My brief research of amusement parks has told me that some people rate The Millenium Force, a roller coaster in Sandusky, Ohio, as the number one all round ride in the US. (I'm sure this could be hotly debated, but for my purposes here, it doesn't matter.) Apparently, it is 6,595 feet of nonstop fun where you reach a top speed of 93 miles per hour at a maximum height of 310 feet. I don't know much about theme parks, they're not my speed, pun intended, but this, and for that matter, any of the hundreds of roller coasters that exist in the world sound like lunacy to me.
Like it or not, however, we all must ride the inevitable, precarious curves of life. It takes courage to endure the ups and downs that can leave your stomach up, when your body is already down. It takes wisdom and faith to withstand the G forces as they plaster you against the wall. Apparently, a high G-force rate endured for too long has the capacity to drain all the blood from your brain, render you unconscious, or leave you blind, so the makers of roller coasters literally take you to the edge of death, but not beyond. How thoughtful. (When my children were small, we anxiously watched my husband as he rode The Mindbender - the world's largest indoor roller coaster in the West Edmonton Mall in Alberta, Canada. There are differing opinions online as to the experienced G-force, some say 6.8 and some say 5.2. The duration of the ride is 1 minute 13 seconds. When the 'fun' ended, there was a guy throwing up in the nearest trash can, and my husband, who had gritted his teeth at the beginning of the ride and had unknowingly caught his cheek in his teeth, was left wincing in pain with a mouthful of blood. Oh, such merry frivolity!
Life is never without challenges; just when one fire is brought into submission, another one flares up somewhere else. So, like everyone else in my neck of the woods, I'm currently navigating numerous challenging 'first world' rides. Maybe they are timid in comparison to the crazy theme park statistics mentioned above and they aren't the wildest rides I've endured in life, but nevertheless there is some G force action involved.
When I look back over my lifetime, one of the things that helped me then, and now, turn unsavoury situations into something palatable, was filtering the issues through some type of artistic pursuit - various endeavours that help to process and corral my thoughts and feelings into something manageable. Sometimes the results are ephemeral and feed the shredder, but others are keepers; some even develop into bodies of work.
I still haven't tried number nine: throwing cheap cans of paint on walls, but it is brewing to a breaking point where I will need to do it soon. Note to self: put number nine on the calendar for some time in the spring of 2018. Invite my grandchildren to join in. Crazy or not, it's on my "bucket" list. I can feel the liberation.
I wish I had always implemented the following actions, quickly, but i confess that I have wallowed in the mud a bit too long at times. These are cathartic, tried and trusted methods of surviving my own Towers of Terror (a notorious roller coaster in Johannesburg, South Africa):
1. We've heard it a million times. Journal. Maybe there's a reason we've heard it a million times. If you tend to obsess about things, like me, set pen to paper and write, write, write. Don't edit. Just write. I know some of you are too young to remember the great English band called the Moody Blues, but they had a fantastic line in a song that was profound: "...letters I've written, never meaning to send..." One of my "letters" turned into a fictional fable that I was asked to read at a university symposium a few years ago. It is called Poor Sad Henry Blight, but that's another story for another time.
2. Memoir writing, short bits at a time. At the beginning of 2017, I started a project with my kids and their spouses. Each Sunday, I send them a question - things like what fads do you remember from when you were a kid? Or do you have a namesake? At the end of the year, we will each have our own mini-memoir and who knows where that may lead? If you don't have kids, just do it for yourself. There are many lists of questions online for this purpose. check them out and you might uncover some fun things that you've forgotten.
3. Write short stories...or blogs! I love creative non-fiction but maybe you would enjoy science fiction! So, even if no one ever reads my Podunk ramblings, they are assisting me in my creativity. (if there is someone reading this, though, please let me know.)
4. Mind map. it is a great practice for organizing a visual person's thoughts. This is also a great way to loosen up a creative block and serve as a beginning point for idea development and can have the potential to turn into a work of art, itself. There are lots of websites dedicated to this topic.
5. Draw. Keep that sketchbook humming. Take it with you in the car. Whatever the choppy waters are, draw them; you may gain a fresh perspective. I recently found a quote by an illustrator named Corey R. Tabor - "Spend more time drawing and less time clicking." I like it.
6. Personal history timelines. These can help sort out the scope of one's like and bring back memories long buried. Even when dealing with a dark period, it's helpful to find something good to salvage. Each segment of time can be illustrated as you go, don't be fussy, just draw or write quickly. the results can be turned into a book, or displayed on a wall, or join the shredded thoughts already decomposing in your compost bin. (I've found timelines particularly effective in my work with kids who have had a raw deal in life. It can help to bring order from a shambolic mess.)
