And in the middle of teaching a workshop this week, but thought I’d grab these few free minutes that I have to write a post. First off, if you haven’t seen my other videos and posts about my artist’s residency, it was AMAZING! Truly beyond anything I had imagined. Being immersed in art, living with a group of artists for two weeks was just incredible. I had no distractions other than self imposed deadlines, and the occasional load of laundry, but otherwise I was free to explore, create, learn and be inspired by everything and everyone around me. It was magical. And added plus, in a group of 16 artists, there wasn’t a single prima donna! Not a one. Everyone was beyond lovely.
I’ve been home now for just over a week and already it’s all beginning to fade into the background. In many ways it feels as though I was just there, as in yesterday, and in other ways it feels as though it was all a dream and never happened at all or if it did, it was years ago. Time is strange like that. Still I have both Paris and Orquevaux on my weather app, so everyday I look to see what the weather is like over there. It’s a tenuous thread that still attaches me to that magical place and time. One of these days I’ll remove them both, but for now, it’s a bit like listening to an old phone message from my mother. I know she’s gone, but I can’t bare to delete it.
The piece I created while at the residency is pinned precariously to a large foam board and propped up on a desk until I can put together a more permanent solution for it. I started referring to it as The Beast until someone suggested I use the french word for beast, which is La Bête, and they’re right it does sound better, a bit less jarring, a little softer. Still, there’s something about the forcefulness of “The Beast” that I rather like, so I alternate between the two depending on my mood. My friends in Paris suggested I call it Genesis, particularly since I’m doing a series. I’ve bookmarked that idea for now.
Once this workshop that I’m teaching is over, I’ll get back to it, but for now, it waits for me patiently.
While at the artist’s residency I interviewed a few of the other artists and then ran out of time and so was only able to interview six of them. If you’d like to see what some of the other artists were doing while at the residency, you can watch those interviews on my youtube channel. They are all under the Interviews! playlist.
I also had time to create a number of videos on the process or more accurately my process. Here are a couple of those videos:
There are diversions and then there are DIVERSIONS! Organizing can be one of those. I finished the BIG piece I’ve been working on and instead of leaping into something new, I got sidetracked with organizing. Organizing my work space, it’s pretty small so it takes some doing to spend more than a few hours on this one, organizing my threads, I’ve got a LOT of thread, so this one is easy to lose oneself for a day or two or week or month, and organizing my materials, again there’s a lot of stuff, some of which I use often, others not so much, still it’s a sink hole.
It all began with a YouTube video, doesn’t it always, though?
See that huge bag filled with thread winders? That’s only some of them. I did another video for my Patrons over on Patreon and had a little give-away. Five lucky patrons are receiving a nice package of those thread winders from me. I haven’t sent them yet, because I keep finding cleverly hidden stashes of OH, so that’s where those were! threads that I then rewind onto those large cardboard bobbins and put in those 16″ long plastic refrigerator shelves. It makes my life so much easier when I can see everything easily and quickly.
But now I’m nearing the end of my reorganization efforts, not that one is ever really done organizing, it’s like laundry, AND I have a lengthy to-do list that is calling to me as well, but the nagging thought that I need to start a new piece has been buzzing around making life feel a bit more fraught than usual. A friend of mine used to say that she was both the team of horses pulling the carriage AND was also the driver with the whip beating those horses on. It’s all a bit like that. Still there’s good that comes from it. Organizing makes me breathe easier, having a to-do list calms that voice that screams at me, and knowing I will not feel calmer until I begin a new project, propels me on.
It’s all good, as they say.
The stoics suggest that each day is best lived as though it were your last. But if I did that, I wouldn’t get all that much done, because I’d just spend every moment that they’d allow with my children and husband and cat. So yeah, there’s that.
Now I have some fabric kits for one of my upcoming workshops to pull together… did I mention those?
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I’m not feeling great. I should probably just end this post right here. But, no, I’ll soldier on. Not because this post is important, it’s not, but because it represents all the things on my to do list and so much that is just life. No one needs to hear my laundry list of “woes”, we’ve all got them. More to the point is that I’m struggling. My mom’s death feels like an endless, bottomless pit of emotions. I know I’ll get through it. I know work-arounds that help me get through those days when things are really bad and “getting through the day” feels impossible. That’s when the put-one-foot-in-front-of-the-other method of coping gets enacted.
Grieving is a luxury. Some days require putting all of that to the side so that other things can be dealt with in a timely fashion and because life moves along, it doesn’t wait for those of us who are grieving. And I also know I can’t leap frog my way beyond the grief. It will be there waiting for me on the other side. It’s always there. Some days I’m luckier than others, the grief stays on the edge, other days it moves front and center. Those are the days when every step feels like I’m dragging a fifty pound weight. Those are the days when showing up feels like a monumental task. But I know from designing, from creating, from every day that I work on a piece, that even when I don’t “feel like it” showing up for the work is one of the most important things I can do. And, counter-intuitively, it is what ends up making me feel better in the long run.
