On The Practice of Space and Connection

This morning, I woke to find an e-mail from the wife of one of my cousins – one of my favorite people.  This gal is known throughout the family as warm, sunny, loving, caring, funny.  We all look forward to seeing her.  A devoted and generous daughter, wife, and mother, and now a beautifully graced grandmother.  She manages to do all this without any grey hair or wrinkles, mind you.  She remembers dates and connections and keeps the family together through her gestures and thoughts – everyone adores her, as do I, though I hardly tell her enough.  We are lucky to have her and the deliciousness she is to our family.

Her note was a forward about two art-making projects:  the Solstice to Equinox:  Out of the Darkness into the Light and the 2019 100DayProject.  You can read about both, here.  We had spoken about the 100Day Project last year.  But while very inspired to participate in the project, my motivation was nowhere to be found.  This is nothing new.  Inktober 2017 – I managed to draw/create for a total of three days before daily home life got in the way and I “forgot” I was supposed to be drawing every day for the month.  Earlier this year, when the 100DayProject came around, I went out to my art space (aka The Shed) and drooled over my favorite mark-making supplies and tools and daydreamed about arting for a luxurious 100 days;  I’d be transformed, feel accomplishment, be in touch with my creativity and experience a sense of deep inner peace I’ve not felt in a while.  Plus, a project commitment might result in the bones of a show or a series of new work.

Instead, none of this happened…except for those three sketches/drawings back in Inktober 2017 and in May of this year I did Avenue Q (which was a hoot and nourished a portion of my creative bones).  That’s it.  Performing art is a different creative process than visual art, at least for me.  In June, the fresh tenacity and confidence high from the show easing, I received a promotion at work.  As much gratitude as I have for the betterment and support of my position, I started smack in the middle of the crazybusy season (which only ended about three weeks ago) and jumped into a roiling, disorganized mess left by my predecessor.  My first month was no less than 70-hour weeks, if not more, and there was little-to-no training.  Baptism by total engulfment.  No time for art – or writing, or carrying a camera or getting involved in another show. 

The weekly promise of days-off looms large; in my head my art intentions are strong, ideas rampant.  Motivation and follow-through are uncomfortably stalled at a big fat meh

meh

a big fat meh personified

We have a sizable shed.  It came with the house.  It’s not heated nor insulated and the mowers are in there with yard tools, patio furniture, and the tubs of Halloween/Christmas stuff.  The shed is not dedicated to art.  But, when we moved here I was VERY – super, over the top, elated- enthusiastic about the space and gleefully set-up my art space in a large corner of the corrugated tin garage with thick plywood flooring.  It felt good.  Cleared cobwebs, played music, lit candles, began painting the door.  Up went shelves, unpacked books and paints, glue, tools, ephemera, found a new work table – all the special magic stuff – arranged to my liking, inviting me to come play.  It felt really nice! and right and exciting to have a creative home, again.  In two years I’ve been in that space four times of any length, maybe.  That’s it.  This morning’s e-mail makes me want to art – daily, for three months or a season – and yet, the next thought is, “Why bother? I don’t have the time. Other things are more important and more practical. ”  Surely this is not uncommon self-defeating innerspeak.

While I understand a creative pause maybe be a necessary aspect of learning a new job and adjusting accordingly, part of my self is regularly neglected or denied and the more I realize that, the more it bothers me.

A lot.

So, on my last day off, I decided to see if how I’ve been feeling could be fixed.

