Category Archives: random thoughts

A wee bit of overwhelm

Lilies from the supermarket.

Lilies from the supermarket.

As we wind down January and head into February, I’m feeling a little…overwhelmed. I agreed to run some printmaking workshops over February school vacation. I want the third issue of Art Together complete by the end of February. I have a guest post due by the end of February, and a column due as well. My husband will be away for another full week. February is only 28 days long. It’s not looking nearly long enough right now. But these are good “problems” to have—many Good Things will be accomplished in February. Yes.

So, a column is exciting! But also a bit pressure-y in a way writing my own blog is not. A magazine that comes out four times a year doesn’t lend to an immediate conversation with the reader, so I’m left trying to anticipate what those readers might want most. I polled my family members: If you were a homeschooler or parent who maybe wasn’t sure about “doing art” with your kids, what would you most want to know? These are the answers I received:

Husband: I don’t know. What do you want to know about [his industry]??

9yo: Give them things to do—art activities.

12yo: Make sure they know it’s easy.

5yo: Tell them what Art is.

I’m not touching “what Art is” with a ten-foot pole, I’ll tell you that much! (But the 5yo definitely thinks big and all-encompassing.) I like my oldest’s response. Inspiring confidence is definitely a goal of mine.

With all this writing ahead of me, I am keenly missing my running time. I didn’t necessarily compose writing while I was running—letting my mind wander in that way resulted in slower running, I noticed—but focusing my mind on breathing and pacing left it open to work on ideas without me beaming a spotlight on the process. Running is active mindfulness for me, clearing the brain. Oh, how I miss it. I get out for one-mile walks when I can, but that’s only 15 minutes and doesn’t have quite the same mind-clearing effect. I have another follow-up with the orthopedist next week and I’m hoping he says I can at least head back to the track (a soft, level surface) for short runs.

Sewing projects in progress.

Sewing projects in progress.

So how did I spend my weekend? Was I working on those deadlines? Um, not so much. I spent it at karate with the kids. Taking my daughter shopping to spend a gift card. She loved the mama-daughter shopping time (the boys went to get haircuts with dad), and I love that she loved it, even though department store shopping isn’t my thing. Doing the weekly grocery shopping, which, until spring arrives, now includes flowers as a line item. Sewing some pouches, none of which are complete yet. Planning another linocut. Spinning the wheels in my head a bit. How about you?

Lily sketch.

Lily sketch.

Just Start. Really.

Begin Now

I’m not saying anything new here, but I heard so many thoughts around New Year’s that basically said, “I want to do [xyz] but I need to find the time/but my special circumstances make it challenging/but I don’t have what I need.” No. No, this isn’t true. If you want to do whatever it is, you will find the time. You will adjust to your circumstances instead of waiting and waiting for your circumstances to change. You will make do with the minimum amount of whatever supply you think you need to get going. If you don’t, of course, it is easy to say it’s not your fault, it’s the fault of your busy life or your circumstances (which aren’t unique, no matter what you think) or the budget that won’t allow you to buy the exact drawing pens and paper you’re sure you need to express yourself. But the truth is, if you don’t, it’s because you don’t want it enough.

Do you want to write? Get paper and a pencil and get going. You don’t need a screen and a keyboard or a special app or program. You don’t need a fancy notebook or the perfect pen or even a new pen. You don’t need a quiet room of your own and three hours per day. You can do it while the kids interrupt you (ask me how I know). You can do it in waiting rooms with background noise. You can do it ten minutes at a time. You can even do it while monitoring homework or cooking dinner or in your head while driving carpool.

Do you want to draw? Grab some paper and a pencil and get going. (Do you sense a theme?) You don’t need the perfect sketchbook. You need paper, a pencil, and your eyes. That just-right sketchbook you saw at that store you can’t get back to for two weeks plus you need to wait for a coupon…that sketchbook isn’t going to make you draw any better. Do you know what makes you draw better? Practice. You can draw on the backs of receipts while waiting in the school car pick-up line. That’s a pretty boring place to be, in my experience. Look out the car window. See that tree? Draw it. Draw your own hand—it’s fantastic drawing practice. Make a habit of bringing some paper with you wherever you go. If you choose to spend that boring pick-up line time browsing the Internet on your phone, that’s a choice that you’ve made. That’s fine, but own the choice.

