The thing I always felt publishing would do for me is give me an answer to that dreadful question. That question that comes up at a dinner party, or a wedding, whenever you meet someone new. Inevitably you have ink on your face and the lighting is strong enough to illuminate your forthcoming shame. For one reason or another–perhaps you are just feeling brave, or desperate–you mention that you write. One of two things follow, and the only exception is when you are talking to another writer. The first, some variation of I’ve got this story that would make a fantastic book followed by a blow-by-blow description is dreary. This is still preferable to the other thing people say, which shuts your heart in a box and drops it into the ocean.
“So, have you had anything published?”
Did the room just get as hot as Hades? (In this moment I always fantasised that Moon-Face’s lovely slippery slip would appear.) You might stutter, “Oh, a few small things in magazines,” but that never cuts it. The person you were talking to wilts like a flower and the light goes out of their eyes. While you fumble for a change of subject, they are already seeking someone more successful and fascinating in the room, aided by the tangible embarrassment and shame emanating from your very pores.
Publication seems like it’s going to solve so many problems. When we are published we think we will feel justified, relevant. We think inspiration will flow and our sentences will be sound. If we poke deeper, we can unearth a desire for meaning, belonging and approval. We hope that publishing will make us enough.
Every book on writing I’ve ever read says the same thing (and I’ve read a few; books about writing are the least guilt-inducing procrastination I know).
Almost every single thing you hope publication will do for you is a fantasy. (Anne LaMotte)
It’s useful to question the belief that publishing a book will change our lives for the better. The only thing that will make our lives better is to change our perspective of how we are, right now. An enthusiastic inner critic will always find a reason for rejection, until we learn how to shut them up. Wanting to be a writer is the very worst reason to write, and your story will reflects that desperation. But when you love writing more than anything, and forget about yourself and your future fame, your words will start to breathe.
I’d love for my books to be read by children everywhere, but it’s not my primary motivation to write. I am going to write for the sake of the present, not for the future. I will fight to keep the process fun and meaningful, because writing is not just for reading. Writing is a great way to be curious, to make meaning and to live.
Big Hearted Business teaches people how to build a sustainable business with integrity and soul. It helps you deliver your product or service in ways that don’t rip people off or sell things to people who don’t need what you’re selling. BHB finds the heart in a thing that tends to be ruthless and cold, changes your pitch so your get customers who love you without you having to manipulate or convince anybody. Those involved show you how to put energy into what you want instead of what you fear, redirect your focus from getting to giving.
BHB held it’s first conference at the Abbotsford Convent this year, a weekend of purpose-searching, truth-telling soul work. That first conference sold out in a snap. A lot of peeps missed out, but things have changed. Everybody, anywhere in the world can come to the conference now. Hooray!
Aside from the brilliant speakers that shared their deepest truths and life lessons, attendees of that conference got an incredible community out of it. We’re celebrating that wonderful congregation of like-minded souls in a shared exhibition about this experience of community at ViewPoint Gallery in Bendigo (owned by Jess Cola, another BHB alumni).
The painting I made for the event is a picture of a garden, but it is a particular type of garden that you often see in permaculture: a cultivated wilderness. When you hold an idea loosely in your body and let the paintbrush lead you through it, it unveils things you didn’t know you knew. Like that the strength in a community can be in its differences. We are all on the same path; finding a way to be natural, making a life instead of a living. But our temperaments, our methods and our ambitions are unique.
This is my interpretation of the BHB community: each of us a very different kind of organism with a different intention about what we want to achieve, but pulling together gives us an advantage over monoculture or individualism. We support each other, defend each other. The synergy is what gives us strength.
The Big Hearted Business CommUnity exhibition opens this Saturday at 6pm. If you’re creative, please come. If you’re shy, you can use BHB as your password to talk to anyone in the room. We all LOVE to talk about it.
Insulated in the studio, we are safe from this question. It doesn’t need to be asked when we are making the art. Creativity is by and large beyond explanation, and perhaps that’s part of its magic. When we make a living brushstroke, when we look at a picture we respond to, we feel it in our bones. We understand it with our bodies, not our minds.
But those are the good days, the days we don’t have to explain. When we’re feeling blue, when our art hasn’t made an imprint on another soul, when our studio is filling with our rejected children, then the old question arises, a howl from deep within.
