Monday, December 30, 2019

Sorry, Not Sorry


To say that this year’s health diagnosis, and subsequent realization that the number of days I had left here on this planet may not be as many as I’d planned shook me would be an understatement. Many times in the days since getting that phone call from the doctor, I’ve thought about the what if’s of an early demise knowing that the turmoil of the last, oh decade or so, of my life has left me a little more disorganized then I’d like to admit. 

I’ve settled into my new home over the past six months quite nicely. The closets and cabinets are neat,  and I take great pleasure in how peaceful it feels to be here. I can tell you where just about anything is- as long as it isn’t  written down on a piece of paper. The one place I’ve manage to ignore since the move has been the office- and the contents of those few boxes left stacked behind the rocking chair. A jumble of my financial affairs, health records, and all the whatnot and fodder we gather with the daily mail. 

So I bought myself this book to help get me started, and I’m spending the last few days of the year trying to get a handle on things. I bravely opened the boxes and started sorting, trying not to get too lost in old journal entries and the memories, good and bad.

This is just a scratch in the surface of the mess there is to untangle- yet it feels good to finally be looking at it at all. Good in that way of peeling a bandage off of a wound to let the air and the light finish the job of healing it.

Part of my new year’s resolve is to start looking at self care as less indulgent- bubble baths and special treats, and more forward thinking acts of responsibility. To lay the groundwork for more stability, to deal with all that has been ignored in this mountain of unresolved, unaddressed, unwieldily overwhelming paperwork at my feet. Taking ownership of my life in a way that gives me hope for a better future, and peace of mind knowing that if, god forbid, my last days were to come sooner than I’d like, that my children won’t be left wondering what to do with my mess and where to find the information they’d need to close up the virtual shop and physical spaces in my charge.

Maybe it sounds like a grim way to wind down the year, but really it feels like a celebration. Sorry For Your Loss? Yup, the loss of the weight of this chaos. Actually when I look at it like that, I’m not sorry at all.



Thursday, December 26, 2019

Akeru

Canary Rising: Work in progress, by Crystal Marie
With a little editing, this post I wrote last year is exactly where I am today. Perhaps you too:

In the blink of an eye we've gone from the Holiday Countdown to the aftermath of the thing. 2019 is officially winding down and we find ourselves leaning in to these last few days, yearning for an ending that isn't the end. We are in that waxing place of the year, waiting as is the moon, not quite full, but beckoning us with it's promise to pierce the sky with a new beginning, the promise of a brand new year and all the possibilities it contains.

We write out our hopes and dreams in the form of lengthy resolutions, or a single meaningful word.  We put to rest the things we accomplished, the trials, the celebrations, the life that was lived in 2019, they are our treasures tucked away in the attic spaces of our being. A sad sweetness permeates this time in between.

When something leaves, there is a word for our longing, it is akeru. Akeru refers to the empty space created. The opening left from the end of the thing, "to pierce, to open, to end, to make a hole in, to start, to expire, to unwrap, to turn over." A single word encompassing the beginning created from the end. A cycle of time and humanity and of being.

Truly after all of the hustle and bustle that comes with the holidays at the end of the year, it is good to have this space in between to ponder and contemplate and open ourselves to the wonder and hope filled possibilities once again. It is a space of just being. Neither the beginning or a true ending. Both ending and beginning. An ending that isn't the end.

It is Akeru.

#encausticpainting #art #mixedmedia #studioponderings #studiolife #studiopractice #akeru #endisnottheend #2020vision #writersofinstagram #writingpractice #wordsofwisdom  @ Crystal Neubauer, Artist

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Open My Eyes Let Me See


My granddaughter helped wrap my Christmas gift yesterday. Without my glasses on, I could see that she had decorated it with lots of her own beautiful scribble marks, and the purple ribbon she chose is her signature color, because her name is Violet. But it wasn’t until I had my glasses on looking at the image of it this morning that I realized that those were birds on the wrapping paper, and not finger print paint smudges randomly smattered throughout the design. It made me think of how easily our vision can be clouded with time and through the lens of our own experience. I wish there was a pair of glasses we could each put on to see each other with more clarity. A way through all the distorted beliefs and the barriers around our hearts and lives intended to keep others out so we can feel safe in our own way of thinking and being. Maybe this is what the song means when we sing “Light of the world, you stepped down into darkness. Open my eyes and let me see.”

Christmas is a mixed bag for most families. As much joy as there is pain. We try in our own broken ways to hold onto ourselves and our own belief systems, and think we’ve failed if there isn’t perfect peace and harmony through it all. Instead of throwing open wide the door to the manger so that all who are lost and lonely and broken find their way to a seat, we guard the house and barricade the doors against those who don’t think like us, or act like us, or threaten to disrupt our own harmony.  In this way, we contribute to the great divide even when we thought our intentions were good. I am as guilty as anyone.

How then do we move through this mess of a season, where the split in the country is a macro view to the fractures in individual families and hearts? To know how to discern between necessary separation from toxic behaviors and the tendency to over react and shut out any idea we disagree with instead of engaging in dialogue to try to bridge the great divide?

I haven’t any answers today. Only questions and the plea from that one line in a song.

Light of the world you stepped down into darkness, open my eyes let me see.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Because I Have To, but Also Because I Want To

Praise All Scars - Detail of Mixed Media Collage by Crystal Marie
I'm having a hard time focusing today. I woke in all sorts of pain, went to bed last night feeling this way, but this morning it seems amplified. Like somebody turned the volume up, so I can't relegate it to the realm of background noise the way I normally do. 

