Tribal Art

“Think back to your childhood. What did you enjoy doing? What were you naturally drawn to? When you were a little girl what made you happy?”

“Take your time. Dig down into the deep recesses of your mind.” I continue, noting a few furrowed brows in the room full of women.

“Some of us will have to dig deeper than others,” I add with a smile, and good-natured laughter erupts from the corner of the room where two women in their seventies sit.
Did you spend hours outside poking anthills with sticks? Follow your mother around as she cleaned house, begging to dust the furniture? Love working with your grandmother in the garden? Were you a voracious reader, devouring books like the chips in a Pringles can?

A younger woman looks up from the sheet of paper in front of her. “I’d almost forgotten! I used to spend hours making Barbie doll clothes! They weren’t very good; just quilt scraps my mom gave me that I cut holes in for the arms.”

A single woman in her thirties, the Barbie clothing designer sports spikes black hair, a ring in her nose, and arms covered with colorful tattoos. She looks the part of a creativity group member, but the truth is, all of the women belong; something about creativity appealing to a restless stirring inside them.

Thirteen women attended the inaugural meeting of the inelegantly dubbed “Lifelong Learner’s Creativity Group” I began at the library where I was employed in 2017. Forming the group made sense for a librarian. A 2015 Pew Research study revealed that adults who use libraries are more likely to consider themselves to be lifelong learners, actively pursuing learning opportunities. The group was consistent with a library’s mission to engage learners and inspire thinkers, but organizing it was not simply a job-related, altruistic move. It had been months since I’d experienced the kind of creative energy that ignites in a room full of people interested in the same thing. I’d seen it happen in writing classes I’d taught and at writing conferences I’d attended. I missed the passionate exchanges about writing and the rush of adrenaline that came with speaking and practicing one’s passion, the camaraderie of being in a room full of people that shared that passion. Those women needed what the creativity group could offer.

So did I.

As we took turns introducing ourselves, it soon became apparent we all had one thing in common; we wanted to add creativity into our lives and suspected that doing so would make us happier.

We were correct in that assumption. Scientific research demonstrates that practicing creative pursuits results in a happier, healthier life. The activity can be as simple as journaling, playing an instrument, or spring gardening, so long as it has meaning for the individual.

I didn’t make friends easily for most of my adult life. I was too busy raising eight children. That changed in 2011, when I attended my first writer’s conference, connecting with women and men interested in writing and publication.

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Cedar Falls Christian Writers workshop 2011

A year later, I’d discover the value of friendship when my husband unexpectedly died and some of those writers attended his funeral, becoming a support system of sorts. I made additional friends outside of that writer’s circle through a workplace setting, classes I taught, involvement in grief ministry, and by forming both a Bible study and the creativity group.

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with,” entrepreneur and motivational speaker Jim Rohn once said. The Longevity Project, which studied over 1000 people from youth to death found that the groups you associate with often determine the type of person you become. If you want a stronger faith, become part of a faith community. If you want to be more interesting, spend time with interesting people. To be more creative, hang out with creative individuals. Find your tribe.

It wasn’t long after I traded in that library job for one as a Program Coordinator at a Spirituality Center that I began a similar group there, aptly named “Artisan Souls.”

Something extraordinary happens when I facilitate groups and conduct workshops. I’m so exhilarated by the energy in the room, I’m hardly aware of the passing of time, and I leave those meetings deliriously happy, a soaring feeling that can last for hours, even days. Researchers call this joyful state “Flow,” the loss of time and self-consciousness that happens when we’re completely absorbed in an activity, whether it’s intellectual, professional, or physical. Flow can be achieved through activities such as running a race, playing the violin, or writing a book, as long as the activity is voluntary, intrinsically motivating, requiring skill, and challenging in some way. A growing body of scientific research proves that flow is positively correlated with happiness, and that people who experience a lot of flow also develop increased concentration, performance, and a higher self-esteem.