Why make art? Why bother with creativity?
I make art because it is the most dynamic way to investigate myself, particularly aspects of myself I have trouble accessing consciously. When I hold those things in my gaze, I can be more mindful about whether they are useful to me, are serving my happiness.
Making images–along with meditation, and other mindfulness tools–is a way to access deep seated beliefs. We can practice getting past the stream of mental chatter that obscures the things we hold in our bodies, in our muscles, in our tension. Doubt. Grief. Anger. Quiet the mind, and the real stuff comes up. Beliefs about our limitations and our possibilities. Beliefs about what others think and how the world works. Beliefs that, in most cases, we have no proofs of their functioning truth in the world. This is why we must be careful about choosing them, and why it is important to confront them.
Some interesting things came up with that last post I wrote, a post rounding up the good fortune I’ve been lucky enough to collect lately. The way that post was framed held a lot of projection. Projection about what the world might consider successful. Holding the product forth to be witnessed in its shiny completion. Look! People liked these things I made! (And maybe just a teeny bit of: my life is justified!)
This is no good. This is product-centeredness. I got carried away with hard work that had finally ‘paid off’. I’ve had a hangover all week after that trophy post. When you have a lucky streak of good things, you wrestle with addiction. You hunger for the next good thing, and it needs to be bigger and better to boot. The longer it takes, the more miserable you become. Oh hello! The comparison trap.
While celebration of success is healthy, I want to cultivate a life where the small things give me as much lasting pleasure as the big things. I don’t want to censor the failures. Rather, I want to embrace the lessons I take from them as the real successes. I’ve tried to bring in some of my Chan ink painting practice into the studio this week. The intention of Chan is to stay with the mark making, moment to moment, accepting, not judging. It’s a mindfulness-in-painting practice.
I have a strong memory of the happiness that radiated from my first Chan teacher: he laughed after each brushstroke. I saw him on days when he was sad, too, and he was still happy. Both feelings exist in us, and are available to us in every moment. Feelings are of us, they are not us. It’s a good thing to remember, on the sad days. One of the things I thought I’d learned was the equalising power of mindfulness. I do believe, even if my habit mind doesn’t, that negative emotions and experiences hold the same power for growth and transformation as positive ones. Each can be broken down into the same components, and each can enhance our life story as much as deplete it, with active management.
Neil Gaiman said it very nicely: artwork is like sending out hundreds of little messages in bottles, maybe one of which will come back. If you listen too much to what the world has to say about your art your creative powers are diminished. So you need to do what makes you happy, find comfort and nourishment in the process, and work to lose craving of the approval. Art making needs to have meaning in itself, rather than just in exposure.
Last week my focus slipped back into old ways of framing my experience in which successes and failures are divided. I’m noting that, and sinking into the present, where every moment contains both failure and success. Both things are necessary to my story and to my growth.
I was obliged to have a remedial massage last week. FOR MY HANDS. Of late I’ve woken up in the night and have trouble uncurling the clawed balls of tension my poor mitts have become. I had small hand-seizures as Pandora the masseuse was rubbing the knots out from the accumulation of painting and scribbling that’s been happening. Here’s some of the good stuff that came of the busyness (and yes, you’re all invited).
Last month ViewPoint Gallery in Bendigo held their first Small Works Prize. And I WON. Part of the prize was a solo show next year. I cannot tell you how chuffed I am. It’s a dream of mine to see all my dear beasts in the same room (that’s my paintings, not my friends) and, well, this place has THREE rooms. So I can put Everything in. And of course, I’m working like crazy to make beautiful new things to put in too. I’ll announce dates when the dust has settled.
I’m also participating in ViewPoint’s CommUnity show at the end of November, an exhibition celebrating the connections made at the inaugural Big Hearted Business conference this year, (founded by the darling Clare Bowditch). If you’re in creative circles you might already be aware of the ripple effect this conference had for the attendees, which was rather massive in terms of inspiration, but even more epic in terms of hooking up with other creatives. We’re kind of a force of nature now. I feel there will be a BHB-led revolution in the future.
In a literary twist, giving hope to bottom-drawer novels everywhere, an essay of mine is being published in Etchings 12. The essay is about my time sleeping under a bookshelf in Paris, and it’s rather diverting if I do say so myself.
