Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Quote of the Day

"I never tried to prove nothing, just wanted to give a good show. My life has always been my music, it's always come first, but the music ain't worth nothing if you can't lay it on the public. The main thing is to live for that audience, 'cause what you're there for is to please the people."

     - Louis Armstrong

The Notebook, Part II

After keeping the spittoon notebook for eight or nine years, I occasionally have to ask myself why it works. I don't think of myself as regimented or disciplined. Why do I continue to value it and keep it as a fixture in my life? Why do I feel like oxygen has been removed from my life if I miss a day of writing? Because it has. The writing is a way of breathing insight, awareness, and contemplation into the start of my day.

Perhaps I have kept the notebook alive because I have no major expectations except my initial one; to get the words in my head down on paper. I write because I love the hour sitting in my chair, illuminated by the north-window light, facing my favorite cottage on my street. It's the brightest room in the house. It's also the coldest room in the house in winter; I just wrap myself in a blanket. This writing is about openness, allowing for anything to cross the page, an attitude necessary for me to also make paintings and drawings, but much harder for me to achieve there. I write because having had thirty years of therapy didn't help me the way the notebook does!

How did this habit become ritual, become a reliable best friend? How can I have this relationship with painting? I have a good relationship with practicing and performing on my horn. It seems that with painting I have to dismantle deep-rooted expectations and attitudes I learned, starting at age seven. Ultimately I wanted to be a famous artist so my parents and relatives would love me. I have to dismantle this burden, lighten the load, keep my creative dreams within reach. What else is life for, vacations? Accumulating money?

May we all be able to do something creative for no practical reason, and do it every day for eight years!

Second Quote of the Day

"Say what you want and be who you are because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind."

     - Theodore Seuss Geisel

Cracking a Smile

During a stretch of deep depression about eight years ago I was swimming religiously, to try to lift my spirits. One Sunday morning I was on my way home from the YMCA pool feeling so deeply dark and haunted. Just as I arrived on my street I saw a guy on the sidewalk, at the base of my driveway, talking on the pay-phone while wearing gigantic fluffy yellow-and-bright-orange slippers resembling chicken feet. It was the middle of winter!! I cracked a smile, feeling that divine intervention had taken place.

Genetic Counseling

When I first heard the term "genetic counseling" I imagined it meant that doctors would sit down with you and say, "Yeah, we know your father tells bad jokes and your mother is neurotic, but we can help you get through this!"

Mood Pushing

Before I began to understand the importance of accepting my energy/mood cycle, I used to try to grab hold of my moods really tightly, and push them. I would make the highs go higher and dig the lows even deeper. I thought this would help the moodiness! It made the moods more dramatic and entertaining, but potentially disastrous. I don't recommend it. Pushing my moods was my attempt at control. It was exactly the wrong approach, which I didn't yet understand. It can be hard to let go, to trust, and to live my life by letting the waves happen.


Growing up I felt as though my parents were always distracted. They were in a spin, their heads a-whirl. Their days exhausted them, and they were rarely present. It's a horrible way to live, I know all about it, my thoughts, my worries, spinning around in my head like a tornado. Sadly I often see my friends in spin, and I hope their kids won't grow up feeling that they, too, were raised by tornados. Can we embrace this journey, and try not to spin through all of it? Sometimes spin descends on me for weeks, and it's torture. I just try to hang in there, poking my arms out through the swirling 110-mile-per-hour winds to grab my notebook, my saxophone, my laundry basket, promising myself this too shall pass. I try to laugh at myself, try to remember that the present is a present.

Invite the Magic

On the rough days I try to coax my terrified self to enter the studio, because I never know where the work will take me. Good days have turned sour, and sour days have brightened. I show up and invite the magic, as my pal Craig says. My efforts change me; exhilarate, frighten, exhaust, soften, frustrate, worry, anger, bore, entertain, enlighten or amuse me. I have to put myself on the spot to invite the magic, and return again and again to build this life.

Band Names

I love to dream up fantasy band names. Here's the list so far:

Girls Fear Cheese
Tilted Uterus
Invisible Fence
Friendly Bacteria
The Spit Valves
Moose Farm
The Cervical Caps
In-Ground Pool
The Zebra Stripes

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Notebook

I keep a notebook. I call it the spittoon. It's full of the scattershot ramblings I have running through my head. I started keeping it about eight or nine years ago when I had so much chatter in my head it was destroying me! I thought I would have to construct my own guillotine and then use it on myself in order to have peace. A friend of mine suggested I instead scribble down the noise, and I did and continue to, to this day. I got hooked.

I found that forming a sentence, even a crazy one, helped organize my tornado-spun thoughts. To put together a sentence, even a bad ungrammatical one, the spin has to form a line so you have one word following the next: "Okay guys get in line, single file." The notebook writing is much less scary than the high winds in my head. The sentences go in, one after the other, into the spittoon. It's a psycho-linguistic gestalt home remedy.

