Your Artistic Mother

What is your first memory of your Art?
How old were you when you first found your medium?

Was it,
starting music lessons
dance class
playing with crayons
the school play
playdoh or paint by numbers?

What did your small hands do?

Do they still do this now?
If not, what stopped you?

What messages did you get early on about your Art?

 

I remember being six years old, and my mother stating I would take an instrument.  I could choose which one, but I would learn an instrument.  I chose violin, and also played in my mother’s handbell choirs.

Our home was filled with music, whether it was classical records playing during dinner, or my brother and I practicing early in the morning.

My mother was a musician. Her love for music was passed down to my brother and I. She instilled not only an education, but a respect for learning the craft, every key signature, theory, and incidental.

But music was not the only piece.  My real passion?  Story.  It came out in my dance, and then I I picked up a pencil.

Third grade Creative Writing was my happy place. In leaded cursive flow, I would pour my imagination into stories, relishing the scratch of my pencil onto the lined paper.

I remember writing one story about a teddy bear that came back to me with a huge “A++”.  I didn’t think it was possible to get a grade this high!  My teacher was elated and really encouraged me to keep writing.

I brought the story home to my mother and her tears welled, and then fell.  She said it was the best thing I had ever written…..

And she said to me,
Keep writing.

As I got older, I started getting more serious with singing, dancing and acting, and was really finding my voice and success there.  As a teen, I stopped taking violin, and started honing in that I wanted to have a career as a musical theater performer.

The writer?

She was fed by my high school English teacher who taught me how to write poetry.  A basketball coach, and well over 6’5″, he stood tall in the class room one day, with a white piece of chalk in his hand, drew a circle on the floor and proclaimed,
This is the Poet’s Circle!  Are you IN or OUT?

I remember exclaiming out loud,
I’m IN! I’m IN!

Yet, even in this proclamation, my energy was really going towards my performance, not my writing.  I got an A in English, and did every assignment, but my belief was built around a performance career.

Why?

I believed my father when he told me,
You can’t make a living with your writing.

So, my creativity was channeled into my performance, and my choreography.  My love of story was expressed in my dance, and the writing turned into yearly Christmas poems for my family, and poems as presents for close friends.

And as I grew in my performance, I heard my mother say,
You should write a book.

I was having success in my performance, why was she saying this to me?
Didn’t she see I wasn’t doing that?

So, my writing became less and less……
My journals had months between entries…and then years.

Has this every happened to you? Your Creative outlet starts to run dry because you don’t think it matters or has value?

How have you felt when you stopped giving time to this piece of you that thrived naturally as a child?

 

In 2013, my whole life burned to the ground.  In one year’s time I went through a devastating divorce, lost my home, was in two car accidents, robbed twice, and lost a dear friend to a heart attack.

I questioned who I was at the identity level. And I questioned if I was still an Artist.

But in this time of deep grief, I picked up a pen and began to write daily.  At first it was writing down daily victories.  Then it was starting a gratitude journal, then keeping a dream journal….poetry started to flow out in a way it hadn’t in years.

At a very healing and cathartic yoga retreat where I had a transformative experience with a Mayan Shaman, he looked me straight in the eye and said to me,
You will write a book on healing.

And in that moment, I knew he was right.
And I knew the title.

My mother’s words ringing in my ears, after all those years.
Perhaps she had seen something I wasn’t ready to own.

Not until now.

 

At the beginning of 2014, I began to work with a life coach, and one of the first things she had me do?
Launch a blog.

And that blog was called,
ZenRedNYC.

And this blog, my writing birthed into a business.
It birthed into a platform where I felt fulfilled as an artist, and doing work I love.
It birthed a relationship with you.

And when I created my new business cards, I added something new to my personal description,
Writer.

She was in there all along…..

Still sitting at the desk in third grade English, with stories to share; waiting patiently for me to wake up.

In America this weekend, we are celebrating Mother’s Day, and I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge my mother for always seeing this in me.  When I launched my blog, she couldn’t stop smiling.  Her encouragement that confused me as in my 20’s and 30’s was suddenly clear.

And today, I want to thank you mom.
You saw it, always.

And I also want to acknowledge that I got very conflicting messages as a child around the value of writing.  And I imagine we can all relate to this!  Whether it’s been a parent, friend, or teacher in our younger years, it’s so common to hear them recommending we put our intelligence to other “stable” pursuits. This can be super confusing to navigate, especially if we just want to please and be loved by these caregivers.

So, in the spirit of Mother’s Day, who encouraged you in the early days?
Who saw your raw talent, your authentic expression?

Who was your Artistic Mother?
Reach out to her or him today and thank them.  Acknowledge them for seeing you fully and encouraging you to develop and take the scary leap to be an Artist.

Many times we have to be told a million times our strengths, before we wake up to our own power.  It took me decades!

Now, ask yourself,
What came SO easily as a child?

And is this still alive today?
How can this be revived and integrated?

 

Come back to the third grade table.
Pick up your pencil.
Let that early Artist thrive again, and LISTEN to those early encouragements.

You were being seen and nourished.
You were being mothered and loved.

Now, let that child play again.

Washing The Elephant

elephant bracelet

“Isn’t it always the heart that wants to wash the elephant,
begging the body to do it with soap and water,
a ladder,
hands,
in tree shades big enough for the vast savannas of your sadness,
the strangler fig of your guilt,
the cratered full moon’s light fueling the windy spooling memory of elephant?”

