The Art of Living? A Reflection and Resolution

“The art of living, isn’t that a funny expression?”  ~ Anne Frank

                New Years is upon us.  The dying of one year and the birth of a new one.  2015 has ended, there will never be another.  That chapter of our lives has closed; the next one is about to begin.  So on this, the last day of a dying year, I share my reflections on life (at least the short one I have lived).

‘The art of living’ as Anne observed does seem a strange expression.  After all what is there to life?  We all have one don’t we?  Is it not what some 7 Billion people spend all their time doing?  Where is the ‘art’ in that?  Can life itself really be an art?

My answer to that would be yes, life is an art.  For what is art?  Art is a work of skill and creativity.  An image or creation.  Created to be appreciated for the beauty of the work and the skill of the artist.  A message to the world from its Creator.

By that definition are we not ourselves a work of art?   Beautiful and intricate works of God the Master artist. Masterpieces, and His messages to the world. Just as scribbles, lines, and dabs of paint make up a piece of art.  So also the everyday events of our lives are used by the Master Artist to make and shape us.

New Years is not only a time of reflection but also of resolve.  Every year thousands of people resolve to lose weight, read more, and worry less.  Each year we resolve anew to weed out ‘faults’ and become at last that perfect ideal we all create for ourselves.  I have done this myself many times.  Every year I resolve to lose those extra pounds, to take more risks, and to finally become that trim, attractive, and oh so successful person I have created in mind. And while there is nothing wrong with setting goals and forming good habits that is not what I resolve this year.  This year I resolve to live artfully.

I resolve to read, laugh, and sing. To stop and smell the flowers, look up at the sky, and thank the Lord for His bounty, His blessings. To notice and remember the little things.  For often when we look back we find that they were the big things. I resolve to find joy in each thing He puts in each day; each person, each problem, each pleasure. To smile more.  We must never underestimate the power in a smile, a kind word, or thoughtful action.  They may mean more than we will ever know.  To borrow a line from The Hobbit, “It is the everyday actions of ordinary people. Small acts of kindness and love that keep the darkness at bay.”

I resolve to learn to live as His Masterpiece. To live artfully is to live with intent.  It is to live with a goal in mind. It is to live in a way that reflects the beauty and purpose of our Creator, the Master Artist. There is such joy and fulfillment in just being what he intended us to be.  In just doing what we were meant to do; glorify our Creator and enjoy the good gifts He has given us. The good things and the bad. Easy and hard.

This year I ask that God help us all to remember what we are.  His workmanship, created for good works.  That we would all remember who we are; masterpieces of the Creator.  Beautiful, living, works of art.  Sent to enjoy the world we live in and bring glory to God who made it.  This year let’s forget about all the self-improvement. Instead let’s remember the Masterpieces we are and live like it.

After A Fashion: A Reflection on Beauty

Big. Big heart. Big girl.  Big dreams. Big as in fill the whole space. Big as in large.  Big as in strong. I am and always will be a big girl.  But does big not mean beautiful?  All my life I have wondered that. I looked around, and noticed. Noticed that I was big. Big as in fat?  Big as in slow? Big as in ugly?  Sometimes I used to think so. Sometimes I feel big, awkward, and ugly. But can’t big also be beautiful? Let me tell you a story.

A while ago my sisters and I were invited to be in a vintage fashion show at our church.  My sisters were very excited.  After all a vintage fashion show, what fun!  And it is.  A great deal of fun. But at that time.  I was cringing.  Why?  Because I knew.  I have always known.  I’m fat, much too fat to be a model.   I didn’t voice any of this of course.  I knew what would happen if I did.  They would simply assure me, “Oh, no! You’re not fat!”  I had heard it all before; plenty of times, but I had never believed it.

Well, against my better judgement I went along with it, I agreed to model for the show.  We went and tried things on and it was fun! Fun to play dress up with the pretty hats, gloves, and other fancy things.  I went home happy but that night I cried myself to sleep.  Cried because I still knew.  I was too ‘fat’ to model.  I still remember trying to squeeze into my sisters dress.  Pressing myself in, holding my breath, willing the fat away.  But it was of no use.  It would never fit.  Not in a million years.

