Thursday, March 23, 2017

Water Lilies, Blochs, and Glass Horses

Dear R,
How are you? I've been wondering how you are doing and what happened with your Philosophy degree? I bet you are almost done now. How did it go? I wonder if you are going to march for science on Earth Day as I am or if you've decided against it? I'm planting little flowers in my yard early because it's so warm this year, but so far no spring rain. The earth is dry like the gray dust from late August. We've been enjoying the blossoms anyway.

My daughter and I went to the art museum today to see the new Bloch galleries. It's the new exhibit in town, only better we get to keep it! A new permanent exhibit. There is nothing really like the feeling of knowing I can go back and see this work every day or every weekend and I think I might. I want to memorize it. I do.

Now I haven't seen as much of the world as you, but this exhibit was a bit like traveling to Europe without leaving home. There was so much. So much! One of my favorite Gauguin's as well as a beatiful Van Gogh of the Olive Orchard. Pastels by Degas and Cassatte as well as as two original Talouse LaTrec's! A Miro! A Kandinsky! Oh and a Dali Sculpture, one I actually like with a cast of his face in gold! A Braque, a Matisse, so many Monet and Manet and Pisarro and a study from Seurat!  There was so much, so much! A such intensity and such spareness.

Now that I've seen so much more work in person of the pre and post impressionist I am aware that they understand something about painting I still do not. They understand that painting is painting. They don't try to recreate something with paint to make the paint into something else. They do not try to make a picture with paint, they make a painting. I sure wish I could do that myself. However I cannot. We care about different things being so many decades apart. Why they were in love with the paint iteslf, I am in love with negative space. I dream about it. Sleep on it. And try to capture it. The impressionists loved light and air. They suggested, they made marks. They used the paint to create an impression, a glance, a casual bit of scraps that viewers could piece together with their imagination to make something greater than what was actually there.  That is one thing that is so great about them! We get to participate.

I on the other hand am not concerned with light or air. I have some surrealism at heart, though I love Jung and detest most of what I've read of Freud not that I found it too inaccurate. But what I care about is not light and air, but symbol and composition. What I one day want to achieve is the perfect composition of positive and negative space that somehow share layers and layers of symbolism, stories within stories. The texture is just icing-- that's where the fun comes in.

I went crazy on the book store sale, I bought so many books. Now that I am finally accepted that I am an artist forever that I cannot and will not quit, that I did not imagine it-- I can allow myself a few books to study and use again.

I wonder how your art with wood turning ended up. Did you make more pieces and what kind? I thought of you today because one of the artists had the same name as you, last name. I wonder if you are still reading Pablo Neruda? And I wonder if I will ever meet anyone else who can talk about art and science and philosophy and poetry as much as I'd like to. It could happen, but I'm sure it's rare. Now that I finally have some new art books, maybe a few new poetry books are in order next and some music I always save that until too late. I'm trying to trade some art for a cigar box guitar soon. I think maybe I really could learn to play. Guitar playing I haven't practiced in two years.

Since we last talked I opened up an art gallery with friends then began teaching as an English professor. Life has moved fast but last week was my first time to stop and take some time off. I planted flowers and cleaned out the old flower beds. I'm still working on them actually. There is nothing I learn from better than gardening. Gardening seems to teach me everything. Like that there an be too much of a good thing. I have some sweet smelling ornamental plant in the garden that is taking it over, but I'm trying to take back the garden for the rest of the plants. Life is like that. Too much of a good thing somethings and then there needs to be more room for everything else.

Next week, I fly to Savannah for a conference. This time I'm not speaking but I'm learning about teaching and learning. What a name. You coached me really well for the last conference and I think after about 90 hours of teaching/ lecturing I could never be nervous again of public speaking. It's beginning to be natural to me now. I only have to worry about getting a big head. After four hours of talking and everyone taking me so seriously, it's hard to go back to the rest of my life where people don't think they should listen to me at all. lol. So I guess it won't go to my head.

I'm planning a new series of art for this year and I even have been promised my first solo show in a an art gallery in the arts district. But mostly I'm glad that the kids are happy, the garden is planted, and I have a job for the rest of the year. I'm getting a few things published here and there and I'm just really feeling like the more real version of me. Sure there are some tough things, but I know that those rooftop views are worth waiting for. I bought a little glass horse for my daughter in the gift shop. She's going to start her riding lessons again this summer. There is nothing she seems to love more than horses. Big dreams start small and sometimes that is enough.

By the way you still owe me a BBQ lunch in NKC,

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Party like there's no tomorrow

Dear C,

It's late. I've been up watching a faux TV series about people who live like there is only a few months left on the planet. I've had a fabulous day in a way, working hard at some projects that I'm passionate about. I read a post by a friend I met this year named K. She wrote all about her faith journey as an artist and how she's come full circle as a painter for her visual art.

I wish I could tell my story so succinctly. I also wonder what happened to the me who might find so much testimony to give and so many connections to my faith with my art?
Have I changed my faith? Not really? Do I still connect it to what I do, praying before I make art and especially when I get stuck or am on deadline? Sure. Do I feel like my vocation or my calling as an artist has something to do with God, the creator of the universe? I guess I do. I just feel more uncomfortable talking about it, that somehow I presume something-- that people might be able to follow that train of thought or appreciate it. Why should I underestimate anyone who knows me? I don't know.

