Belonging (or two truths and a lie)

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Marco Ortolan, Sleeping

 

Admit something: Everyone you see, you say to them, “Love me.”

Of course you do not do this out loud, otherwise someone would call the cops.

Still though, think about this, this great pull in us to connect. Why not become the one who lives with a full moon in each eye that is always saying, with that sweet moon language, What every other eye in this world is dying to hear?

-Hafiz

 

I. Coming home from school was an exercise in hostile silence. Even if there was some kind of warmth in my ma’s voice, there would be some hook to it or a ‘miss’ of some kind. It was not a home in which there was ease or innocence or humour or calm. There was the continuation of a grudge that had no fathomable, no possible origin. We three were inmates, and like all captives we turned on one another. Fed on the pain or humiliation of one another. Hated one another. Until we couldn’t feel a thing. We three creative, bright, intelligent children. Extroverts by nature but driven to oppressive, harrowing, brooding silences. Developing plans to (in order) sleep/close down, to escape, or to transcend. I look from one to the other now and wonder that these could be those same five people. These good, open hearted adults. These people I love so dearly, even if from a necessary distance.

II. And even now, if I enter any space and am met with eyes-down silence; by indifference, I fight for my life. Fight for some way to make sense of it. It’s more than being left out; it is being left to bleed, be tortured, or die alone. Alone in the presence of this organism, this family, this community that I am supposed to be part of. The elusive sunny, friendly, inclusive world of my day dreams. The one that isn’t true. The one that was never, ever true. The one I’ll never stop looking for. The one I can’t even create for others.

III. I came home one day. My cousins were staying over and our parents were out. I so clearly remember my mumma’s smile: so excited to be going to a show with her friends and husband. Together we all made roast chicken and salads, like our mothers instructed us to make. I mashed the potatoes – proud and precise. Stubborn but needing help. So childish, I shrink now to think about the trouble I was for everyone, but they didn’t seem to mind. I recall the patient kindness of my brothers and sister-cousins. We made the table up, ate our food, cleaned up after ourselves and moved into the lounge to play gin rummy, which I was far more adept at than making potatoes mash. I woke up in the warm, green bean bag later that night and I was carried off to bed by the eldest; wished goodnight by everyone. The sounds of the voices surrounding me as I fell back into sleep.

Me and my Psychology (losing my religion) – career reflection by Upasana Papadopoulos

Image from catstobrats.wordpress.com

Image from catstobrats.wordpress.com

 

I have taken a break from my work as a Psychologist. It has been almost one year since I have worked full time in the field. I guess that at age 49 I was due for a mid-life work crisis and I certainly got one. I came late to Psychology, being a ‘mature age’ student at the ripe old age of 28. I ran away from my home and family after another developmentally well-timed crisis (marital break up) and decided to study Psychology.

I can’t say that I knew what Psychology was. I was aware of Psychological therapy, but at that stage counselling in Australia was a foreign concept that inspired all kinds of snide opinions about the ‘American-isation’ (or New York-isation) of our culture. I was drifting in life and felt that Psychology would give my life some sort of inner and outer discipline to follow. It seems to me that I often do not know the true intention of my life decisions until I am immersed in them. Only by entering into academic study and the field itself did I really begin to understand why I was so suited to and satisfied by the field of Psychology.

It is said that most people begin the study of Psychology because they wish to gain some insight into their own family of origin or adult relationships and into the confusion of their own thoughts, feelings and patterns. Many a counsellor has been motivated by the hostility, coldness or entanglements that existed in their relationship with their mothers or fathers. I can see that my baffling relationship with a loving but wounded mother most likely ignited my ambition to work in the field.

But I think that the reason why I felt so fulfilled and ‘right’ in my choice of work was because I have always felt a hunger to relate more deeply with people than every day life allowed. I have never understood social small-talk or the protection and deflection devices that people use to guard their inner lives. I have noticed that with protection, inevitably there is a castration of the ability to access spontaneity, expression and joy. I have loved my years in the counselling room because for me that room represents a place where humans can meet in all of the truth of the human experience. It is the place where people learn not to be afraid of their sadness, loss and anger, and to separate unquestioned fallacies regarding issues such as aloneness, separation, death, ageing from their more liberating reality.

