• Cakes

    Soon after bringing my first child home from the hospital, I remember thinking to myself, “Oh, no. Now I have to make cakes.” For some reason in that moment, the responsibility of baking and meticulously frosting cakes for the next 20 years or so scared me. I was sleep deprived, feeling inadequate to care for this tiny newborn, and now I was realizing I needed to also learn to make decorative birthday cakes. I had an entire year to learn how—if I was to be the cake-maker for her first birthday—but that wasn’t the point. The birthday cake was another thing I wasn’t good at, but felt I was expected to master and accomplish repeatedly in order to be a good mother.

     The cakes my mom made for us growing up were not over-the-top fancy, but they were a huge part of my memory of birthdays. I remember telling my mom that I wanted a clown cake when I was a preschooler, and I remember that she bought a Wilton clown-shaped pan and then decorated the clown cake with star-shaped peaks of frosting. Other times my cake was in a heart shape, and once, my grandma and I shared a cake shaped like two overlapping hearts. The most common form was a rectangular sheet cake frosted with white buttercream icing. Mom would ask us to choose our color of frosting for the star-tip border and for the writing. There was something so comforting about that white frosted cake with colored icing details showing up birthday after birthday. It was a repetition that brought comfort.

     

    And now I’m the mom. While I kind of hate to admit this for fear of sounding like a horrible human, it wasn’t the new skills needed to decorate cakes alone that scared me; it was the time required to create a completely transient work of art. A cake would displace other activities I saw as more lasting and satisfying. Cakes are labored over, seen for only a few moments, sung over, then cut into pieces and consumed. The artist’s work returns to…well, you know. Such a short life cycle!

     My host for a recent exhibition at a local gallery held a special reception for her mother-friends to come see my Re-iterations mixed media pieces. The informal atmosphere allowed us to talk a bit about our lives. One of the women asked me how I find time to make any art with three children. My answer was “little by little, here and there.” She replied that she hasn’t been able to make art since having kids, and her friend broke in to tell me about the fantastic cakes and birthday parties this woman creates—thematically coordinated food, costumes, decorations, games. Yet this artist-mother dismissed her birthday bashes as less-than-consequential in the presence of my fine art exhibition.

     Yet I suspect she doesn’t really believe her efforts are completely unimportant. I think she knows deep down how much these events mean, or she wouldn’t put all this effort into them. While she knows that events and cakes are transient, that even the costumes are ruined in play, she still continues to put forth a tremendous amount of energy and effort in the midst of the normal routine of raising a family. I had been wanting to make a series of mixed media works based on the forms and concepts of cakes, so the conversation stuck with me.

     

    Not long after, I was reading Sarah Ruhl’s hilarious and insightful 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write. She mentions Buddhist monks who create elaborate sculptures using colorfully-dyed butter. Once the sculptures have expired, they feed them to monkeys. Yes. That’s it. I have a hard time imagining my elaborate buttercream icing sculptures being cut into pieces and eaten by a room full of preschooler monkeys.

     I have a hard time seeing any of my work being undone in any way, though. I struggle when the newly cleaned bathroom is dirty within minutes, when the laundry basket is full again, when the sink and counters are full of dishes so soon. With 5 of us living in one house, many of the actions that are so valuable to keeping order and nourishing and protecting others seem to be negated right away, or at least the evidence of all effort. There is often seemingly no trace all of an entire day’s work! The transience scares me because I’m afraid I’m not really getting anything done. Or I’m afraid that others will think I haven’t done anything all day when they see this house. I’m a hamster on a wheel.

     I have an artist friend who comes from a family of musical professionals. Her decision to major in art instead of music in college was based partly on her estimation of the transience of music. It’s ephemeral. It’s here in the present, then disappears into oblivion, was her thinking. The visual arts felt more lasting, more long term. Instead of making fine art, though, she now has a cake business. What irony. Now her sculptures are eaten within hours of completion.

     I heard a lecture by Robert Hughes in grad school that highlighted the unbelievably small percentage of art that actually survives in the world. I had tended to think of our museums as citadels to protect great works of art so that they could live forever, but a very high percentage of art is lost to war, weather, burglary, poor construction, and the normal wear and tear of time. We might think of art objects as timeless and lasting, but they are subject to the degradation that all matter is subject to.

