Friday, October 2, 2015

finding joy / painting joy


This is a post about getting messy again, in emotions and in art. 
It is quite lengthy and contains lots of run on sentences. Buckle up and away we goooo!

It all began in the spring, when I started to feel like my heart might burst if I didn't put paint to canvas (or wood panel or paper or *something*) stat. But, truthfully, the whisperings began long before that. After The Very Bad Day when everything came crashing down around me, I first felt numbness (for a very long time, just numbness - still working through that), then a little fireball of anger that was hard to identify as anger at first because I am not very good at letting myself get angry (working through that, too) but would come out at inopportune times and places like crowded airports after delayed flights while trying to manage bags, a fussy toddler and an injured brain...and my chest felt like it might explode (or implode maybe) from the weight of all that unspoken, numbed-out anger and anxiety and raw emotion. The whisperings came allll the back then, at that airport, three months post-surgery, fighting to be heard from within that burning spot in my chest: you need to paint

Even though I knew it could unlock me, de-stress me and possibly take away that burning, crushing weight, I didn't paint. I made excuses...some really good ones, like "my head hurts" (it did) and "I have no space to work" (I didn't). But then time marched on, we moved, my head didn't hurt as often and we got more space. I heard the whisperings again but I didn't paint. I buried that voice and the desire it was stirring within. Maybe because I knew. I knew that listening to that voice, His voice, and opening myself up to that process meant feeling things again, and dealing with really hard, raw stuff and that just felt too overwhelming and messy. I wasn't ready for messy in 2012, or 2013 or 2014 (aside from the few Etsy items I created mid-December, but that was safe and contained because those were for customers and not for me). But then along came 2015 and I guess I was ready to get messy and spill out my heart because I began to google. And The Google taught me that one of my very favorite artists, Kelly Rae Roberts, was about to offer a mixed media painting e-course. The focus? Painting our "soul mantras" or the words/messages within us that need to get out of us. Essentially art therapy. I took that as a sign and enrolled. The Google also taught me that an encaustic painting class was being offered at a school nearby (encaustics - painting with wax - is a technique I had always wanted to learn) and so I signed up for that as well. Coincidentally (or not?) they started the same week. Paying money and locking myself into these two commitments, which I needed for motivation and follow through, came first. Then the excitement slowly started to build. I was going to hold a paint brush again; squish colors onto canvas with my hands like a kid again; go shopping at the local art store with it's rows of beautiful, colorful tubes of paint, breathing in the scent of canvas and wood and shiny, new art supplies...ah, bliss! 

And so my journey back into art & my soul -- or as I like to call it, The Great Awakening -- began. As I said, I had a strong suspicion that there was lots of raw emotion and anger and what not bubbling under the surface, a wound that had been festering since that Very Bad Day (and probably even before then, honestly), tucked neatly under the band-aid of numbness that I slapped over top of it. And I had been taking steps to deal with it all leading up to this point (counseling and community groups within our church to address the emotional side of things; acupuncture, yoga & chiropractic work to address the physical manifestation of all that stress). All of which helped immensely. But there is something about art. It has this ability to break you wide open, allowing you to purge things that you don't even know how to name, and deal with trauma in such a gentle way. Because really, that is what it came down to. I had/have been traumatized by my brain tumor experience. I didn't ever really think about it like that. I was so focused on healing and "getting back to normal" that I swept that piece of it under the rug. But the reality is that I was traumatized. Personally, and on behalf of my family. "My poor husband, his wife has a brain tumor, how awful." I was traumatized for that sweet man. And Miles -- oh my sweet baby boy. I constantly worried about how the sudden emotion shift in our home affected him, as well as my sudden disappearance for nearly two weeks at hospital. He was only 13 months old -- so developmentally impressionable and so very bonded and reliant on me at the time. And then there was the fear. Of not making it, of leaving them behind. And if I dwelled on that too long, oh boy...it would take my breath away and shut me down real quick. So yeah. There was so. much. to. deal. with. Layer upon layer of emotion of every varying shade. No wonder my brain tucked it all neatly into a tightly sealed box in the dark recesses of my mind, with a label that read "DO NOT THINK ABOUT, EVER." 

