Meet Benji, the newest member of our household. He would come out and say "Hi", but he's quilling just now, and a little cranky.
I know how he feels.
When our daughter asked if she could bring home a hedgehog for the summer, I was surprised at how readily my husband agreed. He is usually the one who takes priming, while I am in favor of pets. (Good eating - he jokes - at least we won't starve!) Previously, I had to lay groundwork, convincing him over days or weeks that pets were a good idea, till eventually he would warm up to the thought of sharing his space, time, money, energy with what is essentially a child that never learns to clean up after itself. This time, however, he surprised me by agreeing before we had even had a chance to discuss it. Our daughter's witty PowerPoint on the benefits of owning a hedgehog had, if not convinced him entirely, at least softened his resolve enough to realize that anyone can endure anything for three short months. Benji was welcome, my daughter's dream come true.
Back to quilling... I had never heard of this process, but it is something immature hedgehogs do similar to cutting teeth. They loose several quills at a time as their adult quills come in - a process that is uncomfortable enough to cause hissing and "popping", and can alter a naturally sweet disposition. (I've seen similar effects in people going through changes, myself included.) It is recommended that hedgehogs continue to be handled through this period so that they learn to feel safe.
As our household adjusts to its new and returning members, I try to remind myself that transitions are hard for everyone. I can feel my defenses go up when things aren't exactly as I've grown comfortable with, feel myself getting prickly or wanting to curl up into a protective little ball. Now that I have a dedicated office/studio space, it's hard not to just retreat. Harder still to stay put and keep my quills from poking others.
Home is the perfect place to learn. Family helps all of us grow up.
I am thankful for the many opportunities our family has been given to adjust to circumstances beyond our control, for the love that surrounds us as we loose what is no longer needed to make room for a more mature way of living.
As for Benji? He and I are gonna get along just fine.
My rural hometown had an incredible art program, but my family moved when I was a junior and, at my new school, visual arts were grossly under-appreciated. Art class was where uninspired and underachieving students were sent to make up their humanities credit - much to the chagrin of my long-suffering art teacher, Mr. Britton…which is probably why he granted me the senior art award. It came as a total surprise. I had taken all the available art classes by the end of my first year there, and with so many other interests, had filled my class schedule with other electives. But he knew I wanted to be an artist as well as a writer, and hoped to encourage me.
Graduation season is upon us once again, with all of it's pomp and circumstance, and I am pleased to pay homage to Mr. Britton by passing his encouragement along. Having given public art lectures and numerous book talks and readings as an author, for the first time was invited to speak at a high school National Art Honor Society induction ceremony honoring talented young artists. These are some of the words I shared with them:
My first public speaking gig was at my own high school graduation… and I totally blew it. For some odd reason, though I wasn’t valedictorian or even salutatorian, I was nominated to be our class speaker. It may have been that I had a reputation for being outgoing and well spoken. I had rocked my pre-college English courses - today’s equivalent of AP English – and was just coming off a successful run as the lead in our spring musical, The Sound of Music. I oozed confidence. Whatever the reason - and really, it does baffle me now as to how anyone could have thought it was a good idea - I decided I would speak off the cuff. Extemporaneously. In front of almost a thousand people.
Trust me; it wasn’t pretty.
I had written a short poem, a motto, which I’d committed to memory and thought would be the perfect launching pad -
Let me live now and never regret losing a second
For let no second go by that I am idle,
No thoughtless moment mar a day filled with the opportunity to do,
Or to be.
...pretty ambitious, isn’t it? And naive.
From there, I expected inspiration to blaze like a lightning bolt out of the sky, and hit me with sage words that would electrify my listeners. When that didn’t happen, I almost resorted to belting out Edelweiss, but instead, meekly asked my fellow classmates to remember that their parents and educators also deserved a round of applause for their heroic efforts on getting them to this point, and - very humbled, as the confused audience twittered and clapped anemically - I sat down.
You don’t get off that easy today. Neither do I.
These days I am obsessed with getting it right.
Whether I’m at the computer or easel, attention to detail is my own personal superpower. I love to layer the aesthetic with functionality, to make the ordinary extraordinary. Taking a simple idea and developing it into an alternate universe complete with its own language is my idea of fun. Spending hundreds of hours working on a single illustration thrills my heart.
The act of creating is one the most meaningful and joyful aspects of life. I believe it is what we are made for. Art makes a difference, in fact, it makes all the difference. It is what elevates life from the mundane to the sublime. As a lifelong avid reader and now author & illustrator, I don’t just get to exist in one world, I live in thousands; some of my own creation, others that I visit only sporadically. Art and literature make these worlds possible, and I am eternally grateful to the creative contributions of so many throughout the ages. They are my heroes.
You who are sitting here being honored for artistic excellence today have been given the gift of art. Will you develop and nurture that gift to enrich your own life or share with the world… or squander it, lock it away in some secret cupboard out of fear that it isn’t good enough?
Most people stop drawing about the time they realize that what they are putting down on the paper looks nothing like the real thing – at around the age of eleven. That is when drawing becomes work. You are the lucky ones who pushed past that stage and can now enjoy it again. You are the ones who can bring art into a world that craves beauty. Yet not all of you are destined to be artists. Some of you have other, stronger loves and interests, skills I can only dream of having. You will spend your creativity in other ways. But that doesn’t mean art won’t play an important role in your lives.
Living artistically doesn’t have a set look. It might mean designing architecture, teaching a classroom of music students, running a restaurant or corporation, making furniture. A creative life doesn’t always wear a face you can recognize. Sometimes it goes incognito. Sometimes it means wearing sweatpants and driving a mini-van. But it is still a superpower.
