Thursday, March 15, 2018

Choosing the Idiosyncratic Language of the Individual

“We must recapture our personal and idiosyncratic language so that we may speak about our personal and idiosyncratic life.” –Peter London

Whenever I begin to feel disheartened about the art I create, I return to Peter London and his book “No More Secondhand Art,” which in 1994 gave me a satisfying explanation of what I was doing with my visual imagery when I read it for the first time. At that time, I had been making art for about six years. Then a writer and poet, I found my metaphors had begun leaping from the page to the canvas demanding to be viewed rather than read. I was transformed from writer to painter.

The intensity I felt to create visual images overcame my fear of making “good” art. I was driven to speak from a force within. This force had no need to conform with social norms and expectations. I became dedicated to the “process” of speaking without developing an attachment to what I was saying when I made images, the “product.” I engaged in this artmaking process without showing my work to the public for more than 10 years.

In this way, I developed the early stages of my own visual language. Yes, when “experts” began looking at my work, they used dismissive words such as “derivative,” and “primitive.” Yet there were others who were attracted to my soul work. I knew even then that I should not be pulled in either direction towards criticism or praise.

I knew I had to speak my own idiosyncratic language regardless of what others were saying to me about what this “language” was or wasn’t. This determination to listen to my “gut,” to “see” my visions, and to “speak” about them how I wanted to took perpetually crumbling courage. I continue to fight the outside critics that summon my inner critic, but I practice “doing” and “making” anyways.

And I look for support from those tribes to which I belong. Thus my return to Peter London in order not to be gagged:

 “There are some disabling myths about what art is, how to do it, what is good art, and what art is for, that have gagged generations, depriving them of a significant and natural means of expression. This is a terrible loss and an unnecessary one. The purpose of this book [No More Secondhand Art: Awakening the Artist Within] is to address that situation and return visual expression as a natural and full language to every person and to enable everyone to employ this means of expression to do what all language does, to speak about the world as it is, and to create a world of our choosing….

CHOOSING THE IDIOSYNCRATIC LANGUAGE OF MY SOUL. The images you see here are pieces of the syntax of my soul. Let me tell you about several of them.The snake in the top image was one of the first "nouns" to appear in my visual work, a result of a series of dreams back in 1988. I continue to "speak" snake in both noun and verb. The four petalled flower appeared perhaps 10 years ago when I began contemplating "choice." I begin with a circle that I divide into four sections, which represent infinite choice of north, south, east, and west. I remind myself of this choice every day. The heart experiencing growth is fairly new, entering my language about 4 years ago. I especially love the "roots" and how I often associate them with my feet. This image is still emerging and growing and teaching me what I need to know. (all art by Hallelujah Truth)
Oh Hallelujah to creating a world of our choosing! Especially in these times of political duress, I know that I can choose to create GRACE from the mundane to the mysterious using my idiosyncratic voice. I hope you will choose to do the same! That’s Coffee with Hallelujah!

Monday, February 19, 2018

Laughing Alligator: Dancing on the Heart

Yes! Yes to LAUGHTER! And why not in the form of an alligator? The imagination is free from rules! 

The night renews me. And in my daily creative practice, I am greeted by this alligator dancing on my heart. Hallelujah for the imagination! Hurray for creativity! And an affirmative to the dance of life.


As long as you're dancing, you can
break the rules.
Sometimes breaking the rules is just
extending the rules.
Sometimes there are no rules.
-Mary Oliver

I remain open to the stuff of dreams. At predawn, I dance my prayers not knowing where they go or what they do. My musings, my pencil lines, my cats, all colliding with the coffee and my husband eating cereal with almond milk.

This I do know, the practice of GRATITUDE - reflecting on the good in my life - waters me like I'm a flower. Hope drizzles on me like this morning's precipitation. Tao, our cat has refused to stay outside on such a wet dark morning.  My husband has kissed me good-bye before the sunlight touches our front door. 

