I Am, Green
I Am, Red
I Am, Black
I Am, Blue
Prayer doesn't need to be complicated. Especially the kind uttered during personal struggle. Gerald May says it good. "See? This is who I am," he whispers before God. And leaves it at that.
I say it too... "See, God, this is who I am..." It's an act of opening, even if slight.
This picture is all the me's put together, into one I Am. It is layered— five separate works merged and ghosted. Me and me, and me and me and me. It is the whole, how God sees my soul, for better or worse. I will show you each piece in days to come. The faces of me I bring to prayer...
See, this is who I am...
'I Am' in soft pastel, retouched in Quark Xpress. By L.L. Barkat.
I met her on-line. Why should I be surprised? It's a gathering place where I've found such amazing people.
We did the social media dance (following, friending, linking) and one day I discovered she lives on my ocean side. Not just that, but she lives on my mountain, crosses my river. She has seen my cliffs perhaps as many times as I have, maybe more.
It only seemed fitting to have her to tea. So she came. Joan P. Ball graced my dining room. We ate scones. I drank green tea; she drank Harrod's Afternoon Blend. I ate chocolate. I don't remember if she did. Time raced. She slipped on her funky leather high-heeled sandals and was gone...
But not before giving me a piece of art made by her husband Martin. Black on wood, with a path that speaks of "Journey."
"I thought," she said. "The path. Your art pilgrimage. It seemed..."
Before she closed the door, we also spoke of gratitude. I told her how I'd "failed" at practicing it and instead had received it as a gift during my year of outdoor solitude. She said she thought "failing" at gratitude practice might be not an ending but a beginning, something to turn over in one's palm perhaps... to examine and handle afresh. Yes, perhaps.
I pondered this and decided I will not go back to gratitude lists— cold lines that took me nowhere. I will write "for" poems (as in, thankful for). I don't know how often. But here is the first...
For life yet again,
and girls with long dark
For you, sleeping there,
pulling me close in
For poetry that calls
to life beyond what
to be. For me loved
by You. I should embrace
Journey Art, by Martin. A gift from Joan P. Ball.
"Thresholds give, stars disorient," says the poem. It is a French poem, and I've had to do the work of translating to find the beauty. It is my way of trying to learn the language, and I feel so small in the face of my goal. A language feels endless, especially before you develop basic fluency.
So I must be patient, build layer upon layer, feel my way. It is the same with these pictures that visit me half-formed in the night. I have to take time to discover them once I sit down with paper and pastel. I feel afraid at every step, unsure of how to get where I'm going. Or how I will know when I've arrived.
The world feels upside down, constellations I knew flee the sky. I'm working in the abstract, something I've not done before. Drawing is no longer realism; it is simply color, form, movement. I turn the page and draw from different directions.
I don't know how I'll end. A feeling just comes at last, "It is finished." The threshold gives. And I lay my paper down.
Universe in pastels, by L.L. Barkat.
On a totally fun note, I just won a lovely t-shirt for posting to welcome InCourage. Out of over 200 entries! The stars are smiling and so am I.
I wake to darkness. This is nothing new. Sleep often eludes me in the deepest hours of night.
Turning to my left, I try to settle into the sheets, find my way back to slumber. My mind fills with visions, abstract. Picture after picture, until I feel I must be spinning. I will never remember all this, never be able to put it on paper. A desperate sense overcomes me, the way one must feel when grasping twine that is slipping away.
So I try to quiet myself and enjoy the parade... a vortex picture that looks something like a nest or a window to another world, green swirls that might be an ocean surging, a black whorl bleeding red into cobalt and purple... on and on. If I watch closely, maybe I will take some of these into the next day, find them under my pastels.
Then there will be the moment I wait for... after the picture is formed, like Adam-dust almost alive, I will choose where to shine the light and bring it to life, photograph the "it is good" and send it to cyberland, to you.
'Arise' in soft pastel, by L.L. Barkat.
Philip in the Dark
The room is hot, unbearably so. Air is thick with humidity. But we are here to listen.
Lights dim and we sit in darkness, only the musicians now illuminated. Rhythmic sounds like birth or a heartbeat fill the air, swell, recede, swell. My Littlest leans into me. I touch her forehead and tiny drops of water meet my fingertips... she is perspiring, wilting, even as the music lives, dances strange. In time, she finds her white cotton skirt, twists it, folds, fidgets. My eldest looks straight on, mesmerized, dreaming. ("It was sad and happy and hopeful all at the same time," she tells me afterwards.)
Now the music feels like birds underwater, rising. Or thousands of silver fish near-colliding in a song. Outside, lightning flashes as if on demand, now and again, now and again, speaking to the notes which swirl, spiral, pulse.
In my mind, I see the music taking form... slate blue swirls, turquoise dabs, emanating from a black gash. But I must take my girls home, put them to bed, ready myself for the next day, for a morning guest. So these visions in my mind must wait; with a sense that feels almost painful I hope to remember them until time allows, allows me to put down what it felt like to listen... to Philip in the dark.
Philip in the Dark, soft pastels, L.L. Barkat. Some of the music that inspired this piece: Philip Glass's "Glassworks"
Coming into Wild Roses
"Did you used to draw, Mommy?"
Why yes, I did. Before my career as a designer. Before someone paid me to do art and my love for it completely died.
So of course they ask, "Can we see? Do you still have your drawings?" It's not the paid stuff they want to see. They want to dig back, discover what I used to do, when no one was looking, when no one asked me to whip up a logo, cut and paste a brochure.
I go to the attic, dust off a brown leather zip case.