     It’s this constant mind-battle I fight, trying to answer, “What is lasting?” Are cakes with their buttercream icing lasting? How about oil paintings on panel or canvas? Are the memories of a birthday party enduring? Do they have eternal value? I’ve come to believe that anything done while abiding in Christ, somehow lasts, because it is Christ working in me—and His work is enduring. If I bake a cake out of love for my family, or if I work on an oil painting or a mixed media sculpture out of a desire to care for others and worship God, it lasts. I don’t understand how it lasts, but it lasts. Even though these cakes and works of art are made of matter—flour and sugar and butter or paint and wood and nails—if they are done as an act of worship and love, a cooperation with God’s creative work, they last.

     Though my Re-iterations series began as a simple attempt just make something—anything at all!—it quickly became a way for me to think through the parts of my life that I don’t quite understand yet, or don’t know how to make peace with. Many of my earlier pieces referenced the never-ending loads of laundry or my ongoing battle with dirty dishes. Somehow, and perhaps this is the power of art, I have come to appreciate and even like housework a little more, as I’ve contemplated, read about, written about, made art about, and honored these forms of domestic repetition.

     

    In the same way, spending a year developing my “cake” sculptures has taken the edge off actual cake making for me. Attempting cakes for my family’s celebrations feels much less threatening to me now. Perhaps some of this comes from all the research into cake forms and techniques as I worked on the sculptures. I think it also come from making peace with the pressures I, as an American mom, feel about trying to make the perfect birthday for my children. I’ve had hours in the studio to process my fears about the significance of traditions, about the expectations of holidays, and the sheer weight of the burden of creating memories for others.

     Sometime last summer my daughter asked me if I would make her a fancy cake when her birthday came around. Though I had made her a 6-month old and first birthday cake, all cakes in the family since then have been made by friends or bought at grocery stores or substituted with donuts. Finally she was letting me know that a specially decorated cake was important to her. So the week of her birthday I cleared an entire day and baked and frosted until late in the evening.

     It took a couple trips to the grocery story, a couple calls to my mom, a text asking advice from a friend, and plenty of sugar, butter, food coloring, and time, but I did it. Only this time, I wasn’t making a cake because it was what moms have to do or they’re bad moms (because they don’t and they aren’t). It wasn’t because I needed to impress everyone with the perfect party or my excellent skills (getting frosting to behave is so much harder than I imagined). Instead I was making a cake for a little girl who asked for one. I was thinking of my mom and the cakes I watched her decorate. I was thinking of the women who make cakes to varying levels of artistry and perfection, not to be perfect, but to care for those they love. 

      

  • Collaboration

    One of my favorite recurring questions to be asked about my current work is, "Where do you get all your vintage stuff?" Though I spend my time in my studio alone (save the occasional visiting preschooler) I am in here with hundreds (thousands?) of items entrusted to me by friends and family members and even my friends’ friends and family members.

     

    With regularity, a friend or acquaintance who has seen my work will approach me and offer me a box of their mothers’ linens that none of the siblings were interested in, or maybe a small bag of buttons that an aunt had collected, 30 bottles of glue that were never used, or a small jar of liquid gold leaf. Oh, and could you use any of these vintage laces?

     

    So far I have accepted it all (gladly!) and count it a privilege. While the givers cannot continue to store and care for these items themselves, the objects often have some special meaning or are at least respected for having a special kind of value that makes the giver loathe to deposit them in a thrift shop drop box. When I am given these boxes of table linens or jars of buttons I am being entrusted with the past. I hope I may be able to help these items live on, to find a new and even expanded meaning and life; I’ll be memorializing them in my art.

     

    I feel really positively about these “donations” not just because prices for vintage items like these can be prohibitively high at flea markets and on eBay, but more importantly I feel like it places me and the giver into a sort of community. We’re collaborating now. And we’re collaborating with other women, these incredibly skilled women who spent countless hours weaving and crocheting and knitting and embroidering things to beautify the lives of those they loved. It’s a multi-generational collaboration I’m involved in now, both with the giver and with the women who have made, collected, stored, and maintained these objects previously.

