I don’t know about you, but by mid-February, I am done with winter. I’m done with the PNW gray skies and drizzle and cool, damp air. The other day, in an attempt to work with my lethargic energy that had anxiety at the fringes, I forced myself on a walk (inertia is strong this time of year for me!) and headed down to Bellingham’s Marine Park for some “sea therapy” and I found my inner pilot light.
I noticed art in a cockle shell and he became the subject of some spontaneous nature art.
And he developed quite the personality!
And then I saw art everywhere!
And then I felt better. I felt productive, active, creative, connected. I saw beauty in this “barren” time of year — and I even noticed the million shades of gray in that sky and water. Inertia is strong, but lesson learned. Art disrupts downward spirals. Nature is a canvas. Time to go for another walk.
Today I’m working with some feelings of inadequacy. It’s the kind of feeling that creeps in unexpectedly and without warning, like its been living under my sternum for months, giving me little doses of low confidence once in a while, but mostly keeping itself in check. Do you know what I mean?
This afternoon, though, I let out the feelings of inadequacy from their ribbed cage and they had much to say as they rattled and clanged their way out. Instead of shutting these voices down with the silent treatment or pep talks, I let them yell, and this is what they said, in the form of art:
Right now, I think the “cures” for these feelings can be found in the repeated words at the bottom and top, but I’m not sure yet. And I think the egg means hope of some kind. In a world where we often share our “best moments” with the world — our smiling selfies, our accomplishments, and our important and pivotal moments of greatness — I think it’s also important to be real with what is irking us, with what challenges us, with what we’re still working on even after over 40 years of life. Sometimes we need to expose the pain that’s living behind our chests, and for me, I need to turn it into art, and apparently I need to share it on my blog, too.
What are you methods of dealing with those tight feelings of fear or inadequacy or pain? If they could express themselves outside of you, what form would they take?
About a month ago I created this art piece at a “crochet” gathering at my friend Brenda’s house. I learned to knit one hat in college over 20 years ago, but never picked up knitting needles again. At Brenda’s, I tried my best to crochet, but my hands and mind weren’t quite on board. I was able to make one string of crochet loops and my mixed media mind took over. There is a certain impulse or urge I feel in my body about creating mixed media works. I think it’s the impreciseness of it, the different textures interconnecting, and surprise meaning created by unusual juxtapositions.
I pulled out a large envelope of collage materials, scissors, glue, pens, and needle and thread and went to town in an old notebook. This is the piece the emerged from that art-making session:
For a month, I’ve been staring at this piece, curious. Why is time not sad? I kept asking. That bit of text was cut out of some poem or magazine article and called me to use it. Art-making is mysterious this way. So this evening, while dusting off my shelf where this piece sat in waiting, I spent some time with it and this line emerged in my mind: “time is not sad — we are,” and then this poem flowed out, as if the art piece was making the call and the poem was giving the response. Here is the poem:
Time is not sad – we are.
It’s an emotionless tick-mark passing
through an invisible scrim.
We are sad because it doesn’t bend
for us, makes no special accommodation,
doesn’t write a letter of excuse, gives no
pardons, makes no concessions or apologies,
never moves up our appointments, delays
our arrivals, suspends our goodbyes.
In fact, it doesn’t even know we are here –
such an absent companion – and still
we obey its laws, follow its cycles,
and surrender to its every minute,
our bodies pressed into it, leaning forward
as if walking into the wind, eyes watering.
The moral of the story is this: trust your creative impulses, let your work develop for you — it will always have a message — and try allowing one art form inform another, as if in dialogue.
Wishing you creative bursts of insight,
c. 2017 Courtney Putnam – all rights reserved in all media
I love the mindful and intentional traditions I see so many of you doing at the transition of each new year. This year, I have decided on my guiding word for 2017 and I’ve chosen IMMERSION.
Here is the etymology of “immerse”:
“to plunge into (a fluid),” early 15c. (implied in immersed), from Latin immersus, past participle of immergere “to plunge in, dip into, sink, submerge” (see immersion). Figuratively, of study, work, passion, etc., from 1660s. Related: Immersed; immersing; immersive.
For this next year, I plan to plunge in, dip into, sink, and submerge into everything I care deeply about. Here are some of those things:
human rights and social justice
racial equality and justice
LGBTQ+ and women’s rights
inclusive (intersectional) feminism
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary gives this phrase for the word immersion: “absorbing involvement.” So I also add to my 2017 immersion goals these activities of creative submersion:
digital photography editing
short film making
Implied in “immersion” is some risk. I’m up to the challenge. While in Hawaii over the holidays, I found myself entering the Pacific ocean with mindfulness. I knew that the surf was strong. I knew, while warmer than the ocean off the mainland PNW, the water would feel cool. But I did it anyway. I immersed myself. I let the ocean envelop me and jostle me about, but I stayed strong. I surrendered to being in it — to being part of it. That’s the level of commitment I want to feel this year.
My December Reflections project has come to an end and here are my final photographs and reflections. Happy New Year!
