I’ve only been creating art for about four years. If you had told me 10 years ago that I would be making and selling art, I would probably have dismissed it.
I did not see this coming.
I grew up in a house with parents who were exacting. My father was an electrical engineer, my mother a nurse. Everything had a place, everything was very ordered and structured. There was a correct way to do things. There was an incorrect way to do things.
Growing up in this highly structured environment helped me become a successful professional writer. I can work under pressure, get things done, and meet deadlines.
Perhaps if my parents had been hippies who had actually let my true artist nature bounce around the backyard in bare feet with a butterfly net in hand*, I would not have grown into an adult able to hold a job. (I may be slightly exaggerating here. My parents did actually let me run around the backyard in my bare feet… but I did have to clean up afterwards.)
Chaos, Lurking Beneath
It turns out.. lurking beneath the surface of these learned skills of organization and structure, there was a natural tendency towards creativity.
When ‘creativity’ finally emerged for me in my early forties, I didn’t recognize it as such. It was more like learning to embrace chaos. Or maybe it was just a desire to take a bunch of seemingly unrelated and scattered items and bring them together in a new way.
I believe it emerged when it did, because I was actually in the process of destroying the life I had carefully built for myself... but that’s a whole other story… for another day.
Art gave me a way to take the scattered pieces of my life, rearrange them, and make something new.
This is what I did in my latest piece, Hibiscus in the Desert.
I usually work in encaustic, but was feeling bored and unwilling to go into my cold-as-Alaska basement studio in mid February to work on anything. So, I went to the art store and bought some water colors.
This is something I could do upstairs. I thought it might get me out of the art rut I had somehow fallen into.
I got my water and brushes ready and started playing around. But, I just couldn’t help myself. After experimenting with the water colors, I realized, I just wanted to add more stuff to the paper, so I added tissue paper, pieces of cut up dictionary pages, string… I glued them onto the paper.
The glue was messy and I was getting it all over my hands. The tiny bits of dictionary pages were getting stuck to my fingers. The tissue paper bubbled.
The project was in chaos, but I let it be. Somehow, that little bit of playing around in a completely foreign medium had loosened things up a bit. I was soon down in the basement heating up the wax. I put on an extra sweater and the pair of wool slippers from Nova Scotia to keep my feet warm.
The Riskiness of Art
The same day I was doing this, I talked to a friend of mine who is struggling with her aging parents. She talked about her father’s desire to drive while going blind and her mother’s dwindling mental capacity.
I said to her, “It’s an impossible situation. You’ve got to balance the need for their independence with your own concern that they might accidentally set themselves on fire because one of them forgot to turn off the stove.”
While she was talking about that, I was talking about getting out of my art rut.
“How did you do it?” she asked, about getting myself out of the rut.
“You can’t solve a problem with the same thinking that got you into the problem… so I stepped outside my usual pattern and way of doing things. I mixed it up and tried something new. Once I did that, something broke free and creativity just started to flow,” I said.
Sometimes brilliant things just fly out of my mouth. This was not one of those times. This time I was just quoting Einstein.
“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”
Einstein was a creative genius.
Art, like living on your own at 87, is a slightly risky endeavor. It can break you open to new ways of seeing, new ways of thinking. And, that’s what I love about it.
While I still have to meet deadlines for work, I get to play in the realm of possibilities, dream of new ways of being in the world, and create my own piece of the world through my art.
It satisfies that part of myself that needs to rebel, to create something new, to dismantle the structures of things, throw them on a table, re-arrange them, and imagine something new.
Like a Hibiscus in the desert.
We just got our first “snow” of the season. I put snow in quotation marks because D.C. has not seen any real accumulation of the white stuff in a few years.
What fell from the sky was freezing rain, and a few flakes. The grass was covered for less than 24 hours, before it began to melt. Typical for this region. Winter in the Mid Atlantic always leaves me slightly disappointed. I grew up in New England, where winter could be long and cold.
It usually involved a lot of snow.
I have vivid memories of being in elementary school and walking out into the hallway and seeing the giant steam radiators covered with wool mittens, hats, scarves and the occasional snow suit. Wet snow made for soggy mittens. Dry snow was perfect for skiing.
Probably not as well versed as the Inuit who have multiple words for snow, but New Englanders know their snow.
The flip side of winter was the cold. There were many days when the best thing to do was to shove yourself as close to the wood stove as possible, look out the window at the snow falling, while sipping hot cocoa.
Warmth is essential to surviving long, cold winters.
Feelin’ The Bern
Which brings me to Bernie Sanders.
Bernie is no fool. He may be mocked for wearing mittens to Biden’s inauguration, but anyone who has lived in New England knows that mittens are essential. I’m guessing he was the only one on that stage with warm hands.
How admirable, for flipping the bird to fashion and formality and going with what worked for him.
Bernie, just being Bernie.
I’m not saying wear your underwear on the outside of your pants, but wouldn’t it be nice if we could all be a little more free to express our authenticity?
COVID has isolated us in many ways, but it has worked to peel back some layers to reveal everyone’s inner Bernie.
More of us are using Zoom to interact with co-workers. We get to see the inside of homes, hear pets and toddlers in the background, and peer into inner worlds never before seen.
When I turn on the local news, I now get to see the inside (and the neighborhood, and the back yard, and bbq area) of my local weather man’s home. His dog Fluffy frequently makes it on camera and he often yells out to his wife or daughter to see what’s for dinner or who’s home.
Seeing each other this way —with more depth and flavor— helps us understand and appreciate each other in new ways. It may even help us tolerate people we once considered enemies.
Call me crazy, but I think we could all use a little bit more of that right now.
Looking at the world from above the fray. Houkje writes about following her intuition, observerations on the magic of the natural world, and navigating creativity and chaos in an uncertain world.
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