The Blank Canvas
I spent most of today, a day off, facing a blank page - just like the blank canvas facing all of us humans fortunate enough to wake and begin anew. Right out of the gate, we are all off to a fresh start.
Except it didn’t feel fresh and new. I didn’t feel fresh and new and I struggled, not wanting to write about anything negative or to incite a reader. How dare I mar my own small fresh canvas with anything other than beauty and light?
I wanted to write about how we are all connected - from urban neighborhoods, wide open plains and sky, mountain enclaves, lush tropics, to small towns and villages like the one where I am blessed to dwell, where we can’t help but trip over one another’s stories.
Lately, it seems there are too many sad stories in my small community. An 18 year old grandson of a former client does not wake up one morning. A woman I worked next to many days at the harbor falls in her home, leaving two lovely young daughters. A mechanic who has tended my car is fighting disease.
As we are all connected through the internet, the first thing I did when I woke, while it was still dark, was not to write my column in the early morning hours so that I could enjoy the rest of the day. Instead I sat at a computer keyboard to make sure nothing really bad happened in the world as humanity slept its way into a new day.
We live in volatile times. At least when something devastating takes place, word gets around a lot faster and we can take swift action. For this I suppose we should all be grateful. The doors are off the hinges and the world is more transparent. Easier to see what is askew and needs tending.
How it shows up in my personal world might be in the young woman, a regular, who came into the shop of books where I work, and did not seem like herself yesterday afternoon. Though I don’t know her well, a subtle concern for her has lingered. Perhaps she will come back tomorrow and be her “normal” self. If not, what could I do? If she does not appear I know just what I will do – I will phone her. Say something new has come in that she might like. Make her a coffee, offer her a scone – let her know that someone in the world notices.
Things seemed weighty, not what we want especially during the holiday season. As I made my way to a neighboring town on errands and to a café, I was stunned to see a man in street clothes seated three feet from me with a pistol holstered to his hip. I have gone 55 years and never witnessed a person other than a policeman, military or security guard carry a visible gun. It freaked me out.
After he departed I leaned over to the man who was only twelve inches from me and mentioned it to him. “It’s the new normal,” he said without missing a beat. He added that he thought maybe he was a police officer, which we clearly both hoped but went unspoken.
These were not the things I wanted to write about.
Making Houses Home
At the same time there is a human phenomenon transpiring with nearly all my friends – they are either getting ready to move, have just recently moved or (as in my case) have dwelled in a place for a long time but not yet made it into a true home. I have even offered and begun to help a couple of them to settle in, hoping the activity will rub off on me.
It makes sense to me to approach these home projects like I would an artistic project - with an understanding of the principals of creative process. It’s a lot of work but work that can be fun. There needs to be a period of incubation where we let things just be, quietly percolating. We wait for illumination and insight to erupt – seemingly out of nowhere. Then we get into deep evaluation (this is the hard part) sorting the wheat from the chaff. And then we go into action mode, as if we knew the answer all along – like when Michelangelo saw David in the marble and basically just freed him. Voila!
As artists, we must strive for clarity in our minds and in our hearts - so that we can get a clear vision of the outcome we desire and then we can begin to understand what our actions must be. When we create something it cannot help but reflect our values and our true self, which can be daunting. You may have heard writers and artists speak about how putting their work into the world makes them feel naked.
Making a house into a home is challenging in the same way. Questions to ask include - Is the home you are making in alignment with the person you are now? Does it reflect your values? How are you going to live in this space? What do you want to make or do in this home? What is your vision for this home?
At Home in Myself
When I set out to write this column, I just wasn’t feeling it. I was physically and psychically tired. I had a demanding vendor who was quickly escalating to disgruntled. The environment around me was a literal and figurative grey. The blank canvas that I saw as a metaphor for a wonderful year ahead was quickly yellowing.
I had to, what I call - write myself home. To get to that place of wholeness and calm in my core self, I had to find my way through a couple dark valleys, over the hill and around the bend. How could I forget, it’s all part of the creative process?
Knowing I was powerless against the loss of lives that weighed on me, I could reach out to the members of my community who experienced personal loss in several ways – a note, visit or intention.
Remembering to be grateful helped shift my perspective. Personally, in my own family there has been grace. My brother, who nearly died three years ago, is doing well. Three days ago I spoke with a sister with whom I have been out of touch for a decade. Her call was preceded by a call and message I left before Thanksgiving. After the recent terror attacks in Paris I found myself feeling powerless and thought what small action could I make in my own life toward peace and I picked up the phone.
We don’t always know how or if our gestures will be received. It is good to do so without expectation, knowing that the action itself makes a difference.
The blank canvas we have before us is all part of the human process. What we do with it is up to us. We could get creative! As we wake up and look around it might be good to see what we have the power to do. What small action on our part might lead to subtle or big change? The forgiveness or kindness we extend could make a difference in our life or that of a neighbor across the street, or across the globe.