our prayers by praying for me.

"Thank you, Lord, for these three daily pages of longhand vomit", she says. Then, after hesitating a bit, she adds in a barely audible whisper,

"Perhaps it's time for me to start my own..."

Sunday, November 01, 2020

artists anonymous

Much of my art starts out with random mixed media mark-making that evolves
over time. Often I am the one most surprised by what shows up on the page. 

We are huddled in our little groups of twos and threes, passing around in whispers our empty bowls of prayer requests.  She is a seasoned veteran in this business of service, sacrifice and self-negation.  Her husband a respected leader. Each of us hesitates a little before I finally take a chance and set out my bowl first.

"I am doing this...",  I search for words to describe the Artist's Way and keep falling short... 

A book? A workbook? A 12-step-like recovery program for wounded artists?

Their gentle eyes rest on my face, waiting patiently for me to clothe my squirming thoughts into ill-fitting syllables.  Finally I confess. I settle on a simple action verb that has over-arched my existence as long as I can remember.

"I write... Three pages. .. Of longhand...  Every day...  Of whatever goes through my mind."

Even as I say this, the filled-out pages flash before my eyes, and I know that these words don't give a shadow of justice to the reality of what these pages represent.

"Oh!"  Her eyes having endured the burden of my silent quest for adequate linguistic wardrobe suddenly light up in recognition.

"It's like a prayer journal!"

"Nooo!"  I blurt out. "Not at all! I would call it more like ... vomit", I explain and my eyes pop wide open the moment the word reaches the auditory processing system inside my head. I am thoroughly mortified together with my shocked praying friends.  We laugh even as I kick myself for being such an idiot and I want to kick God for making me look like a fool in front of these women.

My Internal Editor hisses: 

"You blabber-mouth! You should have said something like, 

'It's a  ham radio for the soul.'  Or, even better, 

'It's a lush, ever-present oasis of absolute safety where you get to hear your own thoughts and feelings...'  Or, 

'It's a critics-free zone where I get to be fully myself!' Or at least, 

'It's a self-deception lie detector tool that helps me navigate through confusion of life where the truth and the appearance of truth often don't occupy the same space.'

The Editor, of course, is right. There are a million other things I could have said, but no!

Of all the beautiful words in richly stocked up English language, my brilliant brain chose to publicly humiliate me by landing on... VOMIT!