“I’d love to knit, but I don’t have the time.” Is there a knitter who hasn’t heard some variation of this comment? People who knit (or sew, or embroider, whatever) don’t have any more time than the rest of the population. These handcrafts are incredibly forgiving of schedules. They are agreeable, for the most part, to being picked up and put down in the middle of things. Knitting is practically made for mothers. It fits into the cracks of the day.

Almost everything I do fits into the cracks of my day. In late December I attended a Home for the Holidays Etsy gathering in Providence. I didn’t talk to everyone there, but for everyone I did talk to, their craft business was their full-time job. I can’t do that right now. My making has to fit in around homeschooling two children and mothering three. We have what seems to be a higher-than-average number of medical appointments. My husband travels a lot. I’m unable to run at the moment, but when I could and when I can again, it’s also a priority in my day. I juggle all these things and more. I could decide it’s not worth doing anything at all if I can’t make selling my work a full-time job right now. I don’t have a room of my own, control over much of my schedule, a studio with natural light, a dedicated sewing table, an advertising budget, or the DSLR that would make all my photographs perfect, I’m sure of it. (Wouldn’t it?) Someday I may have all of those things, but in the meantime, I want to make things and try to sell them, so I fit it into the cracks.

Forget all the excuses. If you want it, you’ll do it. If you want to write, you’ll write. If you want to create, you will. You’ll find a way. If you don’t find a way, that’s telling you something. It’s really, truly as simple as that. If what you actually do isn’t matching the story of yourself in your head, you have to do some hard work. You either need to actually do what you say you want to do, or you need to adjust the story to reflect the fact that you are not a person who truly plans to do these things. You’re not a writer-who-wants-to-write-but-can’t. You’re not someone-who-would-draw-if-only. You are you, spending your time on whatever it is you are spending your time on. It’s hard changing these stories; it makes us feel bad. If you don’t want to change the story, change what you do. Write. Draw. Create. Exercise. Read more. Do whatever it is you say you want to do, with no excuses or rationalizations. I trust that you can. I really, really believe that you can—if you want to.

Finding Your Time and Space

heart embroidery at amyhoodarts.com

Playing with embroidery on a salvaged denim pocket.

A couple of months ago, I began seeing flyers around town for a creativity/art/something class. I couldn’t quite get a handle on what the class was all about from the flyer, but it sounded like the organizer felt the same way about art-making as I do: that it’s for everybody, and it’s important, and it should be a part of our lives. So I emailed her for more information. I realized we definitely think the same way. With her classes, she was hoping to gather a group of people and hold the time and space for creating. She’d provide the materials, and the participants would be free to create. I don’t need anyone to hold the time and space for me; art and creativity is fairly ingrained into my life at this point. But I would like to meet more people who feel that way in person. I know so many people online who understand what this need to create is all about, and I am grateful for that. But it would also be nice to know some people nearby so we could meet for coffee and bounce ideas off each other of in a back-and-forth out-loud conversation.

I thought about taking the class, but it was six sessions beginning in December, and it was a lot of money to spend in December solely out of curiosity. I noticed she was offering one session on a weekday morning and another on Friday nights, and I thought about how weekdays are difficult if you have children who aren’t in school or if you’re homeschooling, and how nights are hard if you’re nursing, and how in the days when I was trying so hard to claw out some time and space for creative work, a class like this wouldn’t have been accessible to me at all. She ended up deciding to make the classes drop-in instead of having people pay for six at a time, and I decided I could spend that lesser amount of money for curiosity and to try to meet other people who feel like I do. So in early December, I went, not quite knowing what to expect.

What I decided was that this is a valuable service, but I don’t need it. I have a ridiculously well-stocked art room. Almost anything I want to do, I can go to the right shelf and find the materials I want. I’m really good at making time and space to insert creativity into my day. If I don’t have time for digging into something deeply, I can still find time to write, or draw, or knit, make something that wasn’t there before emerge from the work of my own two hands. And if I’m going to spend money for a class-type thing, I need my investment to result in more than just chit-chat while I play with materials. I don’t take the money I spend on classes lightly; I want to advance my work in some way, learn something new or advance mastery of something I’m already doing.