I went out to the shed.
Just be in the space because I miss it.  Because when I’m not there for a while then return, it’s much like seeing an old flame after years pass.  Awkward, unsure where you stand, maybe a cool welcome and, with any luck, things eventually feel comfortable, warm, safe.  Looking around, refamiliarizing myself, looking at projects-in-progress it started to feel good being in there; why do I stay away from art or the space I made for myself?  Mid-overthinking, I turned and found mouse droppings, albeit dried and old, on some of the shelves and work table…to add insult, my books and sketchbooks have begun to lightly mold. This made me sad…sadder as the evening went on, much to my surprise, because the bright side usually pops up and I’m fine.  But not yet, even a couple days later.   
Not sure why, but I know enough that resentment could be around the corner and that’s not good.  When my partner arrived home from work, he immediately asked what was wrong, so I told him.  This is tricky to do without making him feel he should fix or repair what’s wrong.  I said that I would figure it out.  He suggested making the guest room the art space (but it’s already a guest room, and the size wouldn’t work).  The shed is probably original to the house, 1973 or so, and it’s in good shape for a shed.  It feels impractical to insulate or heat it when its primary and original function is to house tools and machinery – which it does nicely.  So, in the meantime, I will move the ‘perishable’ items – books, papers, paints and glues that will freeze (they did last winter, requiring much shaking and re-mixing in spring) – into a doored bookshelf in the den that can hide them until a solution manifests.
It’s stupid, really…what bugged me the most was how much the mouse droppings and mold made my happy sink.  The next day, still feeling tarred and gooey with disappointment, an epiphany:  the period of time I made the most art, experienced the most satisfying production and visually creative period of my adultness was when Wasband was ill.  That was almost 20 years ago.
We were still fairly newly-wedded, DD (darling daughter) was between one and two.  After days of being on-call for my family and working part-time, baby to bed, man comfortable enough to sleep, I would leave the house, drive three minutes to the basement space of a small retail boutique and lose myself in art.  Eventually, I started refinishing furniture which led commissioned refinishing work.  It was art therapy in every way.  I sold all but one piece and took orders for work for a year.  I MADE it work for me by going to that basement because I had to:  I was being paid and had deadlines – and it was spiritually and mentally necessary for me to do so.  It got me through his cancer and treatments and setbacks and single-parenting-while-married and fending off my mother-in-law (who, well-intentioned, at one point, blamed me for not cooking enough hot meals and that is what caused cancer in her son…).  It was epic, my drive to create, to fix, to repair, to mend.  To heal.  Some nights I would be in that little basement space until 4 AM, and make it home in time to shower, put on the kettle for my husband then begin the baby’s day.  Fueled by so much crumbling and uncontrolled around us, I was compelled to make something new.
The bottom line is that I ran away from home and hid in that basement until I had to go back.  Every night for over a year.   I had an affair in that basement; an affair where the partners were my pain and expressing it; the heartbreaking sadness of a spouse fighting for his life and the awful fear of the unknown.
Since I am not running away from anything I am having a hard time finding a valid reason to leave home and run to my creative home, be it internal or out in the shed or another space where I can mark-make and put things together to create something new.  Now, I need permission to be apart from the house, the people in it, the coupled partnership, the bed, the space held for me so lovingly here.  I don’t want to leave but staying all the time is not balanced, at least not creatively.
That said, I will endeavor to engage in either the 100DayProject or the Solstice Project.
If you’re going to do so as well, please let me know and we can run away to art for a little while, every day.
DJD
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The I Ching and Me. 22 October, 2018

Funny thing.

Many years ago, I went to see a clairaudient at the behest of a friend.  I’d been seeing, very casually and infrequently, a guy I’d met in high school (a couple years ahead of me in school).  As much as we got along, he had little clue exactly what to do with me or how to make it work between us, despite us getting along exceedingly well.  His surname name, old-world and sturdy.  To put himself through SUNY New Paltz, he learned tree maintenance.  This consisted of climbing damaged or dangerous trees with spiked-arches on his boot bottoms while carrying a heavy chainsaw, then cutting dangling limbs or taking the entire tree down altogether.  His surname matched his personality:  brave, strong, rugged in every sense;  as a personality, he was all those things plus kind, friendly and quite funny.  He was incredibly outgoing – boisterous, even – had a lot of friends – never had a “real” girlfriend that I know of – but was a favorite in his crowd.  Everybody loved this guy.  (They still do.)

