I have come back to my blog several times since my last post in May.  Customarily, I try to blog a couple of times a month every month.  Over this strange summer, I haven’t found myself able to do so.  Each time I came here, I spent time with a mental butterfly net, trying to capture something of all that was floating around inside me, and failing.    

I have certainly not been idle in these intervening months.  I have been travelling.  I have been teaching.  I have been spending long, unaccustomed periods alone.  And I have been working.  Indeed, I have been working.  None of it has been the pretty, appealing work I would ordinarily share on my Facebook page, or blog about here.  It has had nothing to do with articles or acquisitions or teaching.  All of it has been deep.  All of it has been drenched in pain and clarity and blood.  And all of it has taken place between the covers of my very private journal.

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A transformation began on our trip back to England in February this year.  In March, I followed with a course that took me deep into the darkest places of my soul and what I needed to face in my life.  The effect of that course was momentous. As we neared the end of that course, I received a commission.  The commission was to write an editorial about the body of work I have created to face and deal with the loss of my children and my parenthood.  Working together with other forces in my life, this sequence of events acted as the catalyst for a great process of change and release.

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Each time I have returned here, I have wondered what to say.  Each time I have returned, my ability to stick to every-day subjects has failed me, my tongue stilled to all words but the truthful ones I needed to speak.  And so, as my life has slowly melted to liquid around me, I have distilled it all into the pages of my journal and remained silent here.  

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I can’t maintain that silence.  I have CREATE retreats fast approaching and deadlines to meet and connections to forge.  I must re-emerge into the world.  In emerging, I have carried my truth forward with me, and needed to find some way to speak about the truth-telling that had transformed my inner landscape.  Some way that honoured my truth but kept the personal details of it private for those who need and deserve my love, protection and circumspection.  A re-emergence.  I had to make a decision.  And so, over these few months, I have worked and thought and worked and considered.  Finally, today, I made up my mind.

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As a result, I am here.  I have decided to take a step I have never taken before in my entire life, since I started a private journal at 12 years old.  I have decided to share some of the rich, anguished, fearful, decided work I have poured into my most private of journals.  This time of my life has been and remains transformational.  To be able to move forward, I simply cannot permit it to hide in invisibility.  I am changed.  My life is changing.  I am leaving the personal landscape that has been my own for nearly thirty years.  I am emerging.  My future looks quite different from what I thought it would be a year ago.  One life is moving toward its ending, another life is evolving toward a beginning.  I am softly occupying the quiet no-man’s-land between them.  Honouring.  Recognising.  Allowing.  I am looking back with love and tenderness.  I am looking forward with eagerness.  But I am standing right here in my shoes, feeling grateful, feeling ready, feeling open.  Feeling the pain.  This is now, and it is full of power.  Thank you for welcoming me back.

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Bridgnorth, Shropshire, our former home.

When your past calls, don’t answer.  It has nothing new to say.

2014.  Ten years ago, we left the United Kingdom to make a new life in Canada, the land of my birth.  In this tenth anniversary year, my family and I will shortly make our first return visit to the land that I called home for 25 years of my life.  The impending trip has filled me with a longing for places left behind, filled me with memories of my years in England and Europe.  Today, my memories have wandered over my time working as a stewardess on a private yacht in the Mediterranean.  It was only a summer, but a summer that was long and filled with amazing experiences, travelling from city to city all along the Mediterranean coast, to Corsica and Sardinia, Elba and then across France, through Paris.  I had just finalised divorce from my first husband.  I had great prospects in the UK for school and love and a good life.  I took the job to get away, to be present and silent with my own thoughts, to decide what I wanted to do next.  My family were keen for me to return to the US, to take up the university direction that had been lost in the early marriage.  I had decisions to make.

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I am particularly remembering San Remo in northern Italy, not far over the Italian border from Monaco.  The ship spent awhile there undergoing some repairs. I had an opportunity to wander the city over several days.  I have three lasting memories from those days . . . the young men on every corner, each seeming more gorgeous than the last, who admired me openly, murmuring “Ciao, bella. . . .” in low bedroom voices; the strange absence of women – one or two beautiful, lively young women, and black-clad old women, with nothing visible in between; and the young man on the scooter who followed me everywhere, and who stationed himself by the end of the gangway for three full days, shouting “Bellissima, bellissima!” every time I appeared on deck.  🙂  But I am particularly remembering San Remo for a certain life turning-point, on a faint long-distance payphone call to tell my parents I was not returning to the US.   Sometimes, looking back, you can see those points so clearly, the moments of decision that change the course of your whole life.

