Finding My Way Back To Me

August 25th, 2014


Painting  the last wall of my studio.

Painting the last wall of my studio.

In my mind I see Alice tumbling head over heals into a giant, dark and endless, can of paint.  That’s how I felt yesterday, tumbling, tumbling,  even as I balanced barefoot on the seatless chair, my ladder, to scrape the paint from the eave of my studio.  The flakes falling on my face and in my hair, the familiar sweet taste in my mouth. There was no joy in painting that protective coat of sunny yellow on the  final wall of my studio.  Just the drive to get it done, to have it done.

And with each dip of the paint brush, I fell deeper into the dark hole as I was assaulted by memories  of when I spent a big chunk of my life painting.  Painting whole houses inside and out.  Painting by default, not because I liked doing it, but because it was something I could do. I call it my “other life” my “last life” the one where I gave myself away.  The one where I wasn’t known and let other people define me.

And each memory brought me back further, deeper.   Back through time, I relived the deterioration of my first marriage, and the beginning of that same marriage when I couldn’t stand up for myself.  And back further to a time when I saw the marriage as a way  to get away from the home I grew up in.   The place where my feeling of worthlessness, shame and aloneness, where the anxiety and panic that ruled my life for so long, began.

And I painted on, determined to get it done, determined not to have to finish it another day, knowing I might not be able to get myself to do it again.  And with each brush stroke, falling deeper and deeper into the darkness.

I supposed I didn’t want to acknowledge what was happening to me until the painting was finished.   Because I wanted to get it done and because I was trying to avoid what I was feeling.  But I see now that  painting was a trigger.  And I think a part of me knew it would be, a part of me needed to go to that dark place to feel the pain and release it.  Which is just what happened.

When I was done, I closed the paint can, wrapped my brush in a plastic bag and headed for the Adirondack chairs, that secret garden in our back yard.  And I started tapping, a technique I learned years ago, that has always worked for me.  And I suddenly saw  everything in a yellow haze.  I looked at  the sheep who were grazing in front of me and the flowers that surrounded me and felt as if I had just been cured of an illness.  And that a dark and shadowy past was behind me and I was in my new life.

As I shook out my hands, Jon came out of the house.  He somehow knew, he said, he could feel  something was happening.  And I told him about the darkness and I as I cried, I felt the pain, old deep  pain, without words,  rising up and I cried harder.  That was when Red sat next to me (he followed Jon out of the house as he does) and I placed my hand on the back of his neck.  And I could feel the pain and emotion draining through my arm and hand as if something in him was drawing it out of me.  And I worried about giving him to much of it, even though I knew he would shake it off, as animals do.

I’ve always seen my studio as a healing place, but never in this way.  Yellow is the sun and moon and color of personal power.  I think I went into the darkness inside of me yesterday and dug up some old and damaged ideas about myself and let them go.  And with their release came a new awareness of my own strength and a stronger sense of self.   Which were always inside of me, I just couldn’t see them.  It’s taking a long time, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be done with it, but  little by little I’m seeing the truth and finding my way back to me.




August 24th, 2014





Saving Simon Open House

August 22nd, 2014

saving Simon

Between Kim’s felted purses and Jon wonderful  Kirkus review  for his next book SAVING SIMON
How a Rescue Donkey Taught Me the Meaning of Compassion (to conveniently be released one week before the October Open House) my  insides are starting to hum and my brain is in overdrive.  There’s so much to plan and so much to do.  Jon and I decided it will be the Saving Simon Open House. Which means, along with all the other artists work,  there will be some Simon potholders for sale.  Not sure what they’ll all look like yet, but I know one will be Simon with the Hen on his back as well as a couple of Saving Simon Potholders.  Okay enough of this, I’m going to get back work.

The Artist Inside

August 21st, 2014
Pillowcase Quilt

Pillowcase Quilt

I had just enough time this morning to piece together my Pillowcase Quilt before going to work at the Cambridge Co-op.  It was special because it’s my first time back volunteering since Jon was in the hospital.  More proof that he’s getting better every day.

The other special part was seeing Kim (she works at the Co-op part time)  and telling her about all the wonderful things everyone is saying about her felted purses.  That kind of encouragement can be so important to someone when they’re starting out like she is.  And now she knows it’s not just me being nice to her.