Consider, if you would, the movie The Incredibles.
I adore animation. I appreciate the time it takes, even now with improved technology and CGI - computer generated images. I love the attention to detail, the little things the audience doesn’t notice consciously, but that would seem off if they weren’t just so. The backdrops, the mannerisms, all of that. It takes years and millions of dollars to make a film like The Incredibles. The Incredibles #2 is soon to be released, and I can hardly wait! But what I love most about The Incredibles isn’t the animation; it’s how real the characters are. They are flawed. They are normal despite their amazing super powers. They are human and make mistakes, just like all of us. They also want to be their best selves. That is their main motivation. It isn’t showing off, or making the world sit up and take notice that drives them, even though they might enjoy the limelight. Craving the limelight for its own sake is the trait of super villains. Heroes just want to do what they are good at, to live honorably and make the world a better place. That can be done – and is – everyday by countless individuals just going about their lives.
I love the scenes where Mr. Incredible - aka Bob Parr - is sitting at his desk, shoulders hunched, endlessly bored and overly capable, nearly broken. It’s not that he can’t help people in that capacity – he proves he can with his sympathy toward a weepy, older lady who he assists with an insurance claim. But he is unhappy because he isn’t being all that he can be in that job. We see that he doesn’t fully come to life until he is back to doing what he loves: hero work. And even then, while he’s sneaking around, doing it on the sly so that his wife, Helen - aka ElastaGirl - won’t know what he’s up to, he is unfulfilled because he isn’t being fully honorable. She, on the other hand, has been doing hero work all along – spoiler alert – as we’ll find out in the sequel when Bob has his turn staying home being the full-time parent.
I am a parent myself – to five wonderful & talented children. For much of their lives, I was their hero, and maybe for some I still am. Along with writing and making art, they are my passion. For years they were my top priority – and still are, though it is a little less time consuming with only our bonus baby left at home. But remember that little poem I wrote about not being idle? Well, with five kids there isn’t much time for being idle… or anything else for that matter. So, I haven’t always been what you would call a “producing artist”.
At times, I admit, I chafed at not having enough time to pursue my art while raising children, not fully recognizing the opportunity they gave me to share it in new and creative ways. You see - living an honorable life isn’t dependent on circumstances; it is what you do despite them. It wasn’t Mr. Incredible that was a hero to that old woman, it was Bob Parr. And in my case, in passing my love for the arts along to my children my gift has been multiplied many times over, and in a variety of ways that wouldn’t have been possible had I just kept it for myself. Two of my kids went on to be theater majors; our son intends to pursue voice and stage acting, while our eldest turned her love of language into a career in marketing consultation, and is developing a book of her comic strips. Another daughter graduates this weekend a full-fledged pastry chef. Our fourth child let her fascination with neuroscience take precedence – much to her scientist father’s delight – yet writes some of the deepest, most eloquent poetry I’ve ever read. Our youngest is still an unknown quantity, but I am confident that art has, and will continue to enrich her life.
As time allowed, I returned to making art and writing, and in retrospect realized that living an authentic, honorable life doesn’t always mean it turns out exactly as we envision it. It might be smaller. It might appear unnoticeable, but it is in the everyday details - the work that is involved - that the most important part of life plays out. We can become Super Uses when we live honorable lives. We can endow the everyday with greatness and make it sublime when we give it our best, regardless of our circumstances, with or without accolades or recognition. We can be incredible. You can be incredible. It’s a decision.
Today you are being honored not only for your outstanding abilities in art, but for your efforts to attain the highest standards in art scholarship, character, and service. Such honor may be bestowed, thrown over your shoulders like a mantle - a varsity jacket, a medal, a certificate of accomplishment, a grade, an induction into the National Art Honor Society, even an election to be class speaker – but can only become part of your character with your consent and participation. Honor takes effort. To live honorably is to live without worrying about how you are perceived, to not dwell on mistakes and imperfections, but to strive to give your best. When we give our best, it speaks volumes.
I hope that you will always give your best. The world needs your best. The world needs heroes. Heroes like Mr. Britton... and your teachers, parents and supporting adults.
So let’s give all of them a round of applause.
Look who's featured this week on a sister author's blogsite! lifeuntapped.com/2018/05/09/one-mothers-journey-pacing-vs-racing-taking-time-to-be-kind-to-yourself/
While you're at it, make sure to check out Stacy Hawkins Adams work, too: www.amazon.com/Stacy-Hawkins-Adams/e/B001JSA12E I will be featuring her in a guest post here soon!
Finally! I woke up today to temps that begged for opened windows and coffee on the deck - huzzah!
Spring has been a long time coming; now that it is here my goal is to revel in it. For most of the winter I have been trapped inside, both the house and my own head. Ideas churned in such confined space, becoming a muddy jumble unworthy to be spilled upon an unsuspecting page. But, with new walking shoes and sunlit disposition, I am seeking the great outdoors today, where my thoughts can stretch into something worthy of the time it takes to type them.
There is nothing that inspires like a walk in nature. I am fortunate enough to live on a rural mountainside that makes up for it's punishing uphill climb home with an abundance of wildlife and breathtaking views. Sitting inside, or, more likely, actively engaged in some less than inspiring activity, it's easy to forget that an Eden awaits just outside my door. Sure, in winter I get out on snowshoes with the hubby once in a while, and daily to visit my egg-laying beauties, but it isn't the same as a solitary trek where the mind is free to wander as aimlessly as a lost nomad. This is where the best thoughts are found. Not that I am seeking them today - no! I will let them come and go as they may, like the breeze that is warming my cheek right now, and calling me to stop typing, to start living again.
Enjoy this beautiful day. I shall.