Know Thyself

With the release of the movie “Matrix Resurrections,” I was inspired to watch the original “Matrix” film again.  (I have not seen the newest film, at the time that I am writing this, so no spoilers please.)  I had not watched the “Matrix” in a long time and several things caught my attention.  However, this is not by any stretch of imagination a film review.

After watching the original “Matrix” film, I was discussing with friends about how ground-breaking this film was.  Special effects have been changed forever thanks to this movie.  There are a lot of really good life lessons in this film as well.  The biggest is the question “Are you really experiencing your life?” and “What does it mean to be alive?”  Whole philosophy classes could be taught based on the “Matrix” movie.

One of my favorite scenes in the first movie was when Neo is sent to meet with the Oracle.  He is in a room with other potential candidates, most of them children.  One child was bending a spoon and makes memorable comment “Do not try to bend the spoon.  That is impossible.  Only instead try to realize the truth.  Neo asks, What’s that?  The boy, There is no spoon.”  Philosophical question, “What is the nature of reality?”

When Neo goes into the kitchen to see the Oracle, she is baking cookies.  She directs Neo to look at a plaque on her wall with the words “Temet Nosce.”  Temet Nosce, or when translated from Latin to English, means know thyself.  I always thought this was interesting direction.  We are all trying to find out who we are and where we are going in a universe of limitless possibilities.

How hard it is to know oneself.  We are told things about ourselves from the instant we are born.   We have our own ideas of who we are.  There are things that we do not like to face about ourselves.  Sometimes our ego gets into the way.  Sometimes someone else’s ego gets in the way.

The journey of knowing who we are is the adventure of our lifetime.  The point of this journey is not to arrive.  It is to live, become and to grow.  Discover yourself every day.

I would go on to say that the Oracle missed something in her advice to Neo.  Not only should we work on knowing ourselves, but one needs to learn to love thyself as well.   There is a quote attributed to Buddha, “Love yourself and the rest will follow.”  Love is an important step in knowing oneself.  It is the basis of compassion and forgiveness which help us in loving others.

Have you heard the saying that you cannot truly love anyone else until you love yourself.  In the gospel of Matthew from the Christian Bible, Jesus is quoted as saying that the second greatest commandment is “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”

The month of February is often associated with Valentines Day, an annual festival to celebrate romantic love, friendship and admiration.  Every year on 14 February people celebrate this day by sending messages of love and affection to partners, family and friends.  For Valentine’s Day this year, I challenge you to follow the advice of the Oracle from the “Matrix” and know thyself.  But I further challenge you to love thyself and as attributed to Buddha allow the rest to follow.  Allow forgiveness and compassion, for yourself and for your neighbor, following the second commandment as quoted by Jesus.  This year let’s make Valentine’s Day a celebration of love that not only begins with us, but within us.

Temet Nosce!

Blank Canvas

“It is so fine and yet so terrible to stand in front of a blank canvas.”  Paul Cezanne

Every artist and creative person understands Paul Cezanne’s quote about the blank canvas.  What can I paint?  What does my artwork say?  How can I explore this subject in a way that feels new and fresh to me?  These questions can be asked by any creative person: writer, dancer, poet, chef, musician, weaver, photographer, etc.

The creative block in the quote does not necessarily relate only to canvas.  The month of January has been a challenging blank canvas for me.  The art classes I am teaching start in a couple weeks and I did not want my classes to be the same as they were before.  All month I poured over previous lessons, new art books and supplies in fierce determination to make my classes even better.

Last night at 8:30 p.m., I felt like I accomplished my goal for all of the classes.  I think my students will learn new and interesting techniques, try new art supplies, and learn fun facts.  But I couldn’t have gotten to that point without facing my blank canvas. 

To all artists and creatives feeling the challenge of the blank canvas, you will make it through.  It is only through facing our blank canvas moments that we become stronger, better artists.

Enjoying the Possibilities

There is a lot of hype around New Years Eve and the ushering in of a new year.  (Even more so this year.)  I get that for some it is a time to party.  Others see it as a time for reflection and sending well wishes to friends and family.  Many people make new year resolutions.

The word resolution means a firm decision to do or not to do something, or the quality of determination or resolve.  But this is not a post about resolutions.  It is a post about possibilities.  A possibility is a thing that may happen, a state of being likely and/or a thing that may be done out of several possible alternatives.