But maybe if I just try to tell you my story. I had this starry-eyed dream that I wanted to be an artist, and a Christian one at that. I wanted to figure out and live out those two terms together. I went about it so easily at first, a degree and so much study. Connecting with churches, even living at one for a year. Making liturgical art. Being on arts committees, even looking for a master's that connected these things. Abraham Hershel, one of his books changed my life. He wrote about how poetry and prayer and art and theology are all the same things how words are an arsenal in a time when so much language is forgotten or stripped away.

For a time, I felt that way too. Like my art was a physical representation of immaterial work. I felt I must believe that if I was called to be an artist then art must be helpful and important in some way. I struggled with this on a daily basis. And you see the story is not short or easy to tell. I gave up on making art many times but then I'd begin again. Soon making art was not something I did to contribute to the world but only to save myself. Although I found art and faith seamless, I didn't meet other people that felt the same way, especially non artists of course. Often I wanted to give up on church, but I never gave up on my faith.

Only twice did I almost give up faith. Once when I lost it by sheer accident. I had been even teaching Sunday school every sunday in  a church basement, but missing everything else. I was in a place that didn't value education or even faith experience very much. Somehow I don't know how I remember hearing some of the basic ideas of faith that Christians believing and saying, Oh yeah, I forgot about that. Well there are some things that would seem impossible to forget. But they are not. And I've told the story before, but I realized I had almost lost my whole faith altogether. It was horrible saccharine, sappy Christian radio that helped bring me to my senses. The other time I almost lost my faith was when I was in a marriage where I wasn't loved. I began to think that love was a myth and one day I decided if love wasn't real maybe God wasn't either. Having had such a long relationship with a personal faith and knowing that person of Jesus I just couldn't go forward with that idea. I just let it fall and hoped I could find a better way.

So being lost on both counts of wanting to be an artist and a Christian artist, I found myself a failure. I could do neither well or hope in either well, or live either well. I remember I found some old boards on the side of the road and I brought them home and painted on them. I moved my bed out of my bedroom and turned it into a studio. I tried painting with my terribly bad paintbrushes and old paint and couldn't figure out why it wasn't working. Now I see half of it were my tools were no good. The other, I was out of practice, if I had ever been in it.

I'm not sure how God rescued me. First he rescued me from not being loved. I told him one day that I gave up and if I really weren't loved then he need to rescue me. My husband was gone within a few days having decided to go a different path than mine. Next God had to rescue me from poverty. For I had been a hippie barefoot and pregnant stay at home mom who thought I might garden and homeschool and leave the world alone. He sent my family to rescue me and give me a place to live. He sent me first an art job where I had to paint all day for 6 months. That was pretty hilarious. I finally got in the refresher course I needed. Then he sent me to back to you, a great seeker church bent on making a difference and restoring people's lives. Goodness at once point I was in four Bible studies at once I think and I needed them all. I could make it from one day to the next from one group to the next.

Well skipping a lot of the story, I remember I helped another friend named K at her home. I painted a mural for her. I know it wasn't a perfect mural and it took a while to create. But when it was done, she felt more at peace than I'd seen in a long time. It changed something about her home and made it livable again after a tragedy. I remember how tired I was and how much work it had been. As I was going home, covered in paint I remember thinking. What if there is someone else out there like K, who might need some art. Who might feel better if they had something I made? It's like I could sense some of those empty places and walls and hearts of people like me and K who really could use a friend who understood what we were going through. It helped heal us to make that mural and I thought, is there maybe one more person who might need a mural or something? I told God that if there was I'd be willing to do some more art. I was imaging like one more painting or two.

It's been well over two years since then. I did another mural. I opened up a small art studio in a ware house. All with my family's help and encouragement. Then the studio became part of an art gallery project supporting emerging artists. A lot of other art studios popped up. I got to get to know my home town so many parts of it. Every time the shy, stay at home mother in me wanted to stay home I just told myself, Jesus loved parties, and I went out the door. I went to dozens of art openings and meetings and gatherings of all kinds of all kinds. And what is so funny to me is that I learned so much more about faith and the person of Jesus out there at all those parties than I did back in Church. Oh we talked about Jesus and who he was at church, but I saw people growing, changing, loving one another and encouraging one another out in my community. It was amazing. It was like reading a book about gardening verses actually getting dirty. There was no comparison really.

So I don't really have a testimony to give. I learned more from everyone else that I've met the last two years than I could have ever shared from my small knowledge of what faith might mean to me. And I did see a lot of good come from art that I may have called useless at one point. Even today someone wistfully thanked me for bringing art because it was such a cold dreary gray day and their building would be so much more colorful because of my art.

I guess I wouldn't change anything. If I hadn't experienced so much pain, how would I have related to anyone else? What would I have made art about? What would have propelled me out into my community to meet people and share something intangible like art? Sure I lost a lot of what I hoped for but I feel like I've gained everything. Did all that come from faith? And a specific faith? Sure. But what I guess my story is that I was the most lost I could be. Then someone found me and pulled me out. And since then that has made all the difference. I guess I can't stop. I'll continue to be an artist and a person who loves Jesus. When I see people with the same name go out on purpose to abandon the sick, the poor, the stranger, I can't agree with that. That makes me eve more hesitant to go about saying I'm a Christian, because the name picks up so many stains with each day.

