Taking on Challenge Through Art

Paint, write, shape new stories

Recently I engaged in good conversation with a local artist. The main topic was how to say no to family members after a lifetime of trying to please. How did we come to be in our senior years still quaking at the threshold of authentic expression? How did we come to a place of fearful silence, even after years of dedication to our chosen art?

I listened to my friend describe her dilemma, whether or not to agree to a sister’s visit. She knew from experience that spending time with her remaining family member was debilitating, and, having recently emerged from an artistic dry spell, she was reluctant to switch channels to a toxic exchange. On the other hand, she had never said no to her sister, let alone told her how she felt about their relationship.

I have struggled with similar challenges. I’ve never felt I could talk to my family about my work. and over the years I have found fewer and fewer people I could share a good, stimulating conversation with. I have learned to step across artistic thresholds without needing applause by family or friends. And, what at first seemed an unbearably lonely existence, is becoming more of an awakening of self and artistic expression.

As a writer, I practice scrubbing old stories, reframing new plots and filling in details with daily diligence. Instead of trying to find people to talk with, I nap more. I lay down on my bed, put up on my mental board a writing challenge I have encountered, visualize emptying my thoughts, then focus on feeling my body and scrubbing every identifying thought. Like any meditation practice, the point isn’t the result, it’s the practice. I scrub up and down, sideways, transversely; I scrub hard, light, with a bristle brush or a soft sponge. The identifying thoughts are supple, fluid, then hard and layered. I scrub and scrub and scrub until even the scrubbing visualization is but a feeling, not an act.

I sit at my desk, often gaze out the window as if I were a painter contemplating my next painting. I note all of the lines in the picture I see. Fence posts, the edge of the asphalt road, upright telephone poles and their drooping lines, peaked roofs, crumbling chimney outlines. I take note of all fluid movement. Seagulls, bamboo stalks, tree and shrub shapes touched by the wind. I observe people and listen to their story against the backdrop, how their shoulders carry the weight of their lives. I absorb color patches, swatches, and subtle shading.

I listen to music, marvel at how direct lyrics can be, even when they are metaphorical. Every possible story is told point-blank. Falling in love with people, booze, drugs, other; yearning for attention and acceptance, hating and being hated; daring to stand up and speak, being crushed for the same. Then the composition, the instrument expertise transports, and I feel for a moment that it is I who am on stage, singing. I drop into the feel of my fingers on the guitar strings, my foot and hand coordination behind the drum sticks striking the resonant skin.

I tend to my few and simple chores around the house, focusing on movement meditation. Sometimes I am the dancer, the boxer, the tai chi master, the yoga aesthete, the hunter, the gatherer. I use the broom to sweep up a few crumbs in the small kitchen rectangle. I learned from my mother and her mother to be mindful of home order. I learned to use household cleaning, gardening, livestock care, and small repair movements to keep me grounded. I never did understand spoken family communication. I read body language, heard gaps between what was said and what their bodies said.

I am an extreme creative. No matter how much I am compelled to kick myself to the curb, abandon and forsake, I am bound by my oath declared in 1974, to pursue self-awareness using theatre, writing, movement, and sports. All extreme creatives are compelled to follow their chosen path, no matter what. And their chosen path is their art form, whether it be a writer, painter, parent, youth, songster, programmer, entrepreneur, politician, other.

I pause to appreciate my good conversation with my local artist friend who initiated the topic of choices we make when it comes to old habits and our numbered years. Do we want to continue choosing embarrassed cover-up over authentic emergence?



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