Light My Fire

Ten years ago I created a vision statement for my life. Beacon of light. I want to be a beacon of light, inspiring others, shining a divine presence that uplifts others. But almost immediately I came up against my biggest problem: how do you shine your light when it goes out? How can I inspire others when I am not myself inspired?

I would start out inspired, fueled with passion about a project. But inevitably, I would end up in a vicious cycle of over-extension and increasingly long periods of burn-out, which only ended with the birth of my son. Finally, I had a reason to stop doing. Finally I could let go of the deep unending void that pushed me to do more. Or at least that’s what I thought. But old habits die hard. They creep back in the side door when you aren’t looking, and slowly reclaim their lost territory.

“Come on baby, light my fire” Jim Morrison sang. But as artists and mothers, we cannot rely on someone else to come by and light our fire when the flames go out. It takes constant tending, loving attention, and most of all, a belief in our own self worth. As women, from a young age we are encouraged to place the needs of others before our own. But this is a road to disaster. This is the road to waking up one day and wondering who the hell you are and what happened to your life.

Learning how to light your own fire is not a selfish luxury, it is the most selfless thing you can do, and it could quite possibly save your life. Because if you are not living your passion, you are not yourself. You are just a hollow shell living out someone else’s life.

Deciding on your vision for your life is the beginning. But deciding on how you will live that vision is crucial. What I have learned for myself is that I need to guard my energy zealously. The phrase “no” needs to pass my lips on a regular basis. When I feel the need to give more, I need to stop and ask myself if this is really what I should be focusing on right now. I went through the burnout cycle so many times, and each time it took longer and longer for me to come back. I missed out on so much of my life, so many opportunities to live my vision, because I couldn’t listen to my own voice. I looked always to the future, thinking that if I worked hard, one day I would be happy.

I have heard the phrase “Life is a journey, not a destination” so many times, but I never really got it before. Now I am starting to understand. Every day I wake up to a new challenge. If I want to be a beacon of light, I need to start by lighting my own fire. I need to pay attention when the quiet voice inside me says “slow down”. I need to let go of limiting thinking that says I need to do it now or it will never happen. I need to believe first in myself, and then in the abundance of the universe.

But most of all, I need to know the difference between hard work and struggle. Hard work is tiring, but not depleting. Struggle is a sign that I am not in alignment with my purpose.

Slowly, I am learning. Learning to listen. Learning to tune in to what is important and tune out what is not. Every day is a new opportunity to live my life with intention, honoring my vision and lighting my own path.

 

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On Parenting and Happiness

 

Today Gabriel turned 4 years old. A birthday should be a happy occasion, a cause for
celebration. But this morning found me not happy and excited to celebrate the
anniversary of my son’s birth, but grumpy and irritable. We had spent a lovely
morning together perusing his baby books and opening presents, so why was I so
off? As my husband asked as much of me, I found myself bursting into tears.
Still, I didn’t know why I was crying. And then it hit me: I was sad that my
baby was no longer a baby. I was sad because he is growing up.

 

 

So much of your life as a parent is bittersweet. I tend to feel the bitter more strongly than
the sweet, so every precious moment is both a joy and a sorrow.

 

I can remember nursing Gabriel in the middle of the night, exhausted and yet so full
of love that it felt like my heart would fly out of my chest. And following
these intense, joyful moments, the thought “I must remember this, for soon it
will be gone.” And

there it is, the bittersweet joy of motherhood. The fleeting
nature of every phase of childhood. The outgrowing of baby clothes, the first
steps, the first day of preschool. Each moment is so precious because we know
it will never come again.

 

So here is my great struggle as a parent; to stay grounded and present in those moments.
To not give in to the bitter, but to revel in the sweet. I honestly don’t know
if it is possible for me. Because part of me thinks that the bitter (along with
constant worry and exhaustion) is the price you pay for loving a child. Because
loving a child is the strongest, most all-encompassing, life-changing, heartopening thing you can do here on this earth. And I think the whole point of
this experience is to split your heart wide open, so that you can feel it all.
The joy and the sorrow. Not just your own, but that of the entire world. The
bittersweet gives us a chance to truly know ourselves and feel, in the heights
and depths, our connection to each other.