This is the whole body, nerve endings on fire, stuff that people with chronic illnesses like fibromyalgia experience. It's especially pronounced on my backside today - back of my calves, my legs, my feet, my poor gluts! Spread across my shoulders, down my back, and oddly across the backs of my arms. My cheeks almost always feel this way these days. It's that tingling pain sensation that I suppose is the nerve endings twitching or spasming. 

Yesterday I skipped all three doses of my meds - starting accidentally with breakfast. When I didn't seem to have a reaction, I decided to try going without for the whole day, knowing that after the holidays, I have to go off of them for at least a week to do the labs the doctor ordered. 

This is the kind of pain you can't escape from, like a tooth ache kind of throbbing and pulsating with every heartbeat. It's hard to ignore when it ramps up like this, and yet it tells me the meds have been doing a better job then I realized. The rampant inflammation I've been working with my doctor to try to get under control for years, seems to be connected to the mast cell activity. At least in part. At least that's my theory now, after a day without meds and winding up this inflamed. 

I keep encountering situations where someone tells me how good I look (compared, especially to where I was just a few months ago), drawing the conclusion with their comments that it means I feel good too. Congratulations are often offered, as a celebration. As a way of saying "You did it! You licked this thing!". 

But even without this flare, I have been responding more honestly, that this illness is invisible. I am never fully without pain or exhaustion. Exhaustion to someone without chronic illness is being tired at the end of a long physical day. Or maybe the result of a single bad nights sleep. Exhaustion to someone who has chronic illness is not the same as being tired. It is the whole body muscular fatigue somewhat similar to what you experience with the flu. You know, like that day when the fever has broke, and you suddenly feel better, and you think you should get up and go to work, but then you take a shower and can barely manage to crawl your way back under the covers. That's what it's like all the time for me. Every single day.

Some days it is more severe than others, like it is today, but it is never gone. When you see me, no matter how I look, that is what it feels like inside. It's hard and it sucks. And every day I have to make a choice to get up and get things done anyway. 

How do you do it? They ask. 

I do it exhausted. I do it in pain. I do it knowing full well I will be on the couch the minute I get home, and in bed hours earlier than most. I do it knowing I will not manage to get up at a decent time most mornings. I do it because every time my mom had a migraine, or was ill enough to need to rest, my dad accused her of being a hypochondriac, and I still have that faulty messaging that flares up as often as the inflammation. I do it because I still need to eat and keep the lights on. 

I've been making a really big deal out of the need to transition from doing so many workshops live, to creating online courses to support myself and better manage my health. I announced that the last big workshop I had in my studio, would be the last big workshop in my studio. I announced that I would not travel to teach much at all next year. But the reality of my financial need does not afford me the fast transition that I was hoping for. 

There is a learning curve involved in filming, editing, and hosting online courses that is taking more time than I'd like to give it. I am getting there. And I am really super excited about the ideas for some of the coursework that has been bouncing around in my head, but brain fog from inflammation makes the learning feel like walking through a field of waist high molasses. 

I'm not sure why I felt compelled to write this today. Other than waking with pain levels on high, and energy levels on low. I start to despair of it all. Someone asked recently how I do it. Today I can see that it isn't so much a how, but a why. 

I do it because it is what I have right now. I do it with the hope that the illness doesn't consume me before I can manage to figure out another way. I do it with a smile on my face, through gritted teeth, hanging on and counting the day down by the hour, until the moment I can fall back in bed. I do it with rewards to myself- like days working in bed. And days not working in bed. I do it, not to try to fool you, or to deny reality to me, and not even just because I have to. Though I do have to, as I explained. 

I do it because I love what I do. I love the teaching, and the art making, and the studio. I love the people there, and the people I meet when I travel. I love these things. They make my life seem worthwhile. They give me a sense of purpose. Without them, I doubt I would feel so motivated to rise. I think this illness has made me even more aware how very much I love the things I get to do. Yes, I do it exhausted and in pain. I don't have a choice, but then again, I do. 

I do it because I have to and also because I love what I do.


Tuesday, December 10, 2019

This Is My Marathon


After a day spent resting, I managed to drag my weary carcass out of bed to make some dinner and watch a little TV Monday night. Flipping through the offerings on Amazon, I am tempted to numb on the usual sappy Christmas movie in which the story line is always the same; Some single workaholic woman comes to a small town to dispense with inherited property, some hunky townie rescues her from an ensuing snowstorm, sparks begin to fly between them, until her boyfriend, the big city developer who is working out a secret deal to turn her hotel into a parking lot, or a coal mine, or a high rise condominium to house misplaced seniors in order to steal all their cash, shows up. After a wood chopping contest in which her city man loses shamefully, she realizes hunky small-town guy is way hotter, if not a wee bit less ambitious, and they fall in love after sparring for most of the show over her decision to sell off the most loved residence in town, or her inability to bake cookies without getting flour all over her nose, or her lack of sensible footwear. Also, she realizes she is too independent and no nice guy would ever want to marry her, so what a blessing to have been rescued by hunky guy before it was too late. But still, there is something comforting in the familiar. Nice Christmas music, nice snowy mountaintop inn, nice warmhearted good feels, just a background movie to keep me company while I set up the very (very!) skinny Christmas tree I ordered from Target.