Where resolutions are determined, a possibility is a maybe.  Resolutions are guidelines to getting things done; possibilities are open ended options.  Resolution is an exclamation point.  Possibilities are question marks.

There is nothing wrong with resolutions.  And to those who accomplish or keep them, I say, “Way to go!”  Making and keeping goals is part of the creative process.

But sometimes one doesn’t need resolution.  Nothing so firm.  A possibility, however, is just right.  Options.  Ideas.  Could be and may be.  Optimistic hoping and wishing.

The idea for this post came about from a conversation with a friend about receiving new art supplies for Christmas.  We are both in the process of organizing the spaces in which we create art and our supplies.  While I was going through a box, I found some paper that I hadn’t looked at in ages.  I went through the box touching each sheet of paper, enjoying the possibilities.

When I purchase paper I don’t always use it right away.  But I don’t want to miss the opportunity to purchase this sheet of paper.  I may not know right now what I am going to use it for, but I will use at some point in my artwork.  I am very aware of the possibility each sheet of paper holds.  A new tube of paint.  The purchase of a printing press.  The blank page or the blank canvas.  A yard of fabric or a skein of yarn.  A new herb or spice.  These all have possibilities!

Good and or bad outcomes may happen.  The paint may become part of a stunning landscape.  The story written on that blank page may fizzle out.  The printing press produces many beautiful prints and some major flops.  The dish made with the new spice is not to your tasting.  The socks you knit from the skein of yarn fit perfectly.  Yes any and all of this could happen.  But right now, in this moment, there is nothing but possibility.

And this brings me back to the beginning and perception of the new year.  One could think of this as a very negative time or could look at it as a opportunity for possibilities.  It would be very easy to get caught up in the negativity of the current state of our world: isolation and masks; lockdowns and travel restrictions; censorship and unrest and much more.  This is enough to cause depression in the most positive people.  If we allow it, these critical and negative thoughts will take control.  That is why enjoying the possibilities is so important.   Yes, the possibilities or outcomes could be a disaster, but they have just as much chance as being something wonderful or amazing.

I would like to leave you with this quote which has been accredited to Eleanor Roosevelt.   “Yesterday is history.  Tomorrow is a mystery.  And today?  Today is a gift.  That’s why we call it the present.”

Take the gift of today.  Be in this moment.  Enjoy the possibilities.

M is for Migraine

This post is for those lucky humans out there that have never had the experience of a migraine headache.

The reason I am writing this post is because of something that was said to me recently by someone who has never had the experience of having a migraine headache.  She said, “You need to go to the doctor.  Wouldn’t it be better if you could find some medicine, or change your diet, or an exercise or something to make these ‘headaches’ go away.”

Having recently read a post about choosing to be offended, I thought long and hard about whether I was offended and whether I should be writing this post.  I am not offended by the speaker’s words.  I realize that they didn’t understand because they haven’t experienced a migraine.  It is easy to be critical of others when you don’t understand what they are experiencing.  I felt the need to write this post to help this person and others understand.

Migraines are NOT the same as headaches, a friend, who also gets migraines, reminded me recently.  Migraines can cause someone to vomit.  Smells and light can make them feel nauseous.  Some people when experiencing a migraine cannot stand any noises.  Others experience an aura.  Migraines can cause someone to be sensitive to hot or cold.  Cluster migraines are a series of migraines that can continue for several days in a row.  A migraine may have certain symptoms, but they are different for everyone who experiences them.

My typical migraine often starts with my eyes feeling weird and the onset of an aura.  Once the aura has finished, the pain and nausea begins.  I am often overly warm and need to keep cool during a migraine.  Sometimes I throw up.  I often cannot stand light, sounds or even smells. I have to lay down in a cold dark room.  This is a typical migraine for me.  However, a migraine can be different each time a person has one.

I have been to the doctor.  My migraines are triggered by excessive stress.  I have tried a couple different medications.  Ibuprofen taken at the onset of the aura often lets me manage my migraine.  But not always.  Certain types of coffee cause me to have what I call an insta-migraine.  I don’t drink them and avoid them.  Too much processed foods with dyes can cause a migraine.  I try to avoid those as well.  Linen scented candles and room sprays cause me to have a migraine.  I don’t purchase those products and try to avoid them if I smell them.

