About a year ago, while I drank lukewarm coffee on a Wednesday, I tuned in to the online class of a successful artist, whom I respect. She told her class not to bother writing (in the case of blogs), because basically “no one is actually interested in what you are writing.” Don’t bother your readers, or yourself, with writing, she said. Post only business material.
For some reason it soaked in and I let it get to me. My writing dried up and cracked into cakey mud chunks and dirtied my mind. I choked, and my writing stopped for the entire last year.
Even us grown ups are vulnerable to what we hear.
So, I’m working to reset and clean out the mud cakes and get back to writing in 2017. Is there something you’ve heard this year that you wish you could unhear?
I guess it’s good for us all to be aware that we can’t know the effect our words could have on someone else; it is wise to be sure we really mean to say what we mean to say. Maybe more importantly, hear what we need to and let go of the rest. It’s up to us to shelter our thoughts and protect our minds, but sometimes, someone else’s thoughts sneak up on us.
Don’t get me wrong. The woman I am referencing is a fabulous artist and a successful business person. And interestingly, I’ve noticed she’s teaching a new class on the importance of blogging. Good idea.
Self-Portrait on Glass Table by Anjani Millet
I Give In: Self-Portrait on Glass Table. Copyright 2014 Anjani Millet
I am writing here because I am exhausted and maybe at an important moment. This is the truth, this is me, and this is what I have to offer.
I am up to my eyeballs, two states away from home again, taking care of my mother with Alzheimer’s and my grandfather, 102, who is on his way out. I have been sleeping in my grandfather’s hospital room at night and caring for my mom during the day, switching shifts with my two siblings. Today we meet with the family to discuss whether to put him on a feeding tube or let him go, as he directed years ago. This is a terrible decision for any family to have to make.
Yesterday I took my mother to a neurosurgeon to discuss the mass in her brain, on top of Alzheimer’s. It appears to be non-threatening for now. At 9pm we rushed her to the ER in terrible pain and vomiting. Oh, my friends, I can never unsee my tiny, 100 lb., 4’8″, 83 year old mother on her little hands and knees vomiting in the kitchen.
Love offers a thousand ways for a heart to break.
There is no “aside from this.” I can’t begin to describe how squared into a corner I feel. It is taking a whole team to care for both of them. Our lives, all of them, are simply waiting in the distance.
Trying to find time or even a quiet space to work, or just putter…oh… Oh dear. I know this won’t last forever but exhaustion is right now.
Here is the merciful peace Into which I am dissolving in the question about how to find time or space to do “my own work:” I have no choice but to be the eyes and hands I am, and to be in the life in which I find myself. I have fought my own vision for decades now, but I am too tired to fight it anymore or even search for what it is. I give in. I can only be me. My own life is all I have to offer as an artist, and now, perhaps, I can and must let this be enough.
I went into business as a photographer and writer in the 80’s for over a decade, and then left for 12 years. Since I returned to my work as an artist 18 months ago, I find I still operate under the tired and old idea that the personal should be entirely separated from the artistic and business. That rule has constipated my creativity and soul, and stopped me from posting and sharing 90% of my work with you.
I give in. I can only be me. I can only offer me. I don’t have time to focus on the “right” work, the right subjects, the rules I believed were the right way to be and work as an photographer, a writer, a business person.
Those are the rules that are slowly killing me, my throat in a stranglehold by my own hands for too long. I am forced now to integrate my own actual life with my work. Yes. I give in. I am only this.
Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down the dulcimer.
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
The personal is political, yes. And, the personal is the artistic. The personal is the business.
In great tiredness I release the old noose of my own making and say yes, I suppose I will have to be just me. I don’t have the time not to.
I write this from my hands and eyes, and extend this to you from my loving, supportive heart. I hope my own vulnerable moment might help you. If, like me, you placed your own best self aside in deference to the “correct” way to live, or the “best” way to do business, in whatever that may look in your mind, I extend my hand, and I invite you to let life wear down your walls a little bit. I hope for us both when we hear ourselves knocking at the door, we open it up and invite our own selves in for tea.
