Thanksgiving Week Off
I’ve taken the full Thanksgiving week off. I am racing the cold in my studio in the barn. I am trying to finish the painting on my Self-Portrait with Trees so I can shut off the water in here, put antifreeze in the toilet for winter. With only wood heat in my studio, I am now using electric radiators to keep my paints and water from freezing.
I have today, tomorrow which is Thanksgiving, Friday, and Sunday. Saturday is completely taken up with a sweet Carole Sing and a workshop on making kimchi.
During this week, I am also learning a new program to help my own books and others’ get a higher ranking on Amazon. It’s impossible for me to learn this during a regular workweek. I have too much work to do, too many emails to respond to, details to attend to.
Baring Myself as an Artist and as a Writer Within GAB
I have been shy about showing the tree trunks that go with this piece, resistant to baring myself, risking ridicule perhaps? But, as I was gathering the right colors of housepaint for the birches, I started thinking how similar this is to baring our souls as we first write and then read our stories out loud to others within GAB.
I remember how much my voice shook as I read my first story when I took the Instructor Training. It shook less the second time and less still the third. But even by the last story, I was so hesitant and anxious about others hearing who I truly am.
And yet, as I was painting the birches, it came to me that, AS we let ourselves be vulnerable, as we reveal our imperfections, we are opening ourselves to others as simply being human. As such, we offer ourselves as just like everyone else: no one is perfect. I think this helps us feel that we are not alone.
So here I am, being vulnerable with you by showing you the progression of the tree trunks before they are finished. I only started photographing them as I began work on the birches. I’ll show here the earliest rendition on these and keep going so you can see how they've evolved.
I am not yet satisfied. After I painted the birches which I kept for last because of their complexity, I saw I need to go back and do more on the simpler trees. I will do that. But, as a practice in humility, in vulnerability, I wanted to push myself to bare these unfinished, imperfect trees.
The Beauty of GAB
GAB is a beautiful program. It allows us to be vulnerable as we speak who we are in all of our imperfections. And, as others listen to and hear us, as they respond with positive feedback, slowly we come to accept both ourselves and also others more deeply.
I am so grateful to have taken the dive into GAB as are countless others all over the world. I am grateful, too, for my abilities to speak not only through words but through my art.
The Tree Trunks for "Self-Portrait with Trees"
I included the above pic as a reminder of the whole piece. AFTER I have created the forest floor, touches of greenery, the sky, and her hair by "painting" with fabric on the canvas with my face, I will cut out the tree trunks and glue them on top. My face will then peer out through my beloved trees. The canvas is about seven feet square.
ONWARD! True Life Stories of Challenges, Choices, & Change
Close to the end of creation, this anthology is due to come out at the end of November. I have been honored to be invited to serve on the committee producing this and to also design the cover. It has been a real treat to be a part of this small group, spearheaded by editor Emma Fulenwider. We meet almost every other week to orchestrate the unfolding of this powerful collection of stories from GAB instructors.
My own story of challenge, choices, and change was accepted and is listed in Part 3: Choices. I am excited and pleased by this and would like to share my story here which is part of my upcoming memoir, Imprint: Earth, My Mother. Sky, My Father.
In 1980, when I was 27 years old, I left my life behind—husband, job, house, family of origin—along with my identities as wife, sister and twin, daughter, even woman. I set out on a journey to uncover who I was and what place I held in the world, having never known either. In this story, as I backpack into the wilderness alone for the first time, I "imprint" on the Earth, my first real mother, who begins her teachings to me of how I might finally learn to be alive.
I am on a beach at King’s Range in northern California. The eastern edge of the dunes slopes up to land so rugged, coastal Route 1 is forced to move 35 miles inland. It is 1980. I am 27. I am walking north along the water on a beautiful day, the sand white, the sky blue and cloudless.
Rock formations swell to boulders here and there on the beach, making good shelter at night or blessed shade at high noon.
I can see that the hills above me grow into higher hills in the distance, even low mountains. Sparse vegetation, mostly scrub, populates what’s visible from here, as well as long grasses the color of faded gold this time of year, September.
On my feet I wear inexpensive white sneakers—just thin canvas—the old-fashioned kind we wore as kids. I so want to feel the earth beneath my feet, bend my toes around things if I want to, like wearing ballet slippers.
