The activity that's defined my life this fall has started to slow down. For the past few days, I've felt like one of the seals we saw in Iceland, poking my head above water and looking around to see where I am. Over the weekend I had time to clean my area of our studio and file leftover material from these projects. It feels good. But it's also never been easy for me to deal with a sudden lull in activity (hence the cleaning, no doubt) and I see it as a challenge this time. I deliberately haven't made clear plans for what comes next, in order to leave some time and space.
One of the things I want to do is to get back to some serious writing, but where that might go is still quite unclear, and I have a huge volume of artistic inspiration in the Icelandic landscape that is waiting to be explored. I know I need some time now to just be, to refill the energy coffers. I also know that it's very easy for time to become filled up again, especially during the holidays, especially when the person in question is me, and especially when I feel guilty for neglecting other people or tasks. But guilt is an emotion I've worked on understanding better in recent years, and it holds less power over me than it used to.
It's often good for me at these times to turn to meditative handwork (and much more fun than cleaning!) Last week I knitted a warm hat from two strands of wool: a thick natural grey alpaca and a thin creamy white merino - the whole purpose being a hat to go with a fur pompom that a friend bought for me at a Native powwow in the fall. The quilt I started last winter is ready to be backed and quilted, and there's a scarf to hem. Today I cut up some squares of origami paper to fold into Christmas ornaments. The appeal of these projects is that there's no deadline, and while my hands are busy with repetitive motions, the work proceeds little by little, creating a meditative space where clarity about larger questions sometimes occurs, unannounced and unexpected.
The written word, though, always functions for me both as a comfort, and a more conscious means for understanding myself. Reading is one side of the coin, the other is my own writing -- it's how I take stock, how I figure things out, and also, often, how I let go and move on. From the pages of private journals, letters to close friends, or writing for this blog, ideas form, and the swirl of inchoate emotions transform into understanding, and finally into plans. When I'm knocking myself out to meet deadlines, I miss writing that way, and I miss the side of myself that becomes too busy or too distracted to enter that space. It's OK for a while, but eventually the lack of self-care takes a toll.
In the past weeks I've seen a number of articles questioning the superficiality of social media, the emptiness of homes without books or art, the falsely-predicted death of the printed book, and the growing appeal among younger people of more tactile, less digital forms of art: vinyl records, shooting with film, learning how to knit and sew. I get it. For those of us who grew up in a world where all of that was commonplace, some of the advantages of new media feel obvious and compelling: for example, I'd never want to go back to designing on a light table with a parallel rule, waxers and phototype, x-acto knives, rubylith and stat cameras. I'm glad we gave away our collection of vinyl, and even though our house included not one but two darkrooms for many many years, we both love our digital cameras. But I agree that there's a lot that seems to have been lost, as we've hurtled headlong down the digital road: too far and way too fast, I sometimes feel.
We don't know yet if we're in the middle of a pendulum swing, with a "correction" underway, or if the road to "progress" -- in large part a skillful manipulation of human desires and anxieties spurred by corporate interests -- will simply continue as it has. I'm often grateful that I've lived in both worlds and have the ability to choose whether to pick a printed book off my shelf or click on a digital title; I'm glad I learned to play instruments and draw and make my own clothes and be curious enough about the natural world to go poking around in it, because there was nothing much else to do when I was growing up. My mother used to tell me to get my nose out of my book and go outdoors, but somehow the books, as fascinating as they were, never felt like they had an organic attachment to my brain and body the way today's phones seem to. I might have continued to think about the world in those books, but I was also able to set them down and concentrate on something else, for hours, without being interrupted or distracted. Working that way feels good to me; it also feels good to use my hands and brain together. Being pulled in twenty directions at the same time does not, and neither does spending hours and hours, day after day, in front of this screen.
I loved the tactile, physical, intellectual, and emotional process of creating a series of relief prints over the past six months. Last night, singing in a performance of the Messiah for a rapt audience in the packed cathedral, I was aware of how physical the act of singing is, and how fully it involves the whole organism: body, brain, and spirit. As a species, we have not evolved at the same pace as our technologies, but we've almost stopped thinking about form follows function when it comes to our own bodies and minds: what is this human-shaped thing actually designed to do? When it's all working together, as it so miraculously does most of the time, what does that look and feel like? When we feel incomplete, empty, hungry, exhausted -- how can we regain or achieve some balance? Personally, what I know is that I want to go slower and deeper, into this mid-winter time that may look bleak, but feels full of possibilities.