It has been a long time since I played with one of the many word challenges online.
And then, today I read Dale’s response at A Dalectable Life…
And felt moved and inspired.
The word for today’s prompt is “Megalith” (I had to look it up.) The direction is, to create something with the word and use 49 words to do it.
The founder of the prompt is Sammi Cox who posts a prompt every week. You can find all the links to this, her 175th prompt, on her blog HERE.
To read more about the prompt, and to read Dale’s moving and beautiful response, click HERE.
Out Of This World
There is a place
where birds twitter in trees
and fish swim free
where bears wander wild
and snakes slither undeterred
by man’s intentions
to build megaliths to himself.
It is gone. That place.
that used to be
before man’s intentions
drained beauty and nature
out of this world.
When I read her comment, I felt something shift deep inside me. Like a recognition, a knowing, a sense of wonder and awe opening up.
The sounds of the leaves have changed.
Later, when I walked in the forest, I stood surrounded by the remains of summer clinging in changing colours to branches and listened deeply to the whispering of the leaves.
Their song is crinkly now. Drier. Like a thousand whispered prayers breathed into the sheer, lacey veils covering the faces of kneeling supplicants at the altar of life.
“Thank you summer, for your warmth and beauty,” they whisper. “Thank you for the heat that encouraged our roots to release its sap. For the warm showers that fed every vein of our being here, standing together in this forest, where we offer shade in the heat and beauty throughout the seasons. For the breezes that blew away all memory of winter’s frost and spring’s slow awkward tendrils. Thank you for being part of our ever-turning story.”
It was a real page turner, the leaves seem to whisper. This summer of Covid. Of uncertainty. Of constant change. Of fires sweeping across vast tracts of land. Of floods and hurricanes and rain pouring down.
Do the trees weep for their burned out comrades? Do their roots ache in sympathy of the dying embers of the skeletal remains of their compatriots who lost their lives to the scorching flames?
I stand beneath the trees and feel my heartbeat slow. My breath becomes deeper. My eyes close and I welcome into my body the song of the autumn kissed trees.
Their song is full of memory. Of connection. Of stories carried by the wind. Of birdsong and chattering squirrels.
Soon, there will be but a few skeletal remains of summer tenanciously clinging to the branches.
Soon, the song of the trees will become more weathered, more seasoned and weary. Their limbs wil stretch out, stark and naked against the winter sky. Their song will be heard in creaking trunks and sighing limbs swaying with the cold air rushing in from the north.
Do trees shiver in Arctic blasts?
Do they feel the sting of frost nipping at their limbs?
Perhaps they are more accustomed to weathering the storms than we humans. Perhaps they trust that the seasons will turn and what once was winter will become spring. Perhaps, in falling leaves they have learned to accept the cycle of life is an unending, constant circle of rebirth.
Their song sounds crinkly to me now, as if their veins are contracting in preparation of The Great Fall.
And I wonder… if I had no sight, if all I could do was hear the seasons turning, would I know it was Autumn by the song of the trees?
I hope so.
Thank you Bernie for your comment and the inspiration to wander in wonder amidst the trees listening deeply to their Autumnal song.
If you look closely at the painting above you will see it is mostly painted on cloth.
I was having fun playing with the eco-dyed cotton I created last week.
And here’s the deal. ‘Fun’ is the operative word. I was not trying to make art. I wasn’t trying to create something ‘perfect’. I was simply having fun exploring what happens if…
That’s art journalling. Exploring the what if’s of what happens when you let go of needing a purpose or destination to whatever you’re doing and just let yourself fall into the pure joy of self-expression that has no agenda, no intended outcome, no purpose other than to explore your creative essence.
Life is the art of living fearlessly in the beauty of this present moment.
‘Making art’ is just a means to access the creative core that resides in each of us through whatever medium we choose to employ.
For me, those mediums include paint, paper, (fabric too!) dried flowers and leaves (as in the cover of the handmade journal I created out of scrap papers.