I never became a rockstar counsellor and my style of therapy is not for everyone, but I have always kept in touch with my integrity whilst working as a psychologist. I had a particularly good university education in which I was encouraged to see research as more than statistics and evidence for pre-existing theories. I was encouraged to question, to observe, to take a perspective, to notice problems with theories and to point them out. In short, I was trained to think as a scientist and psychologist, not just to follow yesterday’s best practice methods or to blindly digest new research without first giving them informed, reflexive consideration.

As many counsellors know, it is difficult to find validation within our field. Validation from clients can often fit into a complex relationship of transference. Also, there are times when the discomfort of entering into a process of self-witnessing is so strong for a client that they are not left with a positive experience of therapy. Much of the healthy validation or support in this field comes from our colleagues. They may not be able to observe sessions, but they are able to get a sense of each others’ philosophies, techniques, or even a simple sense of each others’ insightfulness, compassion and kindness.

In my work as a Psychologist in the various not-for-profit services I have been employed at, most of the stress of the position has come from tensions and unjust practices occurring within the workplace; never from the behaviours or experiences of my clients. And it seems that this is the experience of many of my peers. The employment of managers and supervisors who know nothing of the field of counselling or the needs of its practitioners and certainly nothing about how to create healthy, creative, happy teams seems to be the norm. The ubiquitous micro-management styles, over-supervision and lack of access to external supervision goes unquestioned. Further, managers and supervisors often are not trained or willing to identify how vicarious trauma can materialise within the dynamics of the workplace.

I have been placed in the position of trying to speak out within the workplace and to navigate the, for me, frightening process of professional assertiveness. Although there have been some moments in which I have been acknowledged for my strength and intelligence, for the most part I have failed to stand up for myself and others in the workplace. And I allowed these failures to get the better of me. In March last year I decided that if Psychologists and other therapists do not have the ability to self-reflect; if therapists must endure bullying and ridiculous acts of jealousy, competitiveness and power-play often at the hand of fellow therapists, then it was a field that was not capable of practicing what it ‘preaches’.

So except from some contract work, I have stopped identifying myself as a counsellor and psychologist. I have begun retraining in another area. I will write more about that at some other time. It has been invigorating and I have been amazed at what happens to me when I dare to begin learning again; bringing all of my experience and training and applying it to a new field.

But life has not really let me move on. I find myself still engaged in discussions about therapy, best practice, the place of contemporary Psychology in the world and so on. I have not really found work elsewhere.

My work as a relationship therapist has taught me that the decision to end a relationship often occurs just as the opportunity to move into a deeper, richer phase of relating reveals itself. The moment of emancipation is often confused with failure. Irvin Yalom has described his role as a relationship therapist as that of ‘love’s executioner’ for this very reason. The idea of love often needs to die so that the truth of love can finally be born. The sexy glamorous notion of love ends, but maturity begins.

Last week I recognised that my time as a therapist has not ended. Not yet and not like this. Not in trauma and anger. Not in burn out. Not as a victim of ignorance and vindictiveness in the workplace. I am ready. I can’t be sure that the disillusionment I felt will re-emerge as illumination and maturity in my work, but I am prepared to find out. I have no idea of what will be different: in my workplace choices or in my way of being ‘in the room’; I am really travelling blind. Just the kind of journey I have always loved.

Feature Zine: An Interview with Anne Harris

INTERVIEW :: ANNE HARRIS

The zines ‘Lovingly Interrupted’ & ‘Expressions of Love II’ were created to accompany an exhibition of the work of Anne Harris and Kim Schoenberger. Since the exhibition, the zine has taken a life of its own, becoming a new way for Harris to share her voice and her unique pieces of slow-art with the world. Upasana Papadopoulos spoke to Harris about the exhibition, lessons learned from zine-making and the evolution of her work.