Encouraging other artists to make and show their work has been important to me since I started doing my own work regularly and taking it serious.  I’m not sure that it’s something that would have happened if I didn’t have Jon’s encouragement.  He helped me to see that it was possible and that creativity is an important part of life not to be taken lightly.  I know how being able to do my work has changed my life.  And that by  denying the artist inside of me I was denying my true self and could never be truly fulfilled or happy.

So I’m always thrill to pass along what Jon gave to me.  Someone saying, Yes, you can do this thing. It is important, it’s your voice, it’s who you are. 

Pillowcase Quilt

August 20th, 2014

pillowcase quiltI still have to sew some of these pieces together, but this is what I’ve come up with for Kay’s Pillowcase Quilt.  It’s starting to look like a fancy dessert to me. Creamy and delicate.  Oh no, now want something sweet to eat. This quilt is making me hungry!

Kim McMillan’s Felted Purses

August 20th, 2014
Kim McMillan

Kim McMillan’s first felted purse

A few weeks ago, my friend Kim, (who sews my potholders and scarves) said she has something to show me.  Then she pulled out this gorgeous hand made felted purse.  I’ve known Kim for a few of years and she’s always working on something, from quilts to elaborately decorated cakes.  But she always told me that she had to have a pattern to work from.  That she wasn’t interested in making up her own designs.

Until now.  Until Kim’s felted purses.  When Kim first showed me the purse, and I gushed over it, she asked me to be honest and said I could tell her if I didn’t like it.  And I knew just how she felt.  (no really, I know you said you love it and you can’t stop talking about it, but you’re not just saying that are you?)

But it really doesn’t matter what I said or even what Kim said or how she really felt or how she thought I might really feel,  because a week later she made another one. (so all of that other stuff doesn’t really matter)   This time she was inspired by an antique button.  And when she told me of the creative process that went into making the purse, I knew Kim had finally found the artist in herself.  To be inspired by a one thing, one idea  and build a whole piece around it, is how creating works.  After all these years of following other people’s patterns, Kim began following and trusting her own intuition.   And aren’t we all luckier for it.

The other part that makes Kim’s purses so special is her experience and professional craftsmanship. Each purse has a carefully chosen lining to match the exterior and one of them even has interior pockets.

So my next question to Kim was if she would sell them at the Open House in October and then, selfishly,  would  she was still  sew my potholders and scarves for me.  Thankfully, she answered yes to both of them and is now being inspired (by button) to start her next purse. Rumor has it that this one might even have a strap on it.   Kim still has to figure out the pricing and all those other fun details, but she plans on having five done for the Bedlam Farm Open House. (It’s going to be a good one!)

Here’s some photos of Kim’s second and third purse.  And I’ll post more as she makes them.

By Kim McMillan

By Kim McMillan

This one of the lady and the moon was inspired by the antique cameo button.

By Kim McMillan

By Kim McMillan

And those candy green buttons got her to make these flowers.   Below is a photo of  the inside of this purse (with pockets!)…

inside Kim Mc Millan

Kay’s Pillowcase Quilt

August 19th, 2014
The pillowcases Kay sent me

The pillowcases Kay sent me

I’m embarrassed to say it’s been just about a year since Kay sent me a box of pillow cases and asked if I would make them into a quilt. But I also have to say that if I made the quilt before I went on my trip to Gee’s Bend, it would have been a very different quilt.

Yesterday, when I was still spinning from my visit with Pamela at Blue Star, I did one of the  things that brings me back to myself.  I went to work in my studio.  Sometimes, walking works, sometimes talking or meditating, but yesterday morning I knew if I started working things would begin to fall into place.

So I took out Kay’s box of pillowcases and three hankies and began.  First I hand washed them, then spun them in the washing machine then ironed them and hung them out for a while to dry.  Then I looked through my Gee’s Bend Book for inspiration.  I had choices to make.  Do I used just the pillowcases and hankies or do I add fabric to them.  In the book I saw some of the quilts made from feed and seed bags, all shades of white and off white, strips of slightly different shades setting each other off. I knew what I would do.

