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Light Leaks: Quest 2016 with Debbie Millman

Candle with no flame

The Visible Difference of Light and Dark

 

I am steeped in this growing darkness. I cannot resist it.

As a child the glare of tinsel and fat glowing Christmas lights on our tree drew me, but what I most loved was the way that blazing light stood out against the dark of our living room. My own kids used to get up very early to watch dawn happen while the Christmas tree stood in the dark morning. Now, they stay up late, watching it, reading near the tree. (That is- once we put the tree up. We are always the last people at the tree farm on Christmas Eve. We like to put our tree up on the 24th so it can last, you know, until the last day of Christmas, otherwise known as Valentine’s Day.)

What draws me to light is not the light itself, but how it stands against the dark. This may be overstating the obvious and if you have heard all you want to hear this season about light, then scroll on. But if you are game for a discussion of dark, then stay with me.

Last night was the second night of Hanukah. I am married to a Jewish man and in our 23 years together, we have burned many candles, for Advent, Hanukah, Solstice, Christmas, yahrzeit candles and birthday candles, candles when someone we love is in need, candles when we want to make a party and always at dinner, especially in winter. In our family, I am the maker of the holidays. He will roast and trim and gather materials for whatever gift, Solstice spiral or meal we decide to work on. But the actual making, and even the planning, starts with me. So it was quite normal for him to ask about our menorah. But when he said, “Thanks for keeping me Jewish,” I heard his mother chuckle in the ethers, and his Grandmother Fanny elbowing my Grandmother Elsie. I no more keep him Jewish than he keeps me Christian. We do honor our mutual faith heritage and cultivate the practices that make these celebrations meaningful for each other. He is the one who sets off for the tree on Christmas Eve while I am stirring up the gingerbread dough. I went to the basement to find the menorah, the one with Noah’s animals on the ark, each with a candle hole in their head. I picked up more candles at the coop and last night at dinner, we set them to light.

The second night
The second night

 

 

Barbara Mahany writes in her wonderful book, Slowing Time,

“I am waking up to the notion that to usher the season into my house is to awaken the sacred.”
-Barbara Mahany

Candles awaken the sacred. I study a candle flame as I meditate in the early morning dark. The flame dodges the wick, which nods back and forth, tiny dark stem with a touch of orange pollen at its tip. The candle draws my attention and lets me soften my gaze. I become receptively quiet. Candles are part of how I usher in our dark season. They stand against umbered space, like the Christmas tree, ablaze, in immediate proximity to dark. I cannot have the one without the other.

Which is why I spend so much time slathering black gesso on to my journal pages. I have to explore this dark time with the tools my hands crave. I knit with black yarn; I cover my journal pages with dark paints and write with lighter colored pens. This has become my habit and like the candles, it helps me usher in the season. I notice things differently when I write against a black background.

from my dark journal with a door from Catherine Anderson's book framing the center
from my dark journal with a door from Catherine Anderson’s book framing the center

In Tracking Wonder’s Quest 2016, our question this weekend was from Debbie Millman. Her impressive bio is below, but I have long enjoyed her books. They are works of literary and graphic expression and so inspiring to me as I write my book. Her question:

How would you do business as unusual in 2016 if you knew – no matter what you chose – you would not fail?

The work I have been doing for 21 years, which has sourced my current work, is that of mothering. While I did not enter the position as a job, I suppose you could say I interviewed for the role and accepted it when it was offered to me. And this work experience, which continues to this fresh second in which you read these words, has taught me much about the value of success and failure in a job that has few boundaries and no fiscal compensation. For what is failure than the inability to meet your responsibilities whether they be financial, emotional or practically, as in the soccer or immunization schedule, get them to church for choir practice or file their camp forms by this certain date? Failure can take catastrophic proportion in this job. Yes, there are many levels of failure in parenting, and I think we all touch some failure every single day in our quest to be just the perfect kind of parents we can never really be. So, if success was assured me in my business as a mother, knowing what I know about failure and the lessons it has taught me, I would continue parenting in the way I have been doing, constantly tweaking my delivery, listening more closely for cues to patterns that may solve puzzles of personality or passion, always looking to support the development of a human being with as much success in the soup as possible, seasoned with some failure to balance the flavor.