I carry the Northface pack I bought at the seconds store in Berkeley, saving up for months working as a maid in Mendocino. I got a sleeping bag there, too, along with kits I sewed for a mountain parka and down vest. I found a pup tent for $7.99 at the local hardware store—orange and red—just big enough for my pack, sleeping bag, and me.
I am backpacking alone for the first time. I have come here to check out my gear. Do a trial run. I haven’t done this before so I figure this will be something simple, just hike along the beach a few days, sleep under the stars like I did last night, the formations of rock rising up from the sand offering the illusion of protection.
Yesterday I traveled about 14 miles. I know this because my landlord in Elk (just south of Mendocino) loaned me an old topographic map, and I am charting my way. Most of the streams marked have long since dried up, or maybe it’s just the wrong season. But I see evidence of where they ran.
I’m surprised to find that I’m not frightened. It seems like the most natural thing in the world to be here, backpacking alone, and so far I’m excited. I love being alone. I had no idea.
I follow the beach. Most of the time, I look out at the ocean. I watch the horizon, that single line that never fluctuates, where sky meets sea. As I move along the shore, that line is always there, that seamless peace. No gap. No break. Just the comfort of all being right with the world when the earth is in communion with the sky.
I feel the foundation of that union, some part of me taking in that solid connection of earth and sky, a completeness, an undercurrent of balance, something to steady that part of me reeling from the events of the past year.
As I walk along the beach, the horizon line drawing me on, I think about how I have walked away from my husband and home and job in New England. And I am walking away from my mother, from the shadow of my father who died last year, from my twin sister, and from everyone else in my family. I am walking away from everything I have ever known, from a life in which I don’t know who I am and within which I have no place.
I stop and take off my shoes and socks. I want to feel the sand between my toes. Tying my shoes and socks to my pack, I hoist it up again. I attach the strap at my waist and tighten those on either side of my chest. I like the way this feels, a sense of security as if my pack is hugging me. I step forward, and it feels good to move my body.
Reaching the water’s edge, I wriggle my toes in the wet sand and then wade into the cool water. I am in the undertow, but the waves are mostly spent by the time they reach me. Still, a light pressure caresses my ankles and lower calves as the broken waves touch me.
Gulls fly and swirl up above, screeching out their lonely cries. Now and then, one spies a crab scuttling along the beach and dives suddenly to grasp it in its beak. Then, flying high, the gull drops the crab onto the rocks below, the shell bursting to offer up its sweet flesh.
The quiet thunder of the ocean fills my body. The smell of seaweed and salt. My being is immersed in the sheer pleasure and realness of sand and sea and sun.
I stand mesmerized as the waves crash and then slide into shore. I feel the rhythm of the water as it curls around my ankles and shins, pushing at my legs, seeking to pull me into its depths. Pushing, pulling, a slow dance filled with power, and I am caught in its rhythm. As I sink deeper and deeper into its primal movement, my senses remind me of another time, another rhythm that tickles my memory. But the memory doesn’t surface. It is lost somewhere within me, buried too deep.
As if waking from a dream, I move out of the waves back onto sand darkened by the water. Nothing has changed. The sand is still here. The sea. The occasional boulders and that steady line of the horizon.
But, looking back at this line again, somehow it is no longer enough. I have lost that sense of peace.
I turn to look at the hill that rises from the beach and feel the unknown of it pulling me towards it. I feel it scratching at me to join it. I haven’t brought hiking boots. All I have are these thin canvas sneaks. I find myself stirring, away from the water, towards the hill.
Stopping at a low rock to put shoes and socks back on, I set off to climb away from the here that I know and towards whatever it is I have yet to discover.
AS I STOOD, doing the third step of my prayers/invocation/words of gratitude to the river just now—the third step facing down river to where my life is flowing towards—I felt this great opening, the whole of my future, my life unbending, flowering, opening wide to the limitlessness of possibility. It is GAB that is doing this.
I feel the opening out of all the possibilities for my entire life, what is left of it.
Yesterday, I sent out my announcement email for a GAB 6-session workshop. I already had two participants. A definite one more. A possible second!!
And it is blessed Friday.
As I sit beside the river, facing the direction in which I am with the flow, I see and feel the somewhat muted turbulence after the rain yesterday. I see and feel the small disturbances as Water meets Rock on its way. I see farther along an expanse of white water, heavier disturbance or perhaps a steeper decline, so the water rushes more quickly. But for all of the blips and bounding froth, the river moves as a steady force and will, in time, reach the sea.