7. Paint. Getting bold and experimental with paint application releases a lot of stress. Don't be afraid of making a mistake. There is no such thing in art. I'll repeat that. There is no such thing as a mistake in art. Take it out on the canvas; it's very forgiving. Experiment with unusual tools and materials. May I suggest using a blow torch on canvas, as I have done in the past? This is a highly recommended prescription for artistic constipation, but make sure you are outside with either snow or water available. I love Cai Guo-Qiang's gunpowder drawings! Check him out. It's phenomenal. Action drawing. Action painting. Thanks, Jackson Pollock; I'm sorry about your anguished roller coaster ride, but it has been our gain.
8. Photo journal. Along with my sketchbook, I love using my iPhone and photo manipulation apps to create series of images. The things I see around me every day can be turned into seriously great pieces of art.
9. Buy super cheap cans of paint. (There is a place nearby where I live that sells cans of inexpensive premixed paint gone awry.) Next, throw paint onto chosen target.
I hope from this list, that someone has gleaned an idea to help them through a roller coaster season. If you're musical or theatrical, any one of these can be adapted to those skills as well. It is one of my greatest joys to inspire someone to be creative, even better if the creativity can help them heal.
Until next time, I'll be making art and navigating life in Podunk.
"And whether or not, it is clear to you, the universe is unfolding as it should." Excerpt from Desiderata by Max Ehrmann, 1927
I admit that I constantly worry uselessly, but really, when is worry ever useful? And in spite of my fretting and fussing, things most often evolve and resolve without any effort on my part whatsoever. However, and this is the key, it is incumbent that I be aware of myself and my surroundings in order to notice, and be ready to adapt, when solutions are revealed.
In the 1970s, everyone had a Desiderata poster on their wall. Who is brave enough to date themselves and admit to remembering this, besides me? 'Go placidly amidst the noise and haste...' Les Crane, possibly thinking that the poem was public domain, turned it into a spoken word hit song. (For the younger set, check it out; there are many versions online.) I just read on numerous websites, however, that apparently it was not yet public property and Mr. Crane it seems had to pay out unexpected royalties. Hopefully, he calmly rested in the 'universe unfolding as it should' when he handed over a chunk of his profit.
In my own small universe, I have have been anxious about how to fit everything I love to do in the context of one year. The people in my inner circle have heard me say many times that I need about 20 lifetimes to be able to comfortably dedicate a season to each of my passions. Painting, horses, drawing, gardening, printmaking, genealogy, illustration, writing, landscape architect, pottery, architecture...
Being a gardener, and maybe because I grew up on a farm, my world still rotates on a seasonal axis. It turns out that this seasonal routine is a good thing for me. As an artist, when I am in creative mode, I can become emotionally drained in the giving of myself to my art. You may have heard it said that with each creation a part of an artist's soul is required. That may sound dramatic, but in my experience, it feels true.
So, even though I've danced around this idea for a few years, I hadn't concretely incorporated it into my life. However, it has become crystal clear recently, that the transition into Summer Girl that happens in May, annually, without fail, is a gift, and that it is counter-productive to fight it. The solution was sitting right there in front of me and I missed it. I need to allow myself the freedom to let go and not feel guilty to step away for a season; that staying in the 'I can do it all' mindset is a killer. I cannot do it all.
So, this summer, I blew it again, and wasted a ton more brain cells forcing Fall and Winter Girl to march alongside Summer Girl's ambitions. Rather than just let her rest I forced the issues. Rather than purely absorb the gift of being outside in the garden, and enjoy the planning for the outdoor quilt show, including making a quilt, be enough, I lost sleep and precious time being in a state of bother.
The two paintings that I'd started had become a drain; good art is difficult to produce under this kind of mental divide. Eventually I stopped and fought off the feelings of guilt. So, now I am absolutely resolved that May and September will be welcome, book end, transitional intermissions of adjustment, rest, tying up lose ends, and regrouping. A total gift. Next year, I am determined to embrace Summer Girl when the right time approaches and allow Fall & Winter Girl to have a sabbatical. Rather, than the fretting and fuming, I want to be grateful that my universe has unfolded, no doubt, as it should.
Embracing this freedom has lifted a weight off my shoulders. From an objective standpoint, it seems like this should have been a no-brainer, but somehow it has taken me numerous frustrated seasons to have it sink in. Dah.
Until next time,
The Podunk Howler