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100 Days of Finding Studio Love

Finding Studio Love: Looking back at this year’s 100 day project

The 100 day project has created a ritual in my life that looks a little like this:

1. Every spring, I see a post announcing the return of the 100 day project (graciously made possible by an online community started by the artist Elle Luna ~2013) where you commit to create something and share it every day for 100 days in a row
2. Recalling the painful moments from the prior year, I make a vow that this year I’m not going to do it again
3. I sheepishly reach out to a few friends who have done the project in the past to see if they are doing it this year (most usually say ‘I don’t know’ or ‘no’)
4. Day 1 rolls around and I jump in! wondering why I’m subjecting myself to the uncertainty and agony for another year

I just finished my 3rd year doing the project after vowing I was done after the 1st year. And I’m already back to the stage where I’m going to vow it’s my last again! The reason I think this is a story worth telling is that I think it illustrates, in some way, a human desire and capacity to have hope in the creative spirit no matter how hard it is to keep it going at times. My theme this year was #100daysfindingstudiolove and my plan was to experiment with different ideas in hopes I would figure out what this place, Studio Love (a project I launched in May 2016), was all about. Is Studio Love a business? My art studio? A collective art studio? A fantasy? A rabbit hole?

In retrospect, the clearest answer to this question started to emerge for me around DAY 68 (the weekend of June 10) when I found myself in a place so heavy that I was unable to join a weekend getaway to Mt. Shasta with some of my closest girlfriends. I felt unable to move. When I tried to unpack the feeling, I realized that it wasn’t just depression, it was a feeling of being like an anchor. It made me recall a poet that a friend introduced me to after I told her these were some of my favorite lines from a T.S. Eliot poem:

“And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flames are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one“
- from Little Gidding by T.S. Eliot

Apparently those T.S. Eliot words "all shall be well" were referencing the work, Revelations of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich, who lived in the 1300s and wrote about visions she had of Jesus and Mary after having a near death experience:

“In my folly, before this time I often wondered why, by the great foreseeing wisdom of God, the onset of sin was not prevented: for then, I thought, all should have been well... ...But Jesus, who in this vision informed me of all that is needed by me, answered with these words and said: ‘It was necessary that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.' These words were said most tenderly, showing no manner of blame to me nor to any who shall be saved.” - Julian of Norwich, from her 13th showing/vision

Julian of Norwich, is described as an ‘anchoress’ -- a term I had never heard of before. Here is a description of an anchorite/anchoress from Wikipedia:

“…Whilst anchorites are frequently considered to be a type of religious hermit, unlike hermits they were required to take a vow of stability of place, opting instead for permanent enclosure in cells often attached to churches… …The anchorhold was clearly also a communal 'womb' from which would emerge an idealized sense of a community's own reborn potential, both as Christians and as human subjects.”

I couldn't help but wonder why it was important for the anchorite / anchoress to take a vow of stability of place. My best hunch to this day is that it is a form of grounding the ‘prayer’ to a specific place on earth so it can be found by people who need it. The concept of an anchorhold still moves me mainly because I sense a hopeful message about how each of us as humans (and our communities) are filled with potential and we just need to find those 'places' where we feel we truly belong. 

The anchorhold also resonates strongly with me because I spend so much of my time feeling like I’m floating around in another world. I think there is a comfort to feel 'apart' from the world especially when it can feel so mean, absurd and overwhelming. Basically it is a form of escapism. But the symbol of an anchor is a reminder that in the end, I need to come back to earth. I need to find (or make) the places in this life where I and those around me can thrive. The anchor has become a reminder that part of the sacredness of this one and only life is that we are in this place connected to each other here and now. And despite the tough times and suffering we experience, being here is a blessing and a miracle. Escaping the world is not the end goal -- though it may be the break we need once in awhile to find peace in order to fully show up true to ourselves for the people we love.

I think Studio Love wants to be like an anchorhold, like a womb -- a place where there is a hope and reverence for anyone who is willing to show up and try to find and share their voice. It is a safe place to be unsafe, a place to rediscover what makes us come alive, a place to move beyond boundaries we set for ourselves and ones set by others around us with no expectations and no judgments (other than to be kind to others in the community), a place to recognize and nurture the potential (or divinity) within ourselves.

