Bringing Your Whole Heart Home

drawing 001Pen, ink and watercolor, 2013, Molly Larson Cook

 Forgive me, but today’s post is somewhat more personal than most of what you’ve seen here.  It comes in part as a response to a recent health issue – nothing serious but painful day in and day out.

Oddly enough, it also comes after receiving a particularly fine award and publication for my poetry, a gift I’ve hoped for all the many years of my writing life.  And it comes after a struggle following that award with the big questions of how I’ll spend my remaining years.

Since childhood, I’ve wanted to be an artist.  But – also since childhood – encouragement came for my writing, not any childish drawings.  Writing came easy – poems, essays, plays – along with awards for them and praise.

Over the years, I had secret sketchbooks in which I drew pictures that never saw the light of day except for my eyes only.  I continued to write, but it was the world of art that tugged at me.  In college, I boldly signed up for an art history class, a move that boggled my parents, but I loved every minute of it.

I followed other creative paths in addition to writing – dance and theatre at the top of the list.  I finally took my first art class in my early 40s and was encouraged by the instructor to “consider art school.”  When I heard her words, it was like the moment in the old movies when the homely secretary takes off her glasses and lets down her hair, and the boss says, “My God, Miss Fenster, you’re beautiful.”

Yeah, it was that powerful.  Someone, someone who knew about art, had recognized my heart’s desire.

I continued to take drawing classes from her and others but it was another ten years before I made it to art school and began to understand fully what it meant to me.

Over the years, my desire to be an artist was sidetracked by one thing or another – relationships, the need to support my family as a single mom, once by an art professor who took pleasure in making me feel small and incompetent, and not least – by all that praise for the writing.

Praise is not a bad thing, and I’m grateful for every word of it, every award, every note from others to let me know I was accomplishing something worthwhile in the world.

The problem was inside me.  The problem was that the desire to be an artist was powerful, and feeding it in a half-assed way by creating posters for poetry readings and greeting cards for friends wasn’t doing the trick.

After I received the award for my poem,  I decided to enter a competition for a poetry chapbook.  This meant that I needed to write another dozen poems to go with the best of what I had, and I turned to that during the month of March.  I painted a little, but most of the time I was writing and editing and organizing poetry.

It was about that time that the health problem kicked in.  I didn’t make the connection immediately except to note that I was now spending most of my time at the computer which meant a completely different posture from the one I had when painting.  It also meant that I was spending much less time with all those tubes of colors that I love.

Happily, two pieces of wisdom crossed my desk during that time – one from Rumi and one from Joseph Campbell.

From Rumi –  “A thousand half-loves must be forsaken to take one whole heart home.”

From Joseph Campbell, his wise words that became clichéd in the 80s and 90s – “Follow your bliss. Find where it is, and don’t be afraid to follow it…It is a matter of identifying that pursuit which you are truly passionate about and attempting to give yourself absolutely to it. In so doing, you will find your fullest potential and serve your community to the greatest possible extent.

“If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are — if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time.”

 

Writing is important.  Words are powerful.  Poetry is beautiful.   None of my pictures may be worth a thousand words.  They may not be perfect. They may not be worth trying to sell.  But they’re mine, and I know I’m on “the track that has been there all the while, waiting for me.”

I don’t plan to get derailed again.

With love to all of you who are happily doing art, and encouragement to all of you who are hesitating.  Go ahead – bring your whole heart home.

Molly

 

That Certain Feeling

Image result for fledgling leaving the nest public domain

Fledgling red wing blackbird

All the years I was a writer and especially when I was working on my one published novel (there are others in boxes or my computer files), I discovered an odd emotion that came when I knew a passage was right. Dead-on right. When the pieces clicked together not in the “well-made” sense, which is death to good writing, but in the “now the gears are meshing perfectly” sense.

Call it inspiration, call it a gift from the Goddess, call it anything you like, but the feeling is undeniable. Until now that feeling has eluded me with the art.

I often remind you – and myself – that I’m a fledgling. And then I remember a man my first art teacher told me about. “He always takes the beginning class. He’s been doing it for years.” She told me he was a good artist, but didn’t have the confidence to go to the next level.

Maybe the breakthrough came a week or so ago when I did the “What the hell, why not?” paint-throwing bit. Maybe I’ve been learning more than I realized with the practice of developing my body of art. Maybe it’s good luck.

Writer John Gardner said, “Good luck is nothing but being in shape to act with the Universe when the Universe says, ‘Now!’ “

I’ve been working this week on two pieces I’m entering in a juried show here in San Diego. One of them was already finished (I thought) from an earlier exercise and fit the theme of the show. The other is a new piece created just for this occasion. Both were a stretch for me, but I felt good about them.

Last night, I called them good enough. And then another thing from writing days hit me. Good enough is not the same as good. Something was missing in each of them, but I had no idea just what. A few ideas came but I hesitated and went to bed to sleep on them.

This morning I knew what was missing, but the idea was risky. I knew that if I screwed the paintings up at this late moment, just a couple of days before I have to deliver them to the jury, I’d regret it. But a bigger push was working on me: I knew that if I didn’t take the risk, I’d regret it even more.  I’ve taught other people how to take good risks and I weighed this one carefully.

I mixed the paint, picked up my brush, took a breath and said softly, “What the hell, why not?”

I didn’t change anything big in either piece. These were finishing touches, but the kinds of finishing touches that change everything.

I thought of Hemingway who said the biggest problem with writing was getting the words right.  Same thing here. And then, as I stepped back from the paintings, I felt it:  The sense of rightness. The sense of gears meshing and clicks clicking, followed immediately by that odd emotion.  I can only describe it as the kind of relief one might feel after crossing a chasm on a high and shaky bridge.  A little giddy, a little scared, crazy happy and wanting to try it again right away!

I’m still a fledgling, but I know one good new thing today. Take the risks. I’m going to make a sign and put it next to my easel. I don’t plan to stay in the beginner’s class – or the nest – forever.