My mediums also include the words I write, food I create, table settings, and a host of other everyday things I use to create beauty in my world. It’s all creative expression. My way.
Your creative expression will be different. It is a reflection of you. Your inner and outer world. Your experiences, preferences, likes and dislikes. But make no mistake, whatever you are doing, it is a creative expression of YOU! And because it is a reflection of you, it is, by its very nature, beautiful. You are beautiful just the way you are.
Make it Beautiful is both my motto and achilles heel. I struggle to keep in mind that sometimes my self-expressions aren’t so much ‘beautiful’ as much as one big beautiful mess.
Like this handcrafted journal I created at the beginning of August and continue to sporadically work on. It was an invitation from an online forum/art group I belong to, “Get Messy Art“.
Its pages are all bits and pieces of scrap paper. Different sizes, textures, colours, heaviness. The beauty of it is its ‘mess’.
And… confession… I struggle with the ‘mess’ of it all. I struggle to let go of my judgement of what is beautiful . I want to create pretty pictures. Not beautiful messes.
Which is why I’m sharing it here. To find the beauty in all of it… The places I judge as the good, the bad and the ugly.
It’s my invitation to ‘loosen up’. To give me the freedom of letting my not so ‘pretty’ parts show too. To quieten that voice within that likes to hiss in my ear, “What will ‘the neighbours’ think?” Or, one of the critter’s favourites, “They’ll laugh at you and not take you seriously.”
And that’s why art journalling is so powerful. It not only gives me a medium to express myself through words and art, it allows me to dive into those spaces within where I find myself hiding out from being ‘real’.
Being real to me is more than just ‘being authentic’. It means I allow myself to be vulnerable in my beauty and my beast nature. I allow all of me, warts and wounds and wisdom to be seen – because as this art journal so beautifully expresses for me, we are not just ‘the good’, we’re also the pieces of ourselves we want to hide. The scraps and broken places where we fear that if others saw them, they’d laugh at us, or mock us, or shun us.
We are all of who we are — not just the pretty parts we like to show off, but the dark spaces too.
Like the moon needs the sun’s glow to be seen in the dark, we need our darkness to let our true, inner beauty radiate.
That’s what art journalling has taught me. Again and again. To be grateful for the joy and the pain, the ease of passage and the turbulent seas. To be grateful and to express myself in every way my heart desires.
Oh. And to let my judgements go and simply Have Fun!
I have spent much of my life trying to fit in. Trying to conform and belong, and to feel comfortable in my own skin. To find purpose. To discover my dreams and live them, fearlessly.
It’s been quite a journey!
Recently I was asked if I would consider sitting on the board of a not-for-profit. It’s in a sector I’m passionate about. It’s an issue I care about deeply.
There are other ways for me to give back to community without immersing myself in the politics, grind and gristle of making change happen.
For many years, Kerry Parsons, my dear wise friend and amazing founder of The Academy of Emerging Women, would caution me about becoming too to ‘the pain body’. I didn’t really understand what she meant but would usually answer, “I’m not attached to it. I’m like a piece of Swiss cheese. I let the pain flow through me so I can nourish the whole.”
We don’t know what we don’t know until we step out of what we believe we know to see how much we don’t know, or don’t see, because we think we know it all. (Whew. That’s quite a convoluted sentence!)
Recently, while walking with another wise woman who was also once my boss and who is one of the most intelligent people I know, I was asked how long it took me after leaving the formal workplace to know what I wanted to do.
“I’m still working on that one,” I told her. I also told her that it took me a year just to get to a place where I didn’t feel like I wanted to be pulled back into the fray of the homeless-serving sector. Like my unique talents and gifts weren’t essential to ending homelessnss.
Fact is, others have stepped into the spaces I held and doing a mighty fine job of ‘the work’. Yes, their way might be different than mine. The truth is, every way makes a difference. Every way matters. And every way has value and benefits that my way could not achieve.
For me, after almost 20 years working in the homeless-serving sector and not-for-profit, I’m done.
