A Softer Place to Land

A Softer Place to Land

I was looking through an old journal recently, skimming it for inspiration. What kind of inspiration I was looking for, I’m not sure, but even though I’m not a very consistent journal keeper, I always know I can go back and find some insight you can only get by combining something from the past with something from the present. Hindsight is not 20/20, but it’s definitely helpful. 

I stumbled across an invocation I’d written:

So come here, imperfection, and sit with me this morning. I’ve still got two sips of coffee left and I’ll try not to drown you in my own suffering. Pull up a seat. I’ll make room on the couch. Let’s not fight today. 

When I wrote it, I was struggling with molehole-turned-mountain type of stuff. To invite imperfection was to accept reality– and neither some the-world-has-ended reality or a there’s-always-a-silver-lining platitude, just a these-are-the-raw-materials reality. Here they are; no more, no less.

In Art and Fear, the book we will be discussing at the gallery on Sunday, July 24, Bayles and Orland write: 

“To demand perfection is to deny your ordinary (and universal) humanity, as though you would be better off without it. Yet this humanity is the ultimate source of your work; your perfectionism denies you the very thing you need to get your work done.” 

In this spirit, I’ve been getting comfortable with imperfection, trying to give my flawed and tangled thoughts a softer place to land. So often I’ve tried to lecture my inner voice into being a certain way which usually sounds something like “don’t think that!” Now I try to just give her space to say whatever it is, profound, flawed, nuanced, trite, distorted, biased, or kind. And by doing so, she usually finds a way through the more tangled and distorted parts. She gets curious about them because she can finally see them clearly just by letting them out. 

I’ve seen my work changing, too. What started off as thick, heavy, abstract strokes piled on a subject’s head has transformed into leaves and vines, messy but soft, a place where things might bloom, die, and bloom again. A softer place to land. In fact, little birds and bees have cropped up in these new environments. It seems to me that I went from thinking about thoughts themselves to thinking about the environments in which they might live and die, thrive and wilt. 

I’m curious to see how these images keep evolving, how I’ll think or rethink what it means to have a vibrant, imperfect interior world. 

What do you think? If you could paint not what’s going on in your mind, but the place where what’s going on resides, what would it look like?

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You Know What Your Problem is?

IMG_6099“You know what your problem is?” a sassy little woman in a red hat asks me as I finish a stroke on my painting.

I’m intrigued. My problem? I’ve got 99 and, well, you know the rest.

“What?” I finally ask her.

“You aren’t afraid.” She says it with admiration. Like painting is something I should be afraid. It’s the way I would say it to a mountain climber or a shark vet or a bungee jumper.

Live paintings can be deceiving. What she doesn’t know is that I’m afraid all the damn time. Of not being a good enough mom. Of not being a good enough painter. Of not spending enough time with my friends and those relationships slowly dying. I’m afraid of the people who look at my work like it’s just an object, one whose value depends upon their approval.

I met the woman who told me about my “problem” at the Sophisticated Woman Magazine “Hat’s Off” luncheon where most of the guests wore elaborate hats. As each attendee walked in, she put one stroke on the painting I eventually created. It was a powerful exercise in giving up control. Most women began their painting stroke with this caveat: “You can fix this, right?”

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I didn’t fix anything. I enhanced, embellished, developed, added. It’s just paint after all. The marks we make don’t need to be covered. They need to be showcased.

At the end of the day, I trusted myself enough to let anyone paint anything on my canvas. I trusted them too. I trusted that lines and colors and shapes can always be lead to harmony. That none are damning in and of themselves. That I can direct them. I know how.

I enjoyed this practice so much I did it again the following night at Spring for Art in downtown Covington. There was a much bigger variety of participants this time– kids, adults, men, and women. The painting went in a hundred different directions. There were times I feared it would grow beyond my ability to control it. But it didn’t.

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My sassy friend was right– I’m not afraid. I’m not afraid to let my many fears exist– to feel them, breathe them in and breathe them out. And then move on. Keep painting. Parenting. Going to lunch with friends as often as I can. She wasn’t watching someone who wasn’t afraid of painting. I am. She was watching someone who wasn’t afraid of fear.

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Final product from the Hats Off Luncheon

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Final product from Spring for Art

 

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