On Connection, Clarity, and Friendship

My friend Diana Peach, a talented and generous writer, offered me a gift the other day. The gift came in the form of an exchange about creativity that added a layer of color to the evolving picture of my creative journey, my purpose for making art. I wanted to share it with you all in case the conversation, along with my associated thoughts, has any relevance for you. Also, you may want to follow Diana’s blog and make her your friend too!

In response to Diana’s comment on my most recent blog post about painting, I offered this:

I don’t often know why I feel compelled to write about something in particular. My ‘muse’ often seems to have an agenda beyond my ego’s comprehension. Through painting (and writing too), I often see where I am limited and where there is greater capacity than I recognize (or realize). I’m always looking to connect with others who are thoughtful about the creative journey, which surpasses any particular work of art (painted, written, or otherwise). Sometimes I think I care more about how we create than what is created. But that may simply be a stage in my creative journey. I wonder about yours. How you came to allow yourself to access the stories that live in you. Whether it was effortful (or perhaps still is?) or more like breathing (effortful moments nestled in automaticity/flow).

Diana’s response:

“Sometimes I think I care more about how we create than what is created.” A lovely musing and one I can relate to. I never tire of learning about the creative impulse and process of other artists. It’s utterly mesmerizing. I still seek that fluid balance of effortless inspiration and effortful craft. 

Until Diana quoted me back to myself, I’m not sure I fully appreciated the extent to which process has been more important to me than outcome. My attention to process was the reason I started this blog, but in the making of things I’d almost forgotten that.

I’m not the best painter or writer, nor do I expect myself to be. I am most interested in growth and evolution – my own and others’. I get better when I attend more fully to process, to understand where I am not allowing flow. I wonder how true that may be for others besides Diana and me.

We communicate imperfectly. We make offerings to each other without any certainty about how they will be received, without any sense of what we may get in return. Still, we try. We write. We paint. We share in whatever mediums and by whatever means we have. And I believe it is in the trying and sharing – the willingness to engage in common space – that we get closer to clarity. Sometimes we even get answers to questions we didn’t know we were asking!

By sharing, we allow ourselves the possibility of fresh air, which by definition is a kind of inspiration. In breath, the energy exchange with others, we may find a clearer path to creative flow in the midst of our effortful crafting. If any of this resonates, I’d love to hear from you!

Are You Willing To Risk It All?

For those of you who aren’t painters, I want to tell you this secret. To be a painter – even an amateur one like me – you also have to be a gambler. Painters have to be willing to lose, repeatedly, until a painting is finished.

Every time I make a painting, I reach a point where I must put everything on the line, bet it all on the next brushmark. And many times, I lose.

Now, I’m not a gambler in any other way. The only slot machines I ever remember playing were the ones I visited at the Las Vegas airport en route to the Grand Canyon. I didn’t win. Lottery tickets tempt me sometimes. But the potential jackpot is less compelling than the greater likelihood of losing. I’ve never considered myself particularly lucky.

Instead, I prefer a sure thing if I can get it. I am a creature of routine and sameness for this reason. I know what I like and try to maximize my chances. Maybe I just like control. Don’t most of us?

But painting is never a sure thing. It’s a practice of uncertainty and risk. Painting is always a gamble. 

The first brush strokes come with low stakes. There’s a lot less to lose when so little has been invested. But as a painting progresses, so increase the moments of possible ruin. With each new brush stroke, the razor’s edge becomes thinner.

Yes, mistakes can be corrected and even Bob Ross style happy accidents may add life to a painting. But I can tell you it’s not as easy to fix a painting as you might think, especially not if you want to preserve some precious part you’ve attached to. Changing one thing often creates a domino effect of other needed adjustments. This is doable. In fact, better paintings often result. But there is almost always something lost. And it is a gamble. The losses may never be recouped by the final bet.

