Friday, December 10, 2010

Weekly Reflection (Week 49): nuturing our talents

As I was cleaning up the dinner dishes, Cowgirl plunked herself upon a stool at the kitchen island to do some coloring. As an art historian, I cannot help but notice my daughter's work moves through distinctive phases. First, there was her Blue period followed by a Rainbow period and then a Dinosaur period. Now she working on a Transportation series. There are her Train pieces utilizing an Asian scroll-like format (many sheets of paper taped together) and more recently, Truck Books (incorporating staples - a new favorite rivaling her love for scotch tape.)

in "Blue Thunder" the artist draws upon her previous exploration of the expressive power of blue, incorporating a new investigation inquiry into speed and power as exemplified by the truck and car.

She was drawing away while I busied myself with the dirty dishes, pots and pans (perhaps a Kitchen Series is coming?) Then she asked us to help her spell out the words "Once upon a time." This is a typical scene:

Cowgirl: "Mom, how do you spell Once?"
Me: "O"
CG: "Got it!"
Me: "N"
CG: "Got it!"
Me: "C"
CG: "Got it!"

And so on. (The husband and I argue about the pacing of our spelling out loud. He fires off the letters while I wait for her "got it" before going on to the next letter. I find my brain seizes up when people recite letters or numbers quickly. The worst is on answering machine messages where I have to replay over and over, the numbers always getting transposed in my mind.)

Before long, The Husband had taken a seat by her and together they completed her story book. Cowgirl dictated the sentences, while daddy helped edit and then write out the words. Watching them together, my heart melted. It is such a joy for me when Cowgirl takes an interest in doing art with me and I saw the same pride and pleasure on The Husband's face as he assisted his daughter. You see, I forget that the husband teaches writing (screen writing) along with film production to university students and that, in fact, he is a writer. And in that moment, I realized we are a family of writers.

cover art for "The Orange Car"

"The car used fire rockets to go fast and not get hit."

"Then the car shot back at the bad suns. They were hit and shrunk until they were gone. The car was happy and jumped on a bump to fly away. The End."

When Cowgirl first came home at age 23 months, she spoke just a few words of baby babble and possibly simple Cantonese. Her first English word was "Woof" followed by "Up" which had an Italian inflection to it as I taught it to her saying "Uh, Uh, Pah, Pah" and so it become Uh-Pa! She didn't say much more and we actually discussed whether we should be concerned about her speech. Of course, we are a talkative couple and - you guessed it - quickly we had a very chatty child on our hands.

We are also a family of readers, so it should come as no surprise that Cowgirl is interested in writing her own stories, making her own books. Her first full sentence was "We like dogs." (By now I am sure you are noticing the theme here ... again, no wonder she refers to herself as "C Dog.")

And now she has a number of her books filling the tables in our home. She is becoming more adept at reading and writing words by sounding the letters out and with this new skill, her talent as a story teller is blossoming. I am proud of her joy and sense of accomplishment as she works on her creations. I am also coming recognize the importance of my sharing with her the thrills and pride I experience in my work. In thinking about all this, it is dawning on me that among other things, I too am a writer.

I'm not sure which is harder for me to say - I am a writer or I am an artist? In my heart, I know I am both, but saying so feels awkward and presumptuous. But if I want my daughter to be comfortable embracing her talents, I need to become comfortable doing so myself. I need to practice acknowledging the gifts and the talents that I take great efforts exercising. And it is effort; I know that talent is not a matter of total ease but of perserverence, commitment, passion and practice, practice, practice.

Also essential is taking time to celebrate and appreciate our accomplishments. To do so gives momentum to continue on. As the year draws towards its conclusion, I look back over my list from last January of "Things to Do in 2010." I am stunned to see so many items on my list have been realized or are well on their way to becoming a reality. Some are rather mundane: sew an apron, knit Cowgirl a sweater, wear more dresses. But some are pretty major: attend Squam, be involved in a big creative project (21 Secrets), take a painting class (BIG), skinny dip (at Squam in a frigid lake!), start a women's circle, and connect with some of my "idols" (classes with Marisa, Sarah, and Susannah.)

Connection was a major theme and intention for me in 2010. Another goal was to have my writing and images appear in places other than this blog. And today I am proud to announce I have a guest post up on The Mortal Muses blog for the theme "where i live." Having my work appear in other blogs is like having someone want to hang your art work in their living room. It is one thing to display my pieces in my home, but to have my work accepted into another's space is a huge form of validation. I realized this morning that I have had my work appear in four other blogs and that is a feat I would never have imagined myself capable of achieving. And I don't mean to say that my work isn't worthy, but for me to put myself out there and ask another person "would you read this?" or "would you consider this piece, this image?" is a HUGE accomplishment for me.