But scrolling through all those holiday listings with my cynical thoughts about the message that being ambitious is not a desirable trait for a woman, and that helplessness in fact is the most adorable attribute we can aspire to, and that happily giving up everything we’ve worked so hard to achieve in order to absorb ourselves into the life of a man who obviously knows what is best for us -- don’t even get me started on my even more cynical thoughts about the lack of diversity in these movies- it hit me that maybe I’ve moved on from this stage in my life. I wasn’t choosing out of the warm fuzzy places of previous years, longing for a storybook ending of my own. I was acting out of habit, reaching for something familiar, no matter how empty or dissatisfied I knew it would leave me. Somehow these holiday movies have become the hidden package of Oreo’s snarfed down at 3am. Empty calories that leave me with a desperate sense of self loathing after a binge.

Instead of giving in to the impulse to numb myself in the seasonal comfort zone, I picked Brittany Runs a Marathon, based on a true story about an overweight woman determined to pull herself out of a self destructive rut by running in the New York City Marathon. Throughout the course of the movie, she encounters obstacles to her goals that tempt her to return to her old ways and admit what a loser she is. She has to ditch toxic relationships, leaving her vulnerable to the feeling of being utterly alone. A new circle of friends step in at the critical moment, but Brittany refuses their aid, believing somehow that their gesture is out of pity, which reinforces the message that she hasn’t changed one bit, and ultimately costing an entire years delay in achieving her goals. 

In the end, every single one of her new friends show up to cheer her on when she’s just about to quit. Because they were there for her at the most crucial point, she is able to literally pull herself up and rally to complete the race. She makes it over the finish line, triumphantly changed by the kind of strength that is soul deep. Called out by the encouragement of others who saw her worth before she is fully capable of understanding how she has diminished it. She finally understands how worthy she is to receive friendship and love. How very much she has to offer in return, as a peer, as an equal, without shame for her body, or herself as a person. Those final minutes of the movie found me weeping like a danged fool. Hefty sobs welled up demanding my attention.

Last year, for the first time in my life, there was no tree to decorate the living room. No planning the family gathering on Christmas Eve day. No decorations or stockings hanging in anticipation. Only boxes, and bubble wrap, and yards and yards of tape. I was sick, broke, scared, and leaving my toxic marriage for what I knew was the last and final time. Letting go of nearly 20 years of broken dreams and broken promises, wrapped in a blanket of shame, and regret, and the dawning awakening to my misplaced guilt for the failure of it all. 

I faced down obstacles with an ever present inner taunting of the old belief system to throw in the towel, just admit what a loser I am! At my worst moments, I nearly did give up. Maybe changing my life was not in the cards for me anymore, maybe the victory stories of others were simply hallmark movies meant to distract me from the truth, or maybe it was only possible for other people to overcome, that somehow I really was too flawed for redemption. 

Come back! Those voices taunted me. You can wrap yourself in that old sweater you love so much! The comfortable one that helps you forget your lofty fanciful dreams. Never mind the holes and worn tattered fabric. Never mind that it is no longer a good fit, or that it smells of mothballs and old lies! Hunker yourself down right there and let what's familiar lull you back to sleep. Stay! Sleep! Get lost in the headiness of those dreams! It is safer here!

Flat on my face on the proverbial pavement of life, the evidence of circumstance convincing me no progress within had been made, a friend would step in and gently pull me back to my feet. Offering me a place to stay, a car to drive, a shoulder to cry on, an ear to listen, the financial support to get to a healthier place. And most importantly, a new message to replace that worn out track from the past. 

As I stood there unfolding the tinsel branches, watching Brittany cross the finish line with her friends cheering her on, I scanned the living room and home around me. I know I wouldn't be here without all of you. It is a place of restoration for me. I’ve been slowly decorating it in a way that feeds my own soul, in colors that calm and soothe, and truly reflect me. It represents a new way of thinking of myself - a human who deserves to be loved. Tears and sobs escaped in great bursts, not in sadness, but something akin to a feeling of joy, mixed with laughter. I knew in that moment I had crossed an important finish line, and audible words came tumbling out – This is my marathon! 

No longer do I believe that I’m too flawed to be deserving of a healthy relationship, that I have to accept scraps from someone too stingy or broken to give me an equal portion. No longer do I have to endure the emotional battering of projected pain, or the weight of another’s shame. No longer do I have to cover over the secrets of an abuser, or risk being expelled from The Family, rejected by generations of mothers grounded in their own conditioning and fear. No longer will I ascribe to a system that teaches life doesn’t start until I’ve achieved perfect coupledom, proving my worthiness to receive love through sacrificing of my own precious self. 

In that moment there was a deep knowing that I’m going to make it. My legs are no longer cramping in protest of the run. I’m no longer under the fog of believing it doesn’t count if I need a hand up. Being alone isn’t lonely, and it isn’t merely a consolation prize to all that I missed out of in life. I am hitting my stride. Growing stronger, more determined, confident in this place. I am eagerly anticipating what is to come. Yes - 

This is my marathon!

Sunday, December 08, 2019

Enough



It’s the long awaited day of rest with a stack of books at my side. The last event of the year, the annual studio open house, is over and I get to call it a wrap. I want to say my mind immediately shifts towards Christmas cheer and the love of family, eagerly looking forward, with anticipation, to all that 2020 has to bring,  but in this state of exhaustive reflection, it spirals.

