My life is a constant search for something elusive – something just out of reach that I know in my soul I NEED. Will I find it if I read this, if I watch that, if I follow this person’s advice, follow that person’s path? So much time spent looking – trying to figure out what I am missing – where my success lies. And then I sit down to make something – anything really – and everything else falls away and for a brief moment in time I realize THIS is what I NEED – this, act of making, is what I have been searching for. How do I keep forgetting this and getting caught up in the thought that I have lost a step, can’t measure up, am not where I should be, that something is missing, that I have failed to make use of my life? Granting myself time to make is the elusive ingredient, the thing I continually deny myself, what I need, where my success lies – time without expectation or judgement – time to be curious and explore.
Small Midwestern towns are often portrayed as bleak places smothered by ceaseless grey skies permeated by the unrelenting ticking of clocks or, welcoming communities comprised of charming oddballs that lift each other up and tear each other down in-between spontaneous musical numbers. Neither describes my small town life. This place I have always wanted to live. A place filled with all the memories of an enchanted childhood. Here, now, in this small town, steeped in my past, made steady by the foundation of interconnectedness begun by my parents I have come to realize my strength, my compassion, and my commitment to helping others are all supported by the massive root system put down by my parents.
It goes by
You mull it over
Was there a better path or only different
Has too much been wasted
Has enough been ventured
Was kindness the rule or the exception
And while you mull it over
It goes by
When it comes, if it ever does, you know it – it is unmistakable. Genius: exceptional creative power. It is rare and dazzling. It cannot be learned. It can be honed or squandered. It is the hope of the world in a tiny, exquisite, vessel. Believe in it. Support it. Honor it.
Follow it @thebuchananstudio
Loss and longing
Symbol of an idyllic childhood
Talisman – for surly there is magic here in this single, mom-made, little, red mitten
Awash in yearning to stay secreted away I struggle to emerge.
…an impenetrable blanket of dark that makes you feel you have lost your sight for a moment as your eyes struggle to adjust and its cold, and damp and for a split second the thought races through your mind tha———–
In the days that followed she found herself replaying things over and over in her mind searching for the path that would have led her anywhere but here.
Personal aesthetic – the journey of an artist should be a search for and honing of their personal aesthetic. How do you get there? Practice – and the practice never ends – personal aesthetic is a living, breathing, evolving thing that needs care and feeding. How do you get there? Skip the cookie cutter projects. It is horrifying to find that even institutions of higher education continue to use these projects to “train” artists. If the end result is going to be a slight variation on the efforts of everyone else in a class then it is not going to further your practice.
A good starting point for discovering your aesthetic is copying a few works of artists you admire. Yes, there is significantly more value in copying a work you love than in doing one of the cookie cutter projects favored by so many instructors. In the copying you will begin to understand what it is about the work that calls to you – a type of line, a color or pallet, a texture, a shape – and from there you can launch an exploration of the element(s) that speak to you. It needn’t be an exact copy – the goal is to use their elements and discover what of them hits home to you – a deconstruction that will help you with your construction. When you discover what it is that hits the mark for you take it and start to build works of your own that feature that element or elements.
Deep inside, an ache reeling deeper, submerging until there is nothing else – an infinite sea of despair never truly escapable: a source to be tapped; a refuge to be feared.
Act versus react: to put good into the world you need to act instead of reacting to outside stimulus. It is such a simple credo to live by and yet so challenging to execute. Moving through a neutral or even negative world can you consistently act with positivity? Can you catch yourself if you fall off the path and course correct? Do you have faith in the Butterfly Effect or are you a devote of Determinism? What will you leave in the wake of your life?
There is something interesting to me about coming in on the middle of a thought, conversation, or paragraph. Chris and I used to start a random, usually fantastical, conversation seemingly in the middle when people approached us. Riffing on an odd thought – taking it to an even odder place – was great fun. There is something compelling about the middle of a thing – in trying to see the pattern before you have any true understanding.
And the day came when the girl was ready and so she flew.
Denial – of situation, forgiveness, friends, family, happiness – all apply. A punishment warranted or a sentence meted out undeservedly? Why the self-deception, self-flagellation? When did the devastating uncertainty arrive? What lurks inside nursing its power? What led to the complete surrender? Gazing back over the sticky ooze of it, casting for answers, only relief remains.
I realize now I have been getting messages all my life that I wasn’t good enough because of my weight even when I was young and at the weight I should have been for my height and age. Did it affect me? I don’t know. I remember, though I never evaluated the intent. I never realized just how many messages I was getting about my weight equaling my worth from people I loved and looked up to. People I loved didn’t like me and I didn’t see it. Couldn’t see it? Wouldn’t see it. I’m not angry or sad – just interested in examining the relationships I thought I had though a less cloudy lens. I am lucky to have love, for who I am, from people I admire and respect. I am lucky to be able to examine the past with interest instead of pain. I am lucky.