 

Studies have debated whether becoming a parent increases or decreases your happiness. I
think that is the wrong question to ask. The question should be, are you more
vividly alive? Do you feel your life more full and with greater purpose? Is
your heart wide open? That is the true gift of parenting, if you are willing to
let it take you on this bittersweet journey.

Originally published at Mom’s Daily Retreat

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flight

flight

i dream of flight

of circus trapeze

of feathered wings

this life i have so carefully crafted

the cozy constraints of domesticity

the soft and subtle bonds

my son’s sleeping form

my husband’s watchful eye

gauging my mood

this is the life for me

and yet

in moments I long for freedom

I am not a wild creature

the comforts of home are my domain

I know this to be true

and yet

in moments I long for solitude

i understand now

the appeal of running

feet on pavement flying

where am I in this space?

I am everywhere and nowhere

and at times I feel like

I am being squeezed out of my own life

what room is there for me?

I long for the freedom to move unfettered

for silence and stillness

i dream of flight

and wonder at my own horrid ingratitude

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Secrets of Mommyhood

Recently I finished reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. At the beginning of the book, Rubin lists her “Secrets of Adulthood”, the lessons she has learned growing up. I was thinking about that list this morning, and 3 1/2 years into motherhood, here are the lessons I wish I had learned a little earlier.

  1. Shower daily. Preferably alone. Ah, the daily shower. So taken for granted before motherhood, and so rare after. I wish I could go back in time and tell myself that my baby will be fine. That he will not be permanently scarred if I leave him in his crib for 10 minutes. My paranoia was so rampant that on the days I did shower, I brought him into the bathroom in a bouncy seat so I could keep an eye on him. The cumulative effect of being afraid to shower, or even pee alone, after months on end is enough to make anyone crazy.
  2. Pack a snack for YOU. Every mom knows the drill: Diapers and wipes, check. Fishy crackers and water, check. Spare outfit in case of accident, check. But what I usually forgot to add to that equation was water and a snack for me. Hungry mommy = grumpy mommy, who is soon noshing on her child’s Goldfish crackers because she is starving. Now I pack some almonds and dried apricots or trail mix in a small tupperware container in my purse, and leave a water bottle in the stroller for myself. This has made my days so much better!
  3. ALWAYS take the stroller. “It’s not that far, he can walk.” That’s what I would tell myself. Twenty minutes later I am carrying a 30 pound toddler, and making plans for my next chiropractic treatment. Enough said.
  4. If the thought of it fills you with dread, don’t do it! After the last disastrous experience with the preschool pumpkin patch field trip, I have now learned to listen to that little voice in my head screaming “NOOOOOOO!” and heed her warning. When the next preschool field trip announcement invited us to a trip to the local ice rink, I politely declined. I am an introvert and a control freak, which combined means that I only enjoy large group situations when I am the one organizing them. But whatever the situation, my rule is that if I’m not having fun, it won’t be that fun for my kid. So whenever possible, I choose activities that we can both enjoy.
  5. Everyone else has had that moment too. I remember one sleep-deprived day when I stumbled zombie-like into a local deli with my 3 month old son. The deli clerk leaned over and said “Oh, isn’t he cute!” and I replied “Yeah, that’s so you don’t throw them out the window.” Than I had that moment. The “Oh shit, I just said that out loud” moment. But I have come to realize that every parent has that moment. Recently I was talking to one of the neighborhood moms who has a newborn and a toddler. In speaking about her toddler’s recent behavior she said “I don’t want to call it the terrible two’s, but…” to which I replied “Go ahead, call it that. I remember when my son went through a hitting phase and it nearly killed me trying to deal with that.” Parenting is tough, but it’s tough for everyone. There is something comforting in knowing that.
  6. It will all happen eventually. Weening, potty training, sleeping through the night. No matter what the books say, these things will happen when your child is ready, and that may not line up with the so-called “experts” timelines. YOU know your child best, and you will save yourself a whole lot of stress by ignoring any peer pressure and just waiting until the time is right for your family.
  7. Let Go of Perfection. Or as my wise friend Mythra told me: “You can have it all. You just can’t have it all at once.” Maybe you worked out a few times this week, but that means the floors are dirty and you are behind on work. Maybe your house is clean but you are going crazy because you haven’t seen your friends or had any alone time in weeks, and you feel guilty because in order to get the house clean you let your kids watch tv for most of the day. We are all doing the best we can, and as long as your kids are growing up in a safe home where they are loved and accepted, cut yourself some slack.