I observe it as if I observe my life. It is the message I am often given. No matter the blips or expanses of white water, you will reach your sea. We are here with you, beside you, all along the way. We will make sure you get there. I add: with whatever happens along the way.
I know I am taken care of. It is easy to forget in specific moments, but deep down, I know.
Thank you, all of you.
I am claiming this time of quiet and soft peace on this quiet and soft morning. Gray. Stillness. Crickets. Few chirpings of birds. I am claiming this time amidst the busyness of my day.
I researched affirmations on the web this morning for my classes, first the dictionary definition. I found a wonderful list of ten.
I want to include in each week’s session the writing of an affirmation. Perhaps at the end, bringing the class to quiet closure, helping each leave on as positive a note as possible.
And I am thinking of other things, how to organize the time, what else to include to foster going deeper into getting to know yourself.
I realize as I stop now that, in working these ideas, a part of me is drawn forward. It is that part that wants to help, wants to guide, wants to fight for others against the pain or need of possibly a lifetime, towards the joy of the rest of life. This excites me. It brings me more into my own purpose of why I am here.
It is also why it is so important to sit here like this to write, when I can, when am able to claim the space and time, to remind myself that this forgiving, supportive, sacred land is what allows me to even imagine doing what I am doing. It is the comforting foundation or mother's arms that hold me throughout my day, and at the end of it, when I drop into them exhausted from being one of the most extreme introverts and doing this work.
With this earth, this beautiful, loving earth, and my home upon her, I can sink into her and know all is and will be alright.
Thank you, my earth, my home, my sanctuary. I feel your love and support of me. And I know today as every day, you will provide what is exactly right.
Thank you for this glorious day of gentle softness.
Sunday, July 25. I am here.
I am here! The two days of plumbing under the kitchen sink last weekend that kept me away is accomplished and very well and worth it. Perhaps I won’t need to see to it every year, and maybe not ever again with the AAV valve in place now.
I am here now, as usual terribly exhausted, living the life of three women, working very hard to get my graphics work done, and now the GAB marketing class, and being here, just barely, in the studio today after yesterday spent mostly on homework.
I’ve been reading till now on this Sunday that I am claiming for myself, resting, part of me longing to be reading still. But I know I'll miss doing this next step, starting to resolve the skin tone.
I think I’ll first aim for the right overall color. Once I get that, I'll apply it with a 2-inch house painting brush. That will help. Then I’ll stand back, take a look, and proceed to go back in for shading by looking in my hand mirror. It will be backwards from what the shading is in the blown-up photo and in my features because the light in my studio is hitting my face from the other side. But the viewer is just going to have to deal! It'll be good enough! Fantastic words that have taken me 68 years to be able to say. The trees are the most important part of this piece.
One step at a time. First make my tea. This helps with the shift from THAT world to THIS—always difficult for me.
OK, then. Get up. Get going.
Well. It’s the next step. I’m not DISsatisfied. Still needs work. The skin looks dark, but looking at My Higher Self piece, it's not so different.
Doesn't look like me at all. Might never. Does it matter? I don't know. I think it's mostly the feeling that I want, of what will be this very large face peering through the trunks of my glorious trees.
Needs lightening in places. More highlights—stronger, LIGHTER highlights—where the light hits my face. Like the end of the nose. I like the lightness there.
Also needs more prominent wrinkles at my laugh lines and around my mouth and between my eyebrows.
Need to paint in my eyebrows—draw them with a marker?
The shape of the face is weird. Need to define it more. Perhaps with the fabric of the forest floor.
The skin tone is better than it was, all a mottled mess.
Good progress. I'm OK with this. It's a good next step.
This may be the hardest piece I've ever done.
Too tired to write anything really pithy.
Today, I want to mix some skin color in a tub and paint from a pie plate with my big-ish art brush. Then, I need to work on the nose, and start the mouth. That’ll be it for this vacation week.
It will be restful only working on a calligraphy book tomorrow.
OK. Time to get to work.
I think the nose is better.
Whenever I am about to do very difficult things like this, or even when I am only making something with my inner kids, I call in my guides to be with me, especially Gabriel who helps artists. I ask for him to be by my side, at my shoulder. Either to help me SEE, or to help me reach my deepest self, or to call in what my soul needs me to find or know.
