Triumphant Joy

imageThe past few months have been challenging ones for me. I have found myself scurrying around more than I prefer, taking on this task and then that task, going pretty much non-stop.  Most recently, I have needed to be “on” much of the time, meeting new people, taking on new responsibilities and actually performing with my singing groups (yes, I have two now!). All of this, coupled with my chronic insomnia, has left me feeling depleted and stressed more than I would like to be.

This past weekend I sang with my new choir. Since that time a line from one of our songs has stuck with me, so much that I finally stopped and really thought about the words that were looping continuously through my brain. “Let our joy be so triumphant”…what a powerful statement that is!

Now thinking or writing about joy is not new for me. I believe strongly in the importance of maintaining a focus on gratitude for the many blessings in life and that often results automatically in a renewed sense of joy. I also adhere to the notion that doing activities that bring us joy are paramount. For me, this means making sure that I devote enough time to music, fiber arts, and being active in nature. The joy I experience through these activities brings new life and enthusiasm for everything that I do.

I also believe strongly that no one else can rob me of joy. Joy is an emotional feeling state that is internal to each of us. So although it would be so much easier to say that a particular person made me angry or unhappy, no other person really has that power. We are the ones who, through our point of focus and interpretation of events, allow that to happen.

Even so, it can be challenging when under stress or physical depletion to feel the life-giving power of joy. It is easier in these circumstances to allow feelings of being overwhelmed, worried, or discouraged to take center stage. But joyful feels so much better! And when I am joyful, there is a natural relaxation that takes place. Suddenly rather than working so hard to “make things happen,” circumstances fall into place in a wonderful manner.

“Let your joy be so triumphant” … Let that joy rise above all else, to triumph over the darkness, despair, worry, fear, anxiety, numbness, irritation or even general sense of well-being. Finding joy when you can or choosing a joyful attitude is a step in the right direction. But letting joy be triumphant takes it so much farther!

image

A few weeks ago, I went on a zip line course high in the redwood trees we have here in Northern California. I must admit when we stood on the first little platform and saw the line going over the deep ravine, I felt more terror than joy. Adrenaline was pulsing through my body and I seriously questioned my sanity in doing this. But by the time they snapped this photo, joy had emerged triumphant (although I swear it took a couple of days for the adrenaline to subside!).

So what do you think of all this? How does joy bring new life to you? What thoughts or activities are likely to bring you to that emotional state of joy? When is joy triumphant?

The Stories We Tell

“It has been awhile since I posted.” This is a line I have seen on many blogs that I have read. I had no intention of that being my line and yet here I am, posting after a bit of a hiatus.

At first I told myself that I wasn’t posting because I was stressed out regarding some personal issues. I just wasn’t “inspired” to write. The stories we tell…

Then I wasn’t writing because I was trying to finish up Lola’s portrait to take with me when I traveled to the Pacific Northwest.

image

Of course, then I was traveling and decided  I would be completely  mostly  somewhat offline. The stories we tell…

imageAs part of my trip, I was able to visit Sarah Swett and her wonderful tapestry exhibition.  My new story was that I wasn’t blogging because she had already used up all the good words! 😂  Since I have been back I’ve been busily engaged in trying to figure out how to earn money to support my tapestry habit without using up all the time I need for my tapestry habit. The stories we tell…

I have developed a routine that I enjoy in the morning. My dogs and I jump into the car and head down to a local coffee shop. While the pups settle in for their first nap of the day, I sip on my latte and often knit. During this time, I brace myself for…prepare myself for…  allow another day to gently unfold. The stories we tell…

Suddenly this morning, I became very self-concious about being, “that crazy lady that knits in the car with her dogs” and wanted to shout out, “No! You don’t understand! I’m a writer already hard at work!” I quickly looked around to assess the scene and prepare my story. I saw on the patio in front of me a group of friends animatedly discussing last night’s ballgame. In the rear view mirror was a young couple taking advantage of a few spare minutes to make out before heading to work. In the car beside me was a woman putting on some mascara. No one was paying ANY attention to me, whether I was a crazy knitter or busy writer. The only story that mattered was what I was telling myself.