I returned to the UK after my term in the Med was finished.  I enrolled in law school.  A year after my return from the Med, I remarried, to the man who remains my best friend and life partner today, 28 years after we met.  I went on to steep myself in the history and culture of Great Britain, made it my home, pushed my roots deep into that ancient soil.  Returned to visit the US for the first time ten years after I had moved to England. . . . Patterns repeating themselves . . . . As I recall feeling then, I have been feeling odd, mixed feelings about returning to the UK nearly ten years after we left.

College of Law, Guildford, Surrey

College of Law, Guildford, Surrey

After law school, I pursued a successful legal career for 15 years, achieving considerable success as a litigator, writer and teacher.  These were the same years over which we continued to try for a family, and over which I repeatedly miscarried.  Not long after my daughter was finally born, I achieved Associate Partnership with a firm 200 miles from our home, and the transformation of our lives that would lead to this place began.   Another one of those turning points so visible in hindsight.

A decade ago, I walked out on that professional career. I haven’t talked alot about why I left, or how I felt at that time. The truth is that I felt I was the loser – that the male bastion legal profession had succeeded in driving me out. My strengths and gifts as a woman were meaningless. My parenthood was a burden to them. I was judged on whether I could be more than any man, and still that wasn’t enough. I did not see my child awake all week, but still that wasn’t enough.  And so, after 15 years, I walked away.  We took the decision to start over, to make a life in Canada where I might escape my qualifications and have a hope of making a new career.  We sought a strong creative community where we could pursue our creative goals for the future and raise our child in a strong environment close to nature.  cropped-header-homepage.jpg

I and my family have gained enormously from that decision and live a life far beyond the modest dreams we held ten years ago. And ten years later, I know I was in the wrong career, that there was constant friction between my true self and a role that grated against my values more with every passing year. Intellectual challenge isn’t everything.  I have also learned that I do not have to use all my skills and talents in one place.  Today, I enjoy a career fulfilling the passion of my heart, as a book artist, writer and teacher.  My work is held in collections around the world, I am privileged to travel and teach, to write, to share my passion with others.  I have many opportunities to use my legal training and skills in other areas.  There is a natural flow to my work, my career and my life.  I am not fighting upstream or compromising my values and my goals.  I look at these images of myself ten years later and I see my true self. I look younger.  Fully occupying my life and my spirit. I see what is in the eyes. I have found my place.

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I return to England a very changed person, fully occupying a flourishing arts career and loving the life I live and share with my family.  I realise now how much of my old life was lived in fear.   Fear of failure . . . . fear of somehow being ‘found out’ to be not quite as brilliant as they thought I was . . . fear of losing everything.   I have finally learned that the only cure for fear is to face it.  And in facing my worst fears and taking control to make the change on my terms, I have reaped joy and the life I was meant to live.   This return visit will have joys and sorrows and alot of mixed feelings, I know.  But it all looks different to me from this vantage point.  I realise I am the winner after all. 

How many times have I written about change in this blog?  I grew up a military brat.  Change was the order of the day, and long into my adult life, I have found my psyche continuing to operate on the four year cycle my whole life revolved around.  I have always relished and embraced change, learned to never fear it or run from it.  Experience taught me that the best medicine for an aching loneliness was to get out there and get involved, make new friends, learn to belong asap.

Seven years ago today, that cycle of change brought me to Canmore to begin a new life with my family.  I had quit the legal profession that had stimulated my intellect and sucked out my soul for fifteen years, and turned my life back to my creativity.  We arrived in this town – rootless, friendless, homeless and with no more belongings than we could carry in our suitcases – in search of a more whole life.  We sought peace, and a community in which we could raise our family and pursue the creative life we both so craved.  I will never forget those first weeks, all of us aching in our torn up roots.  And what did this community do?  It reached out, opened its arms and embraced us. 

Now, seven years later, it is hard to accurately remember living any other way.  Our lives so filled with friends and colleagues who have gifted us with their hearts, their friendship, their creative spirit and their love, living life at a level of creative vibration and enrichment none of us could ever have dreamed of.  The last couple of weeks have been incredibly trying, as I have dealt with the fallout of a difficult decision I had to make to remove myself from a role I had fulfilled in different ways since arriving in Canmore.  That decision was painful, and the fallout has been, and continues to be, even more so.   And once again, this community of friends has opened its arms and embraced, have turned shoulder to shoulder to protect one of their own.  I have found myself close to tears often over recent days, and not because of the pain or the sorrow.  No, what has moved me to tears has been the intense loyalty, the love, the support and the encouragement that has shown me truly the depth of bond established with this community.  We came strangers seven years ago, and today we remain as friends.