Yet, I am here dancing with my Laughing Alligator and the Mother of Mystery. I am savoring the pizza dinner we had with Dottie last night and the workshop for the Atlanta Science Festival we are creating through our collaboration. I am remembering the text I received from a Korean graduate student in London after she gave her presentation. I am thankful for connection with my soul, with all of the people in my life, and with you if you have taken the time to read my blog and look at my images.

Thank you for joining me in this dance of creating grace from the mundane to the mysterious. Have a beautiful day!

That's Coffee with Hallelujah! Soul blog with me. Let me know what you are dancing!

Sunday, February 18, 2018

TOUCHING THE DIVINE: Finding Holiness in Continuity of Practice

TOUCHING THE DIVINE. Oh yes, there it is! Something more! Something I didn't know was PRESENT until I reached out for the pencil and drew and colored. I touch the SOUL through action not understanding. (Art by Hallelujah Truth)
It is a practice - this creating grace from the mundane to the mysterious. It is a daily creative practice to rise in the morning, brew my coffee, tend to the cats' needs, light a candle, burn incense and to move into the dance of the spirit through my artwork. 

My "Coffee with Hallelujah" art making is directed towards touching the Divine with pencil, paper, eraser, and watercolors. I celebrate the Mystery through my crudely rendered drawings. 

This moderately cool morning I am up before 5:00 AM and opening a window after walking my male cat Tao out in the darkness of predawn. The birds have started singing, and I want to hear them as I do my meditative drawing. I take pleasure in the fact that my dear husband Tony is still resting in bed upstairs and our female cat, Sapelo, is running up and down the stairs uniting us through her feline visits.

This daily creative practice is "hit and miss," messy, and almost always unfinished. Yet, I succeed in grabbing hold of the intangible by the sheer act of embracing and filtering it into a drawing. It is in these productive moments that I experience positive emotions. I pick up different colored pencils and scratch my marks onto the watercolor paper. Joy! The bright red pencil thrills me. Then my violet pencil marks run into the green and the yellow rises like the sun as the paper absorbs the water. Peace.

The paper dries. I have refilled my coffee cup. I like how the steam rises above its rim. I observe the results of my soul work - my 15 minutes (plus) of creativity. Albeit, the positive emotions I experience are perpetually balanced with negative ones. Judgment rushes in once again! How is it that I found the process to be an "act of grace," and yet I am dissatisfied with the physical outcome? I repeat the mantra: Not Good. Not Bad. Just Is.

Life is messy and unfinished. Why should I ask my soul work to be anything more or less? There is satisfaction staying in process, exercising the discipline to create. Continuous acts of creativity whether they are experienced inwardly or outwardly define and expand me. I grow older and a bit riper.

"Older now, you find holiness
in anything that continues."

 - Naomi Shihab Nye

FINDING HOLINESS IN CONTINUITY.  This watercolor pencil image was created this morning (February 18th, 2018) and felt connected to the above image, "Touching the Divine," which is still a work in progress beginning as a mono print months ago and then used as a drawing surface this past week. In this image, I am expressing "self care" or "soul care" for myself. Yet, I am also encompassing the universe. By caring for ME, I AM caring for the world. I am better prepared to love and accept you after I have forgiven myself and taken time to rest. In the continuity of my renewal, I renew you - or at least I would like to think that I do. (Art by Hallelujah Truth)
That's Coffee with Hallelujah! Soul blog with me. I would like to know if you are maintaining your daily practice? And are you practicing creating grace from the mundane to the mysterious?

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Improvisational Movement and Art/Altar Collaboration at Dance Church

COLLABORATION #1 (by Hallelujah Truth and Brian Sherman)
Hallelujah for Dance Church on the second Sunday of every month at the Decatur School of Ballet. In addition to the magic that takes place by "moving our bodies" in any which way we please - improvisational movement - in community with other participants, Brian Sherman and I have been improvising art on the Dance Church altar.
COLLABORATION #2 (by Hallelujah Truth and Brian Sherman)
Our lives have collided sporadically over the years whenever we both happen to be able to attend this once-a-month "dance church" from 10:30 to noon on a Sunday morning. At Dance Church, we are invited to bring and place items on an "altar" while we are dancing. 

