The Malissa Perry Project

“Sunrise in Your Smile,” acrylic on panel by Christen Mattix

Dear Ones,

Happy Autumn!  It’s been a while since we’ve last connected, so I wanted to let you in on my Big Secret.  Last year while I was knitting, I was also painting like mad, and I’ve birthed a new painting exhibition!  It’s called the Malissa Perry Project.
I’ll be posting regular updates here: www.facebook.com/themalissaperryproject.com so please “like” the page and join me on this exciting journey!  Thanks for sharing the adventure.

gratefully yours,

Christen

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Fear of Boredom

“That ball of yarn is getting smaller and smaller,” R. told me as he headed to the car.  “Yup, thanks for pointing that out…” I said.  Sky like white-out this quiet Memorial Day morning.  The rain came on gradually.  A few spots here and there dotted my pants.  Pretty soon, I started to feel soggy so I put on my Frogg Toggs.  Today I thought about my fear of boredom and, on the opposite end of the spectrum, change.  Scott Peck says that the only people that aren’t afraid have brain damage (no slight intended.)  True courage is to grow and expand in spite of the fear.

I have a friend who tries to do something she is afraid of every month–trout fishing, crabbing, memoir writing, cycling across Europe, adjunct teaching, volunteering at church.  She is a YES person–whenever someone asks her to try something new, she will say yes if at all feasible.  It means that she sparkles with life, and has the energy of 3 people put together.  Even though I like adventure, I enjoy it in small doses.  Too many new challenges, and I start to wobble like an elephant on a unicycle.  Then again, when I restrict my life to only that which makes me feel competent and comfortable, I go cross-eyed with boredom…It makes for terrible dinner conversation.

So I feel these opposite movements in my life.  I make my path somewhere in the middle, leaning my bicycle one way or the other.  This weekend I leaned hard toward the familiar.  My boyfriend asked if I wanted to go to the outdoor concert called Folk Life or the movie theater with him, and I just couldn’t bring myself to say yes.  Then I regretted not letting him spice up my life with these intrusions into my familiar world of knitting, walking, cooking, drinking tea, reading, lounging on the couch.  Given how simple and routinized my life has become–one might say staid if one were feeling uncharitable–it strikes me as strange that one of my fears of commitment is boredom.  As someone who has moved every two – five years, the thought of settling down in one place with one person for the rest of my life is, well, unnerving.  I’m scared of running out of things to talk about.  (My YES friend tells me she prefers to call it a “companionable silence” rather than “running out of things to talk about.”) I’m scared of getting bored of sex.  I’m afraid that the person that once captivated me, might become a part of the furniture, or that I might become wallpaper to him.

Most of all, I fear my own emptiness.  The thought of being lonely and married feels worse to me than being lonely and single, two mirrors reflecting each other.  My mother once told me that she is never lonely in married life but I think I will always be lonely on some level–there is this huge silence inside me that I cannot put words to, cannot encircle with my mind–it’s as mute and vast as a snowy mountain or a whale in the deep.  But I’m not sure it’s that grand.  Sometimes I think its just a hollow vase (made in china) taking up the space I call my heart.  I’m reminded of the poet Rilke’s definition of marriage as “two solitudes touching.”  It never seemed very satisfactory to me.  Then again, despite this solitude that I cannot share, the fact that no one will ever be able to crawl inside me and look out at the world through my eyes, despite this loneliness that drives me to paint, film, sculpt–I do so love the thought of growing old beside my Love like two redwood trees, roots knotted together for strength and resilience, heads full of chanting birds, alongside a pebbly stream…

The Glorification of Busy

100_1969A saw whined in the distance.  A man got out of his work truck coughing.  Birds chattered in the trees.  Clouds hung low over the sea today blurring the horizon so that the Bay dissolved into sky.  I had my red sweater zipped up to my neck because the sun hadn’t penetrated the cloud cover yet and I was cold.  The sun looked like a bright white hole, a laser beam, drilling through the mists.  G. came up the hill towards me, alone.  “How are you?”  I asked.  “I’m dying,” she said “But I’m still going to continue up the hill and do the stairs on the other side.”  “You don’t have your friends to distract you today,” I noted.  “Tell me about it,” she said.  She had this to motivate her, pointing to the extra pounds around her waist.  “I know every body is beautiful, big and small…but my husband recently lost 30 pounds and he’s smaller than me now in the photographs and I don’t like it.”  “I’m rooting for you,” I told her.  “And I’m rooting for your knitting,” she said as she continued on her way to do the stairs.  Shortly afterwards, G.’s walking partner, the woman with the round spectacles, came strolling towards me, her scruffy toy terrier on a leash, its skinny back legs flicking grass finishing up invisible business.  I told her that G. had walked up the hill, and she thanked me and said how useful it was that I am here knitting.  Later she came back down.  “I have to go do my job now,” she said. “Where do you work?”  “I have two jobs,” she said.  “You must be really busy,” I said.  She said, “I try not to look at it that way.  I read a slogan recently that I really liked: Stop the Glorification of Busy.”

