This is my second time to participate, and I have more than enough time to finish it before the February 2019 deadline — or so I hope! I’m thinking of exploring the theme of Infinite Sketch and fill the pages with one long series of sketches in blue in various mediums. Something like this:
And then maybe thread one long string of words that is a poem that begins on the first page and ends on the last.
We’ll see. I’m not averse to changing my mind if a better idea presents itself.
So, you are currently reading my main blog. I figure I can’t really expect people to migrate to another site just to follow someone (or would they?). In any case, I’m currently testing a strategy of being present across various online spaces. Something like having “branches” where different sets of people are likely to gather. I have another blog at Wordpress and one on Blogger. The content is essentially the same, it’s just that people who are in the same space will be able to view and follow more easily, or subscribe to what’s more convenient. I’m doing the same for my print-on-demand shops.
A quick introduction for those who are newcomers to the site : I am a self-taught artist and a writer. I work from home. I have a freelance day job that helps pay the bills but my goal is to be able to sustain a decent living on my art’s income. I’m exploring the path of surface design as well as illustration, on top of the fine art gallery thing, and I am working on publishing illustrated poetry books and illustrated fantasy novels.
I blog to share my creative journey and process, share my artwork to reach potential buyers and custom clients, and have a space to talk to no one and everyone. If there’s anything art or creativity related topic you want me to write about (and assuming I can), let me know. :)
I gave in to the hauntings, and puchased a passport -sized Traveler’s Notebook. Right now it has three notebook inserts — two original Traveler’s and one Field Notes. The first notebook will hold my 100-day project for the year which will be 100 field note entries from the Wildforest. It will be a play and experiment with words and images and storymaking. The second notebook will hold, as the title hints, Rambles, Fragments, Seeds, & Stumbles. The third notebook, which is the Field Notes one, is a more practical notebook of lists. I started off with a list of all things that I buy and which I plan to improve/evolve to become more conscious towards sustainability, health, animal cruelty-free, and less plastic waste.
The small size is perfect for being able to finish, and more forgiveable to mess up.
Meanwhile I am not working as much on the Sketchbook Project as I should. In the end I may not even have the postage fee for it. We’ll see. But I like how it’s going so far, and it has in fact been the inspiration for the 100-day project I’ll begin as soon as I finish the Sketchbook.
I’m still doing a dayjob project on the side so my energy is largely spent on dayjob tasks and dayjob anxiety. But I’ll be opening up my Commissions service soon so maybe I will be able to do more paid creative work in place of the dayjob work. That should be less painful to do...right? 😆
It was a no-dayjob-work day yesterday, so I was really in a good mood when I woke up in the morning. I made progress in fixing the tiny studio (which has gained some extra space after a few pieces of furniture were moved about and also because I sold my fridge that was the last object of my long-past independent condo living).
I got to write a full entry in my journal which naturally allowed it to talk back to me:
I got to print all my index card notes for the smallpoemstorybook that has been titled "Blue Heart Boy & Impossible Love Stories", in the process of which I found I have more than enough to come up with two books, the second titled "The Graves of Possibilities", which was already hinted at by my recent entry in Stories that bubbled up from the swamp of memories.
I got to finish the large painting I started on Christmas eve. This one is titled "Kintsugi". Oh, the sheer joy of finally getting to paint!
Following the flow, I set up a larger blank board for my next big painting. But I'll also be working simultaneously with small and medium ones on the other painting table.
I finally got to start putting together my belated tokens for my patrons and the tribe. Discovered I will have to do a mini-production run because a lot of items I have been meaning to gift were actually sold out over the holidays even after the pop-ups (there were many separate requests and orders through direct messages in social media). I haven't even started on reviving my Etsy for 2018 yet.
Today I will draft something for the Sketchbook Project and also draft something for Blue Heart Boy.
Yesterday I sent a nervous application for a booth at the art market at the Manila Biennale. It's a bit of an ambitious move because I'll be exposing my work to a supposedly more discerning market. I also plan to avail of a day-pass to see the exhibits themselves, learn new things, maybe fall into a few serendipitous encounters. I remember now, one of the best advice that got me to where I am now: Keep Showing Up.
I had to turn down an invitation to join a bazaar this month because of dayjob work conflict. But I am considering taking on another invitation to share and teach art skills in an art event -- still waiting for details and if the offer is still on because the message was stuck in the hidden inbox of my Instagram and it's a week old.
Today I was touched by a thoughtful tagged post in Twitter that made me feel I am not invisible after all.
I finished reading my first book towards my Goodreads Reading Challenge. The reading groove is definitely totally back (I lost it halfway through last year because for a while no book could get through to me -- I realise it could be because a book was trying to come out... The content of Blue Heart Boy was begun in July and for the rest of the year was a period of eruption, like a centuries-quiet volcano finally losing its temper. The drafts for Stories were also spewed out within that time.)
Today I might go on an Artist Date -- or maybe I'll go tomorrow. Let's see how the day unfolds.
I have a lot of Stories to tell.
But right now I am about to begin my third and last pop-up for the year, and right after that I have to do one last dayjob hurrah for the year so --
I will be able to start telling the Stories just before Christmas. Possibly on the very eve of it.
Clues? You want a preview? Well, let's see.
I made this new signage for my pop-up shop which captures a direction that my art is exploring (and that opens up a whole new acre of Garden that tangles up with the Wildforest).
Two recent pieces echo this.
And which actually grew from having to make a lot of bookmarks that carry the seeds of this storytelling. And which was also further impressed by the serendipitous finding of a secondhand copy of Frida Kahlo's biography (from the first pop-up) and watching (and being enchanted by the scenes of) Coco (an unexpected occasion as I was trying to puzzle through an unexpected thing from the second pop-up). (Yes, the pop-ups turned out to be extremely eventful.)
So here I am on the third pop-up. So much changed. If I time-travelled to the point of Before which was Before The First Pop-Up I would not even be able to begin to imagine the breadth and depth of all these Possibilities now at hand. I will tell that Story soon, on how I crossed the borders of Before & After.
Here's another preview.
I started a series of paintings. The first one is titled Lovestruck. It is another exploration of another path in the Garden, and I feel that this path will meet with the other, and the Wildforest will feel the rumble of deeper magic awakening.
I've also written a whole chapbook-worthy set of poems, closely related to the Lovestruck series. The only thing I can say about this is this: the seeds for these poems were only possible because I said Yes to one thing that led to another and another and another.
It's a bit of a mess really. A beautiful terrible mess.
Alright. I have to go for now.
Let me close this post with a quote.
I'll just semi-ramble on this post here. Since Monday I've been pretty much occupied. First half of the week was juggling the dayjob tasks and studio work. Then rest of the week was studio shop work.
Still cracking my head on how to get to more audience. Or is my art not as good as I believe it is? I don't say it's stupendously brilliantly marvelous, but good enough given the heart that poured into it. But no. I know my art does not suck. I've done commissions and I've sold things online and I have strangers on Instagram sending me messages of support, appreciation, and a few even asking for some advice on how to live an artist's life. Hmm, maybe there's something to teaching/writing/workshopping about living an artist's life? Third-world Asian version because, you know, it is harder that way. I had a seed for something like that a couple of years ago, something I called "Rough Guide to the Road Less Travelled". Maybe I should revisit it. Maybe that's a side door.
Posting to Etsy is hard work. My shop can't look too shabby. So effort on photos, and editing the photos, and coming up with interesting descriptions -- which led me to crafting poems instead and I hope this will somehow capture the kind of customers I can be in a long-term relationship with. If not poems I craft snippets of mythology about the Impossible Garden & the Wildforest.
