Nature VS. Nurture

 
 
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Have you ever seen something so beautiful you felt like you were being kicked in the heart? That’s what this piece does to me. It physically hurts. I get tears in my eyes at the title alone. What makes it even more special is I remember @sacredrelicstudio posting pictures of the nest, following the eggs as they hatched, all but one. Now it’s frozen forever in time. What a wonderful way to honor a life that might have been. -
— Stephanie K.

It snowed in Rhode Island late Saturday night into Sunday morning. The weatherman told us to expect a flash freeze around mid-day, and for once, they were fairly accurate. At about 1:00 pm everything froze solid.

Today, Monday, the temperature has not gotten much above 7 degrees, with a wind chill of -14 degrees. Bitter cold that is unpleasant to be outside in. Even my puppy Jack did not want to be out there long.

My gorgeous and amazing friend Stephanie wrote the above quote on a photo she re-posted from my instagram account, and it seemed like a good time to write about this piece and to remind myself, and all of us who are experiencing harsh Winter realities right now that Spring is coming…eventually.

So grab a warm beverage and settle back….there are pictures too!

In 2015, my husband and I lived in a live/work building for artists that used to be a textile mill back in the day. We lived in the furthest back building, also known as “Sal’s Building” because apparently Sal was the foreman in that particular location for many many years. We enjoyed living at the mill, and having artists neighbors. We built and organized a community garden there, and everyone planted a section…the mill bought us picnic tables, the residents collectively purchased a grill…it was pretty cool.

One day I was bringing my dog back from a walk, and we were climbing the three flights of steel stairs on the outside of our building to get back to our loft when I saw the most curious thing. There were piles of straw, I think seven in total, one per step on the flight of stairs between the second and third floor. The next day I watched a robin adding more to a few of them. This went on for several days, then it became clear that she finally chose one and building began in earnest.

I googled it, because I was confused as to why, in an area that had a river (yes, polluted, but still a river) surrounded by tons of tall trees, she would choose a steel staircase as the safest best place to raise a family. Google told me she had “environmental confusion” where she chose the strongest looking structure in her environment to build on. Despite the foot traffic on that staircase, most of it humans with dogs, she thought it was ok.

The tenants had a quick little meeting and decided when at all possible to take the dogs out the inner staircase so as to not disturb her. We were all fascinated with this process, the third floor tenants especially could stand on the landing and get “a birds eye view” of what was happening.

Within a week an egg appeared. A bright, beautiful blue egg. It was early Spring and the weather had not quite decided to be warm…so we had a few days of really cold weather. I worried about the egg. In the end, I believe this is the one that did not hatch.

Soon enough though, another brilliantly blue egg appeared, and a few days later another, and finally a fourth.

Momma robin started sitting on the nest all the time. We'd rarely see the nest empty of her fluffed out body and wings protecting her babies.

When the first egg hatched it was amazing, and true to form, a day later another, and finally a third. Three naked little babies huddled in that nest, eyes not yet open, helpless as can be. We all fell in love. Especially me.

Over the next several weeks we got to see these young ones, open their eyes, grow fluffy downy fuzz, and start to open their mouths and cry for Mom and Dad (who had shown up on the scene as soon as they were hatched) to bring MORE, MORE, MORE food.

These three grew bigger, feathers developed, and Mom and Dad were kept very busy keeping everyone fed and happy.

Soon, the three were getting bigger, and barely fit in the nest together. Mind you, the unhatched sibling was still in there underneath, so room was at a premium. Momma started taking them out of the nest to begin to teach flying lessons. I watched them sit on the metal stairway, perched rather precariously, wobbling back and forth. They would fly down to Mom on the ground, and it seemed to take hours for her to convince them that they could get back up. It was so awe inspiring to watch all of this.

The day finally came when the babies were ready to go. I was sad to have missed two of them flying out and away for the last time, but count myself blessed to have witnessed the last baby. He wobbled on the staircase for about an hour or so, then his magnificent, strong young wings opened, and just like that he was gone.