Ultimately, I work in spite of success and expecting some failure. I have been around the sun enough times to be familiar with the taste of both and happy to balance my days with them both in the recipe.

But the other work I do, if you want to call it business as unusual is just as familiar with failure. I have hosted classes that no one attends. The fact that I am working at all, that I have watered the little seedlings of my confidence and exercised my writing skills and visual art skills to the point there I am right now, is success. The only failure I could see is not doing the work at all. Giving up. Stepping away from my book, from this blog, from my classes, events and offerings.

My failures I accept as lessons and I carry on. I learn from failure.

What do I have to learn then, from the repeated request I make of my husband who has, for about 3 months, failed to call the plumber? We have a leaky and getting leakier faucet and this is his department. When we set up housekeeping there were divisions made about certain things like holidays and plumbing, so just as I tend to the candles and the menorahs, he tends, or usually tends, to leaky faucets and leafy gutters. Without tending to it, this becomes a failure. I am not successful in making a request that gets him to call the guy. He fails at tending to a household need. We mutually fail as householders because leaky things leak energy and this is one place we need shoring up.

To me, the more compelling question, applicable to my work-writing, book building, collage, teaching, speaking, producing events- as to our family dilemma about the leaky sink is:

Why wouldn’t you do the work now? Failure or not. Why wouldn’t you pick up your pen, light a small candle and write in the early morning quiet, before the kids are up, before you have to get to work, before life pulls you out in to the world? Why wouldn’t I write this book? Or propose classes at conferences and arts centers?

Feeling ready is one consideration and surely, diving in to a project requires the necessary tools, the wrench, the pen, the gesso. But, Debbie’s question, an assurance of no failure, suggests that moving forward could be inevitable if I take action and so I say, like I have said before, “Why wait?”

Why wait to call the plumber?
Why wait to start doing what you long to do, even in small ways with tiny steps?

I have tolerated the leaky sink because I don’t have the tools to fix it myself. Yes, I can call the guy. That it a possible move for me. I have tolerated years of not doing what I longed to do because of two very real children who did not so much assure my failure, but were just plain too fully demanding. I did not realize I had the tools to work from inside mothering until the day came when I began to invent them. I borrowed the tools from my newfound mentors and started. Which has brought me to where I am today.

So, to bring this long writing to a close, I suggest to you, in this dark season when candles help, and the dark can be a fertile place to dwell in, notice what is leaky around you. How do you approach the coming darkness? Where does light leak in? And where is your time or energy leaking away from you? What small moves can you take, what tools can you pick up to handle those leaks?

In her post about electricity, another household necessity, Vanessa J. Herald writes:

“Nothing’s wrong here. It is just time to slow down and match my insides to respect the slow and short days of approaching winter. To bundle up and take care. To take the time and effort, or call an electrician, to reconnect my inner ground wire. Or, to pound a grounding rod into the damp, still-not-frozen early December soil.

It’s time to slow down. It’s time to reconnect with rhythm. It’s time for silence and peace on the inside. It’s time to get grounded.”
-Vanessa J. Herald

 

the view from Monument
the view from Monument

An assurance of no failure is slim comfort. I work in spite of it. I work because I know my success may not be grand, but it will be mine. And I work because even now, when the days are short and the holidays press panic buttons in so many of us, my tools of writing and working in my journals, of teaching others to express from inside their life experience are tools I have come to count on to see the dark and the light, to watch the dance and to shore up the leaks.

If you would like to “Imagine your life richly” as Jeffrey Davis invites us with Quest 2016, please take a look here.

If you would like to pick up some tools for expressing from within your own life experience, please stay tuned. On the Solstice, I will be announcing my upcoming Powder Keg Sessions Online Writing Workshop where we will make the simple sacred and write together for a month of weekly writing sessions.

And if you, like me, find failure to be less of a threat than not doing the work, then please subscribe to this site. This rising forth of engaged women making sense of their lives through creative practice, however that looks for you, is my dream.