But I will continue to live as much like he did as I can. I'll keep going to parties and meeting people and trying to follow this crazy artist path I feel called to. I'll keep planting seeds and flowers, paintings and prayers. I'll keep signing petitions, keep active, continue being friends with people of every path and every kind of family. Not because it's easy but because that's how faith shows me it's done. 

So I can't be there every day, every Sunday, Wednesday, Thursday night, and Saturday morning and Sunday night. I don't have time. I've gotta get out there and do the work feel called to do. Yes It's meaningless, just smearing pigments and oils on fabric, but it seems to help people. It seems to make the world a brighter place.  In fact I keep running into people that need art. Begging for art. It's what makes a home a home, a community a community. It's what makes us, us. It turns out art is important after all, it remembers, it tells our story, it makes the place where we live and work and breathe and love. It makes us human. That doesn't mean I don't love you guys, I do. It's just so fun actually being out here seeing so many people and hearing their stories. It's breathtaking. It's wonderful. It's heartbreaking. There is nothing like it. Try it. I think you'll like it too.  


Sunday, March 12, 2017

Scarves, Duvernay, and the 13th

Dear MFAC Hamliners and Alums,

It was so great to be at the winter Hamline Residency this year for a few days. I was inspired, encouraged and impressed by all the new faces.  I’m writing to you from my sewing room/ office well really it’s my mother’s office. I have no idea what my computer is in here really. Her doctorate degree is here above my head and a quilt I may never start is folded up on the table to my left; picture of my grandmother on my right-- along with the iron. It’s been out since I put the Boy Scout patches on and I them in the wrong place and they had to be removed.

So how is writing going for you all? It’s finally come to my late-blooming-attention that writing is something that always happens on the side.  And won’t happen without intention. I am maybe one of the only people I know who loved my Hamline critical thesis. I worked on it from the day I began as a student up until I graduated three years later. I took it from 40 pages to 20 pages. I guess I’m a research paper nut. This all makes sense to me now that I’m in my second semester teaching college freshmen to write term papers. Yes it all makes sense. I get some kind of evil enjoyment out of teaching other people to write essays. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. But I’m glad I fit in somewhere, thank you, God.  (Yes I know last time I wrote you Hamlinites, I was running an art gallery—ahh the life of the artist, things change so fast). Now I’m three blocks up at the community college. Same commute, same neighborhood—different art.

I get to write notes to the students thanks to Blackboard (a new invention since I was 18). I never ever sent a message to a teacher outside of class. hmmm. Now I get messages night and day. I’ve even gotten a call during class so someone could tell me about their intestinal trouble. Student teacher confidentiality has changed a bit since I was in school. One thing, I have the students write me letters at the end of the semester about what they’ve learned as part of their final. So cheers to me. I finally get some letters.

So my crazy need to write to people and have them write back is now fulfilled by being the cooky absent-minded English professor.  Yes, I like it. I also wear silly scarves and thick classes—it makes for the look, too bad everyone still thinks I’m a student. I don’t know what I do wrong there.

And I’ve decided to take my beloved Hamline Thesis and use it again! First I took it from 20 pages to 6 pages and submitted it to a contest and won prize. Then from 6 pages to a 1 page abstract and I got accepted to share at a conference--  and went to a conference and shared. That was fun. Now I’ve turned it into a book proposal. One of those books you read on the plane. I think that although I have fun trying to get to my novels I will get to these nonfiction books much faster. Let’s hope.

Besides all that I just got a new summer job. I’m going to be writing for kids. I’m writing and creating art curriculum for summer camps! Who knows how that will go. But let the paint fly.
Being a writer is turning out to be really life changing. I’ve been put on a Title III committee to teach classes that help students get college ready. Our textbook in English 90 and 101 is Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. We watched the new documentary, 13th, about the thirteenth amendment by Duvernay… I’ve never learned so much about the country that I’m living in and what people overcome to just live. Just live. All my students want to be better writers. I’ve got single moms, people from every continent on the globe and several islands, basketball scholarship winners, hopefuls, baby boomers, survivors, and kids from down the block. We all jump in to writing together. I share with them what I learned from you all.

I can see it changing lives. After each student leaves, I take a small breath. There goes one more person who will now get a better job, have a chance to get an education, someone who will make a difference.  Next fall I’m teaching English 102. The textbook is Hamilton. Profs are fondly calling the class: Find your own revolution. I certainly have.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Money, Fish, & Saints

Dear V,
    Thanks for sending me a text on Sunday. It got me up and out of the house. I just kept repeating it to myself over and over as I went about my day. My girl sits with me in church now because she's too old for kids church. It's so nice to sit with someone. It about breaks my heart these last few years-- I just hate sitting alone. 
I went to visit my cousin in Kansas a week ago. Sweet K told me to sit with them, "We are back row Baptists," she joked. I wanted to say, I'm a front row Pentecostal, but I didn't. Cause even though I like to sit in front this past 4 weeks I just have a hard time being in any seat at all. My family is so good to me, my other cousin bought me a Bible. It's teal. It's beautiful.  She found out that the Bible I have now is navy blue, my least favorite color for something like that. It was the only color choice the day I bought it at a Target. I remember the house had burned down, we were in a hotel. I might have been away to school as well. And I needed that Bible all of a sudden. The hotel or where-ever I stayed didn't have one. So I went to Target and they had one! I wrote in the front, To Polly from State Farm and Target.  My insurance of course had to reimburse everything I bought in those four months for things I needed to live on. I got 5 calligraphy markers and a Bible, some crayons and a journal. That's what I needed to live on I guess. Those were my staples.

