Sink and Source

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Sink and Source

Millhopper painting in process

Recently I’ve been feeling a little lethargic about painting, and earlier this week, I even heard the dementor voice in my head saying, “Maybe you’re all dried up and won’t ever paint again. Maybe that’s it for you and the painting thing.”

Thankfully, I’ve been reading a lot–from Lynda Barry to Mickey Singer to the Harry Potter series. All these books, the ideas and just spending time in the languaged worlds of other creative people, act as protective aids, so I can see what my mind is doing and step back from it, not buy into its fears and doubts. The truth is, I’ve just needed a little rest and time to gather the courage to show up and take the next risks in my work. When I’m risking, I’m playing. Then the energy just comes; I don’t have to force it, and the work seems sourced by something beyond me.

Really, I’ve found that whether I’m dancing or painting or writing or doing yoga, the trick is to move and create in such a way that I can bypass the mind, which is to say, prison break. I did this last night when I came home from the art opening at the Thomas Center for the wonderful new exhibit curated by artist Anne Gilroy, Beauty and the Beasts. It was late and I was tired (said my mind), but I turned on some music and began.  I lost track of time, and when I fell into bed, the painting was finished.

Sink and Source 2

Devil’s Millhopper
30 x 48″

Devil’s Millhopper is a stunning sinkhole in Gainesville, FL. Sometimes it’s filled with water, and the light down there can be erie. Yesterday I’d gone with my sister to walk the stairs for exercise. Though I go for the workout, I’m always moved by how dynamic the sinkhole is.

There’s the voice of the mind, and my mind is usually afraid. (It didn’t even “feel like” going to the art opening last night, and I had a blast there, as always. Right now it doesn’t feel like going to my dance class at the gym. In fact, it rarely feels like doing the things that are good for me, and that I usually love to do once I get there. So I keep working on showing up, anyways.) My mind is afraid to mess up, to waste paint, do something wrong and be judged as a fraud. My mind wishes it had a lot of formal art training, so when I approach the empty canvas it can say, “Ahh, yes. No worries, here. We’ve got this down. We know just what to do.”

But I don’t paint from that place; when I try to paint from my intellectual knowing, I don’t enjoy the process or care for the outcome.

Beyond the mind, there is another voice that speaks to me when I’m creating, moving my body, looking, relating, loving. It comes from somewhere deeper, more beautiful and mysterious than my mental chatter and the emotional fears. Often, it doesn’t communicate in words and comes more as a trickle of tears from the heart. If the voice was an image, it would perhaps look a bit like this, my source photo for the Millhopper painting:

Sink and Source 3

Last night that voice said, “Begin.”  I listened, though my conscious mind protested, “We’re tired. We don’t know what we’re doing. We’re dried up, remember?” As I got into the process, the voice said, “Green!”  And later, much to my surprise, it said, “Orange!”  I didn’t question it. I used orange.

I wish I could share with you the sound of this voice. It’s so different than my mind’s nearly relentless critical chatter. This other voice–a guide or source–I have to get very quiet to hear it. It speaks softly, and rarely uses words–most of the time it uses silence, tears, movement, breath, and joy. When it says anything, it speaks simply and clearly, like Cookie Monster when he’s excited about cookies. Just enthusiasm; no concern for how many calories are in those cookies or what people will think about how many cookies he’s devouring. The guiding voice doesn’t say “Orange” because color theory says orange is a nice compliment to greens and blues. It says “Orange” because, well, at that moment, ORANGE!

I made the Devil’s Millhopper painting quickly. I moved fast so my mind couldn’t keep up. (Lynda Barry is a big fan of setting up conditions where you access your creativity at lightening speed, circumventing the mental crap and resistance. I love her.) When the guide said green, I used green. When it said orange (well, cadmium red light to be exact), I followed. When it said “Done,” I stopped. I made the whole painting this way. It was a delightful experience.

Maybe the source of creativity is as dynamic and ever-changing as the Devil’s Millhopper sinkhole. Sometimes the sinkhole is filled with water, and the stairs are partially submerged.  Sometimes the sinkhole is nearly dry. But there’s always a trickle of water nourishing the ecosystem, and ready to swell when it rains.

Sometimes sinkhole visitors are talking loudly, too loudly to hear the water. Sometimes they’re smoking cigarettes or blocking the stairs for family portraits. But take the descent, dance past the obstacles, get quiet, and listen:

It’s all right there.

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