35 Pages

I realize now how ambitious it was to try and sit down every morning and make a mess before switching gears, putting on a cardigan and playing teacher.

Some times it was simply not possible to work in my art journal. The morning I had to figure out how to elicit and explain the words “millenium” and “district” to students who didn’t know the words “year” or “street” – there were no new pages.

Somedays I glued my old metro stubs into my journal. I paint, stencil and write over top of them. I make a big good mess. Some days I get write to the point and write one big loopy sentence in ink.

I didn’t expect to be so sedentary in Prague. I missed moving my body. For 10 hours a day I am at a desk planning lessons and grammar presentations. I walk down the stairs to school, across the street for groceries and up the stairs home.

Some days when I’m at my edge I run along the river or practice Ashtanga. On those day I feel a twinge of guilt because the month was supposed to be about journaling dammit! If I have any free time I should be pouring into this journal. All this Big Possible business is about giving myself over to the practice and doing it especially when I don’t want to. There were 5 days this month where I didn't journal.

All this said – I made 35 pages in 29 days. While we traveled through Germany it was hard to make messes in other people’s homes. In Prague I have a desk and drawers to put my supplies in. I can paint something and go to school with the mess still out. The work got better when I felt at home.

I thought my favorite pages would be the ones that look like Sabrina Ward Harrison’s collages. Instead I started making these little white-outlined illustrations. They aren’t sloppy at all. They feel like my doodles – but taken seriously and given time. That was a success.

As for Prague – the center feels like a dollhouse. I like 8 districts over. In a hotel with stick on laminate floors and no shower. There is, however, a river to run along, a vegan buffet across the street and a store that sells nothing but ribbon nearby. It’s a fine place to be for a month. It’s a fine place to live along the way and unpack and mess and absorb.

The work of becoming a TEFL teacher is a good kind of relentless. After only two days in class we were already teaching Czech students. Every two days we teach a new lesson. Our days are long and packed with pedagogy and grammar workshops, teaching critiques and solo lessons. I feel like I am well prepared to step into a classroom and teach students.


Berlin is Cheap and Sexy

We have spent a week lugging backpacks around on the S-bahn. I’ve made it half way through The Goldfinch, mostly in 15 minute installments on busses and trains. Berlin is scribbly. There’s so much spray paint that it stops looking uncared for, and starts looking like the buildings are chatting over one another.

Jon found us three hosts in the city via CouchSurfing. Our first two days we were in Neulkolln with Lennart and Noel; political science majors. We drank a lot of beer and embarrassed ourselves playing foos ball. Then two days in the west end with Morella, a cheerful goth with a cat named mozart and Ted Bundy as her screen saver. After that, Sandra and Anthony, a couple in a pink and green apartment who had traveled all over the world together.

Hospitality doesn’t even begin to cover it. We haven’t spent a penny on accommodation in Germany, but we’ve had warms beds to sleep in and locals to cook meals with and show us around the city. We even went to a CouchSurfing meet up. Probably 70 people showed up, locals and foreigners. All the initiative and interest, all emotional (and literal) generosity. I can’t wait to have a place of our own and return the favor to other travelers. I want to always live in communities where people treat each other this way.

In Berlin Jon and I wandered around and stopped in coffee shops to read and write. Jon’s German is strong and he makes new friends so easily. We were half lost in Mitte and somehow asking for directions turned into beers with two journalists. Jon’s sister often talks about “Jonny Magic”, this is what she means.

My first week of art journaling is just alright. I’m working daily, but I wish I could push each page further. In other people’s homes I don't want to make messes. It is also difficult to find any pattern in our schedule for consistent work. Some nights we stay out dancing until 6 am. Some mornings I am up by 7 to run. I am also limited by what materials I can carry. I miss oil bars and house paint. I miss paper that doesn’t bleed though. Maybe once we are in Prague it will be easier to sit down at the desk every morning and give myself totally to good chaos.

And those are excuses. I do like my drawings. I could stand to do more writing (if not for my journal, then just for my mind and memory.)

I used to believe my doodles of people and places were unskilled in a bad way – too round and derivative of art I didn’t even like. They’re fast looseness is growing on me and I feel more capable of showing atmosphere and motion. The carrying on/failing/redemption is the point of The Year of Big Possible. 

Next we travel to Dresden and Wurzburg!

