Studio Haiku to close and a diorama to remind
Haa Haa Black Sheep emerged as I struggled to make sense of a bittersweet conclusion I had reached. It was time to close my beloved brick and mortar art studio, Studio Haiku.
It was in processing the closure that this piece emerged. Sadly, I had not been able to create anything for most of the previous nine months, as a confusing and stress-fueled weariness had earlier in the year overtaken me. With all my commitments, my energy had been divided and my creative energy was suffering to say the least.
As the image came into being, it was clear that I was dancing with a misplaced shame, a black sheep if you will. This shame haunted me with many accusations, whispering vehemently, “If only you were smarter, savvier, had more energy, were more organized, more clear-headed, more goal oriented, data driven, professionally minded, more ____ (fill in the blank), then you could make this all work!” But my body was telling me a different story. A bone-deep exhaustion had crept into my being. I knew I needed rest, but I just wasn’t sure exactly how to. Over the winter I longed to give into the invitation, but the expectations I had been holding up for myself were keeping me from the surrender I desperately needed. I wrestled myself into a depression.
It was apparent that I could not “do it all” – parent my three children, be a supportive spouse, friend, family member, community member, church member, volunteer, artist, retail shop and studio owner, and social media manager – without sacrificing my health and creative spirit. As I began to say yes to rest and reflection, and as I began to say no to busy-ness, and as I began to stay home in order to quiet myself (pre our governor mandated stay-at-home order), a generous space was made for clarity. And it was clear. What in the world had ever possessed me to think that I could actually do all of those things AT THE SAME TIME and still hold onto my sanity? Where was I getting this message that we, especially as women, should be able to do all the things – and do them well? The clarity was painful. I had thought myself immune – surely I was outside the grasp of our hurried societal evils – I led haiku workshops on mindfulness for goodness sake! But with space and time to help me see and listen, it was obvious that I had fallen for the lie. The pervasive societal and capitalistic pressure that says we are what we do and if we do more, then certainly we must be more. What a myth.
As the composition unfolded, the black sheep (symbolizing shame and depression) was initially being carried on the shoulders of the child (myself), but as I continued to work with the piece, the black sheep migrated beneath the feet of the child and a victor’s pose emerged – “Haa Haa, Black Sheep!” I would no longer be under the grind culture spell. As many elements of the piece found their place, I realized that Psalm 23 had been guiding the imagery. This psalm had accompanied me throughout the past year as I walked through the valley of the shadow of depression and weariness. The child’s sweet innocence speaks to my being a child of God, and to my recent, fresh invitation and acceptance of that truth. God takes care of me like a loving parent that cares deeply for their small child, like a shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine in search of the one. The flowers in her hand bring to mind a continued innocence as she hunts for and finds beauty, wonder and provision, “in the presence of her enemies (our cultural obsession with production, efficiency and the marketplace).
The black encaustic doilies are a reference to the felt failings that shadowed my daily life in domesticity as well as in my artistic and business practices. Though the black background refers to the “valley of the shadow of the death,” the moss and gentle garden beneath the child are a gratifying expression of rest, referenced in the first verse of the psalm “He makes me lie down in green pastures.” This is the rest that was inviting me. This was the rest that was calling me, luring me with hibernating butterflies and fallow, winter weeds. This is my path to follow. Closing the studio is the about following this path, strange and upside down and business backward as it may seem.
The angels above the child refers to God’s consistent reminder of the angels in my life, and my invitation to call them in prayer to their work of ministering to the children of God. Lastly, the star ceiling. My healing came in the night. Months of prayers and pleas from family and friends led to golden bowls of prayers tipping in fullness during a March night. I awoke the next morning with a Lightness in the very center of my chest, replacing the crushing heaviness that had previously tormented me with sadness and despair. I was given a true miracle in my body, a true release. True rest from the absurd shame. So much unfolding! So much becoming.
Deciding to close the retail component of my studio has been the bittersweet, yet strangely courageous choice to simplify my life for the sake of my health and ultimately my artistic practice. Looking into the future, I believe my decision today will be the absolute best thing for my creative essence to flourish. The fact that this art work was born from that decision is the first beautiful bloom in what I hope will be the garden of my life’s most meaningful work. Though much of the symbolism carried in this diorama speaks to the facets of shame that I wrongly carried, more so it sings to the pivotal freedom and truth I have been gifted in a crystallizing exchange.
Psalm 46: 4-11 MSG | These verses have also felt like companions to this piece and this season of my life. God plants flowers and trees all over the earth and also bans war, destroys weapon. He is tender, nurturing, and protective as a provoked mother bear. As the nations rant, God is giant and steady. He is all the comforts of a safe-home, a haven for the weak. He nourishes us with the most tender beauty for our dangerous journey. Today, amidst the global pandemic of Covid-19, these words weave promise directly into the unknown. As we find ourselves in lock-down with uncertainty lurking, we are invited to be still and know there is protection and peace for us. Beauty and certainty are in the unseen. The end of violence is near. The trees will soon clap their hands. We are invited to rest.
“River fountains splash joy, cooling God’s city, this sacred haunt of the Most High. God lives here, the streets are safe, God at your service from crack of dawn. Godless nations rant and rave, kings and kingdoms threaten, but Earth does anything he says. Jacob-wrestling God fights for us, God of angel armies protects us. Attention, all! See the marvels of God! He plants flowers and trees all over the earth, Bans war from pole to pole, breaks all the weapons across his knee. “Step out of the traffic! Take a long, loving look at me, your High God, above politics, above everything.” Jacob-wrestling God fights for us, God of angel armies protects us.”
WendyMay 8, 2020
Love the land of miracles that bring us to a very special place you are truly one of a kind and I look forward to this new place you will journey into as it will bring you rest – refreshment – delight and creative touch !!! Loves ya !
DebbyMay 7, 2020
Your articulation of your journey these past months was so soulful and heartfelt. I’m sorry you have had to experience such darkness! You have so many talents and gifts! I know that God expects us to use are gifts for good but I believe he also wants us to sometimes just be. I agree that society subtly and not so subtly places expectations on us to do more and more and to do everything perfectly! But overfunctioning stops us from looking at ourselves and our lives critically. There is power in saying no and shedding things that no longer make sense anymore. I applaud you for having the courage to do what’s best for you and your family! When it’s safe, I hope we can meet for a cup of tea! God Bless! Hugs!!
BarbaraMay 7, 2020
It’s so amazing Natalie, words seem so inadequate to describe it’s worth and meaning .
What a gift you’ve been given, in this piece, to bring a healing for yourself and a clearer understanding of your recent journey to those of us who truly appreciate you! This piece will continue to become blessing to those who have experienced many of the same valleys but haven’t had the means to make sense of them. Thank you for sharing your soul !!
Monica MalleyMay 7, 2020
Natalie, I’m truly so proud of your discoveries. I’m so sorry you’ve been through such darkness but the part about you getting a release, a miracle in your body is my favorite part. I can imagine you’re feeling so many things and will continue to mourn the loss of the studio, but as you know God takes us to these places and we don’t always know why. I absolutely admire you and always have. The way you see the world is truly unique. I pray you continue to experience deep deep rest, a level you’ve never been able to achieve. You are so loved. Love you, Monica