UP: Could you tell us a little about the Lovingly Interrupted & Expressions of Love II, exhibitions in 2014?

AH: Lovingly Interrupted was my first exhibited body of work, I was very fortunate to have an established artist, Kim Schoenberger (Expressions of Love II), mentor me and share the exhibition space. The work is a dialogue about my journey as a mother, artist and woman. It contains stories about family and the connections created by love.

UP: Could you tell me about the title ‘Lovingly Interrupted’?

AH: This notion of interruption is two fold. An interruption arose from my own frustration of trying to find a voice for my artwork that I could combine with my role as a mother. My artwork is the last thing to be picked up and the first thing to be put down, during the daily demands of family routine. I also wanted to bring into this, another poignant reminder of how our love transpires. There are stories about women who have left us too soon and about how our roles as women can change, for instance when age or illness brings a mother into the care of her child.

UP: How was your first exhibition different from what you had originally imagined?

AH: It was such a fantastic learning- experience on so many levels. I have learned a greater acceptance in regards to my own art practice, and a better way of dealing with all the self doubt that goes with putting my work on show.
Also I learned a lot about the practicalities of curating and hanging my own exhibition, like the logistics of marketing and PR. It was like a practical assessment of a self-created project.
Having Kim as my mentor helped me to develop a level of professionalism and attention to detail that I will treasure in my practice, going forward.

UP: Did completing your first exhibition change the way you work now?

AH: Yes, it gave me the confidence to follow my own direction, and to focus on making what I feel most passionate about in the moment. It also helped me conceptually re-examine the decision about what I include in my art practice. Really immersing myself in all of this, made things seem simpler and my art practice clearer.

UP: In the zine, you tell the story of an installation-piece which you called ‘Unresolved’. You beautifully describe the initial disappointment you felt at unrolling the finished work and knowing that it had not come out as you had hoped. You then write: “By the time I am writing this, the energy is shifting and I am seeing new possibilities…” How did that situation resolve itself?

AH: Yes, I had a bit of a disaster with the final piece, and because of the slow-process I used to produce the work, I was unable to redo it in time for the exhibition. I had to rethink it completely and find a way to make it work and still tell a story that was relevant. The best thing about that situation was that, although the work didn’t make it into the exhibition, the zine gave it it’s own valid reason to exist.

‘Unresolved’ was eventually chosen as a finalist in The Churchie National Emerging Art Prize in 2015.

UP: In your zine, you write about the decision to move away from glass and wood as working mediums, and the change in mindset required to do so. You also discuss moving towards “traditional methods of women’s work” in order to better balance your art-making with being a wife and mother. I am interested in what you wrote about the stigma of working with traditionally feminine mediums. Where are you in that dilemma at the moment? Do you see a lessening of the distinction between high and lower art forms in contemporary art?

AH: Ahh! I like this question! Now that I have worked through my next body of work (Notion of an Ordinary Yarn) and been able to attend some more master-classes with traditional craftspeople from different countries, I have a deeper understanding of myself. My confidence has grown. Maybe it’s about growing into your own skin and finding a voice that is completely your own. I no longer have issues about the validity of my chosen processes. The way I articulate this now is, I am a process- based artist, I use traditional and experimental craft practices to make narrative and conceptual work.
In the last 12 months as my children get older and I am able to work more. I have extended my practice more to incorporate wood and fibre, whilst still keeping the women’s-work aspects. I think I am also fortunate that craft- based art is having a resurgence in popularity, which also helps to reinforce a sense of acceptance – timely for an emerging artist.

UP: Could you explain the concept of slow art?

AH: ‘Slow art’ involves processes that are created by hand, or that have no way to be sped up by current technologies. For example, natural dyeing requires about 4 weeks for the fabric’s preparation and up to a few months to dye the work. You have to wait for each process to dry or occur. I guess this is similar to layers of oil paint: you cannot rush that either. I also like the element of chance, from the selection of materials, using what is in abundance or given to me, through to the results that unfold, which are never totally in my control. This makes me let go and I have to continually look without preconceived expectations of result. The results are what they are, and I have to find a way to make them tell the intended story.