     

    These givers of the “stuff” are supporting me in a really foundational way, entrusting me with the raw materials that guide the form and the content of my work. My work grows out of the objects at hand: the designs on the linens, the packaging of sewing notions, the colors and textures and associated meanings. So the choices and actions of the givers in sharing their history and treasures from the past with me make my work what it is. I’d say that’s collaboration, and I haven’t gotten over how cool that is.

     

     

  • April 15, 2015

    On Wednesday I finished hanging my first solo art show since having children, and on Wednesday my dear, sweet Grandma Z died. What a strange soup of joy and sorrow this life on earth is.

     

    The connection between these two events feels significant to me. In my current artwork I’m using heirloom linens—textiles wrought through endless repetition—as a metaphor for the love and sacrifice that mothers display through their endless repetitions of care for others: cleaning, cooking, laundering, mending, praying, teaching….

     

    Grandma helped me learn to sew. Though I spent more time sewing with my mom than with Grandma, I remember Grandma teaching me to sew my first garment from a pattern and helping me put in my first zipper. I was in junior high at the time; she must have been Patience personified. I made a jumper, and the fabric was rather bold—a picnic-table gingham with little ants and drawings of picnic food printed over the plaid. I loved the jumper deeply but was too embarrassed to wear it more than a few times. I did that repeatedly—made clothes for myself, but then wasn’t bold enough to wear them. I guess we artists are sometimes shy to show our own work. She also taught me to make pie crusts and noodles from scratch during that same stay, I think.

     

    A widow, she had supported herself and her family for quite a while working in a costume shop for stage productions. I loved visiting the “costume room” as a child, where pure magic was being wrought by designers and seamstresses. There were yards and yards of period costumes and bolts and bolts of exquisite fabrics. My current artwork utilizes linens and fabrics given to me by some of her former coworkers.

     

    Grandma had made her own wedding dress, and from the time I heard her story about her dress, I wanted to make my own as well. I knew that sewing the dress ourselves would implicate my mom and my grandma in the process, and that was part of the motivation—a collaboration of three generations. Almost exactly 10 years ago, Grandma, mom, and I, along with one of my bridesmaids drove up Interstate 85 to Mary Jo’s Cloth Store to choose fabric for the dress and began the work.

    I had to leave town to begin art school in Savannah shortly after that, so I left the rest of the dress-making in the capable hands of Mom and Grandma, but I can only imagine the laughter those two must have shared in the kitchen to mitigate their frustration with all the little glass beads on the fabric I had chosen. My wedding dress was the last of many dresses she had sewn for me over the years.

     

    Women’s lives are made up of repetition, and there’s no way to calculate the iterations of care she poured out on all of us in her 95 years of living. But I know I am rich for having been the recipient of countless thousands of them.

  • Minimalism Will (Not) Save Us

    I'm cleaning out around the house in hopes of regaining more sanity, to decrease the number of decisions I have to make, and to limit the number of ever-migrating items I have to pick up and put away. My children have a habit of carrying all the things from one end of the house to the other, and I’ve concluded that the only way to try to curb the resulting chaos is to own fewer things or to put them away out of reach, and thereby to reduce the moving parts. So I’m paring down, cleaning out, packing away, slowly but surely. (By the way, today I found a shoe in the jigsaw puzzle drawer. It made me feel good that missing shoes aren’t always my fault.)

     

    The idea of owning less is growing on me (except for when it comes to potential art supplies). The mental burden of knowing that I’m responsible for so much stuff is heavy, and “traveling light” is becoming more appealing. All this talk about minimalism makes sense for a number of reasons.

     

    But it's easy to get caught up in the paring down and to see perfection in this endeavor as the goal. Perfectionism in owning is neither practicable for most of us who care for others nor does it place the task in its proper context. We want to buy, own, retain, give, and say goodbye to our possessions motivated by love for God and others, not out of pride or a desire to be perfect, not to impress or merely conquer. Control is a heartbreaking idol because it is so transient. Possessions can truly own me, but as soon as I believe that I have to have a high level of control over them in order to feel accepted by God or others or in order to be content, then my minimalist ideal has become my taskmaster.