But as I thought about this group (and I hope it takes off), I thought again about how, for a decade, anything I wanted to learn, I taught myself. I couldn’t swing classes while exclusively nursing babies who didn’t bother with bottles. I let all my babies nurse to sleep, and wouldn’t change the rules on them suddenly just so I could go take a class. Those times with each child were important and irreplaceable; of course, I had three of them, so it stretched out to a decade. During that time, I taught myself to knit, sew, and embroider. I played around with art materials and figured things out on my own. It was either that, or do nothing new until the last kid was weaned, and I’m not that patient.

I’ve spoken about this before: I didn’t begin facilitating art for my kids solely because I am a fabulous mother who wants them to be exposed to lots of different art materials and techniques. While I do want that, of course, I also wanted so much to get my hands back into paint and charcoal that it felt like a physical need. At the time, my youngest child was two and still wouldn’t sleep without my body beside her. The gradual expansion of my time that I’d expected by that point hadn’t happened. The obvious solution was to make art right alongside my kids. In between helping them and fetching what they needed, I could grab a few minutes here and there so I could create, too.

Art Together has “together” in the title for a reason. We adults aren’t just here to facilitate experiences for our kids. We have a right—perhaps even a duty—to make sure we’re getting our need for creative play satisfied as well. It would be great if the kids would quietly occupy themselves with their own projects while we work on our own (!) or if we could go out on Friday nights and have a glass of wine and adult conversation while playing around with paint. But that’s not possible for many of us, for whatever reason. Art Together—the series and the zine—is an invitation to dive into the same activities your kids are doing, to explore and have fun and relax and not think for a little bit. I came upon that solution the way most good ideas occur—by necessity. I had a need that wasn’t being met, and I had to find a way to fix that. Along the way, so many benefits accrued, not just for me OR the kids but for all of us together, the sum, as is often the case, being so much greater than its parts.

In a rambly way, I’m encouraging you to think creatively if you spend your days with children and you have a need that’s going unfulfilled. How can you work within your circumstances to make it a part of your schedule? Maybe it’s art-making, maybe it’s something else. Don’t wait for somebody to come along and offer to hold that time and space for you—that may happen, but perhaps not soon enough. Learn to hold the time and space yourself.

Hello, 2014

And it’s been a long December and there’s reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last
I can’t remember all the times I tried to tell myself
To hold on to these moments as they pass

–Counting Crows, “A Long December”

Sometime during the summer I heard this song on the radio and thought, I can’t wait until I’m slamming the door on 2013. I pictured kicking it in the ribs a few times on the way out. (I had some anger. Exercise helped.) I reflected on the past year just a few months ago in my birthday post, and I don’t have much more to add, except this: It turns out I’m not angry at 2013 after all. I’m grateful.

Just to be clear: I wouldn’t want to relive this year. Absolutely not, even though it contained some wonderful moments and experiences. But I’m grateful to have lived it. I wouldn’t have requested the situation to occur, the one that triggered such severe PTSD symptoms. When I picture the worst of the PTSD this past spring, when I try to remember, I see myself curled up, knees to chest, at the bottom of a narrow, deep hole. There’s light way at the top of it, but I’m stuck down in a close, dark place. Life is going along normally for the people at the surface–I can glimpse them going by–but down in my hole, clumps of dirt keep falling into my hair and I’m running out of air. It was like that. I don’t want to go through that again. But for most of my life I was having flashes of symptoms that I didn’t understand, blaming myself for overreacting to things, or not having gotten over whatever-it-was, guilty for feeling the wrong way. If it took that situation, this year, to trigger PTSD so severely that it had to be brought to the attention of someone who would recognize it (I will love her forever) so I could learn to understand what was going on and learn how to manage it–how can I not be grateful for that? Profoundly grateful.

Oh, 2013 was a terrible and beautiful year, all at once. I am wiser and more self-aware than I was a year ago. I like myself better. I’m more comfortable in my own skin. There was no way to get here, I’m convinced, without living through the terrible parts.