UP: Can you imagine producing another zine?

AH: I have just finished another one for my next exhibition, Notion of an Ordinary Yarn. It is available in limited edition in print, and there is also a pdf online version available though my website.
I found the zine an important part of the exhibition process; it gave me a way to continue engagement with the audience once the body of work was completed. The zine is like the final document that holds the story in its entirety. It keeps the story of the body of work intact even after the work has been sold and dismantled. It is a place to share my process and to incorporate an aspect of the hand-made. The original Zine was hand-bound, this new one has a hand-made paper cover.

UP: Could you share some of your artistic influences?

AH: India Flint, and her process of eco dyeing initially opened the door for me – hers was the first process that engaged all my senses. Ross Annels and Tamsin Kerr of the Cooroora Institute have both had a big influence on how I use craft-based work to tell a story. I’m also inspired by Dorothy Caldwell’s recording of place, and her use of earth-pigments. I also like the simplicity of stencil street-art, the ability of an image pared down to its basic elements that can convey a message without words.
Tim Johnson, a UK-based fibre artist, once gave me some great advice about developing my work. He said “just make what resonates with you, until people cannot question whether the story and process are yours”
And also, everyday-life influences me. Celebrating the beauty and the ability to be in my place. Being satisfied that who I am and what I have is enough, and that the stories about the ordinary every-day are worthy of sharing.

UP: It sounds like you have lived in a great variety of Australian environments: Arnhem Land, Sydney and the Sunshine Coast hinterland. Do your work and artistic inclinations change with your location?

AH: I am really just beginning to understand what connection to land is. In the past I have lived and moved and searched for somewhere that I thought I wanted to live. But now that I have settled in the Sunshine Coast, and immersed myself in my art practice I finally get what it is to belong somewhere.
When I leave my place and go more than about 30km away, I begin to feel like I don’t know that place anymore. The plants become foreign, the soil changes… it smells different. I feel like I don’t have any knowledge of the area. I feel inspired to start working, but I also know that any work would be tokenistic. I would need to spend quite a lot of time, and make numerous visits at different times of the year for years, to really get to know that land. So I remain a visitor then, and can only make a scratch in the surface of that other place’s knowledge.

UP: I see that you have had a second solo exhibition this year. Could you tell me about it?

The body of work is called The Notion of an Ordinary Yarn. It explores and celebrates the beauty and rhythms within the stories of everyday life and is inspired by the places and people that are part of my surroundings. In this work I have used pigments, fibres and compounds using techniques such as eco dyeing, weaving, wood-work and traditional textile skills.
I have utilised craft-based practices here, to help create literal and metaphoric links between people, places and the artistic process.

UP: Do you have a large vision of what you most wish to do and achieve as an artist and maker?

I love making, experimenting and exploring. My next step is to take one plant and to take time to explore its properties. I have become the custodian of a 6 tonne, 200+ year-old Eucalyptus Tereticornis tree that fell down on a nearby road. I want to spend the next 2 years getting to know the properties of this tree: its leaves, bark and wood. Its literal and conceptual properties, both seen and unseen.
I hope to engage my local and extended community to work with this tree and to explore its cultural and heritage significance. It is a way for me to slow down, and just bring my attention to one thing, although it will still have far reaching narrative, as I engage and update the online community with the project. Audiences globally will be able to see how we can use creative practices and celebration of environment to connect, share, learn and respect our stories.

For more information about Anne’s work, exhibitions and publications, you can visit her website at: http://anniesworkroom.com.au/

This interview was conducted for the Verge Gallery, Sydney, website.

 

Who do I want to be in this?

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Two Women at a Couch.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Two Women at a Couch.

I have a new question that I have been using as a way of ‘remembering myself’.

I have been working hard for a good many years now to self-love through thick and thin, and have a pretty good relationship with myself happening as a consequence. But due to my particular form of introversion, I do find relating to others problematic. As a consequence, often the best of me gets left at home.