     

    There's a certain amount of leisure and mental spaciousness necessary to even think through what to keep and what to expunge. It hasn't been remotely possible for me until lately, and I'm pretty sure it's always going to be something I struggle with. Every hour spent cleaning out a closet is an hour not doing something else, so paring down is not just one layer of decision making; it's a multidirectional network of decisions, of priorities, of mental calculations. And some of us just can't take that on sometimes. We’re still getting over yesterday’s decision fatigue.

     

    When my twins were younger, there were many days I knew that God’s will for me was to surrender to the chaos and to press on in love, feeding and nurturing my family even though I felt like I was living in a hurricane of swirling belongings, noises, and feelings. God had called me that day to just do the next thing, and the next thing certainly was not to organize the closets or to decide which toys to give away.

     

    While I have the motivation and energy today to take on these tasks, I have no assurance that I will continue to. I never will know what lies on the horizon, and an illness, a financial upset, or a family emergency could quickly derail such progress. It’s best not to put our trust in "uncertain riches", nor in uncertain organizational achievements. Man-made gods always disappoint.

     

    While minimalism makes for a pretty poor man-made religion, reducing can also can be a path to more enjoyment of God's good gifts. The timing is finally right, and I have loved cleaning out closets, organizing, donating, passing along, and tossing out. After paring down my closet a couple weeks ago, I have found that it is night-and-day easier to keep my clothes picked up, laundered, and put away. I can enjoy what I do have because I can find it, and because I’m not being distracted by excess that isn’t useable.

     

    This week I cleaned out the kitchen pantry. It was a huge job. The entire time I kept thanking God that I finally have the energy, the motivation, and the available time to undertake these endeavors that were impossible before now. As I pulled all the pantry items out into daylight and began the enormous task of sorting into keep and toss piles, I began to think, “God loves me and he loves this pantry, whether we are messy or clean. This house keeps my family safe and warm. This pantry keeps us fed. He accepts us as we are.” I don’t have a proof text to prove God loves my house, but I know He has compassion on me "as a father has compassion on His children." My dad delights in coming over to my house, not because it is clean every time he comes over (ha!), but because he knows that’s where some of the people he loves most live and are cared for by God.

     

    God didn’t love me any more on Wednesday, the day I cleaned out the pantry, scrubbed the shelves down, threw out the expired food, and placed it back on the shelves, organized and simplified. He didn’t love me any less when my closets were bulging with never-worn, ill-fitting clothes that kept me from even finding the needed items.

     

    I suspect I'll be dealing with messy for a long, long time, and I'll have to keep falling back into God's complete unconditional acceptance of me and my house, because I believe he loves us both, no matter how messy we are. I'm really hoping I'll be able to keep enjoying my clean closet for a little while, though.

  • Stay on the Path

    Friends often ask me if I have an Etsy shop, and when I answer that I don’t, they tell me I should open one. God often uses the suggestions of others to lead us into new ventures He has for us, so I don’t mind when people say that. In fact, I began blogging because of the gentle proddings of others.

    But I can’t have an Etsy shop. Not now. It wouldn’t fit my strengths or the kind of schedule I keep right now with three preschoolers. When I imagine an Etsy shop, I imagine a line of people on the steps outside my front door asking me to do something for them­–ship things to them quickly, answer their questions about orders, deal with their money–all that on top of trying to navigate another digital space. Right now, none of those tasks would find much room in my brain or my life in which to take up residence. The fact is, I already have a line of people inside my house asking me to do things for them, and my first commitment is to them.

    Etsy is a very good thing. I have so many friends who love it and help provide for their families through their sales. It also gives them an enormous amount of satisfaction to be able to make their goods available to others. I love having what I’ve made in the hands of others as well, but prefer to let someone else take a commission for doing the actual sales at this time. This path is not for everyone, but it’s the one for me right now. This way I can focus on my art itself with the slices of time I am able to carve out for the studio.