     Funny to think of it now when it seems so long ago it happened to someone else. But when I open my Bible there are those words in the front. Maybe that was a cruel message to write to myself because it pushes in that bit of loneliness. Today on the radio I heard that some people believe that loneliness is genetic. I've also heard it's a disease. I've heard that it's learned. But probably if I admitted it, it's why I write letters. I'm looking to connect to someone else. Someone who might care or understand. That's what letters do in a way. But they are inherently selfish. They are time to talk about oneself but the the other person can't interrupt, they have to wait their turn. A polite selfishness they might be called. Or the best way to reach out and be selfish at the same time :)

     I remember my first pen pal. I had just learned to write. I found another five year old. And either my mom or I had the idea that we would be great pen pals. I remember it as my idea-- of course.  Crystal D. agreed. We wrote back and forth for about 13 years or so. Until we graduated from high school. I found her on FB a few years ago and she still remembered me. And what did the letters contain of importance? Nothing really. Always a greeting and a closing. Always a school picture.  Something seasonal. A questions about the other person. Something about grades or 4H, something simple. Maybe it was the handwriting, the paper, but another person broke through into my world every time I opened a letter. They were always magical to me. I used to sit and wait for the mail man and open and close the little golden slide for the mail when I was really tiny. 
    I had many pen pals over the years: friends, cousins, acquaintances, teachers, professors, I saved all your letters of course, they are so beautiful. Full of swirls and verses and calligraphy and designs. They just held that palpable sense of presence.

I wonder if loneliness may not even be loneliness at all. What if that feeling in the gut were actually the need to share, the need to create, the need to connect. I haven't had much time in the art studio since I started teaching. I took on too many commissions at once then took on teaching and it's been rough. Oh and I let my kids take on two instruments, a sport, choir, chess, boyscouts and now youth group. Oh and I started volunteering with two non profits. I can't keep up. I can't understand the emails. I can't figure out which group they are from. How I know them. Which of 8 teachers and three jobs is contacting me. Which of 7 clubs? It's like a card game I'm playing in my sleep. I'm never caught up. What I may be really is sleepy. I meant to go to bed early an hour ago. But every night I think maybe I'll just throw out one more line.

    Maybe I'll apply for one more job, try for one more poetry contest, write one more blog, submit one more story, upload one more image, have one more idea. Each day at the end of the day I just feel the need to connect. College was perfect for me. Always people, always a millions hellos and goodbyes and how are you's, always a dozen comments about grades and small things. Just like a letter. Maybe it's like my liturgy. I like endings and beginnings and middles. I like waiting at the door or walking up the path for a word. I'm always looking for a word. I'm always in mid letter to someone, even if I don't write it down.

  Honestly, today was rough. And I use that word honest in its true sense, meaning I'm not always honest. I love to make everything lovely, everything right, everything tall tale. But honestly today was hard. I tried breathing, yoga, psalm 103, praying in the spirit, walking, and praying again. Today was hard. I don't know why. It could be public radio, the news, the lack of sleep. It could be working so hard to make things beautiful and have some kind of order. I made black eyed peas this week among other things. We put up a beautiful tree. Today, I found out I can only work so many credit hours as a professor 10 max. So that was a blow. Because the maximum is almost enough to live on. I was hoping I could just keep adding credits until I had finally achieved that 20 year dream I've had to be in the black. That was hard news. Some days, I think wouldn't it be nice to teach and never have to do ... again. Other days, wouldn't it be nice to just write and never teach again.... It goes on. But each day I have to do different work. Tomorrow is illustration. Today was teaching.

    I wanted to bring some joy to the end of the students' semester. The students had worked hard. They have enough life trials among them to write a hundred novels, or to to cry a hundred pools of tears. I wanted some joy. So we had a talent show. That's a nod to my writing program at Hamline. We always ended with the talent show. At the end of the semester I'd always feel like a failure. My critique always went long and felt really harsh on my work. The lectures went on and I felt inadequate. But then the talent show would come and I'd feel all was right again. We are all talented. We are all full of so many gifts. I wanted that for my students and it worked. The talent show was awesome. The class was buzzing before I got there. So much energy. There was singing on an old guitar with a busted case. There was dancing, drawing, lyrics, poems, recitation, how to tie a tie. Original music sung without back up. It was incredible. I hope everyone went home feeling not any loneliness but like a winner like they did have a voice.