But in art making, there is a release, a floodgate of all those tucked away feelings...but, as I said, in such a gentle and manageable way. And with that release comes relief, acknowledgment and JOY. One of the very first mixed media paintings I did through the e-course sums it up pretty well. It says "Let joy in, shine joy out". Kelly Rae walks you through a time of self-reflection and journaling before the painting part begins, and through that time it struck me that I hadn't allowed myself to feel joyful in a long time. And I hadn't even noticed. It was as if Joy had snuck out the back door while I was cooking dinner and washing dishes and JUST TRYING TO SURVIVE in my day to day life. I certainly didn't feel like I was in crisis-mode anymore, but joy? I had fleeting, happy moments, sure, but mostly it was something I recognized and missed from my pre-BT (brain tumor) days...what I felt like were the real and true good ole days, before tragedy snatched it from us. As I picked at that scab (sorry for the gross analogy but it works) and began to stir things up, I realized that I wasn't just numb, I was also without joy. How sad. Now I'm not talking about the fake it til' you make it kind of stuff, and I also know we can't always control our emotions (I certainly can't). The ups and downs of life are inevitable, and being honest with ourselves about how we are feeling is important. But I realized I could take a stand and DECIDE to choose joy. Decide to acknowledge and honor those raw emotions and dark feelings surrounding the last few difficult years, but then declare that it is time for a new season. One that included - allowed - joy. I didn't have to be a prisoner to the past, chained to or defined my trauma.  I am allowed to enter back into my life, fully, again and receive joy! And perhaps, just maybe, the trauma and the hardships I endured created deep crevices within me that closely held those emotions, refining them in the fire like a precious jewel, until they were ready to be released and used to create something beautiful. Beauty from ashes (Isaiah 61). And so...out came that painting. I tapped into my inner 8 year old and got messy and sticky and smiled almost the whole time. And in the end, without even knowing exactly how I got there, I had a beautiful, layered painting in hand, broadcasting the message I always had within me and that I needed/need to hear in this new season: let joy in, shine joy out. Amen.

Now, I am not saying that I've got it all figured it out, or even that I am trauma-free, with every emotion dealt with and laid bare on my various canvases. But I am in it, walking through it, allowing myself to feel things again. And trying my best to choose joy each day, and not let fear hover so thickly over this new season, as it did the last three years. And that is something, yes? 

There is so much more to say, but I'll leave it there. That's a little slice into my life lately. Thanks for reading :) 
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Proof of and prints of my heart spilling exist currently in my Etsy gallery. You can go here.
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Also, I should mention that I have fallen head over heels in love with encaustic (wax) painting. Signed up for second session this Fall. It is such a beautiful medium that is hard to control, and that is why I like it. I never know what it will turn into, I just follow the wax as it shifts and swirls and melts and I bury papers and images and scratch into it until it says stop and then...yes, that's what it wanted to be all along. A little bit like life, right? If I want to create something really special, I need to let go. 
more encaustics here
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Interestingly, I am posting this on the eve of my three year anniversary of the Very Bad Day
Quite timely.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Album Update (and other life happenings).

Hi there, blog world! I am feeling a little sheepish to show up here again after so (SO) many months of silence. Seriously, since having a child, my days seem to fly by at warp speed. I wasn't feeling too badly about myself and my lack of writing because didn't I just write one a couple of months ago? Right before Christmas? Umm no, apparently. Not at all. June 17th! Wow.

So to catch you up on the happenings since then, I'll briefly(ish) recap the last 7 months:

~Early June we found out that the owners of house we were renting from here in Orlando wanted to sell. Which meant that after only one year of living there we were getting the boot. This might surprise you since I've moved so much, but I *hate* moving! It is exhausting and I end up losing stuff for months and months, only to find it weeks before we move again. Ugh. We decided we didn't want to risk getting kicked out of another rental, and since we were liking Orlando pretty okay at that point and didn't have any plans to relocate, we decided to buy a house! Whoa. It wasn't Dan's first time buying a home, but it was for me. I was a little giddy about the whole thing :) We stayed in the same neighborhood which made things easier. But a move is still a move and man, I hate moving. I had recovered pretty well from the last move just in time to do it again, and so my brain fatigue was triggered once again. This time, however, it's been a much more mild case, thankfully. And it was all worth it to finally have...our very own backyard! Miles spends as much time as possible out there and it feels good to finally have space to let him (safely) run around.
{Some shots of our backyard on a very rainy afternoon}
{I kinda love having a detached garage. Feels old fashioned. And with that ivy growing up the side? Love.}