At 49 years of age, I still have a palm-mark permanently fixed on my forehead, from endless social situations that leave me wondering “why on EARTH did I say that?”
I find it hard to slow down and self-remember when I am out in the world. And so my resolution is to address this by asking myself the question “who do I want to be in this?”. The question re-centers me and reminds me of the qualities in myself that I most cherish.

I often think back on when my father passed away. I didn’t know how to prepare for his death. And although he was in hospital for quite a while before he died, I didn’t have the maturity and presence to gather myself into any kind of intention. And as death and illness were a clear no-go zone in most of the people I tried to speak to, I also didn’t have a role model.

Who would I want to be if I had the chance to be back there again?

There is a woman that has been in my life now for many years. I first met her as the editor of a magazine that I wrote a column for. I then got to know her a little and took some of
her sound-based meditation classes. I have also listened as she has shared her life with those of us in her circle. And she is a wonder. I’ve watched her move from a life of curiosity and seeking, to a life of radiance. Living so simply, cherishing the joy she feels in the smallest and largest of things. There is no apparent separation between creativity and work for her. She also lives openly and has shared some of the most difficult choices she has had to make with the ‘us’ of her circle. Her son just died. He hadn’t even reached adolescence. And instead of abandoning all that she has learned and moving alone into the darkness, she has begun her journey into this, taking us with her. Although she has taken a great deal of space, she has not closed the door to us or to the world. There has been no throwing away of all of the things she has learned. She has sent us notes, not to console us, and not for her consolation. She continues to hold herself with this tangible love she has. And she has just saved us all. What she is teaching us is how to hold ourselves in self love, and then to stay open. We were all prepared for her absence. None of us were prepared for her continuance. I wish I could say these things more clearly. But I know I can’t.

I can not be her. I do not want to be. I’m not prescribing any model of behavior here. I do want to live life as authentically as I can be and there is only one road for that.
Who do I want to be in this then? As a distant friend to someone that has shown me how not to be alone in pain?

Let’s see.

What I have learnt about being sad

watercolour byAbhilasha Singh

watercolour by
Abhilasha Singh

I was speaking to myself in my car today.

I usually process in written form, but I was driving and didn’t have my journal handy.

I was thinking about what I have learnt about being sad.

Now that I am 47, I have been reflecting quite a bit on what I have learnt in the journey so far and this question of what I have found about being sad feels important to me. I spent way too long as a girl being sad. I consider it one of my greatest achievements that I am not any where near as sad any more.

Here are the five things about being sad, or more specifically, what helps me not to be.

1. That the things I think I know about other people are so very often not true at all.

The brush off; the short reply; the lack of eye contact; the unanswered text; the forgetting of dates that matter to me; the far too hasty interaction in the street; the tone of a facebook comment; the strained trace of a smile when I try to be witty and light hearted in my repartee…

I used to think I was good at reading people and reading their intent. But I’m not. I’m sometimes emotionally illiterate in the non verbal language of others.

I get it wrong. Getting it wrong has made me sad many times in my life. Now that I have finally- FINALLY understood that my guesses are often the most pessimistic interpretations, I guess less often. I let myself expect the best rather than the worst when I try to imagine how others see or judge me.

It has been a daring step but it has made me happier.

2. Sadness is a feeling that I experience in my body and if I let myself feel it as a physical sensation, I can then watch it pass through and away.

I can wait for the peak of the pain and then I can watch the pain ebb away. Then I can experience the return of the lightness. Just like hitting my thumb with a hammer, or hitting my funny bone, or having one of those calf muscle cramps. It passes and there is very little that I have to do but let it.

If I don’t let myself experience sadness in my body, then I tend to look for it in my mind. Then I create stories and interpretations; conversations and replies. I begin fighting the other person and looking for allies and enemies.

I like to leave it to my body to process as much as I am able to. My body seems to process things more efficiently, without taking hostages.

I tend not to get so scared of emotional pain any more. I don’t fall for the fear in me that says that it will never pass. I tend to look for ways to open up the channels and let it go.

