Sunday, September 23, 2012

Grow

When I was in college, pursuing my Bachelors Degree in Fine (Studio) Art, Professor D. made a comment about a former college classmate of his that I found startling at the time. He mentioned her work in reference to a technique we were practicing, a technique she had obviously excelled at. Clearly, he respected her as an artist. She’d had some degree of regional fame – he mentioned this as well. But she no longer practiced art-making as a discipline, he informed us. This artist had apparently, after a decade or so of establishing herself in the art community where she lived, decided she needed more from life and moved to India, where she still resided.
“She doesn’t make art anymore,” he’d said, shaking his head sadly as if he were speaking of some great loss to humanity. “I guess she still considers herself an artist, but last I heard from her, she said she didn’t really have the urge to do any art these days. She’s having an adventure instead,” he shrugged.
At 23, the age I was when I pursue that particular degree, I was so in love with the idea of expressing myself with paint that I could not imagine any time in life when I would not have the urge to make art. It WAS my life, in a matter of speaking, and being an artist directed the flow of my life in multiple ways as I grew older. It was an identity I fiercely clung to. I read biographies of artists and modeled my life practices after their dedication to their craft. I worked various odd jobs and several ‘real’ jobs to survive, and diligently painted at night, early in the mornings, or on weekends. I worked tirelessly honing my skills and marketing my work. And finally, I began to enjoy some degree of regional fame and success….
…and I found out that I don’t really like regional fame, so it stands to reason I would abhor national fame and absolutely freak out if I stumbled upon world-wide acclaim. The center of attention is not my choice place to be. The year I was chosen as feature artist for a music festival, I attended a formal event where I was asked to stand while my painting was unveiled, and the round of applause was deafening. I wanted to sneak out the door; I felt so out of place in that moment. What on earth had I done to receive such applause, or the standing ovation that followed? I’d ducked out as quickly as possible from the event. Was I grateful? Yes. Being chosen to represent my community through art was an honor. But I’m more of a ‘behind the scenes’ type of gal; even a birthday party held for me by dear friends last year was a little too much ‘spotlight’. And as time passed and I matured, I remembered the story of Professor D.’s friend who had walked away from a promising art career in a major metropolitan US city to live abroad in a foreign land, simply because the people and the colors delighted her spirit.
And finally, I got it. I knew exactly why she didn’t have a need to create art for galleries and exhibits anymore. Before she left, according to Professor D., she gave much of her art away to friends and collectors so as not to have to be concerned with storing it. At that time I could not imagine simply giving my work away, it seemed so pointless to even make it if I was just going to part with it so easily. But, in the past few months, I’ve given a great deal of art away, something I never imagined doing. I’ve done it carefully, making sure the work had a good home, but I’ve found a great deal of joy in seeing my art bring happiness to people. Last night, I gave a small painting to a friend for her birthday, and the delight on her face warmed my heart. This was what I wanted for my art, or anything else I created, really – to bring happiness to other people, not fame or heaps of accolades to myself. 
And what has become more and more important to me over the past couple of years isn’t art-making or achieving success, its living. It’s life. It’s being in the moments I’m in, enjoying my days, and not slaving over an easel into the wee hours of the night so I have something to show or sell, but relaxing in the evenings - working with fibers, reading, talking to a friend on the phone, writing a letter or email. In the pursuit of artistic fame and success, I shut myself off from many activities I wanted to do because free time was such a rare and precious commodity. Now I’ve come to realize just that – free time is a rare and precious commodity, as is life in general. How we spend it comes down to moments, precious moments which create our stories and define our lives.
A few days ago, I ran into an old friend whose first question was, “How’s your art going?” I just smiled. There was no need to tell him that if I made art at all anymore, it was simply for myself and that the last time I’d painted anything was weeks ago when I added detail to a small wooden bangle bracelet. There was no need to tell him I didn’t have a desire, at this point in life, to express myself with paint or charcoal and that I’d recently turned down a commission because I simply didn’t want to do it. There was no reason to tell him that I wanted to embrace new things in life, that I had dismantled my big easel and recently made a few cards for friends but beyond that, I was busy being a mom, practicing yoga and meditation, gardening, knitting like a fiend and learning new skills and techniques I never thought I'd be able to master, and becoming more deeply involved in the personal relationships in my life. There was no reason to try and explain to him what a ridiculous question he’d actually asked…how does one’s art actually ‘go’, anyway? I just smiled and said "Fine," and kept the planned adventures I have for my life to myself.
No doubt had I told him the truth, he’d have reacted the same way as I did to the story of Professor D.’s friend, who has become something of a role model to me these days as I reflect on the adventure she was able to give herself only by letting go of all that she had created, including her identity as a painter. Where she is now I could never know; I don’t even remember her name. But I remember her story, a story that made no sense at the time but has now become my story as well. What I once could not understand about her has become the one thing I want others to understand about me. Let me grow, I want to say. Just because I’ve spent two decades doing this doesn’t mean I want to spend the next two doing it. There is so much more to experience in life, and God knows there is more to me than just the fact that I can paint. Let me grow, and I will let you grow. I will never try to define you by labels you gave yourself years ago...I'll encourage you to grow, grow tall like the seeds I nurtured in my patio greenhouse, and grow wild, like the garden I planted this summer with those very seeds. Grow and be free, like the wild thing I rescued, healed, and returned to its habitat even though I could have tamed it and kept it as a pet. Grow like the giant sunflowers my son planted, sunflowers whose seeds we dried and harvested and will feed to the birds in our backyard this winter. Grow, grow wild, and be free, especially of labels that others use to define you, or that you've used to define yourself. Be bold enough to step out of what you cling to, and grow...
...because there is so much more.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Fashionista in the House (or at least on the page!)