Show me something you see that I cannot. Show me a version of the world only you possess. Show me a personal aesthetic that makes me see something that was not there before you. I can see the bird, the woman, the water, the flower. The camera can document things as they already are, in excruciating detail, all the information is there for anyone to copy. Sure there is patience and skill in the copying but where are you? Show me a world that would not exist if not for You. That is what I am looking for.
Silence is not hostility. Silence is not disapproval. Silence is not condescension. It can be, sure, it can be pointed, meant to hurt, vindictive even. Silence is good, and clean, and pure and I crave its hush like a rare moment in the sun during a long winter. I give it as a gift and it is misunderstood – it is taken as an assault – an intentional abuse. Silence is all I have, my only boon to share. I am filled with words; the world is filled with noise. I choose to give you my most treasured possession, filled with hope, joy and the certainty that we are all doing the best we can. I choose to give you silence.
My niece and nephew (in-law) are beautiful souls and last year they brought another beautiful little soul into the world. As her first birthday nears her parents have asked everyone to write a letter that she will open on her 18th birthday. A time capsule is a cool idea – they have been full of so many cool ideas for this child – and now we all need to encapsulate the all-consuming love and hope we have for this Little Kid (her mom is Kid) in a paragraph or two. Easy.
So what do you want to hear from the people you love and may or may not have in your life anymore? I’m thinking you want to hear how things were back in the day and see some pictures and any other artifacts that might fit in an envelope. I have a spelling test her mom excitedly brought me, that she earned 100% on naturally, featuring my name. I have always meant to have it framed. Like the ceramic duck Kid gave me that still holds an assortment of my favorite earrings and several of her pre “I’m no good at that.” drawings I treasure the artifacts of a love only I truly remember. Maybe Little Kid would find something like that precious too.
Maybe she would want to hear about the first time we saw her – in her Dad’s arms being fed – her Mom’s outcome bleak – people chattering at him all around – his laser focus on her – only her – a little bubble of absolute calm and assurance. He has always been special too and that day he earned his wings.
I have no doubt this child will grow up wanting for nothing – she is surrounded by love and community – her parents have worked hard to make it so. I hope she flourishes on this rock solid foundation. I hope she learns to fly. I hope I figure out how to stuff a heart full of love into a three by five envelope.
Tools to Cope with Grief
“Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling in at night. I miss you like hell.” Edna St. Vincent-Millay
Time is relentless. That thought crosses my mind almost daily – the incessant, brutal, merciless nature of time. How to go on when you simply don’t want to? Why go on?
“And even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart,
until in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.” Aeschylus – tragedian of ancient Greece
Realizing people have grappled with loss always is something only now, a decade plus after the loss of my parents, I am able to appreciate. Time doesn’t heal, it may offer perspective but heal it does not. The gaping, sucking hole in the center of you is there for the duration. So what gets people through? You know, as do I, it is something different for everyone: the kids, the animals, the job, the volunteer work – being needed in some way – to nurture, protect, produce, lend support to family and/or community. For some that is enough to get them through or at least on the path to getting through. What then, if being needed is not enough? Where do you go, what do you do, how do you even begin to make it through?
When my mother died I mentioned to a friend that I slept curled on the kitchen floor by the sink. She told me that was a sign of depression which made me laugh out loud. If I could accurately describe how losing my mom felt reading the description would make you curl into a ball on the floor and weep inconsolably. I search for the words to describe the loss, the finality I never could have guessed at, and come up empty.
Eventually I found a way through and the following are the 7 tools I used to get there:
Share memories, good and bad, with a friend or on your own. One of the difficulties in losing someone is everyone else’s fear of mentioning the person that passed. Sharing memories with people will help you work through your loss and help them become more comfortable sharing their own memories of the person. Losing them is hard enough without feeling like everyone is pretending they never existed.
Develop or maintain a ritual that keeps you connected to the person you lost. Your ritual(s) may involve others or be done alone.
- Light a candle at a time you usually spent with them or as part of your morning or evening routine.
- Do something you usually shared with the person you lost – long walk, Sunday paper, drive in the country, puzzle, volunteer, marathon – something that brought you both peace and/or joy.
- Tend a plant or plant a garden to tend.
- Recite a prayer, poem or saying – one you both liked, one you have written or one you find that fits. This could be a time specific ritual or it could be one that you could use throughout each day.
Your ritual may be a simple thing or a complex event. My mom usually said “Home again, home again, jig, jig, jig!” when we pulled in our driveway. It made me cry hearing it run through my thoughts after her death. There are still tears some days even now. Over the years thought the tears have mostly given way to a smile and I can usually recite it out loud and enjoy the happy memory.
Rituals connect us to people and places and in keeping them (think Sunday dinners) or developing new ones (think lighting a candle and journaling) we strengthen that connection and ourselves.