I wasn't gaining enough visits despite the multiple promos and offers, so I paid for some ads for the weekend. The tricky thing is you don't have control on who really sees it. Machine algorithms can only do so much, and in the end, programs are only as good as the insight and inspiration of the people who designed them. It's one thing I learned in research (which has been my dayjob for more than 20 years), that the output and effect rely less on the methods and technologies and whatever new buzzword thing is floating around, than on the attention and skill and insight of the research doer.
There is a part of me that wants to dabble into digital and online research, particularly on people's behavior with apps and sites. But it's going to really eat up everything. Yet I know if I put my mind to it I could actually make ridiculous big bucks from it. I've seen countless times how so much less "input" and invention/reinvention by others has generated same (or even more) ridiculous big bucks.
I'm back on puzzling out how to reach more audience and then how to convert more audience. This all feels like my Ad School days. Awareness-Trial-Retention. At the core, everything remains simple and basic, despite the trimmings and sleight-of hand that marketers employ. All the new "tricks" and "insights" are reinventions and re-expressions, simply adapted into the new "things" and "trends". There's that 1990's song that went "It's all been done." Yes, it has. It's just all angle and perspective. Smoke and mirrors. Ah, that's maybe what I need to be better at.
There IS a real budget constrain in what I can do and experiment with to improve my art's reach and awareness. So a layer of challenge has to do with making do. In my ad agency days I've often heard the question "How do you make a small media budget most efficient?"
I remember buying a book a few years ago on how Introverts can do networking. I'll have to dig it up. Honestly I hate networking. Or maybe I hate how it has always been templated and presented. And I maybe I hate how its worst forms had bullied or victimised me or made me feel like I'm less of a person because I'm bad at it. I think the new trendy word for it now is building "community" or "connection" or something related. I fear I'm still rather bad at it. Another thing to learn more of.
I'll stop rambling now. Do follow me on Twitter (see right column, my feed is there), and on Facebook. Lots of updates and snippets of stuff. See me grow. See me stumble. It's all real-life, real-time. Let me know if something's helping you or inspiring you. I could use the boost that my journey is not entirely invisible.
Hugs to all.
Support this artist on Patreon.
Or send a coffee via Ko-fi.
Or shop at the art shops.
Yesterday was not a good day. Especially towards the afternoon. I was listless, restless, bothered, irritable, exhausted. Mostly I was exhausted. And I wanted to sleep but couldn't sleep. I was agitated, anxious, angry for many reasons.
For a moment I thought about stepping out, with a list of errands, to force the energy of the seemingly irrational mood into something functional. But I stopped myself. I knew I would likely end up spending more money than I should, after the errands were done, too unhappy to care, only wanting to find any means of solace, any hint of solution to the chafing, choking feeling thrumming somewhere in the core of myself. A discomfort like something stuck in the passageways of thought and heart and tongue and hand.
I stayed with it instead. That sharp-edged cloud of sadness wrapped around me, the weight of unnamed sorrows, unacknowledged longings.
This is how it was like. Like staying in a dark room despite the noises that smelled of danger, even when the exit door is ajar and street noises beckon with their oblivion. Like staying still and silent while burning, long enough to realise that the fire was coming from your heart, and that becoming ash and cinder was optional. Like not running away as the hissing and growling approached from the shadows, even when you begin to feel a hot cold breath drip down your spine, to keep your own breathing calm, to keep your eyes open.
In the darkness and the stillness, in the staying instead of going and running away, in the space I have made of woven sighs and simmering discontent, the words started to arrive.
Old words, new words, strange words. Familiar words. Changed words. They were tentative at first, unsure of whether I wished to be helped or rescued, or if I, perhaps, would like to swim back into paint. To avoid words because they peel the truths more finely and sting more exquisitely. Because when the words come even the paintings are made to account for themselves, to not be tricky with meanings but to be clear even in playful obscurity.
So the words came. And when I allowed myself to write them despite my sense of inadequacy and foolishness, I started to feel better. The sharp-edged cloud softened. The heaviness flowed from my core to my hand and into the page.
There have been Things happening beneath the surface but even while I have been painting a lot, my language is more than colours on canvas. I don't know why I have been keeping the words at bay. Or maybe I do know, that naming Things confirms the Thing's existence, and existence require responsibility, presence, attention. Particularly when it is love. Particularly when love itself arrives in a story even more difficult than the ones you've had to tell before. Ever more fantastical. Ever more impossible.
But at least the words got me out of the moods, took me back to the heart of things, the heart of me.
So the poems are coming back, and intentioned writing (no longer the sideways offhand manner I've been doing for many months now, playing it safe and only scratching surfaces). I think it's time for the painting to work with the words, as well as the other way around, with the words working with the painting.
Twitter turned out to be a wonderful space for poems. An open sketchbook for my words. Anonymous and known at the same time, secret and brave.
(No longer secret because it's posted here!)
I did this before when I was still living by myself in a condominium (more than four years ago). All I had to do was shut down and unplug, pull myself out of the daily routines, and flow with the odd rhythms of creation. I made an announcement through email and social media to advise clients and family and friends or anyone else who might try to contact me during the retreat. I had five full days to myself, going deep into the forest, although at that time I didn't realise it was a forest. So much were still hidden from me at that time, or my eyes were still half-blind, or I did not know yet how to see in the shadows.
Lately I've been feeling I want to do it again. To secure that one long uninterrupted length of time to follow trails of thoughts and ideas farther than I ever could when immersed in the heavily distracted routines of daily life. It would mean I would have to lug around all my art materials, including the large canvases. And newspapers to lay on floors to catch the wayward drips and drops of paint. Because clearly I cannot do this retreat in the house where I live in now, which is peopled with individuals with their own daily routines and agendas cramped in a space where too much noise overwhelms my sought-for silence and where I am expected to participate and adjust with the household's own clock-time.
Then there is the matter of space, and light, and defending from the heat and the mosquitoes. In my condo unit I had an air-conditioner to temper the interior weather, and I didn't have mosquitoes. And one wall was almost entirely windows. And very quiet when I want it to be. I only had meals when I was hungry, and often skipped dinners and ate a lot of post-midnight or pre-sunrise snacks.
I'm thinking of checking into something like the Red Planet again, or if there's a nice affordable Air B&B somewhere in the Ortigas area, near where all the Korean restaurants and cafes are.
I will be painting and writing. I will still be online but mostly to share my process and progress, and do research on things like male muses and the anatomy of a heart and the shape of bones of imaginary creatures. Or what is the word for the various strains of desolation. And of course, a lot of reading as well, and likely paper books so my luggage will be like I'm going to be away for a month rather than a week.
A dear friend of mine who is a poet and a teacher, has the good fortune of staying for a couple of weeks in a beautiful place called Rivendell's Writers' Colony. I was almost teary-eyed with longing for all that floor space where she laid out her poem pages to deliberate how she will put them together into a chapbook. And all those windows and open space outside and nature surrounding everything.
Don't get me wrong. I can make art and write in my everyday space. But there are times when you feel you need one big surge of creation, just release all the pent-up energies that I've been doling out in safe reasonable trickles, and that can only happen if all the daily boundaries are removed and the usual limitations lifted. I'm all for strength training through adversity but I also cannot discount the value of simply being granted some space and light and the chance to work in better conditions.
