Entries Tagged as 'resources'

Artists are Real People

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Beauty is Embarrassing is one of my favorite documentaries; it’s about the artist Wayne White. My mom, who is also an artist, recommended the film. I’ve watched it three times, and could easily go back for a fourth.

I generally get antsy watching TV or movies; just ask my friends and family–they find this an annoying trait. I can’t help it, though; I feel the scant painting hours slipping away. I do, however, appreciate documentaries and movies about other artists, and whenever I lose steam in my own art practice, a good art documentary usually restores my energy and gives me a sense of connection to other artists.

Watching such movies, I listen for the ways the artists’ lives and art practices inter-relate. The therapist in me is as curious about who they are as what they make. I also pay attention to their fears, insecurities, and failures, and how they interact with patrons and critics. I notice when I start comparing my story to theirs and judging myself as less adequate, and I try to rest back into curiosity and connection. I’m drawn to artists who are open about who they are and share their creative process freely.

Which reminds me of something a therapy mentor said recently, “Real people are attractive people.” I’d have to agree.

And, if anyone is a real person, Wayne White is. Check him out.

The Teacher

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

the teacher

The Teacher
(Pen and India Ink)

* * * * *

“Life in the classroom is real, adventuresome, thrilling, and demanding. How do we get ourselves out in the open? How do we wake up?…Let us acknowledge that a school is more than a place or a staff or a student body; it is a process: of bringing to birth, of awakening.”

–excerpts from Centering: In Pottery, Poetry, & the Person, by M.C. Richards

* * * * *

Ninth grade was a difficult year for me, as it is for so many ninth graders. I’d started a new school, my parents were divorcing, and that thing called adolescence was underway. But it was also the year I met someone who forever changed me, the year I took my first art class with Dr. Dianne Skye.

Dianne was the art teacher at P. K. Yonge Developmental Research School for many years, and I recently attended her retirement celebration. She was a tireless instructor, a strong artist and potter, and also had trained in the same counselor education program from which I later received my PhD. Other teachers had loved me before, but Dianne was the first who loved me openly, without apology. While I believe that she loved all of her students, I know that her love saved me.

Sometimes I’d arrive at school unable to compose myself. The divorce was painful, and I engaged in a good bit of uncontrollable sobbing. I’d stumble into Dianne’s classroom before the first bell and take refuge in her tiny office, where she’d light a candle, position tissue, and quietly close the door before leading students through home room. She didn’t ask a lot of questions, but we gradually became close.

Later that year, Dianne gave me The Artist’s Way, a book that has since become very popular. At thirteen, though, I’d never seen anything like it, and I was profoundly impacted. Dianne had inscribed kind words on the inside cover and signed her name, “Love, Dianne.” Those gifts, the book and her love, are still with me today.

I devoured the first chapter and immediately committed myself to Morning Pages–three pages of stream-of-consciousness long-hand writing every morning, first thing in the morning, without fail. On weekdays, this required waking up at 5:30am, which I did.

I filled hundreds of pages while I worked my way through the book. It’s a big undertaking, and not necessarily one I’d opt for at this age or stage of life. But back then, the book meant survival. I’d always kept a journal, but writing each morning formed a lifeline, a way to consistently put overwhelming, chaotic life experiences in a safe container. My journal became my own candlelit office, my own refuge. I wrote Morning Pages for the next fifteen years, and I still revive the practice when I need new direction and guidance.

 I took art classes with Dianne until I left for college, most of which I spent in the potter’s studio throwing pots. Sitting at the wheel and centering clay, I learned to center myself, too. Periodically, Dianne would check on me, give me a few tips if I needed them, and then return to teaching her classes. When I’d leave for the day, she’d hug me and tell me she loved me.

I never tired of hearing those words, and I carry her influence inside me. She’s there when I teach, when I open my office as a refuge,  when I encourage my students and clients to write or paint or otherwise express their overwhelming experiences in the safe container of creativity. In this way, her love continues to multiply.

Perhaps at the heart of every great teacher is love.

The Bookshelf

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Bookshelf

I was raised with a wonderful bookshelf that reached so high I couldn’t access the top shelves until I was grown.  The bookshelf was the first thing my parents set up when we moved to a new house and the last thing they dismantled when we left.

For most of my childhood, I lived without TV, and the computer didn’t arrive until I started high school. The bookshelf was part entertainment and part oracle, and seemed to possess endless wisdom. My father stocked it with rotating classic fiction, poetry, art books, books on death and dying, philosophy, spirituality, political books, biographies and autobiographies. It housed visiting books as well, the loot from frequent family trips to the public library.

As a child with big questions about life, I would go to my dad and we’d talk for a while. Eventually he’d say, “You know, you might want to check out _____; it could be an interesting read for you right now.”  We’d walk to the bookshelf, scan it until we found the title, and then I’d head to my room and read. The book inevitably raised more questions which I’d bring to my dad, which inevitably led to more dialogue and another book recommendation.  This was perhaps the most consistent, positive, and formative aspect of my early development as a therapist, though I didn’t know it at the time. Back then I was just hungry, and the books were nourishment.

Today, my two oversized counseling chairs are flanked by adjacent bookshelves stocked with the titles that have helped me. Seeing them as I work with clients reminds me that we don’t necessarily have to be lonely as we traverse the hard passages of our lives. Others have gone before and left their remarkable notes and field guides. Sometimes learning, growing, changing, and even healing come from simply hearing another person’s report from the ground and recognizing in it a startling truth of our own.

In the tradition of my father, I often recommend books to my clients; some take me up on the suggestions, many do not. I personally can’t imagine navigating life without books, but I never expect clients to follow up; it’s their choice. When they do, however, we engage in the kinds of conversations that must have delighted my father when I’d come to him with dog-eared books in hand, to sit and wonder about what the books meant for my own unfolding story.

Below are a few titles that have kept me invaluable company on my creative journey; perhaps they might be good company for you, too.

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