I like to believe they hung around for awhile. I’d see young baby robins down on the ground, and in the garden plots with a more mature Robin and tell myself it was them. And tears would well up in my eyes to know they were strong and healthy.

The nest was empty save for that first blue egg. I gave it several weeks to see if she would return, and out of respect. But I finally put gloves on, took the egg inside to dry out, and put the nest in a cardboard box that we stored in my friends motorcycle shop on the property (in case it had any little mites or what not in it). At the end of the fall that year, I went back for it. and stored it in my apartment in its box.

I started to think about how to work it into a piece of sculpture. When I came up with the idea for Nature vs. Nurture it looked a lot different than it actually ended up being…and I did not know how to execute most of the ideas I had. So I sat on it, and thought about it. I thought about it until May 2018, and then I began. The egg was encased in resin to preserve it, and the nest got a heart in it with the resin-ed egg embedded in it behind plexiglass.

As I worked on this sculpture it seemed to continuously “tell” me what it wanted, what direction it needed to go. It felt intuitive and collaborative in every sense. The piece I had been dreaming up for years took me approximately a week to start and complete.

There are ideas I get for pieces that feel so urgent and important for me to create, and I am so pleased with this piece. It felt, and still feels important to me. I don’t think I speak only for myself here, but I think the tenants at that time, in Sals Building nurtured that robin family as much as we could without interfering in natures course. And that one egg that did not hatch, the one I worried for when it was too cold for an egg to survive…well I felt it was important to memorialize that little life that could have been. I was as attached to him as I was to his living siblings.

So there you have it, the story of Nature vs. Nurture. I have not told that story in so much detail in a long time, and I have to thank Stephanie for reminding me of why that piece is so very important to me. <3

Below is a slide show of the nests progression…I hope you enjoy it!

The piece itself is currently showing at Enso Flats Gallery in Brockton, MA as a part of the Southern New England Artist Community’s annual Artist Invitational, and I am a guest artist for the second year in a row.

Winter Solstice

I had a hard time waking up and getting out of bed this morning. Traditionally, Winter has been a difficult time for me and my mental health challenge. The light, or lack thereof does something mysterious and alchemical to my brain and heart.

This year, though I prepared.

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I bought a ton of spring bulbs to force in my studio. Right now, I have paper whiltes blooming their hearts out. and Ive pulled out a few hyacinth bulbs to start tomorrow. I bought 2 huge bouquets of Asian lillies yesterday and put one of them in the studio last night. I hung up twinkle lights, I cleaned and prepared the space to be as cozy and as comfortable as I need it to be. I have music, I have candles, I have my journal, I have various objects of ritual and comfort.

As I was getting my breakfast ready this morning, I started thinking over the past year, how it has been for me, and tried to look at the really good things that happened.

It was a year of risk, and I am stupid proud of that. Despite a battle with depression and chronic health that I wasn’t sure I would get through, I pushed on. I leapt and created, planned and executed my first ever Survivor Shrine Workshops which have been a percolating dream for a number of years that even in the best times seemed full of overwhelm and impossibility. But I did it, and I was so blown away by the response and the connections I made with it. It was a relief to me that it resonated so much with so many others. I created the Resilient Heart project, and asked for participation and again was blown away with the response and support I received. I made several pieces that are really important to me, work that told me what I needed to do next. I had a solo show, I learned so much about how I feel about the “art world” (another post for another day), and I sold more work this year than any previous year…and connected with many of the folks that purchased my work on deep and personal levels.

Its strange to look at that list and know (and still feel a bit of a depression hangover) that I did all of it despite being depressed.

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And here is what I figured out. I went to the the thing that makes me feel most alive; creating. I was blessed with so many new people in my life that believed in me, and nudged me to work and to create and to dare to imagine the “what if’s”. As much as I could, I put myself in the world in scenarios where I would be inspired. I embroidered, I read, I drank a lot of tea. I also cried, said NO a lot more to things that made me feel bad, let myself lay on the floor, hugged my dog A LOT, had temper tantrums, slept too much, and felt like dying. I was afraid I would fail.