As usual, funding is a primary hurdle. (Are you tired of reading me moan about munny? Me too, I tell you. Me too. But I would say it's part of my process to figuring things out, and I trust my process. It's taken me through the past seven years without a regular paycheck.) Let's see, a 5D/4N stay will cost me about $150, plus meals and snacks. Let's say to be safe, including any emergency supply needs I'll peg the budget to be $250. Hmmm. Still cheaper than a beach trip, and the value of the yield will be immense. So all in all, not a bad investment.
Alright. I'll let these thoughts sit here and brew. We'll see what happens next.
Meanwhile, here are snapshots from my previous creative retreat (that would be sometime 2012 or 2013, I think, before I had to move back into my parents' house) -- I also started with the feeling of chafing in my daily constrained routines, and then planning, and then finally doing it. I want to be able to do it again.
I have been postponing my Artist Date for months for various reasons: time, money, location, energy, theme. Most of the time it's money, because there's nowhere safe and nice enough to go to within the city that is free. I will always have to have some coffee money, at least for a large cup or a cup and a snack so I can justify hanging out for at least three hours. While at the cafe I would write, or draw, or paint, or just ponder on Things. Usually that is when fresh ideas drop by, when thought trails open up previously thorny and tangled paths. Possibilities lose their disguises, and what-if questions become bold enough to take on words.
Yesterday I had planned an Artist Date that was supposed to happen after lunch with my sister. But something went awry when I made the mistake of taking on an unscheduled client call that took longer than promised, and so I ended up being very late on the lunch date and everything else took on a rather tainted note --- the traffic was horrible, it was the one day that my sister could not extend her lunch hour, I forgot to bring an umbrella and the sky was greying, I had to get off the cab a block away and walk to the cafe because the traffic was so bad. I felt rushed and stressed and flustered. I did not get to enjoy a full introduction and conversation with the lovely Korean lady who owned the cafe. After the hurried late lunch I walked my sister back to her office then went to another cafe for a couple of hours of Artist Dating. I managed to regain some level of calm and I was able to write but the bad start was a stain. The subject of the client call was also hanging over my head, an ominous cloud of a possible dayjob project. I should be grateful with relief because it means a possible paycheck. But I could only feel the usual psychosomatic effects : a hint of nausea, a layer of feverish chills, an unexplainable fit of coughing, an upset suddenly acidic stomach. I cut the Artist Date short half an hour earlier than planned and went home -- and found out all the roads within the area had been closed for an earthquake drill, and I had to walk a couple of blocks to meet up with the car service that took me home.
So today I thought I'll try it again. But I woke up really late as I had a bout of insomnia last night. Then I got caught up with my sister's needing some advice on a situation and my brain had to do full-mode processing even before I was able to go downstairs for a cup of coffee. I ended up going from bed to lunch and was meaning to have coffee after but I felt wearied all over and off-sync and before I knew it I was deeply asleep.
I woke up at half past three in the afternoon. I made myself take a bath and dress up and prepare to step out or I know I'll regret it. I went to the mall (an upscale one to avoid the majority of the payday crowds). I bought three large-ish canvases for projects I plan to start this weekend. Then I went to replenish skin care supplies --- which earned me a ticket entry to a raffle for a trip to Korea (the shop is Korean). Winners will be announced in October. My passport is expired but now I am motivated to renew it (it's a bit of a hassle to do and there are fees so I've been putting it off -- also I don't really have the funds to be going anywhere anytime soon. But now, who knows?)
As if on cue, outside the skin care shop I heard the live music of a Korean saxophone quartet and had the good fortune to watch and listen to a free concert. I didn't get to take a photo or video as I was more focused on enjoying the moment. But I looked them up and here they are:
The music and the live-ness of the performance swept away all that was tired, sad, hopeless, jaded in my spirit. Of course the fact that it was a Korean group was a significant variable. I stood among the audience, my heavy pile of large canvases balanced against my leg, and let myself be more than where I was, loving the artistry of it all. I reached out soul-threads to weave patterns with the music, making contact with those four distant human beings from a distant dream country in the only way I can.
On the other side of the mall I went to have coffee and I was greeted by a multitude of red lanterns, this time providing a setting for a group playing traditional Japanese instruments, two of which I think are shamisen. Yet another of my dream countries, and with music again as a message of sorts. I sat on the outer edge of the cafe so I could still hear the strains of the music, and my heart was further gladdened.
For my dear patrons who sent me coffees via Ko-fi.com, thank you so much -- here I actually got a coffee! And I haven't done so for quite a long time. Drained the cup to the last sip.
It has been a while since I have gone out without much internal alarm and anxiety. Today I went out with a good semblance of peace and somehow a strange sense of relief coming from something I have not yet put a finger to. In any case, being outside of my cramped tiny studio allowed me to expand my senses and my thoughts. It helped that I had a bit of money to spare, that I could buy the canvases, that I could afford to buy myself a coffee and a sandwich. I felt yesterday went awry so I would go out again today and receive the gifts of the ticket and the shamisen and the quartet. If everything had gone perfectly yesterday I would not have gone out today at all.
And now it is half past ten, but since I've slept a lot during the day I think I'll get started on one of the large canvases, a 24" x 24". I already have a title for it, and it's a piece meant as a tribute of sorts to an old self -- the mad brave leaper who should have been born farther up in the northeast.
I end this post with The Arrival of The Queen of Sheba.
I started this on the first of June and it will end around the second week of September. On a daily basis it eats up at least an hour, and more if I need to catch up. It took me some deliberation before I decided to do it, because it will be a responsibility. But I need to put in the same discipline and commitment to my art the same way I did to my dayjob, otherwise, the dayjob will always win and the art will always be a sideshow.
I've done x-day challenges before but I never quite managed to complete them. I realised it was because I never thought about how exactly they could help me as an artist other than getting the temporary high of watching the "likes" multiply. I had to understand the why and how so that every time I sit down to make the piece it is clear what I am building towards. In the end, since I want to become a full-time artist, I have to think strategy. What can a 100-day project help me with? I have limited time and resources. I cannot be whimsical all the time.
The Merits of a 100-Day Project
Updates to this 100-day project are posted regularly on my Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook Page.
Special captions on history, musings, and odd rambles about the pieces are available to patrons in my Patreon page. (Patrons gain access to all exclusive posts for as low as $2 a month.)
If you enjoy the content of this website please consider sending the artist an energising coffee via Ko-fi. ^_^
In the late 1990s (by this time you are beginning to pick the pattern that the 1990s was my decade of many youthful follies), I was into exploring less traditional spiritual belief and rituals, and I have been particularly fascinated by the solstices. It broke my heart that I lived in a tropical country instead of one with four seasons (to be honest, I am still quite heartbroken about it even though my sister has been telling me lately not to move into a country with winters because it will make me into a crooked old woman because my bones would bend from the cold). It only added to my oddity that I used to practice small simple seasonal rituals for seasons that were just not happening here (but were nevertheless happening in my head).
Now with social media making the world just a wee bit easier to navigate, it is normal to see solstice-related posts, greetings, and celebrations that make my pagan heart stir up in nostalgia.
The title of this post, consequently, reminds me of the title of an episode in Dawson's Creek (yes, that TV series) which was The Longest Day. That was the episode where the main female character chooses the main male character's best friend. The best friend had to risk losing to all the history between the two mains because the two mains were each other's first loves.
