Inspiration and Perseverance in the New Year

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Nature Mobile by Adair Heitmann

Recently, a beloved mobile, one I made while I was in college, was accidentally broken by someone other than me. The mobile was special and sentimental. I constructed it late one night in my college studio apartment in Syracuse, NY. The hanging sculpture was of delicate, transparent shells and two pieces of elegant driftwood. I’d found the objects in nature while dreamily beach-combing and camping on Sanibel Island, FL. I fancy myself a good artist in two dimensional works, 3D however has never been my forte. Add to that the subject of balance, I was out of my element. Mind you, I can balance a checkbook and I strive to live a balanced life, but creating actual poise, stability, and equilibrium using fishing nylon, lightweight shells and small pieces of graceful wood was a challenge.

I hadn’t taken a class in weights and measures, nor was I a mathematician or scientist who could assess, evaluate, and compare sizes and weights to calculate stability. I was an artist! I remember vividly the night I spontaneously made the original mobile. It was my very first mobile and I ventured into unknown and nervous territory to even consider making it. Yet, I was inspired to do so. The creative process was hands-on and immediate. I felt my way through the act of gauging the position and stability of the little objects. I was more of a creator and the act of tinkering was new to me. Yet, I knew I needed to keep going, persevere, make adjustments, adapt angles and lengths, and I trusted the balance would present itself. When it was finished I loved its simplicity, it was Zen-like. I hung it in my tiny apartment and upon college graduation the mobile came with me, survived being packed and unpacked during seven of my moves, and always found a place on view in my home. The mobile was never a center-stage type of artwork, but every time I saw it, I felt proud of myself for trying something new and constructing something outside my comfort zone.

You can imagine how I felt when I found it, decades later laying flat on my desk. The supporting strings made of fishing nylon were old and weak. I could not blame the accidental mishap that caused it to break. I put it aside until I had time to fix it, I knew the persistent process I would have to undertake and I knew I’d go into an anxious tinkering approach in order to fix it. I made the original mobile spontaneously, using trial and error kinesthetic experiments. I had to go back into that same state of mind and hands-on method to fix it. It also was important to me that I fix it myself. I live with the mobile king and could have very easily asked him to repair it. But it felt imperative for me to restore the damage.

Our college-age son watched my process and progress. Over the winter break he was home and on his computer at the kitchen table while I was fiddling and messing with the mobile two feet away. He saw and heard my frustrations, he witnessed my starting over again and again. He observed, all while working on his own projects, my searching for spools of different invisible threads from my multi-compartment Norwegian wooden sewing box with six trays. He didn’t say a word, we were in parallel productive modes, but, as a parent I knew it was a teaching moment. If he saw me get annoyed and stop, it would teach him to give up too soon on his own endeavors. If I got angry at myself for failure, remember, equalizing weights isn’t my strong suit, I would be teaching him by example to let disappointment get the best of him.

I hung in there, remembered my former college self in my solo, small, second floor apartment and kept tinkering. Slowly a solution appeared and I mended the broken mobile. Is it exactly like the original? No. Is it good enough? Yes!

Creativity and wellness message for today: Hang in there and use the art of hands-on tinkering to create your next solution.

The Power of Sketchbooks

Kraft Sketch Book openWhen I was an art major in college I hated sketchbook assignments. Monotony overwhelmed me as I looked around my banal dorm room. How many times could I sketch my roommate Koko’s worn black socks draped over her sturdy shoes without throwing my charcoal stick out the window? I was the kind of artist who liked to invent what I created. That’s why I loved photography and printmaking. Those mediums allowed for serendipity, happy “accidents,” and magic.

Decades later, you won’t find me sketching my son’s white threadbare athletic socks draped over his running shoes. You will however hear me singing the praises of the act and art of keeping a sketchbook.

As an artist, writer, and a journal keeper, I group sketchbooks and journals into the same category. They all chronicle our lives, just use different ways of expressing it.

Last year, I met a sculptor in his studio/gallery in Northampton, MA. Samuel Rowlett made these cool, life-size stretched canvases. He attached them to his back and made self-portrait photographs in remote natural environments. As he and I chatted I remember him saying that sketchbooks saved his live. I recall he had been a new dad, an at-home house husband and father. He was used to creating big 3-D projects, but was limited to a small, two-dimensional notebook in his new role. Sketching was his saving grace.

I’ve experienced similar rapture, not from sketching what is I front of my face, but from writing in my nighttime dream journal, or participating in an international sketchbook project. The top shelf of my closet holds year’s worth of journals in all sizes, colors, textures, and shapes. My journals and sketchbooks aren’t the diary type. They don’t list the weather or what I had for dinner. They document transition times in my life. My hopes, fears, wishes, loves, passions, mistakes, and yearnings. My entries are self-portraits from a moment in time. The act and art of putting something down, in an intimate, hand-held form, that I can refer back to, is validating, instructive, and profound.

Creativity and wellness message for today: Brush off your old journal or start a new sketchbook. You never know where it may lead you.