When you look at a painting, there is typically no hint of the artist’s sweat, or that razor’s edge in view. You decide if you like it or not, and move on. You don’t see the paintings that have been tossed, scraped down, or sanded away, sometimes after countless hours of attention. But the artist remembers. The artist can’t separate the painting from the process of making it.

Maybe there are painters out there who don’t identify with what I’m saying at all. I’d love to know YOUR secret! And I’m aware there are ways of painting that make outcome more predictable. Still, I recently heard that Anne Packard once threw one of her paintings into the ocean. I know the struggle is real, even for great painters!

And I know the paintings I’ve wanted to throw into the ocean are often the ones I become most attached to. I don’t throw away the ones I don’t like. Instead, I let them rest where they taunt me until I have the courage to go back and try again. These are the ones I suspect others won’t value the same way I do; these are the ones that contain a bigger piece of my heart.

I don’t really like gambling. I hate to lose, especially in a contest with myself. I’ve had enough loss in my life already. But I am a painter, which requires me to be a gambler. I keep painting. Because sometimes I win. And only because I am willing to try again.

And sometimes I even understand: What is meant to be kept, can never truly be lost.

And sometimes I even know: we only find out what is truly possible, when we are willing to surrender everything we have attached to.

Are you a gambler? Are you willing to release the things that hold you back for the possibility of something greater?


Here are a few recent paintings that were saved from the trash.

This painting sat in my closet for a year before I pulled it out and painted over most of the original painting. The darker blue at the bottom was once the sky and that is the only part I didn’t touch.
This is another painting that sat in my closet for a bit. Now that I think about it, the sky in this painting was once the ground also. Seems to be a repeated theme!

Home of the brave, land of the free?

I originally wrote and published this piece in January of this year. It was a bit “off brand” for me and I didn’t necessarily understand why I was writing it or why I felt compelled to share it. Sometimes things can only be understood in retrospect. I’m re-blogging this now as the relevance seems more clear. Thanks for reading!

Citizens of the United States have been indoctrinated by a collection of myths, one of which is the idea that we live in the ‘land of the free, home of the brave.’ Every country encourages cultural ethea, ideas to consolidate a shared identity. And we often accept these ideas as our lived experience until confronted with contrary evidence. Even then, we sometimes dismiss the dissonant notes, preferring to hold on to an ideal, sometimes framed as love of country. We are tempted by convenient untruths to avoid the discomfort of meaningful change.

Disparagement is not my goal here. I, too, am tempted by comfortable illusions. In particular, I want to avoid any hint of criticism towards our military troops, who stand honorably in their commitment to serve. I am grateful for the freedoms I enjoy, the relative privileges I have as a US citizen.

Even so, I think it’s time to have an honest conversation about whether we are actually living in the land of the free. We may indeed enjoy relative freedoms, but at what cost to ourselves and others with whom we share this planet?

On some level we’ve accepted our lot. We pay our taxes and take our shoes off at the airport. We go about our business without thinking too much about war. We are a nation protected from others. Except we don’t really feel safe when we allow ourselves to look beyond the barriers we’ve erected, when we truly absorb the state of our global and domestic fragility. 

What if we aimed for universal prosperity? What if instead of building walls, highlighting differences, and creating wars, we actualized our shared humanity? 

But this isn’t possible! Or is it?

Heck if I know! But I believe we need a new level of honesty about whether we are behaving in ways that are life-sustaining over the long term. This includes conversations about climate change, but much more. How can we move beyond conditioned fears, along with false notions about who we are? How can we do the right things, even if they are difficult and inconvenient? What are the right things? 

We live in an international world, more connected than ever. What happens in one area of the globe affects us, whether or not that is immediately apparent. I could be wrong, but it seems to me we will never be able to ‘Make America Great’ if we do not find solutions that benefit all who share this planet. Independent of politics, don’t we ultimately want the same things, chief among them safety and freedom?