Oh my golly gosh…I am amazed, sometimes, at what just seems to happen.
Although nothing really ‘just happens.’ I have to tell myself about a million times a day that we have tremendous control over what we attract into our lives, and that few things are actually random. Today was a keen reminder of that. But first, I’ll back up a little bit to the weekend. Or rather, a couple of weeks before this weekend…
In the process of rearranging my house (my son and I have a new fixation on creating as much ‘open space’ in our home as possible) I thought, okay, it’s possibly time for a new television. Not wanting to make television a focal point of our home, or our lives, in my son’s early years, I kept our television sizes hovering at around 10 inches, and we didn’t have cable until my son was 6. Now that he recognizes television for what it should be – an occasional treat, not a time table to live one’s life by – I think I can indulge in one that would actually fit into the space provided by the entertainment center. Only I didn’t want to have to buy it. I looked in catalogues and was amazed at how much a bigger television actually costs – hundreds of dollars. I mulled it over, wondering how I could fit this into the budget. Getting a bigger television was a thought that I kept in my mind for days…and then Sunday, out of the clear blue sky, someone I know offered me a 28” almost-new television because they were moving to a smaller space. It cost me nothing but the effort to pick it up and find a willing gentleman to help me lug it into the house.
Bam! How I love the power of manifestation. I have more stories, from how I acquired my Keurig to being gifted with real African mud-cloth, and many other things I’ve ‘manifested’ in between, but I’ll spare those for the sake of time, and to focus on what this blog is really about – today’s delightful ‘coincidence,’ of which there actual are none. But I’ll have to back-up to Monday…
Monday, I was supposed to leave a book at the front office where I work so that the publisher/editor of an online magazine could pick it up. My goal was that she would like it so much she’d write a review of it. Naturally, I lay out the book with my supplies. Naturally, I forget it. Tuesday comes. I am so excited because I have the book. When she comes to pick it up, I am occupied with work, so I give it to someone else to take to the front office. They give it to the wrong person, who apparently thinks it must be Christmas, because they simply kept it.  I’m unaware of the mishap until the receptionist calls my room about 15 minutes later and informs me they are still waiting on the book. I am convinced this editor/publisher probably now thinks I am a total numbskull but to my great relief, she has a sense of humor. We agree to meet this afternoon at a local coffee shop, where I will personally put the book in her hands. Which I do, finally. And because neither of us is in a hurry, we chat over coffee. A lot. Eventually we hit on the subject of fashion, ah…one of my favorite topics, because let’s face it, we all want to look good as we can on the budgets we have. This conversation led to me divulging to her an idea I have had for quite some time about writing a column about fashion, which would include showcasing local boutiques, particularly fashionable people about town, and all the necessary information about how to create a unique look at any age by mixing haute-couture items with hand-me-down thrift store finds and clearance-rack items at Belk’s.
And you know what? She told me she was very interested in something like that for the magazine.
O…M…G, did my heart skip a beat or two. Just a few days ago, I’d shared with a close friend how much I wished I could find a way to write about fashion. Which I could do, easily…but I wanted a purpose for doing it, an audience, something more than just a blog.
Now, I’m not going to speculate over what might have happened if I’d remembered the book Monday, or if it had been properly delivered to her on Tuesday. All I know is, the conversation today led directly where it needed to go, and this fashionista is wildly excited.
And busy… she has articles to write. J
Want it. Believe you deserve it. Be willing to work to have it. Recognize it when it comes to you. Grab hold. As Paulo Coehlo says in his life-changing book, The Alchemist, “It is the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.” I'm not going to sit and ponder all the 'what ifs'...I wished for it, it came to me, now I'm gonna be bold and see where it takes me.
There are no coincidences...
Happy manifesting!!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Waking Up

Two years ago, I read a book called "The Ten Year Nap." It's a best seller by Meg Wolitzer, the only book I've ever requested from the library. I took it with me to Finland, read it on planes and during my rare downtime. I finished it before my month abroad was up, and spent many hours thumbing through it, reading particular passages while waiting for sleep. The particular characters and settings in the book I've long forgotten, having read about 150 more books since, but the basic premise I remember: as our children grow older, it can feel as though we are waking up from very loooooong naps. It's a subtle transition, this shift from being needed 24-7, from being on deck mentally, physically, and emotionally, from running to mend and kiss every boo-boo to suddenly not being called on at all. It's finding out much later in the evening, as bedtime rolls in and your child passes by in the hall with a scraped up knee or elbow, that you know they took a fall at some point during the day and didn't call you to make it better.