A bad migraine year for me is five to fifteen migraines.  I have been migraine free for years at a time.  I have friends who have three to five migraines a week.  For one of them, Botox injections work.  The other friend gave up dairy and grain.  That was three years ago and she has a lot fewer migraines.

Be kind to someone who is suffering from a migraine.  Depending on their symptoms, even speaking to them could be causing them pain.  Understand that having a migraine is not something they can control and their isn’t a quick fix.  They probably have been to see a doctor or doctors.  The person who is having the migraine knows what they need to help get their migraine under control.

If you do not experience migraines, I hope that you found this article helpful.  If you do and would like to add to this post, please leave a comment.

Risk = Growth = Rewards

All of the artwork featured in this blog post was created by students of the Art Sampler class that I taught in the fall of 2019 at Flathead Valley Community College.  The paintings are pallet knife paintings.  Two of the students had previous painting experience but not painting with acrylic paint.  None of the students had painted using a palette knife before.

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Painted by Amy Kanewischer

In college, I took a class on American women’s history.  The class started with the  colonization of the original 13 colonies.  It focused on women who settled in the north (the area of what is now Massachusetts) and women in the southern colonies. 

The women who settled in the north were primarily wives and daughters.  They arrived with their husbands and fathers.  As long as they stayed within the confines of society and family these women had comfortable lives and very little risk.  

The women who settled in the south were wives and daughters also.  But most of the women who settled in the south went as indentured servants (their voyage is paid for by a third party [usually farmer or landowner in the southern colonies] and then they had to work for a certain amount of time to pay off the debt).  Once the debt was released, they were free.  They could buy land, start businesses, etc.  These women faced huge risks but if they survived the rewards were big and they had the opportunity to make choices for themselves.

One could argue that settling in the original thirteen colonies was a huge risk in and of itself.  And they would be right.  Some parts of those colonies were wilder and riskier than others.

The bonus question on the exam for this portion of the class asked where we would live if given a choice?  Would we live in relative safety of the civilized north?  Or would we live in the wild south?  We had to explain our reasons for why we made our choice.  I chose the south because if I could survive, I would earn my freedom and the ability to make decisions for myself.  There were only two of us in a class of 20 who chose settling in the south or greater risk for greater rewards.

“If you risk nothing, then you risk everything.” -Geena Davis

Where is all this talk of risk going?  Creativity is about risk.  I was talking to a friend recently about how the images in the sketchbooks doesn’t always turn out like the finished piece of artwork.  That the artwork is often better than expected.  Creating a piece of artwork, writing a poem or a novel, acting in a play, taking a photo, any and all creative pursuits are about risk.

Think about it like this, if everyone only listened to the music of Mozart it would get pretty boring after awhile.  But there is a lot more than the music of Mozart to listen to.  There is rap, jazz, blues, polkas, chants, rock, pop, etc.  You get the idea.  Here is the important part to remember the next time a song that you like comes on, the artist who wrote that song and the artist who is singing it (it may be the same person) had to take risks to get that music on the radio.  They had to have faith in their creative choices.  They had to be willing to grow creatively to reach the rewards.

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Painted by Judy Territo

Speaking of creative choices.  My friend Samantha was at a point where she needed more business cards.  When she went to reorder ones like she already had, they didn’t have that design any more.  Samantha felt that she was at a crossroads.  She had branded herself with the old design.  Did she want to keep the old images?  Could she still keep her brand and create new and exciting business cards?

Samantha chose to take a risk.  She created new business cards, using new images and her original business name.  And the new business cards turned out beautiful.  So beautiful that Samantha ordered a banner with the same design.

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Painted by Diane Whited

Teaching art classes can be a challenge.  Teaching often forces me to grow as an artist and an individual.  As an art teacher, I take risks in teaching my students.  There is standard techniques that one can teach over and over to each class.  And teachers often do this to make sure that their students learn the basics.  But teachers can take the time to really get to know their students and tailor the class around the skills and abilities of the students.  It is these subtle additions that really makes the difference from an okay class to an amazing one.  I decided to teach the acrylic technique of palette knife painting with this group of students because I knew it would be a positive challenge for them.  My taking a risk, helped my students grow and the reward was to see the amazing artwork they produced. 