I didn’t choose a word for 2013 so much as a guidance. I hoped to remember to always choose kindness first. (The last half of 2012, it wasn’t so smooth either.) I thought if I could remember to start from a place of kindness, I’d be on the right path more often than not. I know I didn’t keep to this ideal in all situations, but it’s a good ideal, and one I will keep aspiring to. As the year wound down, I made myself a reminder. It hangs off the window that faces my kitchen sink. In other words, I will see this reminder quite a bit.

 be kind at amyhoodarts.com

I did decide to ponder a guiding word or ideal for 2014. I’ve been working on being okay with uncertainty–no small task for a control-freak Virgo who additionally thought for a long, long time that if I could just keep track of all the details, hold onto all the ropes, nothing bad would happen. (False.) I think I’ve made huge progress, but it’s going to be a lifelong practice, I believe, to embrace uncertainty. However, I didn’t want to choose “uncertainty” as a guiding word for the year. I wanted to flip it around, turn it inside out, and find a more positive-sounding word. This is what I decided upon.

serenity at amyhoodarts.com

I want to settle towards serenity in the face of whatever-may-come. Serenity, the state of being serene, that is, calm, unruffled, steady. That is my practice.

Happy New Year to you all. May it be full of good things, and remember, sometimes those good things require difficult times first.

I Dared

I daredThis month, I am following along with the daily prompts posted at write alm. I do this the old-fashioned way, with pen and a plain notebook, and while Amanda encourages sharing, most of my writing doesn’t seem like it would fit into this space for one reason or another. This one, though, I think I can share. The prompt: I dared.

* I dared to move in with a boyfriend at twenty years old, even though my mother and her family were so ashamed, my aunt did not acknowledge the relationship. My paternal grandparents, however, offered us furniture from their basement.

* I dared to move into an apartment by myself when that relationship ended. Not quite twenty-one years old, a senior in college, I dared to be the only person responsible for all the cooking, re-stocking the toilet paper, and my own happiness.

* I dared to head to Europe by myself for a month, also at twenty-one, with only a Eurail Pass, hostel ID, and what I could carry on my back. I dared to ignore everyone who told me a woman couldn’t and shouldn’t travel alone. I dared to talk to strangers in strange lands.

* I dared to fall in love with my best friend.

* I dared to start a family and trust I could do better than what I’d known. I dare every day to stumble, leaving my good intentions in my wake, and pick myself up. I dare to believe I can always do better.

* I dare to act out of love, not fear or hurt. I dare to be wide open, because closing down predetermines the outcome, and wide open means anything is possible.

* I dare to ask for help.

* I dare to say, “I don’t know.”

* I dare to stake my space and protect it. (I just closed the bedroom door to continue writing uninterrupted.)

* I dare to admit, “This is my passion,” and share it with the world. I dare to fail, because every effort carries the chance of failure, but not making an effort at all ensures a lack of success.

* I dared to put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, and hit “publish.”

Processing Montana

The pond at the ranch at sunrise, before I went for a run.

I’m back from my time at the Haven Writing Retreat. I’m sure I’ll be digesting this experience for a long while. I ended up there on pure instinct. It’s been years since I called myself a writer, at least the sort of writer who goes on writing retreats. I imagine those sorts of writers to be working towards publication, or at least working on a specific project. I’m doing neither. I chanced across the description online, registered the location and that all levels of writers were welcome, and felt I needed to go. I had many reasons not to–distance, expense, timing, and a nagging feeling that I was being selfish. We’re all familiar with those excuses, I think. But I listened to my instinct. I kept in touch with that voice, which had no supporting arguments but was insistent. It just said, GO.

Haven was transformative, and much needed at this particular time in my life. I knit out in Montana nature, I hiked, I ran through the misty sunrise, I spent time with women of all ages, and yes, I wrote. On the first night, we were asked to share our intention for coming on the retreat. This was mine:

My intention is to be far from home and everyone I know and see what comes out, given space, time, and distance.

Some amazing words came out.