Image frompinestreetartworks.com

Image from
pinestreetartworks.com

3. My beautiful blue bowl.

I have a lovely blue bowl that my friend Forbes made for me and I decided to turn it into a worry bowl. So I have little cut up bits of paper at the ready and if I have a worry, I write it down and ask the bowl to hold the worry for me. That way, I can forget about the worry and let some other vessel carry it. I have often had a falling out with someone and written down the wish that one day the trouble between us would be resolved. Or I feel remorse for something and wish that one day I will feel forgiven.

All of the wishes I have put in that bowl have come true. Some sooner than others.

And when they have, I have simply taken that wish out of the bowl and made the bowl a little lighter.

Most of my problems get resolved sooner or later –  and that never ceases to amaze me. It is often really just a matter of time.

4. Asking for help can be a challenge.

I do feel the need to talk things over when my mind is overloaded with feelings and thoughts. I hate the idea of being alone in it sometimes.

However, I also know that when I am overwrought, I am impossible to deal with and usually inconsolable.

How often have I called someone to arrange to speak things through, only to feel frustrated that they could not possibly understand the intricacies of what I am feeling.

Or else, I will feel them pull away or try to change the subject or obviously feel burdened by what they see as negativity.

Nothing anyone ever says when I’m in that state seems to really hit the spot for me. I always wish I could just morph into two people and counsel myself.

This need to be comforted by others, coupled with a tendency to push the others away is the paradox of sadness for me.

I think the one who addresses this paradox better than any other therapist I have encountered so far is David Schnarch. You may have read his book ‘Passionate Marriage’, or if not, you may like to. It really is a wonderful book. What I love most about it is what Schnarch writes about leaning on other people. He says that in life, we tend to all lean on one another so much that the responsibility for holding ourselves up is almost always given to someone else. The someone else we entrust our care to also looks elsewhere to be held. He writes:

“The ability to self-soothe and to hold onto yourself, and the willingness to self-confront, are important to increasing your differentiation. These involve calming yourself down, not taking your partner’s behavior personally, maintaining a clear sense of yourself, and facing your own unresolved personal issues.” (Schnarch, 1998)

He teaches that if we could learn to hold ourselves emotionally first and then ask for help, then we have some chance of getting what we really need. We steady and ready ourselves to be able to receive the answers and inspiration we most need.

Learning to ‘hold myself’ is no longer something I do in loneliness or in a spirit of resignation, it has actually become a joy and an honour.

5. The inner child.

The inner child model of therapy is the one I keep looking back to. It’s the one that makes sense to me in my own life and experience.

So many therapists have used and developed this model of understanding: Jung; Berne; Bradshaw…

To explain this in my own words I would say that the child that we once were does not disappear. The girl that I was still exists in me in the form of what I would call ‘my heart’.

When I am sad, it is usually she who is feeling it and trying to communicate it to me. The adult part of me wants to soldier on and look brave, clever and sophisticated. She, like any child in the world is not good at faking things. She is too true for that.

All of the things that used to hurt me as a little 7 year old girl are still the same things that hurt me now: rejection, abandonment, insensitivity, confusion, change, loss, fear.

I can not travel back to the 1970s to protect the little one I was then, but I can care for my heart now. I can love myself, listen to myself, trust the things she is trying to communicate to me. I can be parent to her. I can say all the things to myself that I would want to say to my own daughter. Or that I wish had been said to me. I can stop calling myself a liar; I can stop taking the side of the other. I can tell her that all will be ok. I can even rock her to sleep if I want to.

That for me is my lesson in self love. The promise that I will never abandon her again. Never abandon myself again to fit in, to seem cool, to be tough, for whatever reason.

It’s not an end to sadness, but it is a taste of the kind of love that is its salve.

It may not be true in a scientific sense, but by taking the time to hold myself as I would a treasured little daughter, I have learned something about how to be kind to myself.

Image from: life.paperblog.com

Image from: life.paperblog.com

These are some of the things I have learnt. There are actually many more. Many of these tricks and understandings and sleights of hand I have learnt from others – including my clients.

I would love to hear what you have learnt.