I have never ceased to wonder at the thing we call human nature, with its time of beauty and its time of filthiness, or at the level of calm stupidity that lies in between the two. – William March, Company K (1933)
I am obsessed with this photo of my grandfather’s school class (Hudiksvall, Sweden). He is in the top left. I have drawn it over and over and painted it. But something never allows me to finish. I get as far as some of the girls, then the rest refuse a portrait.
My latest favourite daily practice is to quickly sketch and then saturate the drawing with watercolour crayon and coffee. I love the feel of the wrinkled page. How the coffee ages the image. The way a drenched drawing has a life of its own – beyond my control.
I am most in love with the drawing’s ghost. What happens on the other side of the page. I am moved by how the resulting image seems to illustrate the concept of fading memory.
“Not only something, but also someone could be there and not there at the same time. And that someone: me.”
I keep the broken bits. I honour the cracks. They illustrate the subtext. There in I seek the true story.
Subtext or undertone is any content of a creative work which is not announced explicitly by the characters or author, but is implicit or becomes something understood by the observer of the work as the production unfolds. – source
Observing minute details is a solitary experience.
I find myself breathing in the stories that emanate from mysterious places. The subtext of the old, the dead, the new, the fresh. Gives me life. Helps me create.
There is nothing quite as on target as the prose I write in my mind when on the bus- whilst staring out the window to deal with motion sickness, taking in the landscape. But alas, those musings instantly disappear as soon as I pull the cord for my stop.
The difference between what I imagine for the narrative and what I actually create is… indescribable. I am incapable of bringing it to life. Yet, the passion continues, the ideas simmer.
I draw pictures. I draw voraciously. I don’t care if it is shit. I breathe. I draw.
Yet, I want to write. To write well. To tell a proper story. I want to write then illustrate to it. But instead, I am stuck in the visual- I seem to always illustrate first. Then the writing tries to appear. But the result is an unsatisfactory mishmashed scrapbook.
Is drawing a type of writing? If writing on paper is mark making, and drawing is mark making- perhaps I am writing when I draw? Is the narrative I seek actually embedded in the image, unfolding if you follow the line?
It is the business of the dramatist to make good pictures, and whether it be done by the players or the painter, what matter, so they be effective, and the story worth telling; and how shall they be better told than as the author intended they should be represented?
… the eye is to behold, and the mind to be moved… ut pictura poesis. – John Eagle
Molly’s younger brother, Joseph, was admitted to the Provincial Mental Hospital, in Essondale BC, on November 25, 1948 at 1:15 PM. He was institutionalized until his death in 1963.
Joseph’s 270+ page file and my historical research into his treatment is being developed into a visual thesis of some sorts. How it will all look in the end is a mystery. I remain passionate and mesmerized and grateful for “being chosen” to tell their story.
One must not be too romantic about madness, or the madhouses in which the insane were confined. There is, under the manias and grandiosities and fantasies and hallucinations, an immeasurably deep sadness about mental illness, a sadness that is reflected in the often grandiose but melancholy architecture of the old state hospitals. – Oliver Sacks
As part of my research for a current project into mental health treatment in BC 1940’s to 60’s, I came across vintage psychiatric videos recently.
One particular interviewee has completely captured my heart.
Psychiatric interview series. Patient no. 6 : evaluation for treatment
Los Angeles : University of California at Los Angeles, 1959.
Film : Film : State or province government publication Visual material : English
A spontaneous psychiatric interview of a young lady presenting herself for diagnosis and psychiatric treatment. Camera placement emphasizes the patient and puts view in the interviewer’s chair. Produced for research purposes directed at the viewer’s communications.
Government publication, Film, State or province government publication
1 film reel (30 min.) : sound, black and white ; 16 mm
produced for the Department of Psychiatry, School of Medicine, by the Motion Picture Division, Theater Arts Department, University of California, Los Angeles.
Patient No. 6, age 21, is engaging, intelligent, alarmingly modern, and– though I don’t know them and their actual circumstance– I can’t help but feel they are a victim of their times.
The interview takes place in 1959, and the therapist/interviewer is gentle and is good at holding a safe space. In the interview, Patient No. 6 seems reserved, honest, with a dry sense of humour. They wear Levis, rolled up t-shirt sleeves, rockabilly hair. They sit with legs spread, elbows on the arms of the chair and they lean forward. They have an awesome style.
They have however been in and out of treatment and psychiatric hospitals since age 14, labelled with difficulties that include:
Antisocial and impulsive behaviour, promiscuity, lesbianism, illegitimate children (2 stillborn, 1 adopted, twins adopted, 2 in grandmother’s care), multiple marriages, drug and alcohol addiction, psychosis, runaway, theft, bad cheques, car theft…
Treatments have included hospitalization, detox, medication, shock treatments and psychotherapy.