At first the writing saved me from having to make my own guillotine. Although I still have those days, now the writing is the churning and aerating of the soil, preparing me for my artistic day. I am so grateful for my simple friend, pen and paper.

A Man's Heart

Today while walking Honey past the elderly high-rise, the clear glass electric doors opened and a man who knows my name shouted "Emily!" He was wearing navy-blue sweatpants that were slipping, revealing his abdomen and showing the patterned elastic rim of his boxer shorts; he hiked them back up. As he spoke, his top row of dentures let go and he popped them back onto his gums. "I'll only hold you for a minute. I went to the hospital and they shot me with dye and saw my heart was bad. They said they can't operate because I could die on the table. They said I have a very bad heart. Take care of yourself, Emily."

Friday, March 16, 2007

Quote of the Day

God turns you from one feeling to another
And teaches you by means of opposites
So that you will have two wings to fly
Not one.

     - Rumi

Two Houses

I have two distinct energy cycles and sometimes I call them my two houses. I move in and get accustomed to one house and then, after about eight weeks, things rattle and shift and I find myself landed in the other house. This repeats throughout the year and never ceases to amaze me. I get adjusted to my new house after a few weeks, and I convince myself that this time my understanding is so thorough that my cycle will never drastically switch again. Part of me always wishes this were true and that I could decide to live in one house and be done with it but that would be like trying to control the tides or the phases of the moon. What I can do is keep taking notes to understand and accept and maybe someday even love my cyclical nature. Over the years my husband and I have devised a language for exploring this phenomenon without putting a value judgment on it or oversimplifying it. We call it the cycle of receive mode and transmit mode.

Transmit Mode

Transmit mode is tons of fun. I am energetic, spontaneous, confident, and I feel inspired in a sensory way (sound, touch, taste, smell, vision). I can hardly keep up with my desire to communicate what I am experiencing, and I feel a geyser of radiant energy propelling out of every pore. I am constantly making associative leaps in my thinking and having moments of magical thinking. My energy is on full-blast and at the end of the day I'll fall asleep in seconds, waking up super-energized. I have to make sure I get proper amounts of sleep by keeping track of hours on my calendar, especially in the summer months, because in transmit mode I have no sense of time, and three hours in bed can feel like a full night of sleep. I can be distracted and impatient, with loins full of energy. I'll walk for miles or swim. This energy and clarity and self-assuredness goes on for a while and could even dip into arrogance if I was not careful. It seems there is always a bit of anger when things begin to rattle. That's the clue that I'm shifting! Then I fall into sadness and land in receive mode.

Receive Mode

When I'm first in receive mode I am exhausted, haunted, and full of insecurity, empathy, vulnerability, and despair. I feel like I am a terrible person, radioactive and poisonous, and I should hide from people, or I am just annoyed by everyone and I should hide from people. I move more slowly and can feel hopeless, like life is a bad deal and I want out. I am not so physical and sensory. My energy and appetite are not distracting. My dog seems to have more energy than I remember, my house fills up with dust bunnies and junk-mail, I retrieve, with wonder and appreciation, loaves of bread from the freezer that I baked on the energetic transmit-mode days. Sometimes I can't imagine holding my heavy saxophone let alone playing it. I crave sleep and dread communicating. Then I adjust to the energy shift and begin to level off and appreciate the good qualities of this state. I am extremely receptive in a particular way. I read books, I can concentrate steadily on playing music, painting, and writing because I am receiving, taking in. I am also receiving things from my inner world. It is a reflective, conceptual, imaginative vision. I am confronted by my old belief system, the one I learned from infancy, which states that I am a terrible person. This may be why at times it is so excruciating to be in receive mode. But receive mode is the perfect time to recognize the flaws in my belief system, and laugh at myself when I can.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007


I have been working on completing a show of my recent paintings that is now up. A painter friend asked about my process of painting, and I've decided to share my response.

The journey is unique for everyone. That said I will say that I too get fired up on starting things because the possibilities are still open-ended. I often start a whole bunch of pictures so when I feel frightened that I might ruin a good start, or I get impatient, or precious, or boxed-in, all of which happens on a regular basis, I have other pictures to turn to. I will often abandon a picture for six months or a year to let go of it so when I return I am less precious and I can dive back in. Sometimes I paint a solid color over a picture I dislike and then it becomes a blank canvas again, full of promise (with added texture).

Without a deadline to push me it can be very difficult for me to finish the pictures or know when I am done. Booking a show can help make completion happen. I didn't realize until recently how crucial it is to have receivers view what you have done to complete the process. It also helps to work in a medium that you really like because then no matter how crazy it gets, you still have the sensory reminder of the materials you love, and that can be delightfully grounding. The thing I love and strive for is to be engaged in "flow". Then I am fully immersed in the process. It can take weeks of rough rides to reach flow, and then when I find it I don't want to let go of it. A painter I knew said painters get hooked on flow. Probably the way musicians get hooked on the groove and athletes get hooked on the zone. Perhaps it's all variations of the same thing; that place where life expands and deepens from the magic we're engaged in.