While there, I also took advantage of a couple of optional activities, a guided hike and a session with horses. We weren’t riding; it was all ground work with the horses–and grounding work for the humans. In other words, equine therapy. Before getting back to the focus of this site–art, creativity, and projects–I want to share something I wrote after my time with the horses. The riding crop is used to define our personal space to the horse, and “B” was our guide with the horses.

I step out into the ring, riding crop in hand. I face the closest horse and move my arm from side to side. I hear B say, “I’m going to help you.”

“Why?” I want to do it myself. I keep my eyes on the horse but feel her come up behind me. She presses close, her right hand on mine, holding the crop, her left on my waist.

“Breathe in and relax. Let go.” I soften. The horse notices. B moves my hand from side to side with firm motions and then steps back as I carry on myself. The horse moves back. I move forward, arm still swinging. The horse turns and moves faster. I stride toward the next horse.

“You too,” I say. “Move.” The horse moves. I feel the power in me, the force of my intention, pouring out through my swinging arm. Back and forth with the crop as I broadcast: This is my space. This is my boundary. As I stride forward purposefully, the horses respond, always staying beyond my boundary. Soon all five horses are trotting in a circle around the arena before me. It’s fluid. I feel the grin on my face. It radiates through every surface of my body–my entire self smiles. I am in control of these horses.

After I’ve circled the arena a few times, B tells me to stop in the middle, take a deep breath, and lower the crop. The horses continue to move around me, powerful, but their power still under command of my intention. I stand at the calm center, still grinning, observing what my firm intention has produced: five thousand pounds of powerful equine flesh moving in controlled rhythm because of me, as I stand fearless in the middle, loose and happy.

Montana Bound

I’m leaving so early tomorrow morning that I should be in bed by now. (Seriously–I just set my cell phone alarm and it told me it would be going off in 5 hours, 28 minutes. What?!) I’ll be back in Rhode Island and this space again next week, with good things to share, I hope. I’ve been busy with my to-do list the last few days, not just packing (and unpacking, and repacking, because I’m taking three planes each way and do not want to have to check a bag) but also leaving assignments for my homeschooled kid and a master list of where which kid needs to be when.

But before any of that, I finished a project I’ve been working on, with the plan being to have it available to share with the world shortly after I get back. Then, I turned to my sewing stack, so I can add new items to the shop when I return as well.

The sewing pile.

I didn’t quite get to the end of it, but close.

I’m looking forward to September, y’all. Six days away, followed by lots of goodness to share, a birthday for me, teaching some classes, helping coach soccer again, another 5K…this is going to be a fun, exciting month.

Enjoy your week!

Self-Care

I have nothing creative to share with you. Instead, there has been a lot of this going on:

The book: A Place in Time by Wendell Berry

My oldest has also been reading quite a bit, and playing Minecraft. My younger two kids have had the Legos, among other things (but mostly the Legos), all over the living room floor. If everybody is otherwise occupied and it’s not raining and there’s a bit of shade, I sneak out onto the deck, slider open so I can hear them, and read.

This summer is already different from just about every summer we’ve lived here (excepting the first, when I had a brand-new, born-too-soon baby). We haven’t been to the beach yet, except for a walk after dinner one night. Usually the beach calls me, and I happily pack up all we need and head out early for the day. This summer I’m secretly grateful for any rain that gets me off the hook. It’s raining and thundering now, and I’ll be turning on the Tour de France soon, happy to have an excuse to settle in and listen to the rain and the announcers both.

I’ve been starting my days with a run instead of a walk, now. I was on the cross-country team in junior high and high school, eons and eons ago, but I quit halfway through high school when the external pressures outweighed the internal satisfaction. I didn’t run after that except for one summer in college, when my first serious boyfriend was treating me badly (and cheating on me too, turns out), and I felt the urge to run. Now my body wants to run again–walking isn’t fast enough–and I’m listening to it. My boys’ karate studio–we’ve signed our 11yo up now too–has a pilates/kickboxing class for adults that ends with some gentle yoga, and I went to my first session on Monday. Tuesday I felt muscles I hadn’t noticed before, and it felt good to have worked my body that way.