I created a mind map of dialogue snippets…
4 years later, in 1963, Patient No. 6 and the therapist/interviewer meet again. And again– though I don’t know them and their actual circumstance– I can’t help but see a person who cannot fully express their individuality and identity.
My heart breaks for them as they reach for the handbag. May I smoke?
They do express the benefits of talk therapy and they seem to have found an understanding life partner and they are committed to their children.
I have two children that have to be raised. I want them to be emotionally stable.
I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this beautiful human being– so open and engaging.
I do hope they continued to ride motorcycles and wear Levis. I do hope they had a happy life.
Dreams of my art being attached to some kind of imaginary romantic self-sustaining monetary outcome no longer serve me. If my creative process is to continue to be my sacred practice, continue to develop, if my creative process is where I let go of attachment, let go of comparing myself to others, let go of control, then I also let go of those dreams.
And instead embrace the simple and healing journey of process. Of self-discovery.
From Revolution From Within- a book of self-esteem, by Gloria Steinem (1992, Little Brown and Company, New York, NY):
… But the point of the journey is not just the healing. It’s also recovering the truest, most spontaneous, joyful, and creative core of ourselves. If any of the stories you have just read strikes an emotional chord, that’s a possible signal from your inner self. If anything in the present brings you unreasonable pleasure or sadness, that’s a clue, too. The important thing is to make the connections between past and present. And, of course, not everything is in our power to know. We need faith in a future that will redeem the past…
… Any one of our human capacities, if unused out of fear or shame, leaves a small hole in the fabric of our self-esteem. Think of the times you have said: “I can’t write,” “I can’t paint,” “I can’t run,” “I can’t shout,” “I can’t dance,” “I can’t sing.” Since this was not literally true, you were really saying: “I can’t meet some outside standard. I’m not acceptable as I am.“
… Give yourself the opportunity to discover your own imagery… your true self made visible.
What I love about this film by my daughter is that she has been able to visualize the peace I find in the creative process. In my own home, on a cozy weekend, in pjs and cozy sweater… It also illustrates a core value I hold dear to my heart- that the process of art is precious, but the end product is not.
In order to see birds it is necessary to become a part of the silence.
― Robert Lynd
I found a heron nest on the ground after a windstorm broke a large tree branch.
I saw signs of early Spring.
And hope springs eternal. What else did I see? Well…
There is an unreasonable joy to be had from the observation of small birds going about their bright, oblivious business.
― Grant Hutchison, The Complete Lachlan
Every bird at the marsh filled us with a little light. I wondered if I was just so simple that this was all it took. But then I thought, I’m lucky that this is all it takes.”
― Lynn Thomson, Birding with Yeats: A Mother’s Memoir
A bird sitting on a tree is never afraid of the branch breaking, because her trust is not on the branch but on it’s own wings. – Unknown
She decided to free herself, dance into the wind, create a new language. And birds fluttered around her, writing “yes” in the sky.
― Monique Duval
Last night I mind mapped around the heart image- and one of the key “to-do’s” for 2019 is PAUSE AND REFLECT, BEFORE SAYING YES.
Tonight I spent time around the kitchen table, cutting and pasting stream of consciousness collages with my soul-sister Patti Henderson, as we chatted about life and about our vision and focus for 2019.
It always fascinates me how random cutouts from random unrelated magazines, and gluing whatever seems to come together, will always reveal the message you need to hear.
And there it is: the importance of being specific.
And beautiful found poetry comes out, like imagination bleeds faces.
Random images and quotes become particularly poignant.
MOLLY, A GRAPHIC NOVEL– my now 15+ years passion project– continues at the drawing board and at the writing desk and in my heart, with new developments, insights and directions behind the scenes. Some announcements in the new year.
NOTE: this is a work of creative non-fiction inspired by true facts, evidence and events. It is an artistic interpretation and no more than that.
Imagination, of course, can open any door– turn the key and let the terror walk right in.
– Truman Capote
No. 1 Richard Hickock: “It was early, not yet nine…”
No. 2: “Nancy Clutter is always in a hurry, but she always has time.”
No. 3 Truman Capote: “In Cold Blood- a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences.”
No. 4 Kenyon Clutter: “… so I took him down and to the playroom where there was a comfortable looking couch.”
No. 5 Herbert Clutter: “The master of River Valley Farm, Herbert William Clutter, was forty-eight years old…”
No. 6: “… 7 miles west of Garden City.”
No. 7 Bonnie Clutter: “… poor Bonnie’s affliction was in the least a secret.”
