Okay, I confess. I painted. And now I feel guilty about it. Just a little bit.
What’s up with that?
Just the usual low-grade rantings of my puritanical soul, insisting that a day of sloth is like . . . like . . . A DAY WITHOUT WORK!!! Gasp. And a whole week without work? Hellbound, that’s what I am.
But this is the first uninterrupted week of vacation I’ve taken in several years. I want to revel in it, make popcorn with it, get drunk on it. I want to vacate. Looks like I’ll need to relearn how. How to not worry about not being “productive.” As a therapist in private practice, I get no paid time off, so when I don’t have a client in my office, I’m not making any money. I am learning to adjust to this. Although my income is significantly less than that of my colleagues who work for agencies and hospitals (calculate in no benefits, along with the costs of overhead), being my own boss is great. And I get to see a wide variety of clients, which is challenging and interesting and often quite rewarding. The downside is that this kind of work can be quite exhausting. The burnout rate in the mental health professions is high. Good self-care is essential.
Which brings me back to vacation, and art, and why I (and maybe you) need them both. A couple of years ago, after finishing up a long-ish stint as a county therapist, it seemed that somewhere along the way I had lost my “self.” Badly in need of balm for my soul, I googled “art retreats in California,” and one of the hits that came up was for Creative Juices Arts in Oakland, California. And that is how and where I met Chris Zydel, goddess of intuitive painting (among other things), and my adopted creative mentor.
What I learned about creativity is that it frequently gets smashed to bits by a well-intentioned but overly practical parent (“Nobody makes a living writing POETRY”), a well-meaning but creatively clueless teacher (“No, dear, the sky is NOT green”), or a bratty or jealous classmate (“That’s not the way to draw a cow”). And then we sweep up the broken shards of our creative souls and stuff them in a plain brown sack that winds up on the top shelf of our closet for damaged dreams. So sometimes it takes a serious boot in the ass to trudge back to that closet after 20, 30, maybe even 40 years have passed. And Chris Zydel was my boot.
During my first weekend retreat at Chris’s uber-cool-and-funky Oakland studio, I re-experienced the pure and untrammeled joy of filling up a pallet with creamy, brilliant hues of tempera paints and splashing color and form onto giant sheets of art paper. In her retreats and classes, Chris emphasizes some key requirements for intuitive painting, which include: (1) turn off your internal critic (but expect arguments and nasty comments from it, anyway); (2) don’t try to make “art” or paint a masterpiece, just let the painting tell you what it wants; (3) make no comparisons of your paintings to others; (4) don’t try to paint over or “fix” mistakes, because there are no mistakes in intuitive painting. When I do this kind of painting I am always surprised by what turns up on the paper. I guess that’s because it calls up images and ideas from the unconscious. After doing it for awhile, I started to notice repetitive themes, such as mandala-like symbols, serpents, fish, and large bodies of water. (Christians, Jungians, and possibly fishermen might have a few things to say about that.)
But I digressed. The cat is waiting somewhat less than patiently for her dinner, which calls to her in dulcet feline tones. Who am I to stand in the way?