Poor, stick straight pencils.
Where once they were doomed to have their nubby points spun off into twirly shavings, now they are what? And where? That’s right. They are nowhere and nothing.
Pencils alone carry the earthy smell of lead and wood. Real pencils are singularly capable of filling a sharpener with enough shavings to throw at your brother’s head. And it is pencils, and only pencils, dear readers, that can have their rubbery metal necks chewed hard until they accidentally astonish a filling into shocking it’s bearer, or snapped in half during biology class if the boredom of mitochondria is just too, too much to bear. And lest we forget, they are also excellent poking devices.
We can nearly say that pencils have gone the way of the dodo, but nay, it is so much worse than mere extinction. If the dodo or Giant Squealing Squid or Honest Philanderer or any other extinct beast were to be crammed into a flimsy plastic casing and called “Mechanical” and thus entombed in glaring rows of hostile plastic at Home Depot, why then yes. They could complain.
But as it is, only the Ancient Ones (over 35) will die remembering the humble and pointy pencil species, much less the rickety sharpener seen as such a technological advancement in its day.
Blame this sorry state on Uncle Bic, and about the demise of the pointy, writey, pokey, lead-filled wonder that was pencils, well, weep until you can weep no more.
My Prayer Flags, Bhutan. ©Copyright 2014 Anjani Millet
Butter is Goodness-Colored
a yellow that makes the rotating earth blink and wonder,
How did that get there? Did I put that daffodil right there?
Because if I did, I love my love,
I love my idea, how brilliant, to complement my blue skies and how brilliant
that daffodils and grass don’t clash,
that is not their Way –
not the Way of checks and circles, or three cellos off-key, or
Yellow is my reminder,
she says to her own round self,
of blackest night, when yellow hides in its mother’s shadowy, velvet night-skirt,
which reminds me of embers cloaked in flames,
which reminds me of trees,
which reminds me of wind,
which reminds me of mountains,
which reminds me of
buttery yellow silence.
Copyright 2011 Anjani Millet. All Rights Reserved
Today is Monday, and that means waking up to the brick wall which is my own hesitations. I’ve decided that 2014 will, for me, be The Year of Yes. I’m doing my best not to fight hesitations now, but to listen to them and act upon them – or not act, depending on the nature of the hesitation. For instance, recently I had a decision to make in my business and I was dragging my feet. I sat my hesitation down in my mind like a friend over lunch and looked and listened, and then made my decisions based upon what I heard. I don’t want to do that kind of shoot. I just don’t.
So… I say yes! Yes to that brick wall! Dress it up, invite it in, have coffee with the pretty wall!
We all have our own brick walls, both internally and externally. Maybe, instead of fighting them, it’s time to decorate the wall. Dress it up, take it out for coffee, and enjoy the walls we’ve got. They are probably there for a reason, and rather than being the enemy, maybe – just maybe – like every good wall, they are protecting the good stuff inside, and connect to the doorway in.
Leave me a comment and let me know, what’s your wall, and how do you get across it?
Tonight I reflect on the life of a friend who prepares to leave this world.
Winter Snowstorm, Snoqualmie Pass. Copyright 2010 Anjani Millet
What awaits us? Surely only silence…or more beauty. These things
alone make sense to me.
To this lush, raucous world and its quietude, and to the interior life
of my friend and all living beings….a toast.
L., please stay with us as long as you can.
(Gently) Opening Our Hidden Rooms
For many of us, so carefully and meticulously do we hide deeply important things that we utterly forget where we put them. Key to the neighbor’s car. Favorite red pen. That one-off coupon for free ice cream. The golden locket you inherited from your mom, the one with the inscribed lilac blossom. You know how it is – you get something you’ve got to be sure you’ll never, ever lose, you put it in the “special place”, and poof! Bye bye, precious thingdeal!
Putting things we’ll be sure to find them is the magic formula for ensuring we’ll never, ever see them again. It’s the fault of the earth’s gravitational field, I’m sure of it, because those things get sucked into some far away universe, or under the couch, or in some weird terrifying blend of the two.
