From December 27 to January 2, my husband M. was on a non-residential meditation retreat or “Weekthun” at our local Shambhala Centre from seven in the morning until six at night. I joined him for just one day. But for the remaining six days, I have conducted my own retreat, mostly at home, but really a retreat into myself, which is something I often crave. I haven’t been entirely alone; I visited with two friends and I talked on the phone with people occasionally. I also went out into the world to do things. But there has been a lot of solitude.
Today is the last day of that week, and I discovered some things. I am reminded that I mostly like being in my mind and my body. I am pretty friendly to myself these days. I am able to watch my mind get anxious or self-sabotaging and stop it before it goes roaring down into the slough of despond. So that’s good. More awareness means more equanimity.
I love being alone, but as each day comes to an end I am so happy to greet my husband coming in the door.
I like the mornings, when I have the most energy. M. went off to his retreat at around 7 a.m. because he was assigned breakfast duty. Sometimes I stayed in bed for a little while and read a novel, which felt like a treat. I would get up and saunter around the house, which I had all to myself. Even our tenants have been away for the holidays. I liked the whoosh of the hot air coming up the registers in an otherwise quiet house. I liked watching the sunrise from my art/sewing room as I had a second cup of coffee. Sometimes I switched locations and sat in the living room watching the traffic of hummingbirds at the feeder, needle-nosed flits of purple and turquoise. What a beautiful thing, to have all of this time. To not have to rush or talk. I am so privileged.
My plan was to work on my memoir. I have been taking online courses at Sequential Art Workshop and now feel embedded in a friendly and supportive community of people from all over the world working on their graphic memoirs. The trick is to keep the conversation going without getting overwhelmed by the volume of sharing, recommendations, and seemingly endless threads in our Google Group. I have had to juggle all this social activity and responding to others (albeit online) with creating momentum to draw and write my own memoir. I got some work done this week. I was about to add, “but not enough.” Hey, I did what I did, and it was enough.
Sometimes I felt discouraged. But I just found something to motivate me and moved ahead. One step in front of the other. I like Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way where she’s collected so many encouraging quotations in the margins. Today I opened the book to Jackson Pollock’s “The painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through.” I wrote it on a post-it note then crossed out “painting” and replaced it with “graphic memoir.” I remember all of the times I wanted to quit writing my dissertation. But I kept talking myself out of quitting and into writing. I love what Lisa Hanawelt says: “Don’t worry about how good it’ll be. Just make it and do your best.”
After a couple of hours of working—drawing, writing, drawing—it was time to go out and do things. Sometimes I went for a hike or a run. Other times, shopping. We needed groceries and I was the one at home this week. And cooking—I made soup and Socca (a savoury pan bread made from chickpea flour and originating in Nice), black bean and tofu hash, Greek salad. I did chores: the laundry, the garbage and recycling, changing sheets, cleaning, organizing.
Other kinds of outings. I walked to the library and got out several graphic memoirs. I can usually read one in a couple of hours. Just soaking it all up—fascinating stories and all great reference material. I like to see how others draw, compose the page, handle text and lettering, build a story. John Porcellino, Jennifer Hayden, Lucy Knisley, and Nicole Georges.
I took myself out to breakfast today on my way to buy more drawing supplies for the memoir. I was curious what it would be like as I haven’t been out to eat alone for a long time. I went to a popular place that usually has line-ups. But I got in right away, sitting at the bar. I noticed the young guy next to me with a cell phone welded into his hand. He hardly took his eyes away from the phone display as he shovelled food into his mouth.
I looked around. The place was loud with noise and things. Tons of old stuff hanging off the walls: books and mirrors, an ancient cash register, antique junque. Waitresses carried plates with towers of food; the servings were enormous, so I just ordered eggs and toast off the “sides” menu. I haven’t eaten toast since July when we started a new way of eating with few fast carbs. I have lost 12 pounds and I feel really good. But I was curious to see if I could tolerate the occasional toast and jam experience, which in my opinion, when done well with excellent products, is akin to manna from heaven. I even devoted a section of my mandala to toast and jam, my desert island food. This “toast,” however, was really more like big fat slices of hot bread. I like thin slices of well-done crunchy toast. Too bad. But the “jam” was delicious apple butter infused with cinnamon and cloves and nutmeg. The waiter behind the bar asked other diners solicitously how they liked their food, but he never asked me. He called me “ma’am.” It’s interesting how lone older women are treated differently from other people. We are mostly invisible. But funnily, I don’t really mind. There are powers in being invisible, as sorcerers know.
When time and space expands, as it did this week, I can take up things I dropped before, for example the fleece hat pattern that didn’t work for me. I went back to it yesterday and figured out that there is nothing wrong with the pattern: I had cut and sewn the hat opposite the selvedge. It was too small because it didn’t stretch. So I made another hat the right way, and it stretched and fit. I learn from making mistakes. I learn by slowing down. Similarly, I got lots of good feedback from my teacher this morning about where I went wrong with my text and drawing on my comic panels. Time to redo them. Start over. Learn from mistakes. What’s the hurry? It takes time to learn a craft.
What a gift to have had this week in retreat, in solitude, with few obligations. To have had the time to do what I like, to think, to read, to not think. To rest, to do and redo, to not do. I feel grateful and ready to go back to work tomorrow. Happy new year everybody. May you find time to do what you love in 2018.