Will I have enough? Is a running thread in the self fear anxiety talk. It lands on top of the laundry pile of self-flagellation that could be summed up with one question, am I enough? Along with it’s faithful companion, as if that question were a single sock to a perfectly matched set, Am I too much? 

Today I am thankful to have the time to lay here and soak in all those thoughts. All the memories. All the messages that arise in the process of clean up, set up, show up, cheer up, tear down, and all that is involved in preparing for, and recovering from, such an event, after a long succession of other such events. 

I will let the questions flow through me, pass over me, swirl around me, and drift from me, until I am left with only one verse. The chorus line to the anthem of life. Enough. 

I am enough. 
Hanging the Shields show in the studio for the Open House

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Storm and Silence

Storm and Silence  Mixed Media Assemblage
by Crystal Marie Neubauer

There is the silence that comes before a storm and the silence that comes in the aftermath. One is strangely foreboding. The light is a dull, flat, gray, and even the birds stop singing. Birds always seem to know when there is danger. Perhaps they catch ions in the air in tiny receptors in their feathers.

The silence that comes after the storm is fresh. It is dawn. A slow awakening. 

Nature takes inventory of all that was lost and all that remains. A new course is set where passages have been blocked. The light that comes with the silence after seems to dance with new possibilities. Highlighting what was not lost, revealing what the high waters washed upon the shore. 

A resilience has been realized through the efforts of hanging on through it all. Where once there was fear of what could, would, should be, now there is peace. It is settled. The winds, the turmoil, and the questions that arose with the waves. 

Am I strong enough? Will I survive this thing? Will it leave me laid out on the shore, or standing as strong as if the waters never touched me? 

The answer comes on the breeze of a single song birds sweet cry, 

"yes". 

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Today Is The Big Day And I Need To Ask A Favor

"Earnestly I Seek You"   10" x 10" original collage by Crystal Marie Neubauer
It has been seven months this week since I first shared my health diagnosis and it's time for an update. 

If you hadn't caught it back then, you can read the original post at this link, the one that I shared with you that I had been in a rapid decline since the summer before, losing over a third of my body weight in less then six months with an escalation of symptoms from a host of auto-immune and chronic illnesses that I have been dealing with most of my adult life. It all came to a head during my long teaching trip at the beginning of 2019, when my symptoms flared and left me bedridden in my hosts home, where I just managed to pull off teaching my workshops, but left the gracious host at my first stop bewildered on how to care for me. 

I've written a few updates since that time. I saw one specialist who ordered some tests and recommended a few prescriptions that have helped me to stabilize while I wait to see the big specialist. I've gained about a third of the weight I lost back, going from just hanging on to 98 pounds in April, to a more healthy looking 115 pounds today. I can eat more of the trigger foods most of the time, thanks to the meds, but they still cause symptoms and the meds seem to be taking a toll on my kidneys and liver function, which have both been damaged over the years from both Lupus and Lyme disease, and most likely the mold exposures that have contributed to the severity of my symptoms.

Physically, most days are difficult still. I am worn out from normal activities, and deal with daily chronic pain to varying degrees, which escalates later in the day until I hit a wall and can't push through. The wall changes daily, but I'm grateful that on many days, I can still manage to put in my time at the studio, and perform the tasks at home that need to be done to care for myself. 

My recent teaching trip to Arizona, while rewarding in the connections that were made there, was difficult and a reminder to me that I am not capable of managing the level of physical work that I used to be. I have been turning towards creating smaller, shorter workshops that are easier for me to manage, while beginning the process of creating a series of videos on the use of encaustic wax with alternative substrates, which I hope to be able to release as an online course by spring. 

There are still a lot of questions as to the stage of the disease and, I'm praying, still solutions to be found towards improvements in my day to day quality of life. And today is the day. The long awaited appointment with the top specialist of this more rare form of mast cell disease, mastocytosis. Doctors who specialize in Mast Cell Diseases practice in multiple disciplines. This one is an endocrinologist, a thyroid specialist, which is the perfect fit for me, since I lost my thyroid to disease activity some years ago. There seems to be some connection between hormones and mast cell activity that she will hopefully help shed some light on.

As of end of May, I lost my insurance. I've been paying for most tests and appointments since that time out of pocket, and foregoing certain appointments while I waited for the promised new insurance to kick in. Except that the promised new insurance isn't happening now. I don't want to muddy the waters of this share with the details, except to say that I am devastated to be told this just a week before my appointment. 

I have been waiting for this appointment for six months. It cost a hefty deposit up front just to make it, with another hefty amount due when I check in. The insurance would have covered the extensive lab work and tests the doctor will need to order and that I have been holding on waiting for. 

So today will be out of pocket, and I'll ask the doctor to map out a reasonable plan to pay for labs out of pocket and see what tests can be put off until I can secure insurance or funds to move forward. 

And this is where I need your help.

I have taken measures to get the healthcare and funds I need to support myself in the future, but today is the big appointment, with the labs and the tests and new meds, that I am hoping I will not have to put off any longer. With your help, I can move forward in my medical care, and in my quality of life without losing more precious months waiting for new insurance to kick in.

If you feel so inclined, here is how you can help: 


So many kind and generous people responded to the original gofundme campaign when my friend Jana launched it back in April. It was exactly the boost I needed to get myself moved to a new home, treat the air in the mechanicals when I got moved in, cover the fat deposit for the specialist I'll be seeing today, and provide me with the funds needed for meds, labs, special food, and all that I needed for that major transition point in my life. But it was so much more than funds for the needs that were met. It was a life changing display of how much support and love there was surrounding me. So much so that it wasn't just my physical body that benefited, but my emotional self began to heal at a much deeper level too. I am resurrecting the account for a time. You can find it by clicking this link. 