December 25: LOVE IS…
LOVE IS… a moment on a beach at sunset accepting imperfection, embracing compassion.
December 26: REAL LIFE
I do a lot of this. I have stacks of essays and assignments. I read. I comment. I grade. If it’s a nice day, I’ll even do it outside.
December 27: 2015 TAUGHT ME…
Yes, this. Even if things don’t turn out the way I want them, even if there are tornados in my heart and earthquakes in my legs, there is an everlasting okayness that will prevail.
December 28: A SECRET WISH FOR 2016
After four decades of life, I still struggle with confidence. I believe in confidence and have small moments of grounded self-acceptance, but often I feel like an impostor. Here’s to a new year of feeling that I am strong, capable, smart, creative, beautiful, and loved.
December 29: HOME
When I can touch the earth, I feel more at home. Here’s to more trees, more water, more grassy fields, more dirt.
December 30: THANK YOU FOR…
I thank my body for her self-healing abilities. She is always trying to create harmony and equilibrium for me.
December 31: MY WORD FOR 2016
Here’s to an abundant new year of manifestation! Create! Produce! Manifest!
My next December Reflections cover the last nine days/prompts! Here I go:
December 16: I SAID HELLO TO…
In 2015, I said hello to a new home. We moved to Bellingham this September because my husband got a job as a Dean at Bellingham Technical College. We learned of his job acceptance on September 1, he was at his new job by September 14, and we officially moved the following week. It was quite the feat since we had been at our Seattle townhouse for 10 years! Our search for a place to live was a challenge since we were looking for a rental home at the same time as a gazillion college students at Western. Luckily, we found a very special condo that suits us just fine!
December 17: MY SMILE
This isn’t quite a smile, but this goofy look represents my playful side — a side I never want to lose. I turned 40 this year, which makes me a major grown-up, but I often feel like a kid.
December 18: CIRCLES
I tried to organize and purge as a packed to move to Bellingham. I did a pretty good job and one of my techniques for letting go involved taking photos of items that brought me joy. Do any of you remember letter books from Kindergarten? I found a handful of my letter books and was quite taken with the “O” book.
December 19: I SAID GOODBYE TO…
This series of photographs is sure turning into a documentary our move and this photo fits right in. I indeed said goodbye to our home in Seattle. I have lived in the Seattle area all of my life and in Seattle proper for almost two decades. The townhouse we left was a safe haven for us and a place for my massage business to thrive.
December 20: WARMTH
This summer was so warm in the PNW that I almost didn’t miss the sun directly on my skin (due to my skin cancer risk). The air was like a hug from the sun without the harmful rays.
December 21: NUMBERS
THREE. That’s the number I remember from 2015. My husband Walter and I have a very dear chosen sibling named Robyn and on the day of the above photograph we had spa pedicures together. I miss our (almost) daily sibling time.
December 22: SOLSTICE SUNSET
This Winter Solstice sunset was a bit subdued, but quite lovely and serene. I took this photo after having a massage and before going to a lovely new friend’s house for an all-women solstice intention-setting gathering. This photo overlooks Bellingham Bay.
December 23: DELICIOUS
The very best taste of 2015 has to be this cluster of fruits & veggies we purchased on the boardwalk of Venice Beach, CA during the holidays last year. The bouquet of cucumber, mango, and watermelon was vibrant, refreshing, and uplifting!
December 24: ONE YEAR AGO
One year ago today (well, one year ago tomorrow) we were in Palm Springs, CA in search of a blue sky holiday. On Christmas Day, we traveled to Joshua Tree State Park for a hike in the sunshine. The sky was so blue, the earth so solid, trees so crocked, our shadows so clear. (We’re trying to make an “M” and “C” for “Merry Christmas.”
Today I bring you my next eight December Reflections via photographs!
December 8: 5 THINGS ABOUT ME
- I am slightly far-sighted and as the years progress I notice that I need my glasses more and more for computer work and reading — especially when grading my students’ assignments.
- My hair is naturally light brown. Well, my hair is naturally light brown with lots of silver and gray.
- As far as I know, my cultural background is Irish-English-Scottish-German-Swedish and Prussian. My paternal grandmother told me that we’re related to Prussian royalty, but I’m not sure I believe her since she also told my brother that he was 1% Hawaiian. I’m also (apparently) related to Rufus Putnam, an American Revolutionary War general, so I guess that makes me a “DAR,” but I have no interest in that label or association. My favorite label is HUMAN and my favorite cause is PEACE.
- I have green eyes with a little bit of gold around the edges. These eyes are sensitive to light and this sensitivity sometimes causes ocular migraines.
- I have four tattoos on my body, including six birds and two Sanskrit symbols.
December 9: FAVE PHOTO OF 2015
It’s often so challenging for me to pick a “favorite” anything, so I have many favorite photos from this year. I will say that this photo of my cat Selkie delights me to no end. Last winter he sat with me in front my full-spectrum S.A.D. light absorbing the warmth and light with me as we traversed the dark months together.