     

    I love the illustration Max Lucado uses in his book Cure for the Common Life: Living in Your Sweet Spot to explain how we can lose our way in our vocations because of our desire to always have more:

    “You’ve seen it happen. The popcorn peddler has one stand and one job and manages both with skill. But though his daily sales meet his needs, they don’t meet his tastes. To make more money, he buys more stands; to supervise the stands, he abandons his own.

     “The street vendor no longer sells; he manages. Which is fine, if he was made to manage. But suppose he was made to sell. Suppose he swaps the open street and river of people for four walls and a desk. Will he give up more than he gains?”

     Later, Lucado goes on to say, “Promotions might promote a person right out of his or her sweet spot. For the love of more, we might lose our purpose.”

     

    I'm all for Pinterest and other social media platforms, but I think these sometime confuse us about which vocations are actually ours and which ones belong to others. Just because things are beautiful and fun and garner attention or make money, doesn't mean that I have to do them all, unless that's what God's called me to do, and then I must. Right now I'm not called to consign my children’s clothes or classically home-educate or to live on a farm or in a big city. I don’t need to have a feature in a magazine, have children dressed in perfectly coordinated and pressed clothes, or have 8,000 followers on Instagram. Those are very, very good things for others to do, just not required for me. I have my own things I need to be doing, and doing other people's things isn't a priority; in fact, it would keep me from doing the things I know God specifically wants me to do.

    I need Paul’s words as much as the Thessalonian believers did: "Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before."

     

    As the year began and I started to think about whether I should form any New Year’s resolutions, one of the phrases that kept taking laps around my head was “Stay on the path.”

    The desire to make more money isn’t the only thing that can draw me away from the specific work God has for me. It might be a desire for quick results, for a few hundred more likes, for the approval of a certain group of people. Sometimes I don’t know whether an opportunity is a good fit for me, whether it might just be the next step on God's path. In that case, I might need to just give it a try to find out. But sometimes I do know. In that case, I need to recommit to the humility of faithfulness in my individual calling. I can thank God for the way He is kindly leading me and making my way plain, even as He is making the paths of others clear to them, though they may differ from my own.

     

    “Better is a little with the fear of the LORD than great treasure and trouble with it.” Proverbs 15:16

  • Shoebox Faithfulness

    Students enrolled in an M.F.A. program in Painting haven’t usually applied to the program because they want to learn to write. They don’t have stars in their eyes about the prospect of getting to compose artist statements, much less a thesis. My professors knew this, and one of them gave me the most useful bit of writing advice I’ve heard to this day. Get a shoebox.

    In it, we were to deposit all the scraps of paper with the phrases that popped into our heads about our work. There we would dump the articles that resonated with our concepts. We would try writing about our work regularly, yet uncritically, and  leave all the papers there, lid on, to rest in the dark.

    I tried to make it a practice to regularly write out explanations for my work: what I was thinking when I made it, how I thought it operated, what my metaphors were. I made regular deposits. When I began more serious research for my thesis, I read books and articles and placed my notecards of quotes and observations into the box.

    Finally, when it came time to write my first draft, I spread all the printed articles, scraps of paper, and blue card stock notecards on the living room carpet and began to arrange them by topic. Once my outline was clear, I had only to start typing what I had been saving into a Word doc, fill in the gaps, smooth out the wording, and edit out the weird stuff. The process wasn’t effortless, but the hard work had been happening for more than a year.

    If it worked once, it can work again. So that’s what I’ve been doing: writing down the little bits of thoughts I have, saving the quotes, printing the articles. Many mothers (and others!) don't have long stretches of time to write, but we do have 65 seconds to jot down a thought we have been chewing on while folding laundry for 30 minutes. Most of my early writing scraps are crammed into a vintage American Tourister carry-on bag. I'm not sure why, but that’s where they landed, and that’s where they wait. Squirreling away thoughts isn’t much different than the way women have historically saved scraps of fabric–part of a dress that wore out or a soft blue cotton that wasn’t all used up when making baby clothes, a prized calico. Later, when there are enough scraps and enough quiet moments, they will become a quilt.