Woo Hoo! It’s only taken me a year and a bit after leaving the workplace to be able to see that statement is my truth today.
I’ve come a long way baby.
I also told my friend that one of the things I realized about six months into my ‘rejuvenation journey’ was that I was addicted to the stress, chaos and turmoil of working in the sector. I was, as my dear friend Kerry suggested and I denied, “attached to the pain body.”
There is a belief that says you can’t get rid of a bad habit without replacing it with something more nourishing and healthy.
To replace my ‘pain body attachment’ habit, I am employing, deploying, engaging my joy muscles. I am all into attaching my body, mind, spirit, soul and vital essence to joy.
Like a wildflower in a field of plenty, I am growing wild and free. I am joyfully swaying with the winds of change sweeping through my entire being. Like a child dancing in front of her adoring parents’ eyes, I am flinging my arms above my head, leaping wildly in the air and screaming out loud in joyful abandon, “Watch me grow!”
There is something sublimely magical about time spent in the mountains.
Time. Unplugged. Unpressured. Unstructured.
So rare in these days of constant connection. So challenging to attain in these times of pandemic and environmental disasters and political discourse straying far from the peaceful way.
I am back from my sojourn in the mountains. Back from time spent savouring unmapped moments along the shore of Bow Lake and Num-Ti-Jah lodge.
I am back but I carry with me those days of breathing clear mountain air and hearing nothing but nature calling me to slip into reverie beside her running streams.
I carry those moments with me and still I struggle to hold onto the untrammeled path, the silence and the space to simply be present to whatever is unfolding in this moment right now filling my heart and mind and body with its beauty and possibilities.
I struggle and in my struggle am reminded to let go.
To let go of ordering time and managing my thoughts into what I want to be present.
I let go and remember the glacier high above the lakeshore, spanning the gap between two mountains. It has lain there throughout time watching in majestic silence life unravelling and passing by. It has been witness to the travels of Indigenous peoples who called these mountains home long before the first settlers arrived. It has lain unphased through the wars and pestilence befalling humankind and held space beneath clear blue skies turning dark.
The glacier is smaller now. Receding. Drawing back. Releasing its ice cold waters to the streams and rivers flowing steadily down the mountainside. And still, it lays in silent majesty, watching, bearing witness, baring its bones, revealing the land beneath its icy blanket.
I close my eyes and breathe deeply. My pulse quietens, my heart slows down, my mind and body meld together. I become the peace I seek. I become the quiet.
And I wonder. Does the glacier love the mountains holding it against the sky? Does the sky give thanks for the glacier’s icy ways? Does the waterfall give thanks for the water?
I think it is so.
And I give thanks. For this day. For the time by Bow Lake. For the quiet along the trails and the moments shared with friends around a dinner table. For the beauty of this moment right now and above all, I give thanks for the love that fills my life.
Here I am, I whisper to the sky and the trees outside my window and the river flowing by. Here I am. Thank you for this day. Thank you for these blessings that make my life so beautiful and rich and oh so full of love.
As a side note — it was easy to keep social distance as the lodge is closed for the season — it’s gracious and generous owner, a dear friend, chose not to open it under Covid’s risks. It gave him an opportunity to keep a small staff onsite to do maintenance work.
It also meant, he occassionally invited a few friends up to spend time with him in the beauty of his home away from home.
What a beautiful gift of time and space. Thank you TW!
I love to experiment, to explore, to experience the mystery of what is possible when I let the ‘what ifs’ of attempting new things be my guide.
What if I add this rusty old nail to a vat of plants in water? What if I include it in a piece of cloth I’m rolling up that has been decorated with leaves?
I have been exploring the amazing world of eco-dyeing.
