A Perfect Day

I feel like a switch flipped in my head this last week thanks to all the time I had for meditation and quiet because the art just came flowing out of me. I still have three more pieces I want to work on but at this point school is starting back and I don’t know that I will the time for a while.

Saturday was my idea of a perfect day. Todd and I woke up mid-morning after a late date night the night before, we put on a melodic Pandora station and he worked on his introvert project while I worked on mine. His is math/computer stuff that is too far above my level of understanding to explain, I painted. After I finished painting he took a break from his project and we spent some time together talking while I got ready for dinner with my two best girls. A truly perfect day. Painting, music, thunderstorms, time with my hubs, and dinner/drinks with my two best girls.

When I got home Todd and I played a game together and went to bed. My gratitude is still running over.

So my inspiration for this piece is one of my favorite photos from one of our Chicago trips. The painting is an abstract recreation of the photo. We were so pleased with how this one came out we framed it and put it over the fire place. Chicago Inspiration The photo in the shadow box is the inspiration and this is my original sketch.

Chicago Rough Painting

Getting started. It doesn’t look like much at the beginning.

.Lucy Chicago Painting

When I paint I like to sit on the floor because as of right now I do not have an easel, if I keep up painting as much as I am right now I might need to invest in one. So when I sit on the floor a lot of the time I will sit in Lucy’s dog bed to save my bones from the hard wood. When I got up to rinse my brushes I came back to this. Lucy had apparently staged a coup and taken back her bed.

Chicago Painting

This was the half way point when it started to look like something quasi recognizable.

Chicago

And this is the finished, framed piece that is now over the fire place.

Sigur Ros and Painting

Creative Process               AND

This is a piece I made earlier this week. I was clearly inspired by the word And. It is not yet finished. Once I complete it I plan to hang it in my walk in closet as a private reminder everyday to remember that everything in life is on a spectrum and to not fall into the trap of black and white thought patterns.

I am really please with the piece I created today. I put down my drop cloth and set up my supplies as usual and then laid on the wood floor listening to Sigur Ros until I was ready to start painting. I was again thinking about my gratitude. I was thinking about Todd and how fortunate we are that we get to return to the city of our honeymoon the week of out one year anniversary, we are essentially getting a second honeymoon one year later. I started reminiscing about our first trip to D.C. and while doing so I remembered how tame the wild life was in the city. I was able to feed squirrels and birds from my hand. Also, when we were at Jefferson’s Memorial we saw a young fox trot down the steps of the memorial and off into the nearby bushes. We were stunned. I have never seen a fox in the wild, it seemed so comfortable just hanging out in society.

From there I started sketching and this is my end result after putting paint to canvas.

Sleepy Tod

Spilling Over with Love


gratitude

I am in my last few days of summer break before the fall term begins and I have been taking time for quiet meditation to reassess my priorities and to get my heart and mind in sync for the next few months. Taking the time to reevaluate what I have been filling my time with and what is important to me has made all the difference.

Yesterday I did chores around the house and went to the interview for my internship at the local hospital. The interview went well and I can tell the social worker whom I will be working under is as excited to have me as I am to be there. When I came home I put on one of my soothing Pandora stations, lit some candles and finished tidying up while thinking more about what I want the next 5 months to look like.

One of my concerns that led me to such introspection is that between my normal workload as a full-time student, the extra work that will come with being a HEALS Scholar, and the amount of travel Todd and I will be doing between now and December (we are traveling every month between now and the end of the year), this semester will undoubtedly be my busiest. It is so important that I stay mindful of what is important to me and maintain healthy boundaries with school this semester. I have to accept that there are things I may have to step back from and that I may have to say No more than Yes to any new opportunities that arise.

By the time Todd arrived home yesterday evening I had spent many hours in peaceful meditation and was filled up with gratitude and love. This is a far cry from the frame of mind I was sitting in over the weekend but that is what mindfulness does, for me at least. It brings me back to the here and now and helps me to see all of the good.

As Todd sat on the couch and researched flights for our D.C. trip in November I looked around me and counted my gratitude. There is so much to be thankful for. Lucy, our home, the ability to travel, being in school, acceptance into the HEALS program, being married to my best friend, even the couch Todd was sitting on that was given to us for free by a neighbor. Every single thing I could see made me beam with gratitude.

Today I woke up to sunshine, a cuddly dog, and a quiet house. I plan to spend the day painting, listening to my music, and drinking hot tea.

I see you

rachel

Last week I met with a previous professor turned mentor and two of my colleagues from school. We talked for HOURS about religion, our journey, vulnerability, privilege, life, fear, and various aspects of practicing social work. By the end I think we were all exhausted, but that very fulfilling kind of exhaustion where you fall asleep peacefully with a smile on your face.

One of my colleagues and I parked in the wrong parking lot so we walked back to our cars together talking. She and I connected during this meeting, as our mentor thought we might. As we walked we talked more and realized there was something there. It was the kind of connection where you feel like you have known the person your whole life, where it feels like they understand things about your insides that no one possibly could. We talked at our cars for another hour in the rain before finally agreeing that we should continue the conversation at a later date. Soaked to the bone I drove home where I excitedly told Todd about my day.

We have made plans for coffee this week in the garden district not far from where we both live. I am excited to continue our conversation and am grateful for this connection. Our mentor told us weeks ago at his retirement event that he thought she and I were kindred, I am so thankful he took the extra step to bring us together and help us see it as well. From what I can tell she is doing work on herself right now like I am and being able to relate with someone else’s struggle is comforting. We both lead with professionalism at school so we may have never seen this connection without help from our mentor but once we did find the connection it was as if I was seeing into her soul and she could see into mine and surprisingly I did not feel vulnerable or afraid by that.

