The last few weeks in Portland we have been besieged by winter storms. P-town is unaccustomed to long stretches of cold temperatures and the entire city shuts down when our usual rain turns to layers of snow and ice. I, for one, thoroughly enjoyed the gift of a winter wonderland. It is utterly magical to hike though the stillness of a forest, watching light reflect off the cloak of white weighing down trees with quiet. The morning after it snowed, I decided to walk from my home into downtown and back, which is about 9 miles round trip. People are different when it snows. Everyone moves slower; they are more careful where they place their feet and how they move through space. They stop often, and look around rather then staring down at their phones. The rote becomes wonderfully strange when everything is covered in white. If you are not having to anxiously grip your steering wheel while commuting to a job, then a snow day is just about the best thing out there.
It is just about the best thing until you lose your focus while walking into a parking lot and slip. It is the worst thing when you fall and slam your knee into a sheet of ice with all your weight behind it. I did this last Friday after a glorious two hour walk with my friend Tom. Luckily there was Uber to carry me back to my car, and ice and whisky to ease the pain. My knee, although bathed in a plethora of magenta and green shades, is doing much better now, and it gave me an iron-clad excuse to watch the entire first season of the Tudors on Netflix.
I have also been reading through all my journals from this past year in the last few weeks and it is so very interesting to revisit each one. It is fun to discover drawings such as the one above, which harken back to late summer days of brilliant sun and sparkling water. This sketch is from Mljet, an island that Lissa and I visited off the coast of Croatia. We stayed for 3 days in tiny Okuklje Bay at the beginning of September, and it was perfect. Well, except for Lissa’s flu, it was perfect. As Lissa slept and recovered in our apartment, I had all day to paint. I sat on the dock in the thick heat and watched sailboats anchor under the Mediterranean pines. The first drawing, which is shown below, went off the rails due to a misjudged angle and so I decided to draw the whole thing again. The drawing above is my second attempt. It felt more difficult the second time, but I’m glad I persisted.
One of the hardest things for me to do is to leave a drawing I don’t like in my journal. As a result, this is actually the first unfinished drawing that I have kept in 3 years. To be honest, if I don’t like a piece, I usually just sabotage it with too much water so the paper actually rips right out on its own. My Aunt Cheryl, a fellow journal artist and kindred spirit, has reminded me that every drawing is just a mirror of where we are in the moment, physically and emotionally, and that each piece has a purpose in reflecting our journey. The perfectionist in me grows distressed at this notion, and when I page through my journals, I can feel the resistance to these less than ideal pieces. It’s a symptom of something that I am working hard to excise in myself, but it is deeply planted. It will take some time to get to the roots.
What I am most intrigued by as I read through these journals are the patterns that emerge in my writing and my thoughts. I have realized that even though my travels just ended a month ago, I was already idealizing it in my mind. As I try to create and build the loose structure of my life here in Portland, my mind wants to flee and take my body with it. I say to myself – “I could go anywhere right now…” and the reality is that I actually could. I realize, however, that all the feelings I am experiencing are also documented in the pages of my journals. I have all the same anxiety, fear, and doubt; it’s just in a place I have known for thirty years, rather than a European city with a cathedral. The old adage that we take ourselves with us wherever we go is terribly and undeniably true.
I do see a difference, however. While I traveled, I learned how to address these feelings in myself and speak truth to them and over them, rather than just wallow in them. I have written many times of my process of learning how to exercise my ‘trust’ muscle as I began to practice surrender and letting go of expectations. Now, I must remember to use this ‘trust’ again and not let the old muscle memory take over. It is an understatement to say that this is hard. I have spent my entire adult life in Portland living in a different way. I like having control and I like the appearance of having it even more. I am mapping out a new way of being, and I have to constantly remind myself it is going to take some time.
This old picture of who I was is also deeply planted. Never a plant person, I find myself comically awash in gardening metaphors. I seem to find myself constantly digging around in the dirt of my heart and mind in regards to all areas of my life; art, faith, vocation – just the general act of being, really. Just everything.
But I will keep digging; fingernails blackened, the musty smell of rot and new life thick in the air. When I get to the roots, I know I will have created space to plant some new seeds. Spring is coming in a few months. Perhaps there are already seeds I have planted that will bloom unexpectedly. That would be the best thing. Perhaps even better than a snow day.