Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Art Therapy...

I'm half-way through my summer art class and my creative space has seen more action in the past 3 weeks than the whole year prior! For that I am thankful.While the whole process of how this visual journal is suppose to work still has me a bit confused (at least how our instructor is teaching the process), I have enjoyed simply playing with a wide variety of art supplies to create a variety of background foundations on which to build my journal. I'm making good use of the gesso and acrylic paints that were left over from my canvas painting adventure a couple summers back.

I've dug out some old stamping supplies that were purchased many years ago when Scott's family went through their Stampin' Up craze. I've melted old crayons. I've torn paper. I've stenciled. I've experimented with creating color with coffee and tea. I've pressed leaves from around our yard to use as printing items and stencils. I've purchased some fun new watercolor inks, markers, and bleeding tissue and have had lots of fun playing with water and watching colors run and blend. I've paint smeared a few new articles of clothing and have spent days with fingers stained from watercolor inks. And it has all been lovely AND has taken more of my time than I expected it would when I signed up for class.

We were required to pick a theme for our journal, something I had not planned on doing, and I have decided to focus my theme on the emotion/feelings of joy/happiness. There were a couple of reasons for that decisions. Somewhat by accident, I am currently reading 2 books on the subject. I've almost finished The Book of Joy, which has been an incredible read featuring 2 of my favorite spiritual guides, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu. I most likely will read it, or at least parts of it, again. And I will endlessly recommend it to others, much as I have other books that have touch my heart deeply. Then a few months ago I picked up The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin from the super value table at Half Priced Books. Wanting a light-hearted book to celebrate the start of summer break, I grabbed it to start reading during our first camping weekend of the summer. It's been just an okay read. Not good enough to love, not terrible enough to abandon.

Secondly, summer break is an interesting thing for me emotionally. I love, love, LOVE the freedom of schedule that summer break allows. I love being able to spend most of my days outside in the yard gardening or building or just hanging out. I love being able to take little day adventures to meet Scott for lunch, or to visit a new funky shop, or to take a hike. I love the lack of morning alarms and evening bedtimes and the flexibility of whether a shower is needed for the day or not. And even though it sometimes breaks up the day in weird ways, I don't even mind providing mommy taxi service for the girls to be able to hang out with friends or attend summer camps and events. Summer, generally, is my happy season.

But summer can also be a little complicated, emotionally speaking. It's kind of a lonely time for me. During the week Scott is at work, and when he is at home it seems we have little to talk about, I'm sure in part to the very different ways we are spending our days. We also have totally different schedules. He's up in the morning hours before me, and therefore also ready to end the day hours before I am. The girls have activities and wishes to hang out with friends, so I've found myself spending more and more of my summer time without them in tow the past couple of years. I do like being able to work on projects during the day without feeling like I'm neglecting any of my loves, something I couldn't do are easily when the girls were younger and needed my mom services more. The dogs are my constant shadows so rarely am I truly alone when I am at home, which is a comforting feeling in and of itself. (I'm glad they can't retell others about the number of conversations "we" have during the day since they are normally the only ones around to listen.) But every once in a while I get a little emotional over the realization that I don't have many social connections in my life when I'm not at work. I simply feel lonely. (And admittedly, social media plays a roll in my feelings, even though it's kinda embarrassing at 42 to admit you got a little sad seeing that so-and-so did such-and-such with so-and-so and you weren't there.)

During the school year I am constantly around people. Little people. Big people. My days are spend interacting with all sorts of people and when the school day is done, I need some time away from people to recharge for the next day of  constant interaction. Home is my sanctuary at the end of the work day and I love nothing more than returning there without the need to leave after a long day away. But in the summer, my scheduled opportunity for social interaction is gone, and because I am not good at fostering connections outside of my school day during the school year, I am left with a lot of time to spend with my family (when they are not busy) and me, myself, and I. It's hard not to get down on myself for my horrible relationship fostering skills during these months. It's hard not to wonder what is wrong with me that I don't have more social engagements. It's also hard not to feel like I'm a round peg living in world of square holes knowing I used to live this more flexible schedule year round for the years I taught yoga in Grinnell, a schedule I REALLY do prefer, and rarely did I ever feel anything less than part of a community.

So, the idea of visually journaling about happiness and joy is an easy concept on one hand because there is so much in my life during summer break, and in my life in general, that fills my soul with warmth and joy. At the same time it has highlighted a void that can cast a shadow on these bright and sunny days of summer. It's made me face the very real fact that only I can make a change to shine additional light or accept the shadow for what it is and move forward. Interestingly enough, the little community that comes together every Tuesday night for my art class brings much joy to my heart. Rarely have I stepped into a group of strangers and felt so immediately at home. Because we are a small group, working in a confined space, our weekly classes have a very intimate feeling where we can encourage, feed off of, and connected with each other as we work. I look forward to going to class each week and it makes me sad to know we only have 3 more weeks to share our time together before class is over. I'm already wondering what fun things others will have to share with class tonight as we come together to work and what we might learn new to help us build our pages in the weeks to come.

Related side note: I have some time to journal with words because B is going to art camp at the DSM Art Center this week. Since it's a 30 minute drive one way, I'm just hanging out in one of the many coffee shops in the downtown area each morning for the 2 hours while she is in class. Even though most mornings this week I will be alone as I do so, I will never feel alone. Because that is the magic of a coffee shop, and really the magic of spending time in the city I have found, for a social introvert like myself. You are technically alone but you really don't feel like you're alone and you don't have to spend energy on social interactions except casual friendly interactions with the staff and sometimes fellow customers. I know, it's complicated, and one of the many examples of why my brain is sometimes hard to be friends with, but coffee shops are oh so comforting to my soul.