Of course, this is a slogan that I like very much as someone who has devoted hours of my life to “useless” tasks like knitting a rope to the sea or painting portraits that nobody wants to buy.  It is easy for me to lose myself in busyness, efficiency, speed, the future, moneymaking schemes.  Why?  Because it makes me feel important, successful, focused.  The addictive feedback loop of accomplishment and immediate gratification.  Too, it is really hard to justify “work” that doesn’t pay.  I have a friend who writes 4 hours aday on a novel, and has worked at it for the last 10 years.  To have this kind of faith and devotion to one’s work (without tangible pay) feels miraculous to me.  Recently, I heard about two artists who had made a pact to pay each other $20 per hour spent in the studio. If someone asks them to do something that conflicts with their studio time, they can honestly say that they have to go to work.  At the end of the month, they don’t owe each other any money so long as both of them have maintained their end of the agreement…This motivates them to keep making art.  The problem with art is that it requires far more time, energy, and materials than anyone but the very wealthy can afford to repay.  I kept of tally of how much time I was pouring into my art for a while…it just made me bitter and resentful.  The impetus to make art arises from a different economy, an older one.  Before time equaled money.  Before assembly lines.  Time as life energy.  Time as gift.  Time as mystery.  Time as devotion.

Whenever I start marching to the drumbeat of the world’s busy beat, there is a gentle voice that asks me why and what for?  I want to do work that has meaning in time and eternity, even if it doesn’t immediately pay off my grad school loans.  To keep my heart clear and uncluttered so I can hear the inner voice that helps me discern the line that leads me through each day to the end of my life on earth.  I can’t say yes to everything, can’t pursue every possible venue.  I give myself permission to “waste” time, to cultivate a life of integrity and peace.  And I also give myself permission to keep the “real” job, and the commissions, and to pay off my debts.  It is a delicate balancing act like the boy who zipped past me on his bicycle, raised his arms off the handle bars and spread them like wings.

Risk

100_1967“There’s Yarn Lady!” a little girl announced to her mom on seeing me out knitting on the bench.  “She’s yarn-ed a lot.”  “Knit,” her mom corrected her.

I met Shelby, a woman my age who remembered my sister, a painter in WWU’s art program.  “Ru?  That was me!” I said…I’ve gone back to using my given name since then.  She’s now set up shop as a maker of recycled leather wallets, selling them at the Co-op and Farmer’s Market.  Big grey eyes and soft brown hair.

I snapped a picture of pink poppies with hairy stems.

Last night, I had a dream that a hand was planting seeds inside me.  It wasn’t disturbing like it sounds.  It felt hopeful, a harbinger of something new, positive growth.  I have been making some shifts lately, tiny tweaking tends to yield dramatic results.  I bought my first bus pass since getting my car, and I’ve been driving much less.  It’s a trade-off: more time in community and much more health happy walking, less speed but also less money spent on gas.  One morning, three weeks ago, I woke up and no longer craved caffeine.  It feels like a gift–no withdrawal symptoms–so I am steering clear of it for now.  I’m letting go of other things too, like focusing on other’s faults or giving unsolicited advice.  I’m becoming more aware of my own deeply rooted patterns, perhaps the things I’ve been avoiding by focusing on others.  I’m also letting go of my illusion of self-sufficiency…this is the hardest one of all for someone who thought trying really, really hard was all it takes to find my way in life.  I am learning the great truth of interdependency, that I am not meant to make this journey in life alone, in my own strength but rather with others, intertwined like a strong cord.  I wish I could say it’s been a joyful, maturation process for me but it’s been extremely uncomfortable…every part of me revolts against the inevitable changes that are happening…

I’m reminded of this poem entitled “Risk” by Anais Nin:

And then the day came,
when the risk
to remain tight
in a bud
was more painful
than the risk
it took
to Blossom.

Post Perfection

100_1966 100_1964

My oh my, what a beautiful day.  The sun is shining, the buttercups have opened and there’s cottonwood fluff drifting on the breeze.  I missed my knit on the bench yesterday arriving back in Bellingham after 10 pm–alas, this is now becoming a habit of mine to skip Sundays.  I’m not a purist anymore, I’ve lost my asceticism, and with it, I hope I’ve shed some perfectionism.  Perfectionism makes me and everyone else unacceptable to myself.  It’s a miserable way to pass the time.  The most I can count on are a few perfect moments–the leaves on my neighbor’s tree backlit by the morning sun, a luminous green, or the black irises in the backyard like regal old Victorian ladies quivering in purple peplums.  A perfect moment is Tansy (the cat I’m sitting) coming out from under a bed to bid me good morning, my fingers sinking in grey satin fur.  Besides, do you know what is more miraculous than perfection?  It’s two imperfect people loving and accepting each other exactly the way they are.  That is the kind of love that changes everything.

At any rate, I keep showing up to knit as much as possible–today only 15 minutes late.  The Hiker stopped to visit with me on his way to buy a horn to drive away the off-leash dogs.  “I’m looking forward to Heaven because I’m pretty sure there won’t be any aggressive dogs or rap music up there.”  He said that he had only two problems to deal with in life–people behind the wheel and off-leash dogs.  That sounded pretty good to me, but then I don’t walk all day, every day.  I saw the ladies walking club who asked me to please put a sign up on the bench announcing “the unveiling,” when the rope meets the bay.  “I forget what cause you’re knitting for,” a man told me as he picked up C.’s black garbage bags of organic grass clippings left out for him on the gravel parking spot.  “It’s an art project,” I told him.  “Just an art project?” he said.  “Just an art project,” I said softly.