~In the midst of moving madness, in fact only one day before our scheduled move date, my papa passed away on August 11th. He lived a full and happy 96 years and I was so fortunate to live close to him the last year of his life. I knew that time was precious and fleeting, but the loss still hit our family hard. He was sick for 2 weeks leading up to his death and so there was a lot of sweet family time and opportunities to say goodbye. He passed peacefully in his home, with my mom and my aunt by his side. The afternoon my mom called to say he was gone, I sat on the couch next to Dan in our nearly empty home, boxes stacked around us, and cried. Miles saw me, and without a word, climbed the stairs to his bedroom to retrieve his beloved giraffe (his lovey), brought it to me and said, "it's okay mommy," and climbed into my lap (ahh, that kid).  Having to move while grieving is the worst. When you lose someone, all you want is comfort. And comfort for me is, of course, my family, but also home...a familiar place with all your stuff. Your own private place to just be and grieve. But we moved the day after he died. So there was no space or time. The viewing was the day after we moved and then the funeral the day after that. I didn't know where anything was and I felt so out of sorts. It was just a surreal, sad, sad week. But I am thankful for all the visits I had with him leading up to his death. How special to get to live close to him and see him interact with his great-grandson. He loved Miles so much and told people that he felt that Miles was going to grow up to be somebody special.
{love this pic}

~Miles turned 3(!) on September 1st. The Terrible 3's started right on cue, fierce and storm-like. But poor kid, he'd been through so much transition it would have been shocking to NOT see the effects of that. I am happy to report that things have calmed down quite a bit (knock on wood!!). And he.is.hilarious. I am telling you, life with a 3 year old is FUN. The things that come out of his mouth...constant entertainment. He also started pre-school a couple of mornings a week and is thriving there.
{first day of day}
{third birthday}

~we made it back to NYC right before Christmas and it was the best. Miles was a rockstar traveler and couldn't get enough of the subway, taxis and buses. The kids loves his vehicles. It snowed the first night we were there which was maybe Miles' favorite part. And mine :) Running through the snow under the Brooklyn Bridge is a moment I will never forget. So beautiful and dreamy. We did airbnb and stayed in Dumbo which was SO GREAT. I've always loved that 'hood (see previous post) and so it was fun to get to experience 'living' there (albeit for only 3 short days). And then, of course, there were all the friends we saw and the Christmas magic we soaked in. A good, good trip. And this will shock you, I know, but I miss it.

~I decided in November that my artist soul felt like it was dying and so, even though I knew it was going to be crazy-busy, I decided to start making things and filling up my Etsy store for the holidays. I had a decent amount of orders that made for a pretty busy month but it felt so good to be back to art-making again. I did a custom collage piece for a customer and I loved how it turned out. I'd love to do more like it, so if you know anyone looking for a unique, custom gift for Valentines Day, graduation, anniversary, etc...let me know! :) 

~and now for the big news. MY ALBUM! It is DONE and for sale! They arrived right before Christmas I couldn't be happier to finally have this out in the world. Dan did the cover design for me, using the photos that were taken by the incredibly talented Bliss Katherine who was a dream to work with. I am so happy with how it all turned out. You can purchase the album through iTunes, CD Baby or my website. And be sure to visit and like my Facebook page. Okay, that's enough plugging for one day, I think :)

Oh, except I will leave you with this; a little taste of the album:
 Enjoy. :) 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A stroll down memory lane: Brooklyn.

