Elixir of Inspiration

If you prefer seeing beautiful art all resolved and pleasing, you will want to steer clear of this post.  Consider this fair warning: This post is a disorienting blurring of the art process and life; this is about  p-r-o-c-e-s-s …. ugly, sometimes painful and disturbing – not at all wondrous, neat or framed.

the thriving mint roots, pulled from herbal garden, September 2011

At the beginning of the spring I haphazardly moved some mint into my herbal bed.  I wasn’t sure where the mint should go and saw it as a temporary solution.  I didn’t have time to garden this year like I wanted to, and let it be.  I enjoyed having fresh lemon mint water all summer.  But who, in their right mind puts mint by chives??  I did, I guess.  Yesterday, I moved thyme and basil into the herbal bed by the tomatoes and chives, where they belong.

I could not believe how the already cut back mint spread its root system through the whole bed, nearly completely undermining the chives and tomatoes.  The mint should have never been placed there.  It seems a profound realization – the undermining, the mint never meant to be there – as if it could speak volumes in symbolic ways to various aspects of life I cannot express yet.

To speak more plainly, it was not much forethought on my part.  The poor powerful mint shouldn’t have been put in such a waiting fertile place that it could not stay in.  Though, I am sure some will sprout up in the Spring and I will find a more permanent location for it.  The mint is much more resilient than I am thorough (in the garden).  My lack of wisdom in the garden continued….

I was in a hurry yesterday.  Taking apart our circle shaped herbal bed in anticipation of the roofer coming soon, beating him to its deconstruction.  I was in a hurry because there was only a bit of time before work.  I quickly found places for the awesome thriving lavender near the strawberries, pulling up some milkweed – transplanting it along the fence.

Being in a hurry turned out to be regretful.  If I had been able to take my time, I would have looked more carefully at the milkweed before transplanting it.  Instead, I blindly pulled and transplanted.  I then pulled weeds where the milkweed had been and found a young monarch caterpillar curled up with green oozing from its rear end.  😦   I was stunned to see a caterpillar that young in the second week of September (didn’t know that sort of thing happened), to see it hurt and to see I had upended its home.  I was sad, immediately aware a little more mindfulness would have prevented it.  I don’t know if I harmed the caterpillar or if it  happened separate from my actions.  I gently moved the caterpillar to the milkweed, and moved more slowly remembering other mistakes of haste I have made in the garden.

There was the time I put up a bird house for the wrens that I enjoy so much.  They love our yard and I thought a bird house would be great fun.  It was.  Until the first baby took its first flight and Boris, the cat, got outside and promptly killed it.  What a heartbreaking day, month, season!  I realized my selfishness in wanting to watch the wrens more carefully without measuring the risks of cats – even if they are kept mostly inside and monitored outside.  Moments happen in an instant.  I removed the bird house.  The next year the wrens returned and made a nest nearby.  Their loss that had been so abrupt, unfair and bewildering did not keep them from trying again and staying where they enjoyed being.  It was a long lesson for me to learn/observe.  There were other mistakes, like learning to avoid toads with the lawn mower and planting Canadian Anemone in my gardens, neither of which I will expand on.

Not to dwell on mistakes; rather, I recall this in order to rally my awareness.  Being aware – present to each moment – is a lesson of great importance.  Each moment can be taken for granted, yet each moment depends on us, our awareness and our insight.  Being in a hurry, acting with haste invites error and errors.  Errors happen, so I vow to learn from them and incorporate them into my awareness.

My art mentor at university, Peter Fletcher, always told me to embrace my mistakes…to please make big ones, not lots of little ones, as they are easier to learn from, and to NOT, for heaven’s sake, start over on a piece because of mistakes.  He explained that a paper that has erased parts and mistakes that have transformed into something else give the piece more energy, history and value.  He was the first person in my life who did not reprimand, judge or show disappointment in my mistakes.  He showed me that the only thing to be reprimanded is the act of trying to deny, escape or cover up one’s mistakes.

He showed me that mistakes are an essential part of the artist’s journey.  I found, with Peter’s help, embracing mistakes in my pieces to be the elixir for inspired work.  When one is not attached to an outcome and willing to stray from or adjust to changes in the pattern or goal, something even better and more unique emerges.

Unfortunately, in life mistakes can have more serious consequences that may involve the lives of other creatures and the balance of a neglected bed of plant life, in my case.  Those kinds of mistakes are especially the kind that we may want to ignore, deny or scoff at as “unimportant” compared to human needs, wants and life.  If we allow ourselves to recognize those mistakes as real life, it can be a quick and keen pain, remorse and learning.

So, I asked the butterflies’ forgiveness for my haste, regardless of whether I had harmed the caterpillar or not.  I vowed, in the moment, to be the gardener I once was before I became so distracted these past two years.  I acknowledge my act of embracing my mistakes in a visceral living kind of way yesterday and today.  That process has taken me to a greater awareness for the land and creatures I care for in my yard habitat and for the art of gardening I have been distracted from.

This post isn’t “Art – the resolution to be enjoyed”.  This is “Art -the process – applied to life.  Ugly, isn’t it?”

Art, the process, can be ugly, uncomfortable and disturbing for a lot of people.  (It actually isn’t to me.)  This is what I discovered when I was asked to do an extensive mural for a Church.  They had never seen an artist in process, and had never seen ME in process.  Those poor Church folk thought I was vandalizing their church when I started, it caused quite a ruckus!  They just about kicked me out!  Thank the angels, there was a pastor with an understanding for process!  My process is to roughly sketch out right on the wall what is in my vision before i paint it, then refine it later.  I assured them I had a vision, a plan and I knew what I was doing.  By the end, (funnily) at least some of them were convinced I was a genius (!) — creating a piece willy-nilly like that ended up looking quite good!  Ha.  The mural’s final and resolved form, transformed their suspicious offended looks into expressions of respect and joy.  Thank God/dess I had faith in me and the whole process of mistakes and embracing the now-ness of creativity – otherwise, it would have been a disaster.

Sometimes the final resolution is ugly and disturbing.  That is art too.  If a piece is filled with true emotion, feeling and honesty, then that ugly, disturbing piece is art as well…… or it is not art, because you are not a very good artist and it just looks bad.  I just said that to be funny.  Sorry.

Anyway ugly and disturbing resolutions are not my goal in art or life, but it happens sometimes.  When it does, I do my best to tweak or transform it.  Life and art are becoming completely blurred together in this post – welcome to my world!   I hope you can make out some of the gems I have pulled, shined up and saved from a dirty heap of mulch.


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