Many years ago, I read a book called, “Black Sheep and Kissing Cousins: How Our Family Stories Shape Us” by Elizabeth Stone. It made me realize how the way in which we talk about particular family members or events could shape the roles we take on within a family structure. For example, is Cassie messy because that is just “how she is” or because everyone always expects that of her? How do these stories begin and what perpetuates them within family systems?

I think the same questions can be asked of ourselves. What is my story about these circumstances and how is that helping me or distracting me from what really needs to be my point of focus? Does it make a difference if I say (and believe) “I just don’t have enough time,” versus, “I always have enough time to get the things done that truly need to get done today,” or, “I always end up having enough time in the end?”

What are the stories that you tell yourself? How do they shape your work, your creativity, your use of time or your self-worth? How might you change your story to better suit your desires? Do you have any great examples from which we can all learn?

P. S.  Some of you are still seeing the pictures in my blog displayed sideways. I haven’t figured out how to fix this since they look correct to me! I’ve decided that this is just a feature that makes my blog a bit more quirky and interesting. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. 😜 The stories we tell…

Listening to silence

image
I’ve been silent here on the blog for a few weeks now. As often happens, I’ve been distracted by other life events. My mind has been busy, busy, busy formulating plans and trying to figure things out. When my mind is busy in this way, there appears to be no silence in my life.

I’m big fan of silence. When I am working on a tapestry or even knitting, I often do it in silence. It is rare for me to switch on some music or listen to a podcast when I am in the midst of creative work. Lately I have been listening to talks while walking but have to admit that I was somewhat relieved when my earbuds went missing a few days ago and I just walked in silence.

I frequently jump into the car and go for drives in the beautiful area in which I reside. Rarely do I turn on the radio. It often takes some time for the chatter in my mind to settle down so that I can truly listen to the silence. I have taken many long distance trips by myself in the car. Even on these longer journeys, silence is my mainstay.

Of course, it is rare to have true silence. Sounds of the highway or of nature accompany my thoughts. Having experienced nerve damage from spending too many hours with a power sprayer in my previous life of remodeling houses, I have constant ringing in my ears. My awareness of this can be blocked with ambient noise but in true silence, they ring loud and clear.

When I was a social worker, I often did home visits. I was always amazed to find families living in homes where the television was never off, where music was blaring in one room while the tv was on in the next, where there was always a background of noise, noise, noise. It made me feel so lucky to have moments of silence in the car as I traveled from visit to visit.

Now this may lead you to the conclusion that I am a very quiet person. Such is not the case. In fact, I remember quite distinctly my mom telling me when I was four, with a degree of exasperation only understood in adulthood, that I was “such a chatterbox!” Upon first meeting people often think that I am quiet but once they get to know me a bit they realize my nature is more boisterous than first imagined.

But silence is my friend. I crave silence. I revel in silence. I replenish in silence. I breathe in silence. It is through deep silence that I find my center once again. What about you?

Lucky Day…and the power of our thoughts

image

So if you have been reading any of my blog posts so far, you have probably figured out that I think a lot. A LOT. 😜 This past week or so, I have been thinking a lot about thinking, or the power of our thoughts.

I have long believed that how we think about things shapes our experience of life. I also believe that we have the power to change our thoughts. Although it often seems as if our thoughts are something outside of ourselves, that just happens to us, by being intentional we can shift our awareness, focus, and yes, even thoughts.

Our emotions give us a clue as to whether the thoughts we are thinking are in alignment with our true inner self, our best self. By paying attention to how we feel, we can recognize when it might be time to consider how our thoughts are shaping our experience in either a positive or negative direction.

I’ve been struggling for the last couple of weeks regarding a decision I made about my life course and my thoughts about it have not been positive. My overall mood has been…well, a little depressed. Because I have this awareness about the link between emotions and thought, and awareness of the power of my thoughts, I have been tracking my own experience.

Last weekend the a Capella chorus that I sing in had a show. One fun aspect of this particular show each year is that young female singers compete for scholarship money that the chorus has raised just for this purpose. It was a great event and I came home flying high, feeling good from the whole experience (including the wonderful endorphins released when singing!). I watched myself as this change in mood lasted all the way through Sunday. Then Monday morning came and slowly but surely my pattern of thought about this particular issue reverted to a more negative stance.