Thank you for reading me here.
xo,

S

 

Before you wander off to find your candles, take a look at some of my Questmates posts.

About dragons and failure, Brenna Layne.

Taking permission to new places, Leslie Watts.

The healing power of poetry, with Tania Pryputniewicz on Ginny Taylor’s Women of Wonder.

and, Surrendering to dark and light, Sally Drew.

 

 

Debbie Millman

Named “one of the most influential designers working today” by Graphic Design USA, Debbie is an author, educator, and brand strategist. As the founder and host of Design Matters, the first and longest running podcast about design, Debbie has interviewed more than 250 design luminaries and cultural commentators, including Massimo Vignelli, Milton Glaser, Malcolm Gladwell, Dan Pink, Barbara Kruger, Seth Godin and more. Debbie is the author of six books, including two collections of interviews that have extended the ethos and editorial vision of Design Matters to the printed page: How to Think Like a Great Graphic Designer (Allworth Press 2007) and Brand Thinking and Other Noble Pursuits (Allworth Press 2011).

 

Something that I make

shouts of joy

I write and make a lot of stuff.

Some of it sees the light of day.

Some of stays put deep inside my journals.

Some of it brews for later exposure.

My hands in mother clay at Penland
photo credit by Lee Irwin

Some stuff I make gets drunk by other people, or eaten, or tipped in to the compost, which will be eaten, eventually by my friend Josh’s new pigs.

Some stuff I make walks around on two legs, with jeans on, with attitudes, habits and gazes that I think about endlessly. I ache for those things.

Some stuff I make happens between me and you, reading on Laundry Line Divine. What gets made might be space and time to consider where your next soulful wandering will take you, what you might be doing with say, a single hour of your day today that is labeled “just for me time.”

All of it issues from my hands, my heart and my soul.

Some of it you can buy, like my Powder Keg Painted Prompt Cards.

I have been painting sheets of these. In my usual Virgo, calculating widget-y way, I figure I have painted about 1500 spaces, which hold words or phrases. Some of you use them as writing prompts. My friend Suzanne uses them as dinner table conversation starters.

In a few weeks this website will emerge from a chrysalis transformed. There will be a new tagline and lots of my visual work will be more evident. My friends Tina and Lynnette have taken a bunch of photographs so you can get a better sense of the work I do. There will be a new offering, something some of you have asked me about for awhile. I will be announcing a new Powder Keg Sessions writing workshop ONLINE. Yup. If someone wants to purchase a special writing something for you for the holidays, send him or her my way on the Solstice. The online workshop will be a month-long class that meets one evening a week. More on all of this on the Solstice, December 21.

But til then, in this luscious dark season where we get pulled and pulled and pulled, let yourself get dark. Take time outside, in the waning light of late afternoon to walk slowly and let yourself ponder. Sift inside for the seeds that you are harvesting from all you have done this past year. Savor all you have accomplished. Yes, even all those doctor visits with your daughter, the second and fifth opinions. Yes, those hours you sat in the hallway, outside the MRI room where your kid was being tested. Yes, even then, holding your mother’s hands, just so quietly. Just so quietly.

from my journal this morning...having my way with black gesso.
from my journal this morning…having my way with black gesso.

 

All of it, the care giving and the making, all that we touch in the ways that we touch it, strong, feminine, blessed hands doing as a way of giving care, making as a way of extending our touch.

 

It is all you. It has value. You, my dearest, have value.

 

Have a sweet weekend.

I may be back here in the morning with a Quest2016 post.

Until then, painting with black and touching persimmons.

xoxS

Worry.

photo by Christina Lane
photograph by Christina Lane

How worried can I be on a bright sunny cold November day?

My daughter clambered on to a coach bus this morning with her Anatomy class to see an exhibit in New York City. I fixed her a thermos of tea, some snacks and checked to make sure she had her phone and charger, cash and a scarf. She did not wear socks, but some things must be left unsaid.