I cut off the embroidered edges in different sizes then cut strips from the rest of the pillow cases to build around the embroidered pieces. pillowcase 3When I started sewing the “white” pieces together I saw just how different they really were.  Not only in color but in the fabrics too.  Like Mary Ann Pettway taught me, I worked on one piece at a time, not planning out the whole quilt like  I used to.  Cutting strips of fabric as I went, using the scarps when they fit.

pillowcase a

And I paid attention to the seams.  Some of them are visible through the fabric so they had to be just right.  This is my first quilt where the back is as neat as the front.  But the seams also become a part of the aesthetic of the quilt.  Thick and thin lines, the texture of the seams, how the seams connect the fabric all become important.

pillowcase 2

I top stitched the hankies onto a piece of plain pillowcase…

pillowcase 1

Then added onto them.

pillowcase c

When I had enough scraps, I sewed them together creating another piece of the quilt. (the Freida hairs will not be included in the finished quilt)

pillowcase quilt to beNow the pieces I began to work on and the ones I haven’t started yet are all laid out on my floor.  Soon they will all come together to make a quilt.  Subtle in color and rich in texture.

Horse Lesson

August 18th, 2014
The Horse statue that Pamela gave me.

The Horse statue that Pamela gave me.

Yesterday I left the Carriage and Draft Horse Sanctuary, Blue Star, with a  beautiful statue of a horse, four t-shirts, a video of Phillip Whiteman’s Medicine Wheel Model to Natural Horsemanship and a day of compliments, praise for my work, a new connection to Pamela, a ton of stories to think about and the experience of having ridden Piper, the giant horse I fell in love with the last time we were there.

So that’s what happened, that’s what knocked me off balance and kept my head spinning and me wondering who and where I was.  Too much?  No, all good stuff and a lot of it.  I’m just not used to it. I felt like Boo Radley coming out of the basement.  And it’s not like I’m not used to having my picture posted all over Jon’s website or meeting new people or even getting compliments on my work.  But yesterday was a lot.  A lot more than I’m used to, I guess.  And the thing is, I made this connection, all of this happened, because of my work.  Because as important as it is to me, my work is just what I do.  It’s special in  that it’s my passion and keeps me sane and is a part of me like my brain or my heart, but to Pamela it was so special and meant so much to her (she saw meaning in every part of it) that it seemed too good to be true.  And so a part of me wanted to doubt her sincerity and another part of me wanted to believe her and trust what was happening.  Because when things are “too good” (especially when it’s focused completely on me) I begin to think that at any moment someone’s going to start laughing and then I’ll find out it’s all a joke. And that someone will say: You look really stupid  on that horse and that thing you made is nice, but you don’t really expect me to use that on my website do you?  Ha Ha Ha etc. etc….

So I think what happened is there was a battle going on inside of me.  It was the trust thing again. (like when Lisa Dingle handed us the trip to Disney from all those nice people who really wanted us to have it).  But this time (I guess,  because it was about me and my work) grace didn’t step in.  And my heart didn’t exactly shrink, but it cowered in the corner, shocked and uncertain.

Which makes me think of one of the many stories that  Pamela told me yesterday.  This one about how horses have been evolving into what they are now for millions of years.  And they’ve survived, not by growing a hard shell but by opening their hearts to humans. By learning to live in partnership with us.  Which, of course,  requires trust.

So the question is, what will I do with my horse lesson. Crouch in the corner, hide in the basement or take a chance and choose to trust.  Actually, I think I already made the decision, that’s part of what happened yesterday.  My head may not have understood what was going on, but the rest of me was making the adjustment stretching my legs and opening my arms, expanding my heart, getting ready to believe without cynicism and trust without fear.

Delivering “Blue Star”

August 17th, 2014

Pamela Rickenbach, co-founder of Blue Star Equiculture with their new logo that I made

Jon and I took a trip to Blue Star Equiculture to day to deliver the quilted piece I made for them. It will be their new logo.   So much happened (including that I got to ride Piper, the Percheron I fell for on our last visit) and I’m still overwhelmed by the whole experience.  I’m not yet able to put into words what I’m feeling.  Stories from the day are swirling around my head.    I’m going to have to  let it settle and write about it later.

Vivian Maier Inspired Self Portraits

August 17th, 2014
Me and Jon Reflected Twice

Me and Jon Reflected Twice

Jon and I stopped at an antique/junk market today and instead of looking for things to buy we were snapping Vivian Maier inspired self -portraits in every reflective surface we could find.   Him with his big expensive camera and me with my iphone.   All these self portraits are about identity.  When I take a self portrait I’m saying “this is who I am” and not letting other people define me.   It’s a really fun and creative thing to do, revealing too.  I’d encourage anyone to try it.