I don’t think I’m going to be able to get the nose until the mouth is in place, until I can see it all together. How embarrassing it will be if I CAN’T get it. I’ll keep trying, for the trees.
It helps, actually, that this is not about me but about the trees, to honor them, thank them for all they give me.
Before I start, I'm going to raise the whole canvas to make it easier to work on the mouth.
How scary it is to be posting these less than perfect, less then loved images. It's not something I have done before, at least not with my more serious work. I’m blaming that GAB course I took!
This piece is so important to me, like my Earth Mothers. Trees have been such an important part of my healing and my continued thriving.
That's It for Today
Oh, drat! That’s all I’m doing today. The nose is better but still not right. Skin tone needs lots of work!! Needs to come somewhere in between all the variations. Mouth begun.
Thank god for kitties. I need to quit and feed mine.
This is enough anyway. Going to chill and float and just BE for the rest of the last day of my vacation.
Yikes, this is hard! And I probably should have stretched and gessoed the canvas, but I couldn't bear to. I so wanted it to be as loose as possible, like cloth instead of plastic. I'll figure it out. Every piece I do I figure out as I go.
Won't be back in here until next Sunday. I hope I’ll be here then. Over the weekend I have to completely redo the plumbing under the kitchen sink.
Thanks to all my guides here with me for letting me get this far. A good start this week. But so much work to do!! This feels like a good sketch, a good underpainting.
Monday, July 5, 2021
I am here.
In this space that is utterly my own.
In which I feel my confidence,
where I simply KNOW.
Even though I begin each new piece,
each new step
with a wondering: Can I do this?
Yet somewhere in me knowing
I will find a way.
I am here,
about to make my first marks
on this glorious large canvas
for Self-Portrait with Trees,
to honor them,
to give them my gratitude
for all they have given
to my life
and to my feeling of safety.
Entering this space
that is no one else’s,
here for no one but me --
except the workshops I will lead here
which are also for me,
for my own growing --
I feel as if I enter
through a magic portal
into the mysteries that are
ONLY WHO I AM.
I am so grateful
to all who have given me this great gift
for the furthering
of my own unique gifts
to my spirit
and to the world.
Thank you, all of you.
I am about to sketch out the face—eyes, nose, mouth, ears?
How large do I want the head to be? As large as I envisioned it?
I think I need to measure and then simply begin, however many mistakes I will make….
....After trying to draw my face freehand, enlarging it enormously, I discovered I couldn’t do it. I decided to take a photograph my sister took of me and blow it up on the computer and print it out. This is what it looks like right now on this canvas that is about 7 feet square!
[I am going to try to catch up to today, July 8. I won't transcribe as much for each day while doing so.]
Tuesday, July 6
I would love to get the tracing onto the canvas today. If I get that far, I'll be pleased. Then maybe tomorrow, I’ll begin painting the eyes! I hope so! We’ll see....
....So cool! I have traced most of her onto the canvas. Used charcoal. She looks old and hideous and crone-like and elder wisewoman-ish.
I still need to print out the top of her head and hair and the mouth again. This is so exciting!
She doesn’t look anything like me, but I don’t care. Maybe in time she will. Mostly, I love the size of her face. It feels just right to be peering between the tree trunks.
Will this be my last realistic self-portrait? I don’t know. Will I have the energy for something so large again? I don’t know. I do know that I cannot stop making art. It is a part of me.
It's beginning to feel as I envisioned it. I love the wrinkles!
Wednesday, July 7
This morning I printed out the mouth again and all around the head so I can get the shape and dimensions right. I want to sketch that, and I want to redraw the mouth, and then I want to begin to paint!
I AM TERRIFIED!! But I always am as I begin any piece. When it requires painting skills, I am terrified I won't be able to do it, I won't be able to SEE and my eyes/brain/hand communication just won't work. Also, because the face is so large, I know it will be far more difficult, and it's hard to read the print-outs. All I can do is the best I can.
I am also worried I won't have the stamina. I'm so very tired so much these days at 68, especially doing so much….
….I have finished tracing the top and side of the head and hairline. Spirit was absolutely with me as I did this because it is exactly the right size as it is. If I had been able to print out the larger size—which my laser printer would not do—it would've been way too large. Incredible!