   I don't know with a day like that how I could be discouraged. I've felt too discouraged to write any letters actually. Not that I didn't have anything to say but I just didn't know how to focus and connect. I got a rejection this week from a poetry contest, but I really felt rejected about the art thing more. I made so much of it and I wonder what was the point. The portfolio review I paid for, the editor told me to experiment but I feel many times a day that what he really said was give up. I don't want to give up but I sure feel down sometimes. I get talked out of that down and out feeling about art and its inability to pay bills or have movemnt then I'm right back there. I always have this fight with something outside of myself that says my need to make art and the crazy idea that making art is pointless. I know it's not. I really really know. I mean I am buying a painting this week that I put in my house. I thought about it after I saw it-- for a year. It sums up my whole life and my hope for the future. It gives me hope. So I know art is important.  So why do I go there...

      My friend from  high school called this week and we had so much fun talking. I used to make comics in high school for the paper. I go to that same place when I draw now. I have to forget all the formal training to do any drawing at all and think like a child again or at least a high school girl. That's what I've been focusing on in my art. Trying to find that muscle memory of a child. Maybe it will go somewhere. But the personal signature of touch of someone's handwork-- you can read it in someone's handwriting and in their art. It's as recognizable as a voice.You can recognize it as theirs. Why is that?

   I'm so hard on myself. I hate that I'm the type of person to hold on to things for so long. Why did I persist in writing penpals for so long. Why do I hold onto past hurts, past people, past dreams I don't even want anymore? Why did I persist in so many tasks (or the idea of the perfect laundry room and linen closet? Who cares?) Why do I keep making art? I had the thought today that art is one of my friends. No matter what I lose. Even when I lost all my things in fire, I still had my art. People got busy, I still have art. How hard it is for someone who doesn't have that creative side of themselves as their own friend. This weekend, on the phone, my high school friend said I'm the most creative friend she's ever had. I find that impossible to believe. For I feel it's my lack of creativity that makes it impossible for me to succeed in my art and my writing. Just when I was feeling that why-do-I-make-art-for-no-reason-pain, I opened an email. It wasn't a rejection. It was an acceptance! This painting below will be in my favorite magazine that I read in college. The one that kept me making art. I make few specific wishes but I really wished to be in that magazine some day. Now I am going to be! This image will appear in the 2nd issue next year. The one about social justice. How this little fish is about social justice is hard to say. I tried to explain below and I guess they took the bait. Hah. Bad pun intended. This little fish is about my making art and my writing and my poetry. Every day I go out there and insist that throw out another line. I insist that if I'm called to be an artist something should come in. It really should. It's not my job to bring anything in, only to throw out my line. Surely I should have given up by now, but I continue. I made this painting about that faith I wish I had more of. It's about that story-- you know the one--- where Peter goes fishing and there is money inside. Oh my favorite story really. I hate to say it. But it's a beauty. When I need to pay my taxes I sometimes wish I were a fisherman, because surely it can't be any harder. Here's what I wrote:

Fish Sense
12 x 12 inches
Acrylic on Canvas

The Biblical image of a man too poor to pay for his toll to cross the water has always stood out in my mind. As an artist, every time I am faced with a need, I remember Jesus words to Peter. Faithfulness to do the daily work we are called to do streams from the words of Jesus. He plans ahead before we ask, and there is always enough.  This painting speaks to my calling to be a Christian artist and illustrator; to have faith like a child, and trust that each piece will come in time. If I have the sense of that small fish, I will be ready with some to share in time of need.  Part of a series of art, I created this in the style of stamps commemorating first loves. I love the play between words and images. Sometimes I want my art to be signed, sealed. I want a higher authority to stamp approval. Sometimes I feel torn away from a book of squares just like me. Most days I feel stamped flat … waiting to be delivered. More and more, I feel I’m being sent with long story folded neatly inside.

No I don't know what the 60 stands for. I can't remember. It just seemed right. Later I'll look back and find a perfectly logical reason possibly written down. And here when I feel inadequate and faithless and dissappointed, here in my own hand is that I still want to be a Christian, and I still want to be an Artist and that I plan to continue not giving up. Well and it's going to be in print. That's a big deal. It's like the old me just popped up and preached a sermon to myself. So funny, but good. 

How are you doing? I hope Christmas is easy this year and light. I hope you are doing well. I'm impressed with the art you are doing and the running and the momming. Even when you do not do anything, you are beautiful and wonderful to me. You are a gift to me and I'm so glad we grew up together and for our words to each other.   

Love you,

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Yoga, Hate & Rice

Dear P,
I'm writing you from my little blue office at my favorite writing time of one in the morning, I can hear snoring and it's chilly in here now that November has decided to get real. So after a mildly successful night of cooking ginger rice and steamed veggies, I have a second to write to you. No, my kids ate jelly and noodles, not together but you get the picture. You said something the other day when we were at one of the best cafe's in town. Something about how yoga was something you'd never tried because, what if it were somehow not spiritually "okay" for Christians to try. This is something I'd heard quite a bit of when I was younger, and still thought about a bit as the exercise of yoga seemed to become the new norm. There was a lingering doubt that something from another religion might be improper or unsafe. I couldn't decide either way, so I just put it off.