Lastly, but not leastly, my fave ladies at Bakery Lane Gallery are hosting “Imagine” from the 21st of November. This exhibition explores translation between art forms, using literature as a springboard into visual arts. It will be fascinating to see the different takes on Peter Twohig’s The Cartographer.
Being alone is easy. When the thoughts are light and hopeful, there is no anxiety to send them packing. When the thoughts are dark, no one to see.
Being alone is fun. My mind has made a bridge from psychoanalyst’s nightmare to surrealist’s dream. An exciting place to explore in the quiet.
I did a psychometric test a few years ago, similar to Myer-Briggs. One aspect measured what percentage introvert/extrovert you might be. Most leaned one way or the other. I leaned so far that I nearly fell off the scale. Introvert, 100%. Certified!
For a long time I believed I had to act like an extrovert. I needed to be confident, entertaining, while every atom of my being screamed to escape and be alone. I believed only extroverts were happy, successful and socially dynamic, while introverts were lonely and repressed.
I don’t think that’s true anymore. I think introverts are doing themselves a disservice by assuming that they need to learn how to be more extroverted. We need to work with our qualities and our flaws, not against them. Susan Cain’s excellent TED talk has empowered introverts everywhere. Blogger Grrl and Dog posted recently about introvert pride, too.
Introverts present unique challenges in their friendships, one of which is space. I hold my friends very dear to my heart, but in truth, I only catch up with them in person a couple of times a year. I’m someone who needs a lot of alone time, I need time to explore the dark fantastical worlds inside my head. It’s easy for me to be overstimulated in company, and that fries my brain.
I love being alone, and because I have a (wonderful) family now which gives me very little alone time, I need to limit my social interaction even more. I’m frequently overwhelmed by external stimuli, especially social situations, and I am coming to accept this as part of my nature, something to protect. Choosing my social events with care helps me improve the enjoyment and quality of interactions I do have.
I’ve had cause to be extra grateful for friendship this month, and those who accept me as I am.
I went to a new friend’s housewarming party. And it was, shockingly, EASY. I neither stretched myself or avoided interaction. I only spoke with two people, but about rich and meaningful things. I let myself be flawed, let there be silence when it came up. I left satisfied and with a light heart.
In a reminder that time is no barrier to meaningful friendship, Noah received the most beautiful gift in the mail from a friend I haven’t seen for a long time: a giant, hand-illustrated alphabet poster. The friend isn’t someone I would consider an introvert. So I am especially grateful that he is accommodating of my lax in-person catchups, and still deems the friendship an investment. Surprise mail is always friendship affirming and is a beautiful way to keep contact and meaningful exchange with introverts.
Another, more unexpected thing that gave me pause to think about friendship this month was that I composed and sent a difficult letter asking a friend for space. This friend is an extrovert supreme: vibrant, noisy, impassioned, uncensored, full of drama and energy. The friendship proved too much for me, in this space where I am cultivating gentleness, quietude, and simplicity. I had a lot of conflict about writing the letter, but in the end, decided for me it was an act of bravery and self-love, the more difficult thing to do than letting it slide. I expected anger, resentment; but my friend had a generous and compassionate response. In an unexpected twist, a good friend can be one who lets go of the friendship to give you space–real space–when you need it.
Thank you to all my friends, past and present. You help me grow into the person I want to become, am becoming.
A lot of people describe me as creative. Some say (wistfully), “I wish I could paint/draw/write. I wish I was creative.”
In my opinion, the only difference between me and them is that I put aside time to be creative, and they don’t. Without wanting to sound brutal, if you’re not creative, it’s because you’re choosing not to be. There is no one who can’t pick up a pencil and draw. And there is no one who, after a few hundred drawings, won’t have improved.
The idea of talent kills me. I don’t have a talented bone in my body. I wrote half a dozen bad novels and now I’m starting to get better. I drew my whole life and have painted over I don’t know how many ugly paintings. You get better at creative pursuits the same way you get better at anything else: through practice and the acceptance that you always have more to learn.
For those whowishthey could be more creative, stop wishing. Start doing. Here are some ideas to help.
1. Art is not about capturing likeness of an object. Art is about capturing likeness of feeling. I don’t care how an apple really looks. But I do care about how you see an apple, and how you feel about it. You can still be an artist even if you never draw a perfect apple.