Tonight I fly to Florida for four days to visit an old friend–fingers crossed. My art date with Karen fell apart when my husband’s flight home the day before was cancelled. My flight to Florida is already delayed, nine hours before scheduled take-off. I can only hope for the best. I’ve become used to plans being made and cancelled, changed, delayed–part and parcel of this life with three kids and a semi-absent husband. But I’m firmly planning on stepping sideways out of this life for four days, anyway, delayed flights and all.

Wishing a peaceful weekend, hopefully with a bit of self-care, for you as well.

Finding My Work

Many months ago I wrote down some hopes and plans on my chalkboard wall. Almost all have been realized, even if only in small ways.

We get to define our own success. This is not a new idea, but it’s one I like to remind myself of often. When I think about the intersection of my passions and my talents, these are the things that come to mind:

* I am a teacher by nature. I like to share and inspire.

* I like to make things, and I’m creative.

* I am a writer, in that I process my own thoughts best through words.

* I am passionate about inspiring confidence in one’s own creativity and artistic talents, whatever they are.

* Like Miss Rumphius, I hope to add a bit of beauty to the world.

When I think about this list, the three directions in which I’ve been headed seem intertwined. I am working towards offering classes, selling my creations, and taking the Art Together series further. This is my work as I’ve (finally!) defined it. Now, what about success?

I have items for sale in a local store. I consider that a success (although I haven’t sold any yet). But I’m also working towards opening an Etsy store, held up at the moment by the need to get the RI sales tax license squared away, and being right at the end of one fiscal year and the start of another. It’s all a bit more complicated that I thought it would be. Shipping is confusing! It feels like I’ve been moving very slowly on this goal, but I’m getting there.

I’ve been teaching art (and other) classes through our home-school co-op for the past year. Those have been successful, yes, and I’ve been really happy to share my passions with these kids. But I’d like to teach classes I get paid for, too. I don’t need to teach in a big, impressive venue. A local town’s rec. dept. offers so many classes they publish a catalog three times a year. I’ve long thought, “I could teach there,” but I’ve been held back by the sort of thoughts that hold one back: How would I manage child care? Will getting paid as a contractor mess up our taxes? How do I know what to charge, anyway? Suppose nobody is interested?

Finally I just emailed the contact person, who forwarded my email to the coordinator of the arts classes, who I happen to already know because my son has taken pottery from her. So it was a really friendly, easy meeting, and I’ll be offering classes and workshops this fall. She let me know that new classes by new instructors can take time to catch on; if I’m willing to run a class with just a few people, eventually, it will build. Starting small; I understand that. Right now, I count it as a success that I will be offering classes. Start where you are.

As for my blogging about art-making by and with children, I already feel good about that. I already feel successful, because if it’s inspired or reached or helped even one person, that’s a win. The plan to take my Art Together series further, I’ll admit, scares me a little, but in a good way. It feels challenging. It feels important for me to try to do it. I get to define the success, remember. Right now, it’s a success if I pull it off. Stay tuned.

What do you define as your work? And, more importantly, how do you define your success?

Making (Plans) + Listening (Quietly)

I haven’t been feeling well this week, my brain too sluggish to make anything. I haven’t even managed to knit from a pattern! This is distressing to me. Making is such a part of my days and who I am, I’m at a bit of a loss when my body declares otherwise. Last night, though, I got out of the house by myself, taking a brand new Moleskine and my pouch of colored felt-tips to the university library. I sat there listening to nothing but silence and ordered my brain to cooperate so I could do some brainstorming and planning.

I am counting this as a successful evening out.

I’ve also been trying to walk daily, about 2.5 miles in my neighborhood. When the weather cooperates, I head out in the morning, by 5:30. Cars are few, birds are noisy, and often I see a deer or two. If it’s raining in the morning I cross my fingers I can squeeze in a walk after dinner; the other night I caught a break in the weather and went for a drippy walk, serenaded by a cacophony of spring peepers. I listen to the wind in the treetops; the neighborhood stream, which usually plods along but is now rushing, swollen with recent rains; the sound of my sneakers on the pavement; and my own thoughts circling in my head. I like walking in the morning best, getting that time to myself before I have to talk to anyone or process their demands.

I am, of course, linking up with Dawn this week for making + listening. How about you? Are you making this week? What are you listening to?