    Seeing this video inspired me to get a little more uniform and tidy with my process and materials, so I began last summer to write on 4x6 index cards. They seem more manageable, stack nicely, and because the cards are slightly thick my stack grows in a visible way each week. I carry some in my purse, usually have some in the car, on my desk at work, in the studio, near my living room couch, and in my planner. I’ve heard you have about 7 seconds to write something down once you think of it before it’s gone, and now that I have three preschoolers, I see this is often true. This Scientific American article tells us that if you walk through a doorway, you are at risk of losing your thought, so I like to have my cards close at hand! Growing up, my parents were always jotting down bits of ideas throughout the day, and I’ve made it my practice, too.

    Writers and artists know that creative work doesn’t have to make you less present in your life; it often makes you much more observant, more present. You see the unseen. You are a sponge. You have questions and are on a mission to find the answers, and that makes you more future-oriented as well, redeeming the time.

    My daughter likes to use my index cards too. She asks me for them and fills them with art or makes them into cards to give to others. Many of her little decorated cards have been mixed into my stack, and I leave them there. I want to remember what this part of my life was like. Recently, I was helping my her make a few reading flashcards. I wrote the words and she illustrated them on the back. On the back of the card that said “mom” she drew a picture of a woman writing on notecards.

    The repetition of the process feels good. The growing stack of cards is comforting. But there’s really nothing to show yet, except a photo of my stack of cards, a vintage bag of scrap papers and articles, and an occasional blog post. That’s why art is faith. That all these cards and bits and scraps will one day be something whole and polished is, at this point, the thing only hoped for. That goal is the thing not seen. I don’t know what the thing hoped for looks like exactly or when it will come, but I’ve begun a pilgrimage.

    I’m on a journey through the wilderness and my path is paved in index cards. And each card is an act of faithfulness. And faith.

  • What Art Taught Me about Dishes

    Repitition is the warp and weft of domesticity, inherent to caring for others. It’s necessary for survival, yet despite it’s indispensability, it feels so much like futility.

    The Preacher in Ecclesiastes describes some of the rhythms of nature—the rising and setting of the sun, the movement of air currents, and the water cycle—and complains, “All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it.” Yet these repetitive processes make life possible. We can easily come to view any cyclical process as “spinning our tires” rather than effecting forward movement.

     

    As humans, we want something by which to chart our progress. We want the assurance that our efforts have meaning, that our labors are indeed bearing fruit. It’s no wonder that parents place so much importance on “milestones” in their children’s lives: first steps, first word, first time to sleep through the night. Life with an infant begins to seem one endless day as the same actions of feeding, changing, rocking, soothing are repeated every few hours. Progress is so incremental as to be completely unnoticeable. Then, BOOM, a milestone is met, and we celebrate the measurement of a verifiable change. Sometimes a birthday, a photo, or a weigh-in at a doctor’s visit notifies us of the difference, and we hold tight to that something that assures us that progress is being made. We aren’t going backwards, and we aren’t merely circling around again; we are moving forward.

    My daughter was just shy of two years old when my twin sons were born, and it didn’t take too long before the monotony and incessant drip-drip-drip of household tasks nearly drove me mad. An insightful friend pointed out to me that women’s lives are inherently cyclical. Domestic duties repeat daily or weekly in many cases, and the bearing and raising of children follows a pattern. Even the textile processes associated with women—knitting, crocheting, stitching, and weaving—are all iterative. All grow through seemingly endless repetition. The change is gradual, but after a while, becomes visible.

    A thread, a yarn, a line moves forward, then moves back, twists, loops around. The actions don’t suggest linear progress, yet faithful repetition moves the resulting object in the direction of growth and progress. If we can let it be, allow it to grow, and learn to be settled by the actions themselves, we will be pleasantly surprised by the change that comes with time.

    Isn’t it interesting that for centuries, women have been sitting down at night, taking up thread or yarn, setting their tired hands to work, and allowing their minds and nerves to unwind? In these patterned actions they are taking a much-needed break from a completely different kind of repetition.

    As I began to incorporate these kinds of textiles into my artwork, the cycles of domesticity came to seem less futile. Yes, my efforts seemed to move forwards then back, my days twisted and looped around, the progress was hard to detect, but I became more sure than ever that what I was making was real and growing. My labors in the studio were reflecting my efforts in the kitchen, and I began to see that my repetitions of care in the home were giving me a voice in the studio.