I tried many of my usual techniques to begin to intentionally shift my thinking but wasn’t having much success. However, I was learning a new song for chorus, playing it over and over again when in the car or on a walk. The first line goes like this, “This is my lucky day, I knew it right away” and it concludes with “This is just some lucky, this is just some lucky day, a lucky day, gonna chase my cares away, such a lucky day” And guess what! Saying these words over and over again in my head as I learned this song changed how I felt about everything else in my life.

This doesn’t mean I have it all figured out now and can go merrily on my way. I’m still struggling with the disconnect between what my logical mind and my intuition are telling me. But it is such a good reminder that we do have power over our thoughts. And that the thoughts that we think can truly change how we feel and our overall experience of life.

Do any of you have examples of how this has been the case for you? Do your thoughts drive you or do you drive your thoughts? How does that shape your experience?

And just in case you are wondering, I’m the short one in the front row wearing the lavendar blouse. ☺️

Consistently inconsistent

imageYup, that is me…consistently inconsistent. I like variety. I welcome change. Routine is my nemesis. Over the years, I have come to recognize this as being consistently inconsistent. Often I construe this to be a problem. But once in awhile I think maybe it is okay to be this way.

Now just to be clear, I’m not inconsistent on important things such as values. I’m also a very responsible person, taking care of what needs to be done on a regular basis. I’m consistent in my love and in relationships. So my flitting around like a butterfly does not apply to these situations. In fact, many people might be surprised to find that I define myself in this way at all.

I love learning, be it knowledge or skills. Part of my apparent inconsistency is actually consistent now that I think about it: I’m always wanting to try new things. In the fiber world, this has resulted in experience in a wide variety of activities such as sewing, quilting, crochet, knitting, embroidery, cross-stitch and now weaving (and I’m sure I’ve forgotten some). I like having all of these skills and I find myself rotating between them or even using them in combination. People who have known me in the past two years most likely see me as an avid knitter, even though there have been years in the past where I have not done any knitting at all. I’m dying to try spinning next, by the way. Inconsistent? Yes. But consistently in the world of fiber art so maybe not inconsistent at all.

This has been true of my work life to some extent as well. Whereas some peers could chose one narrow focus for their research and teaching, I had a wide range of interests and found the intersections most compelling. Upon taking a new job many years ago, a friend said something to the effect of, “okay, now are you going to settle down and stay there,” which for her meant the rest of my work life. Three states, five cities and several jobs and even career paths later, I think we can safely say no. This definitely can be seen as a problem when it comes to putting together a resume for the next position.

Some people thrive on routine: going to work at a set time, eating lunch at a defined lunch break, coming home at a set time and then having the freedom of an evening without thinking about work. At this point in my life, the thought of that kind of structure is nearly incapacitating to me. When I was busy remodeling houses several years ago, every day was a new adventure. Even with plans in place, events usually shifted and the day did not turn out as expected (especially if opening up a wall!). Although it was overwhelming at times, I actually thrived with that lack of routine.

Recently, I found an interesting Ted talk that gave me new insight to the apparent shifts in my attention. I’m thinking this may explain a little of my frustration with routine, as well.

What about you? Are you consistently inconsistent? Do you have a singular focus or does your creativity take you in many different directions? Do you thrive on routine or rail against it? How have you found a way to channel the way you are wired, as Emilie puts it, into your life?

 

It’s about time

I have been thinking a lot about time this past week. Time is one of those tricky subjects. Is it a defined reality or is it our perception? Yes, each day has 24 hours but how we view or experience those hours can shape our definition of time. When engaged in any creative activity, it is not uncommon to lose all sense of time, for example. Although we may have been creating for hours, it can feel like just minutes. When doing a dreaded task, the minutes slowly go by and time feels unending.

imageMy perception of time shifted dramatically a few days before Mother’s Day in 1998. My mother had some exploratory surgery because they thought perhaps she had diverticulitis. What they found instead was stage four ovarian cancer. She woke up to hear the doctor say, “I may be able to extend your life by two years.” Two years and a few months later she died, five days shy of her 72nd birthday.

