Friday, 17 January 2014

Be a Fearless Artist

Have you ever watched little kids make art?  You put the materials in front of them and they dive in with abandon, fearlessly marking up their paper, cutting things in pieces, mixing paint, and sprinkling glitter. They are absolutely unconcerned with success or failure, and although they will show you their work when they're done with it, they do so knowing that you'll like it.

Then, as kids get older, they start to compare their work to that of others, and to preconceived standards taught them at school, on line, on TV, in books, and by well meaning family and friends.  Soon they become self conscious about their work, pointing up its flaws rather than its virtues. They become hesitant to even begin a project, not wanting to mess up that clean, white sheet of paper. By the time they're adults, most have convinced themselves that they're "not artistic."

So what about the artists who do continue to make art even as adults?  Are they not self conscious about their work?
I'm pretty sure that most artists experience some hesitation before picking up a brush, or playing a note, or writing that first sentence, but they do it anyway. 

I know that they're often more critical of their work than any objective viewer might be, but they do it anyway. 

They do it because the need to make art is so strong within them that they can't not do it.

That need for artistic expression lies at the very heart of what makes us human.  For as long as humans have been human, we've been making art: embellishing ourselves, our tools, and our surroundings; striving to make things more beautiful, to tell stories, and to reflect the beauty around us. 

Our artists are those who feel that need for expression most acutely.

When an artist creates new work, it's very nice if others like it but even if no one at all cares for it the piece has still served it's purpose: The expression of creativity.

Experiencing art is one of the most intensely individual things we do. Each one of us will view a work uniquely, through lenses coloured by our personal experiences and taste. Whether we like that work or not, it will cause us to think and experience new things and those new thoughts and experiences are at the core of art's value.

So, why am I telling you all of this?

I want you to make art fearlessly, putting aside the fears and reservations you've learned growing up.  

I want you to approach your paper, your musical instrument, your camera, your keyboard, or whatever medium you choose to work with, with abandon.  

I want you to dive into the creative process with child-like enthusiasm; without concerning yourself over success or failure. 

I want you to put aside comparisons of "good" and "bad" and just enjoy the wonder of the creative process.  

I want you to put pen, pencil, paint to paper, to pick up an instrument, to dance in the kitchen, to carve or assemble sculpture, to sing loudly, to write your story, to make your quilt, to grow your garden or to piece together your mosaic.

I want you to do these things with no thought for who might see or hear them, but just for the joy of doing it.  

If you don't like what you've created, throw it away or - better still - use it as a stepping stone to make something new.


Because creativity feels good. It's a meditative process that allows us to clear our minds of the stresses of the day. It makes us happy.  

Creative thought in one area of our lives usually leads to creative thought in other areas too. We become more adaptive - better problem solvers - through fostering our creativity.

I want you to experience art made by others in the same way:  

Step outside the work of artists you already know and love.  Look at and listen to genres outside your comfort zone.  Encounter new and different things with an open mind.  

You may not like the new art you experience, and that's okay: No permanent injury was ever done by looking at a painting you didn't care for, or by listening to a song you don't like. No one ever died as a result of watching a bad play.  

But here's the thing:  You may like some of those things too.  You may discover a passion for some new art form that you'd never have experienced if you weren't open to new work.

Go forth. 

Be fearless. 

Be creative. 

Have fun doing it.

You can thank me later.

Friday, 10 January 2014

A Story About Friendship and Some Advice About Grief

photo by Debra Hughes

Sometimes life can take us in the most unexpected directions.

When I married, we moved to a new town and I went in search of work.  I applied for a job advertised in our new town's paper, providing home care for a 13-month-old girl with spina bifuda .

I didn't give much thought to her disability at the time: Kids are kids to me and I enjoy them all.  I needed work and taking care of a little girl in her home five days a week seemed well suited to both my temperament and my budget.

Cheri was a sweet child: tiny, bright eyed, already talking, and very curious about the world around her. She readily accepted me into her world and embraced me with an unqualified love I couldn't help but return. Very quickly, she became a child of my heart; as dear to me as my own family.

Cheri grew, as children do, and went off to school.  I took full time work elsewhere, but still my bond with Cheri and her parents continued. I provided respite care for Cheri, and Cheri's mother Anna became one of my closest friends.  We were often in and out of each other's houses.

We shared happy times and challenging ones:  Cheri's health problems were many and complicated.  When Cheri was well, we enjoyed adventures, and quiet times too. When she was ill, we supported one another and helped to provide the care and reassurance she required.

So it was that a chance reply to a classified ad grew into a great gift of love.  I am more grateful for it than I can begin to tell you here.

At the end of November a couple of years ago, when she was 28 years old, Cheri's poor body could no longer withstand the many demands her health problems had made upon it.  She was admitted to hospital one last time and, after some days, a decision was made to take her off life support.  I was honoured to be with her when she slipped away.  