Much to my confusion, I made him very nervous – which was quite clear – yet, he kept coming around and I kept accepting his date invitations.  Our dates were simple, always fun, never fancy nor expensive.  They were memorable, and thoughtful.  He fished for bluefish, so we had that for a meal he prepared.  He grew vegetables, and walked me through the side yard of his home telling about every seed, its growth life and what happened after the harvest.  He knew an Irish guy who happened to be a fairly well-known Irish poet, so we went into the city for a poetry reading (yes, a poetry reading) at a hip and artsy downtown New York bar decorated with all things KGB and Russian…for an Irish poet.  He was nothing but irony and incongruity – which happens to be a good combination for my too-busy brain.  (Thankfully, my current partner is very much like this, too; otherwise, I’d be bored to pieces and, likely, long gone by now.)

Anyway, the clairaudient recorded our session, there in her nearly all-white office with desk and two chairs.  She was plainly dressed and slim and young and naturally pretty, and I recall doubting her legitimacy based on all those things.  What was I expecting?  A gypsy with fringed shawl and bony fortune-telling fingers seated at a small round table, a hazy crystal ball between us?  Yeah, probably exactly that.  After she explained her connection process, she turned on the recorder and began my reading.

In a nutshell, here is what she said (and you will see why I am telling you all this, shortly):

“You are dating/seeing/being courted by a man who likes you very, very much but he is confused about you and has no idea what do to with you or how to integrate you into his life.  You feel good to him.  He is tall and sturdy, and can go deep – like a tree…he works with trees and his last name is a European-based name meaning “of the trees” or “from the trees or forest.”  He may be German…maybe Dutch or Belgian…he wants to help you trim your trees, help you with your trees…”

I sat there, utterly speechless.  His last name is, indeed, Dutch/Belgian.  It means someone who lives in a forest or is an occupational name for someone who worked in one.  Literally, “Of the forest.”

She continued about him for moment, telling me about the long  row of pin pine trees that lined my long driveway at the time, how he wanted to trim them (he did offer to do that), and how one day they would be taken down by a different man who had no intention of saving the land.  [This came true, by the way, shortly after I sold that home and land to a landscaper…who immediately felled every last one of those old pines after reassuring me he was going to take care of the trees.  Super Storm Sandy blew through the weekend this friend was to work on my trees; I put him off for safety sake, plus he had other jobs of greater import following the storm.  My trees never had any issue in storms.]

The clairaudient then told me I had “a massive, protective dragon – it’s orange with touches of purple – over my shoulder everywhere and anywhere” I go.  It is not a spirit animal but Spirit itself, in this form, she said.  She did not know its gender but somehow I never needed to ask.  So, the opening lines of a note from one of my staff, today, regarding the I Ching for my birthday (yesterday) – that included a powerful dragon and dragon energy – speak to me very loudly!

The strength and force of Dragons
Inspiration in its primal presence
Portends Great Success

So, too, does the part about beginning anew creatively.  I have a studio of supplies, a head full of ideas, and yet have not been able to get myself in there for anything more than tidying and touching my art supplies and books and wistfully saying “Hi” to the space, then leaving, no art made.

It feels like I am constantly missing a part of myself, despite carrying it around in me all the time.

As for my forester friend, he remains one of the good guys.  I heard from him last several months ago, and social media tells me he may have, finally, found a woman strong and deep (and fun) enough to match him, nicely.  My dragon is still following me around, everywhere.

When In Winter. (Prosery)

Such good heat in summer. I have a co-worker, skin over bones she is, who goes out into the mid-day oven wearing a sweater, to warm up from the chill of the AC. She returns flushed and rosy and happy to be warm for a little while.

Let’s remember this, shall we? When we’re complaining of heating oil costs while adoring favorite sweaters, and hosting guests at holiday time, and, if we’re lucky, quietly cuddling with those we like best.