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Painted by Arnold Kanewischer

Just because you take a creative risk does not mean that you will not have anxiety and fear.  Part of taking a risk is learning how to manage the fear and anxiety that comes with it.  Not every risk you take will produce a reward.  Some risks will turn into creative disasters.  That is okay.  There is opportunity to learn from failure and that is one of the ways in which we grow.  That growth helps us reach future rewards.

What do you need to do today to take that next creative step?  What risk will help you grow regardless of success or failure?  How can going further with your art and creativity provide you with an opportunity to learn and challenge yourself?  What reward are you seeking? 

Remember risk causes growth.  Growth helps one reach rewards.  Risk = Growth = Rewards

Resolution

As we enter a new decade with the start of the year 2020, I have been thinking a lot about the tradition of creating resolutions.  I have also been thinking about the meaning of resolutions.  I have also noticed that resolve plays into one keeping ones resolutions.

Both words, Resolution and Resolve, come from the Latin base resolvere which means to loosen or release.  According to the Oxford Dictionary the word Resolution is a noun that has the following definitions: a firm decision to do or not do something; the quality of being determined or resolute; and the act of solving a problem, dispute, or contentious matter.  Also according to the Oxford Dictionary the word Resolve, when used as a verb, is defined as to settle or find a solution to a problem, dispute, or contentious matter or to firmly decide on a course of action.  When the word Resolve is used as a noun it is defined as a firm determination to do something.

Ironically the Latin base meaning to loosen or release is so far for the the firm and determined language of the modern words Resolve and Resolution.  Maybe that’s why it is so hard to keep some of the resolutions that we give to ourselves…. we know that deep down in their Latin base it is only loosely given and possibly it is a way to release ourselves from a commitment we didn’t want to make.

I have never been one to make a lot of resolutions before the new year.  I have a set of guides that I lay out for myself that deal with my art, writing and creativity.  These are extremely helpful and yet loose enough to not overwhelm me creatively.  Most years, I am able to reach most of these gentle goals.  For example, three years ago, my goal was to write one Haiku poem a month.  I successfully completed the goal and through that process fell in love with the simple yet challenging beauty of writing Haiku poetry.

Some of my friends have had some very fun and creative resolutions.  One friend tried eating a new food or dish once a month for an entire year.  I remember her telling me about different things that she was trying.  Some she recommend and others she said she would not eat again.

Another friend gave herself a reading challenge that included a certain number of books but also certain types.  If I am remembering correctly she had to read so many non-fiction books, biographies, autobiographies and much more.  She shared some of the books that she was reading because of this challenge to herself.  It was fun to hear about how exciting this process was for her and the new and exciting things she was learning.

I had heard an interview on NPR in the late 1990’s about a photographer who was living in a very remote area (I think it was above the Arctic Circle) for a year.  He had limited film reserves and had to develop his own pictures.  Because of severe weather conditions, there could be weeks where supplies for food would be hard enough to get, let alone the film and chemicals to develop the film.  He challenged himself to only taking one picture a day for the entire year that he was there.  When asked how did he know when to take a picture each day.  The photographer said that at first he didn’t know and there were some terrible first shots.  But then he got into this rhythm of carrying his camera, when he some something interesting he would take a picture.  Once the picture for that day was taken, that was it.  I remember him saying that he developed all the rolls of film and there were 365 photos and not all of them were good or even turned out.  He said that the experience changed his life and the way he approached his photography.

If the numerous advertisements on every form of media is any indication, weight loss and gym memberships are at the basis of many new resolutions.  Do not get me wrong.  Positive and healthy goals for ones health and wellness is a good thing.  But hearing and seeing those ads, I wonder if the focus is all external and superficial.

That may be one of the reasons why I loved the goals about different kinds of books, trying new foods, taking one photo a day and yes, the Haiku poetry writing challenge.  Not only did they provide a challenge, but they also provided a positive change to the individuals who participated in them.  These Resolutions are growth experiences.  Life changing experiences.

My challenge for you is to find Resolutions that challenge more than your physical body.  My hope is your Resolve will provide experiences, in the Latin base traditions of the words.  That loosen constraints and release you from things holding you back.  I hope you choose resolutions that challenge you creatively, provide growth, opportunities for exploration and amazing life changing experiences.