Back when my daughter was just one. I was asked to help build one of those environmentally green houses. I'm not a builder. But a friend had salvaged lumber from a barn rebuilt into a wonderful earth friendly homestead. I simply helped paint tin ceiling tiles. But others stained and nailed on the beautiful cedar siding. On the second day everyone was really sore (except me). They all did some yoga stretches.  I never seen or heard anyone do yoga at that point. So when someone called out barking dog or something like that and they all bent over to stretch, I was suddenly filled with a fit of giggles.  I had to leave the circle and let everyone finish stretching in peace. Since that time the thought gnawed on me that stretches imitating nature, animals, and something as silly and wise as my dog-- couldn't be dangerous if done with a sincere heart.

It's taken me a decade, but I've finally gotten around to taking my first yoga class. I took dance growing up and all through college. But in the last two decades I'd say I'd fallen off the exercise wagon, and even rolled down the hill. There's no way at this point I could jump back into a dance class. I've lost every muscle, all my stamina and probably would be better at rolling that standing. So when I had the chance to sample some yoga classes I couldn't pass it up. The first class I tried was a roller class.  These foam rollers are fun to sit on, balance on, and when used properly it's like you are giving yourself a really great back or leg massage. Sure it was hard, and I probably looked ridiculous, but no one was looking-- everyone was trying to stay on their roller without falling off. There were quite a few jokes and some pretty big laughs.

What I appreciate about that class is what happened three weeks later. I went three weeks in a row. By the third week I could stand up without pain. I wore high heels on Sunday and I haven't been able to wear any since a foot injury in college. I walked around the shopping center. I raked leaves. Today when my brother stopped by the house. I turned around while sitting in the kitchen chair. I could turn around and look behind me. Until that moment I hadn't realized that I hadn't been able to turn around in a very  long time. Those muscles are finally becoming unlocked.  With all that energy I can think more clearly. And I can consider the possibility of getting back to exercise and some day dance. Okay I do dance around when no one is looking, but you know.

So I guess I just wanted to share that after being brought up in a really restricted view of the world, I think getting out and trying new things is humbling but good. And staying home just writing and painting gets so stale when I can't think, or my  muscles are cramped like I'm stuck in an shell. Yoga reminds me of ballet only it's much slower. I like the part where we are asked to breathe and stretch at the same time. I imagine the air getting into the muscles that have been so stuck for so long. And it seems to be working. Being able to move and think more clearly surely makes me happier and ready to do what needs to be done-- and maybe a few more new things on the side. This morning the little guy pulled out his morning verse after breakfast and read from Mark. It said that Jesus said that those that aren't against us are for us-- giving a cold cup of water to someone is being close to God. I liked that. Those yoga stretches are like a cup of cold water to me. I haven't been able to move in a long time. When we were asked to breathe deep and let out the ohm sound, I realized I couldn't breathe deep and I had lost my voice, I was all crackles and whispers. I don't think that's God's best for me.  Having a voice surely must be important to faith. So I guess finally getting around to trying this new thing-- it has helped me put into words and experience my hopes. Yes it's true. Spending time focusing--- in a group of people-- on stretching and breathing, felt really healing to me. I could focus on whatever life giving word I needed, or just on the movement, or the fact that my muscles were slowly coming back to life.

I've been like a petrified rock, literally. Being a person who can turn around and say hello, who can walk around better, stand longer-- How great that it. It makes me think that all those times in my life especially when I was really young, when I thought that keeping people inside or outside my wall of personal beliefs was the only way I could go about things. I continue to find small ways where I still have let myself follow that ideology and each time, I try to find a way to break that down. Yoga was another way, I could take down another wall. Pushing away people that might believe differently than me only makes me the loser. I learn so much from everyone I meet. Sure I want to be a person of faith, but I can't do that by myself. I need to get to know other people and I need to receive it if they have a cold cup of water for me. That gift for me can only help my faith; turns my faith from something that I hold tightly in my fist until it dies, to a new journey that builds and grows with each person I meet. That's what builds me up and takes the walls down. And I think that must be a harder, stretching way of living, but if it means I'm not locked up anymore I think it's a good first step. I'm just so thankful.

Last week was so tough and I'm glad it wasn't only me. The election hit hard. You told me you cried three hours. I cried off and on for two days probably about the same. A lot of women I know cried for hours. Not that we wanted a woman to win. We wanted women to win. We wanted abusive language, and the permissiveness given to abuse to be put down. Instead it was raised up and placed over us like a terrible cage. To me there has never been a more horrible feeling than to wake up knowing that now it was acceptable even preferred for me as a woman to be thought of or treated as nothing. I suddenly realized a lot of people feel that way every day and I'm just new to the game.  I've been fighting that feeling for two weeks I guess now (I suddenly like black and not wearing earrings both really odd for me). The thought that anyone who is Christian would condone that idea made me want to give up on being a Christian. I couldn't go to church last week. I couldn't call my friends, what if they had supported ideas about walling out the world in a hateful way? I didn't know who to trust.

