So did I paint something?

Yeah, I did actually get up the next morning and start a painting. I was all revved up and hungry to create!

What I craved was a HUGE canvas…a meter wide, a meter and a half tall, that sort of thing…a wall that I could walk up to and engage, throw myself at, mano a mano…arms moving in great sweeping arcs of brushstrokes. Looked everywhere on the boat…was so sure I had some huge canvases left over from my last show. Nothing.


What I found were scores of tiny little canvases…mostly the size of a paperback book…and one, just one, tall, skinny canvas—30 cm wide, and 60 cm. high. (1′ x 2′). Oh, that’s right…instead of buying one wonderful, epic canvas for $30, I thought I’d be clever and buy 10 dinky little ones for the same price. Fool. So much for my grand date with creative destiny. I felt so restricted and cramped with this small canvas! My sweeping gestures were reduced to finger-daubing and dabbing with medium-sized brushes.


And the process? Hrrm. Well. I started out the way Downey did in her video…all energetic abstract doodles and splodges of color. I even hit a few spots with water in a spray bottle to make the paint run. Drips. Very outré, drips in paintings, oh my. Yes, yes, everything was feeling very loose, very spontaneous, very earth goddess, moon mother, loose caftans and jangly earrings. There were lots of fantastic body gestures…it was almost a modern interpretive dance. I even played the one song I own that is by Loreena McKennit, can you imagine? Instead of my usual Radiohead, The White Stripes, The Commodores, and One Love Sonic Boom mixes.

Great. Then I started painting in some simple motifs…leaves (ovals with one pointy end) and flowers (ovals with pointy one end), birds (ovals with one pointy end and a tail like a platypus bill), sprinkles of dots and organic shapes sort of thing. Get this, I even flicked runny paint at the canvas, a la angry young men in movies about artists (then “Eep!” Wiped most of it off again.) Art? Who said anything about making art? I was acting out the artist stereotype. I was being ‘creative’. To anyone who may have been watching, I was also being a wanker.

No actual attempts to draw anything or produce something skillfully. No attempts to find a symbol or a subject that actually meant something. It occurred to me that the motifs that came easily to mind were very hackneyed. (That must be why they came so easily to mind, Einstein.) At this point I started to feel like a fraud. Lotus flowers, are you fucking kidding me? Lily pads? What has this painting got to do with me? Do I sound like a Southeast Asian Buddhist to you?

And the painting, ye gods. Did I really channel the aesthetics of the entire Balinese Airport Artists Cooperative? This looks like the stuff they churn out in Thailand to decorate restaurants with. I’m amazed there aren’t any koi in the pond under the lily pads, or bare-breasted women in those pointy golden pagoda hats. “WHAT, NO KOI? Can’t be a proper Asian restaurant painting without the koi! People need something to look at while they’re slurping their tom yums and pad thais!”

Traditional Thai art paintings
Traditional Thai art paintings

But I have chosen to leave the painting alone. May it serve as a lesson to me…what works for others may does not work for me, and shame on me for letting someone else’s style bear too heavily upon my own.

The result may look okay to you, reading this, but believe me, the painting is empty, devoid of soul or self. It’s a lie. Just because it’s an okay-looking lie doesn’t make it right. The paintings of a large molar and two chairs were more honest than this. At least they came from my own head, and weren’t trying to please anybody. I’m going to let Donna Downey’s wonderful video cool off in my head for a while, then I’m looking forward to another session—I’m still inspired by her video!—this time just being myself…don’t matter if it’s fugly. At least it’ll be my own. Kinda like having an ugly child, I guess. 😀

The End, part 1:: Stay Changed Always

Each year receives a name at its end—a word or phrase to hold its essence, a name to remember it by. So much has happened this 2010 that it’s hard to settle on a name…I’ve decided on something very general, though it really does gather all of the year into one firm hand:

The year of change

On Christmas day of 2009 I found a lump in my breast. It turned out to be nothing, however the full medical check-up I underwent at the start of 2010 disclosed that I was pre-diabetic (blood sugar levels not quite diabetic yet, but getting there,) had hypothyroidism, an unusually low blood pressure, and was overweight by 23 kilos. So I committed to making some big changes in my life:

I quit smoking. Initially I found ii-ne-kore’s diary of a quitter inspiring, but as she slowly slid off the wagon and gave up I turned to, and got real help, from QuitCoach.