No. 8 Bonnie Clutter: “… had resurrected her ‘old self’; as if serving up a preview of the normality…”
No. 9 Floyd Wells: “His drowsiness instantly vanished when he heard, officers investigating tragic slaying of four members of the Herbert W. Clutter family…”
No. 10A: “Truman sits with his coffee, reading the New York Times. He sits up straight, folds the paper over, reads it. C/U of article being snipped out of PAGE 39 of the Times.” [Capote Screenplay by Dan Futterman]
No. 10B: “I think this is what I want to write about.” [Capote Screenplay by Dan Futterman]
No. 11 Perry Smith: “Were any representatives of the cinema there?” [Life Magazine, May 12, 1967]
No. 12 Nancy Clutter: “The snake swallows you? Or what?”
No. 13 Richard Hickock: “Well, hell, give it all to us then.”
No. 14 Harper Lee: “You’re the only one I know with the qualifications to be both research assistant and personal bodyguard.” [Capote Screenplay by Dan Futterman]
No. 15: Forty seven dollars.
No. 16: EXT KANSAS STATE PENITENTIARY (KSP) LANSING-DAY. [Capote Screenplay by Dan Futterman]
No. 17 Walter Hickock Sr.: “The judge up there! I have never seen a man so prejudiced… No sense. Just no sense having a trial.”
No. 18 Susan Kidwell: “Susan Kidwell, her confidante…”
No. 19 Richard Avedon: “Perry, honey. You look terrific.” [Capote Screenplay by Dan Futterman]
No. 20: “My cup runneth over…”
No. 21 Alvin Dewey’s cat: “Courthouse Pete, the family watchcat. Pete weighs 13 pounds.” – from Harper Lee’s article in the Grapevine, March 2960
No. 22 Truman Capote: “Imagination, of course, can open any door– turn the key and let the terror walk right in.”
No. 23 The Big Yellow Bird: “… the yellow bird, huge and parrot-faced, board in Perry’s dream, an avenging angel who savaged his enemies or, as now, rescued him in moments of mortal danger.””
No. 24 Truman Capote: “It scraped me right to the marrow of my bones. It nearly killed me. I think, in a way, it did kill me.”
No. 25 Perry and Dick: “A week in Mexico City…”
No. 26: Plot Analysis
No. 27: In the District Court of Finney County Kansas. The State of Kansas (Plaintiff) vs. Richard Eugene Hickock and Perry Edward Smith (Defendants), No. 2322
No. 28: “Autumn rewards western Kansas for the evils that the remaining seasons impose.”
No. 29: “Or the moon. Oh, he can fool you.”
No. 30: “Using their paws as though they are surgical instruments, the cats extract from the grilles every feathery particle.”
No. 31: “He looked at his fingers, which were stained with ink and paint, for he’d spent his final three years on Death Row painting self-portraits and pictures of children, usually the children of inmates who supplied him with photographs of their seldom-seen progeny.”
My new friend, Chrissy Davey (aka @craftyfatalist) recently connected with me on Instagram about my embroidered drawings. Serendipitously, she had taken pictures of a street art wall (in the lane behind 119 East Cordova in Vancouver) a few years back- which amazingly turns out to be the wall I worked on with my youth program. She sent me some photos that take my breath away. The wall may be gone. But the ghosts live on.
Photos by Chrissy Davey:
That is why I love the creative process- especially street art. You create, you share, you let go. It deteriorates but leaves a mark in the heart.
Photos of the wall from my archives:
With fondness, I look back through some of my blog posts about the wall. What I love so much about that is the connections made with the artists and with the community…
Instead I fell down a nap hole and dreamt of a fox.
I was going to write tonight about how much I hate my face, but instead looked up foxes and symbolism. And put on a pot of coffee.
I was going to write tonight about how I (could) love my face, but instead pulled out a drawing pad and turned on Netflix (crime, French).
I was going to write tonight about how strange it was finding my house filled with people last weekend working on my passion project and discussing crime and science, but instead pulled out china markers and white acrylic paint.
I was going to write tonight about how the wind storm swept in as spirits started swirling on Sunday evening, but instead made some eggos with fresh strawberries and honey.
I was going to write tonight about coming across a 1940’s fur coat strewn over a park bench by the Hotel Sylvia. But instead put my drawing board across my lap.
I was going to write tonight about navigating anxiety, but instead tapped into my subconscious.
I was going to write tonight but my hand just drew and drew and drew.
Lore has it that a fox sighting was thought to be a signal from the spirits of the deceased. Fox animal symbolism takes a turn of intelligence in the Celtic realm, as the Celts believed the fox to be a guide, and was honored for its wisdom. The Celts understood the fox knows the woods intimately, and they would rely upon the fox as their guide in the spirit world. [source]
I haven’t posted for awhile. That’s not to say I haven’t been writing, drawing, planning, thinking, working.