Glitter and gold rise up from the white lights reflecting off each karat, nestled on neutral forms with a number assigned each piece. Placed with care in spacious glass cases, the jewelry awaits the buyers, voyeurs, and collectors to gaze lovingly upon its workmanship and possibly bid to take home.

Rising amongst the rectangular cases are connecting towers, displaying at eye level smaller themed collections. There, wrapped around a small pillow, ruby eyes look outward as its black enameled trunk hooks into diamonds.

I’ve never seen an elephant here before.

I’m a seasonal employee with Sotheby’s in Manhattan, helping out with their jewelry exhibitions and auctions, four times a year. Most of the exhibit staff is comprised of performers and we have formed a kind of family, catching up every few months and hearing about everyone’s newest project and the changes that have occurred in people’s lives. I started working there in 2011, so many have watched the process of my tears and trials, and been loving containers as I have shared my journey.

Over safety clasps and intricate enamel work, we have shared our stories and found community.

The elephant bracelet began a conversation for me, a return to my Guatemalan beaded keychain I have held in my hands so many times, it’s small tusks flexible in my pocket and the smooth surface a comfort to my fingers.

The elephant first resonated with me in the form of the Hindu deity Ganesha, the remover of obstacles. I had a small statue that I meditated in front of daily, and looked to as I felt wall after wall coming up in my anger and pain of loss. I had to trust that even though I was in a terrifying free-fall, that what was leaving no longer served me. Bit by bit, the obstacles would wash away, and I would see clear again.

In the wake of a horrible robbery while moving out of my married home in the summer of 2013, I decided to go on a yoga retreat at Villa Sumaya in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala.  I had just come out of a yoga class at Laughing Lotus and saw the poster on the wall.  I was feeling the edges of the black lake of depression lapping at my toes, and when I saw the retreat would be over my birthday, I turned to the front desk and asked where to give the money. This was going to be my birthday gift to myself.   In my present rawness, I was seeking peace in the storm, and a completely new environment.

The retreat ended up becoming the beginning of self forgiveness, opening a new healing space to move forward. I awoke on my birthday for morning yoga class, and watched the sun rise amongst the buzzing hummingbirds, giant green leaves, and towering dormant volcanoes.

After shavasana, we slowly raised our bodies to sit with eyes closed, and the teacher’s voice recited, “Washing The Elephant, by Barbara Ras:

It takes more than half a century to figure out who they were,
the real loves-of-your-life,
and how much of the rest-
the mad breaking-heart stickiness falls away,
slowly,
unnoticed,
the way you lost your taste for things like popsicles unthinkingly.
And though dailiness may have no place for the ones who have etched themselves in the laugh lines and frown lines on the face that’s harder and harder to claim as your own,
often one love-of-your-life will appear in a dream,
arriving with the certitude of an elephant,
and it’s always the heart that wants to go out and wash the huge mysteriousness of what they meant,
those memories that have only memories to feed them,
and only you to keep them clean.”

Tears began and then steadily fell on my cheeks. As the final lines drew to a close, the teacher’s voice was joined by 11 others, singing Happy Birthday. I opened my palms to them, to the room, to the poem, and to this truth.  The night before I had dreamed of my ex, and for the first time since the separation had begun, he was kind and loving.  I knew this wasn’t the wish for reconciliation, but instead the beginning of acceptance within myself.

And now in the absence of his physical presence and facing his unilateral silence, all I had were the memories; the rise and fall, the love and heartbreak, the years of joy, and the crashing end.  I had a choice on how I would keep this animal.

I went to the gift shop and bought a beaded elephant keychain, hooking it alongside my silver and gold keys.  When I arrived back home in NYC, I felt something had shifted.  I placed the keychain by my door and the elephant hung down, lower than everything else, surveying my sanctuary, it’s head turning towards a beautiful card my neighbor gave me of a volcano surrounded by pink blooms.  His trunk high, he dangled and settled.

A year later, the same neighbor gave me a small elephant mirror, and I placed him on top of my bookshelf, his round belly reflecting the space, this new home I lovingly created.  Below him on my desk was a small yellow rectangular post-it simply stating, in my own hand,
Gratitude for what I have learned.

Three elephants resided now within my walls, Ganesha, Guatemala, and the mirror, each standing their ground, raising their glorious trunks to trumpet, or sitting and gazing at me through wise eyes. Their legs, once caked with the mud of their travels, began to wash clean, the dried pieces evaporating away in the afternoon sun shining through my windows.

 

I sit in a coffee shop, enjoying a warm toasted sandwich, looking out over Lafayette Street. Across the way, two men work vigorously with shovels, breaking down the accumulated February ice and snow.  Little by little,  they create a pathway from the sidewalk to the road, allowing pedestrians a direct line.  I see a woman walk through and muse upon her new-found ease.  A bus rolls by, slowly making it’s way in the urban traffic, and when it has passed, the men have disappeared.

For a moment, I stare at the empty space, trying to understand where they went so quickly, and then my eyes scan left to see they only moved a few feet.  Steam rising from their mouths in the cold, winter air, they create a pathway at the next crosswalk.

I put on my soft scarf and winter coat, and for a moment, my fingers brush up against the beaded trunk in my warm pocket.  I walk out onto the cleared sidewalk and cross the street.

Ganesha handstand