Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Gardening at the Dragon's Gate

“I am a mad gardener. I mutter and rant, and at night, I shake dry seeds out of my unruly mane of hair. The garden is in my bones, in my gut, and in my hands that pearl sweat at the first hint from the overturned soil of March that it is time to sow Cherokee beans again in the open ground. And although I am a civil person, I am at my best when left completely alone at nightfall to spread that last wheelbarrow of aged horse manure around the base of the budded-out black currant plants from England.” -Wendy Johnson

I have the great good fortune to call this darling and wise woman my neighbor and friend. Wendy just recently published a new book, both poetic and practical - Gardening at the Dragon's Gate: At Work in the Wild and Cultivated World. A Buddhist meditation teacher and organic gardening mentor, Wendy weaves together stories and advice about cultivating the earth with spiritual insights gleaned from her many years at Green Gulch Zen Center. The writing is as rich as good, well-composted soil. I have been savoring it, reading pages before bedtime to inspire garden dreams.

Last month, I invited Wendy over to my studio to be interviewed for the latest Arts and Healing Podcast. We spoke about the healing power of gardening, the benefits of community gardening, creating memorial gardens, tips on gardening with children, environmentalism, and more. I invite you listen to this podcast either by downloading the podcast via iTunes, or clicking here to listen to the podcast directly on your computer (use the audio player on the right hand side).

The Arts & Healing Podcast is part of the Arts and Healing Network and is produced by my good friend and blogger/podcaster Britt Bravo - you might also enjoy her blog, Have Fun Do Good.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Gifts of Art and Advice from Kay Bradner

Kay Bradner came to visit when my daughter Anna was five weeks old. She brought with her a copper plate and etching tools in order to make a portrait of Anna as a gift for us. I was so touched by her thoughtfulness. The true gift she gave me that evening was the way she demonstrated living in the world as an artist. At the time, I was (and still continue) to be very sleep-deprived and all of my creative resources had been channeled into parenting. So Kay drawing Anna was an especially sweet gift – both honoring my daughter at five weeks old and reminding me of my own creativity.

Kay is a wonderful painter and printmaker who has raised an equally creative daughter. That night I asked Kay for advice about being both an artist and a mother. Kay shared how over twenty years ago when Claire was born, Kay was a single parent running a printmaking studio out of her home. Each day there were about eight people who arrived to work with her there. She would just slip Claire as a newborn into the front part of her apron and carry on her business. She even taught a workshop with Claire sitting in a bouncy chair. She says she did all this out of necessity – there was no option to stop working. As an artist mom, she gave me this advice…
  1. Find creative projects that can be done in very small intervals of time. Long, sustained periods of concentration are impossible to come by in the beginning – but anything that can be done in small snippets of time can be really rewarding.
  2. More than ever it is important to make art that fills you back up, so that you are replenished by your art endeavors and can bring that energy into parenting. Have fun.
  3. It’s really ok to step away from an art career for a long stretch time. It will always be there to return to. But your child will never be such a youngster ever again. Give yourself permission to take as long as you need to get back to your artwork.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Stretching into Uncharted Territory

I have been deep in the initiation of new parenthood - a whole new terrain. Eden Steinberg describes this state so well - I share with you here her quote from the book Finding Your Inner Mama.

“A few weeks after I gave birth to my first child, in the thick of my exhaution, worrying whether I was doing everything right, whether or not my baby would live through the night, I realized something. I realized that if I was going to survive this thing. I was going to have to grow and change. First of all, I was going to have to let go of a lot of things I felt entitled to: uninterrupted sleep, things going as planned, a feeling of being in command, the master of my circumstances. I also saw that I was ultimately going to have to let go of my very self concept, my idea of motherhood, and my expectations of my child. All of it had to go.

The idea of shedding these burdens was exciting. The thought itself was a relief. And it suddenly dawned on me that my whole concept of motherhood had been wrong. I thought that as a mother I would carefully mold and shape my children. If I did my job right, they would turn out to be well–adjusted, loving, thoughtful and interesting people. As it turns out, motherhood is molding and shaping me. At the end of all this, I am the one who could end up well-adjusted, loving, thoughtful and interesting.”

(Image: Evocation #008, from the series Evocations, ©2007)