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

So I signed up for this art class...

On a little bit of whim, while exploring summer activity options for Brea, I signed myself up for a summer art class, Visual Journal: drawing and collage, through the Des Moines Art Center. We love going to the Art Center, and when I listed some options for Brea for a "camp" activity this summer, an art class was at the top of her list. She is scheduled to go to a morning class in a couple of weeks, but my once a week evening class started last night. The supply list we were sent was both specific and vague as to what exactly we would need to take to class with us, and I was super nervous yesterday as I packed my bag in preparation. So naturally I grabbed a lot of stuff from my crafty space and hoped it would do for night one. It did. I'll be adding to it for nights two through six.

Class runs from 6:30-9:00 on Tuesday evenings for 6 weeks, and our class is just 1 of many going on at that same time, so as I pulled up and walked into the education wing I was far from alone. As I found my way into the studio were our class was being held, got settled at a table, and looked around the room, my inner anxiety monster was getting all worked up. There were the names of professional artists on the notes board and a few people were chatting with the instructor, obviously familiar with him from previous classes. As 6:30 arrived and our instructor introduced himself, told us about his art experience (college/university art faculty, artists in residence, etc, etc), and started explaining the purpose of the class, my fear that I was in over my head slowly grew to the point I was wondering if I could get a partial refund if I dropped out of the class. I was convinced that I was surrounded by actual artists and that when we started our projects, mine would look like kids play comparatively.

Then, this really great thing happened. After a bit, the instructor asked us, since we are a relatively small group (12) and will be working on journals which can be rather personal and revealing in nature, to introduce ourselves, say a color we associate ourselves with, share what we do outside of class, and why we decided to take this class. I was the second person to introduce myself and I decided I had nothing to lose by sharing that I was feeling scared to death that I was artistically out of my league and that professionally I did nothing related to art (the lady before me had worked as a graphic artists in advertising) and that I signed up for class because I like to learn new things, I'm a maker at heart, and I feel that professionally if I'm asking kids to explore things outside of their comfort zones then it's only fair that I challenge myself to do that as well. And I may have dissed on the state of the public educational system a bit (I'm looking at you focus on core subjects) and said that I wanted to challenge myself creatively so I can offer that in my library programming to help kids experience the fun of learning outside the very defined, square box that I feel our educational system wants to make the process of learning. Oh yeah, and I wanted to try some new artsy things.

(Side note: I was one of those kids that did just fine inside the box of traditional learning, as do my girls. That doesn't mean that it works for every kid. I see it every day in my job, kids who don't excel within the "normal" educational setting NOT because they aren't able, but because our educational system is not allowing them to be engaged in learning in a way that allows them to excel. I am always inspired by the kids that give me the most grief throughout the year when I see them in an activity that engages them in a way that is meaningful to them. It's often a night and day difference, and a good reminder about the importance of providing a number of ways to learn in our programming that allows all types of learners to excel and feel successful.)

As others continued to introduce themselves last night, I started to feel my fear lift. There were 2 other public educators in the room, and 2 former educators. Plus a veterinarian and several ladies who had retired from very professional, very NOT art related, jobs. And a recent high school graduate headed to college to study architecture. And at least 1 other person admitted to being majorly out of her comfort zone and as nervous as I. 

I was not surrounded by professional artists, but by people who, just like me, enjoyed creating, learning, and be challenged creatively. I was so relieved! And it made our next activity, actually drawing some stuff, much more enjoyable than if I still would have been self conscious about my presence in the class.

Our instructor is certified in art therapy (and teaches yoga) and has warned us that many of our activities will feel a bit like art therapy, but that the activities work well for a journaling class because of their personal, self exploration nature. Our activity last night was very art therapy related and was intended to help us start to get an idea of what type of theme our visual journal may take over the next 6 weeks. Our task was to quickly doodle/draw/sketch/color in response to a number of short prompts. It was an interesting activity, and most of the prompts were pretty easy for me to quickly doodle something. But 2 of the prompts completely stumped me to the point I never did doodle anything to represent them.

The first prompt to stump me had to do with what is something I would change about myself. Turn back time a bit and I'm sure I could have come up with many things, but after so many years of working on being kind to myself and accepting me for the unique individual that I am, I really couldn't bring anything to mind of something I would REALLY change about myself at the present moment. I will take that as win for how far I have come in learning to honor myself, warts and all.

The second prompt that tripped me up had to do with representing something I do well. Even now, after almost a full day processing this activity in my mind, I have a hard time choosing that something. I mean, there are things I think I'm okay, maybe even good, at but no matter what I bring to mind, I always immediately think of someone who can do it better than me. Or a reason I should not be considered someone who is good at that particular thing. Is it a product of my perfectionist tendencies? A product of having many interests, but no one thing that receives my focus? A representation of my inner self doubt? I'm not sure.

By night's end, we had started to see a little bit of what everyone's individual artistic style looks like. We had started to narrow down our individual journal themes and what form each of our journal will take. We had been able to share a bit with each other and start to make connections that will draw us together as a little community of support over the next 6 weeks. It was a good start to my summer art adventure.

In case your interested:
  • My journal theme is joy/happiness. It only seems right considering I'm reading not one, but 2 books about the subject at the moment and it has often been a subject on my mind over the past several years.
  • My journal is going to be an up-cycled children's book, because really, could I choose anything else?
  • The color I said I associate myself with is purple. I have reasons why, but I'd love to hear why YOU thought I chose that color. You can leave a comment below if you'd like. I'll share more in my next journal related post as to my reasons for choosing purple. (I'd also be interested to hear what color you associate yourself with, and why, if you care to share!)
I'm already looking forward next week's class, until then, I have a few dates to honor with an old book, a razor blade, and a jar of gesso.