Here it is, a gathering of drawings and paintings from childhood and young adulthood. "You were really good!" they encourage me. Why, it's true; I wasn't half bad. I can't draw like that anymore though. And I have no desire to do so. Those were detailed drawings, painstaking, realistic.
That is past. Now I draw with my whole arm. I seem to be drawing in circles. I am pulled towards the abstract... something I never attempted before. It's as if I am coming into my own. I don't want to be an artist, like I said before. I'm just moving in circles, finding healing in colors, form, a kind of fluid dance. It is, in its way, a journey that takes courage. No promise of pay, no adherence to my previous ideas about art, just a knowing that this is the way I will pray and walk... as if into fields of wild, wild roses.
Wild Roses in soft pastels, by L.L. Barkat.
This post is to welcome InCourage, a gathering place for encouragement. Do you have a story to tell in celebration? Stop by and add your link.
OTHER LL POSTS TO WELCOME InCourage:
Baby, You Made My Decade, at Green Inventions
Nothing in Return, at Seedlings in Stone
Mary Claire's Accident
Mary Claire ripped her dress.
Or, more accurately, the chair ripped Mary Claire's dress. Mahogany wood snagged black chiffon, kissed a smooth ruffle... and...
But maybe it is not fair to blame this ruin on the wooden chair. Didn't Lydia want to know, How can a person sing like that? Wasn't she the child moved almost to tears by a song whose story she learned, but whose Italian words she couldn't even understand? Still, I was the one who called out to Mary Claire, "Come, the girls want to meet you."
With one quick movement she came. Sat next to my littlest child. Leaned in. Explained the vagaries of Carmen in gentle words the children could understand, without too much understanding. She came and asked them, "Do you like to sing?" She answered their questions. And, too, she told us how she sang in an opera before ever going to an opera. Mary Claire sat with us, with little girls, and she laughed and she whispered low and she gestured.
No, I am quite sure of it now. Mary Claire came. She came, and in coming, she ripped her dress.
Mary Claire's Dress, in soft pastel, by L.L. Barkat.
I am not alone.
This is quite different from my year of solitude. Solitude brings clarity, yes. Hones observation. Probes the heart. But it is lonely. Some journeys are like that; so lonely you can taste your tears long after you've left the road.
But I am not alone on this art pilgrimage.
Last night, I brought little girls with me, my two daughters and a friend. To experience 'living art'... fine Italian food, ivory napkins and silver, and an opera singer. We laughed and talked. Lydia brought forth her treasures and set them on the table. "I found this under my bed, that at the AC Moore parking lot. I can't remember where the stone came from..."
And when the last song's final notes drifted off, practically the whole restaurant singing "Climb Any Mountain" with Mary Claire the opera singer, my eldest daughter was beaming. "The end, Mommy, I was trying to write it in my head as if we were in a story. I mean, what it felt like. Mommy, it was... it was like floating." Then she leaned into me, and that too was a treasure.
I am not alone. This is a together journey.
Photos: Mary Claire Sings; Girl Hands; Lydia's Treasures by L.L. Barkat
"What's the point?" he asked.
"I'm not sure," I answered. "But I think it's about spiritual growth."
"What's ART got to do with spiritual growth?"
This conversation is going nowhere. I cannot explain myself, the way an abstract painting cannot defend how very real it is despite its ambiguities. I cannot defend an art pilgrimage.
Surely, it's not something I will make money from (the major mark of worth in our culture); in fact, I will spend money... on art materials, donations, museum visits, maybe even a retreat or two. How can I explain that it's about showing up?
Showing up for what? Life, beauty, connection, healing, dreams. How can I explain that sometimes there is no other point than this: a journey calls and we answer?
Abstract Seascape, in gouache, by Sara B, 12. Used with permission.
I am walking now.
But when did I begin? Was it as a child with those first crayons, which I lost to the burning barrel one by one, watching them melt before my eyes because I'd left them out and this was my punishment? Was it in the fields picking wildflowers, hot pink and cornflower blue, to press between pages of a book? Or was it in middle-school art class, as I sat trying to capture things realistically with my pencil, while my friends went out the side door and got high with the teacher?
Where did this journey start? Was it when I morphed from editorial assistant to graphic designer, in a technical writing department, because I was the one who could sorta draw and was not afraid of the new computer tools? Did I start this path when I went to Paris and saw 'real art' and came home to dump my design career and become a teacher instead?
I do not know where I began. Like the spiritual pilgrim who cannot say where she first stepped onto the road, felt it beneath her feet, noticed she was not alone. I do not know.
But there are things I have done and will do to say, "I'm on a journey." Just the other day, I donated to International Arts Movement. It was easy with Paypal. Then I set off for AC Moore and filled my cart: gouache, watercolor, soft pastels, sketch books, acrylics, canvases, brushes. On my Sabbath, I sat quietly and tried out the pastels. I may not want to be an artist, but I'm thinking I should be a participant rather than just an observer. I will commit to at least a year of focused "pilgriming," making art and viewing it and reading about it and discussing it.
I feel shy participating. My skills are simple. It's like being a child in a grownup's world. Is it a coincidence that my first attempt was an empty, dead bush being graced by powder-blue dragonflies? I chose golden colors for the water over which it would lean, made mistakes that caused me to blend things I hadn't intended to blend. The bush became one with the background.
My girls said the picture looks like a desert, with the sand swirling, rising. Why yes. And perhaps that is no coincidence either. A tentative bush in the desert, graced by dragonflies, breathing blue-flamed beauty... which burns but does not consume.
Dragonfly Bush in pastels, by L.L. Barkat.