I’ve ceased to wonder at the things life throws at me.  No matter what idea I have of how my life should go, or the things I hope it will bring for my family, I find life and the universe, God or the Great Mother, or Providence, or whatever you believe in has some very firm ideas for me.  Whenever I take a step off the path it considers right for me, I am given a firm and loving redirection.  Sometimes, if I don’t listen well enough, like any errant puppy being trained to the leash, that correction can be quite sharp and insistent, as now.  It knows me well, it knows if ties are permitted to remain, I will be drawn back to give myself again, to expend my energies fulfilling the drive of a passionate heart and detracting from the energy I need to expend in other directions. 

Seven years have taught me to love, have bonded me to this community in a way I have never been bonded in my homeless military life.    The decision I made created a space in my life into which creative spirit and opportunity rushed.  The last week has brought riches to my feet I never dared to hope for and showed me unequivocally that the decision was the correct one.  I am honoured and grateful for the support that has been shown me, for the many kindnesses directed at me from unexpected quarters, and for the staunch love with which I have been barricaded as I make yet another massive transition in my life.

I bear a tattoo that encircles my upper left arm.  It is of two entwined serpents knotted together in a Celtic knot pattern.   It means Respice Prospice, in Latin.  Translated, it means “Look backward, look forward.”  Now is a time to look forward, and I turn my face to the sun and let the shadows fall behind me.  Those knots mean more to me now than the day they were carved into my arm to mark the end of my old life and the beginning of my new one.  Now, they symbolise the knots of friendship. (more…)

From time to time in this blog, I need to turn my thoughts and my words away from the specifics of my art and toward matters of the spirit.  Remain with me if you can, forgive me if you can’t. 

As I have continued to function and work and rise externally, only a very few in my most private circle have known how I have emotionally and spiritually crawled through the last year, holding the schrapnel of my privately shattered world close to my chest.  The universe brought me the most incredible gift I have ever known nearly two years ago, permitted me to explore it, experience it and know it in my deepest self for nearly a year, before tearing it away from me brutally.  This very private loss brought me to my knees in a depth of unbearable grief far beyond anything I have ever experienced.   

All through this time, I have struggled and struggled and struggled for understanding.  I have prayed as I have never prayed before, for an opening of my spirit, for release from pain, to know what I must learn.  I have always tried hard to turn away from asking why? but I have not always succeeded.  As the months turn toward a year, the questions have altered.  I began to look at what I had learned, about myself, about my response, about other people and relationships and about the world as I have ever understood it to be.  The pain has been unbelievable, crippling in its extremity.  After eight months, I reached a point of prostration, laid so low, wide open and humbled and hammered thin, awaiting the understanding or the next blow.   

In excrutiatingly imperceptible increments from this low point, I have begun to rise, to emerge.   It was not until today that I realised I had gained my feet.  And it was not until today that I absorbed the lesson.  For today, I once again had to face a monumental task of letting go of something that has been incredibly precious and rewarding to me.  And I found, as I had not expected, that my spirit was ready for the task.  In being tempered as I have been over the last year with the greatest act of letting go I have ever been called on to do, I found today’s task positively easy.  It was different.  I was different.  I was open.  Wide.  I spread the wings of my spirit wide and let go.  The sense of release was profound.  My chest expanded and I breathed, deep and to the very bottom of my soul.  And into the space created there, my creative spirit rushed in. 

I don’t have all the answers to these things.  I can only know what I feel and what I understand in the vaults of my mind and spirit.  Today, I have understood profoundly that the greater loss prepared me to deal with this second loss that, in any other circumstances, would have been nearly as devastating.  And I found that I could.  I had the strength and the conviction.  And I had the peace. 

The wind of change is blowing indeed.  And I am listening to its song.

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http://evonnesmulders.wordpress.com/2010/11/28/ive-been-busy/#comment-237.   I have been enjoying the blog of a colleague today.  Evonne talks of the effect of big change on our lives, and I so closely identify with what she has written here. My life has experienced several enormous shifts over the last year, some for the positive, some not. My lesson of the year seems to have been to let go, and it is a lesson I’ve had rammed down my throat more than once over the last year. I find myself thinking and wondering about control.  Do I find these lessons harsh because I fight against them?  Letting go of something I’ve fought hard for feels like a small death, defeat, that the universe has won and I have lost.  That somehow what I wanted and worked hard for was a wrong direction that must be adjusted. That makes it feel so like wasted energy, focus and attention. Change can be an incredible gift, an opportunity to learn and grow. Whatever it may be, it is inevitable.
And so, in answer to the questions of why I haven’t submitted work to the gallery (www.caag.ca), I try to answer not with “I haven’t had time to create any new work” but with: “My life has been so filled with exciting new work, I’ve been hard at work in the studio on commissions and proposals. It just hasn’t been that kind of work . . .”.  No, it isn’t the work people have become accustomed to seeing from me, but it is exciting new frontiers and directions that are leading wonderful places.  Now that’s the way to embrace change, I think.  Don’t you?