According to one website I checked out, eco-dyeing is, “…a contemporary application of the traditions of natural dyeing. In eco printing or dyeing, plants are enclosed in textiles or paper, bundled by winding over rods or stacked in layers and then steamed or immersed in hot water to extract the pigments and produce a print made with plant dyes.” (Source)
For me, it’s a whole lot of possibility steamed up in a pot of mystery and magic giving rise to retrospective musings of what I’ve learned, experienced, witnessed, observed…
Did I also mention its messy? It’s that too. But so much fun the mess becomes inconsequential.
I started the process of dyeing these cloths earlier in the week. I laid out my plants and ephemera on the cotton, rolled and tied them up, placed them in a jar to soak in a mixture of iron water and then, put them into the sun.
The cloth to the left was sun-dyed only. The other two were sun dyed and steamed on the stove for a couple of hours. The only reason the first cloth wasn’t steamed is that I was curious (and impatient) to see how the process went and unrolled it when I brought the jar inside. That’s when I decided steaming was the next step.
And that’s the beauty of any creative process. It puts a spotlight on the traits we possess that can sometimes trip us up.
Take my impatience for example. My beloved likes to tease me by calling my impatience ‘legendary’. I didn’t think of myself as impatient until I reflected on what ‘inspired’ me to unravel the whole role of the first cloth to check it out. If I’d tested it by unrolling just a smidgen of a corner, I’d have seen it needed steaming for a darker imprint.
That said, I like the juxtaposition of the heavily printed versus lightly printed piece of fabric.
Now, here’s the big question – what will I do with these pieces?
I don’t know is the honest answer. The answer to make me look a little less unstructured is, “I can use them as journal covers. I can collage them into a page. I’m sure there’s other things I can do too!”
And that is where the fun comes in.
I don’t know what I want to do with the fabrics. I do know I love the mystery and the science of eco-dyeing. I love the experience of learning something new and the way it challenges me to keep learning more.
So… I’ll keep experimenting with it just for the fun of the exploration.
And that is one of the lessons this foray into eco-dyeing has really put into the spotlight for me.
It isn’t about the ‘why’ or the outcome. It’s all about the journey. About how much joy, laughter, curiosity, inner-knowing and a wealth of other aspects of creative expression that naturally arise from the exploration of what I know, and what I don’t know about myself and the world around me.
And, as I am learning as I explore this new medium, what I don’t know is greater than what I think I know. What a wonderful mystery to explore!
Beaumont the Sheepadoodle and I are walking back from the river.
He is not great on-leash. Some might say he’s awful. (Sorry Beau. It’s true.)
He tugs and pulls, especially if we’re on our way to the park. On the way home is not as bad. Unless he sees a squirrel. Or another dog. Or a leaf blowing in the wind. Or a butterfly. Or… you get the picture.
Anyway. We’re walking home and he’s pulling and I want him to pay attention. To me.
I stop about 10 feet from the crosswalk at Bowness Road. The deal is, when I stop, he has to stop and sit and then make eye contact with me before we move on.
He does the stop and sit well. The eye contact. Well, let’s just say he can take his time getting there. Like lots of time.
This particular day I’m into what feels like minute gazillion of waiting and he’s still looking around refusing to make eye contact when a voice behind me says, “Excuse me ma’am?”
Startled, I turn my head and see a young boy, about 12 years old, on a bike. He’s stopped on the road beside me and is looking at me with concern.
My mind immediately jumps to, ‘I wonder if he’s lost’ when he says, “Do you need help crossing the street ma’am?”
I almost burst out laughing but manage to control myself and reply (sweetly, I promise), “Oh. Thank you so much. That’s so kind of you. But no, I’m just waiting for my dog to pay attention to me before we cross.”
The young boy nods his head (I’m not sure he believed that I didn’t need help) but with an “Oh. Okay,” he gets back on his bike and rides off.
I didn’t wait for Beau to make eye contact. I pressed the crosswalk light and we crossed.
I had something to prove.
Footnote: This happened shortly after I read one of those memes on FB about how what’s wrong with the younger generation today is they respect no one because parents/teachers can no longer use corporal punishment.
My father used to give me the strap when I was young, the writer said, and I’m okay.
I disagree on two counts.