I've been missing New York pretty intensely lately. Not to live there, necessarily -- Florida is still treating us well and a home purchase is even in the works at the moment! (whoa. another topic for another post :) Surprisingly, I feel ready to put some roots down here in Orlando and know in my heart that it is the right decision. But that doesn't take away the affection and nostalgia I feel towards New York at the moment. It is easy to romanticize a place once you leave (I mean, let's not forget the car-hungry rats, people!). But, man, summertime in the city. You can't beat it. And I am plotting and planning how to get myself there stat. 
Anyway, I was perusing through some old pictures in iphoto today and came across these never-before-posted gems. The time stamp says September 29, 2012. Four days before the Very Bad Day, the day when everything was turned upside down. I remember this outing to Brooklyn so well. It was Saturday and we decided to do something a little different with Miles and head to the DUMBO Arts Festival. We took about a bazillion photos and I remember being excited to share them on the blog. Then brain tumors and hospitals and all that jazz took over and little did I know it would be my last big outing for awhile. 
It's 21 months later, and Miles looks a little different now :) but here we are...let's do this! Our amazing Saturday in one of my favorites neighborhoods in New York, at one of my favorite events in the city.
All the artists open up their studio space to the public so wanna-be-Brooklyn-hipster-artists like myself can roam in and out of beautiful, light-filled studio spaces and daydream about making it big in the New York art scene.
I recall that we tried to tour as many studios as we could, but we mostly just ended up hanging out on grassy patches so Miles could crawl around and get some of his energy out. And this view. Oh yes, we enjoyed this spectacular view very much, I remember.  
Look at that cute baby!! Compared to my big boy now. Whoa.
Oh yes, and this. sigh. Whoopie pies and coffee at this fun place. You know what I miss? Being able to just sit in a cafe and have a coffee and a sugary treat. Of course, I could do that still if I really wanted to. But cancer changes everything. In a lot of good ways, honestly. I am so much healthier than I was before and I've become passionate about nutrition and food and how it has the ability to heal the body. But because I know what I know, I know that I can't enjoy moments like this very often anymore. You know? Bummer.*
And that concludes our walk down memory lane. I need to go look at flights now, I think :)
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*the solution for this, I've found, is to pack my own (healthy) treat and sip on green tea instead (yes, I still do occasionally drink coffee). Healthy treat recipe here (minus the chocolate and about half the honey plus some hemp and chia seeds :)

Friday, April 4, 2014

Life lately.

There is so much to catch up on! My last blog entry was a New Years post and now it's April somehow. Oops. The last two months have been a wonderful whir of music and motherhood, palm trees (yay for Florida in the winter!) and travels.

I wrapped up two weeks in the studio in March and it was even better than what I could have imagined. I loved every minute of it. To sing again, play, collaborate, write parts....ahhh I loved it all! And the most encouraging part about it -- my brain held up! No major hang-ups or problems with pesky brain fatigue or speech issues. I felt energized by the process and felt like me again. It felt really good (and important) to tap into that part of myself again...the musical, creative me which had been buried for the last 2+ years under new motherhood and medical drama.  

The producer I worked with was amazingly talented and really helped me polish and refine the pile of songs I brought to him. I've been playing these songs solo, just me and my guitar, for so many years and so it was awesome to hear them come alive with drums, bass, strings, organ, piano, etc., etc.!! For those of you who know my music, I am especially excited about Edges of my Heart, Cry and October Drive. I love them all, really, but those few...woohoo can't wait to share with you! Right now everything is being mixed, so it is looking like late May(?) is probably a realistic time frame for release. 

In the meantime, I am thinking about/working on things like album artwork and a website, etc. I had the opportunity to do a photo shoot with the ahhhmazing Bliss Katherine, who is like this ridiculously talented, rock star photographer. And SO sweet and wonderful to work with. The guys at the studio connected me to her and I felt like such a lucky duck to do a shoot with her. I get a little shy and self-conscious in front of the camera but she put me right at ease. She sent me a batch of photos this week and oh man...she is so good! Here are a few shots: 
I had so much fun doing this shoot! And she even captured some candid, family moments when Dan and Miles came by the studio:  
(look at those eyes!! my baby)

In other news, after the recording finished up, we headed west to spend some time with my dad in Santa Fe. It was so wonderful to be back in that magical place. Coming from our new home here in Florida with it's humid climate and palm trees, Santa Fe's crisp weather and mountainous landscape was a drastic, welcome change. We hiked, skied, watched way too many movies and ate way too much yummy food (the food scene in Santa Fe is pretty fantastic, fyi). The week passed too quickly. 
(Dan and I climbed that mountain!)
(see? :))

And now here we are, back in Orlando, settling back in life here. Miles is talking up a storm, and you guys, he is a pretty hilarious kid. And he has more energy than I know what to do with! Our days lately are filled with playgrounds, tantrums (the reality of toddlerhood), rocks, dirt, trains, trucks, princesses and songs from Frozen on repeat. :) We just signed him up for a 2-day a week school which he will start mid-August and I can barely wrap my brain around the fact that our baby will be THREE in the Fall! How does this happen?! 

