552288_417112461663489_622665738_nWell, hello dear reader.  It’s been a little while.  I had all sorts of intentions during and following our travels.  I planned to blog profound thoughts about the magical journey of growth and discovery through Europe. I planned a photo-journal piece.  I planned to tell you all about my upcoming events for the New Year.  None of that came to pass.  The instant my feet touched back on Canadian soil, life took me by the scruff of the neck and shook me like an angry dog.  Nothing of what I expected happened when I arrived back home, and a whole lot else unexpected jolted me through the days.  The last three months have been a singularly painful series of awkward leaps from rock to rock, wobbling precariously while trying not to look at the chasm surrounding my feet. Poison darts of pain and sorrow, loss and tragedy, anguish and drama have peppered my hide.  Tonight, I am sitting with a glass of wine and a feeling of fragility, as though at the penetration of one more dart, I will fly apart into a thousand pieces.

My marriage of thirty years has ended.  There, I’ve said it publicly.  After a year and a half of anguish and pain and vague-booking, there comes a point where you just have to face up and fess up.  I don’t plan to go into revealing detail.  I do not seek sympathy.  The end of a deep, profound and lifelong relationship is never easy or painless and it’s been written about a million times.  That’s not my purpose for writing this post.  My focus has homed in on one particular consequence of my impending divorce that has driven me closer to heartbreak than any other.

In order to afford my home alone, I have to rent out a room.  My home contains three bedrooms:  mine, my daughter’s and my studio.  And so, with no palatable alternative choice than to sell my home, I took the only decision I could.  I must give up my studio to have a room to let out.

Ten years.  For ten blessed years, I have enjoyed my own creative space.  There has been a rending inside to give it up.  My steps have been slow, my actions listless and fragmented.  I have worked in fits and bursts to begin the transfer of my desk and some materials to a much reduced work area in my own bedroom, all the while my spirit screaming in protest.  I got a certain way and then ground to a halt.  My heart has been breaking to lose the sanctuary of that precious space, and I came to know in my deepest soul what it has meant to my creative development.

Working slowly through the process of clearing, understanding comes to me in fragments.  That a transformation is taking place.  That letting go of this physical space would be a leap of faith into the one I have built inside myself.  That I have to prepare for a different future. That I don’t know at all what the future beyond the next six months looks like, and how that scares me.  I continued to stall, trying to ready my spirit for the rending.  This womb-like, precious space upon which I can close the door has become as essential to me as breathing.  Even when I am not working in it, there is the knowledge of it, the comfort of that knowledge, held like a pearl against my heart.

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While this procrastination and processing went on, I turned my attention to other matters.  I stalled out on the work to move my creative space.  Nothing much happened for a week or two.

And then, a few days ago, the Universe stepped in to take the decision out of my hands.  A faulty sprinkler main on the third floor resulted in seven flooded units.  The flooding included my bedroom and studio, damaging or destroying half of my materials, boxes of documents and family photo albums, portfolios of artwork, handmade papers, leathers and old books.  Suddenly, the precious buffer I had built against the world lay in a sodden mess around me.  Something inside me seemed to break loose.

2016-01-13 16.38.24My first response was to weep.  Exhausted, overwhelmed and overloaded, I wept.  On the second day, as we worked to pull everything out, I wept again from exhaustion and heartbreak, from overload and embarrassment at the sheer volume.  I possess one drawing done by my artist brother, the most talented artist among the five children of my family, the brother who died in March.  Holding the wet, stained, torn drawing in my hands, again I wept.  And then I gathered myself up and I set to work.

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By the end of the second day, my sanctuary was an empty shell with ripped up carpet, about to lose drywall and ceiling.  The entire salvageable contents of my studio were stacked in the middle of my living room, awaiting insurance adjusters.  My home was strewn with books, artwork and papers drying on every available surface, the deck piled with the unsalvageable paper and materials.  I felt fragile.  I lay on the couch late into the night in the silence of the empty house, surrounded by the dark hulks of upended furniture and piled belongings, and wept out all the accumulated pain, all the anguish of the last eighteen months, far beyond the loss of my studio.  And then I slept.

2016-01-13 16.38.38On the third day, I woke into a feeling of grace and acceptance, my heart at peace with a certainty that an important course correction was taking place.  I needed to let go.  I needed to emerge from behind the barricading walls of a studio full of amulets and talismans and touchstones and anchors.  I needed to trust that the creative space I had built existed within me and was not dependent on location.  I needed to trust in the strength of that structure and prepare myself for a different way of working.  I needed to release the mountain of art materials and teaching supplies, of old artwork and product and memorabilia to concentrate on what I enjoyed and did well.  The Universe had known it, even if I hadn’t.  It stepped in to force my hand.

2016-01-15 20.39.32Suddenly, despite effort and loss adjusters and insurance claims and a home in chaos and plans thrown into disarray, there was a lift in my heart.  The act of emptying my studio had been forced upon me.  In doing so, in seeing the task done, I felt released.  The burden of the decision making was lifted from my shoulders, the choices and decisions of what to keep and what to discard reduced by half.  I had been able to step through that doorway.  I felt liberated and gifted with an opportunity to reset, to redesign and revision.  To prepare.