In fact, I have another dream project that just received some positive encouragement. I cannot go into the details just yet, but it is an idea that involves art, photography and underprivileged young people utilizing these formats to validate their perspectives, their experiences. I write about this because I almost let my idea whither away. It came to me last summer and I wrote to a couple of people about it, asking for advice on how to proceed. I got no feedback and over time, I let the doubts and the obvious logistical challenges damper my enthusiasm. Then I was in contact with a person whose organization I had hoped to contact for this project, but for a different matter. I was sending an email and it hit me I should mention my idea to this person and ask for feedback or a name of someone who I might contact. I sat at my desk, the angel of enthusiasm and passion shouting "write it! write it!" and the devil of doubt and self-effacement whispering "You can't do this ... you don't have the skills ..." and the most insidious of them all "now is not a good time ... wait until you are more ready for this." I wavered for an instant, and then I typed out my idea and hit the send button. The next day I got a response that my idea is great and she wants to discuss it at the January planning meeting with other departments in the organization.

The story I all too often tell myself is "what I do isn't all that important or big." I am coming to realize, I cannot maintain that lie any longer. For beyond anything I might achieve for myself, there is my impact upon my daughter's life which becomes more apparent every day. She moves her hands like me, she uses similar verbal inflections and facial expressions and now there is her sense of herself and her identity which is directly related to how I think and express my sense of self.

apparently, i am also an ice [cream] truck

Hello, my name is Lisa and I am a hard-working, passionately engaged, and dedicated writer, artist, and mother.

How do you describe yourself? Is it a nurturing or a destructive description? Who do you aspire to be?

(Thank you for the inquiries and well wishes into Moose's current health challenge. He has been doing much better and while we still do not know the cause of his stomach ailments, he is responding well to medication and a convalescence's diet. That said, he has had cravings which lead him to devour the top 2 inches of Rick's boot! So he is recovering from the effects of shoe leather moving through his system. And in a twist of either poetry or perversion, I found myself paying for his last vet's visit - a barium swallow test with x-rays! - and thinking "there go my new black boots." Well, someone got a black boot!)


  1. I had to laugh out loud at the differences in our daughters' stories- suns shooting hot lava lasers vs. a family of bunnies finding the end of a rainbow. And, of course, I was touched by the father-daughter writing connection. I can't wait to hear more about the new project. I am so inspired by your ambition, ideas, and ability to create the time to accomplish all of these feats (yes, that's what they seem like to me).


  2. I describe myself as a mother and an artist. So I guess nurturing but it took alot of hard work and time to get here! Our kids WOULD really get along! We are also in a big stapled transportation book phase! Too funny. :)

  3. Dear Lis-I LOVE LOVE LOVE this entire post for SO many many reasons. Where would I start? The 1st thing is I just love how you foster, champion and nurture your daughter's creativity;Cowgirl is so lucky to have you both. I love how she is writing books!! give me so many idaes for Tara.
    But the larger lesson to be learned from this post (for me) is that how we view oursELVES is going to directly influence how our daughters view themSELVES. You are so right...if we will not claim our gifts and hopes and dreams...then how can our girls do the same. Even as young as Tara is...she emulates my every move. It makes me so happy and proud that you are accepting your gifts as writer, artist, photographer...the sky is the limit! And proud of you too for accomplishing so many of your goals...uh? Skinny dipping in a freezing lake...hats off to you girlfriend!!
    As for me...I am trying to be is difficult...this claiming who we are and stepping into our power. It is a difficult path but full of gifts. And I really want to instill in Tara the gifts of her being fully who she is.

  4. P.S. I really want to take a class by Susannah Conway...when I get some time!

  5. awesome post -- i was nodding my head as i was reading...

    SO true -- as i've struggled with reclaiming my own creativity, one of the things pushing me was knowing that i was setting the example for my kids -- and if *I* devalued my own creative output, then it was sending a really horrible message to them. so on the days when i can't seem to do it for myself, i do it for makes it easier to pick up the pen/brush.

    LOVE the storybooks Cowgirl is making...Savannah did a series of those last year....they were mostly about wayward cats.


  6. what an inspiring post. I love how your daughter's art makes you look at your acceptance of your own. so perfect in the solidity of that realization. I love that you are hard working at your vision and life. so many laze through things, I am firmly committed to not do that and to surround myself with those like you who are really living. it is worth it.

  7. I enjoy reading your blog and your weekly reflections. Thank you.


  8. Love this! From the totally accurate photograph of what it's like to put together a lego object (just had the recent pleasure of "helping" my beloved nephew) to Cowgirl's amazing drawings and story. You have a lovely life, my dear! Hope you're staying warm!!!

  9. So much here to respond to - where do I start?! I am constantly amazed at how my words/behaviour affect my son. I keep telling myself I need to curb my swearing...That is a beautiful sweater and how exciting to realize many of the things on your 2010 list have been accomplished. I didn't want to look at mine because I remember so many things on there that I haven't done but maybe I'll peak and get encouraged. I was also happy to hear Moose is picking up. Thanks for the reminder that I need to describe myself more positively more regularly. 2011 is all about self-care for me.

  10. Oh wow, you have indeed achieved so much this year, you are an inspiration to me :) Lis, I love the pride you have in your daughter's accomplishments, she is so very lucky to have you xxx