Flying By The Seat Of My Pants

This title is the best description I can think of for Summer, 2017. That description could also include a head that was down, focused and determined. It was a hard summer but it was also an exciting summer, both, and. And it was fun, but it wasn't capital F Fun, like riding the unicorn on a merry-go-round while eating a cupcake. It wasn't that kind of fun. But it was the kind of exhilaration you experience when you do challenging things and you get to the other side, accomplished and grateful for the journey, bruised knees and all. 

The Summer Of Hard Things included (but not limited to): getting to THREE YEARS of sobriety, hiking eighteen miles in a week up some very steep mountains, making a podcast happen while managing a family and work, not turning down a single summer job so I could buy Hamilton, The Musical tickets for myself and kids, driving my kids to Chicago to see said musical. 

I was so looking forward to transitioning into the new school year and Fall, Tammi and I even recorded a whole podcast about it. But at only two days in, I felt like I was at a stalemate. That vision I thought I had cultivated acutely, blocked. Then the apathy started to settle in like a thick fog, and I suddenly felt like I was lodged in mud. Funny how I always find the thing I need to read at the right time, and this NYT essay explained it all. Being ALL IN for something, eyes on the prize, puts you in a flow and actually elevates your mood. Even though I felt I could barely look up this summer, I was happy. Happiness is never my goal but alas, there it was. Now that I'm in transition and all options seem open, I feel untethered and in slow motion. My job is not to put a value on this because this too is life. 

My city is currently getting hit by the periphery of Hurricane Harvey, so now I'm forced to sit with this. Instead of busying, I have no distractions to take me out of the discomfort of transition. It is the nature of the modern human to get ON with it already, to be there already, in the thick of it instead of being on the way. On the way is boring. I was always on the way to something when I was still drinking, which inspired more drinking and there I was, eating my own tail. If you keep following the signs, eventually you will get to the precipice of the thing that requires your next leap. 


Why do you write like your running out of time?
I'm not falling behind or running late.
--Aaron Burr, Hamilton

A Lesson in Surrender

The Recovery Gal's latest art exchange for the Winter Solstice has come and gone. If you want to catch up on what I'm referring to, you can here. The theme for this exchange was SURRENDER. Ah, I thought, and smugly I may add: I got this. I had the perfect, most Pinterest-worthy interactive piece of art all dreamed and schemed in my head, but there was only one problem. I couldn't start it. I was having so much resistance to making the thing and I couldn't figure out why. I knew I wanted it to be about a metamorphosis, the evolution that comes when one surrenders. The problem is that it's not the whole story, it's not my whole story. The bathroom floor, down on my knees moment had to be a part of it too. Most of my ideas come either in the shower or in a dream and this one floated through me in my sleep. I surrendered.

With this idea, I needed a box, a perfectly imperfect box that I made (without woodworking tools, mind you, and I wouldn't recommend) with my hands.

The two elements I kept from my first idea were a chrysalis and a butterfly, the metamorphosis, which I made with embroidery and applique. (I'm exchanging with two ladies as why there are two.)

I wanted to cover the box with words from an old journal. These particular words are significant because they were written in the middle of the night in one of the last years of my drinking. It was right around a birthday and I am attempting to describe, in barely legible handwriting, how my creativity only lies in the moments between sober and passed out. (If you want to see the journal entry in its entirety, it is here.) I thought that was the only magical creative moment for me and I chased it for decades. I cried as I made several copies of that journal entry to glue to my boxes. It's so hard to relive those moments, those lifetimes, so stuck, so miserable, so far from a solution. 

I used a decoupage-type glue and added many layers, so many layers of journal paper. I also added the words AND YET, NOT YET, which describes that continuous, incoherent state I was in, like purgatory. When the glue dried, I used an old grease marker to distress it more.

I glued the chrysalis and the butterfly wing to the front and back to finish it. I'm very pleased with how it turned out, exactly like my dream actually. It was very hard to make as it brought up so much emotion and the whole experience was one long exercise in surrender, the final piece, the metamorphosis.

I have to share the two stunning pieces I received from this #artexhange.

This is from Sarelle and please visit her blog to see her description of her process. It is so good. 

I can use it when I surrender to the day to get cozy under it with a book and a cup of tea. It reminds me of water, which is incorporated in the one and only tattoo I got when I was 19. One of my favorite things to do since I was a kid is to float in water and listen to my breath...surrender. I love this, the details are gorgeous.

My second piece came from Rachel. I'm going to paraphrase her description.

The idea is that when we stop trying to make the world go away and put down the umbrella and just experience the cold, wet rain, the pain, the discomfort, it isn't so bad. Just as the tree surrenders its leaves in the winter for new ones to grow, so should we. And the umbrella is actually a sketch collaged on to the piece, which is a metaphor for what we think is protecting us is sometimes just a mirage, or a story in our head. This piece is utterly beautiful, the woman looks so at peace, just putting her umbrella down and feeling the rain. It is going to hang in my studio for every moment I need to remember this.