And there, in that moment, I let go.

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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. 

I have come to a brief and natural pause in the intense work of the last few months.  Two enormous and important projects that have occupied my desk have finally been completed.  Art & Soul in Portland beckons in a couple of days.  For a moment, I am resting back in my chair, a sense of intense satisfaction filling me.

Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.  ~Theodore Roosevelt

I have been toying with two or three different blog posts for this week and find my thoughts returning again and again to one subject:  Joy.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines ‘joy’ as:

a : the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires : delight
b : the expression or exhibition of such emotion : gaiety
c : a state of happiness or felicity : bliss
d : a source or cause of delight
I have had an opportunity to observe the course of joy through my life and through my spirit of late.  I wrote recently about an important process of change I had undergone, or rather a transformation of thoughts that freed me from alot of expectation, both from others’ and from my own.  In preparation for writing today’s blog post, I took some time to revisit my posts of the last year or so.  An unexpected pattern jumps out at me and confirms my suspicions.  What I can see with clear hindsight is an emergence of joy.  Joy of life.  Joy of spirit.  Joy in living.  Joy in relationships.  Joy in the work of my hands.  Joy in the service to my community.  Joy in the work of my spirit.  Setbacks seem often to be transmuted into joy in my mind.  How did this come about?
We all have periods of trial in our lives, some thankfully brief, others deeper or more intense or requiring more healing.  I have experienced my share of those, and the last six years have been some of the most trying I have ever experienced.  I have at times over those years felt lost in a foggy world.  Emergence took longer, but it still came.  And with emergence came a return of joy.
I must admit, I have not tended to see myself this way, and so this has come as something of a surprise to me.  I mean that I have not recognised my own propensity for joyousness.  I have always put my ability to ‘bounce back’ down to resilience and doggedness, the terrier strain in me.  And yet, in recent times, a dawning awareness has crept upon me, and I have begun to recognise the underlying emotion beneath the resilience.  It is a deep well of joyousness.  And it has always been there.   And I have begun to see that it is my natural state of being.
When I wrote about the thought transformation I had recently undergone, the firming of boundaries and the release from expectation, I had no idea then quite how profound the effect of that transformation would be.  Eckhart Tolle spoke about this in his book, “The Power of Now”:
The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but thought about it. Be aware of the thoughts you are thinking. Separate them from the situation, which is always neutral. It is as it is.
Looking beyond myself and my own surprise, I see that the release from expectation has been a complete release.  Not just from their expectations of me, or from my expectations of myself, but fundamentally and primally – a release from my expectations of them.   That is the tie that has bound me.  By relinquishing at last all of the ‘shoulds’ from my own mind, the fog has lifted perhaps genuinely for the first time in my life.  It has cleared my vision and opened my eyes and my heart to the joy that resides there, and to the joy in others there is to respond to.

And so, I turned my eyes toward the presence of joy in the wider world.  I look at the people I am so lucky to have in my life, and I can suddenly and clearly see the glow within them that is their own capacity for joy.  And I can just as suddenly see how fundamentally I respond to the presence of a corresponding wellspring in them.  What a wonderful foundation for friendship!  One of the greatest and most lasting gifts this life has given has been the opportunity to connect on a deeply meaningful level with the friends, family, colleagues, students, teachers, artists who fill my life.  I see these relationships differently now.  I can see so clearly the common thing that bonds us.  I look at the work I do in my community, and how continually my passion for the work is fed by this wellspring of joy within myself.
What you react to in others, you strengthen in yourself.   ~ Eckhart Tolle
I open my arms wide and breathe deeply, draw the joy deep within my lungs.  It has always been there.  It always will be, if I only have the eyes to see it for what it is.  I am grateful for this understanding.

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.

What feeds your muse?  I have come to accept about myself that I work best when I’m vibrating at a particularly high frequency.  I think it’s the deadline phenomenon.  There is something about pushing against a deadline that raises my frequency to a level only dogs can hear and drives me to creative heights.  But the creative muse feeds on emotional and spiritual energy.  Sometimes in our lives, emotional and spiritual energy is consumed by life’s events, or driven into an internal vortex of grief and sorrow.  Right now, I’m looking for how I can capture the vast emotional and spiritual energy swirling around inside me and once again channel it toward expression in my work.  I have always turned away from my work when experiencing storms of emotion, for the nature of my work is meditative, methodical and meticulous.  Storming emotions block the flow for that type of work.  Perhaps painting to music, or allowing my emotions to drive my brush in creating painted papers a la Eric Carle that I can use as backgrounds might help undam the flow.  But will I want to use the products if they speak to me constantly of negative emotions?  I tend to surround myself with positivity, and the image of the tortured artist has never been one I ascribe to.  Maybe I should unleash the flow and then sell the products on eBay so I don’t have to look at them  . . . . .

http://www.wikihow.com/Act-Like-a-Tortured-Artist

vision board

 

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?