I’m sure every mom has her own version of this list, and each list is different. I would love to hear from more experienced moms out there what lessons they have learned along the way. What do you wish you could have learned a little sooner?

Originally published at Mom’s Daily Retreat

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Fear

I am afraid. I am afraid because these dreams that I have been planting are starting to grow. And I don’t know where this all leads. And I don’t think I am grown up enough. And I don’t think I am good enough.

In the past couple of weeks, two lovely women have asked to interview me about my music and art. And of course I said yes, I would love to be interviewed about my art! And then the first set of interview questions arrived. And I thought, who would want to hear about me? I’m no Kelly Rae Roberts or Kim Klassen. I still don’t know what my “style” is. I don’t have an Etsy shop. I don’t even have my own website. As if that is what being an artist is about. And yet…

I have been putting off a magazine submission to Digital Studio for two weeks. I am afraid. Like a turtle retreating into its shell, I want to go back to what is comfortable and known.

I recently did a Pecha Kucha presentation. In the weeks leading up to that night, I was terrified. What could I say? And then the moment arrived. Remembering some performance advice, I took a deep breath and walked slowly up to the mic. And then I was talking, and singing, and the fear was gone. And I talked about my art, and what it meant to me. And it was not about Etsy sites or book deals. It is about my soul. It is about my heart. And this is why I am afraid. Because every time I create, I am pouring out a little bit of my heart. And this heart has been broken so very many times. So many, that sometimes it feels like nothing but cracks, fissures and scar tissue.

And still, I keep creating. As if it was a choice. I create because I would rather spend money on art supplies than therapy. Because I would rather record a song than sit on a couch talking about my feelings. I create because I believe that my purpose here is to take all that pain and transform it through the alchemical power of art into something beautiful, something to be shared. I want to shine a light for others to connect with their divine selves. I want to shine that light into all the dark places, the places where you feel alone, unloved, misunderstood. I want you to look at what I have created and know that you are not alone.

I am still afraid. But I am taking little baby steps, being gentle with myself. Taking deep breaths and reminding myself that I will be ok. Yes, my heart might be broken again. But I have survived it before, and I will survive it again. And then there will just be more fuel for the fire.

Originally published at studiomothers.com


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A Toddler’s Eye View

Yesterday my 3-year-old son discovered the camera. Now, given that his father and I are both photo obsessed (to the point that we have weekly photo dates and are signed up for a photo retreat together this March) the only really surprising thing is that Gabe hasn’t picked up a camera sooner. I do have to put in a little disclaimer here, that the camera he picked up was our point-and-shoot Fuji, not one of our two DSLR cameras. So instead of freaking out and yelling “PUT THAT THING DOWN NOW!” I was like, “Go nuts, kid.” And he did.

For the last day and a half he has been snapping pictures of anything and everything, from the pantry cupboards to our cat (many, many pictures of the cat), his grandmother, his Ikea crawling tube, rocks, and his own shadow. He especially seems to like extreme close-ups, which come out in a cool blur of color. At one point he was closing in on his sippy cup and his grandma said something like “Don’t do that dear, it won’t look good,” and I practically jumped down her throat. OK, not quite that bad. But I did tell her to let him have his experiments. We’re in the digital age, he can take as many pictures as he wants!