When the day of the fashion show finally did arrive, I dusted off an old vintage hat from my closet and placed it on my head.  I was determined to enjoy some of the gala too. Even if I was ‘fat’.  I remember when the fashion show began.  I joined the long line of models, all lined out in their pretty vintage frocks.  I tucked my arms behind my back and stared down at the floor.  I felt ugly and ridiculous. I wanted to slip away, and pretend that just today at least I was not ‘too big’.  One by one the models stepped out.  One by one the line diminished until it got to me.  I leaned against the wall, and bit my lip.  I did not go out.  I just wanted to disappear.

There was a slight intermission in the show.  The models all come back stage and I tried to put a smile on. Tried to act happy and careless.  But inside I ached.  The dear sweet lady who had arranged the show called me over and handed me a gray suit on a hanger.

“Why don’t you model this for us?”  She said.  Every inch of my body cringed.  I couldn’t. I was ‘too big’.  I finally managed to murmur. “I don’t think it will fit.”  “Why don’t you try it and see.”

I went into the bathroom and slipped the suit off the hanger.  It was gray wool with rabbit fur lining on the sleeves. I began to put it on.  Praying that it would fit.  My sister pulled up the zipper and sure enough! It fit! I come back out in the gray suit.  The lady placed a matching little hat on my head and handed me some gloves.  I felt so glamorous! I joined the line of models and this time went strutting out and twirled, a smile beaming on my face.

That may have seemed like a very long story to you.  And maybe it was.  But then you don’t know the courage it took to write it. I have modeled several times since then.  Each time, I still cringe a little.  Each time, I think to myself ‘Why are you doing this?  You’re fat remember.’  But when I slip into those beautiful vintage clothes I don’t feel fat anymore.

I’m still not a size 2.  I’m still not a gorgeous blond with a dazzling smile. I’m still big. I guess to some I’m still ‘fat’. But that is not what matters.  That’s not what beauty really is.  Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; these things are beautiful.  As St. Peter puts it “let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.” The hidden person of the heart.  The heart within the shell. That is where beauty comes from.

There’s a word in Russian ‘Krasivaya’. It means beautiful, but strong. Unique. I believe that it is the unique qualities, their strength of character, which makes a person beautiful.

My favorite thing to draw is people.  I love to study people’s unique qualities.  Their individual beauty.  I love to find it and bring it out. I love to discover their Krasivaya. For there is beauty everywhere. In the big things and the little. The tiny flower, or the strong tree.  Everything has a unique beauty; if you only learn to find it.

So yes, I’m big!  Big as in ample.  Big as in considerable.  Big as in beautiful.

Masterpieces

A couple of weeks ago I came across some of the most amazing artwork I had ever seen.   It was a delightful scene of a mill, with a waterwheel busily turning water, and a small fisherman trying his luck in the mill pond.  The picture itself was good, but upon closer inspection both the work and the artist became incredible.

The picture had been typed by an artist named Paul Smith. I say ‘typed’ because the entire picture, mill, wheel, and fisherman, had been created using only a typewriter.  Why would someone ‘draw’ with a typewriter?

Well, for Paul Smith, it was the only way.  Mr. Smith was born with severe Cerebral Palsy. Because of this he was unable to even hold a pencil, much less draw.  But that did not stop him.  He taught himself how to draw by using the symbol keys such as # ! @ * _ – on a typewriter.  The typewriter, a thing that must people use to communicate with words, he used to express himself through art.

Mr. Smith passed away June 25th 2007 at his home, Rose Haven Nursing Home.  He was 85 years old and had created over 400 works of art.

I was truly touched by the story of this inspiring man and the beautiful images he was able to create. Perhaps what made it more amazing was the fact that it was because of his ‘disability’ that he had learned this new and unique way of drawing with a typewriter.

This got me thinking.  Often times it seems that those who have ‘disabilities’ in our world are viewed as being disadvantaged, or pitiable.  In fact the very word ‘disability’ seems to entail a less than status. But this is clearly not the cause.

There is dignity in all that carries the gift of life. God does not make mistakes.  Everything He makes is beautiful and perfect, just the way He made it.  Every leaf, every star, every single person: is a masterpiece.

To watch the video I saw of Mr. Smith click the link. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=svzPm8lT36o

Featured Image of Paul Smith “The Typewriter Artist” Image from http://cerebralpalsy.org/

Writing and I: A Love/Hate Relationship

If you had asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up the answer probably would have been a writer. Unless of course you asked me near the Olympics, then the answer would have been either a figure skater or a gymnast! I have always wanted to write.  I love everything about being a writer; the words, the stories, the characters, the fancy coffee, the scarves.  Everything that is except for the actual writing.