But we do it with our thoughts, hopes, and dreams too, as well as the beliefs we want to run from; for instance, we squirrel away our fears that we are failing ourselves, or wasting our time on this job/relationship/mortgage/book. It’s too hard to look at, the possible badness or wrongness or hopelessness. This is hiding the truth of ourselves from ourselves in order to avoid sensations of shame, guilt, hopelessness and sorrow. There’s one more useful reason though: avoidance of the truth of why we do things allows us to simply do what we really intend to do anyway without directly confronting head-on why we feel we shouldn’t.
This sort of self-deception is how most of us put on so much weight over time, avoid unpleasant phone calls, put off paying bills – but worse yet, it’s also how we put our dreams on ice. This is where we avoid our own avoidance but also, so much worse, we avoid our own successes.
This is not surprising, this avoidance. Aside from a basic sense of self-criticism lurking barely beneath the skin for most people, honesty has come to have a brutal connotation in the last 30 years, especially when it comes to the relationship with ourselves. Thanks to the self-help movement of the 70’s and up to today, self-disclosure has taken on a sense of beating oneself into a bloody, honest pulp. “Ego” came to be seen as a bad word, and the idea that we should be more forthright with ourselves did, sometimes, involve painful disclosure to a highly critical listener. Baked in here is so often a real lack of compassion for the reasons we hide things from ourselves, and what to do about it. I’d suggest we often don’t understand why we do things because we wait to understand them before we’ll allow compassion – but perhaps assuming a better stance might be compassion first, knowledge second.
Besides, if it’s true that we grew up on the African Savanna, hiding from things is in our DNA. Perhaps we need it. Perhaps if we don’t have enough stealth in order to survive, we just make up danger and we ourselves become both the lion in the tall grass and the gazelle innocently drinking.
I recall attending a required “growth” seminar for work once in which a woman was dissolved into tears in front of 600 attendees as she was “confronted” with her own sense of failure by a teacher who did not know her and did not love her. He certainly was not going to be around to pick up the pieces when this thing was over with and she hated herself more than when she woke up that morning, her secrets and fears now smeared into the invisible social marketplace with a brutal public flogging. I do not think this sort of pain and self-disclosure make for happy bedfellows, not long term. In other words, it’s not a sustainable sort of honesty – nor a sustainable happiness.
In the spirit of a gentle and encouraging movement toward happiness, it’s worth considering that a more frank discussion with ourselves about our little avoidances could actually be helpful.
Consider writing down everything you are lying to yourself about. Every little deception. The avoidances. The things you’d rather not know. Put this somewhere that no one else will see it, and promise yourself you will be so soft and gentle and just “talk it over” with yourself, like you might with a kind friend.
Try having a moment’s meditation with yourself; imagine yourself seated in a beautiful meadow, full of flowers. Invite yourself to drop in; picture yourself strolling into the field, happy and content, and sit down across from yourself. Feel yourself there to be a great friend to yourself; you can be if you aren’t already. Explain to your newly arrived self that you would like to understand a few things, no pressure, and ask yourself to assist you to understand what matters you may be keeping from yourself, or avoiding; things you are a little afraid to be totally honest with yourself about. At this juncture it’s not a bad idea to promise that this conversation is “confidential” between you and you, although at a later date you might find there are things you need to discuss with others, although maybe not – remember, this exercise is not to encourage more running from what’s true.
Talk it over, ask for clarification without justification, and chat about whether it’s possible that anything of things could see the light of day – within yourself. When you’re done, make that list of everything you are deceiving yourself about. Everything, small and large; every major and minor infraction toward yourself or others. This can include the good stuff! It’s not always easy to be honest about the things we’re good at or have done well.
When you have your list written down, do nothing with it – not yet. Thank yourself for your bravery and candor, put the paper in a very safe place, or burn it. Know that you understand yourself more now, and this can never be a bad thing. Discuss this with no one unless you have an agreement with yourself to do so.
Try this again once a month for 3 months and see what you feel in your life now that your self-relationship is building more honest trust – always a good thing.
Softly, softly, as they say in Australia. It’s the only way to climb a thorny mountain.