Don’t get me wrong, there was quite a bit of failing. But the failing was buffered by the soft arms of support of the people around me, by my chosen family, by my dog and husband, by grace.

So, this is the first year in many years where I find myself on the Winter Solstice not in a depression. I am making plans, I am working daily in my studio, I am creating. I am also cooking a lot (which has become one of my favorite things to do), embroidering, reading, and trying to take care of myself in gentle ways. I am still saying NO…and I am getting much better at it.

I took a course this week from my friend Amy Walsh of The Bureau of Tactical Imagination on Creative Confidence* and I am beginning to explore for myself what this work that I do is. I’ve decided that one thing i really hope that i can do more of is to be a catalyst for others to celebrate their own resilience. And once again, I find myself back at one of my core beliefs…that we are all survivors. Let me say that again.

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We are all Survivors.

We survive every day in a world that is often not kind, we survive negative people, we survive divorce, we survive illness (chronic or otherwise), we survive heartbreak, humiliation, loss, high school, our families, etc.

And I am resilient. I am a survivor, too.

So I wanted to come here on the Winter Solstice, and tell you the light will be returning. I want you to know that I believe in your beautiful resilience, that I believe in your creativity. And that I am so very grateful for you.

The light will be returning.

xo

*Amy Walsh is an UH-mazingly brilliant visionary. She was my client but became my friend. She often offers really cool free workshops through her business. Please check her out. You can find out all about her here, including links to social media.

Negotiating creation with the committee in my head

I am going to be honest. I have just emerged from a really long, and really brutal depression. It started in late Spring, and slowly tapered off over the last month which I find so curious since this time of year usually is when I go down given the colder weather (which really aggravates my chronic health condition) and the darkness/shorter days.

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I’m not really sure what changed and how I climbed out of it. Or even if I am fully out of it but, I do know that I tried to think of the things I really love, and if you have experienced depression you’ll know what I mean when I say, I forced myself to do them.

At first there were days I would wander into my studio, unshowered, and just gaze at the the mess of it all, feeling the overwhelm hit me square in the chest. I’d quickly retreat back to my bed, or my couch, or the floor. There were moments I told myself I should probably give up making art, that voice in my head telling me that I’m not creating anything awesome anyway, and that I should stop trying to be creative.

But I kept trying to walk in there everyday. Slowly I started to tidy things up, put things away. Mind you, these were micro movements made over many weeks.

I began trying to make things. The first several weeks I felt like everything I touched just turned to complete shit…I realised I was rushing myself, taking shortcuts that I should not and making a lot of crap. There was a lot of that. To some extent there is always that.

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Over the summer, I made a new friend. She is also a creative who goes through the ups and downs of mood challenges and happened to be having a similarly bad time at the same time I was struggling. We planned art dates where we created something in a new to us medium, we went to nearby museums, we haunted yard sales and flea markets looking for objects that would shake up our inspiration, and we texted almost everyday. At first I was grumpy about the texts asking “what did you make today?”, but I began to slowly appreciate them for the nudge that they were.

One of the things standing in my way I found was all the projects I had started over the year and abandoned. Pieces and parts were laying all over the place and I felt it was impossible to move forward until I figured out what to do with them. I took things apart, I abandoned ideas, or I decided to complete things. My goal became to finish the things I chose to finish and then move on.

A funny thing happened…once I began to do that… it was like a heavy door slid open in my mind and new ideas, good ideas, ideas that excited me started coming in. This became something that motivated me even more to complete those half finished pieces…so I could get to the new stuff.

I brought candles into my studio, I burned sage, I planted spring bulbs to force, I found and placed many small totems around my space, and the energy began to change, Suddenly, I could not wait to finish work, or responsibilities and get in to my studio. And I worked. And I answered those texts, and I worked some more.

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I feel as if this “fog lifting” is very tentative…Having lived with mental health challenges my entire life, I’ve grown accustomed to false starts and full stops, but I also know that being in my studio, doing what I love in the brightest room in my home with my sweet puppy on his chair, having impromtu dance parties….all of it is healing me. Again.