I first started paying attention to the Dance Church altar when I became aware that Brian was bringing a lot of copper in varying forms of pennies, wires, and other objects. The randomness of his objects drew me in. I was fascinated by his birdlike gathering of bright objects, and he seemed to have some unstated principle that dictated how they were collected and placed in different containers.

Was it the improvisational dancing that "moved" me to start interacting with Brian's found and gathered objects? I found myself taking them out of the containers and arranging them in patterns that felt satisfying. 

Soon after my initiating the first arrangements, Brian informed of his only "rule." I was not to put anything away once the object was "out." He has an organizing principle for his collection of objects and how he stores them. Fine by me. I function at my best creatively when I know my parameters.
COLLABORATION #3 (by Hallelujah Truth and Brian Sherman)
Over time, I felt comfortable enough in this receptive environment of Dance Church to start bringing tablets of my art work. I have a "display" principle myself, one that is easily carried out in this open nonjudgmental environment. I like to "control" the viewing of my work. That is, I like to offer the viewer, a certain limited time to see my work, and then I conceal it, offering another work to see. (Yes, please ask me about this. I find it fascinating how I interact with viewers of my work and have much more to say about it.)

Anyways, what you are viewing here in this blogpost is the outcome of the collaborations Brian and I made today. What do I love most about them? The nonverbal emergence. Brian and I don't talk during the Dance Church.
COLLABORATION #4 (by Hallelujah Truth and Brian Sherman)
Instead, he brings out sets of objects in containers. I put up my pad of drawings. We dance. We move. We look. I arrange objects. I turn the page on my pad of drawings. Brian brings out objects. Maybe, he shifts his container of objects.

I watch him. He watches me. We dance. We rearrange. We appreciate each other's offerings. 
BRIAN MOVES TO THE ALTAR. We created a dance of moving towards and away from the Dance Church altar during our 90-minutes of dancing and co-creating.

I find that I don't need to know a lot about what is going on in our collaboration. Moving. Looking. Seeing. Creating. Recreating. Without speaking feels satisfying.
COLLABORATION #5 (by Hallelujah Truth and Brian Sherman)

COLLABORATION #6 (by Hallelujah Truth and Brian Sherman)
I have known that Brian is a retired sociology professor and has a radio program on WRFG, a local public radio station here in Atlanta. He has been kind of enough to buy Tony's books. Tony and I both feel supported by Brian. And there is this art thing. I like experiencing it rather than trying to understand it.
BRIAN SHERMAN AND HALLELUJAH TRUTH. Brian has made me more conscious about documenting what we do. Hence the photos I took today, and the photo of us together taken by Tony Martin at the conclusion of Dance Church.

Dance Church was perfect for Tony and me today. We both needed to release the tension from our bodies after attending a three-day conference in Savannah, Georgia and four hour to and from the Georgia coast.  Thanks to Dance Church, we had such a sweet, connective time, moving and dancing with others in our Decatur community. 

And for me, I co-created with Brian! What do you think of our collaborations? That's Coffee with Hallelujah! Soul Blog with me! What might you improvise today with someone else?

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

RELEASE--Two Hands Dancing

RELEASE. (Art by Hallelujah Truth)
Hallelujah for moving and creating grace from the mundane to the mysterious! Our creativity can be found in movement in going to that deeper fuller place in ourselves. In this movement, this act of making something from breath and from one hand (or two hands) moving, comes RELEASE.

This morning, I woke to my daily creative practice to express the outcome from my participation during last night’s online dance chapel with Cynthnia Winton-Henry.