On any other day, this field trip might only be seen as a day when I can work uninterrupted for many hours, not concerned about who is home and when, what they want to eat or with what they might need help. No, today, my city savvy daughter is with her classmates in the city she’d like to call home, where her brother was born, where I met her father, 25 Thanksgivings ago.

I have to come clean here. I am a championship worrier. If it were an Olympic event, I’d rank. If I could be a Rhodes scholar for worrying, I’d be a top contender. Worry is why I pray. I learned in Al-Anon, “If you worry, why pray. If you pray, why worry?” Never one to single task on anything, I figure I can worry and pray and cover my bases. And yours. And the bus driver’s. And all the cars driving near that coach bus. And everyone on the West Side Highway. And absolutely every single soul in the region of Times Square, right now, with the towers gleaming in the sun, wind blowing through those fresh young faces, just where I stood when I was 24 with Stevie Wonder singing in my head.

“New York. Just like I pictured it. Skyscrapers and everything.”

(This song of Stevie’s is so very prophetic. I quote it lightly for my own purpose here, but had I been able to listen then with the ears of a mother of a son, I would have wept as I do now.)

Then by the kindness of the readings that appear in my inbox in the morning, or that I pour over in the soft early light of morning, I came upon this writing by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes.

“…there can be no despair when you remember why you came to Earth, who you serve, and who sent you here. The good words we say and the good deeds we do are not ours: They are the words and deeds of the One who brought us here. In that spirit, I hope you will write this on your wall: When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But … that is not what great ships are built for.”
-Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes

I nearly nag, but not quite, my son with questions about alcohol consumption at college. I read the statistics, I listen to what other parents talk about, I have ears to our current culture about alcohol and drug use on college campuses. I have sat in the rooms of 12-Step programs for many years. I witnessed my father’s demise with alcoholism. It is the hardest thing for me these days to let that question rest. And yet, I ambush what could be rich conversations with my son, modeling worry instead of compassionate listening. Am I the only one who does this?

“When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But … that is not what great ships are built for.”

I have to rest in the faith that my son and daughter are both great ships, not built to moor at my side for long, but built for the open seas. Our friend Marley Reed is on a sail boat right now. Here is what he saw as they left Chesapeake Bay for the open sea. See that sail?

Marley Reed Sunset at sea
photograph by Marley Reed

Brené Brown discusses in Daring Greatly, if I meet my children with a face and heart of worry every time they leave my house, or my hand, or my car, if all I offer them is worry, then I am not seeing them as capable, well formed, great ships built to ply the waters of life. I am giving them the impression that I don’t see them as built for the adventure they each long for and live.

Last week I suggested we “make of our life an offering.”

Today, my offering is sandwiched layers of prayer, seeing my children as capable, our cities as safe, our roads navigable, and our country welcoming to all. I slather on the words that Vice President Biden said about not letting terrorism win.  I lay in grace and all my children have learned about the subway system, about kindness and about personal responsibility. Then, like a schooner catching the first winds out beyond the mouth of the harbor, they billow forth.

What happens to me, back here in the harbor, is up to me. And that is what my work is all about, what rises forth when I create from my own life experience. The same is true for you, gentle reader.

 

 

Ben in 2006
Ben in 2006

Please stay tuned here on Laundry Line Divine. Some big changes are up ahead for this website, most importantly, in name. I will be shifting to calling this site by my name and reserving Laundry Line Divine for the book I am completing this year. Your images of laundry lines are still welcomed, especially because I am making a collaborative mosaic collage for the Laundry Line Divine page that will soon be up on this site.

But til then, stay warm. Pray often.
All my love, S

Go easy. Pray often. Make of your life a beautiful offering.