February

Place: Germany & Czech Republic

Practice: Art Journaling

The first thing I did when I moved away for college was cover my dorm room walls with Sabrina Ward Harrison’s artwork. Through high school I obsessed over her journals. I emulated her loopy ink cursive and paint-y collage. I hadn’t seen an artist master “messy” before. Her books Spilling Open and The True and The Questions were what made me want to be an artist. 

In Baltimore I was ready to make big, bright, raw, journals.

At MICA I was exposed to a brand new world. I learned to take myself and my art seriously. That was an incredible gift. On so many occasions I had tough critiques about how I was using text in my paintings. When it worked. When it didn’t. When “mess” was intentional and when it was lazy. I often felt like that way of making wasn’t good enough for MICA.  

It’s not fair to say I got side tracked. I made paintings, movies, quilts and installations. I polished my crafts.

But if you ask me who my favorite artist is, it’s still Sabrina. I hope it always is.  

My BFA didn’t spoil my art. It pushed me to take myself and my practice seriously. For that, I’m grateful. But I miss my mess. When I think about the kind of art I want to use to document my traveling its this.

 

February is for low art.

For being sloppy and true.

For journal pages that stick together.

For maps of Prague, metro tickets, spilled beer and glitter glue.

For the kind of art that made me feel authentic when I was a teenager.

For the kind of art I want to teach one day.

 

I intention for February is to work in my journal daily and rediscover good mess. 

Smile At It

After six weeks of daily practice I am not better at meditation.

And what a relief. Better doesn’t exist. Consistent? Absolutely. More focused/clear/enlightened? Never. Every meditation is starting from scratch. No matter how much I meditate, sometimes my mind is at war and all I can think of is how I’d decorate a tiny house or what I would wear to Burning Man. 

“Better” at asana might exist. I feel bendy, strong and right in my body. I have high hopes for maintaining practice as we travel. Sometimes I worry that when my daily intention isn’t based in exercise I risk losing this feeling of competency. 

My big learning this month was a piece of wisdom from my favorite teacher at Moksana Yoga. Crista teaches one of the hardest classes I’ve ever taken. She's sunny in a way I didn't expect from a teacher so challenging. "Bubbly" and "cheerful" don't do her justice. She radiates delight and kicks ass at the same time.

 Sometimes she will have us in an inversion and everyone is very serious. We are all clenched up and trying trying trying. Then (as if it’s vital to the structural integrity of the pose) she’ll instruct everyone to “turn up the corners of your lips.” And she’s right. It is vital. The smile changes everything.

When I get caught in a very serious moment of trying to do something right or feeling bad about not doing something perfectly – the smile reminds me what I’m there for. It lets the joy back in. You remember yoga is funny. Yoga isn’t headstands, it’s relating to the experience of moving in your body.

Smiling is working for my meditation too.

Standing supine twist in Ucluelet, BC

When I get stuck in thought (and then guilty about that thought) the words “smile at it” come to mind and pull me back. I remember this isn’t serious. This isn’t anything at all. Why not relate positively to the experience of nothing?

I’m not here for guilt, ego, perfection or progress.

I’m showing up for joy, calm and good, simple peace. Feeling right in my body and brain. What I'm leaving this month with isn't improvement as much as a shift in understanding. Yes, I can feel myself going deeper and longer. But progress isn't what's happening, rather, it's developing a habit of reacting joyfully to the chaos and imperfection of the practice. 

On Sunday Jon and I will fly to Berlin. We will travel through Germany for two weeks before settling in Prague and Beginning our TEFL program. 

It Has to Happen in the Morning

I got really lucky and found some work for the few weeks before we move.

I had this idea that discipline in January wouldn’t be challenging – I imagined having wells of free time. On top of meditating and practicing yoga every day I thought I would spend afternoons painting, reading, camping and going for hikes. Yoga and meditation would just be my first priority.

In reality I’m up a ladder at 8:30 am, pulling Christmas lights of someone’s gutters. 

I thought I wouldn’t have to really schedule my practices until we started TEFL training. This month was going to be all about healing and preparing slowly. I am still doing those things, but now it includes untangling strands of lights. I am grateful to be challenged sooner. This is good practice for what the rest of my year will look like.

Work and Play

Work and Play

The studio has been especially busy. If I want to guarantee a practice I am up at 5:45, meditating before class at 7:00 and running home to pack a lunch in time for work. There have been a few days since starting where I didn’t practice in the morning and went to evening classes. It’s harder to motivate myself to sit down and meditate when I’ve come home from a long day. All I want to do is sit in a warm tub. 