I am not alone in discovering a new understanding of time with this type of life changing event. Suddenly you realize that time does not extend out into the distance. Time feels very finite and limited. How we use these precious minutes takes on a whole new meaning. Over time, or with the passing of time, however, it is easy to forget and lose track of the importance of thinking about time as finite.

My mom was a creative person. When I was growing up, she made all the clothes for myself and my three sisters, and even occasionally something for my two brothers. Her creativity was channeled into something productive and useful. She was looking forward to retiring and expanding her creative efforts, including trying out carpentry. But she ran out of time.

Seeing what happened to my mother has helped me to make some difficult choices about how I use my time. I MUST create. For me, right now, that creating is in the form of weaving. Tapestry weaving is known for being a particularly slow medium; it takes a long time to construct the cloth and the art all at once. This is at complete odds with our fast moving, time-crunching world. Even though I don’t really understand why, I feel that tapestry has chosen me and I simply must weave, no matter how much time it takes.

At the same time (so many of our ways of saying things incorporate time, have you noticed?), I now find myself at a point of making some decisions that would severely limit the amount of time I have available for weaving. And it is breaking my heart.

I’ve heard many platitudes from well-meaning, caring people about time. Well, maybe just for a short time…it doesn’t have to be forever…there is still time for that later. These are not comforting, folks. Perhaps when you are in your twenties. Maybe if you have not already seen so many run out of time.

How do we balance the demands on our time? Is creating really just a luxury? Or is it so central to our very being that we must find ways in which to devote as much time as possible to this activity? Do you have not enough time, just enough time, plenty of time for your heart’s desire?  As yet another saying goes, time marches on, my friends. How will you spend your time?

 

Finishing up

image

Whether it is knitting, crochet, weaving or sewing, I always find myself reluctant to do the necessary finishing work.  I find this pretty amazing given that I know good finishing techniques can really make the difference between something that looks okay and something that looks fabulous.  Take this sweater:  I think I’m going on two years since I got it thus far.  Clearly the little boy that was the intended recipient has outgrown it by now!  That is why if you go to my Ravelry project page you will see so many top down sweaters that don’t require seaming.  We won’t mention the stacks of granny squares that never made it into a blanket.

This past weekend, I attended a meeting of Tapestry Weavers West at the studio of Laura Kamian McDermott. She had displayed on the walls a progression of her work from oil painting to knit installations to tapestry. I loved how she was able to see at a glance who she is and what she has created.  It made me think about all my woven pieces stacked in a paper bag in the closet of my studio.  I decided it was time to buckle down and get to the finishing so I, too, could see the progression of my work.

As I worked to secure and hide what felt like an unending number of threads, I thought about why I dread finishing. There is an ease in the repetition of tasks, particularly with tapestry, that could be calming if I could settle in to it.  Once again, I am struck by how being centered in the present moment, rather than wishing I was on to the new project, would make the task ….well, I was going to write pleasant but I’m still at the “more tolerable” state of mind about this.  So clearly, part of my disdain for the task is just due to impatience and always looking ahead rather than being grounded in my now.

I think that another issue is that finishing work does not feel creative to me. It requires a different type of focus than designing or constructing a piece, be it through weaving, knitting, crochet or sewing. It also takes a different skill set and significant attention to detail.  I know that my skills in finishing are not strong, across the board. What if I actually took the time to develop better finishing skills? Would that make the task more less of a barrier for me? I know I would love the outcome of finely finished pieces. I realize that I need to look for the joy in completing these finishing tasks as part of the whole process of creation.

weavings

So here is the lineup of small tapestries waiting to be steamed.  I have experimented with different finishing possibilities, from a traditional hem to just weaving in the warp ends.  I’m still not sure which will be my go-to choice…but maybe that is because I have only completely finished one weaving!

So what about you, my creative friends…do you find finishing work to be a wonderful, zen experience that caps off the creative process (my dream!)? Is it a task you dread or one you love?  How do you stay grounded or centered in the experience?  Did it require skill development before it became more tolerable?  Share your knowledge and experience so that we may benefit and all use finishing techniques that enhance the overall creative project.