I don’t have the energy to begin painting today. This was a big deal. But I’ll begin to gather materials to start painting tomorrow.
Thursday, July 8
I am very, very tired today. Thunderstorms last night woke me at three, and after dozing until seven, I did a bunch of connecting with the outside world this morning. Tried to read, mostly dosed until now: 2:30.
Part of it is fear, I know. I am terrified I won't be able to paint this. If I even get anything done today, just to begin, I'll be happy.
Really, a lot of me just wants to go and watch movies, and there’s nothing stopping me. I am on vacation. This is not a time to be pushing myself. I just know that, once I am back to work, I won't have the energy for much on Sundays — my one studio day every week — especially for painting. We’ll see.
I want to begin, just to get past the fear.
OK. I am going to pull out some possible brushes, position the print-out of her left eye, look at myself in my large hand mirror, mix some paint, and begin.
Wish me luck!
....I did her left eye! I like it!!
I feel better.
Now her right eye. Hold me steady. Give me stamina and focus.
Phew! Very hard....
....I did both eyes! And I love it! I want to bring a little more light into her left eye. Maybe do it right now....
....I did it. Better. Now the other eye needs a bit more work — the iris, is it called? Maybe needs more shading?
I want to start a blog. I really do. I want to not wait anymore. I want to put it on my Writing Your Way Home website. I want to chart the daily progress and feelings and process of this piece. I’ve spent my whole life waiting. For what? Seize the day!
This is terribly exciting!
Tomorrow I hope to do the nose and maybe lips. We’ll see. If I don't wake in the middle of the night again so get a horrible night’s sleep.
My hope was to get the whole face painted this week while I'm on vacation. Maybe it will work!
I can’t believe I am doing this!! But I am tired and I’m going to quit.
Now, I am caught up to today. I am going to try to keep posting daily during the days of my vacation as I make progress. I am so very happy I am doing this!
Thank you for reading!!
I write every day. I write to discover who I am, to note special things that happen, and for guidance from my own inner wisdom and from the universe.
I have several books in the works, one of which is Healing Through Art.
As I begin yet another self-portrait, this one with my beloved trees, as I photographed my progress for the third day in a row this week—while on vacation and spending lots of time in the studio—I thought, "Robin, why wait. You have been waiting all your life for so many things. Why don't you simply transcribe your daily studio writings and post the progress on this piece through images and words.
I had a retrospective at my local private high school in 2016. As part of being granted this one-person show, "An Artist's Life: Healing Through Art," I was required to give a talk to the entire student body and faculty. In response to what I said and to the show itself, one student asked if all of my work was self-portraits. I looked around the enormous room filled with a sampling of work from over my lifetime, and I realized that abstract or realistic, concrete, wood, paint, or pastel, yes, every piece in that huge space was in some way a self-portrait.
I guess I create self-portraits as a way to claim myself, that I am alive, something I was not allowed to be during my childhood. I need to SPEAK that I exist and who I am at that time in my life and I do that through writing and art.
Trees have always been incredible healers for me. In the Guided Autobiography (GAB) Instructor Training that I took, for the Family theme, I wrote a piece about the Seven-Trunk Tree that I would go to during my childhood. Seven trunks from one tree grew together, and I could step up between two of these into a little room to lick my wounds. As part of our assignment, we were also asked to draw a room that was special to us. I drew my Seven-Trunk Tree.
I don't live near that tree anymore, and the tree itself is only a stump now. But when I moved here to western Massachusetts in 1984, I discovered near the Lake close to my house a five-trunk tree that is shaped like the palm and five fingers of a hand. I call her my Great-Grandmother Tree, and she has become very important to me.
Self-Portrait with Trees
This is a piece I envisioned five years ago. I had started a new relationship, but it wasn't working out. It became very difficult, even traumatic, and trees helped me through it big time.
I live in a very rural area, on a dead-end, dirt road. Down the road from my place is an area of woods I call the Fairy Woods. After this challenging time happened, I envisioned a self-portrait with my face very large, peering through tree trunks from the Fairy Woods. I wanted to create this to honor all the help and love trees have given me over the years.
Today I decided to begin a blog of my daily progress of this piece and the writings associated with it. I think taking the GAB class gave me the courage to do this; I learned that people appreciate what I share. I am SO excited to be doing this, to no longer be waiting.