  • Madeleine L'Engle on Writing as a Mother

    "It was more difficult for me to justify time to write when my children were little than it was to find time to write. And that was false guilt. I felt it beacuse my work was not being published. I had five books published and then this long hiatus. I felt that my time at the typewriter was not justifiable. I think I was wrong. I think that was totally false guilt, because I was a writer because I was writing. But we tend to accept the images the world would put on us. And if you're not a published writer, you're not supposed to be a writer. Well, I know now that's not true."

    "I had to make a decision about myself as a writer in the moment of total failure. On my fourtieth birthday I took a rejection of my book The Lost Innocence  as a sign from God to give up writing and learn to scrub floors or make piecrust that doesn't fall apart. And I covered up my typewriter in a great gesture of renunciation.

    "I was walking up and down my little roommy kids were at schoolweeping my head off. I was very, very unhappy. I stopped in my tracks because my subconscious mind was blip, blip, blipping up to my conscious mind the plot of a novel on failure. So I uncovered the typewriter. That night I wrote in my journal 'I have to write. That's the gift I've been given. And even if I am never, ever published again it is still what I have to do.' And I had to accept at that point that I might never, ever be published again because it had been a long time since I had gotten anything but rejection slips.

    "I'm glad that I made that decision about myself as writer in the moment of utter darkness in the pits, because it's very real. It's easy to say you're a writer when your books are being published and making money, but I wasn't being published and I wasn't making any money. So it was a very real decision. and it's a decision we all have to make."

    "I was wife and mother with my children at home during all of the normal periods that your children are home. In other words, I had two vocations. And two vocations are very difficult to juggle. They clash. But certainly it is possible. Many teachers who have a great vocation to teaching take the summers off and write. I think that would be kind of nice to have a whole summer off."

    "For a woman who has chosen family as well as work, there's never time, and yet somehow time is given to us as time is given to the man who must sail a ship or chart the stars. For most writers it takes many manuscripts before enough royalties are coming in to pay for a roof over the head and bread on the table. Other jobs must often be found to take care of bread and butter. A certain amount of stubbornnesspig-headedness—is essential."

    from Madeleine L'Engle Herself: Reflections on a Writing Life compiled by Carole F. Chase

  • Anne Bogart on Authenticity, Embarrassment, and Intention in Art

    "'He's an actor, not a singer,' she explained. 'He is performing a singer, but he's not really singing.'"


    "In the case of a mediocre performer who executes mindless imitation, the discomfiture of the original creative moment is missing. In search of authenticity, one cannot expect to find security and safety inside inherited forms, plays, songs or movements. What's necessary is to rekindle the fire inside of repetition and be prepared for a personal exposure to its effects. Be prepared to be embarrassed."


    "To avoid embarrassment is a natural human tendency. Feeling truly exposed to others is rarely a comforting sensation. But if what you do or make does not embarrass you sufficiently, the it is probably not personal or intimate enough. Revelation is necessary to warrant attention. The feeling of embarrassment is a good omen because it signifies that you are meeting the moment fully, with an openness to the new feelings it will engender."

    "The best way to avoid embarrassment is to treat the material at hand as a known entity rather than an unknown one. As a director I can choose to approach a play either with the attitude that it is a small controllable canvas or a huge canvas, brimming with untapped potential. If I choose to possess a superior attitude to the material, it will conform, remain safe and unthreatening. It will stay smaller than me. If I adopt the attitude that the project is an adventure larger than anything I might imagine, an entity that will challenge me to find an instinctual path through it, the project will be allowed its proper magnitude."


    "You cannot hide; your growth as an artist is not separate from your growth as a human being: it is all visible."


    "Neither can an actor hide from an audience. Japanese director Tadashi Suzuki once remarked: 'There is no such thing as good or bad acting, only degrees of profundity of the actor's reason for being on stage.'"

    "In art, the truth is always manifest in the experience of it. The audience will finally have the most direct experience of the breadth or lack of your interest. They will feel the truth about your intentions and about who you are, who you have become. They will instinctively know what you are up to. It is all visible."