I'm sorry I didn't check in with you. I think hearing hate talk must make us less trusting. What a surreal feeling. As these two weeks wore on. I found myself feeling more hopeful and strong. I did some work that helped me go back and remember who I really am. What do I love? What am I here on this earth to do? Those are great questions. One thing I am sure of, I want to live life differently than before. I've been living on adrenalin. Everything is flight or fight. I'd like to stand up this time and move instead from a sense of strength and peace. Building up walls against people in my life won't help. Changing my label from Christian to something else won't help. But humbly taking a breath to reconnect from being mind-over-body. That is super helpful. For I am not just a brain in a vat. I'm a person. I'm a woman. I have faith, but not alone in a box. I am on the journey with everyone else in this life. My favorite line from one of my favorite poems goes, "For I am woman. All things began in me." A humble bending, and a deep breath to regain my voice. Those can only be for me.

I loved coming to paint with you this summer. You are wowing me with all those art shows. All my art is back home and hanging in the new family room. It fits pretty good. Thanks for helping me figure out how to lead a class discussion. You're the best.


Monday, November 7, 2016

Fires, New Names & Old Men

Dear R,
Thanks for asking about my new pen name. I'd be happy to tell you how I chose it. It's funny because I keep thinking back to our Freshmen orientation class, a bit like the English 101 class I'm teaching for the first time this semester. I ask the students to get into groups to do peer reviews. Every time I think of our group-- you and I and Sally and Rachel I think wasn't it?--- and how we discussed our papers for class and how little we probably knew about writing back then.

Being a woman is hard. And one of the those hardships is that our names change. I, like many, found this romantic. However when I found my husband was going to leave our family, I had just purchased a website Finding myself broke, homeless, and with little prospect due to my job experience as a student and stay at home mother, I figured I'd need my website to bring in some funds. I felt the irony. But I also had a fierce determination that no one should meet my children and wonder how they were related to me. I'd keep my children's name.

I've been truly fine with this until I went to an illustration meeting a few weeks ago. I had my fine art studio name on my portfolio of children's book illustrations. The group consensus was my fine art studio (New Thing Art Studio) really wasn't the same as my illustration work. For that I'd simply be, Polly McCann-- Author Illustrator. They even commented on how lovely and memorable my name would be in that profession.

I agreed. I like my name, always have. I even figured that if I some day make it in that field, I wouldn't mind where my name came from. I'd take advantage of it's present and future, not it's past.
And I say again-- being a woman is hard. People told me to be careful how I signed my paintings because women's names change. Being a woman artist is hard enough without the confusion of a name change. What if your husband dies, someone argued, and you marry again? So with that thought in mind I always signed my paintings with my first name, reasoning Polly was rare enough to be a good consistent choice. I always sign my name in the way I did in elementary school. There is something in me that says, I am-- and have always been-- the same artist on the inside, no matter my age, so I will sign my name the same as always. My hands remember the way. And I always run out of room. But that is consistent, and something inside me says that is important to me. Childlike-ness is something important to my work.

Back to the pen name. I was going to keep my real name. Then I needed to finish my portfolio to show a sample of my art. My post card and website needed to match. After a nightmare I had the other night, I felt I needed a pen name. The nightmare wasn't too frightening, just enough-- a little clue, a little hint that something inside me needed a fresh start and a fresh name. Consciously I was resistant. I like my name, I wanted to keep it. But with my work on dreams and the subconscious, I knew better. I have to honor my subconscious, it's where my imagination comes from, my dreams and my imagination are connected. I knew if I could find a pen name, I could possibly prevent, or most rightly cure any creative blocks I face. If I listen and am true to myself, no matter how deeply I've buried that true self. My creative work will be easier.

You and I think a lot a like. You like me know what it's like to think so intuitively and so unconsciously-- we are always going back after the fact to trace reasoning other people walk through at a constructive, orderly pace. Well that's what I had to do.

Naming yourself is not a process that I recommend. It's not fun or easy. It's heart-wrenching. It's painful and it's something I hope to never do again. It helped to be on deadline, or I might have put it off indefinitely. Over the dinner table, a few nights before the naming ceremony of myself-- my family had joined in. We pulled together names of old relations, new conglomerations, and scores of famous people, including George Washington Carver-- one of my all time favorites. I had wanted to name my son George Washington Carver McCann but wasn't allowed to. So I named his middle name Gardner as a compromise. I wanted to convey that sense of changing the world through seeing a need, and filling a need-- by being close to the earth and creation, by loving and caring for people with compassion.

Naming myself was quite a challenge. I tried every word and symbol I ever loved. There was a song on the radio last week that said something about a new name and I knew I needed one to be true to myself. My first published poem in an international journal was this poem that has come back to me many times this year "Searching for a place/ I have a name/ thats not a curse—/a softer rock, a dream."

 Finally late at night, in agony, I looked around for important American names in history. Polly is a very American name, and despite my own surprise, I've come to think of myself as an artist who does Americana, and a writer very concerned with America and who we are as a people. I came across of course, Dolley Madison. Dolley and Polly rhyme. But I've always remembered this woman in our history. Why? I remember standing in the White House, one of the last years this was allowed. I stood in line for hours, at Christmas time. When we finally made it in, the house was so small. The rooms so --- uninteresting. Just a house. Just an old house. The red room. Not even interesting names to the rooms. Of course, I was sixteen, and everything was uninteresting.

