Yesterday was my 55th birthday, it was an extraordinary day in so many ways. Thank you universe, you really stepped up this year. Autumn has always been my favorite time of year and not just because I was born in October.
“A man is what he thinks about all day long.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson
I’ve thought about this quote and others of this ilk a lot lately—we are the company we keep and what we focus on grows, what you become, you think…the list goes on & on.
Reading news, focusing on lack or placing blame for for how I FEEL creates chaos in my mind and wastes my energy. I’ve deliberately surrounded myself with beauty in the last week. This is pretty elemental I suppose. However, my mind’s inclination can shift on a dime if I’m not paying attention. This week my screen time is down dramatically and my mood is elevated…seems deliberateness needs to be practiced.
Do I want to be fueled by confusion, fear, and outrage or dumbstruck & gobsmacked by the absolute beauty of the universe?
I read an interview focusing on process over outcomes on Daily OM with creativity coach, Eric Maisel. As I read I first thought about my creative work, then I thought about other aspects of my life in broad terms: health-both physical & mental, relationships, my home, spending habits, and so on.
“If you can keep as your mantra, “process” — so that each thing you do is part of the creative process and all you can do is try your darnedest and not attach to outcomes — you will begin to extinguish the word “failure” from your inner landscape.”
—Eric Maisel/Creativity Coach
PROCESS: something going on—PROCEEDING
OUTCOME: something that follows as a result or consequence
When I get overly focused on outcomes, I can become paralyzed and do nothing because it all seems far too overwhelming. WHY BOTHER?
When I read the definition of process, I started thinking about another word closely linked to process…progress. I looked up the definition for more clarity.
PROGRESS: gradual betterment
Thank you Merriam Webster.
This was an AHA MOMENT for me…gradual betterment. This is so simple. I was immediately a giddy FAN GIRL. I said it over and over in my head. I want a t-shirt, bumper sticker, a love song, skywriting, poetry, perhaps even a museum dedicated to magnificence of gradual betterment.
Examples that came to mind…
OUTCOME: If I never eat sugar again, I’ll lose tons of weight. PROGRESS: I’m going to try to not eat sweets a few days a week.
OUTCOME: I have to sort all of my boxes of photos. PROGRESS: I’m going to sort one box today and create an organizational system.
Working with progress is so much gentler, less judgmental and gives me something to build upon. Progress allows space for self compassion and helps me honor what I HAVE accomplished, not focus on what I haven’t gotten to quite yet.
Last weekend I was beyond snarky. I pulled a cardboard box from the recycling and headed (stomped) to my basement studio. I needed paint on my hands and in my hair and to get the hell away from people…all people. Thanks to the late Ric Ocasek, these lyrics capture what I was feeling.
The Cars, Just What I Needed
I don’t mind you comin’ here And wastin’ all my time, time ‘Cause when you’re standin’ oh so near I kinda lose my mind, yeah
I settled down after some time creating—always good for everyone in my orbit. The Butterfly Effect of creativity I suppose. Here are the results of my efforts.
I prefer to be foolish when I feel like it, and be accountable to nobody. ― Willa Cather,My Ántonia
In January I stumbled upon a book by Todd Herman, The Alter Ego Effect. His concept seems relatively simple. However, putting it into practice isn’t without some effort. I’ve been thinking about my alter ego(s), or at least the times I’ve needed one and didn’t realized it yet.
“Your Alter Ego is really about defining how you want to show up, defining the Superpowers, and borrowing the characteristics of an existing person, character, superhero, animal, or whatever to help activate your Heroic Self.” —Todd Herman
We step in and out of so many arenas throughout our days and our lives. I’m a wife, mother, daughter-in-law, daughter, sister, sister-in-law, aunt, great aunt, niece, cousin, friend, artist, writer, board member, family recovery coach, neighbor, athlete…the list goes on and on.
Do I really need to drag every single one of my roles around with me all the time? NO, I really don’t.
What are my dominant characteristics?
THE POSITIVE: generous, compassionate, empathetic, creative & adaptable
THENOT SO POSITIVE: judgmental, reactive, disorganized, & often far too intense
What traits do my heroes possess?
Dorthea Lange/depression-era photographer—Dorthea could brilliantly see people’s humanity even in unimaginably difficult circumstances.
Willa Cather/prairie writer—My Antonia, Oh Pioneers, Song of the Lark—She wrote remarkable stories about pioneer life, providing context and sweeping language about the independence I felt growing up in South Dakota. NOTE: I named my daughter Willa in honor of the connection I felt to her writing.
Polly Gray (Aunt Polly)fiercely and elegantly played by Helen McCrory from the series Peaky Blinders is who I think of as my alter ego now. What I’m most drawn to is that Aunt Polly understands people very well; their nature, talents, weaknesses, heartaches, and perhaps most importantly—what intrinsically motivates them.
“Sometimes the women have to take over. Like in the war.”
—Polly Gray, Peaky Blinders, Series 1: Episode 4
Polly Gray also is determined, deliberate, generous, knows her strengths, and can access her anger when necessary. I tend to tamp down my anger and then it leaks out in unhealthy ways, mostly to those closest to me.
Anger often is the appropriate response to circumstances of injustice or being wronged. I want to learn how to use my anger, communicate clearly without brain-clouding emotion or being defensive when possible. Pretending I’m Aunt Polly gives me a little breathing room and more options of how to respond when my anger surfaces.
I want my alter ego (the best version of me) to possess the courage to step into new roles, shed old ones, and not waste much time looking back or worrying what people think.