If you are an admirer of my art and have wanted to add an original work to your collection, I have a pop up shop on Facebook at this link, with works that are retired, were book or class samples, have been in my personal collection, and works that have been reimagined. Directions for purchasing works are included in the album.

Locals may be interested in my December Friday Night Lite. Details and registration can be found at this link.  

I have a print sale with a concurrent raffle opportunity at this link

And finally, for the long term, my only longer workshop of 2020 on the calendar will be happening at Way Art Yonder in California in March. Details and registration can be found at this link. 

My Shields show came down on Sunday and what wasn't sold will be hanging in my studio for the December Holiday Open House at my studio. You can still purchase at this link before much of what remains heads off to my gallery in Scottsdale. Simply choose the design you are interested in and message me at crystal@crystalneubauer.com for a shipping estimate and invoice. 

It isn't easy to ask for help. Everything in me resists this. It is humbling and uncomfortable, but it is also the most incredible feeling to know how many people are out there, who want to see me get well and succeed. With your help I know I can make it through this difficult year and find a way to continue to provide meaningful content and art for years to come.

With so much love and gratitude. Thank you. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Kicking 2019 To The Curb With A Celebration and A Raffle!

A or B?
(Scroll to the bottom of the page to purchase, but be sure to read all the details too!)
You guys (my Facebook and Instagram friends) were such good sports! You voted without any explanation!

A or B? I asked. And you responded A. No B. No A. Wait, B! Both!

I don't blame you. That's how I feel when I look at these two works. Both my art - one in my typical neutral palette and the other in the colors that started making an appearance over the past couple of years.

Some days you just need a little color in your life. And some days you just want to pull up the blankets, put a fire in the fireplace and nestle down in a cloud of soothing neutrals.

Here's the deal - last year at just about this time, I was gearing up to hang these two works, along with 6 other pieces, at SOFA Chicago. Hard to believe, but it's been an entire year since I realized one of my biggest dreams as an artist, to see my work hanging at SOFA.

It's been a heckofa hard year since that time. Nearly the week after the show, life just sort of blew up. I won't rehash it all, but to say, I'm looking forward to 2020. Not as a victim who just made it through, but as a victor! A survivor!

Older. Wiser. Winner.

I want the year to go out with a celebration. Kind of like how March comes in like a lamb and goes out like a lion. 2019 thought it could kick my ass, but I'm kicking this year to the curb!

So to help mark the end of this really life changing year, I am raffling off one of the works I created specifically for the show that I dreamed of since my art career began! A celebration commemoration!

Read on, dear friends, to find out how you can own a giclee fine print, vote on which original collage will be raffled off during my upcoming Holiday Open House at the studio - and don't wait to purchase your print, because you get double the chances for all purchases between now and November 15th!

This is a Fine Art Print Sale with a twist!

This is a Fine Art Print Sale with a twist! Please be sure to read the entire description for details on ship date and contest information. Your purchase is your raffle ticket, but it's also a high quality art print ready for framing. Oh, and it's also a vote! How can one fine art print, be all of those things?

I'm so glad you asked...

First, and most importantly, this is a sale for a museum quality fine art giclee print, shot and produced at a professional fine art printer. The detail this company manages to get from my work never disappoints.

Your choice- two designs available.

Both from original collages that were created for the SOFA Chicago Exposition 2018. One went on to spend some time at an exhibition in California, before making its way back to my studio.

Each collage design will be printed on a high quality archival art paper measuring 9" x 12" including a white border. Archival fine art ink is your assurance that this reproduction will last! It comes hand signed by the artist in a protective sleeve with a sturdy backer, ready for you to frame.

Your print is also your vote!

The contest: When you purchase a print reproduction, I'll be keeping a tally- each print purchase is a vote for that design. The winning design will then become the prize.

There are two tiers in this contest. The prize at the first tier is a 30" x 30" hand embellished/hand finished giclee fine art print reproduction of the winning design, mounted to canvas and ready to hang. The winner will be drawn live at my Holiday Open House on December 7th.

The prize at the second tier is the original work of art of the winning design- either Gentle Wind Whispering or Golden Years. That is to say, the original 30" x 30" work of art with the highest number of print sales will be raffled at the holiday open house, if 100 of these giclee prints are sold. That is a $3000 work of art!

If the minimum is reached, both the original work AND the Giclee reproduction will be awarded. Both drawings will occur the afternoon of my Holiday Open House on December 7th.

So how do you win?

Easy peasy. Your print purchase is also your raffle ticket! Each and every print sold comes with a chance to win. Buy one of each design? Then you get 2 chances to win the original work and 2 chances to win the hand-embellished reproduction! Buy one for every art loving friend and relative on your holiday gift giving list, and increase your chances of winning, while getting all the good feels of the season. The gift that keeps on giving.

The Details:

Shipping: Orders begin shipping the week of November 18th via USPS Priority Mail. If you purchase before November 15th, your art will ship that following week. For orders placed after November 15th, weekly shipments go out each Monday until the contest ends on December 7th.

Winning Design: The winning design will be determined from online print sales, tallied through the first week of December. In the event of a tie, I'll toss a coin.