Dancing with my hands….

One hand moves jerky, slow, fingers tense—contorted. This is my chaos, my gargoyle (thanks Cynthia for the word “gargoyle”).

The other hand, like a bird, fingers lax, smoothly rides the currents above, hovering a witness to my chaos. This is my grace.

Two externalized emotions experienced through the physicality of two hands moving—dancing.

At the core of these two hands is my breath and beating heart. They are the music for this dance.

My hands are witnessed by all of me, eyes, mind, heart, and gut…. I observe a shift in feeling. My hands court one another, like birds in a mating ritual. Breathe in. Breathe out (infinite X’s).


That’s Coffee With Hallelujah! Soul Blog with me! What dance will you create for yourself today? Let’s create grace for ourselves and others from the mundane to the mysterious.

GRATITUDE: It is with deep appreciation that I acknowledge Cynthia Winton-Henry’s Monday night Dance Chapel. Last night, we played with the dance of chaos and release—one hand dances jerky and smoothe…play with chaos. We found ways through movement together (yes online) to open the space to feel the chaos—a deeper place, which allowed our bodies to have fullness.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Regeneration: Collaboration of an Artist and Scientist

REGENERATION. More than once, we are given the opportunity to climb out of our burrows and to live our lives renewed. (Art by Hallelujah Truth)
"Burrows acted as a midwife in the birth of Gaia."  
-Tony Martin, The Evolution Underground

“One of the functions of art is to give people the words to know their own experience… Storytelling is a tool for knowing who we are and what we want.”  
-Ursula K. Le Guin

Dear Readers,

This story weaves together tales of a marriage between an artist and a scientist, who are both educators striving to use images and words to create and capture their experience and the story of a burrowing animal named Lystrosaurus, which survived a major extinction more than 250 million years ago by BURROWING.

Since my dear husband and I are without children, years ago we established a creative quest to deepen and enrich our marriage. We pledged to find concrete ways to co-create as a route to develop our skills of negotiation, to discover, and to give birth to something unique forged by our bond.

In the past, we have rented an artist's studio together and collaborated on art pieces for an exhibit at our local natural history museum (see this blog), we have cultivated a researcher's lifestyle for Paleontologist Barbie who travels to ichnological wonders of the world (see blog entires here), blogged about our field experience in Montana (here), and we've developed science communication workshops (see this blog and blog).

Recently, though, I have felt an urge to write about our micro-collaboration in his book, The Evolution Underground, which came out last year (2017) in February. We joined our forces together to make one image of Lystrosaurus
COLLABORATION OF AN ARTIST AND SCIENTIST. After we discussed what the image might show, I drew the outline depicting the story. Tony used Photoshop  to color and texturize the image. We knew we wanted the image to depict hope and continuity.  (Art by Hallelujah Truth and Tony Martin)

But which came first in my experience to take action to visualize the Lystrosaurus story? My MARRIAGE (Tony and me)? HALLELUJAH (me)? Or the SCIENCE (Tony's ichnological knowledge)? 

Me! This wisdom to place myself first in the vast realm of paleontological knowledge and alien terrain where my marriage takes me, was given to me in the early 2000's by a dear family friend, Melissa Walker, who told me to anchor myself, my "ME-ness" first. She advised me to find the value in our co-experiences that nurtured and sustained me. Thus fed, I could venture from a profoundly strong stance into my collaborative marriage and integrating scientific knowledge into my humanities background. 