Weave-worthy designs?

image

So this empty loom has been staring at me forlornly for several weeks now. You see I had a great idea for a new tapestry weaving. I didn’t draw out a full cartoon because drawing is not my strength (to say the least!) but I generally knew what I wanted to do. I’m a kind of go-with-the-flow type of person so that works for me. I got the loom all warped up. I did my waste yarn and header. I did a small section of beautiful turquoise background and started the first shape. And then stopped. Completely. And haven’t touched it since.

So what is that about, I ask myself? Clearly, I was not as invested in weaving this design as I first thought. This led me down a path of thinking and reading about designing for tapestry.

As those of you who are weavers know, tapestry weaving is a S…L…O…W… art form. It takes a long time to complete even a relatively simple piece. If you add spinning and dyeing your own yarn to the process it is practically mind-boggling. There really are a limited number of tapestries that you will be able to weave in a lifetime. So it makes sense that you want to have a design in mind that is weave-worthy, that is compelling enough to spend all the time and effort necessary to make it a tapestry. But how do you know prior to actually weaving it if your design is weave-worthy?

I thought about listing a bunch of things that could be factors such as interesting shapes, the right level of detail, challenging color mixes and so on. But that still didn’t give me a clear answer to my question.  I went to my Pinterest page and reviewed the thousands of images of tapestries I have there. The range of styles and images and techniques is amazing but I still didn’t know what factors were most critical. I re-read class notes and chapters in weaving books on design. Nope, still no clear answer.

So instead of coming up with a list of criteria, I thought I would ask my weaving friends who have far more experience than myself. How do you know if your design is weave worthy?

Finding my voice

I have been told throughout my life that I have a voice that must be heard. My typical reaction to this comment is something along the lines of “gee, thanks…but I don’t really have anything to say.” I have been thinking about this quite a bit in the past few weeks as I have also pondered what my “voice” might be in art.

One of the challenges for me is that I am much more a both-and sort of person rather than either-or. I am very good at seeing the connections between things. I have been trained professionally to understand multiple viewpoints and hold all as valid, even if they appear to be contradictory. This is a valuable skill and I am glad that I have this ability. At the same time, it can make it harder to focus or choose one alternative over the other. It makes it harder to know my own voice.

About a year ago, I was a member of a decision making group that was choosing one outcome over other alternatives. I found myself being swayed by the opinions of the others in the group. This surprised me a bit as it was in an area where I had a lot of knowledge and should have been confident in my ability to make a sound choice. I know that to others I always appear as confident in my knowing and I certainly have a lot of education (22 years!) to back me up. I did not pay attention, however, to my inner knowing and, in effect, silenced my own voice. I was not happy with the outcome and it has bothered me ever since.

I recently had another opportunity to be a part of a group rendering a judgement. In this case, I did not have as much knowledge or experience on which to form my own opinion. Because of this and the experience from last year, I realized that it would be easy for me to want to please the others in the group and just go along with what they determined. It was important, though, for me to have a voice. So I decided to put my evaluation out to the group first, before I could be swayed by other perspectives. I knew that it was just a preliminary analysis and I could reconsider after hearing the thoughts of other group members but that at least my own unique viewpoint was presented.

I was amazed at how easy it was in the following week to lose faith in the validity of having my own voice. Rather than staying grounded in my own inner knowing, I worried about what others might be thinking about what I had presented. Had I said something that would make me look foolish, lacking knowledge or good judgement? My need to be people-pleasing, adaptive and supportive at the expense of my own connection became so clear to me. Others in the group (I projected) seemed to be so self-assured and firm in their judgement. It was easy to think that they must just be right.

Okay, so I’m getting long-winded here and I haven’t even talked about art. But, in truth, I have. When I try to define my own artistic vision these same issues emerge. What is the “right” way to do things? Should I do it like person A? But I can see the value of doing it like person B and C, also. What will the experts think of what I have done? Will they like it as much as I do or will they see it as simplistic and childish? Will I look foolish for even pretending that this has value? Do they all know my deepest fear, that I really have no artistic ability after all? That there simply is no voice to be heard?