Judy Bloom’s—Ramonathe Pest & Astrid Lindgren’s—Pippi Longstockingwere so influential in my young life. I longed to be some version of a badass just like them and perhaps they would’ve embodied many of Polly Gray’s best traits if they had grown up.
All of the women (and girls) I admire, refused to conform to the feminine standards of their time.
Sadly Helen McCrory died last week after battling cancer. Helen/Aunt Polly you were a fictional badass for the ages and from what I’m reading, you were in real life too.
Her husband is Damien Lewis who is in the series I’m currently watchin,Homeland. He wrote this after her death, “She’s shown no fear, no bitterness, no self-pity, only armed us with the courage to go on and insisted that no one be sad, because she is happy. I’m staggered by her. She’s been a meteor in our life.”
The theme song to Peaky Blinders; Red Right Hand by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and it sets the tone of the show so brilliantly. I have it quickly accessible on my phone when I need to channel Aunt Polly.
NOTE: Peaky Blinders isn’t for everyone. It’s hyper-violent (I had to look away quite a bit). However, at the heart of it all, the series centers around family, money, power, betrayal, forgiveness, redemption, and love…and that all makes for some extraordinary storytelling.
A special nod to the costume designer for Peaky Blinders, Alison McCosh. The costumes are so gorgeous and innovative. They made me want to be a gangster in Birmingham in the 1920s or at the very least occasionally dress like one.
We’ve all summoned some badassery when it was required of us at one point or another. I would love to hear about your alter ego or the circumstances when you needed a little distance from YOU by embodying a slightly altered version.
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I spent most mornings last summer photographing and then picking up trash on Town Neck Beach in Sandwich, Massachusetts. I created these plates with my Cape Cod photos after thinking about the amount of garbage floating in the world’s oceans.
I didn’t photograph the paper plates with ketchup/mustard smeared on them for obvious aesthetic reasons. Trust me, there were a lot of them almost every day. I provided a link below to one of my beach garbage posts from last summer.
I want to be more deliberate (not radical, just mindful) about garbage and the packaging I choose. Using these plates for a long time instead of plastic seems like an easy switch.
Hey, friends & family the plates will be in the garage ready for your use. Just shoot me a text and grab them on your way to the beach.
created nor destroyed…the total amount of mass and energy in the universe is constant. —Law of Conservation of Mass, discovered by Antoine Lavoisier in 1785
matter: the formless substratum of all things which exists only potentially and upon which form acts to produce realities —Merriam Webster
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of matter and how I spend my time, resources, and energy. I’m not a first responder, teacher, food producer, or any of the many admirable front line workers that kept us going during this remarkably challenging COVID19 year.
I’m an artist and making things and thinking about making things takes up a lot of my time…most actually. I think in potential constantly to produce other realities.
So, does making art in my basement studio matter in any way right now?
I just don’t know.
Here’s what I do know. I was unsettled the other day. I cleaned my studio. There was a lot of cardboard. I rescued it from the recycling. I created the work below. I felt much more settled.
Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.
I recently picked up my great-great-uncle, Will Lillibridge’s book, Ben Blair and landed on a few passages that seemed to fit what i was pondering in the moment.
“Ten miles out on the prairies,—not lands plane as a table, as they are usually pictured, but rolling like the sea with waves of tremendous amplitude—stood a rough shack, called by courtesy a house.”
—Will Lillibridge—Ben Blair—Chapter II Desolation
Usually in January I make an annual pilgrimage to my hometown of Burke, South Dakota. This year, because of COVID19, I won’t be traveling. So, on this Winter Solstice 2020, I’m reflecting on the prairie, my ancestors and revisiting my photographs.
I’ve always assumed that my love of stark landscapes was simply due to where I grew up. However, as I age I’m increasingly aware that it’s far more complex than that alone. I’m drawn to spaciousness in any form. In paintings, film, photographs, literature it’s what’s NOT there that I love and am so drawn to. Oh, and when there’s a well-placed pause in a song—damn, I swoon.
There’s a duality of growing up in rural America that I understand now at fifty-four and having lived out east for thirty years. There’s on one hand, a fiercely independent streak born out of generations of hardscrabble pioneer and homestead life, but there’s also what’s in the negative space everywhere that I’m more curious about lately.
For that pioneer spirit to survive on such isolated terrain, there’s often a high need for conformity. To me there can be a false sense of security that comes from conformity. When we conform too much, we might be leaving some of the best parts of ourselves hidden in the negative space.
INDEPENDENCE + CONFORMITY = ?
While being around the like-minded often puts folks at ease, the opposite can be quite true as well. When people are different, or deemed outsiders, it might be natural to fear that they might upset the social order in some way. Is this really true,or does it just FEEL true?
The psychology of geography, interesting enough in the year of a world-wide pandemic, is rooted in outsiders potentially bringing disease to a region. Of course illness was greatly feared when folks were trying to populate a new territory…all lives certainly mattered back then just as they do now.
To honor that fierce independence it seems to me that different skills, ideas, and perspectives should be exceptionally valued, hell, even celebrated—now more than ever regardless of one’s geography.
We really need all types of thinkers and doers to face the world’s many challenges. Perhaps this first day of winter is well-timed for some quiet contemplation on what seems likely to be an isolated, and potentially sorrow-filled season before the light returns.
“To-night, for the first time, and with a wonder we all feel when the obvious but long unseen suddenly becomes apparent, the primary fact of human brotherhood, irrespective of caste, came home to him.”
—Will Lillibridge—Ben Blair, Chapter XXII Two Friends Have it Out