“A Japenese Way of Looking”

I confess I am not an artist, but it doesn’t mean that I cannot experience a love of the aesthetic. And I find such importance and value in exploring these perspectives because it helps me to recover and experience the beauty that is ever present in our lives. It doesn’t matter if it’s through poetry, wine tasting, bird watching or photography—there are so many ways to experience, to zoom in, and elaborate on these small elements of life which add so much fullness to our humanity.

Recently I visited the Hague, Netherlands and took advantage of visiting the Van Gogh Museum before jumping on my plane back to Laos. There was a  whole exhibition dedicated to Vincent Van Gogh’s obsessive study into Japanese prints and how he took those elements into his own style of art.  I had never really thought much about the subject and composition of works. Truly, I had always thought it was VanGogh’s brush strokes that had defined him as an artist. But as he produced a painting a day, he worked diligently to incorporate this style into his own. And when you looked at Japenese prints and then turned your eye to VanGogh’s work, you could catch a glimpse of how he had achieved a “Japanese Way of Looking” in his portraits of the people and places within the south of France. However, what struck me the most was how strongly he felt that the Arles, France was “just like Japan” because of the light and color of the landscapes he saw there. He had only explored Japan through those prints–he had never heard its language, seen Mt. Fuji or tasted sushi– so I was so deeply amazed that he had made that strong connection just thinking about light and color depicted in those prints. VanGogh, in my mind, definitely had a unique way of seeing the world.

van gogh 2And it was this idea that I connected to the most and made me question whether I, in all my travels, had truly appreciated the perspectives and features of the places that I had been too. Yes, of course, I had “assimilated” the culture in the places I had lived abroad but had I truly appreciated them and studied them in the way like VanGogh did. As an expat, I had simply lived among the culture rather than steeped myself in, floating at the top of its surface, trying to maintain the integrity of my home culture rather than allowing my eyes to completely view a different context of life.

As I bring my first year of life in Laos to a close, it makes me deeply reflect how I might integrate VanGogh’s determination to view life through another lens. In the past, I had pursued awe but it has always been around me. It’s not trying to evade me. It is just my sight that needs to shift. It is as if my camera’s lens has been out of focus and if I turn my attention towards something connective like Van Gogh’s “light and color”, perhaps life can be less blurred from the “could haves” and “should haves” that blind me, seeing, not only people and nature in a whole new way, but the circumstances in life.

What a wonderful experiment this can be.

 

The Menacing Burning Within The Soul

If you jump and leap, don’t leap or jump for the landing. Leap for the experience through the air. -Brene Brown, on Magic Lessons Podcast with Elizabeth Gilbert

As I prepare for my transition, finishing up my last full month in China, I’ve been wondering if I made the right choice. Preparing to jump into the unknown fills you with a lot of doubt. Is this really the place in which I can develop more of what’s best about me? Will my Judy-ness get an upgrade? What about my family, Ryan and Hannah?–will this be the best for them?

Do you ever feel like you have gambled all your chips at the roulette table at Vegas and you’re hoping that life lands on the Red 6?  Well, the wheel is spinning, isn’t it?

We read Wild in our book club a few years back and she definitely left an impression on me as a writer. She doesn’t mince words; strength and power are something that Cheryl Strayed is really good at articulating in her work. Her memoir and her subsequent work encapsulate this idea of Motherfuckitude, which is a combination of 2 seemingly opposing ideas: humility and faith. And, although the term may upset your modesty, I assure you the idea transcends your opposition.

I’m going to really try and I might fail, but I’m not going to feel sorry for myself but I’m going to be strong in the midst of my humility. Forget success and instead put my faith in the work and be really fierce and very exacting. I must demand a lot of myself when it actually comes to doing the work…having a sense of surrender and acceptance that ‘I’m going to do this work and I don’t know where it may lead.

-Cheryl Strayed- (in an interview on the Tim Ferris Show)

bravery.jpgHer words put a ding in my trepidation, making me consider that there could be no way I could fail if not failing forward–towards this furious ache that is in my soul, the one that causes me to be more than I am today.  The one that tells me that I am not too old, too dense, too unyielding, too silly, too pollyannish. Instead, it tells me that ‘life is long and I am young with so much to learn–isn’t that wonderful?’ It berates me until I have no choice but to heed its advice.

Anyone who writes knows how incredibly hard it is to write something that actually is interesting and meets your level of expectation. Anyone who runs knows how incredibly hard it is to run, in the rain, when you’re tired when you’re in pain and injured. Anyone who teaches knows how incredibly difficult it is to plan, to care and to put in the effort when you’re sick when you’re annoyed when you’re disappointed in life. Anyone who parents know how incredibly hard to be attentive, tuned in and patient. I could make a list of any job, hobby or role that we love dearly and are passionate about–there’s a time in which you want to throw in the towel and quit, but you can’t quit because your devotion to it is too strong and your life would be an empty shell without this struggle in your life. With the struggle comes the beauty and the joy.

So I have to wonder–will I expect more of myself in this new environment? As a wife, as a mother, as a teacher, as a blogger?–Can I work at it like a motherf*cker there?  Am I willing to diligently press on when it will be easier allow distractions to overcome me? I wholeheartedly agree with Cheryl, that once you surrender to the hardship of whatever craft one wishes to perform, then there is a grit and dedication that arises and overtakes the urge to abandon the task at hand. And you know, in your heart of hearts, that if you were to maintain a steady focus on it, you would eventually persevere. You believe in yourself and your ability to figure things out.

Long before I put all of my chips on Red 6, I had this menacing burning in my soul to have a fresh experience, to hit a reset button. I have to trust that I have made the best decision, that this move serves the highest vision of my creativity.  I wasn’t looking for a j.o.b.–something that I have to clock into- but instead, something that helps me to improve my art–something that I get to explore, experiment with and craft. I also felt this was the best option for my husband as well. So I must have the faith that this will be a fantastic challenge and that will cultivate joy and curiosity in our lives.

What experience have you had with your struggle to transition? What are you willing to leave behind and what did you want to “pack”, in a metaphorical sense?