Therefore, Hallelujah to my Truth, to ME, First! It is now February 2018, and I have wanted to acknowledge the Hallelujah Truth image I made that preceded the image that Tony and I made (pictured above). Ta da! I am presenting "Regeneration" here (below). I am in the BURROW with Lystrosaurus. I placed myself there because I know about BURROWING. Don't you?
HALLELUJAH IN THE LYSTROSAURUS BURROW. I learned from a friend to be present in my husband's life meant being fully present in myself. Finding the "why" in traveling to outcrops in foreign lands, looking at rocks all day, and living and breathing ichnology as a way of life. I find my way in not intellectually, not with my head, but with my heart. Making art is an active way to move into feeling and experiencing new thought. I draw myself to presence myself. Did I become Lystrosaurus? Ha ha! No, but I acknowledged myself as a BURROWER. Being human requires us to pluck ourselves out of our daily/weekly regimens and to rest, recover, regenerate. Returning to our lives restored feels to me like a rebirth. (Art by Hallelujah Truth)

MOVING TOWARD FULLNESS. What is life if not a movement towards fulfillment of our potential? If we are lucky enough to survive the onslaught of life's wounding arrows and its cataclysmic disasters, we are given second, third, fourth, ad infinitum chances to try again. We might even begin to "play" and "enjoy" these times of regeneration.  (Art by Hallelujah Truth)
I drew on my BURROWING experiences to empathize with that of Lystrosaurus. Amazing to me that Tony could visualize animals surviving the worst mass extinction with such simplicity in a childlike mythic tale. 
HALLELUJAH EMPATHY. I allow myself to feel in order to connect. I draw to envision and to connect. I learn as a result of feeling and taking action. I am enlivened and ready to collaborate because of being anchored in SELF. It also helps to be a BURROWER (one who claims time for introspection and renewal).

As a true collaborator in my marriage, I asked Tony to write something for this tale of our marriage and Lystrosaurus. This is what he offered: 

"In a book about burrows, burrowing animals, and how burrowing animals have used burrows to survive catastrophes throughout earth history, I knew Lystrosaurus would have a starring role. Species of this stout-legged, dog-sized reptile, which lived about 250 million years ago (20 million years before the first dinosaurs) and survived the worst mass extinction in earth history. What probably helped them to survive a runaway greenhouse effect and ecological collapse? Burrows, which they dug and used as safe places in normal, everyday life, but which really came in handy when outside environments got more and more hostile to other animals. So I thought the best way to convey a sense of Lystrosaurus as a survivor – and one that survived because of its burrows – was by telling a fictional story centered on one female Lystrosaurus that underwent a Joseph Campbell-style “hero’s journey” during a time of mass extinction. I think it worked well for communicating many scientific ideas connected to Lystrosaurus as a survivor, but it also was a lot more fun to write. Ruth's idea of our creating a collaborative artwork, and one that expresses emotional and spiritual connections to this tale, somehow completed it." -Tony Martin

When I began this tale of my marriage and our Lystrosaurus collaboration, I imagined "stealing" lines from Tony's Lystrosaurus story, but I think I will save that story for another time or let you read about it in his book, The Evolution Underground.

 Let it be said that not just anyone can make you cheer on a reptile from 250 million years ago as it climbs out of a BURROW to discover it might be alone, and that its species may have been annihilated. Since I am one who thinks in myth, responding to the world in metaphors, I was completely captivated by the Lystrosaurus's story of survival and found myself identifying with its journey. 

Perhaps I'm coming out of another BURROWING experience in my life right now. It feels good to write my Coffee with Hallelujah blogposts again after a year of silence. I have returned to the surface after a year-long submersion in my BURROW. I continue to collaborate with my dear husband as we soon head off to Savannah, Georgia for the Southeastern Evolutionary Perspectives Conference. We will conduct two workshops together there! 

That's Coffee With Hallelujah! Soul blog with me. Tell me about your BURROWING experience(s). Are you in or out of your BURROW? May I suggest that we create grace from the mundane to the mysterious as we move forward in 2018?

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: Deep gratitude to my husband and collaborator. Tony Martin, author, paleontologist, ichnologist, and artist, here holding the cast of a burrow made by a marine invertebrate from the Georgia coast. He is a professor of practice at Emory University, where he has been teaching for 28 years. -photo by Lisa Alexander Streib Art