Artist as Family

We made some new friends! The week after I finished up at work we travelled to Daylesford to ‘SWAP’ (Social Warming Artists and Permaculturalists) with Artist as Family. I can’t think of a better way to begin this new phase of my life. It was divine, too many thoughts and ideas and inspirations to share but this little poem captures some of the spirit. Continue reading

Mother tongue

I will be featuring at Mother Tongue this Friday with Charlotte Roberts!

7.30pm at Melbourne Physical and Natural Studio, 1/393 Smith Street, Fitzroy $15 (doors on Kerr St)

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Charlotte was a feature at the first ever Mother Tongue I went to, two years ago, so it feels fitting to be featuring alongside her. I love Charlotte’s work, there’s a real immediacy and rawness that is thrilling to witness.

Over that time I have been a regular on the open mic section, it’s always incredibly inspiring to witness other women in their vulnerability and equal parts humbling and powerful to be witnessed in my turn. A particularly memorable highlight was the night I read a story about my mother and she came along to see.

It is in the sharing of poetry that I most clearly experience the break down of the dichotomy between giving and receiving. When people pay attention to my creative offerings it feels like a gift and yet they also feel like they are receiving something. I would love it if you could join me on Friday to join in the sacred ritual of storytelling.

Letters to trees

I recently discovered that you can write letters to trees within the City of Melbourne. I work near the CBD so I have a number of favourite trees that I pass by most days.

To a colonnade of Deodar:

Hello my darlings, the flower and garden show is on again and so for several weeks I have to walk around the park and miss my morning guard of honour. I miss you all terribly. When I walk under the vaulted ceiling of your mighty branches my inner voice is hushed, I feel grounded and centred by your deep presence. In a matter of moments I pass you by but it’s only when I am denied this ritual that I realise the importance of the way you bookend my day.

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To a Moreton Bay Fig (pictured):

I sat among your roots and played ukulele for you the other day. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. Your roots make an excellent place to sit.

To the grandma tree (unsent as it’s not in the City of Melbourne):

I long to lay my spine against your wide trunk again.

Sadly none of the trees have written back to me but I remain hopeful. If anyone from the City of Melbourne happens to be reading this post, I would love to volunteer my services to respond on behalf of the trees near my work.

He left his glasses in the trunk

He left his glasses in the trunk

Martin didn’t always love plants but he’d always been awkward. A slightly withdrawn child, in his own world, “Off with the fairies” his dad used to say. The words made him shrink a little as he slunk off into the garden.

He would have liked to be surrounded by friends but somehow, couldn’t manage it. Other children looked sideways at his quirkiness, it interrupted the flow of the ordinary. They didn’t quite understand what he was saying but felt shown up by it anyway. They covered their confusion by giggling behind their hands at him. He, feeling hurt, retreated further into his flights of fancy.

The trees were what brought him out. At first they were merely a backdrop, characters invested with his imaginings. Then, as he began to whisper his secrets to them, they became his friends. Finally, as the self obsession of adolescence gave way to a mature interest in the world, he found that trees have secrets of their own.

He developed an eye for green and growing things, noticed them everywhere and delighted in their determination. Moss-lined gutters, weeds poking up through cracks in the footpath, an impromptu garden in a long forgotten laneway. He was inspired by things that grew in adverse conditions.

For a time he buried the quirky, imaginative child under the weight of scientific enquiry. He dressed in brown and beige, wore his glasses high on his wide nose and focused on his studies. He never stopped speaking to the trees, though if you asked him he would have said he was speaking to himself.

It became his habit to walk each day by the river at Burnley and it was there he attracted the attention of a particularly ancient tree.

The tree was fond of the way Martin addressed her and her colleagues as so few humans do. She could feel the respect and admiration Martin directed toward them, and the tree, very slowly in the way of old trees, made up her mind to reward him.

So it was that one day Martin, frustrated at a failed experiment wished aloud that he could make things grow. The tree sighed with delight and Martin turned to see who interrupted his solitude.