A new job started January 15 and somehow 5 months have sped by. Work has given me a place to land. During that time there have been some exciting new developments…
Ah, blah blah blah. Fuck that. I don’t need to write that.
I have been thinking a lot lately about death.
Oh my God. That is nothing new. Ugh, start again.
I am sitting in the kitchen at my favorite spot, by my windowsill garden. There are fragrant buds on the jasmine plant. The rosemary and mint are sprouting new branches where I snipped off leaves for cooking and for my water. I do not take this seat, this spot, for granted. My role has changed. And I celebrate that I have been given the gift of …
Ugh. I am just regurgitating the same old musings. That’s OK. That’s what this journal process is all about. But I have been away from it for awhile. And if I haven’t been writing in this online journal, what have I been doing creatively, that is?
I have been stitching.
Thought after thought after thought.
Stitch, stitch, stitch
Obsessed with stitching. And what have I been stitching about, quite obsessively in fact, is that I want to be OK with dying tonight. Not specifically tonight- but “tonight.”
What do I mean by that?
What I mean is that I know I will never complete all that I want to do… and that is OK. If I die tonight, not having completed all I want to do– that has to be OK.
Stitch, stitch, stitch…
What I do know is that I want to relax into life (and death)- relax into its unfolding.
Stitch, stitch, stitch…
Depression has had me by the throat many times. I have desperately tried to find a way to ease my pain. And the fear of the effect of my pain on my family. There have been times I admit, I have forced myself to look forward and walk with an even pace. Simply to get off that proverbial bridge. Death, or thinking about it, has been a way to cope. The option has been a way to get through the day.
Stitch, stitch, stitch…
I have been lucky not to have tried to hide from it- to numb it. My mom needed to numb it. And that is a sadness I will always carry.
Last summer, I made a pact with myself to live life as a second chance. To die into life. To be a ghost. To walk in peace amongst the noise, haste, stress, pain, joy. To understand all the ups, downs. I was so tired of resorting to perseverating thoughts. I made a pact. Life as a second chance.
I realize that dark journeys help me understand the characters I research, and feed my quest of understanding of human nature. The understanding of ghosts I walk among. How else could I walk the path of those I write about?
Stitch, stitch, stitch…
So much happening. With so much to come. What makes me feel this peace? What makes it different now?
I am older. I am old. I am approaching the other side of the staircase.
I am truly blessed to enter this new chapter of my life- I call the chapter putting on the crown.
I am so blessed to have been given the gift of art to use in every aspect of my life. It heals me, it unmasks me, it opens me wide open, it hides me. It allows me to live. And to die into life.
And if I die tonight, I am ok with all the unfinished projects, knowing my life is mine, and my children’s lives are theirs. They are grown. And how incredible is that?
I’ve got a lot to think about these days. (Not really any different from other days, I guess, but seriously, there is some amazing stuff brewing).
To stay on track with massive projects, to dos and ideas racing around in the head, I have found great solace in pulling out embroidered drawings.
As I stitch, my mind relaxes and somehow- magically, solutions arise, anxiety dissipates, energy refreshes, ideas come to light. Fascinating.
It’s all about following the lines of my drawings, just wandering along the pathways, new ways of looking at things, no attachment to the thread or how things unfold. Just let it unfold. And I think that is my greatest lesson in all this- let it unfold.
“When you can step back at moments like these and see what is happening, when you watch people you love under fire or evaporating, you realize that the secret of life is patch patch patch. Thread your needle, make a knot, find one place on the other piece of torn cloth where you can make one stitch that will hold. And do it again. And again. And again.”
― Anne Lamott, Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope, and Repair
The month may feel more unstable than it really is. Just remember that it is all driving us to where we need to be. So, take it all in stride and do not resist the energy of change whether it is your inspired idea or someone else initiating a change that affects you.
The biggest area of value reflection is related to things of the earth plane and the physical possessions you have collected over this lifetime. How do you value them? Do you put too much value on something that is not truly important? Do you not value something in your life enough? What have you created in your life that you really would rather not have at this time? Are you cluttered and burdened by too many “things” in your life that you now need to take care of and keep track of?
I could sit and wait. Ask myself: how I will get back to that beautiful, exhilarating buzz of creative process and my soul’s work? But why wait?
I MUST simply work. Reclaim the act.
How? I mind map. I attempt to draw and throw out the results. I return to my crafts. I allow the freedom to draw whatever makes me meditate and hear in the distance that buzz approaching. I just do. It is not the buzz that is essential. Commitment is.