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Fast and Slow

North Sea at Sunset

There are times to work rapidly and times to go slowly. In the beginning one sets a fast pace, blocking it in, pushing the paint or clay around - large forms, areas of color. Later on in the work, one makes subtle refinement - details, smaller forms - the pace slows down and a meditative state takes over.

When all parts of the work start coming together, a renewed excitement is generated and builds until the harmony and balance of what you have been trying to accomplish work. You feel like a conductor bringing the full sound of an orchestra to its grand finale. You have reached the peak experience toward which all artists work. It is at these times you can see me back dancing, clogging, discoing, and Indian tribal dancing around my studio.

- "Art & Soul: Notes on Creating," Audrey Flack

I woke up with Scotland on my mind. The English and Scottish threads of my family heritage have always been happiest entwined, and so I personally hope these two countries stay united. But change is always difficult, and its value impossible to discern from that hundred foot balcony safe above the tumultuous zone. "Both feet in," my Dad used to say, right before he tossed us in the water to practice our swimming. He had something there. Nothing is worth a bean, half-assed. Right or wrong, what we commit to should at the very least have our whole-hearted engagement. Arm-chair quarterbacking the play can be saved for later. For now, are we in or not? Is what we are doing THIS VERY MOMENT receiving our full attention and effort?

This question relates to what Audrey Flack has to say about creating, in that life change - personal change - is akin to creative work of any kind: it comes fast and slow. There may initially be a pile on of ideas, a surge of wants and dissatisfactions, an itch to move on. We study the ground, and then build new framing. Slow, we layer thoughts in; translate our ideas into elements. Energy compounds. Integration. The momentum in our undertaking physically redefines the shape of our lives. Shift happens.

I am contemplating a large change in my own life: committing to an undertaking I am unable to really evaluate properly beforehand. I only sense this new direction needs to be explored; and even so, I may not accomplish what I set out to do. How does that make me feel? Wracked by doubt. Nervous as hell.

In the midlife years the rush of all that is passing - the essential zeroing out that is expiring time - reaches the level of continuous white background noise. In this noise floats a quiet question: Is this moment, this action, this decision, the right choice among all the possibilities for this one life I have to lead? When we are young we are growing, our real challenges yet to unfold. In the middle years - in the prime of adult capability and prowess and courage - what we let go, choose not to do, has as significant a weight in our happiness and fulfillment as what we do choose. We feel the truth: Now is when the most can and may be accomplished; and when a thing is let go, it will not circle by again. Poised on the edge of the diving board we curl and bend deep and then push off, rocket high into the air to execute - what? Choose, choose.

I've had some laughs at myself lately, making my way with all the sideways, suspicious scoot of a tidal crab into this sea of change. We forget that until our last breath, life is an adventure. Somewhere along the way we wobble into our ruts, dig ourselves in deeper, and eventually roll to a stop. Yet to begin is as simple as possessing the courage to want to. Whether we are speaking of Scotland and what may be an uncertain future, my writer's life the next few years, or any one of us, tomorrow, placing our hand on the doorknob of any door we both dread and need to open - be brave. Begin. Be slow. Let the harmony and balance of what you are endeavoring to create come gently, intentionally together. Let it be crazy. Open to the dance.

When you're in the studio painting, there are a lot of people in there with you. Your teachers, friends, painters from history, critics...and one by one, if you're really painting, they walk out. And if you're really painting, you walk out."
- Philip Guston
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