There was no one there but Martin found himself overcome with dizziness. He sat abruptly as the whirling passed from his head and his whole body began to shiver uncontrollably. When the seizure passed, Martin sat up, gazing blearily at the world. It was then he noticed his hands. Gasping in amazement he held them up to face. They were quite green.

He pulled up his jumper to find that it wasn’t just his hands, his whole body was green. He thought it must be some kind of sick joke. For several minutes he stared up at the sky wondering about dye falling from above. The sky was empty as was the park around him. Shaking his head in bewilderment, Martin headed home.

In his small bedsit he headed for the shower. The green wouldn’t budge. No matter how hard he scrubbed, the water ran clear and his skin remained resolutely green. Martin felt sick, drying himself off, he headed for the kitchen. He busied himself, making a cup of tea, still shaking his head with disbelief, too preoccupied to notice the tiny buds of green popping out of the floorboards.

It was the tea leaves that alerted him to his new power. As the teapot steeped he brushed stray leaves off the bench into his hand. He turned to the sink to let them go only to find a handful of green leaves in their place. Martin shook his head, seeing but unable, unwilling to comprehend. He stood at the sink transfixed, staring at his palm in disbelief.

The tea leaves continued to unfurl, gently tickling his palm as they came to life. A movment at the edge of his vision drew his attention to the floor. He could see, precisely the path he had taken from bathroom to kitchen bench. Each footprint was now neatly outlined in bark, small shoots sprang forth and were just beginning to bud into leaves.

Martin quickly turned back to the teapot, letting the handful of leaves drop to the floor. Carefully placing the strainer, he took refuge in the ordinary ritual of pouring. Time slowed as he narrowed his attention to sugar and spoon, losing himself in the whirl of brown as he stirred. He resolved to finish his tea and take himself to bed, hoping that sleep would erase the insanity his senses were delivering to him.

Sleep came quickly but provided little relief. He dreamed of vines that reached for him, chasing him through the bush. He hurled himself at last against the trunk of a tree, climbing upward only to find himself sinking into woody fleshy. He struggled to free himself, shaking his arms but as they swayed, rustling the leaves over his head, he realised it was too late. The only trace of the man he had been were the glasses embedded in his trunk.

He was woken by music. Instinctively rubbing his eyes, he was relieved to discover he could move. He rolled out of bed and went in search of the melody’s source. It was not a sound that was captured by his ears so much as his heart, awakening a curious longing within him.

As he entered the kitchen the music changed, brightened and he was arrested by the sight of the flower pot on the window sill. The flowers didn’t exactly turn to face him but with a warm thrill, he could feel their regard. The song of welcome and gratitude emanating from the plant was the most beautiful thing Martin had ever heard in his life. In that moment he forgot his troubles. He reached for the flower pot and, cradling it in his arms, he sat on the floor and wept.

The music opened doors in his heart. Every petty hurt, every moment of beauty and gratitude, every grief and every love were woven into the flowers’ song. The plant’s previous life under fluorescent lights in a shop were woven next to Martin’s lonely childhood. Martin could feel his care for the plant mirrored back to him, amplified along with his own life story. For the first time in his life he felt understood, in all his beauty and complexity. “I see you,” the plant seemed to say, “and I know how you feel.”

Martin felt overwhelmed by the pull of belonging. Looking around the kitchen he took note of saplings, rooted in the floorboards and now reaching toward the ceiling. He found he could feel them too, yearning for life, for sunlight and rain. He threw open the curtains and turned on the taps, filling an empty bowl he slowly, reverently began to water the small trees. Their response was swift and joyful, Martin’s face was wet with tears as he surrendered to the beauty of their music.

*This story was inspired by Gary Hirsch’s workshop ‘Making art and giving it away.’ Read about my initial experience here.

Open letter to Gary Hirsch

This is me with my new piece of art at Gary's 'Cocreation Lab.'

This is me with my new piece of art at Gary’s ‘Cocreation Lab.’

Dear Gary,

I loved your world domination summit workshop. I’ve been reading the book you gave us (Everything’s an offer) and I think it was very wise to give us the book with your art. For me it has been something of an instruction manual.