I wept, like a naive fool, while watching that episode (which I got on DVD so I could watch it again and again and torment myself, although by now I have thrown it all away). Here was why: I had a best friend and she had a bit of a history with a man who was also my very close friend. We all worked in the same office. Their story was a kind of a loose end, because he confessed his love for her but she did not accept. Life moved on, the man and I grew close -- a separate friendship that was ours alone. I literally had to split time between him and my best friend.
You could guess how that went, I started to fall for him. Which was a very normal, almost predictable, course of Things, given that we were highly compatible, had intelligent philosophical conversations, and he never had any qualms about being sweet -- holding my hand, hugging me to comfort and console, and kissing me on the forehead when the world became way too harsh. No, those gestures of affection were never more than what they were at the moment. I never assumed, although I hoped. Fervently.
Back then I had a rather unfortunate habit of confessing. Looking back now, I see it as a manifestation of wanting to keep control. I hold the script, I call the shots, I steer the story. I wanted to set things ahead so I could prepare for all possibilities of endings, even though I only hoped for one particular kind.
So I decided to confess. Because I was impatient. Because I was afraid. Because I wanted to cross that platonic line.
Two days before I confessed, I told my best friend about it. As a courtesy, given their history, and also as my best friend. I was also, in a way, asking permission, or a blessing. Again, a courtesy. If she had said no, I would have listened. She did not say no. She said it was alright.
The next day she went to him. She said it was for closure. I vaguely remember her telling me about it before she went to meet him. I trusted her.
The day after that, my confession was pre-empted by their suddenly being a couple. I found out later that the closure was more of a last-chance-what-if-pitch-realisation of sorts. They were married a year after.
It took me seven years to get over him (and all the negative backlash of that whole experience).
On that seventh year, that was when a soul reaper, a shinigami, found me, and took me out of that battered road of hurt. His was a Death Note that turned out to be a lease for a new life instead. That shinigami led me to other shinigami, and into wielding swords, and getting tangled with the soul threads of the land of the rising sun, and a whole new chapter of my life unfolded.
I woke up from a dream with two story-lines that criss-crossed and threw me about from one to the other.
One is about a pregnant woman who was not really pregnant but who was actually a sorceress of some kind. She had a perfect husband who seemed to be enthralled by her. She was also supposed to be someone I did not get along with, since she often bullied me in small subtle ways, and often used her unsuspecting husband to do it. But one day she was suddenly friendly, and then imploring, almost begging me to help her. There was something wrong with her baby, she said. She needed me, she said. Then I found myself, her, and her husband (who at this point looked a bit like Song Seung-heon) in my old bedroom in the apartment where I grew up. She was lying on my bed, in great discomfort, yet at the same time she had shed all pretence at being a normal person and was re-arranging the room by magic -- strange artefacts appeared on the walls, my old things transformed into her things. She also bossed her husband about, who seemed to be beginning to resist her enchantment. While he still obeyed her when she was looking, he undid her orders when she was not. He had also begun to ask me about what had been happening for he could not remember much before the enchantment weakened. I told him I didn't really know, for she was cruel to me and I avoided her as much as I could, and that he had been hers for quite a while (and I refrained from saying that it was such a disappointment). Then the woman began to cry out from inside the room and we rushed in to find her stomach wide open, and instead of a baby there were small bundles of objects wrapped up in either cloth or paper and tied up with ribbons. She was trying to find something and was in despair that she could not. The objects were the spells she had cast to get her way with anything but it seemed they were not enough. She wailed, no longer concerned that we had found out what she was and what a lie she had been. The husband, meanwhile, looked for the spell that bound him to her. He unknotted the ribbons and unwrapped the spell and then he was free. The witch was beyond caring. She wasn't dying, she was simply in pain for that which she could not find. I stood there, watching her, uncertain what to do, thinking how the room could not possibly still be habitable after this, and partly wondering if the husband was now truly free and if he would remember me.
The other story is myself back in high school, except it was a distorted fantastical version of my real high school. The school was on stilts and built near the ocean. I was there as myself now, but I was also in my younger body, which meant I was at my most awkward, insecure, and unattractive. My only saving grace was my mind which then carried the experience of many years. I found myself in a history class, taught by a terror of a teacher notorious for her verbal humiliations, odd whims, and playing favourites. There was a graded recitation. She started with the first seat out front and was going with the recitation one by one. I was on the last seat at the very last row. I tried to listen to the questions and answers, hoping to get a clue on what I was supposed to know. To my utter dismay, the history she was teaching had nothing to do with history as I knew it. She was teaching some kind of alternative and obscure history of which I knew nothing about. She was speaking of names, places, and events that were unrecognisable, not to mention impossible. There was an aspect of the supernatural in her version of truths. Many of my classmates were unable to answer her correctly, and for that she scolded them loudly with the utmost denigration and insults. The girl sitting in front of me was panicking, asking me if I knew any of the answers. I told her I did not, and it irritated me that my years of experience and gained wisdom would not count here. Meanwhile, one classmate did not seem to be bothered by all this, and was sitting back on his chair on the opposite end of my row. He was a favourite, and he was exempted from the graded recitation. He looked sometimes like Tomohisa Yamashita, and sometimes like Lee Min-ho. He was not even paying attention to the class, and would occasionally step out of the classroom without asking for permission. Then my turn came, and I was asked a question about a school in the mountains. The question was something like, "What is the true name of that school?" And I said I didn't know, and braced myself for the scolding, and was also ready to answer back. But instead the teacher said, "Since you are a new transfer you are excused. But please study next time. You have to catch up or you'll get left behind. I suggest extra library hours, even on holidays." Then I was in the library, alone, in the evening, and it was beginning to feel like the beginning of a horror story so I went to the door. Then I was by the ocean, and the beach was so vast. The sky was grey and cloudy. It was not a tropical beach. Then I was in the classroom again and I could feel the teacher was starting to lose patience with me because I was not learning fast enough. I thought, wait a minute, I don't have to be here. I don't have to sit through this. So I stood up in the middle of a class project and I walked out. As soon as I stepped out of the room it was the beach, and I looked back, and that classmate who was a favourite was following me. I let him approach and he said, "I wondered how long it would take you to figure it out." And then he took my hand.
I actually have a bit of a headache, and I am feeling peculiarly tired from my sleep. I have often remembered my night dreams, and they have often flowed with a strange coherence that allowed me to record them in writing. Most of the time I get lazy and just forget them within the course of a morning. But I think I should really use them as practice for storytelling. They are also rich in creative seeds -- I have the first few chapters of a novel tucked in somewhere that came from one dream, something about a scientist who secretly transforms into a fox, and who was also secretly a lord and prince of a hidden country.
I am going to have to put in some dayjob work hours today. I have a report to finish that is due for submission by next week. I hate to cram so I have spaced the hours and periods of work across the week in the least painful way. The remaining hours of my day I will pour into reading, writing, and some experimental painting. Tomorrow is a holiday but I will still need to work, just to be on the safe side of the deadlines.
For a brief period I thought it was. But the flower-marked came to my rescue, gripping my wrist and my heart to pull me out of the vortex of that deep dark despair.
The impossible garden stirs. There is a murmur amongst the flowers. The impossible insects return from their journeys, an invisible trail in their wake, an impossible test to lure the lost and the seekers. Already the messenger birds circle above, both certain and unsure, there is something to be found below. But what strange beautiful flowers there are. What fierce creatures protect it. What poison runs with the nectar along the veins of those thorny pretty blooms. So odd. So curious.
I stirred too. I woke from a long deep sleep woven with dreams and nightmares. I found myself having to dig my way out from the tight embrace of the earth, the roots of my own creations softly wrapped around my neck, over my mouth, straining my limbs.