There I said it; I am a writer that HATES to write!  What? Is that even possible. Possible? I do it all the time. So if I hate writing so much why have I always wanted to do it? Well, maybe hate isn’t the right word, it’s just that writing is….well…hard.   The hardest part is the writing part.  The part that I’m doing right now.  The part where you type whatever is going on in your head.  Do you want to know why?

It takes Discipline. Yes, it takes a lot of discipline to write.  It seems like it is the task that is never done.  You don’t really feel like going and doing it either.  It is something that you have to sit down and do everyday whether you want to or not. And if you’re writing toward a deadline (and don’t we all have a deadline of some kind) it gets even worse.  And to be honest. Discipline and deadlines are something that I have always struggled with.  Why? Because I struggle with consistency! And because I’m lazy.  But if you are ever going to succeed in writing you must have Discipline.  You have to make yourself, FORCE yourself, to sit down and do it.  Even when Pinterest would be so much more exciting right now, and even when you have no idea what to write. Which brings me to my next point………

Sometimes you have no ideas!  Most of the time when I sit down to write all I do is stare at a blinking cursor. I scroll up and down a blank sheet of paper and think, ‘Well that must be what’s on my mind…nothing’. And then when I finally manage to write something it turns out to be just a jumbled bunch of sentences that may or may not have any relevance to what I am supposed to be writing about. Which would be number three.

It has to make sense! That’s right! And sometimes this is a tough one.  It can’t just make sense to you it also has to be correctly interpreted by others!  People that don’t know you, or how you think. What?!  But that’s not all, it even has to be spelled correctly and be grammatically correct. That’s right… big bad Grammar.  Of course we don’t have to worry about that right now. After all this is only the first draft. (Sigh of relief) That all happens later, through a process called ‘editing.’

Editing. The only part of writing I hate more than writing.  This is where you go through the roller coaster process of reading your work again and again.  You read while your mind is going from thoughts like, “This is really good, I may really have something here.” To “This is the dumbest thing I have ever read, where is the shredding machine!?” You start to agonize over little things. Scrutinizing each sentence asking yourself things like, ‘Is that a good word for that?’  ‘Is this sentence to wordy, or to boring?’ ‘Can a rabbit actually gallop?’ If that’s not bad enough the next step is….

Proofreading. This is when you promptly forget all of the grammar you have ever learned in your life! It’s also when you learn to fear commas.  You have no idea where they should be, you just know that you should have some. And that they go……. where? The only thing more terrible than commas are the semicolons and colons. But how will your writing be academic without a few of those?!

Writing is hard, there is no doubt about it. But just because something is hard doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do it. Even more importantly, just because writing might not be easy for you doesn’t mean that you can’t become a good writer.

Even on those days when it’s hard. I will keep writing.  Why? Because I love it.  I love the words that dance through your mind when you’re jogging. I love the story ideas and characters that wake you up at midnight.  I love the satisfaction of reading something I wrote (and edited). I love to write.  Even when I hate it.

An Attack of Creative Compulsion

It has been like this ever since I was little.  It can come in the shape of drawings, stories, poems, essays, paintings, and structurally unsound constructions of cardboard and duct tape.  Without warning and at any time I might come down with a sudden and acute attack of creativity. It is highly contagious and can last for days.  It can completely derail any prior projects and lead to a messy desk and solitary obsessive behavior for hours. And in some extreme cases the excessive hoarding of toilet paper tubes!  I never know when it will strike, at the store, on Pinterest (this one seems to cause a lot of attacks), in the bathroom, anywhere! I refer to this reaction as my Creative Compulsion.   And no I do not suffer from it….on the contrary I rather enjoy it!

I hope that I am not the only one that suffers from this consuming but very enjoyable Compulsion! As a matter of fact I think there is a spark of the creative in all of us.  Certainly we do not all wish to create the same thing or the same way but I think somehow, somewhere, there is a desire to make, to shape, to build,  to create in everyone.

In a way it is how we bear the image of Our Creator.  Isn’t it wonderful!  He created everything, from the sky, to the dirt, even us!  But He still gave us the ability and the desire to make our own creations!  He didn’t have to do that!  But He did!  Why? Only He knows but I like to think that it is because it gives us pleasure and it gives Him pleasure.

So go ahead! Round up the glitter! Grab a pencil (a teal one)!  Paper? Clay? Canvas? Who knows! There are so many wonderful things waiting to be made! So go out there and make them!