What I do remember was the painting of George Washington. It hung on a white wall. The guide told us how the painting was rescued by Dolley Madison from a fire. My sixteen-year-old self was not impressed. The painting was not that beautiful or extraordinary. It was a large size. Almost ordinary in that I'd seen the painting before in history books. I'd heard of Dolley before. And I went on with my life.

Over twenty years later, I needed a name.I decided to look up Dolley Madison. I read a letter written by her, to her sister. Dolley packed up what she could, waited by the window and escaped an attack by the British who did burn down that first White House. The story did not seem ordinary to me now. I'd lived through a house fire, and there were some things I had saved. All of my paintings had been hanging at a short show at my church. Only one was lost, the painting I did for my daughter.

Being someone who has been through a house fire; someone who has lost a house to a spouse who valued independence above all else; and rummaging through this election season with a burnt and broken heart, I have felt mostly above all else-- traumatized. Reading and watching words from a certain candidate that abuse woman and perpetuate the abuse of woman, has not made my blood boil. It has made it run cold. I've lived under abuse. I've lived a life where I was not allowed always to have my own opinion, or my own choices. Where I wasn't always allowed compromise or receivevcompassion or even grace. If I didn't chose that kind oppresive of life for myself and my kids, how could I allow that for my country. For all women, for all children? And for all the women and children in other countries, watching-- emulating-- taking from our model. It's like... I don't know what it's like. It's like someone has said, you might have to go back and live in that abusive neglected way again. Only it won't be your choice, it won't be up to you and it will be everyone you know, with unknown casualties, even the loss of your country itself.

I guess it's hard to see how personal trauma could affect my politics, but maybe you can see it. I even signed up for trauma counseling for abused women. It starts in two days. It's been hard to wait. This season and my own journey, it also convinced me not to overlook Dolley Madison. What did she do? She saved something. Not an old man, in a very ordinary portrait. Not someone who represented oppression by rich, white, men. No, she saved a story. I think when America was still in its birth period, it was hard not to see it as a figment of people's imagination. To me, Dolley saving a painting of George Washington, is a picture of Dolley saying-- our story is real, our story is important. Our beginning is worth saving, because we have a future and people will look back on this.  And of course I have. I've stood in front of art that Dolley saved, in a White House rebuilt, in a strong capitol of an America that wasn't imaginary. A real place. A real time. A real future built on that story, on that dream. And Dolley saved art to tell that story. She thought art was important. That what artist see is worth saving. Something to build a dream on, story on, something to build a people on, something to build a nation on.

So there, around two in the morning. I quickly typed out Polly Madison. It sounds nice. Looks nice. and inside that name is a woman who decided to save two things: our story, and the painting of it.
That is what my art is all about. I want to tell the good stories. The stories I hear, the places I go, the people I meet. I want to tell my own American story. I want to save the beginning and build on that dream until it's not imaginary anymore. I don't care if it starts with an old, dead, white president. It starts with a smart woman, and some paint. That is what I escaped from in my fire. And that is how I keep going-- that and the sheer love from faith, family, and friends like you. Hearing the sound of a new name, pronounced aloud by others-- priceless. I felt the name was light, clean and free.

Kiss those kids for me, and tell E his art has inspired me.
Much Love,

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Nothing to say that is readable

Dear A,

Thanks for taking me for my first manicure. I loved it. I felt so respectable for the entire week afterwards. Amazing. It made me realize that taking care of myself is not something I should put off because it's an extra.  Taking care of myself sure does make the rest of everything else go more easily. So I created this blog so I could be totally honest about who I really am by writing in public to my dear friends about all the things I never have a chance to say in public. However as the weeks have worn on I feel like I have nothing I can say that is readable to anyone.

It's been tough. But I realized just how much help I really need in getting a move on and a leg up from all that time in an abusive relationship that made me think I was crazy, stupid and not good at anything. I know that's not true. But sometimes I forget and go back into that mindset. I think it's mostly a mental game that keeps me from pursuing the things I need to do, like getting published or finishing my portfolio.

But I also forget to take care of myself. Working too hard without breaks is how I've made it to the moment today, with a pulled back, and a lot of other gunk that needs worked through. I remember, April so long ago. 2007. I came to KC to visit and we hugged for the first time in what felt like a decade, and we knew that I had to come home. And when I did you met me at the airport. I think those tears we both had, were some sort of hope that we could both make a better life for ourselves if we just had someone to remind us who we are really were. Someone who'd been there when we were our most authentic selves.

Honestly there is no one on earth who makes me feel like the real me than being with you. I just can't decide who the real me is and how I fit into this place called the midwest. We had a few moments those first years I really love to remember. Dying Easter Eggs, going to that one breastfeeding group for moms a couple of times. Every time we were together I felt like the world was finally right again. Cousins maybe are like that because I've seen my kid act the same way with their cousins.

Friday nights for the next 10 years are still open. We should spend more together. I'll get over my fear of the old places I used to go. I realized the other night when you were here telling me how it is-- that I don't drive to your neighborhood because I get dizzy-- it's all those old flashbacks trying to come back. Flashbacks from my old life that I'm trying to forget. I think that if I just practice a few more times, it will be easy. If I could move 1,000 miles I can drive 10. It's really not that far.

We got a good thing going...