The Knowledge of Good

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Whether you think it’s allegory or history, you’ve heard the one about Adam and Eve eating that apple from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

For years, I’ve felt like the bulk of the knowledge I gained has been that of the evil humanity commits against itself and against its only known livable habitat. We turn a blind eye to bad behavior by trusted people. We cluck our tongues at the latest mass shooting and then wrap ourselves in our cocoons until the next horror appears in our social media feeds. 

And I’ve been guilty. 

I’m guilty because I let fear of that evil, for me spawned in the aftermath of a crime, keep me mummified. I work at home because I’ve been afraid of the world. I’ve tried to keep my kids safe on a mountain, hidden from the world and life.

That fear has been shrinking over the last few years.  As I’ve rediscovered my art, I’ve rediscovered the better things about humanity. I’ve seen my son stand up for someone who couldn’t stand up for themselves. I’ve seen people expend enormous energy raising money to help people they barely know.

And last summer I had a chance to pay it forward a little.  

I was raising money to buy art supplies for children who were refugees or in foster care. Then a friend who had helped spread the word to raise money for kits for almost 100 children asked if I would lead a drawing workshop for the children.  I said yes immediately, even though the only thing I’d ever taught anyone to do is wash their hands after using the potty.

The afternoon started with 15 boys assuring me they couldn’t draw. I know everyone can draw so I started them on a free drawing exercise I had learned.  

It took less than 30 minutes for the boys to kill their inner critics and start experimenting.  

As they began drawing from their hearts, we saw abstract trees, scenes of and an occasional portrait emerge.  We saw art doing exactly what it was supposed to do – open the door to healing.

That workshop was a gift.

I got home and started investigating paths to becoming a teacher, something I’d just been considering for the last year or so.  

I neglected the blog through the months of researching certification options and reconfiguring my schedule. The drawing just about stopped.

The education, however, was just beginning.

My own history with mental illness, as well as the experiences of friends who were sometimes at the margins of school society, made special education seem like a good place to make a difference. I got a second experience-building job at an elementary school, and, as I felt like I was starting to be a small part of a small solution, my knowledge of good started to grow.

I’m breathing a little life support into my blog this afternoon, but the reality is that as I watch kids learning to accept others who are not like them and have the chance to give support to kids who might be having a hard time with the business of growing up, my creativity is thriving. 

All creativity isn’t an expression of hope, and that’s okay.  It’s an expression of how someone feels. But I knew that, for me, constantly feeling afraid of the world was stagnating. 

Acquainting myself with a bit more of the Knowledge of Good has prompted ideas for future children’s books. It makes life more colorful.  It forces me to engage with the world.  And when I stop for a moment to breathe, it makes me aware of how blessedly creative – and hopeful – engagement can be.

 

Head in the Clouds


I love to stop and ponder the headless statue whenever I go over to Bedlam Farm, the home of bestselling author John Katz and artist Maria Wulf.
This weekend I was there to participate in their semi-annual Open House, celebrating Rural Art and the creative spark that lives in all of us. I love the Open House because you can’t get up the driveway without running into an old friend and fellow art junkie, but this year there was something deeper to love, and it gave me a clue as to what might have happened to the pilgrim’s head.

As happens with every Open House, people from all walks of life and points of view came together to enjoy the art. Throughout the day I overheard people praising the work of others. Sitting under the apple tree on a wicker love-seat, I heard one visitor contemplating reviving her creative life as another enthusiastically encouraged her. We watched sheep herding and listened to kids relatively new to this country sharing their musical talents with a damp-eyes audience.

This weekend ended up being, for me, about nurturing the idea that the things we have in common–the things that bind us–are more beautiful and powerful and than those that divide us. There seemed to be a mass mutual recognition that our creative sparks are worth fanning and when we come together to encourage people’s gifts, we are all better.

That thought kind of carried my head into the clouds as I sat on that love-seat on Sunday, and I realize that’s probably what happened to the little pilgrim statue at Bedlam Farm too. I think he found himself at the altar of creativity (featuring a recycled art sculpture by Ed Gulley) and, keeping his feet on the ground, let his head get lost in the clouds as he chased his own creative spark. 

It’s a worthy pursuit, and I think all of us who had a chance to sit near the altar this weekend went home full of sparks to nurture and share.

Postcard from Pompanuck

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Saturday & Sunday I went over the mountain to help with and participate in a blog workshop at Pompanuck Farm in Cambridge, NY.

Sunday I got there early to have a little time to paint, but I had been up till 5 in the morning nursing Thing2 through a fever, and I kept nodding off as I sat in the sun-warmed car.  The other members got there just as I was adding the first green wash for the lawn.

I went in thinking I would paint and listen – I always think it helps me concentrate. Instead I had to work to keep focused on the painting, as each member of the group voiced their reasons for wanting a blog, recognized that those reasons were partly about wanting to stand in their truth.

I felt like I found mine over the summer when I took just a travel sketchbook and a pen on vacation. We went to the Palouse in Washington state, and the rhythm of the wind bending the yet-unharvested wheat fields was hypnotic, spurring meditations and frenzied drawing sessions. Drawing, and later painting, was an act that pulled me closer to my truth – that the only work that would ultimately fulfill me is creative work.