I can only imagine the magnitude of pain one suffers upon losing a child.  Anna was a brave woman, and quite stoic, but it overwhelmed her.  She worked very hard to find away to carry on after her loss but confessed to me that it felt like a part of her was missing.  For 28 years she'd centered her life around her daughter, and now that center was gone.

Almost exactly a year after Cheri died, Anna became very ill.  She was admitted to hospital, diagnosed with anemia and diabetes, given meds and - once she was strong enough to manage alone - sent home.  She didn't respond as expected to the medications and began to experience terrible pain in her legs and back. Further tests revealed that cancer had spread so pervasively throughout her body that it was not possible to treat it, or even to determine where it had begun.

Four months later my dear friend was gone.

I am struggling with the loss of these two women, both so dear to me.  Even though it's been more than two years since Cheri's death, and almost a year since Anna's passing, grief still ambushes me at the most unexpected times.  

They are so often on my mind.  I'll see an eagle fly by and think "Oh, Cheri would so love to take a picture of that," or be walking the trail beside the river and think "Anna would enjoy the sight of the mist rising up the canyon."  I'll make a recipe that Anna shared with me and feel her presence in the kitchen beside me.

I'm sad.  

I miss them.  

I'm sharing the story of my friends because I think that we, as a society, are very bad at grieving.  

Grief embarrasses us.  

We avert our eyes from it.  

We try to jolly people out of it.  

We encourage those who are grieving to refrain from showing strong emotion.

We need to do better.  Here are some things that you can do to help friends and loved ones who are grieving:

Reminisce.  Share stories both happy and sad about the person you're missing.  It'll make you feel better and it'll help others too.

Mention the person who's gone by name.  It may make people sad. It may make them cry.  That's okay.  It's part of the process of working through loss. 

Be a patient listener.  It doesn't matter if you've heard a reminiscence a thousand times before.  The teller is finding comfort in sharing it again.  In listening, you're giving them the gift of compassion and an acknowledgement that the person remembered is still important to you too.

Understand that everyone grieves differently.  Don't tell people how they should be acting.  Don't treat their actions as inappropriate. Don't assume that they need a hug, or that they want to be left alone.  Listen to what they're saying and pay attention to their particular needs.

Understand that grieving doesn't have a time table. Grief peaks at different times for different people.  For some, it's immediate and intense.  For others, it's delayed.  In either case, grief can revisit people for a long time after a loss. Don't treat it as being less because a person's loss is growing more distant.  It isn't less to them.

Be there for the long haul.  It's comforting for people to know three months, six months, a year, or many years down the road that you still remember and recognize their loss.

Grief is hard, both for the person grieving and for those around them.  It's painful to watch someone struggling with loss, but a little empathy and a mindful response can go a long way toward providing comfort.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Walk a Mile (or a Hundred) In My Shoes

Last month, Slapdash Mom posted a 100 Miles in December challenge.  I like to walk and needed some motivation to get moving so I decided to participate.  

It was just the thing I needed:  I completed 175.2 km/108.9 miles for the month and learned a few things along the way.

The first thing I learned was that in order to accomplish any fitness goal I need to actively set aside a specific quantity of time towards it in my schedule.  My life, like everyone else's, is busy and - not being a lover of fitness activities - I find it easy to fill my minutes and hours without giving a thought to exercise. By the last week of the month, it became apparent to me that I'd not set aside enough time on a daily basis and I ended up taking some long hikes on my days off in order to make up the kilometers needed to meet my goal.  I've learned my lesson (I hope) and now know to schedule those minutes into my day.  I even enter them in my calendar so that my computer will send me a reminder!

The second thing I learned was that being accountable is a good thing for me.  I posted my walks on my personal Facebook page and, knowing that I'd published my goal for my friends and family to see, I felt obligated to meet it.

The third and most important thing I learned was that walking on a regular basis made me feel a whole lot better.  The comparatively relaxed pace allowed me time to look around me and enjoy my surroundings.  I felt less stress and got to appreciate the beauty of my little corner of the world.  On a purely physical level, it loosened up muscles stiff from too much sitting, aided my digestion, and improved the quality of my sleep. I've been struggling with high blood pressure and my doctor feels that regular exercise is helping with that too.

With all of that in mind, I've decided to walk at least another hundred miles this month and I thought I'd invite you to walk along with me.  I can't offer any prizes or monetary rewards for joining in, but I do think that we'll all benefit from doing this together.  The more the merrier, right?

One hundred miles = 161 kilometers.

Assuming we're starting today, to meet the goal in January, our walks will need to average 3.27 miles/5.27 kilometers per day.

I'll post my kilometers daily on my B on Balance Facebook page and on Twitter.  I hope you'll post yours in the comments too. Let's cheer each other on!