It is rare for me to feel this kind of deep connection to someone so quickly, I am curious to see where this path leads.

Finding Light in the Dark

dark spaces

Counseling has been a delicate balance for me this time around. A balance between the life I have now which makes me feel nothing but gratitude and love, and a life from before that was darker at times. Last week I felt like I was dwelling in those dark spaces with ghosts. Phantoms of people I used to know, and people I used to be. I felt overwhelmed. And much like a child, I was afraid of the dark. After a few days of dark I discovered maybe it is not quite so scary as I had originally thought, maybe there can be love and gratitude there as well.

Among the broken pieces of a past life I found inspiration. Drawing, painting, creativity seemed to flow out of my finger tips.

lucy blank canvas          painting          screaming            jill art backyard view

I did start to feel a little lost though so Todd came and sat in the dark with me and helped guide me back out. Whats more, he wasn’t afraid of my dark like I was. The journey back out of the dark started slow with talking and hugs. Then came little adventures like walking to the nearby park for a picnic and going to the nicer grocery to wander around and marvel at the enormous produce section. In the end we were cuddling on the couch eating dehydrated okra and it was as if the dark was never there.

While we cuddled on the couch I started to think about the lyrics from our wedding song and suddenly they took on a much deeper meaning,

“Bring me your Love Tonight,

No I am not Where I Belong,

So Shine your Light and Guide me Back Home.”

So today I sit here feeling like myself again, living in the light rather than dwelling in the dark, and I am grateful. I am grateful for the work I am doing on me so I can finally feel whole and not haunted by my dark and the ghosts that dwell there. I am grateful for my life as it is now and the path I have been walking down for the past 5 years. These last few days have really given me new gratitude for my husband though. While he knows of my dark and my ghosts I have never wanted to let him in to actually see it, I was afraid it would be too much. It is not his job to save me from it or try to fix it, that is not what I want, but I appreciate it that he is not afraid to get in there with me when that is where I am. I appreciate that when I am ready to come out from under my cloud he will hold my hand to steady my footing. He said that I will never be alone, I realize now what he meant and I am grateful.

Meeting on Different Terms

A well liked and highly respected professor in the program retired at the end of the semester, our class was his last. While many of us were sad to learn of his departure it has gives him the chance to engage with his students in ways he previously could not because of boundaries.

At the end of the semester he reached out to myself and two of the women who I worked on a group project with. He has asked if we would be interested in meeting with him, in a more social context, to have philosophical conversations about life and its meaning. We all agreed and are scheduled to meet this week.

I look forward to this opportunity, I feel like I have much more to learn from this man and am grateful he sees something in me as well.

Getting to Know the Real Atticus: AKA Loving my Father and all of his Imperfections

atticus

If you have read To Kill a Mocking Bird you are familiar with the beloved character, Atticus Finch. My father has always been my Atticus, strong, fair minded, intelligent, and supportive. If you have read the recently published Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee you are now familiar with how Atticus’s character lets down not only his daughter, who narrates the story, but all of America by not living up to the impossible ideal we set for him. I am not proud of this but I will admit there have been times in my life that I have felt let down by my father as well.

It is for the same reason Scout’s character felt let down in the second book. When we are children we idolize certain adults and as we age we start to realize that these adults are human beings not super heroes, and they are flawed like the rest of us. Reconciling these flaws when they reveal themselves is difficult, suddenly this person is not exactly who or what you thought they were and in that moment you feel like everything has been tipped upside down. A girlfriend recently explained how she experienced this on more than one occasion growing up when she discovered things about her mother’s former life.

When I talk about the former life of our parents I mean who they were before we came along and demanded their sole identity be Mom or Dad to us. For me this occurred for the first time when I learned that before my parents had my brother my father used to smoke cigarettes. Now other members of my family smoke so this is no great taboo, I even smoked briefly when I was in my late teens, but my father, never. I perceived this as a flaw and my father, my very own Atticus could have no flaws. I laughed it off with him when I found out, it came up in a light conversation but I was surprised and if I am being honest it shifted my view of him ever so slightly.

As time went on and I aged from teen to young adult to full blown grown up I began to see my father more as the man he is rather than just my Atticus. And although our relationship has changed now that I see my father as a human being with flaws and vulnerabilities I know this place is better, it is more real, and it allows me to love him more wholly than I ever had before. I am reading Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly right now and when she discusses the shame experience of men one man expresses that the women in his life, his wife and daughters, would rather see him die on his white horse than catch him as he falls off. That statement hit me like a punch to the gut. How many men feel this way? Probably more than I want to know. And why? Because of the messages society and the ones they love send them. I would much rather see my father as the man he actually is and love him in that place than hold him to an impossible standard and watch him crumple under the weight of my expectations.

I have been thinking about this a lot lately as I shift each night between reading Go Set a Watchman and Daring Greatly. I read about the shame Scout and Atticus experience in the novel and understand it more fully as I read Brene Brown’s research surrounding vulnerability and shame. I am able to apply all of this to my own life and understand on a deeper level the pressure put upon men in our society. Pressure to never show a weakness, pressure to provide, to be successful, to be strong and never show emotion. I know growing up I put this pressure on my father. The first time he showed true vulnerable emotion to me I was scared by it just as Brene Brown says women usually are. Her research is helping me to not only better understand my own shame and struggle with vulnerability but the struggle those around me might be facing as well. Her research helps me to approach my own struggles as well as the struggles of others with a deeper level of awareness and empathy.

My father is still my Atticus but no longer Atticus the ideal from the first book, Atticus the human being with flaws from the second and I think I am able to love him better now because I understand this.

atticus1