The piece of art I picked out on the day was not my first choice. I couldn’t see how it related to the kinds of things I want to write about. As a poet my inspiration has always come from being present to the deepest parts of myself. I couldn’t quite see how to bring that to your drawing. But I read the book and I was so impressed by your generosity that I wanted to rise to the challenge. You embody the kind of world I want to live in so I am very motivated to accept your offer.

Last night a friend stood me up for dinner so I read some more of the book, and turned my attention to your drawing. It still didn’t speak to me but I figured the least I could do was colour it in. I like flowers so I started with them. He seemed like a nerdy guy so I went on and gave him a brown cardigan. Then it started to feel like a routine, I could see where it was heading. I wanted to mix it up and I didn’t have a pink pencil for his skin, so I made him green and that’s when the magic happened.

A new beginning, Gary's picture coloured in and a story snippet.

A new beginning, Gary’s picture coloured in and a story snippet.

A green man gives rise to a whole lot of questions. By the time I finished colouring I had some words, a snippet of story. I wrote what I had across the top of the page and tweeted it. I wanted you to know straight away that I was on board. What’s more the story that emerged is entirely connected to the issues and themes that interest me but in an entirely unexpected way.

I feel like I’ve learned a heap of things from this process:

  • That letting go can sometimes return you to yourself from a new direction.
  • That you don’t have to know what the outcome will be and you don’t have to be perfect, you just have to accept the offer as best you can in that moment. I felt like sending you a colourful version of your drawing would have been a lame response to the task but I had to do something and that was all I could see.
  • That stepping into the unknown is possible, you don’t have to feel inspired to be engaged.

Thank you again for your generosity, I also used your three favourites activity at work, it went down a treat.

Yours sincerely,
Kiri
Melbourne, Australia

Note: for more details on the workshop go read Gary’s blog post.

Wild Mind Gathering

I have just had the most incredible weekend. My heart feels full and open, my body is tingling with joy. I am back in the city now but I feel the ancient forest so strongly it’s as if the cicadas, birds and cars are conspiring in an impromptu jam session. How to capture the magnificence of the weekend?

Kiri and Joe singing up a storm of gratitude at the final lunch time queue.

Photo by Ivan Kramer

Continue reading

Struggles with creativity

Over the past year part my of journey has involved trying to reconnect with my inner artist. Part of that has involved writing poetry which has been very satisfying but I long to express myself visually. In the past (I’m talking about 10-15 years ago) painting helped me uncover truths that would never have occurred to my conscious mind. At times the process of creation has felt liberating and joyous, who doesn’t want more of that?

So when my troubles hit crisis point last year, I made time to paint. It kind of worked but it wasn’t as cathartic as I remembered. It was peaceful enough while I was engaged in it but it didn’t yield any insight or lasting solace. I know I’m asking a lot of a few hours but family life is crowded, I need to get bang for the time I invest. If something like 5rhythms is more effective then I’m going to go dancing for two hours instead of stay at home and paint.
 painting experiments
Over the year I have continued to fight myself and the tide of life to create space for the unstructured playtime I find crucial to creativity. It felt like a lot of my attempts failed. My inner dialogue was driving me to succeed, to push myself in new directions, to stick with it until I developed the skill to be brilliant. All of which effectively stifled anything I might have to offer.
girl holds origami butterflies on strings
Then a couple of weeks ago, after the Brene Brown course on the Gifts of Imperfection, I started thinking about working with myself, working with the skills I have instead of pushing myself to do things I can’t. Later that night I remembered a little piece of drawing and origami I did one evening, the only creative project over the year that was genuinely satisfying (and turned out beautifully, picture above). I decided to keep experimenting with drawing that same figure and the results have been astounding. I never knew I could draw!
Surrender
This journey reminds me of Mary Oliver’s advice to “let the soft animal of your body love, what it loves.” It strikes me that we all have gifts but we undervalue and undermine them in a stunning variety of ways. We think it has to be hard, it has to be a struggle, we have to earn the right to express ourselves. Charles Eisenstein would say that this is the Story of Separation, urging us to conquer and dominate ourselves. Life thrives on diversity, the Earth needs us to express what is most unique and heartfelt and natural within us. This is the birthplace of innovation, this is how we will change the world.