    Quotes taken from Anne Bogart's A Director Prepares: Seven Essays on Art and Theatre 

  • How Is This Going to Work Out?

    Artists often have to visualize the end product of a project before it is completed. An interior designer can see a swatch of fabric, a paint chip, and a magazine photo of a chair and convince a client that these will go perfectly together. A painter can see a clump of grass and mud on the side of the road and know just which brushstrokes and colors she will use to capture the feeling she has about this view. The painting is already in her head; she’s got this. 

     

    When I’m working on a painting, it is sometimes impossible for me to explain to others, even artists, just what I have in mind for the piece. My husband is good at saying something like, “I’ll take a look at it when you’re finished. I trust you.”

    When it comes to my life, though, I often can’t visualize how all this is going to work out, or at least how it’s going to be beautiful in the end. I can’t get into God’s head and see what He has in mind. But He does have it all in mind. There is not a single detail of my circumstances He hasn’t planned.

     

    Psalm 139:13-18 recounts the way God has planned out the total composition of our lives.  I love that it uses the language of an artisan and an author.

    For you formed my inward parts;
 you knitted me together in my mother's womb. 

    I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.

    My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

    Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.

    How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!

    If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
I awake, and I am still with you.

     

    What strikes me about these verses is that He planned out each bit of me (my DNA, my talents, and my personality) at the same time that He planned each day of my existence.  Why is this so profound? Because so many days it does not feel at all like they fit together. “My personality and abilities are not a good fit for what is being asked of me today!”

    When my daughter, our firstborn, was born, it was a huge shock. I did not find that baby-care came naturally. I certainly didn’t expect that every single waking moment of my life would be occupied with caring for another human being, as is often the case in those early days of a newborn. If someone had told me that I would some days have to choose between trimming my fingernails, showering, and eating, I would have suspected melodrama. But the biggest struggle for me? I wasn’t making any art!

    I remember telling my mom, “All I do all day is stuff I am not good at, and I’m not allowed to ever do anything I am good at.” It feels much easier to me to pick up my brush and put paint to canvas. Being a mother is hard, and it doesn’t always feel like a natural fit to me. (I have friends who are what I call “baby baby people” and parenting is still hard for them.) It’s easy for me to be tempted to think, “This is not a very good fit for me. I mean, I have TWINS now, and I’m not even a baby baby person!” God knew that. He knew that I have an artist’s drive inside me that is unquenchable, that burns my insides during the long months of newborn care when I cannot make art. He knows I would love to have time to develop my abilities as an artist, to travel to conferences on art, to write about art, to make more art, to have shows. To “gain the whole world,” basically. (Don’t we all want that?)

     

    Stop. He planned each day. He planned the ones where I have a 30-minute or 3-hour block of time to go down to my studio and make stuff. He planned the days when the care of others takes every ounce of effort, every bit of energy, every single moment of the day.

    It doesn’t makes sense some days why God would give me abilities and desires in art, but not the means and time to use them, but His ways are higher than my ways; His thoughts are higher than my thoughts. Earlier, in verse 6 of the same psalm, this is stated:

    Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; 
it is high; I cannot attain it.

    His plan is custom-built for me! He knows what I need. He’s taught me so much through my kids. I have grown to really love being a mother. I have learned to chill out. I have learned to deny my own desires in new ways. I have learned what a blessing children are, and that I can find beauty and satisfaction in learning to do new, hard things, even things that aren’t art. None of these things have been easy to learn, but they are what I need so badly! I do love being a mom, and I still love being an artist, even if I don’t have as much discretionary time as I used to.

     

    God has my best interest in mind. I can be sure of that. But there’s a bigger picture here. He has a plan for how He is going to use my small story-- imperfect and insignificant--and blend it into The Story. In His Story, all the really mundane and “unimportant” bits of real life have real significance. In His Story, I don’t have to become a big name in art or impress others. I don’t have to manipulate my circumstances to paint my own perfect little story when I am part of the greatest Story that will ever be written.

     

    He has the whole Story in His mind. I can’t visualize the outcome, but He can! I can relax. He’s got this.