It is autumn. But I am alive, and I will stay so throughout the winter ahead. My wrist and my heart are burning hot, for the flower-marked had left their own invisible trail. In the spring, there will be a journey, one way or another. And there will be a fated meeting. All is not lost, all is yet to be found.
This piece, now titled "Seeds", took longer than the usual. It was conceived in a storm and born while still in the midst of the storm's rampage. Yet one would not suspect its tragic roots, because it is what it is, a flowering of hope despite the devastations.
I was able to fix a money task today, which gave me a tiny inch of breathing space. I know the task list is suspended, but I fix what I come across without having to deal with the rest of the chain.
I sleep fitfully. I exhaust myself with reading and with watching those just-discovered highly entertaining fantasy fairy tales of Koreanovelas (it's been popular for years but I'm a confirmed late bloomer). Very escapist, but at this moment also very crucial to keeping that link between myself and the ground, if that somehow makes sense.
I eat fitfully. I crave for very specific foods eaten in specific places that I cannot afford, so I eat just enough of what's on hand to stay not sick and fully functioning. At the same time I crave with a hunger of the soul and the heart. So I create my impossible gardens with the expectation of rain and sunshine and bees to help them grow, and with the hope that something unexpected and new and meant will find its way through, a sleeping seed waiting for its own blooming. Synchronicities and serendipities. Every painting a prayer to the gods of the spaces-in-between.
Today I started original work on two small pieces. Next I'll do another big piece. Then two small pieces. And I'll keep making more of those round paintings (that some people won't or could not take seriously as art).
I'm also warming up for adding more fauna and fungi (specifically mushrooms) in my garden's ecosystem.
This is as much as I can manage given realities and circumstances. I've changed the settings in my email auto-reply to indicate that I am on an urgent personal leave until Thor's Day. I need to put away that heavy, heavy cloud of tasks hovering over me every single day, laden with to-dos and to-finishes and to-begins. I need to breathe. I need to stretch and expand without hitting my edges on walls. I need to let go. I need to go away.
I want to strip away all the duties and obligations, the shoulds and the expectations, the endless routines, the vicious cycles of nothing happening.
I want to dive deep into the places where that in-between state of waking and sleep takes me. I want to slip sideways into those slivers of somewhere glimpsed at the edges of a glance.
I want silence, and the solitude that is pregnant with possibility.
I want to not be alone, for my silence and my solitude to be encompassed in an embrace of recognition and love.
I want to be away, away, away. In a place surrounded by trees and mountain and ocean. In a place where it is always more cold than warm, where making fires makes perfect sense.
I want my own merry band of raven princes, on leave from their kingdoms, some for a while, some forever, taking only their crowns and their magic with them, to run away with me. Away, away, for the world is full of too much weeping and woe. Find the boon that will fight the battles and win the war for the good in the human spirit.
“Grow where you are planted.” The other version is “Bloom where you are planted."
I want to edit that a bit. Plant yourself where you want to be and grow. Plant yourself where you know you will grow to the best that you are, where you have the most chance of becoming your potential. There are ways. Ask the trees. Ask the bees.
I was planted in a field designed for yielding produce for profit. I grew for a while and then I started to wither inside. On the outside I was a tree that got stuck in autumn. I threw a seed of myself far away. Rode river streams and hitched with storm winds. I planted myself in a wild forest, and grew a little bit wild myself.
But an ultimatum was given. Echoes from that old field. I felt the threat of an axe's consideration. I was not ready to die that way yet, even if I wanted to. My old branches trembled with the anxiety of those nesting among my leaves.
So I put the wild forest self asleep. I had grown into wobbly treeling, too soon taking a deep breath and then closing its eyes and hoping it will wake up again.
A seed knows how to wait. Most seeds wait for at least a year before starting to grow; a cherry seed can wait for a hundred years with no problem. What exactly each seed is waiting for is known only to that seed.
I pulled my consciousness to gather back in that old still autumn tree.
I shook and shivered to shed my leaves. Not without dread. Not without sighs.
I am now an old stark winter tree, awaiting a resurgence of spring.
Imagine a small plot of earth. Then imagine planting a seedling at equal intervals until the whole plot is evenly dotted with seedlings. That is how I read. I need to have a few or several books going on. Since last weekend I have been progressing through:
- Journal of a Solitude, May Sarton
- First You Have To Row A Little Boat, Richard Bode
- In The Dojo, Dave Lowry
- A Monster Calls, Patrick Ness (finished)
- Rules For A Knight, Ethan Hawke (finished)
- Seveneves, Neal Stephenson
- Divine Fury, Darrin McMahon
- Art, Inc., Lisa Congdon
- Consolations of Philosophy, Alain de Botton
Today I started on Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami. And in a few days' time I might start on Marcel Proust's Swann's Way.
At some point I will start making notes or copying passages into index cards which I will categorise and then alphabetise in my box of index cards. My very own card catalogue of wisdom and creative seeds.
I have been traipsing about in the shallows with my art-making. Puttering about without accomplishing anything significant. i am walking the roundabout way into diving deep, unable to cut a straight line through the brambles of distraction and the fog of anxiety.
I refilled my waterbrushes today. Two with water and two with inks. Refilling means I used them up, which means I did something, and something was done.
In less than two hours I will be off to the mall to meet up with a college friend visiting from the US. She placed orders on the art shop and we are meeting up to make the exchange. I have made a list of to-dos to make the most of the trip as well as the fare spent to get to the mall.
I will be spending some cash today out of necessity, and I am bracing myself that I won't have enough for next month. But at the same time I am optimistic that there will be enough for next month.
I don't like writing like this. Like a death march. Like a school essay. I don't like it that I am weighed down with heavy thoughts and heavy emotions that drag my words out with heavy chains and slam them to the ground in ugly dreary composition.
Perhaps I need to re-read a Gaiman book. Or two. The well is only ankle-deep. I need to fill it to the brim. Not with just any water. I need to fill it from the source that flows from where we are true.
I wish I could write more happily. More cheerfully. Even when I am happy my words sound like they are wearing iron clogs. What do you think?
I finished my unfinished sketchbook spread:
And it helped a lot that I was out of the house, in an uncrowded cafe, with lots of bright light, and no distracting noise. There was a lot of space around and above me. The air temperature was cozy cool. I had a tall glass of iced red tea. I was not hungry, which was also good, because a grumbling stomach would make me want to eat rather than draw or paint or write.
Being out in the "open" helped open me up. I didn't realise how much being under the stairs for long days actually "compressed" me and my thoughts. And the absence of windows added to the sense of being hemmed in. Being enclosed was good for when I am already giving form to ideas, but when I am still in the stage of gathering seeds and processing those seeds for possibilities, I realise I need open space and lots of light.
It is a sad fact that there are no safe and comfortable public spaces in the city where I can just park myself and my art bag and stay for a few hours. I have to pay the price of a large cup of coffee or a small meal to claim a quiet cozy window seat.
Maybe I should revive my old plan to redesign the unused garage space (which is an open space -- only half-roofed by the second floor). It will cost a bit in the beginning, but once everything is set up it could be a very useful space. And I could even use that huge blank garage wall as an interactive space for growing seeds. And then maybe I would actually be able to play my own music without having to wear headphones even when the television in the living room is turned on... Yes, maybe this old plan is worth revisiting...
I am bad with titles. I can write whole poems and stories and articles but I always get stumped with the title. Even my blog post titles cause me a bit of a pain.
