Am I no longer young,and still not half-perfect? Let me keep my mind on what matters, which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.
–Mary Oliver, excerpt from her poem "Messenger."
This little section struck me today as I continue to maneuver through these days, post solo show, in midst commissions, packing up work to travel out west, while managing life as a middle-aged woman, wife, daughter of ailing parents, and mom of a teenager. I've been feeling a little overwhelmed lately, occasionally out of whack, and usually self absorbed.
There, I said it.
Hard not to be when you claim art as a career. One's journey is a big part of the equation, the way I figure.
So, when we live our lives, and all that is in it, what parts do we claim to make the art? The pretty nice sunny day life? The dark depressing fraught side? Do you, we, as artists sit and actually decide? What messages propel you forward in your art making? I would love to hear how my artist friends out there manage this.
For me, the last 2-3 years have been entirely different than my previous hundred. My spiritual journey has taken me to some pretty intense places, that have, in essence, wiped me clean only to leave a void to be filled, again and again, and not always with the fun stuff. I won't go into the gorey details. We all have had these days, those years.
When I returned to my easel after all that turmoil awhile back, what inspired me was to listen. To listen more deeply than I ever have in my life. (and trust me, growing up a quiet kid, you develop pretty awesome listening skills.) I didn't think about what will sell, what was marketable. I just moved. And not all of it forward.
The doing is the thing. That was number one. It wasn't up to me to decide anything more.
The other message I still receive- is what this poem reminded me of again. To look around, and be astonished. This part will often take work on my part. It is so easy for me to forget, to get lost in my own stories, my past, the future.. the chips and salami to eat when I get home. So many distractions. Once I develop the habit, and reinforce it daily, I find I'm much better off. It's not that the difficulties are not there, but they don't hold me hostage.
It's transformation of the best kind.
All of it creates the work. Which is why, I believe, so many people see so many different stories within a single painting. That's the goal really, for me. I don't want to create the message for the viewer. The best I can do is be honest with what filters through me, and allow it to be. The way I see it, welcoming all the messages will leave no stone unturned. And in my pedestrian wanderings through gardens, the dirt under those stones are pretty darn rich.
Here's the full poem:
Messenger, by Mary Oliver
My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird—
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.
Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,
which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.