Yesterday I moved back toward painting for the first time in quite a while, since well before Christmas. I'm not sure of all the factors involved in my choosing not to paint for so long, but I know some of them.
Getting in the rut of expecting too much from myself every time I pick up a brush is a biggie. It puts way too much pressure on the process of painting and really kills it, right then and there, except for those times when I can keep going and break through to a place of simply enjoying the process. This is not a new phenomenon for me, and I am sure it will be with me off and on for a long time to come.
Still, in addition to stuff like holiday shopping, cooking, traveling, having both daughters home from high school and college and in the house, there was another interesting development that I noticed. It has to do with my other primary means of creative expression: words, writing, language.
Here's an intriguing thing (to me, anyway, maybe not to you!). I know a little about the practice of making a "vision board" as a way to see and to hold an intention of what you wish to be or do or have in your life, a way of putting dreams, hopes, and goals into visible form. Some people make them to express dreams that they already have; some make them as a way of discovering what dreams are wanting to be claimed.
In the past year and a half, I have made two vision boards, using images and words pulled from magazines and catalogs. I honestly wasn't sure if I did it "right" either time, and until recently I wasn't so sure that the process "worked" for me, whatever that might mean.
But the two vision boards are so starkly different that I couldn't help but notice. The first one was full of images--of landscapes, windows, doors. And lots and lots of images of artwork--some snippets of famous paintings, some of lesser known ones that spoke to me when I saw them. That board had very, very few words, and the most significant of them were "Making Contact", and I included them mostly because they were inextricably connected to an image of a sculpture that I wanted to include.
The most recent vision board I made is almost ALL WORDS! Other than a central spiral image of (I think) a coral-colored chameleon's tail, and a few other pics I put in both to break up the design and to add some fun, everything on the board is a word or phrase. Without giving away all my secrets, I'll give you a sampling of the kinds of words on my board: Celebrate, Art, Joy, Color, Walking, Money, Free Expression, Home, Nature, Playing, Living Large. You get the idea.
So here's what's interesting about this, and suggestive that something about the process did work for me, perhaps on a level I couldn't fully appreciate until the second board took shape. Last year, my painting was the primary vehicle that seemed to be carrying me somewhere. It fueled my passion, my curiosity, my energy, my connection to the world around me. It has not "gone away" for the moment, but it seems to have moved into a different role, one I'm still figuring out. But it makes sense that last year's vision board was all about images, and especially about painted images, brushstrokes, bold shapes, colors, and such.
There were times, many times, when some part of me (like my frightened ego?) really wanted to know precisely what role painting was going to play in my future and why it made sense for me to do it so much in the present. Was it primarily a vessel (I often thought of a boat) that was carrying me across the river or sea that I needed to cross in order to reach a new shore? Or was it the new destination itself, part of the new landscape of my future/present?
It was, and is, probably both, some of each. And here's the thing: trying to pin painting down and get at an exact description of its role or function was not helpful, no matter how understandable was my desire to do so. I was still every much in what William Bridges calls "the neutral zone" of my major life transition, and by its very nature, neutral zones are undefined times and places, where you don't get to enjoy the certainty that you crave (at least the left brain, rational, linear, keep-things-predictable-and-under-control-at-all-times part of you). You don't yet know where you're headed.
Again and again I did my best to tame (sometimes more like bludgeon, I'm afraid) my need for certainty by repeating the mantra, "All I know for now is that I have to keep painting." And lying behind that mantra I also held onto a sentence from Gregg Levoy's book Callings: "The point of passion is mainly to follow, to let yourself love what you love, to respect your hunger and obey your thirst." Though I remembered it as, "The point of a passion is to follow it, not knowing where it will lead."
Now I seem to have returned to language as my primary vehicle of creative expression. Some days, many days, in fact, I feel as if I have SO much to say that I hardly know where to start. I feel as if I have waited so long to really get to writing the story of my journey from Episcopal priest to "free-lance human being" that there's now so much wanting to pour out of me that my two hands at the keyboard can barely keep up. The old image of holding a tiny cup under a waterfall comes to mind. I can only do what I can do one chunk of time by one chunk of time, and keep on going.
And find occasions and venues to start speaking, aloud, publicly, for the first time in quite a few years. It used to be something I did on a regular basis, I remind myself from time to time. I was a "preacher" after all!
But this time I look forward to speaking without the expectations and limitations of sermons, and without the cloak and clothing of ordination. "Outside the box" and "speak" are also on my new vision board.
Stay tuned. I have a feeling this is only just the beginning.