I enter the state of flow when I write or conduct workshops, but I’m open to experiencing it through other avenues, which explains one of the tenets of our creativity groups; to try new things. In these two groups I’ve painted on canvas, designed Vision Boards, practiced hand lettering, and made jewelry.

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painting with James Kennedy Public library Lifelong Learners

One month, a member of our Dyersville library group brought ukuleles for everyone, insisting we’d be playing a tune by the end of the evening. As my fingers fumbled clumsily with fret and chords, my cheeks flushed with embarrassment. I wondered why I wasn’t catching on when the women on either side of me made it look easy. Then I happened to glance up. A woman across the room was having just as much trouble as I was. Our eyes met, and we both laughed. I didn’t have to worry about failure or looking foolish. I was there to have fun, not to become a musician.

uklele

I’d found my tribe.

 

Mother’s Day Masterpiece

I’m speaking at a church this morning; about mothers, creativity, and faith, as I culminate months of writing about the same topics. The message I hope to convey is that God has given each of us gifts, and it is up to us to use them.

Ephesians 2:10 “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”

My mother knew this. She lived it every day as she raised ten children, practiced her faith, and injected creativity into all aspects of her life.

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While she produced many pieces of beautiful art, in the end, her life of faith had been her greatest masterpiece, the legacy she left behind for her children and grandchildren.

mom woodcarver

While I still have work to do to meet the end of May deadline, in honor of my mother on Mother’s Day, I’m sharing a small piece that comes at the end of my book, a brief, illustrative moment with my mother at the end of her life.

 

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It was an unseasonably warm October day. Mom and I had conversed comfortably in the car on the way to and from her radiation appointment; about my recent blog posts that mentioned her, the LIVE sign I’d purchased, and her concern over her cat being attacked by some feral felines. I’d assumed if she’d wanted to discuss more serious topics, she’d have brought them up.

Back at her house, I helped her out of the car. She swayed a little as she stood, and I grabbed her arm to steady her. She clung to me as we made our way to her back door. Mom expressed the desire to stay outside, so I settled her in a chair before getting her coffee and cigarettes. Setting them on the small white table in front of her, I asked if she’d be alright if I headed home to make supper for David and the children. She assured me she would. I can remember leaning down to kiss her cheek, and while I’m certain I would have told her I loved her, I can’t recall actually saying the words.
Once inside the car, I started the engine before glancing back at Mom. She was looking straight at me, a smile on her face. She raised her hand slightly, giving a little wave. It was that one small gesture that undid me. My throat filled with tears and I could barely breathe. I looked away so she wouldn’t see me cry. My mother is dying, I thought as I headed down the driveway. My mother is dying. I sobbed all the way home.
There is so much we didn’t talk about that day. In fact, we hadn’t mentioned death or dying in any of our conversations since her diagnosis. I’d been with her when the doctor informed her she had lung cancer, had heard her whispered “I wondered what it would be.” We never talked about fear, or even faith, which surprised me, considering how important her religion was to her.
More than six years after her death, in early 2017, when I re-read letters Mom had written, her Memory Book, and the odd notebooks and partial journals I’d inherited, I realized she’d already said it all, had managed to impart her faith and knowledge in the life she’d lived. There was nothing more to say. Her last lesson was in facing death with dignity, grace, and the firm belief she would soon be joining both our father and Our Father.
She surprised me, this mother of mine, appearing in this manuscript in ways I had not imagined, her words neatly written in her perfect penmanship. It was a delight when my father unexpectedly made an appearance in the ninth chapter, and healing when a poem about my grandson erupted from the ashes of grief.
As I culminate months of writing, in my mind’s eye, I see my mother sitting outside at that little table, a cigarette in her hand, a cup of coffee in front of her. Her face is lit by a beatific smile, her eyes filled with love. She lifts her hand, giving a little wave.
“I love you, Mom,” I say this time, waving back.

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