I believe when some of us feel imperiled, none of us are truly safe. Or free. True freedom requires safety and prosperity for ALL, not only the people we like.

I don’t know how we’ll get there. But if we don’t look honestly at ourselves, I know we never will.

Can we be brave enough to begin?

More living, less dying

Chapin, age 13.5

In the hiatus of favored things
Pain evident in your gait and change of habits
We feared the worst, prepared for the end 

Until suddenly, again, you trotted along the beach
Delighted in old crab shells and seaweed
Then later begged to climb into bed with us,
   Something you’d not done for months
And earlier, chewed on a long discarded bone
Nestled between forgotten toys
Remnants of your younger days

These things seem small, maybe 
But I know they are the sum of everything
Evidence of more living, less dying

And so it is, for all of us
Times of grace, even joy
Smiling into salty waves and leaning into the day
   while knowing. That final day will come

© Amanda Reilly Sayer, 2019

If you liked this, you might enjoy an earlier poem about Chapin here.

Imperfect Approximations in the Sea of Love

Imperfect Approximations in the Sea of Love, 8×8 acrylic on wood panel

I presented my gift to you with no fanfare, no overt meaning beyond, “I found this old box of Uno and thought you might like to have it.” My name had been written on top of the metal lid before you were born. I suggested you could possibly cover my name with yours.

You’d been asking me about playing Uno for several months, asked if I could buy Uno for the office. You seemed pleased I had remembered, but were noncommittal about adding your name to it.

Containers are made to hold things. Sometimes they even become special mementos to keep that which needs saving. They’re also, metaphorically speaking, very relevant to therapy. 

Although your understanding of metaphor is still developing, I suspect you know, even without knowing you do, that the box might be a symbol for something important, something I want you to remember long after we stop working together.

We’ve seen each other once or twice a month for almost 7 years. More than half your life. We matter to each other in ways we both feel, even as we honor the boundaries of our professional relationship.

You’ve grown taller and more articulate about your feelings, the scared kindergartener who threatened to hurt me with his arm cast a now distant memory, even as the old fear of being hurt lingers in your bones. We sometimes talk about the day we met, about how you still want to lash out when you don’t feel safe. We talk a lot about taking space and creating safety inside yourself.

You say you trust me now, the reason you no longer want to hit me. You’re matter-of-fact about this, as if it’s a simple equation. Maybe it is. Simple, but not easy. 

When we talk about safety, you invariably focus on what I’ve done to earn your trust. I, on the other hand, urge you to consider the risks you’ve taken, the work you’ve done. I don’t want the credit.

But I do want you to remember feeling held, of being safely contained by me for a time. And then, as you recall how that feels, even when your heart pounds with fear, I want you to remember to hold yourself in love. Because, strange as it may sound, love is the best antidote to fear, the most powerful weapon you have to manage all that scares you. 

Yes, more than anything else, I want you to remember to love. That you are always, always worthy of love.

*

After thanking me for the Uno, you said, “Maybe I should leave it here so other kids can play with it too.” We’ve worked on empathy, talked a lot about sharing and being a good friend. You’ve learned well. 

“No,” I replied. “There are other things for other kids. This is for you.”


Author’s notes:

Although this piece was inspired by some real events, it is a work of fiction and should be read as such. I share it here because, despite how I’ve chosen to end the piece and our individual and varied needs for external containers, the gifts of love are meant for all of us. Whatever our history and however deep our wounds may be, I suspect we all need these reminders at different times. Consider yourself reminded and loved ❤️

Both the painting and the prose piece were coincidentally finished this morning. The title of the prose piece preceded the making of the painting, but a shared title and pairing for this post seemed just right.

Gift giving in a therapeutic context is a risk and one I’ve only carefully done as part of a deliberate transition/goodbye plan. I can neither encourage nor discourage this practice as a general rule. But I will say, in my experience, true healing of attachment-related wounds happens only from real exchanges that are both safe and heartfelt.