You’re not okay if you think having your butt or hands strapped as a child didn’t hurt you.
And the second count, as this young boy so beautifully showed, there’s nothing wrong with the younger generation (other than perhaps their eyesight).
The quote for this two-page spread in the altered book art journal I’m creating called, “My Mother’s Prayers” came to me after I painted in the bird and flowers.
I started the spread not knowing what would appear. I was ‘going with the flow’ and letting it happen as the paint hit the page. As with all the pages in this art journal, one of my mother’s prayer cards is affixed to the page.
There is so much healing grace in creating a project such as this. It invites me to focus on the lessons to be learned from my mother’s passing and her prayer cards. And, it opens me up to exploring those places within where the ‘mother wound’ has not yet come to rest in peace.
Along with the quote that came out of my journalling, “In the memory of her prayers, my heart rests in Love’s enduring embrace“, the phrase, “Learn from the broken. Live from the whole” appeared. Its resonance continues to soothe and illuminate my path.
An aspect of this spread that make it challenging is the fact that I was filming myself as I went along.
It was quite a journey.
Not the creating the two page spread part of the journey, but the, “Oh! Here’s an idea. Let’s create a ‘follow-along’ video of the process with all the bits and bytes of video you took Louise” part.
I do like a challenge!
Though, to be fair, it wasn’t the challenge of putting all the footage into a video that was the hardest. It was when my system crashed at 10pm last night wiping out 2 hours of work. That’s when I decided enough was enough for one day and went to bed.
I got up at 6 this morning and three hours later, Take 2 of the video was finished. Beaumont the Sheepadoodle was particularly grateful. The quick ‘pee break’ at 6am just wasn’t cutting it for him anymore!
One of my commitments to myself this fall is to get my online art journalling workshops started. This video is the first of what I hope is series of ‘follow-along’ videos showing my process.
It’s not perfect — but I sure am learning a lot as I create the videos and, I am growing in confidence with each step along the way.
The video is below — I would really love feedback, ideas, comments to help me grow and all that jazz.
When I sat down to create this page, bees and flowers were not in my focus. The page itself had started with a piece of collaged paper that came from Tamara’s work surface when she was here painting outside with me for the afternoon.
She’d scraped some paint off of her canvas, cleaned the scraping tool off on the paper covering her work table and exclaimed, “You should collage this into your next piece. The colours are so cool and look at that pattern!”
Why not, I replied. And promptly applied some medium to the middle of my just beginning next spread and affixed the paper.
The question then became… Where to from here?
It was all about experimenting with backgrounds and materials to see what happened when…
I worked on it a bit that day and then continued with it the next day. Again, letting the page itself guide me with whatever secret/story it was bringing to light.
I added background textures. Painted over places that didn’t ‘feel’ right. Kept delving into the background story.
Gold makes me think of bees and honey. I underpainted honeycomb shapes with pastels and painted a flower.
Hmmm… if there are honeycombs maybe there need to be bumblebees.
Part of what I’m enjoying most in creating the “Sheltered Wonder” art journal is the opportunity to experiment with supplies and materials I haven’t used in awhile.
Somewhere in my stash of stencils I knew I had a bumblebee. I dug through the box where I store them and found it. Perfect. Suddenly, two bumblebees appeared on the page surrounding the flower.
All things in nature are connected through an intricate web of delicate interdependency. Flowers rely on bees to pollinate them. Bees need nectar from flowers to create honey.
Flowers create beauty in our world. Honey nourishes.
Yet, we humans often forget the interdependent nature of all things on this planet. Including us. We strive for independence as if that is the gold ring of success. Even when our success doesn’t happen in isolation. It is always in connection with the people and things we employ to create whatever we have succeeded in doing.
This piece began with a suggestion from a friend. From there, it evolved into what it became because of all the products I used that someone, somewhere developed and created. It also helped that the muse was flowing freely and I was open to her whispers.