After a day and a half of photo taking, he had filled up the memory card. Here is where I thought the hard part would come. I wanted to teach him about the most important part of photography — editing. So I loaded all his photos onto the computer and asked him to give me a “yes” or “no” as to whether he liked each image. What surprised me was how a string of “no”s came out easily. He kept his favourite subjects (the cat, grandma, his Ikea crawling tube) and quickly nixed anything that he didn’t love. I ended up over-riding his “no” a couple times when I wanted to keep an image. After all, it’s my baby’s first photo shoot! And that shot of the cement tiles was really cool!

And what I have now is really priceless. A collection of images, literally from my toddler’s point of view. I get to see the world from his perspective. And it’s chaotic and swirly and beautiful. And it may just be that I am biased because his father and I are both artists, but I think this first venture into photography shows his already acute artistic eye. But then, all children are artists. We only cease to be artists when we cease believing in our art.

So here again I can learn from my son. I can see his joy in capturing the moments of his day, and it is a reflection of the joy I feel when I look at my world through that lens. It reminds me why I love photography so much. Because in that process of re-framing your world, you become child-like in wonder at the smallest thing. That awe, that connection to the world around me, is why I keep coming back to my camera. It is meditation in motion. And I am so excited that now my son gets to have that experience with me.

Originally published at StudioMothers.com

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Why I Make Art

My name is Joyelle Brandt, and I am an artist/blogger/songwriter/mommy. Kind of feels like an AA introduction doesn’t it? But I guess that is appropriate, because creating is kind of an addiction for me. I do photography and mixed media art, and I write and record songs. Creativity is my sanity-keeper, through the sometimes long days at home with my 3-year-old son. I love being a mom, it sure beats all the day jobs I had before, but it is also the hardest thing I have ever done. I turn to my art to express myself, to relieve stress, and to remember the person I was before having a child.

I had an opportunity to clarify this for myself last August, when one of the neighbourhood kids was over for a playdate with my son. She’s 8 years old, and seemed fascinated with exploring our house. In particular, my microphone and Digi 003 were quite interesting to her.

“What is this?” she asked.

“My recording equipment.” I responded.

“Why do you have it? What’s your job?”

“Well, mostly my job is being Gabe’s Mom, but I am also recording a CD.”

“So you’re famous?”

This one caught me off-guard. Unsure how to respond I stammered… “Well no, but I’d like to be… Um, I mean not really famous, like those people who are stalked by Papparazzi or anything, but…” How does one explain the concept of an independent musician who creates music for love, and has long since realized that she is not cut out for a touring musician’s lifestyle?

We moved upstairs, where she turned her attention to a multimedia art piece I was working on. Again, the questions: “Did you make this?”

“Yes.”

“So you’re a famous artist?”

Wow. The fame thing again. And I wondered, is this just a natural response for someone who has grown up in our fame-obsessed culture? Is it assumed by today’s youth that to pursue an artistic calling is really a pursuit of fame? Because I’m pretty sure that the majority of creative people have absolutely no interest in fame whatsoever, and in fact many creative people are quite introverted. Finally I found a response: “No, I’m just someone who likes to make things, it makes me happy.”

And that’s really what it’s all about for me. I still have dreams of achieving a level of success that would allow me to make a living through my creative pursuits, but when it comes down to it, I make things, whether they are recordings, art, or otherwise, because it is what I do, because it makes me feel truly alive. When I am creating I feel that flow, the hours slide by me unnoticed and the worries of the day disappear from my consciousness. And I want to have that feeling as much as I can, in every aspect of my life.

My goal is to live my life artfully. Charles De Lint summed it up best when he said “All endeavor is art when rendered with conviction.” Creativity is not limited to artistic expression, although it is often manifested that way. It is a way of thinking, a way of being in the world.

I want to make art out of everything I do, from the way I parent my son, to how I decorate my house, to how I throw a party, to how I paint a canvas. It’s all the same thing. Because at the end of my life, it is not the level of fame or not-fame that will define my life. It’s whether I lived true to myself, whether I made of my life a work of art. So here is to the artful endeavor, and to all the creative people out there. May you live your days beautifully, and find joy in every creation.

Joyelle can be found blogging through the days here. You can listen to her songs here.

Article orginally published at StudioMothers.com

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