I went on a long hike yesterday. It was pretty warm out and the hike was much steeper than I expected it to be. I knew that as I passed people on the trail my face would be bright red and I would be huffing and puffing a bit. It would be obvious that I wasn’t an expert here but I didn’t care! I was in the moment: enjoying the sunshine and fresh air, marveling at the fabulous views, feeling proud of myself for getting out alone even though I would have preferred to be hiking with someone else. The higher I hiked the more grounded I became in my own value, in my own knowing, in my own self. I AM an artist, whether or not it has manifested in a way that others can see.

Now how to remember that on a Monday morning when the pictures no longer load onto your blog and the sky is gray and you are worried about and…and…and…

Tell me peeps, do any of you have these struggles? Have you found your voice? How do you stay grounded in your own knowing? Is it easy for you to judge some as better or worse or does your ability to see value in all sometimes hinder your process? Let’s learn together.

Is knitting actually relaxing?

Knitting has been in the news lately, touted as a therapeutic activity that many can enjoy. Due to the mid-line, cross-hand action, it is particularly good for reinforcing cross-brain neural connections (I don’t have the reference for this so the professor in me is aghast but oh well!). It is also reported to be calming, a way to distract oneself from troubling thoughts or issues, and a form of meditation.

Every group of knitters that I query responds very uniformly to this question: yes, knitting is very relaxing. So it is with some hesitation that I assert, um, not always for me.

This may be a shock for those of you who have known me in the last few years. It is true that hardly a day has gone by in which I do not have knitting needles in my hands for at least a few minutes. This has not always been the case for me. There have been long periods in my life when I did not knit. Sometimes during these periods, I would crochet (some friends thought I only crocheted) or (gasp!) do neither one.

The last few years have been a respite from a particularly tumultuous decade. During that time, I experienced significant unexpected changes and challenges in my life, resulting in a high level of stress. I sometimes think that the intense knitting I have done recently is my attempt to knit back together the pieces of my life.

Knitting can be relaxing when it takes just the right amount of focus. If the knitting is too easy, I can get bored or actually use the time to perseverate on problems rather than freeing my mind. If the knitting is difficult I can get frustrated or irritated, especially when I don’t pay close attention to what I am doing and make mistakes that must be rectified.

image

The well-worn phrase, “so much yarn, so little time,” can also wreak havoc with my ability to relax into knitting. Often I find myself with an undercurrent of “go, go, go,” trying to knit furiously fast so that I can finish this project and move on to the next.

Once again, I am struck by how hard it can be to truly stay in the moment, even with an activity that is supposed to be one from which I derive pleasure. If I am focused on getting this project done quickly, so I can go on to the next, I’m not truly enjoying what I am doing in THIS moment (which, of course, is the only one I have). If my mind is wandering to other problems or issues, I’m also not staying grounded in my current experience.

If I do stay focused when knitting, it can be a glorious thing. I love the feel of the fibers running through my fingers. The rhythm of knitting, even in complicated patterns, can be calming if you maintain your attention on the task at hand. Watching a ball of yarn unwind and re-form into a blanket or garment can be fascinating. Thinking about the use of the final product by yourself or someone else can be immensely satisfying. Feeling the love that I pour into everything I knit is as fulfilling to me as it might be to a potential recipient of my handmade item. Sharing this activity with others who also appreciate these things gives me a sense of connectedness and community that I value highly.

So yes, knitting can be relaxing, meditative and an uplifting experience. But like so much of life, it requires my full attention in order to reap the highest benefit. Being present in the moment, recognizing and appreciating the various components of the activity, as well as feeling gratitude for the animals who shared their coats, the shearers, the spinners, the dyers, and the merchants who prepared these materials for me, elevates the entire endeavor.  Breathing in the rhythm of my needles makes knitting so much more than a way to keep my hands busy.

So I ask the question of you, is knitting relaxing? Other fiber activities, such as spinning or weaving? What determines if it is relaxing versus a source of angst? How do you stay truly present and in the moment during your creative activities?