Then I had to name my paintings. I can't shirk it and get away with "Untitled". That's just not me. But I also don't want to spend an inordinate amount of energy thinking up names.
I am not a fan of the descriptive titles either, such as "Girl With Cat", or "Apples in Bowl". I also don't want to lead the viewer so much with titles that hint at what I'm trying to show in the artwork. I also don't want to be pretentiously obscure.
At the same time I want the names to also somehow reflect something about me as a person and as an artist.
So I pondered on it. And then came up with a solution.
Since the core of my artwork is flowers, I started with that. Flowers, no matter how you twist and turn it, are closely associated with the feminine. I see nothing wrong or offensive with that. So I decided my pieces will have feminine or female names.
But not just any name. They have to feel right to me, to resonate with me, or evoke certain types of associations. I started a list.
My associations with any word come from strange places -- books I've read, historical eras I am fond of, fictional characters I relate to, people I've met in my imagination, mythologies, you get the picture.
Any name that did not sit well with me was not included, no matter how popular or well-loved it may be to others.
I started with the name of saints, but picking those from the medieval ages, up to anything pre-modern. I looked up the stranger cousins of traditional Christianity, and then ventured into older and even obscure religions. Then mythologies. Then I mined my favourite books, picking the more creative, exotic, or old-sounding names and dropping the too-common, too-modern ones. I also chose the older versions of more modern names, if they sounded right. Names that would elicit too much association in one direction were left out (e.g. Katniss -- too young adult, mass-popular) unless I don't mind the association of the associations (e.g. Amidala -- Star Wars is old-school, much bigger and complex world), but a few popular names were included if there are enough interpretations spread out to keep the interpretation of my own artwork open (e.g. Jane -- plain, Austen, Goodall...).
I stayed away from names of actual people I know unless the painting was for them. But I have plans of using the names of my grandparents, great-grandparents, and their older kin (as they have all moved on to better places, and they have really nice names).
Each name on my list carries its own personality and I match them with the painting as much as I can. It does not have to be a literal match. Quite a few matches will possibly puzzle. I use my artist's eye to see the connection, and my artist's inner ear to hear the click.
The names I picked actually reflects and reveals a lot about me. If I become impossibly famous, biographers and academics will have a heyday deciphering my choice of names and probably come up with a humongous map of my alternate lives.
So here's the current partial list (A - L). Feel free to suggest and I will consider them!
Agatha - Agrippina - Alianor - Alice - Amaterasu - Ambrosia - Amidala - Andraste -
Andromeda - Annora - Anouk - Apollonia - Aquilina - Arabella - Ariadne -
Arianrhod - Arwen - Arya - Ashtoreth - Astarte - Attolia - Augustine -
Aurelia - Auri - Bast - Bellatrix - Benedicta - Bertha -
Beruthiel - Boudica - Branwen - Brienne - Brigid - Brunhild - Calliope -
Carissima - Cassiopeia - Celestine - Cerridwen -
Circe - Clarice - Clariel - Claudia - Cleopatra - Clotilde - Consortia -
Constance - Coraline - Coventina - Dana - Delphina -
Demeter - Demetria - Desdemona - Elinor - Elizabeth -
Emerentiana - Emma - Empusa - Eowyn - Epiphania - Eponine -
Eurydice - Eve - Fausta - Felicitas - Feronia - Florentina - Freya - Frigg -
Galadriel - Gorgonia - Grimalkin - Grimonia - Gwenhyfar - Hecate - Hel -
Hella - Hermione - Hestia - Honorata - Illuminata -
Inari - Ishtar - Isidora - Isolda - Izanami - Jane - Lamia - Lara -
Liberata - Lilith - Lirael - Lucia - Lucina - Luna - Lyra
My journal writing has taken a shift in the past few days. First, there was a period of almost nothing. I filled up the space of my days with painting and reading. Then when the words started to trickle back in they were distorted, and I ended up drawing and doodling on the page. Then the drawings took on more life and the words slipped in various forms.
I used to pre-design my journal pages with printed images captured from the internet. I used them as inspiration, idea triggers, and practice pegs. I also used them as illustrations to represent the images constantly moving around in my head, symbolic substitutes of my dreams, wishes, trails of pursued thoughts.
As the new drawings and words poured out with unusual forms I suddenly found the pre-designed pages cramping. I tore out the pasted images and drew over with my own. Then finally I started getting into a rhythm, and both images and words started to flow with better harmony.
It seems to me that I have shifted into a next-level state wherein I need less borrowing of other people's images and ideas, and become a bit more confident in expressing my own. I am still continuously inspired by the works of other artists but the stage of imitation and modelling is perhaps slowly transitioning into individualising my own work.
The drawings also seem to nudge me to explore another path with my art. This style has been springing up but I have been ignoring it as I felt it was not "ripe" enough. But maybe it is now.
This new way of journalling is helping me merge my words and images better, something that I have been striving to do in the past weeks for my poem-paintings. I have had a few promising paths open up but I am still not satisfied. So maybe this journal breakthrough is telling me something I am simply too stubborn to see.
In one of my forays into my recently compiled Life Library, I found this poem. It has not yet been included in my poem collection because it was part of a blog post from a long-dead blog site and the file was saved in my hard drive in html format.
i tap my feet in rhythm with the clock's tiny hands
I have forgotten already what I was thinking about when I wrote this poem, but I suspect it was triggered by a love un-story. Possibly I was going through a period of keeping myself away from falling into another false fairy tale. Possibly I was already on the brink of falling. Reading through it now, I feel that the image of myself as a fence-sitter has been true, for I have been a fence-sitter on my very own life for many years.
I thought that to define myself I only had to have one opinion for every thing. I have heard it said so often that one should always have an answer, and always choose a side. Also, that the sides and answers are by multiple choice — that I could only pick the answers from what were already presented to me. And that changing answers is frowned upon and discouraged (unless it favoured the popular trend where most of everyone stood, or it favoured an unpopular, but "cool", trend). Also, that the questions I answer have to be those put upon me by others.
It took me many years to learn that the answers and the sides can be something new and something else. That the questions can be made open-ended instead of close-ended. That what if is a real option, not just either/or. Also, that the questions I choose to answer can be the questions that I ask myself, and that these questions are more important to my own growth than what others dictate I should answer.
Re-reading the poem I also saw that in some cases there is something to be learned from momentarily doing that balancing act along the fence, a temporary distancing of the self to survey all options. To understand what is at stake, and what really matters to me. See that I say temporary. Because yes, at some point I have to take a stand, make a choice, and hopefully be strong enough to act according to those choices.
If you haven't, read this post first. It's the first part of making. This post is for using what you made.
I have been busy re-crafting the draft of a novel I wrote in 2012. I have also been busy compiling poems that I plan to publish as an illustrated book.
In the process of sifting and searching through my notes and my journals for material, I stumbled into an old rabbit hole and found a Wonderland that has eluded me for quite some time.
This was what happened.
For quite a few years now, since I left my regular job in 2010 and have had more time to write for myself, I had started to get frustrated at the general difficulty of finding and accessing my own information when I need them. My selves have been scattered across too many forms, platforms, and storage systems. I have not had the proper time nor strategy to pull it all together into a coherent, accessible, useful system that would help fuel my daily movement forward, and that would put all those writing commitments and efforts to continued practical and creative use.