December 10: SHADOWS
This last summer in Seattle was unusually hot. For the first time, my husband and I were considering getting an air conditioning unit. Instead, we cooled off in the kiddie pool and hid in the shadows of the sun.
December 11: GOLD
This sky! I took this photo on a walk home from the grocery store one evening this summer. The clouds were littered with gold and the sky was so softly blue. I dropped all my grocery bags and stared and stared. Remembering this moment reinforces my intention to stop and really look at the world with my whole body.
December 12: BEST DECISION OF 2015
So many good decisions this year, but I am going to focus on one that is constant: my decision to keep connecting, learning, and growing with my partner in this life.
December 13, 2015: A is FOR…
ART! And making artful messes! And reminding myself how the process of making art invigorates me like nothing else quite does. Here’s to a 2016 of setting up my art space in our new home in Bellingham and creating!
December 14: THE SPACE IN BETWEEN
Speaking of old and new spaces, this is a photo of our cat Selkie scoping out our empty bedroom right before our move. I think he found a few ghosts in that room … in that space in between.
December 15: SOUNDTRACK of 2015
My new (longer) commute from Bellingham to Bothell twice a week to teach at Cascadia College has certainly been an adjustment, but it has been made much more lively with some riot grrrl tunes. I’ve been listening to a lot of Ani Difranco on my drives and her strong energy, provoking lyrics, and social consciousness have me rockin’ and singing along with her up and down I-5.
December 4: RED
Red is one of my favorite colors, mostly because of its potency and boldness. There is no mistaking red. Red knows that she’s powerful. I created this art piece above our mantle over a year ago, and I am still struck by how people see different things in it. Some see a moon on the water as the surf froths up and some seem rain falling down. What do you see?
December 5: SACRED SPACE
When we moved into our new place in Bellingham this fall, it took me a while, but I did my usual space clearing and energizing ritual. This year, my cat Selkie wanted to be involved and he was very curious by the smells, sounds, and shifts in energy.
December 6: BEST BOOK OF 2015
I am quite biased, but I am also a very good judge of a powerful piece of writing. My mom’s memoir Full Moon at Noontide: A Daughter’s Last Goodbye was published in paperback this year after a run in hardback with a different press. This memoir explores my mom’s journey with loss in a lyrical and transcendent way. I am moved each time I read it, not only because this book is about my mom and my family, but because, through writing, my mother is able to let the light shine gently on grief and loss. For more on her book, please visit her website, where there are excerpts, beautiful reviews, photographs, and more.
December 7: BRANCHES
It is very dark in the PNW this year. Our resident weather expert Cliff Mass posted an article about how yesterday was the darkest December day in over nine years in our area! Instead of sharing a photo of branches from this time of year (though barren branches and dark skies can be quite beautiful, too), I am going to share a photo from this past April. These pink puffs of love delight me to know end. And set against a hopeful blue sky, I can almost smell the fragrant joy bursts.
My first photographs for Susannah Conway’s December Reflections 2015 challenge come in a set of there here:
December 1: SPARKLE
I purchased this crystal when my cat Mountie was the process of dying about four years ago. I placed it near him to provide comfort and clarity for his transition. In retrospect, this crystal was more of a comfort to me, since it is hard to know what to do when someone you love is dying. At least I was able to set an intention with this crystal and create some beauty.
Now I hang this crystal in my office. It dangles from a lamp so that it can sparkle any time I turn on the light to remind me of all the passages I have endured — my animal companions, my grandparents, friends, and my father. This crystal reminds me of the light that can be found around the edges of loss when we illuminate it with healing intention.
December 2, 2015: HOT DRINK
I see this view quite a lot in my life — my husband’s hand holding a chocolate brown mug filled with coffee. This is another view of Walter’s groundedness. Even holding his mug, he is geologic. When the winds of anxiety, worry, and sadness surround me, Walter’s steady sip brings be back to the earth.
December 3, 2015: BEST DAY OF 2015
I don’t know how I can possibly choose just ONE best day of 2015, for there were many good days sprinkled about. I will say, though, that learning that my book/card deck BODY CARDS: Insight from the Body, Wisdom for the Soul is going to be released in June of 2016 makes it to the top of my list. The tiny kernels of inspiration for this writing & art project began over 13 years ago in my living room with my best writing buddy Kristen during one of our weekly writing groups. Almost three years ago, Schiffer Publishing accepted my book proposal and now it’s an actual book that’s going to be released next year! This whole process reminds me to stick with my creative projects, but to also give them breathing room. I can’t crowd them or force them to be something too soon. I must nurture them and let them be what they want to be.
Once again, the soulful creativity of Susannah Conway has inspired me to participate in her “December Reflections, 2015” daily photograph challenge. I will be using Susannah’s prompts below each day in December as a way to reflect on this last year — and to think about what I hope is to come in 2016. Care to join me?
Here is Susannah’s list of photograph prompts:
Please hop on over to Susannah’s gorgeous website to learn more about the intentions behind this challenge — and to explore all that she has to offer. She’s a photographer, author, e-course facilitator, blogger, and beautiful human being.
See you in December for my first post!