Drawing: A minimum number* of prints must be sold for the original work of art to be raffled. This will include prints sold during the event where I'll be holding the drawing: The Holiday Open House at my studio on December 7th. In the event that the minimum is not met for the original work, the full sized (30" x 30") reproduction, professionally printed on canvas, hand embellished, hand signed work (of whichever version has sold the most prints) will still be raffled.

During the afternoon of the Holiday Open House, I'll ask one of the studio visitors to draw, which I will video tape and post online with the winning name. In the event that the minimum is not met for the original work, the full sized (30" x 30") reproduction, professionally printed on canvas, hand embellished, hand signed work (of whichever version has sold the most prints) will still be raffled.

*just 100 prints - that's 50 of each design, or any combination of the two.

Double your odds

One chance per print sold to win either the original work, or the hand embellished full size reproduction - BUT purchase before the November 15th deadline and you'll get TWO chances to win with each print purchase!
So here they are. Which design will you choose? (scroll below images to purchase)

A. Gentle Wind Whispering
B. (nothing's gonna touch you) Golden Years
C. Or Both!

Gentle Wind Whispering
by Crystal Marie
(nothing's gonna touch you) Golden Years
by Crystal Marie





Choose Design



Sunday, October 13, 2019

It Was So Much More



Today is that long awaited day, the one I kept telling myself was the reward for all of my hard work. It is nearly noon, and I am sitting in bed surrounded by pillows and a stack of new magazines. Dog snoring heavily on my feet, and random assortment of beverages and food at my side. 

It has been an incredibly busy time in my life, it seems from the time that I first shared the news of my recent diagnosis and need to slow down the pace of my schedule for the sake of my health, life has been testing my resolve. 

And it is a test. There is a point when I am working hard and have such a stacked schedule, that the body has sufficiently strained the adrenals for every last drop of go-juice, and I start to think I am fine. Normal even. Look at me rising to occasion after occasion. Nothing is wrong. All is well. I am grateful for these drops of energy filled adrenaline when it is helping me teach and pour myself into my students. 

But then reality comes back to smack me in the face and wake me from the foolishness of such thinking. My body doesn't just hit a wall, as I so frequently describe it. No, it's more like I hit a windshield head on going 90 miles an hour.

Splat! I am bug juice on the windshield of life. 

Thursday night I had the opportunity to speak at the Racine Art Guild's monthly meeting. They meet at the same museum where my Shields show is hanging, so I thought I would talk about the show specifically. But then when it was time to go, I realized I wanted to share a bit more. I got to talk about the Shields last month during my Artist's Talk and will do so again at the end of this month, so I wanted this talk to be a little different. I decided to give an overview of my career as an artist, show some of my current collage work, along with samples of my oldest works - including the very first collage I ever made. 

This more overarching look at my career as an artist, includes the discovery that art is a tool for healing-both physical and emotional. I share bits of my background and story. I talk about the general theme of my work - that of finding value in what society has deemed valueless. That of recognizing it is by embracing all the pieces of our lives that make us whole, and how collage has been a tool of recognition for me. 

After the talk, I was surrounded by a small group of participants who told me how they connected to one bit or the other from my talk. For some it was that I shared my background of growing up in a home with an alcoholic parent, becoming a mom at the age of 16, and how art was a way to channel my emotions, heal from the trauma, and own my stories in a redemptive fashion. 

For others, it was the encouragement I gave about having carved my own path as an artist, without a formal higher education. I broke the rules and applied for things I was told I wasn't qualified for and have had so many opportunities as a result. Opportunities that I would never have allowed myself to take if I listened to the system that told me not to bother trying. 

Several people enthused that my talk was so much more than they expected. They shared their own stories. They opened to me as kindreds who suddenly felt known and seen. And I drove away also feeling known and seen. 

I drove home reflecting on what I heard being spoken to me. I started remembering, this authentic vulnerable sharing was a vital element for the book I want to write. The one that talks about the process of making art, yes, but also the one that gets in underneath the rules and the medium, to the heart and the voice of the creator, elevating the work to something more than we we are capable of on our own. 

My life is impossible to separate from my art. My process for becoming whole, for healing, for discovering my authentic self under the scar tissue and lies of the past, for learning to take the next right step without knowing exactly where I am going, and for learning to use my voice, is the same inside the studio as it is beyond those four walls. Art is simply a visual illustration. A map. A signpost. A guide to the deeper, mysteries of life. Reflective and storytelling. A place to pause in the midst of it all. 

I want my next book to read a little like a memoir, a little like an encouraging healing coach or best friend, and a little like a manual on art making as storytelling, with a nod to the spirit that guides me. Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, Madeleine L'Engle's Walking On Water, and Art and Fear, written by David Bayless and Ted Orland come to mind. But who would want to read such a mishmash of topics if I wrote it? Who would even publish such a thing from me?



I arrived home late Thursday night, to find a package waiting for me. A beautiful handmade mug that fits my hands just so, along with a handmade card and a note tucked inside. Sent by an artist who took my September workshop to thank me for the experience. She confessed she's been in something of a dry spell for a while and took my class at the recommendation of a friend who told her she just might find what she needed there. She shared how my story so closely resonated with her own. She wrote that she came for an art workshop, but "it was so much more". 

This sweet gesture made me reflect on all of the surprise gifts and sweet notes I've received in the mail over the years. All of the affirming messages I receive after writing a vulnerable blog post, or from sharing my story at a talk or a workshop. All of the supportive words and thank yous that have come by way of my website inbox, or email, or facebook messages.