2. You already have your own unique feelings and experience. Learning to make art is about communicating that. You have the richest material to work with, the bad stuff and the good stuff, and just need to draw it outside of body.
3. To do that, create from the body, not the mind. Drive the brush, words, music from your core. Bring up the bad stuff, too.
4. The bad stuff can be scary. Fear is ok. Feel the fear. In the end it will make you a happier human and truer artist.
5. Focus on the process. Let go of what you want the picture to look like. Work with what is happening in each moment. The product will take care of itself.
6. That said, it takes a lot of bad pictures to make a good picture (or song, or story). The ghastly pictures want a voice too. Give it to them. You’ve just got one picture closer to something wonderful.
I changed my tagline recently. Release the Beasts. I wanted to write a little about it, because it encapsulates why I blog, what I paint, and why I write for children.
When a negative emotion comes up, we don’t want to feel bad. The thoughtless response presents itself in three ways. We can shut that feeling down, numb or distract ourselves. We can shunt it off so it’s someone else’s problem, blaming, lashing out, trying to hurt others in an effort to soothe ourselves. Or we can submit to it, give ourselves up to despair and depression.
These tactics suck. They do no favours to anybody, and the negative emotion is augmented from repression, conflict or rumination. I’ve been trying to examine my negative habits and responses mindfully, on a more compassionate level, and that’s been helping a lot. But I’ve come across a book recently which takes things to the next level, a book of great wisdom and understanding: Thich Nhat Hahn’s Fear. He recommends more than meeting your fears with compassion. He recommends inviting them up, greeting them when the conditions are safe to do so: “Dear little fear, I’m not afraid of you. Let me embrace you for a while.” A weird thing: when you spend time with your fear, without judging, without trying to escape it, just sitting with it, it becomes outside of you. It doesn’t resonate as if it is you anymore.
Release the beasts doesn’t mean letting loose whenever you feel angry or afraid. It means giving yourself permission to feel whatever you’re feeling in a safe environment. Beasts aren’t just the passionate negative emotions like anger and fear; they can be gentle sorrows, too. It is important to honour those feelings as we honour the good ones. There is nothing wrong with experiencing them; in fact there is no other way to process them. Ignored, they become quiet cancers, gnawing away at our bones.
In meeting my beasts gently, with mindfulness, I am able to weather the emotion and let it pass. In inviting them up during painting or meditation, I am able to better practice friendliness towards them. Fears, and thoughts themselves, are energy. Energy can’t be repressed, but it can change form. Meet those thoughts with suppression and violence, and they are liable to find a voice in a more destructive way, hurting yourself or others. By hearing them–without being enslaved by them–we can lighten and even befriend them.
This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all! Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still, treat each guest honorably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.
Making art is scary because it reflects who we are in the moment of making. A lot of people spend their whole lives hiding who they are; their hurts, their fears, their dreams. When that is mirrored back at them, it can be hard to face.
When we were little, we made art with curiosity and freedom. If that art was critiqued by an adult, we were criticized at our most open, expressive and vulnerable, without the resilience of an adult cognition. Some of us gave up, and some tried to paint prettier or more technical pictures, pictures to please people other than ourselves. But the pictures that move us don’t have to be pretty or technical, and they don’t have to mean everything to everyone. They are moving because there is something of the artist in them, because the artist has opened their wounds to you, made themselves vulnerable to you. It is the ultimate vulnerability to offer something you put love into making and give someone the opportunity to say it’s crap. But you also give them the opportunity to say it’s beautiful and mean it, and connect with a deep and true part of yourself.
Being vulnerable to a stranger is a necessary act because it shows others the potential for flaws to be seen from other perspectives. It illuminates the beauty in imperfection, in humanness. Making vulnerable art is a way to positively transform fear and anger, that can manifest in so many destructive ways. It gives others hope and courage, demonstrates that it is okay to be seen. That’s why it’s no mean feat to be an artist. And that’s why anyone can be one, and what gives non-artists moments of artistry, makes life art.
That, I think, is key to my definition of an artist; someone who makes themselves available to connection every day by being as real and true as they can, by being professionally vulnerable.
I’m writing this for all the people who have meditation on their to-do list, only their to-do list is so long they never get around to it. Meditation is really hard for busy minds; but it’s my number one tool in my mindfulness toolkit.