Let’s remember sleeping without a top sheet, screened windows and the sound of cicadas and crickets and distant concerts or carnivals. And the grilling and freshly grown gems, and the farm stand colors palettes, and cityscapes undulating in grossly hot afternoons. And any other summer experience you hold dear (or annoying). Let’s remember them all well.

Love the fresh fruit, and the gawdawful heat, and the surf, and the garden, and the skin you expose – as daring as that makes you feel regardless of your size or shape, and the sudden rolling thunderstorms.

Love it all. It’s why we’re here.

DJ Dawson

First published July 19, 2014.

Once, When the Tide Was Low. [Personal essay.]

Full disclosure:
I’ve been there.
on the serrated edge of the coin
one side stay
the other, go.

Several of you have,
too.

Whatever Divinity changed our course
steadied us to remain,
I am, now, grateful for it
(though was angry and frustrated, then.)

On the bathroom floor (it’s almost always there, isn’t it? Those personal tar black come-to-Jesus low-points on tile or shag pale sky throw rug, in the dark regardless of time of day)
pills and booze
or
booze and more booze
(“recreational” my ass)
hollow hopelessness in
unimaginable quantities
unfamous uncelebrity (who’d miss me? who cared) unsure unspecial
unexcused unnoticeable unneeded unnecessary unattached un-everything
un-craptogether.

Until the Divine or fear of angering my Mother(s) or what if or _________ whatever reason people decide not to go…I cannot remember anything other than not being as fearless as when I came into the bathroom. In my 20s before marriage before child before God and everyone, it was just misery and me and something else that needed to come through.

I’m glad it did.

My decision to share this odd prosery is not for comment nor criticism nor praise. But if sharing my imperfections and humanity, my vulnerability, with someone who thinks we think they have their shit together (when they think they actually don’t), and that person needs someone to talk to or just somebody to sit next to. I’d like to be that lighthouse for them.

You’re not alone even when you believe with every cell that you are.

STAY.
Thank you.

DJD 08 June 1018

Clemency + Dispensation {Poem / Poetry}

Up before the sun (with good intentions)
Back to sleep (with no intentions)
Rise, shine, quadruped shuffle
ground beans and hot water
 
sleepy-eyed talk of dance, and creativity
what it means to be good at something
to own what you put into the world
without guilt or fear of being singled out
 
she asks
when did I know I had something
how old was I
who got lost along the way
 
how do you know friends
–where is the line between supportive loyalty
and praise cloaking a blade
 
I tell her:
I thank the blade
here, run a finger over scars of insincerity gouging sarcasm
words that whittled away my arias to murmurs
 
but murmur I owned
10 years at a time
stumbling along small
until enough love filled my lungs
full and lofty
raising above the myopic fog
to the light of now
 
40 years, a long time to hum a lifesong and
not cry out infinite joys
 
17 years, a brief lesson in wearing confident skin and deflecting the subtle dismantling of peers
 
Leave them be, wish them well, love your song.
DJD 2015

Starbucks: Fireside Eavesdropping.

Dear loud nasal-voiced woman sitting over my left shoulder,

Stop talking. Please.

We three writers sitting quietly by the fireplace are cringing and wincing, shooting each other rolling-eyes about your “how annoying boss, Bob” and how late meeting invites were ignored. The rapid-fire banality of your workplace drama and gossip–Diana is a slut, AND she sounds lazy, yes, you’re right – has meaning only to you. Have you checked if your friend across the table is still breathing? Peter and Ross and Justine should not attack each other, and blame is a byproduct of working with folks who believe “it’s not their job”, whatever it is. Georgia needs a plumber and Henry will not be a good presenter if he can’t come to work sober. That’s a lot of other people’s business you’ve got your snout wedged into. And, now, because you were never taught to properly modulate your voice, everyone is involved.

Even invisible strangers like me.

But, you caffeinated siren of gossip and shrill shrewing, thank you for reminding me why I love a non-office workplace.

Thank you from the bottom of my coffee cup.

DJD