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.