I decided I need to gather them. Print them all out and compile a binder to return to when the doubts start to creep in. Something solid to hold onto during those dry seasons of my own. And perhaps a little affirmation to show to my publisher, to help them feel comfortable with taking a chance on me. 

To all of you, who have written, or talked to me in person, to those who have responded with light and love and encouragement in any way- your words of gratitude fill me. They move me, hit me in my most tender spots as a living balm that soothes this weary, and sometimes insecure and doubtful soul. I am flooded with awe and wonder at the enormity of it all. How big it feels to hear someone say my story matters. Thank you. 

Maybe you meant this to be a small gesture of your own gratitude, but to me it was so much more. 

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Order. Disorder. Reorder. What next.

A Studio full of friends and fellow creatives makes my heart swell
I sat in my studio Thursday afternoon on that couch over there in the corner by Noreen in the green shirt. The workshop was over Monday afternoon, and all that remained as evidence of it's vibrancy was a few bags of trash to empty, tools that had yet to be returned to their proper place, and a glow from the creative energy and sense of connected community that each person who was there contributed to so willingly. 

Spontaneously, I posted an image to Instagram, sharing my thoughts and ending with a series of hashtags, including one that said "everythinghappensforareason" and as soon as I posted it, it bugged me. 

I don't actually ascribe to the mindset that everything happens for a reason. I see it as a cruel dismissal of real people during real seasons of horrific trauma and pain. How do you explain away to a young mother without her baby in arms that there was a reason her child would not grow to see it's next birthday? How can you say everything happens for a reason to a widower who lost their beloved spouse to a tragic accident?

No. Just no. Sometimes there are things in life that just happen. Hard things happen because the world is home to both beauty and brokenness. 

I do, however, believe that there is something for me to learn from most of my experiences in life. Maybe it's about resiliency. Or maybe the situation is teaching me to have patience with someone I find challenging. Maybe life is helping me to shed false beliefs about myself. Or the cycle I find myself in over and over again is removing something from my heart that keeps me from connecting more deeply with another. Like a woodworker's block plane gliding across the surface of an invisible scar. Removing layer upon layer of tissue through the repetition, until I can once again feel love and be loved without defensiveness. 

But I also believe that without reason, we lose hope. That believing everything is arbitrary and random allows for chaos to have no redeeming quality. It just is what it is and no outside force is going to save me is a belief I used to have. It led me to some pretty messy decision making because I had no hope that something greater then me would step into my circumstances. 

That randomness of everything left me feeling like a victim. I joked about being the court jester in the theater of life. I threw in the towel and thought really terrible harmful thoughts like "it's all up to me". And let me tell you, when you are a woman who grew up in a home with an alcoholic perverse man as a father, and who got pregnant at the mere age of 15, gave birth to your first child at 16 and moved into your first roach infested apartment with your husband and two year old child at 17, thinking that there is no one you can rely on but yourself is a pretty dismal prospect in life.  

Eventually, and through a series of unfortunate events, I began to see that this truth wasn't the truth. Life began to inform me in a way that allowed a crack in my heart for God to step in. 

My story with God isn't tidy. And this post really isn't about that, except to say if I had to stand up and give you my testimony of that time that saved me, It would be more than a few hours long. Messy people (aka - most humans) often need saving over and over again. And there was the kind of saving where I knew without a shadow of doubt that a hand over my life had led me to that thing. But there also has been the kind of saving where that hand was simply leading me to discover what I already contained within myself. Not as "all up to me", but as a strength and ability that came through the newfound confidence of knowing I am really not alone. Somebody does have my back. 

I hear those protests. I spoke them aloud to myself and my kids for years and years. I know all the best arguments and all the irrational logic that can come from the belief in God, or the belief in no God. I've walked on both sides. Many times. I've swung back and forth in the process so completely that my life might be described as a pendulum. If I were a politician, you'd accuse me of being a flip-flop. Swinging from belief, to unbelief, to different versions of belief, to various ideas and philosophies. Or what Father Richard Rohr describes as the typical believers process - Order, Disorder, Reorder. 

Order is a season where everything has to happen for a reason. It is a tidy belief where God has control of everything and my job is simply to put on the sweater set, the pearls, get a sensible haircut, stop swearing, and smack my kids on the back of the head when they roll their eyes too much or fall asleep in the church pew. 

Disorder comes next. Tidy doesn't stay tidy very long. Kids rebel. The dog of life runs through the mud and tracks it all over the clean kitchen floor of your heart. There is no way to explain away the terrible thing you are going through with the belief that everything happens for a reason without winding up hating God, or believing that God hates you. Or your neighbor. 

Searching for meaning that is tidy and fits these things can make an even bigger mess of it all. In this season, where I am still walking fairly consistently, I haven't stopped believing in God. On the contrary, my belief has become stronger. I stopped going to church, but not to God. It's been a different experience then when I dropped out just after I was "saved" as a teenager. It's not a rebellion, but an expedition. I am forging my way through the jungle of my heart and the lies I've believed. His hand is that carpenter with the plane, shaving away what isn't serving me well. Not that shaving thing that happens when you are in a season of order, and the sweater set, pearl wearing version of yourself throws away all the Metallica CDs. Quite the opposite. 

Disorder.

It's the part that begins to grasp that there is something beautiful in the mystery of not knowing. In the lack of explaining. The lack of the dualistic black and white thinking. And the lack of being able to explain it all away with a cheerful glowing God has a reason blah, blah, blah. I begin to understand there is something more. Deeper. Wider. More free then I can imagine.