Be patient with yourself. You don’t have to create masterpieces every time you make a thing. Let yourself be in that quiet space of creation. Let yourself be messy. Cry, laugh, dance if it helps, but don’t give up. Sit on the floor and just be. Write. Sing. Scream. Remind yourself why you create. Look for ways to get out of your own way. Reach out to others. Hug your pet/kids/partner/self.

Just don’t give up.

The worst of you is not the all of you.

Art heals.

When in doubt, make art

Last week, my friend and fellow artist, Beck Lane got in touch with me and asked me if she could do a video on me and my art....since Beck is someone that I have known for a long time, and one of Sacred Relic Studio's early supporters way back in the beginning, of course I said yes!

You can check it out below.

 
 

 

Through this project, Beck became aware of The Resilient Heart Project and opted to participate. I mailed one of the hearts to Beck late last week and she received it yesterday. 

Today, she surprised me with a new video, a sort of update...check it out:

 
 

 

I want to be really clear about this, because I think there are misconceptions surrounding the word Resilience....Resilience for you, and often for me is waking up each morning, knowing that you probably are waking up to the same shit show that you fell asleep to last night...the bills, the illness, a long list of things on the "to-do" list that you are fairly certain you will not be able to accomplish, the dog has to go to the vet, etc...and still putting both of your feet on the ground and moving into your day. Taking steps, even small steps you may perceive to be teeny tiny and insignificant steps are actually what resilience is about. Movement towards something even when things don't look so hopeful. Rising up in the face of sadness, illness, fear, etc...and moving forward through the day anyway because you are made of that kind of stuff. That stuff is resilience. 

One of the biggest lessons that I have learned in my life is about the temporary nature of everything. Nothing stays the same. Knowing that and accepting it and all the good and bad things it brings is difficult for me. So, I pull my resilience around me, grit my teeth and show up again in my studio. Creating has always been the place where I work things out, whether it is actually things encountered during the process of creating, or bigger grief's and hurts, problems, confusion. Art has always been my respite in a world where I am often described as being "overly sensitive' to, (I prefer the term EMPATHETIC BADASS, thank you) and I am grateful for it.

<3

 
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The Resilient Heart Project

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The Resilient Heart Project has come to life. I'd love to be able to say that I have carefully been plotting and planning this for months, but I can't. Like most of my creative visions and ideas, they happen and I usually get stupid excited about them and just jump in before my brain decides to start in with the self doubt.

So I jumped. I am hoping others will jump in with me.

You see, I know that the word SURVIVOR has many different meanings and conjures up many different things in folks minds. I know, because I have survived many things in my life.

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I am an adult child of an alcoholic, I am a psychiatric survivor, I am in recovery fro mental health challenges, and substance use challenges, I am a suicide attempt survivor, a suicide loss survivor, I am currently surviving a chronic illness, I have survived the loss of my father, my best friend, jobs, homes, etc. All things that I was not sure if I would survive or how I would survive. 

It was not a pretty clean and organized survivorship. Lets face it, sometimes we do not face up to these big things in our lives with a lot of grace. Shit happens. But I became resourceful, I became self aware, I learned to identify my needs and articulate them to others, I learned how to stand up for myself and advocate. I learned to listen to my own heart and mind. 

So I learned a lot from each experience. Im not going to tell you it was easy. It was not. I am not here to write platitudes to the tragedies and trauma I have experienced in my life. But I am here to tell you that these experiences helped me to become stronger. 

And it made me realize how we are all surviving in big ways, in small ways, in any way that we can. 

It helped me so much to celebrate my own survival, and to remind myself that no matter what I may face, I absolutely can get through it. It will probably be messy and ugly in parts, but transformation and rebirth are messy. 

Part of what I see and understand to be my work in the world is to hold space for others who want to celebrate their own suvivorship, who want to stand in their power, to decide to radically love themselves.

This project is an extension of that work for me.