I know I still haven't found Studio Love in these last 100 days. It feels like I found the idea but still not the place quite yet. It is a search that will last a lifetime and I will do my best to convey lessons learned along the way. Here is a compilation of 11 lessons learned from my 'anchored' Studio Love art practice over the course of the last year:

1. Creating things and making space for creativity and imagination in everyday life is hard work. It requires commitment and an awareness that there will be days of flow and days where nothing seems to go right. It requires faith and trust in something beyond your control. As a counterbalance, making space for creativity and imagination can also be as simple as setting aside 30 minutes everyday -- even if in some of those 30 minutes, you do nothing -- which takes us back to why even those 30 minutes can seem hard.

2. There is a power in being motivated by things you love and to let go of expectations. Having expectations can slow you down by making you think you are not making progress. When motivated by things you love to do, your actions can become more devotional - something you do for the sake of doing without expecting anything in return.

3. In a strange paradox, creativity, though exalted in many ways in business and popular culture, is still not widely and fully valued in our society. I think this is in part because creativity in itself doesn’t produce a steady stream of tangible results that can be measured. In fact, being ‘creative’ actually means you will fail most of the time. You very much need to create your own space without expecting any external validation.

4. Related to #3 above. Developing a healthy relationship to time can make a big difference in an art practice. In general, I think we have grown accustomed to being rewarded right away for our contributions. What if the reward for what you do today is a month or year or two away? Would it make more sense to continue if you knew that the reward would come eventually or come in intangible forms?

5. A supportive community can make a big difference. I am a self-proclaimed hermit – being around others can be very difficult for me. But some of the most hopeful and uplifting moments this year have happened when people have visited my studio or when others have welcomed me into theirs. I think the key is finding the right people but staying open to give people a chance is the first step to make this happen.

6. One of the more practical things I have learned: the biggest challenges can be tackled by breaking down a problem into smaller pieces. I’ve learned through my art and music making, that the final work is really just the result of a succession of actions that happen one day at a time. I have been amazed to see how much can get done by taking one small step after another over time.

7. Words matter. This, I have heard before from many different wise friends, especially ones who are coaches (and poets). Saying an intention out loud and truly owning it and honoring your own role in making it happen matters. Of course, this means you must say words that you truly believe.

8. Allowing magic to enter your life breeds more magic. How do you react when something 'magical' happens – like a beautiful drawing unexpectedly blows onto your front porch or a hummingbird comes by and hovers just feet away from you or a song or poem that has the potential to change the way you see the world finds you? Do you believe it is a gift from the universe or do you brush it off as a random coincidence? I’ve found that the more I allow myself to notice these small miracles in life and embrace them as miracles and messages, the more I see them everywhere.

9. Life is short. Life is long. Time just amazes me. Short term choices can have long term consequences so developing the skill of discernment is important. Are the choices that you make now, when added up over time, taking you in the right direction?  It’s not always an easy question to get right, but being guided by intentions that are important to you can help.

10. Pay attention. This has been a motto for me for quite awhile now. In a series of magical moments, my college commencement speaker was Kirk Varnedoe. At the time, I didn’t know who he was and I was barely paying attention to his graduation address. Later in life, through his writing, he became one of the guides that helped me step into a life devoted to art. One quote from that day that has stuck with me over time is:

"…art can make you pay attention to things you take for granted, make what you think you know be strange to you, and thereby change your relation to life’s actualities and its possibilities. Part of growth is to recognize the profound ways in which both your learned feelings for what at first seems alien and beyond you, and your transformed understanding of what has always been at your feet and all around you, can become the most satisfying, intimate parts of your relation to the world, empower you and give the greatest texture and depth to your life."

11. Be kind. I end with this one because I think it might be the most important. I often wonder what gets hindered in our world because of a lack of kindness. We often shut down a person’s natural state of magic and power by being insensitive or mean in the fragile moment they attempt to share their most vulnerable voice. I think there is a great wisdom and love in kindness that gets overlooked way too much in our world. When I think about where power in people (individually & collectively) comes from, I really believe the power starts with kindness. Kindness is accessible for each of us and when given to others, it creates an opening for the potential we each have to shine through.

Arlene Suda