The first lesson of the Year of Big Possible is that it has to happen in the morning.

It’s too easy for me to make excuses about going to a later class or meditating before bed. When I procrastinate I risk missing a day completely. I know myself too well to trust my own excuses.

I am noticing changes in my practice. Sitting for 30 minutes used to feel like a long time, I would check my timer once or twice. Recently I have been getting to a place where focusing for half an hour isn’t challenging. My attention is getting sharper. Catching thoughts and pushing them away gently. When something comes up my mind often reacts with a quick “Hmmm… don’t need that.”

I used to label thoughts. I would notice and say “This is a thought” or “This is remembering” or “This is fantasizing.” Lately it’s like there’s no time to come up with the right word. My mind jumps in too quickly with “Don’t need that.”

My physical yoga practice is feeling really right. I don’t feel as challenged by classes in Victoria as I did in Baltimore. And thank goodness for that. The poses and the effort of it all was too loud to hear myself over. I start performing, I stop listening. I start competing, I stop taking care of myself.

Moksana Yoga - Where I practice in Victoria, BC

Moksana makes more space for chanting, meditation and stillness. More space for exploring the smallness of it all. That’s where I want to work. It’s lovely when the residue of the practice is pretty – but I am working on remembering that a headstand isn’t yoga – what happening in the mind is yoga.

The other side of that same coin is I am proud of what my body is capable of these days. Feeling like I belong to my body is worth something. Feeling like I can come home to my mind is worth everything.




January

The Year of Big Possible is beginning with the incredible gift of home. In place and in heart. It begins with big silence, deep inquiry, mindful movement and consistent practice. 

Read More

Year of Big Possible

The day before I moved away from Baltimore I sat down for coffee with my favorite professor. He reminded me of something I said on the first day of class. He asked all of us what we wanted from art school.

I said I want skills.

I meant that I wanted a big tool belt. I wanted welding and poetry and painting.

I wanted to know a thing or two about a thing or two. To walk into classrooms armed with a dozen ways have a conversation. To know how to fret and celebrate in a dozen different languages. Embroider though grief. Crochet through delight.

To know my body in terms of both yoga and puppetry.

To hold my breaking heart with  clay and resin.

When I was a freshman my first teaching job was in the psychiatric ward of the Baltimore City Detention Center. I learned to hold talking circles and set boundaries. I discovered my desire to create safe, creative spaces as well as my whiteness and privilege.

Without formal training as a teacher I learned a lot of classroom management the hard way. I worked in schools, rehabilitation centers and after school programs.

I was lucky to build a degree from different studio classes. Early on I painted a lot. I tried ceramics, graphic design, life drawing, video production and editing, sumi ink drawing and performance art. I tried a lot of things and didn’t get great at any of them. My senior thesis was a mash of quilting, video, and installation art.

After graduating I worked for a small community arts organization. Our team created sixteen exhibitions and held sixty-five events all aimed at challenging the stigma of mental illness and addiction. I learned to install an art shows, empathize deeply and be so, so patient.

I also learned things away from school. There were trips to Nicaragua and South Africa, little versions Burning Man, and maybe most importantly a Vipassana meditation group.

I believe I found what I was looking for in Baltimore. I moved away with my partner, Jon. We are moving to Prague at the beginning of February to get certified as English teachers. TEFL will let us travel.

The tool belt I am carrying with me is my best asset. It is heavy and unfinished. I am so relieved to have many ways to understand what we will learn as we travel. But I am also daunted by all the things I feel I should be doing daily.  “Should” makes me guilty. “Should” makes art into work. “Should” ruins magic.

If I switch “I should” with “I have the intention of” 2016 becomes a year of big possible.

I have the intention of meditating, journaling, reading the news, running, learning German, sketching, cooking, sculpting, flossing, making mind maps and taking pictures. These are all lenses I want to see the world through.

I have the intention of not being lost in facebook, instagram, my ego, my bad habits, my doubt or apathy.

I have the intention of respecting my work. The way I would like to do that is by making time and space for a different daily practice for each month of 2016.

What would happen if I meditated every day for a month? How might I feel if I really gave myself the gift of focus on that specific practice I love. The same question applies to different ways of making art. It applies to things I have always wished I would do.

Who would I be in a year if I really honored my tool belt, banished apathy and traveled around the world?