It was a truth I began to sense and acknowledge with my decision to illustrate my first blog ‘Picking My Battles’. What began as a spur-of-the-moment strategy to cut the cost of royalty-free photos and the kids’ sleep schedules evolved into a reawakening of an artistic drive I had tried to smother for years.

The revival led to doodles and sketches, scribbles and watercolor cartoons.  The blog became a cartoon, Picking My Battles (it’s have a little vacation as I reorganize my schedule around school and projects) and added another (HOGA), and I began feeling like I was on a multi-line tightrope between painting and cartooning and writing.

Diving into drawing with abandon, I found my truth and something that I had only felt a few times – pure joy.  Interesting that the joy and truth are so closely linked.  Embracing my truth – feeding a need to draw and paint – saw words  re-emerge, supporting the blog’s art the way  art had once played a supporting role for the words.

Joy also let me see the silly situations that had made blogging so fun in the first place, and a few weeks ago I took a flying leap and embarked on an Alphabet book for parents.  As we talked about blogging and truth over the weekend workshop, I realized that each new post and page of my book is proof that there’s room for more than one truth in a life.

My new blog (My Sketchy Life) – with the serious painting and the silly cartoons isn’t a tight rope I walk between two sides of my creative life I need to choose between. It’s a collage of my life and, like my life, it’s a more than a little sketchy.

I went home thinking there’s nothing like a good workshop in a sunny farmhouse living room to open your eyes to the world right in front of you. Wish you’d all been here.

Layers

Most people wear multiple hats in their daily lives.  Me, I don't just have hats.......I have a whole closet full of costumes and superhero identities and one recurring problem...I'm never sure which one is my secret identity...  The Real Me  Clearly it's time for a little fall cleaning.  But this weekend I needed my geek gear to help a new friend (Pamela Rickenbach of Blue Star Equiculture)  build a blog at a workshop we were part of..Then I went home, put on my Wife-Mom super identity (a.k.a  Frumpella, Domestic Anti-Diva)......had a nice dinner with my guys......and decided that fall cleaning (like all cleaning) is a crock. Layers are better anyway. That's how Superwoman does it... Right?
Most people wear multiple hats in their daily lives. Me, I don’t just have hats…….I have a whole closet full of costumes and superhero identities and one recurring problem…I’m never sure which one is my secret identity… The Real Me Clearly it’s time for a little fall cleaning. But this weekend I needed my geek gear to help a new friend (Pamela Rickenbach of Blue Star Equiculture) build a blog at a workshop we were part of..Then I went home, put on my Wife-Mom super identity (a.k.a Frumpella, Domestic Anti-Diva)……had a nice dinner with my guys……and decided that fall cleaning (like all cleaning) is a crock. Layers are better anyway. That’s how Superwoman does it… Right?

 

Town Meeting

peaceful mountain

I had the picnic basket packed with pasta salad, cheese and crackers, and watermelon by 7PM.  We had an hour to go.  It was a only a five minute drive to the church yard, but we’d need to get there early to find a good spot.

When we arrived, the unofficial meeting was just coming together.  There were dozens of young faces – some just a few months into this world.  There children born on the other side of the globe lolling on picnic blankets with kids whose grandparents and great-great-great-grand’s built this town.  But, while the faces are different, the feelings of the attendees – unlike on official Town Meeting day – were very much in sync.

Everyone, regardless of how they felt about the latest stop sign or school budget line item, greeted their neighbors happily.  Some had brought dinner. Others brought dessert.  In front of the congregation was what looked like a laundry line, draped with colorful sheets.  It looked like the make shift stage Thing1 and Thing2 had created under our swing-set a few years ago.  

By the time the sun dipped behind the mountain at the edge of the field, the meeting was ready to begin. A wiry man with a snowy white beard walked to the center of the lawn making introductions and as he left the grassy stage, players bearing elaborate marionettes glided into view. 

For the next two hours, we watched field in front of the mountain darken, with the only light coming from lamps clamped to teepees at each side of the stage.  The players and puppeteers told tales of foolishness, mercy, greed, and, finally of one of those rare but wonderful instances of man’s humanity to man.  

The last story of a lifetime of generosity and love ultimately benefiting the generous concluded with the illuminating of paper lanterns constructed to look like houses. The puppeteers dimmed the stage lights and soon, the only sight was the tiny houses against the mountain and the only sound was the rushing river nearby.  And the only thing we knew for that moment was the peace that we were unconsciously sharing with everyone in that field.

That moment was a gift from the players.  It was also a gift from the Arab and Jewish storytellers who gave these stories to their children and to the world. As our moment of peace came to a quiet end, I thought of their descendants a half a world away, locked in endless conflict and, gazing at the stars, I wished peace for both sides – for their sakes and everyone else’s.  I wished for us to remember that, we all have an inheritance like this – one that could unite us more than we allow it to us divide us if only we’d claim it.  

It’s only a wish,and, as John Lennon said, I may just be a dreamer.  But I didn’t imagine these stories or that moment.