All of this reminds me of something Michael Crichton once said. It was decades ago when I was the Director of the Aspen Writer’s Conference and had reached out to him to kick off the conference. He was game and gave an amazing talk in the Paepcke Auditorium at the Aspen Institute. I will have to paraphrase as there is no transcript of his presentation. He was talking about writing. Imagine, he said, if you were a commercial airline pilot with a full schedule of flights and woke up one morning and said, You know, I don’t really feel like flying today. I think I’ll go back to sleep for a few hours. Writing (any of the arts) is the only “profession” where people talk themselves out of getting up and putting in the hours. Everyone in the audience was quiet. But it doesn’t work that way, he continued. If you’re a writer/artist then you get up and you put in your hours, whether it’s flying a commercial airline or writing a book, or in my case, working on a new piece, writing up a new workshop, filming a new Youtube video or any of the other things I’ve got on my list of things that I need to do because this is the life and profession I’ve chosen for myself.
How does grief fit into all of this? It doesn’t. It’s just there. All the time. And as a result, it is I that must make the necessary adjustments in my life to accommodate these new feelings and emotions, while continuing to show up for the work.
So here’s the thing… I feel a whole lot better when I show up even when I feel awful, even when I feel things are rough and I’m tired, even when I don’t want to. I’ve also learned that showing up anyway is the single best remedy for not continuing to feel that way. Except that it’s also really hard to do. That’s the thing. It’s really, really hard and sometimes… sometimes it feels impossible. I know it technically isn’t, but it sure feels that way.
Marcus Aurelius wrote about pain a great deal. And in his writings about it he consistently focusses on choice and responding, rather than reacting. I’m a huge fan of Marcus Aurelius, not just because he was wise, but because this guy was one of the most powerful men in the world and yet he continued to do his best to remain humble, to avoid arrogance, to nurture self awareness and to treat others with respect and kindness.
So yeah, showing up anyway. Easier said than done, so I have found ways to do so that aren’t quite so laden, that make it a tiny bit easier. I call it setting myself up to succeed.
Here’s what I do:
Thread up a whole bunch of needles with different types and weights of thread. I use both Chenille needles and Milliners Needles.
Grab a needle, any needle, it doesn’t matter which one, and begin stitching. I have a couple of mindless go-to stitches that don’t require any thought. They are the meditative stitches like french knots, bullion knots, colonial knots, seed stitch, chain stitch, fly stitch, straight stitch and then I riff on them, which means I start exploring every aspect of that stitch. How many wraps can I make on a french knot before the whole thing begins to fall apart? (It turns out a lot more than you might think!). What ways can I stitch a straight stitch to create different patterns?
And before you know it, I’m playing!
Stitching, more than anything, changes everything, even grief, even pain.
If you’re curious to know how I did this, I made a video about it and you can watch it here:
This blog is a reminder of my mother. She was my biggest supporter and commented over the years more than anyone else. It was through this blog that I often kept in touch with her and towards the end it was the one full proof way I knew I could reach her, especially when my emails would go unanswered and my phone calls went to voicemail. I knew she would read whatever I was posting. Over the last few years when she could no longer speak, she would send me things that she knew I’d post here, much to everyone’s delight, because the things she sent were such fun.
Like this video:
And then there was this one that I loved:
Mostly I’m missing my mom and while I know this will ease over time, it’s still causing me to wake up many days feeling listless and kind of “blah”. I know from other periods in my life when I’ve felt down and a loss of energy that doing the things that I don’t feel like doing are the things that often make me feel better. It’s funny how that works. It’s counterintuitive, but if I can remind myself to do those things anyway, I’m halfway there.
It reminds me of when I was the Director of the Aspen Writer’s Conference and had organized to have Michael Crichton speak to kick off the conference. During his talk he was spoke of a work ethic. He was speaking of what artists, specifically writers, but it applied to anyone in the arts, often do. He said, imagine if you were an airplane pilot working for a major airline and got up in the morning and thought – you know I don’t really feel like flying today, I think I’ll sleep a few more hours. – You’d expect to be fired immediately or at the very least given a stern warning and if you tried that again, you’d be out of a job. He then went on to ask, why do artists treat their work any less seriously? If you’re a writer get up and write. If you’re a painter, paint and so on. The point was, our feelings don’t really matter when it comes to getting the work done. If we think of ourselves as an artist then put in the hours and create the art, regardless of the feelings.
With that in mind I keep showing up for the work, regardless of how I’m feeling, because I create. That’s what I do. That’s what I’ve always done. Today is no different than any other in that way. Yesterday I taped a video on this idea, and some of the things I do when I’m feeling low energy, which almost always comes hand in hand with doubt.