Sacred Refuge Offering Photo by Lynnette Lucy Najimy of Beansprout Productions
Sacred Refuge Offering
Photo by Lynnette Lucy Najimy of Beansprout Productions

Staying real this season

As you know, because I have said it before, but let it be said again, the trifecta of holidays that is just round the bend has a certain concoction of pleasure, guilt and shame that really can put us through the wringer emotionally (who here has agreed with everything you hear coming out of your mouth while standing in the kitchen, still in your jammies, when the guests call to ask if they can come over early? Or who has paid for something with your credit card that you know you will regret later but it is easier to put that off by chirping, “Charge it!”), physically (staying up til all hours pouring over Pinterest to find the right craft idea for the gift that you haven’t made yet, but you are sure you can find something and whip it up-best work done is always after midnight, isn’t it,*bleary* counts?), spiritually (Oh please just know that I haven’t figured out how to navigate the holiday season without a ton of conflicting thoughts about what I believe. Boiling it all down to “gratitude” is helpful, but it does not stop the flow of tears when certain Christmas carols catch me off guard at the gas pump.)

To say that we need to apply gargantuan doses of self-care this season will only make some of us feel more overwhelmed. Who, really, can swim through these days without feeling compelled to overdo, overbuy, overcommit, over-invite, over-plan, overeat, overoverover? Women are so often the ones who make the holiday hoopla happen, while we partner with our mates, if we have one, to help pay for it all. Parents especially, feel taxed to do it all, and do it so our kids-know what?-what it looks like to over extend to provide an experience that will be so charged with grief that any goodness is wiped off the slate?

Oh.
I just have a head full of steam this year to dial it back.
Go easy.
Pray often.
Make of your life a beautiful offering and live like you mean it. Like you are the gift. Not the overwrought gifts we make in the wee hours when really, we could be asleep, dreaming of sugarplums.

People who make stuff, creative people, people who are all reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s fantastic new book, are especially succumbing to the “I’ve got ten pair of hand warmers to knit in five weeks while finishing the first shitty draft of my book and with my left foot I will be stirring the quince jam” syndrome.

It is the syndrome of making everything for everyone and not making any time for myself.

We are the we

 

Making stuff for other people is great.
We are all not my friend Benita who makes it in July.
She is the exception to this rule. I wager she has stuff wrapped already.
But for the rest of us, I wonder how we can dial back our doing and let ourselves find a few simple ways to stay present and well and real this holiday season?

How do I know when I am able to stay “present, well and real?”

When I get enough sleep, especially when I am in bed by 10 PM.
When my stomach is relaxed, excited is great, but not jammed up against my diaphragm making it difficult for me to take long slow deep breathes.
When I eat lunch at the table with a napkin. Not over the sink. Or in the car. Or at my desk browsing Amazon. Or not at all.
When I am looking in to other people’s eyes. This alone will be the source of so much more fun and connection than any picture you post on Instagram.

what I did with a napkin from Catherine Anderson's table
what I did with a napkin from Catherine Anderson’s table

 

Make of your life a beautiful thing.
Then, if you want, share it.
But share it with the people who are right in front of you. Sometimes I wonder if we said to actual people what we say on Facebook or Twitter, what sort of shift would come about? Would your kids know more of you? Would your partner see what you appreciate better, and thus, know more of you? Would your sister see a side of you she hasn’t met in person? Would your pet see more than your iPhone camera pointing at them?

More eye and I. Less i.

I see you.
Thank you.
Yes.

This is my tiny prayer for this coming week of Thanksgiving and holiday artisan fairs and farmer’s markets and me boohooing over being a Thanksgiving orphan. We are making a meal here at my house for whomever shows up and the fun we have will rise up from that concoction.

If what happens is we take our plates out to the picnic table out back and watch the twilight fall by candlelight, eating with our gloves on, that would be deluxe. But whatever it is, it will be real.

I see you.
Thank you.
Yes.

I am breathing easier already.
I hope you can find a way to do so also.

Thank you for showing up here on Laundry Line Divine.
Happy Friday.
xoS

 

a few more thoughts:

If you are curious about what to cook, go here.
For a really clear post about the difference between being “kind” and “nice,” go here.
If you are interested in fine-tuning your business life and upgrading your approach to making business art, please check out the Quest2016 here.
If you want start meditating this season, this is a good place to start.

 

 

Lastly, please share this post with your sister or your friend or someone you know who is starting to hyperventilate about the holidays. And then, go out for a walk. I will meet you there. xoS

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