I read dozens of books on pre-diabetes. The New Glucose Revolution and all the other titles in that series were the most helpful; I learned how to make better choices from among the foods and ingredients that I liked, instead of going on some sad, unrealistic diet of deprivation—like the truly hair-brained “Lemonade, Sea-water and Laxatives” diet that some misguided family members talked me into doing for 10 days in 2007!

I went to a dietitian and a diabetes educator for advice (and then I followed that advice!) and joined the local diabetes health organization.

I switched to a low GI and low fat diet:
I turned my back on potatoes, on bread, pastries and all flour-based foods, on rice (an Asian who can’t eat rice! Still, my days of creativity and life are worth more than all the world’s bowls of freshly steamed rice…)on candies and jellybeans (not a problem, I never liked them) and anything made with glucose (Greek Halvah, alas!) Said goodbye to all noodles (except soba and bean thread,) to processed meats, to butter, and to all but a thin sliver, a mere shaving, an occasional crumb of cheese.
I still enjoy beautiful food. I have turned to pasta with elaborate sauces of roasted tomato, grilled eggplants, basil and kangaroo fillets…to bulgur as tabbouleh or as a spiced bed for fiery vindaloo…to rich dhals of chickpea or split yellow pea or mung beans…to avocado and smoked salmon on a mound of fresh salad sprinkled with toasted seeds and walnuts…to bowls of fruit tossed with pure floral honey and yogurt. I watch my portion sizes. I don’t feel like someone on a strict diet!

I started taking the daily hormone for my hypothyroidism.

I went to a doctor and paid her to design a workout program for me. I enrolled in a good gym, and went there three days a week. I also asked my husband to build and install a simple workout bench on the deck of our boat. I bought several pairs of dumbells and a yoga mat. I use them on the days that I don’t go to the gym and it isn’t pouring rain.

The results? I’ve had 6 or 8 cigarettes in the past year. I no longer dream that I am smoking, either. In October I had the blood sugar of a normal person (no longer pre-diabetic), my thyroid antibody levels were down, my blood pressure was unremarkable, and I had lost 13 kgs (28 lbs). Needless to say, I really do feel very good, and I’ve gone from a size 18 to a 12 (at some shops I’m a 10). So yes, it did pay off in a very satisfying way, and my initial success has done wonders for my willpower and self-esteem. That sounds like a mouthful of New Age crap, but it’s true.

It doesn’t end here, of course…I know I can never go back to living the way I used to…and why would I want to, when that way obviously wasn’t working for me? I haven’t had this much energy and verve for years.

I don’t know where the strength to change so many things, so quickly, came from, but I am grateful that it came, and that it stayed with me through the year.
Fear played a part: that lump that started me on my journey of personal health. Nothing like the hint of cancer to make a girl sit up and take notice.
Honesty, too…my grandmother and mother both developed full-blown diabetes—my mother is now blind in one eye because she ignored the many, many years of warning signs, and lived as though she believed she was somehow above it all, or that it would, in passing, spare her for some special reason—and I had to finally face the hard fact that I had inherited the tendency to become diabetic; that, unless I made special efforts to avoid it, it would come for me, too, and that I would suffer as I got older.

And having reasons to live and stay healthy will often help turn a sea of unresolved grays into clear black-and-white choices. Kris, my partner and best friend, whom I love more than I love anyone or anything else in my world, is an active, adventurous, healthy man full of passion for life; looking after myself is one way of loving and respecting him, as well as being able to accompany him and share those adventures.

Also, there is that joy beyond words—the ardour, excitement, and intense satisfaction—that I get from other people’s art, and from making things, myself. I love getting up in the morning and taking a book of poems from a shelf, to enjoy with my coffee…or sitting in the dark with my headphones on, adrift on a sea of music… almost as much as I love being able to spend my days in my studio, deep in creative mindfulness… wholly engaged in the playful act of making something, where there was nothing.

These are my reasons for changing, and hoping to stay changed. How could I keep following my old ways, when there was so much beauty and joy and love at stake?