There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and (will) be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is; nor how valuable it is; nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours, clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.
You have only one sacred duty:
to make your spirit available
You do this by sharing what you
already are in this and every
If you are loving, you share your
If you are suffering, you share
If you are healing, you share
Why waste precious energy arguing
with God about what it is that is
yours to share right now, worrying
how your broken bit could possibly
be of use.
Trust that however unlikely it may seem,
without your piece, the universe would
Carol Orsborn, Nothing Left Unsaid, 2001.
Yesterday, a friend presented me with a pack of 140 lb. Fluid, Cold Press Watercolour Paper. This also included a delicate brush with a purple granite-like handle, which reads ‘Oscoda Prado Synthetic Barcelona.’ She topped this gift off with an invitation to use her watercolours.
It is funny about the arts and I. My gene pool boasts of artists, writers, musicians, singers, and even electronics experts. Strange. Well, not really.
We all had good brains, a facility for language, and a love of reading. I am one of them. Of course, you know that, especially if you have followed me in any capacity before.
Watercolours? Oils? It could be! Wait. The materials in my hand say it will be. Life never gave me a chance at this before but now it has.
I do not know about you but being a writer and social media squatter makes my brain saturate itself a few times a day. It is then that playing with colours and exploring my curiosity about what I will do, is a huge draw. No words required. Actually, no thinking—at least, not in the way I usually do. I will wander in my grey matter or mud bath, so to speak. This one is not as renowned as those I enjoyed in Rotorua, New Zealand, but it is beguiling just the same. Oh, yes!
I am a curious cat, which found me yesterday shuffling through my many books. At that moment, I found a quote from my copy of Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake, one of my favourite authors. This description is of painting, which is also relevant to me because I watch a painter at work every single day. My friend. These words capture so effectively the view from four feet across this studio space (excluding the non inclusive male pronouns), I just had to quote them.
“The love of the painter standing alone and staring, staring at the great coloured surface he is making. Standing with him in the room the rearing canvas stares back with tentative shapes halted in their growth, moving in a new rhythm from floor to ceiling. The twisted tubes, the fresh paint squeezed and smeared across the dry upon his palette. The dust beneath the easel. The paint has edged along the brushes’ handles. The white light in a northern sky is silent. The window gapes as he inhales his world. His world: a rented room, and turpentine. He moves towards his half-born. He is in love.”
In a slightly different way, I am in love too. With my new paper with the texture which delights my fingertips. The sleek brush I now count among my ‘Terry gear.’ Do not forget the borrowed Lukas watercolours that make my dancing eyes spill frenetic rainbows on the page. At least, I hope so.
Out out, damned critic! Did you really think I would let this go on? Forever? You cracking your whip when you like, forcing me to dance like a puppet. You had to know.
That I would not keep you around forever. That I would expel you as fast as humanly possible for me. Yes. It took me awhile but I got here. I had a load of crap to wade through but I am on to you now.
Dissecting my every thought. Feeling. Action. Ready to pounce on me as a cat does a toy mouse.
Making me writhe under bright lights. Submitting to your version of police science.
Well, let me tell you, I have eyeballed you for some time now. Full on. How could I not be curious about you?
You, who would have me hurl myself through a window. You, who would have me throw myself off a cliff. You, who would have me drive a car into a rock face. You, for whom I would relinquish my struggle, cast off this life.
I must say that you have amazing research and analytical skills. Yes. That is a compliment.
Why would I ever heap accolades upon you?
I flatter you because you do good work. You know exactly what to say to me. How to chip away at my hull until your fingertips bleed. Until my tenuous foundation screeches under the burden and is soon all but gone.
You know there are several steps to the eviction appeal process. Like in the movie Pacific Heights, starring Michael Keaton, you know that during that time span, you get to stay on rent-free. Squatting on and smothering my every chance to know confidence. What it might feel like to embody it.
What a good gig you have! Pardon me. Did have.
Hear me now: you can no longer score in this game. The job to which you appointed yourself is now obsolete. I am finished with you. Done. Outta here!
I am no longer your tolerant, ever-appeasing host. Incidentally, she is moving out too, shoulder to shoulder with you.
