Two pages from my art journal, 6.9.16: She Had a Lot On Her Mind
(acrylic paint, gouache paints, archival ink, pencil, gesso)
There's a restlessness that comes with grief. Suddenly I become aware that my foot is tapping, or I'm walking about the house without intention. Grief is unspent energy. Some days I find it hard to concentrate and to attend to matters. Concentration happens best when I am working with children or teachers, walking/hiking, working in my art journal, or cooking. Intensity matters. In a letter to his niece, Henriette Lund in 1847, Søren Kierkegaard advised,
Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. Every day I walk myself into a state of well-being, and walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it (p. 412).Since Rob died I have walked each day. This past week I got caught a mile or so from my car in a rain storm. I had forgotten how private it is to walk in rain. At first loneliness permeated my days. Now I find loneliness is yielding. In Perseverance, Margaret Wheatley writes how loneliness can transform into a willingness to be alone. Two separate feelings. She explains,
Loneliness eventually transforms into a willingness to be alone, even a desire for the space and peace available when nobody else is there. But to get to this lovely place, we first have to let loneliness be there, wait for it to pass through, and then notice that it’s gone, that we quite like the space we’re in.It reminds me so much of Kathleen Norris's advice in Dakota: A Spiritual Geography about letting a place happen to you. Walking anchors me to the earth and soothes the loneliness by allowing me each day to commune with nature at the moment.
It was just an old, oversized atlas that I found on a bookshelf at home when I was packing up a collection of books for teachers at a school. The atlas was Rob's and now it has become one of my art journals. I find working in multiple journals at the same time to be more productive. I can prep a two-page spread in one book and as those pages dry, I can work in a different journal.
I enjoy working on paper that Rob had handled. I notice how the maps and print bleed through the thin layer of gesso I apply and this often adds to the design and the ideas that emerge as I work. I almost never know what I will be creating and the blank page is sometimes difficult. Now and then I just go ahead and mark a few pages and this allows me to begin to see a potential narrative I night want to follow.
The journal is a place for self expressions and discovery. After Rob died, I needed to work with my hands. The painting and collage making provide a means to ease the restlessness while focusing my attention. I often get lost in art making for hours.
My art journal is place for experimentation--a place where I can try out new techniques I am learning, invent methods, make lots and lots of errors, cover up mistakes (thank goodness for gesso) and start over again. The work I am making is amateurish and there's a frustration to that and yet, there is also an odd satisfaction. The art journal also is a place where I work out things I may be feeling, but not naming. It is sort of like my life after Rob. In many ways these last few months have been largely about practice, about acting as if.
At first, the weeks following Rob's death found me partially paralyzed with fear. I seemed unable to make even the simplest of decisions. In the time that has past though I am feeling braver, more willing to cultivate new interests. I wonder if in seeing Rob die it hasn't liberated me from fearing my own death. Rather than guard against death, I know that at some point I will die. In some ways this liberates me to live more fully.
Kierkegaard, S. (1978). Søren Kierkegaard's Journals and Papers: Autobiographical, 1829-1848. Howard V. Tong and Edna H. Hong, Translators. Indiana University Press.