The excuses come up thick and fast against anything that forces us to interrupt busy work or family schedules. I suspect many of us are so busy precisely to avoid the ghosts that come up in the stillness. They are scary, and tiring, and they can hurt. So it’s easy to pop meditation into the Do It Later basket, especially when you’ve tried one style and that didn’t work for you. But meditation practices are as varied as people, and some practices will be gentler on a wound up mind than others.
It took me a long time to get comfortable with a meditation practice, and the one that fits is tailored to me. My practice is uber flexible, taken at different times of day for different lengths of time, using whatever meditation balm I find most appropriate for my state of mind. I meet so many people who, like me, struggle to settle into meditation, and because I believe in meditation as one of the most powerful forces for change, I thought I’d share what has worked for me.
The main thing to note is that you should try different styles and work out what is right for you. The meditations I love might not work for you at all, and you shouldn’t think you’re doing anything wrong. Try as many meditations as you can before settling, so you can apply the right meditation for your state of mind, like medicine. The medicine might be a daily practice that is always the same: by far most of the meditators I know practice Vipassana for twenty minutes to an hour every sunrise, and for them that is wonderfully grounding. Sunrise was never going to work for me when my children are up well before daybreak; so I meditate when and where I can, even if that is last thing at night (for some people this will lead to sleeping problems so again, listen to your body and do what works for YOU). I use all five of the meditations below, for as close to twenty minutes as I can manage.
Please note: in my experience, the ‘quieter’ meditations are near impossible during severe depressive episodes. If you are able to, walking meditation, or just walking, is a good thing to do. Find a doctor with a kind bedside manner and get a therapist of some kind. Please do.
I’d also like to point out that these are informal notes on a personal practice. For a more formal practice, please visit your local Buddhist or mindfulness centre. There are powerful benefits of meditating in a group.
Mindfulness of Breath
An aspect of Vipassana meditation, in which one literally notes the quality of breath as it happens in real time. It seems to be the meditation people are introduced to first, and also the one most popularly taken on as daily practice. That said, don’t despair if you find it difficult; this for me was the most subtle and most challenging of meditations (especially working with panic). It is a beautifully simple practice, and once you have the principles, you can see immediate benefits.
An excellent practice for a busy mind, this guided meditation brings the mind back into the body. I usually recommend this to beginners over mindfulness of breathing if they are nervous about meditation, because there is more to ‘do’–listening to a voice helps keep focus. Start with Jon Kabat-Zinn (you can get his books/cds at your local library) and see if his voice appeals, or the free resource at Smiling Mind.
This is my favourite meditation for cultivating a sense of belonging. It’s also good for busy minds because it brings one into the body, although it’s best if you’re not getting anywhere in particular. The intention is to root back to the earth, and one comes out of it transported from daily annoyances with a decent dose of perspective. I recommend using Thich Nhat Hanh’s instructions.
The Metta Bhavana was the first meditation I was introduced to. Basically it generates good feeling and expansive love, so it’s a great meditation to use as a balm for difficult emotions like anger and hatred. More recently I’ve been using this meditation to reduce anxiety in social situations. The theory is that it’s difficult to feel panic around people when you feel like everybody’s your friend. If you do this meditation often enough, it will almost certainly increase your wellbeing.
This is my little treasure meditation, and the one I use most frequently. I recommend it especially to creative people. If you’ve ever heard David Lynch talk about Transcendental Meditation, you’ll know that TM has a reputation for increasing understanding, creativity, energy and awareness. Unfortunately it also has a reputation for being a bit of a scam, mostly because of the heinous cost, making the experience unavailable to many. NSR was developed by a teacher disillusioned with the inaccessibility and secrecy of TM, who wanted to make the principles available for everyone. It is a meditation based on mantra, which is experienced as a kind of vibration. When you get it down, it feels like your brain is being massaged. It costs $25. I don’t hesitate to recommend it. Best money I ever spent.
There are countless other meditations, many beautiful ones. Try whatever sounds nice to you. If you have trouble making the commitment, start with the smallest allottment of time you can commit to every single day. For some that might only be five minutes. If you find yourself wanting to meditate longer, wonderful. But every day you will do at least that five minutes.
How about it? Will you commit to trying meditation for 30 days? Try them all, stick with one, do what suits you. And please share if you meditate, what works for you, and any links to meditations we can try!