Pout pout, deflated critic.
How do I change when I am writing?
I become a person who knows with certainty that I am visible.
My deeply rooted self-hatred takes a bit of a back seat when I witness myself. By word swapping, I force myself to see Terry as I would an undiscovered friend. Any lovable soul, scarred by betrayal (including by self), powerlessness, hurt, isolation and little hope.
Unwittingly, I make friends with people who find some thread of commonality with me. Our worlds are often radically different but that does not stop us. Writers discover and thread themselves together in deep, lasting friendships every day of their lives.
I am an ex-introvert so I am not always very adept at friendships. However, I cannot help but develop some compassion and understanding for myself–that and some bewilderment. Why do I see myself so radically different from how ninety percent of the world views me?
I am desperate to keep talking. To discover and reshape my understanding of the truth. To temper the emotions attached to memories and events with my broader knowledge base and, yes, I will say it, the wisdom of age.
I must express myself fully. I need to share “Good Mornings” with people, tidbits of silliness, information, writing (including quotes), joys, sadnesses, new babies (including grandchildren) and Happy Birthdays.
My friends are brilliant! I need their comments or feedback more often than I would ever ask. As a lifelong student, I learn from everyone, everywhere.
They must know how much I love and respect them. If only I could convey how much gratitude I carry because of them. When I try, it usually comes out clumsily and out of nowhere. However, all that matters is that it comes out.
When writing, I transform by embodying the fascinating life of an ever evolving being and woman.
Dear Scotland Co-Retreaters,
It is so nice to hear how people are doing since Laura’s Writer’s Retreat of Your Dreams! I wasn’t going to write as I was thinking, ‘Everybody knows about my messes already.’ Let’s just scratch that but, given this is a two-minute writing assignment I just gave myself, I can’t.
So damned sexy!
Adjusting has been like hitting a stone wall for me–without the buffer of two drams of whisky and a beer chaser. I’ve fallen and flailed, boob over shoelace, toe over head, yelling ‘WTF’. Unfortunately, as I repeatedly yell Help, my request appears in a thought bubble about four inches above my head; there is no attached sound byte. I keep cranking my neck back to look above me, to know when that changes. Now I have whiplash, sunstroke, and an acute sense of lauded invisibility.
Oh yeah! Visibility too. I can’t get rid of those damned yellow floaties hanging over me. Yesterday, on the bus, a petulant child read aloud my every single synapse-fire and then proceeded to edit my grammar and wordiness. One sunburned construction worker, two middle-aged nuns, and a little old woman–a dead-ringer for TV Ellen’s mother–were highly amused. They snickered and applauded the lad. I panicked and grabbed for anything neutral to think about.
A writing prompt! That’s it! I considered one, mentally mapping out the piece, then thirty seconds later knocked it and myself down. To which–as a good student on the art of disclaiming all I write while sharing it–I substituted the words we use in class.
“I’m so sexy!”
DAMN! HOW DO I STOP THIS? I’m looking like a pervert here! HELP!
Anywhoo. That’s me.
I love and miss you all! Plus, I loved spending those glorious, rich days with all of you. Please be safe (not a condom ad), healthy, happy and astute.
How do I change when I am writing?
With great difficulty. It depends on three vital points.
Where am I writing? While on the Skytrain with hundreds of bodies—a few religiously unwashed–pressing against me, cutting off my air.
Do I sit between a staunchly stoic older couple in a tiny Aquabus, which heaves against the water en route to Granville Island?
Perhaps I am in a meeting in the matchbox-sized grey Quaker church opposite my place.
How am I writing? The options are my phone, laptop, a pen, or using my best friend’s phone with the voice activated android assistant.
Finally, am I switching my jammies, earrings, or my new bra?
As I stand small in my own forest, on the shaky feet of an infirm body, I close my eyes, pretending I am one of them. I hear the rustle of leaves, like a quiet shifting of papers on my desk, a pleasant sound to me. In that, I imagine they’re saying, “She’s okay, mate.”
My body quakes but I still stand. My legs are like jelly. I wish for the power to maintain my balance, while I hear ‘Lean In’ whispered on the breeze. I do. Birds sing a familiar melody and I inhale deeply. I look around with curiosity piqued and think about the power of naming.