We are all connected, interconnected and interdependent. As John Dunne wrote long ago, “No man is an island.” We are one world. One people. One planet. We need each other. As the African word ‘Ubuntu’ so aptly describes, “I am because we are.”
In Covid’s presence, I have felt the wave of interconnectedness as country after country worked to flatten the curve of this virus’ onslaught.
In the midst of shelter in place orders, people rose up to share their many gifts. From music shared on balconies and driveways, to art ‘zoom-in’ s happening online, to poetry readings and cooking classes, and hundreds of other ways people found to connect, we the people of this planet have risen to the challenge and found ways to make ‘shelter in place’ feel less alone and frightening.
As the world ‘opens up’ again and shelter in place becomes less prevalent, may we all remember the beauty of this time where together, we created a planet where the best of our humanity connected us in ways we never imagined possible.
I painted outside yesterday. I moved two tables, chairs and some supplies out of my studio and onto the lawn and set myself up for a day of magic.
I wasn’t disappointed.
Tamara, friend, fellow artist and one of the other three founding members of the Basement Bombshells Art Collective, joined me for an appropriately socially-distanced paint-in on the lawn. We laughed and chatted and threw ideas around as easily as the squirrels leaping through the Poplars that every so often kept dropping little stickies onto Tamara’s canvas. They all added to the texture of her work while our conversation, the magic that happens when two artists come together to create and the environment offered up the perfect space to delve deep into soulful expression.
Nature’s beauty is ever-present. It lies deep within the soil giving birth to plants and trees, flowers and weeds. It fills the air. With birdsong and distant traffic humming, whispering leaves rustling in the trees and rushing waters gushing towards a far-away sea.
It is beauty. It is the beast. It is light. It is dark. It is softness. It is the hard edges of humanity colliding into life in the messy. In those places where we have forgotten the magnificence of our birthright and fight to find our place, make our mark, make ourselves be known, make peace, make love, make war.
Yet, no matter how far we slip into the dark side of fighting for our lives, we cannot avoid that which is true for every single human on this earth.
We are all born magnificent.
Our lives all began in one single act. I like to think of it as an act of divine love. And, no matter how it is initiated in human form, it is this same act that creates every single being on this earth.
And then, life happens with all its beauty and all its messy, inexplicably painful, frightening part. Immersed in trying to understand the messy, we lose sight of what is true as we struggle to make sense of a world that often defies logic. In our sense-making quest to commandeer life into some sort of order, we forget our magnificence and fall beneath the burden of living ‘our purpose’., finding success, making our life work.
Until, one day, we come upon a time when the brevity of our life journey appears to be drawing closer and closer upon the horizon. “Where have the years gone?” we ask as we turn inward towards the glimmering shimmers of light illuminating the sacredness of our being here, on this planet we call home. Slowly, we begin to remember. Magnificence is our birthright. It is at the heart of our human essence. And the cracks appear in our memory as we remember to let go of mediocrity and live our magnificent selves alive in a world of other magnificent selves.
Yesterday, I painted outside amidst Nature’s splendour and I remembered.
Ah yes. This is life. This is joy. This is calm. This is what it feels like to feel, really, really feel, what it means to ‘be alive’ embodied in the present moment. To feel at one with all of nature, sentient and non-sentient beings, in this moment, right now. To know my inherent humanity in all its magnificent colours and to experience the magnificence of others.
Inspired by nature, I collected a few leaves and imprinted their delicate nature onto the page. I splashed and swirled, drew and etched as the page came alive with colour, texture, form, depth.
I’ve titled this 2 page spread, “Magnifico”. It is my reflection of nature’s reminder to never forget the magnificent nature of all things.
To honour always, our humanity and our impact upon this planet we call ‘ours’. It is fragile, this ecosystem that sustains us. It is intertwined amidst and in and of each breath we take in and each breath we exhale. It is a delicate, sacred dance. A gift of life that gives each of us air to breathe, water to drink, gravity to hold us in place and land upon which to stand and sit, walk and run. It is our home. It deserves our loving attention.