Independence and self-reliance are a major steps towards, well...everything. I'm a huge fan of them personally. Seeing my son embrace these attributes doesn't make me weepy or sentimental at all. I have been present in every moment of his life, and I celebrate each step he takes towards growing up. Each new skill, each lost tooth, each step he takes away from me. I don't wax poetic over his younger days because, sweet at they were and precious memories not withstanding, they were all steps in the dance that leads towards conversations like this:

"I don't want these DVDs anymore; I'm too big to watch Bob the Builder now."
"I like the shirt you got me, but I'd rather pick out my own clothes."
"I want to choose my own haircut. It's my hair, after all."

and yesterday morning's bombshell,

"Mama, I love you but I've been with you all week. I kind of want to do something different today. Is it okay if I don't go to Greenville with you and your friends?"

It was not so long ago that he was clinging to my leg when I dropped him off at daycare. It wasn't so long ago that he cried for me if I left him with a sitter while I ran errands. It wasn't so long ago that no matter what room of the house I was in, he had to be in the same space as well. Now...not so much. As I fold and iron laundry downstairs, I listen to the sounds of him playing in his room. They aren't much, because his idea of play has shifted from jumping, running, rolling, flipping and flopping (that's what little boys are made of) to building with legos or arranging little characters in grand cities on the floor. Occasionally I call to him, and he  responds. I step out to the garden and leave him inside watching television. The world does not end, he does not stumble or fall or climb up counters. Chaos doesn't ensue because I looked away for ten seconds, no...I come back inside and he's still there, watching television. He spends the day with someone else, and I go to Greenville with friends. When I call to say I am on the way to pick him up, he says he wants to spend the night. He has all he needs in the little bag he took with him, so I say okay. I hang up the phone and tell my friends we can extend our evening, and they laugh. They know this is a big deal for me.

My son did not spend a night away from me for the first five years of his life. But this summer alone, he's spent the night elsewhere at least half a dozen times. And each time, I've taken another step towards rediscovering myself, who I was before "Mama" became the word I heard most throughout the day.

Standing in a funky art, clothing and jewelry store yesterday, with adult friends by my side instead of a child in my arms, I took in the sights of Indian-style tapesteries, paper lanterns with intricate Eastern art on the side, incense burners and all kinds of colorful home accrouments, I remembered the apartment I lived in more than a decade ago. "This store looks like my old den, right after college," I say to my friends, and we laughed. But it's true. This was who I was back then, and I loved it. But my home today looks nothing like this, nor do I desire it to. My taste have *clearly* changed...but the funny thing is, I just don't remember it changing. I don't remember me changing. I just know that everything has.

And I know that I am changing still, and so is my son. I don't look back at how he was, how I was, how we were. Memories are precious, but all that matters is now. This now, this moment. My son is the love of my life, the most important person in my world, the soul of my soul. We still dance to steps we've memorized since his heart beat inside of my womb, but the music is not the same. And I'm okay with that. There are many tunes that call us to dance in this life; this is only one. There will be so many more, for both of us.

Independence? Self-reliance? These are fabulous things to instill in a child. Good parents know this. They also know as the dance goes on, the partners will change. They step back, smile, and let go, allowing their children to not only dance, but to leap, love, laugh, sing, try, fail, swim, sink, soar. They remain there, always, to mend boo-boos. But they don't hover. They know that if you smother a thing, even in the name of love, it will slowly die. Nothing can thrive without breath, not even a dream. Especially not dreams...
I am blessed with friends who have adult children, and they show me new steps to the dance. I listen. I learn. I laugh. I love. I live. I stay out past midnight (okay, waaay past midnight) and wake up much later in the morning than I'm used to. The house is quiet. I call my son, who is having breakfast. He's had a great time. I had a great time. I tell him I'll be there for him soon, and he says okay.

I hang up the phone and shake the glitter from my hair. There are sequins on the floor. My house oddly reminds me of Vegas, and I laugh. It feels good to wake up. It feels good to reach this milestone. It feels good to be so absolutely excited not only about my son's future, which I know is going to be bright, but also about my own. I'm a damn good mother. But it's taken over seven years for me to remember that as much as I love being a damn good mother, I was, am, and will continue to be much, much more than that.

Independence. Self-reliance. It's a necessary awakening for both of us.

I'm so grateful to be having it.

The Ten Year Nap by Meg Worlitzer is available at fine book stores and here at Amazon.com
http://www.amazon.com/The-Ten-Year-Nap-Meg-Wolitzer/dp/B002HREKUU/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1343573536&sr=8-1&keywords=the+ten+year+nap