For decades, I was so depressed. This was especially true from my preteens and well into my early 30s. I couldn’t focus on anything. Where friends saw a brilliant white, I groaned at a dreary grey. Where they knew excitement over a new friend, I conducted inventory of all the ways I would be hurt.
My eyes soaked in much but if asked what I saw, I had no facility to say. I was afraid to ask what things were, how they worked, or why it was important that I learn about it. I didn’t want to be called stupid or laughed at. Besides, revealing my ignorance would only scream, “She’s isolated. Easy pickings here, folks.”
How I wish I knew exactly what kind of bird it is, which trees surround me, the kind of moss on its trunk. Does it always grow around a tree like that, draping parts of itself in a slow donning of clothes, instead of a seductive disrobing? In the distance, I hear voices and a lawn mower but it hardly phases me.
I admire my towering sister, a paper birch, one tree I do recognize easily. She is one who has known wars, trials, and the cyclical fight for healing. The white flesh of her trunk is soft, which is soothing to me as a new friend.
However, there are gashes to her sides, assaults to her very essence. Through exposure to the elements—something I relate to well–her wounds have aged. They feel ragged to my fingertips as I comb them lightly, forever a tactile person. I fancy myself a first aid attendant of sorts.
With eyes closed again, I pray, “May all living things or people who suffer or grieve, who are ill or healing, find some tiny relief every single day of their lives, as I have been so blessed.”
Be Wary of This.
I slipped my favourite t-shirt over my head. The one that said, ‘Got coffee?’
Only minutes later at school, I broke a fingernail clawing against a cement wall. A wild-eyed, dark-haired woman–dubbed the ‘Rogue Grammarian’ on TV–ran at me with a huge red pen in hand.
I fainted–right after wishing I had worn the eraser-necklace they gave all students to protect themselves. “Seeing these will soothe her,” the profiler told us.
I woke up on a gurney and the Police gave me tiny sips of filtered water in a paper cup. Grounding myself wasn’t easy. My teeth were chattering.
Soon a female officer stood me in front of a mirror in the Ladies’ to view the evidence. My best shirt now read, ‘Gotz milk, d’ya?’ Next thing I knew, I was sitting in the boss’s office.
‘I’m sorry,” Captain Becky O’Malley said. “This is NOT the Rogue’s work.” As if for effect, or another camera angle, she then got up, took one and a half steps, and plunked herself down on the other edge of her desk. ‘She has a different MO.” She tossed back her curly auburn mane and, sporting a black business suit to die for, she added, “This is NOT the fugitive teacher my Task Force is seeking.” What followed was an engaging two-mile stare, during which time I swear someone said, ‘Cut.’
“There are OTHERS?” I was barely audible. My mouth went dry and pupils dilated. Compulsively, I twisted and wrenched the bottom of my shirt. I looked down and in my exhausted uneasy state, saw the ragged tea towel from my kitchen.
“I’ll get an officer to drive you home.” She left, clicking her heels with each step, leaving me alone. I ventured a quick surveillance around me.
That’s IT? What about the horror of seeing grammar worse than mine? The other burdens. How my selfish choice of clothes contributed to the delinquency of other young writers who played dodge ball with the alphabet? Hey … my fingernail! ANYBODY?
Yep, there it was. Even a classic tumbleweed manifested itself, doing somersaults with an easy drawl, for as far as I could see.
Two minutes later, Captain Becky returned. Her green eyes feigned gravity as she dangled keys from her fingers. “I decided to drive you home myself.”
“But I live hours away,” I sputtered.
That was no problem at all.
Somehow I managed to croak, “Okay.”
Shaking again, I ripped the side of my shirt, and then stuffed my clumsy hands in my jean pockets before I stood there in a bra.
I tried not to smile but was secretly happy no one ever advised: “Beware of your grammar.”
“A book is made from a tree. It is an assemblage of flat, flexible parts (still called “leaves”) imprinted with dark pigmented squiggles. One glance at it and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, the author is speaking, clearly and silently, inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people, citizens of distant epochs, who never knew one another. Books break the shackles of time ― proof that humans can work magic.”