And that's life in a nutshell! The End. :) 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Hello 2014.

And hello blog! It has been awhile (an understatement). I sometimes keep up with other mom blogs and I often wonder how in the world they post so frequently. Time seems to evaporate over here in our home...

Anyway. It's 2014! Hey, how did that happen? The month of December flew by in a wonderful, twinkly Christmas haze and now here we are. It feels so long ago now, but I can still talk about it, right? :) It really was such a great Christmas. Earlier in the month of December, I was craving New York City Christmas magic, and so missing my friends and things like crisp, evening walks past the Christmas tree stands and the Christmas market at Columbus Circle. I even (very seriously) contemplated booking a ticket and trying to last minute crash our friends' Christmas party. But then temperatures actually dropped a bit here in Florida, making it less tropical and more "winter"-ish, we got into the Christmas spirit and bam. Now it's January. It was nice to stay put for once. We are usually the ones flying around the country trying to see everyone in our families, but this year we decided to stay home and do our own thing and I'm glad we did. It was quiet (well, quiet is all relative when you're in the presence of a two year old) and simple and happy. The holidays can be hard, a reminder of what's missing in life. But this year I felt content and just really happy in the moment.
palm tree + Christmas tree = Florida
christmas eve

Christmas morning (ohhh that little face) sporting his new buckle backpack
The day after Christmas we traveled to the beach and spent a few days at one of the most magical places I've ever been. I called it the magical beach cottage. It was a tiny 1920s bungalow that sat right on the sand, surrounded by other little cottages, all of them strung with twinkle lights. Pictures on their website did not do this place justice, and it was the happiest surprise walking up to our cozy, little house. I kept telling Dan it felt like something out of a movie, or something you read about in a book. See?! 
Needless to say, it was a dreamy three days. It was too cold to go in the water, and it rained part of the time that we were there, but we didn't even care. Even Miles was happy and chilled out for the most part, so it wasn't one of those vacations that left us even more ragged and exhausted than before we left. We could eat our meals staring out the large windows facing the water, and at night, after Miles went to bed, Dan and I would sit outside on beach chairs, listening to the sound of the waves, or play a game of scrabble. It was the best.
And now here we are. Middle of January. One of my New Year goals was to blog more. Clearly I have fallen short so far...but...well, I am going to try :) There are other super exciting things going on as well that will be keeping me quite busy this year. One of my surprise Christmas gifts from Dan was the unveiling of a Kickstarter that he started for me to get back in the studio and record an album this year! Guys, this is a BIG deal. For many, many reasons. First, it's been 10(!) years since I recorded an album and now I have a pile of written but unrecorded material and years of excuses as to why I kept putting it off (some of them quite legit). And then there's the confidence issue. I've kept quiet about this, but after my surgery I struggled some with my speech. The tumor was located near the speech center in my brain and while I could certainly communicate post surgery, there was a lot of stumbling and fumbling and it was difficult to get through a string of sentences without tripping over all of myself. It was incredibly frustrating and disheartening. I remember thinking that my music career was maybe over because of this. My speech has come a long way since then, and it is barely noticeable now, only when I am extremely tired. I still trip up some words while singing through even my own songs on occasion, but I am starting to believe more and more that I can do this. With enough work and practice I can get back to where I was. Dan "committing" me to this, in front of all of our friends and families, well it scares me a little, but it has also instilled this confidence in me too. There's no turning back now. I can do this! (ps: what a husband, huh? that was a pretty special gift)

Here is the Kickstarter link if you want to take a look and get involved in operation 'Get Katie Back in the Studio'! There are still 5 days left to pledge! 

That's all for now. I'll end with this face. :) Goodnight!   
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