If you want to follow along on Instagram to see the full collection of art exchanged this Winter Solstice, search the hashtag #artexchange and #recoverygalsartexchange . The pieces are still trickling in as the holidays threw some of us behind. If you are interested in joining in the next one planned for the Spring Equinox, contact me or Tammi Salas. We'll be coming up with the next theme in the next few weeks. This is seriously one of the most meaningful things I'm doing right now. I love all of the art we are making...pinch me.

A Love Letter

After a weekend of transporting my kids to performances, gymnastics and elementary school Halloween carnivals, I finally got to escape one early evening to go to a reading, hosted just out of town at a friend's ranch.  I pulled on to the tollway, the sun was beginning to set and as I started driving into the magic hour, INXS's Don't Change came on the radio.

I'm standing here on the ground
The sky above won't fall down

I increased my speed to 80 mph (the speed limit, by the way, I try and follow most bylaws now) and flying down the tollway, blasting that song and singing to the top of my lungs, every hair on my body was standing on end. I even said to myself, Please remember this, this is joy.

I think back to when I was a teenager, before I started compulsively tamping down or amping up the way I felt with booze. I remember wanting this pair of purple Jordache, purple nylon Nikes and a neon sherbet plaid Santa Cruz crop top SO BAD that my stomach would ache. They would catch my eye at Foley's and I would stare longingly at them until I felt like I would throw up, I wanted them so bad. But I wouldn't. It would pass and I would go home without them and live another day. The outfit was eventually a birthday present, I think, but the point is, I moved through the pain, anxiety and sadness over not having that outfit, felt it fully in my body, felt like I may puke but got up to go to school the next day. And without being able to tell you specifically, I'm sure I channeled that energy into something productive or creative, even if it was Algebra.

I don't think pain and anxiety and sadness necessarily feel good, but I can feel them. I'm no longer numb and I have some gratitude for the extremes because it makes me feel alive. The danger zone for me is discontentment. It's that feeling that you can't put your finger on but it sounds like meh. There's a line in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous (pg. 61) that says:

Is (s)he not a victim of delusion that (s)he can wrest satisfaction and happiness out of this world if (s)he only manages well?

The context is about self-will and control and, drinking or sober, it's about telling the world, This is my perfectly curated world, everything is fine, nothing to see here. And don't get me wrong, some days simply managing my life is parade-worthy. But if I stay there, as Good Life-Manager and that is all I am, I am not satisfied or happy and I am extremely discontent. I have to wake up every day and consciously Surrender. I have to surrender to change and evolution. I have to surrender to possibilities, to mystery, to freedom. That is the only place my happiness and satisfaction lies. It's taken me two and half years to name that feeling that I've felt for 47 years.*

So now when I'm feeling the super uncomfortable feelings, which is joy sometimes, ironically, I try and channel that into creativity. This is why I love working with my hands, particularly, because expressing myself outwardly means that my outsides are finally matching my insides. 

Self-portrait. It's okay to still call them that, right?

Self-portrait. It's okay to still call them that, right?

It's fun to think of life as a performance piece. Or my Mid-Life Solution, as I oh so affectionately like to refer to this time as. Your creativity doesn't have to be channeled as art, per se. I want to take up boxing, get a new tattoo or five, write a novel, get my nose pierced, because I'm not done. I'm not done evolving or changing and surrendering to that everyday is exciting.

I dressed UP for Halloween this year because I was Barb in high school and still basically am and will always be Barb. #strangerthings

I dressed UP for Halloween this year because I was Barb in high school and still basically am and will always be Barb. #strangerthings

I recently got to dress myself for a wedding and I imagined my outfit and then I made it. I haven't gotten to do that in a long time, so it was really fun. All hand stitched with a needle and thread and my two capable hands.

This is probably as close to teenage Molly Ringwald as I'll ever get. #myhero

This is probably as close to teenage Molly Ringwald as I'll ever get. #myhero

I knocked this design off from Lanvin Spring 2017 RTW ( if you want to check it out).

I knocked this design off from Lanvin Spring 2017 RTW ( if you want to check it out).

*This post started as a love note to my future self that I can refer back to when I'm feeling stuck in a rut. And a funny thing happened on the way to writing it, life. Yep, I've been so busy with events, tasks and tedium that something I started three weeks ago, I'm just now finishing and changing and adding to and embellishing. And sometimes, skimming the surface and not taking myself too seriously is the other thing I need and it is just as important as contemplating my existence. Life is such a melange of paradox, no? Some days I do need to surrender to the possibility of growth and magic and some days I just want to laugh at fart jokes and say, screw the work. Both are me. Both are okay. I'm just grateful to even find meaning in the tedium.