(You see, I believe much in the idea of having a direction, even a loose one, for any writing and creative endeavour. Everything is a potential seed, and I like the thought of all my tiny daily steps accumulating into the semblance of a whole. When I practice, there is a purpose behind it, no matter how light or small. I have suffered the regrets of absent-minded actions, default actions, half-baked habits, and doing things just for the sake of being able to say you did them, without a clear idea of why exactly you’re doing it — and no, the answer "because everyone else is doing it", or "because it’s really cool", does not count in the long run.)
The problem of this "full writing access" has been more pronounced with my digital files -- which are composed of notes from various apps and some that have repeatedly migrated from older (even obsolete) systems and softwares. Despite the current efficiency of Evernote, there was just something slippery about working with data purely on screen. The forms and layouts change as softwares and apps change, distorting many pieces I’ve written before if not altogether corrupting them. Not all the apps I like are available across all gadget types. Every phone I’ve owned had gone through a mysterious reset that lost me pieces of writing. Faulty cloud syncing sometimes end up with missing portions of files. And if the internet connection is wonky like it has been for the past few days, well, you get the drift.
In the past few days when I have been seriously rewriting a novel draft, I keenly felt this need for a simple straightforward system that I could use regardless of whether I had the computer on or not, or whether I had internet access or not. It had to be a system that could integrate literally almost everything — writings, notes, even sketches on scratch paper, photos. All in one place. And must all be editable with marginalia, and re-arrangeable, and I should be able to add or subtract pieces while keeping a specific order to the information. And the whole thing should allow me to keep track of all it contained and can easily integrate anything I add to it with the minimum of fuss.
After having tried too many possible solutions, I found myself going analog and old-school. Simple, straightforward, tactile.
So — Hard copies. I want to see and feel the physical weight of my output rather than looking at megabytes and file counts. Physically moving bits of paper around. Post-it markers. Highlighter pens. Literally pasting things. Punching holes. Multiple mediums but all boiling down to a single accessible system that remains unchanged until I desire to change it, not subject to the whims of software and hardware developers, not subject to the availability of gadgets, electricity, and internet connection. Computer-crash-proof. Organic and open to playing with — a garden of all my selves.
It is essentially my digital files translated into my paper notebook journals. The way I have always liked it — layered, colourful, limitless, textured, mixed media, changeable yet also retaining the original spirit in which it was made (the type and aging of paper, ink smudges, handwriting, images used, erasures…)
The other advantage of this physical form : it works better with how my “mind palace” works — that is, how my mind processes and stores information. It may be showing my age but my mind works better with visual AND tactile counterparts. I can better recall which notebook from a year ago had what post more than I can recall which folder I saved a digital file yesterday. As I have said, slippery. (Interestingly, I have a similar experience with reading via Kindle versus reading paper books. I recall more details reading from paper than from a screen, and I am better able to keep to the thread of the story longer if I’m reading it in paper book form.)
A Rough Guide On How To Do It
I knew it would not last. Not forever. A long time, yes, and if we never rest from our careful watch over every sign, then it could last a very long time.
These are the opening lines of a story I am telling. I started it in 2012, finished a horrible rough draft in a month during the NaNoWriMo challenge. Then I dipped in and out to edit in the following years, but never enough attention to put it into any real better form.
Late last year, though, I caught myself in a state that allowed me to revisit the story and to begin a serious recrafting. I got as far as three thousand words.
Then I was spun away again, by duties, obligations, and the soothing dark depths of ink and paint.
I am beginning to realise that I sometimes use painting as an escape from writing. I conjure up the images so I would not have to say the words, even if only on paper.
I am somewhat afraid of my words. I find them too strong sometimes, unforgiving, not holding back. Stinging, solid, and sharp at the same time when they slam into me, breaking skin, breaking bones, breaking heart.
I am afraid of the story being shaped by my words. It feels too true, notwithstanding the presence of dragons.
It is the first story I dare to tell, pulled from the strange forests of the world hidden inside me. So much of myself scattered in pieces across the chapters. Too many provoking thoughts. A lot of hidden hurt in broad daylight. A lot I have not even yet admitted to myself, but only observed. It is a story that is also a wish. A thesis of a world presented to the universe. Could it be? But honestly, really, it all boils down to: could it be me?
I am babbling in this post. I have not been open for the past week. I have been clogged up and blinded and out of breath, as mundane mortals tend to be. For a while I lost my bearings and I was walking around in circles, knowing I was lost but too tired to care. Only for a while.
Something in me finds a way, without fail, to shake me awake, trip me up along that empty cycle of days. A jolt that arrests my heart. A memory. A fairy tale. A dream laboriously stitched together and fed into my sleep. When I am particularly poisoned I am given prophecies. Glimpses of possible future paths if I get myself out of the rut I am stranded in. Promises of joy, promises of love.
I will go back to the story today. Despite my inner terror of it. I will endure its flaying scrape over my soul-skin. It begs to be told. It needs to be told. For reasons known only to itself.
And I can feel that it is transforming even as I come towards it. Eager to show me what it has been up to. How much it has grown, how thick and strong and deep its roots have become, how much it needs to be helped to burst forth into leaves and flowers and sweet, sweet, bittersweet fruit.
I am feeling the edges of loneliness today. The story can sense it, and in response it opens itself up to me, coaxing me to let myself curl up in its searing warmth, never mind the scars afterwards, to find comfort and hope in its possibilities. It urges me to write my way into an ever-after, because sometimes it is truly the only way.
I used to live by myself, when I had a high-paying job and could do so. One of the things I loved most about living alone was having my very own kitchen, set up exactly according to how I cook.
Cooking fed not just my body but also my creativity. It helped me train myself into taking better pictures, and also led me towards a more positive and optimistic perspective. How can I stay cranky while surrounded by the mist of a simmering dish? It also taught me how to appreciate the little things, the small details, because the way to a satisfying dish is a litany of small steps. I can cook fast but I never rush. There is a natural rhythm to peeling and slicing, epiphanies slip in while waiting for something to boil, even pacing the grocery aisles looking for ingredients is an exercise in serendipity.
I loved the idea of NOURISHMENT. I cook old favourites and new discoveries. I like my food to offer familiar comfort but to also evolve and open up ideas. Flavours can inspire, take me to places I've never been, hint at stories.
When I moved back in with my parents (because I was stubborn enough to insist on creating a creative work path for myself), I missed my kitchen. And I missed cooking. My mom's kitchen is everything that discourages me from cooking, the opposite of how I had set up my own. I cannot find the rhythm nor the pockets of precious peace. Also, I cannot afford to cook for myself again yet. Ingredients for recipes go second to art materials. I still need a bit more time to gather a bit more funds.
I had once planned to set my own kitchen corner somewhere in my parents' house. I am thinking perhaps even a roofed over space in the backyard will do. I still have my stove, and my cooking pots. I just need a separate space, with my own pantry. When I have funds. (It is a bit sad it always boils down to money. If I were in the country I could hammer myself a space with wood found in the nearby forest, or the good ol' farmer in the next farm could offer to fix something up in exchange for tending the chickens, or something of the sort. Here in the city, everything has to come from a shop, exchanged with money. And everything so expensive.)
Today I started dusting off my cookbook collection. I was doing it before I realised that I was doing it. I need to cook. I need to approach the cauldron again. Rediscover the magic in herbs and spices. Revive another space where I can find calm and inspiration.
Funny thing is, last night I started reading Women Who Run With The Wolves, and here I am puttering towards something so domestic-sounding as cooking. But we all know it is really more than that, right? A woman in the kitchen is not at all domesticated or homely. A woman in the kitchen is someone tapping into one of her true inner powers of transformation, manifesting in so many ways.