It is in the chaos that comes from breaking free of the rigid restrictive rules of order that I meet myself. In that old place, I am ever in jeopardy of losing my ticket through the pearly gates. One wrong move and it's over. Disorder helped me see that I don't have to walk that plank. 

In this place called Disorder, I find the green valley at the foot of the mountaintop. I can run. I can walk. I can lay down in the grass. I can read different ideas and explore my own thoughts, and find my way through each story I encounter to find the shining glimmer of truth it contains. I am learning to let go of my fear. If I talk to someone who believes differently, I don't have to be afraid that their beliefs will overpower me and invite something horrible in. What a closed door that would be to connection. But I also see that I don't have to allow every toxic person to have access to my life. It is not my job to be present for everyone and anyone who crosses my path. I don't have to prove anything for God's sake, or my own. 

Yesterday I heard a woman on the radio talking about the difference between safe spaces and brave spaces. Safe spaces are places of protection for the traumatized person to recover, to recoup from the trauma, in whatever form it came for them. Safe places look like havens for the lost and abused survivor to allow their reactive adrenaline driven response system to stop firing every time a car backfires. When I left the world of order, I needed safe spaces to regain my equilibrium. Some people make fun of safe spaces. They're probably the people in need of them most. Order says if you follow the rules you are safe. Disorder says sometimes the rules are harsh and extreme and unattainable. Or just flat out don't work for us all.

Now, I'm on the verge of finding my place in Brave spaces. I've been practicing. Very deliberately allowing myself to state my truths in places where I may meet opposition and backlash. Feeling uncomfortable letting myself be known and seen by people who may very well not like what I have to say, or what I believe, or even just me as a person. Letting myself feel that discomfort and resisting the urge to run away and hide is my training for being brave. I don't know if it ever gets easy. If it felt easy to be brave, I am pretty sure it would mean there is something inside of me that is still in hiding. 

That thing that cares about what other people think of me isn't going away, it's maturing. I want to be known and liked for who I am. But I also want to live passionately into the causes that I believe in and for the purpose I see for my life. I'm more and more okay if I'm not seen, known, understood by all. I'm okay if someone of the same belief disagrees with how I walk, if other artists think I'm weird when I talk about God, if I'm judged for the near constant coffee or toothpaste stains on my shirt. I want you to like me, but I'm okay if not.

Reorder. 

Reorder looks like freedom. I get to choose. I get to follow that glimmering trail of truths and not be afraid of where it might lead. I can toss out the ill fitting sweater sets, the pearls and the self-flagellation. I can embrace all of me with the understanding that the way I see, the way I am wired, the experiences I've had and the stories I contain are not flaws. They are my strengths. They are what enables me to be brave. 

Reorder feels like calm. Not from outside circumstances, but from inside that place that knows I've walked through the valley and now I'm ready to follow the trail to the mountaintop. Father Rohr says most Christians get stuck in order or disorder. I see that. The narrow path is the place of reorder.  

Reorder brings me to a place of walking bravely into the future and it begs me to ask the question, what next? It's not a formula. Of all the things I thought I'd be doing, all the places I've been, all the information I've gathered, I weed through it all and life starts to inform me. What is my next? Reorder is a restructuring. It's an inside job. It can't be done through outward appearances. And it's impossible to do without tearing down that old foundation called order. That old foundation could have never supported what Reorder is bringing me to. 


Now that is informing my hope for the future!
So really, what is my next?

I sense it. This place of transition I am in. Where I begin to live more on the side of Reorder, than Disorder. I feel that confidence rising in it. But I feel somewhat lost. Because it is time to make decisions. My body is reminding me that it has been through more in the past year than many people deal with in a lifetime and it can't be pushed anymore. So I sit quietly and ask important questions. Of myself, of God, of the universe. What now? What do I do next? And then those little glimmering flashes of truth begin to shine brighter. I open the mail to find a royalty check from the new publisher who bought out the one that published my book.

Penguin Random House. In all my years of dreaming, I never thought I would be able to say I am an author under Penguin Random House's umbrella. I want more of that. Writing keeps pushing its way into my dreams and I know it's time to listen. I am determined to write. To begin to draft that next book, the one I keep calling my book without pictures. The one I didn't think my old publisher would see as a good fit for them, but wasn't sure where else to take it. Now I have a little glimmering light shining on a new possibility. I am going to follow it. 

And the studio. I thought when I moved to my new home that I would have to let the big studio go, because I couldn't afford both. I knew it would change the way I work, but didn't know what else to do. In the process, I realized I wasn't ready to let go. It wasn't just about how my work has changed because of the new space, enabling me to work large and messy, that made this space outside my home appealing - but the way that it serves to bring people together. I started seeing new possibilities to create stability in my income and life by keeping my studio, not letting it go. And in the dreaming about what that would look like, new glimmers of truth and light presented themselves. Once I allowed myself to follow those flickers of promise on the horizon, things started moving rapidly. 

That is as much as I can share with you about that. Soon enough I can share more. But it is in that place of letting go of what I thought I was supposed to be- order, what I had to shed- disorder, that I found my way again- reorder. The old dream about a gathering place. People working side by side. Community. Connection. This much I can say, sitting in my studio listening to the sounds of life, watching connections being made, creating together works of art and true belonging. That too is part of my next. 

Reorder. It looks like truth and life.