3) Real Food
Eat whole foods. Eat good fats – grass fed butter, avocados and coconut oil – these fats are essential for brain health and hormone balance. Eat lots of leafy greens and colorful vegetables and a little fruit. Eat fermented vegetables to promote optimal gut health and try Kombucha or soda water to help kick the soft drink habit if you have one. Drink warm lemon water in the morning and sparkling water and green tea throughout the day. Black coffee has many benefits too – avoid or limit it if you are having trouble sleeping.
Processed food, dyes, preservatives, and sugar (especially sugar) will make life so much harder. Stay away from artificial sweeteners!
When you are feeling up to it spend some time reading about Intermittent Fasting (IF) also known as Time Restricted Eating (TRE.) Giving your body time to heal for 12, 16, 18, 19 or 21 hours daily can make a world of difference in how feel.
Dr. Jason Fung and Gin Stephens are great resources to help you understand the science behind this ancient approach to eating and why it is NOT about calorie restriction, and not about what you eat but when you eat that makes all the difference. IF is for anyone that wants to be healthy and you may or may not lose any weight so don’t let needing to gain weight stop you from trying this approach. You can listen to the stories of people that have regained their health through IF on Gin’s podcast Intermittent Fasting Stories.
This is crucial for brain health. Dr. Amen, a researcher devoted to discovering the path to brain health writes that “[Physical Exercise]… is literally the fountain of youth because it boosts blood flow to the brain, plus it increases chemicals that are important for learning and memory and stimulating the growth of new brain cells. Thirty minutes 3 or 4 times a week is all you need. If you don’t know what to do, walk fast, like you’re late to be somewhere.” Anything that gets you moving is going to be a boon to your brain health and aid you in getting through. There is science behind “dancing it out” so put on some music and move even when all you want to do is curl up in a ball and disappear.
Meditation, like exercise, is good for your brain and works as an antidepressant. Even if you have tried it before without success now is the time to try again. It may seem futile but stick with it, keep trying even if it is only for one minute at a time. Guided meditation is a great way to start and the app Headspace is an excellent resource. The first 10 sessions are free and you can repeat them as much as you want. There are also many free guided meditation options online and a lot of great sites to support your practice.
Spend time with other humans. This can be to any degree you are comfortable – online, in a group or one on one.
- Try a new hobby or renew your interest in an old one. There are many groups that offer classes or open studio time for everything from woodworking to quilting.
- Join a face to face support group. It is difficult to witness people’s pain and yet there is value in sharing loss with others.
- Join an online support group. Facebook has a group for almost every facet of life. If the first group you find doesn’t have the vibe you need try another. The goal is support and camaraderie so don’t waste a second in a group that is confrontational or condescending. There are a lot of lovely people out there – look for them and don’t even give the rest a second thought.
Music is powerful! You can use this tool in tandem with several of the other tools – as part of your reminiscence, ritual, exercise or meditation. Sound, much like smell, can transport you to a moment in time. Don’t be afraid to use the entire range of this tool. Time spent mourning while listening to Sarah McLachlan is just as valuable as time spent dancing it out to Pharrell Williams.
Pick one tool, start small and build from there. You will have to make yourself and most days you will not feel up to it. One memory shared, one candle lit, one healthy meal, one walk, one minute of meditation, one hello to another human or one moment lost in a song will put you on the path to getting through. Time will not heal this wound but hopefully, with the use of a few strategic tools and time, you will gain perspective and the ability to move forward.
I used to think I was seeking perfection. I’ve realized what really speaks to me is imperfection.
List One was spare – a starting point created before a plan was completely formulated – a blueprint for being – a blueprint for moving forward. Last night one of our cats moved forward or ceased to exist depending on your view. No warning – just here and fine and then she couldn’t use her back legs. This list is for Niobe and all the feral cats out there being helped by private people and public rescues across the globe.
- Global Cat Day October 16, 2018
- Began as National Feral Cat Day
- Aortic Thromboembolism – This is an excruciatingly painful condition that requires immediate medical attention.
- Feral Cat Organizations – Rescues always need help and cat rescues are especially burdened.
- Learn about Feral Cats
- Help by contributing to a Feral Cat Rescue:
- A roll of paper towel
- A box of pee pads
- A bag of litter
- Cans of food are all helpful.
- If you want to go bigger
Niobe was named for the Jada Pinkett-Smith character in The Matrix Trilogy. Fierce, independent, curious, funny, loving and now deeply missed. She was a feral cat that beat the odds to become a lovable house cat largely thanks to my sister, the ultimate cat whisperer. RIP Ni Ni we will be walking around the hole you have left always.
I am a bullet point person. I like my information pared down.
- Start Today
- Let Go of the Past
- You Can Always Grow
- Acknowledge Grief
- Move Forward
- Be Kind
That’s it for today. More to come.