Let the cauldron bubble.
A journal is not just for writers. A journal does not have to be just writing. It is not just a Dear Diary thing filled with secrets or a repository of gripes -- although it can be that, but it can, and should, be also more than that.
I have always kept some form of a journal since I was in high school. My practice had always been spotty. Surges of intense filling out of pages and then long periods of nothing. I accumulated quite a lot of unfinished notebooks, empty pages yellowed with time. My life had often felt uneventful, sometimes even unworthy.
I started with rules I picked up from no one in particular - that writing was the only option. That every entry must take up more than one page or else it was not a "valid" entry. That it had to be neat. That it had to be secret, in fact, because somehow it would contain things that one was not supposed to think or feel, like love and anger and hate and fear. When I read them I would feel shame and embarrassment, and even more awkward with myself. Or I would feel bored, and horrified with the smallness and meaninglessness of my life.
In 2012 I read The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron and was introduced to Morning Pages. It did not take me long to modify it and turn it into what I called Daily Pages. The way I wrote journals changed in many significant and dramatic ways since then. The journal became an aid and an ally to both my daily life and my creative life. It became a refuge and an anchor in the midst of every kind of storm I had to weather through. It took me to places I never knew existed within me, and it was also a safe place where I can examine my own life and discover its own gifts, powers, and meanings, and thus taught me, eventually, to become the person I love and trust (I have also learned to accept and forgive my old, often foolish selves, and I have grown to love them too).
How Daily Pages/ Journal-Keeping Works For Me
Daily Pages can be done at any time of day, as long as it is done at least once a day. It can be a short or long entry. It can be more than once a day. It can be written, drawn, sketched, painted, calligraphed, collaged, photographed, or any combination of these.
It has to have its proper space -- meaning I have to have a dedicated notebook or sketchbook for it. And it has to be something I can imagine being found when I am dead and gone and people would marvel -- not just because it looked pretty or interesting but because it would undeniably be a work of art on the self. It is the record of a life that has been examined and explored and given meaning. It is the witness of a life that dared to live by design instead of by default. I have to give it its rightful power -- to inform and to inspire, to set an example, perhaps. I have to treat it with respect -- meaning its purpose and authenticity. When I write on the pages it is not for show, but to show, to express, to share. Lessons and wisdom. Experiences and epiphanies. Not out of righteousness, but out of love for a certain way of living, out of joy, out of generosity.
It is a place that I shape with my hands - with words and images. It is a world in itself. It is a portal. It is safety. It is a refuge. It is a mirror. It is both kind and harsh. It is a time-traveling machine. It is where I create myself, among other things and pieces of art. It is a map. It holds and will hold all the X's that mark all the spots you will ever need to find.
I used to work a lot with "borrowed" images and words. This meant cutting out photos and magazine pages, and copying quotes. These were very useful for providing way-signs, inspiration, and guidelines. But a point came when I knew it was time for me to give back and to figure out my own and to express my own. Alongside the borrowed pieces I now have my personal contributions -- my own drawings and words, my own sketches. This has translated well into my paintings too because I am now able to construct and translate the images in my head whereas before I could only approximate with cut-outs and poorly-modified imitations of already existing works. I realised I want to have my own unique voice and style. It had frustrated me for quite a while. It was a very long process and when I was employed I rarely had time to really get into it.
I have only ever achieved this "identity" with my poetry but my daily pages helped me expand this creative self into other mediums. Soon it led me to the realisation that I want my poetry illustrated. And then it led me to that mad dare to myself to write a fantasy novel. And then to try watercolours. And to resurrect a fascination for calligraphy and lettering.
It may seem like a short time, since 2012, to have suddenly achieved many realisations and to have acted upon them. But I was unemployed (by choice). And for a while I had a bit of money to allow me to spend days figuring things out (and then there was no more money and I had to figure out how to juggle a dayjob with a creative life). But do not think it was easy. In many ways, grappling with my selves on the pages caused me frustration, despair, depression, rage. The patterns of my life terrified me, pushed me to the brink of wanting to escape in various permanent ways. I ached, I was in pain, I wept, I cursed.
But because I persisted, and I did not give up on it, the pages started to heal and help me. It started showing me ways through. It started giving me clues to solutions. Within that painful process I was also being taught to See, and to Know, and to Discern. If you do this you have to Stick To It Until The Sh*t Clears.
Now when I read my journals I feel a sense of safety and reassurance. The patterns in my life now make up a map by which I could navigate my days, with better awareness of my strengths and weaknesses. Writing my Daily Pages has become so ingrained in my routine that I feel untethered when I don't do it. And it is easy to do now because I have my rules impossible to break -- even a single sentence can be a Daily Page, a single word if that is what it takes for me to write something down. And usually, in the end, I actually manage a decent amount of writing done because I give myself every chance possible and no excuses.
What I Actually Write About
Anything, really. But that is no help if you want a specific point to start with. So --
- a "report" of what happened in the day and how I felt and thought about it
- an outline of what I intend to do for the day or the next day or the next week, and how I feel and think about them
- threshing out a problem or a puzzle that I need to resolve, including decisions I need to make; this often takes more than one entry and spans more than a single day; the act of writing it down helps clarify elements of the situation and lets me see possible solutions
- ranting; and this often leads me to a realisation that I cannot keep doing it without doing something about it
- an account of my dreams during the night; these often become creative seeds for poems, stories, and paintings
- an account of real-life dreams and how I think I could achieve them; these are often repeated exercises as circumstances and opportunities change
- at-the-moment thoughts and feelings that I sense to be significant or connects to a previous matter tackled on the pages
- ideas for creative projects and how I think I can do them, the materials I need
- fears and doubts, mostly about where the money will come from for the next month
- prayers addressed to the Universe or whichever divine being felt close at the moment
- a mind sweep, during which I pour on paper every single thing that I need/want/must do in order to de-clutter my head; then I often sort through them and realise what's really urgent and what's just white noise
- thoughts and feelings on specific subjects that called my attention for that day -- very varied, from books to people to philosophical statements, to memories of things past, to random observations
My Current "Web" of Daily Pages
Since I have been an avid practitioner of journal-writing, I evolved it in ways that would make it nearly impossible for me not to write. I now work with a "web" of writing/note-taking/event-capturing platforms that I collate and put together in hard copy (essential for review, reference, and record-keeping) -- so in my tiny studio I have a collection of notebooks plus binder folders with printed hard copies of writing I do by computer, phone, or tablet.
- Journal Notebook (Recommended : Leuchtturm1917, Copelle Grid, Alunsina Handbound, Traveler's Notebook a la Midori)
- Planner Notebook (Recommended : Leuchtturm1917, Moleskine)
- Manual Typewriter (output trimmed to paste into journal notebooks, or filed as is into the binder folder)
- Twitter (for the sudden, short, snippets, output linked to collect in Evernote)
- Evernote (which collects posts from other social via IFTTT, and also serves as a writing platform)
- iAWriter (distraction-less writing app, output copied into Evernote)
- OmmWriter (distraction-less writing app with nice ambient music, output copied into Evernote)
- Hanx Typewriter (distraction-less typewriter app in iPad, output copied into Evernote)
- Instagram (output linked to collect in Evernote)
- Blog (sometimes blog posts stand in for the day's entry especially if I feel strongly about it, each post copied into Evernote)
So this is what is working very well for me now. Let me know how you do yours.