Category Archives: Art

One Way

The life of a trauma survivor doesn’t feel like a straight line, but rather like those geometric shapes I used to draw as a child with a spirograph. You’d put the tip of your pen in a hole inside a small clear plastic gear, which sat inside of a ring gear on a sheet of paper. You’d loop the pen around and around with the line surfing away from a central point, but always, eventually looping back to that same starting point now matter how much you’d loop and swirl.

Examples of spirograph drawings

It would look like maybe you were going someplace new, but however interesting the path, you always looped back through that same groove to the starting point. It’s pretty to look at, but you don’t really get anywhere.

Going through life with childhood trauma mirrors that looping experience. You start heading away from the trauma, getting on with your life. Until something happens which reminds you. Something big, like the death of an abuser, or something small like unexpected the smell of bleach.

Congratulations, you’ve hit the apex of your arc, no longer soaring through the blankness of possibility, looping away from your past. Inexorably the gravity of trauma pulls you — back down crashing into the singularity. After a while in the black hole, you gather yourself, breathe and start to move away again. Over, and over and over the cycle runs.

Lately I’ve been wondering if the point of trauma therapy is about making those loops taller and taller, about expanding the ring gear which keeps you cycling through the same past. And maybe, just maybe that ring expands so much that it thins out to the breaking point. Instead of constraining the arc the ring fractures, and suddenly you are free. Having reached escape velocity, you can make a one way departure from your past. The original trauma isn’t erased, you’re just no longer doomed to spend your life circling it.

But you’re not constantly looping back, down into the darkness, where do we go from here? There is only one way to go. Forward. Before the past can pull you back in again.

And so I turn my face into the wind and start moving into my future. I choose to live my life, for me. I’ve lost so much to trauma in the early years, and then decades more trapped in the after effects, unaware trauma was keeping me stuck, unable to live. So now when I feel free of the pull of darkness, I choose to do hard things just to prove I can, to remind me how strong I really am. To push myself to stretch that loop to the breaking point, and finally beyond. I choose to tell my story because it needs to be told, and maybe it will help somebody somewhere make sense of their their own story.

Stickers & Washi

Of late I’ve found solace in Washi tape – that fun, reusable Japanese decorative adhesive. It’s found its way into my paper bullet journal and I expect soon into my sketchbook. I suppose this shouldn’t be much of a surprise as I’ve been expressing myself with stickers on my laptop for years now.

I’ve even bought a couple of big bundles of washi tape from Amazon. It’s not the highest quality, but it’s a whole lot of fun to open a package of 30 rolls of joy! I mean just look at this, how can I not smile at all of these fun patterns?

Since it makes me smile, I take advantage of that little bit of joy in my bullet journal to make my days a little more bearable. I’m stuck home most every day now because of the Pandemic, so I’ll take a slice of happiness any place I can find it.

I use my bullet journal to take notes manage my work tasks all day. This can make it a pretty dreary place. While I like my day job, the minutes can get pretty blah and frustrating. So in addition to using multiple colors of fountain pens and markers (that’s another blog post) I use Washi to liven things up. A shiny dividing line here, a fruity border there and suddenly I don’t feel quite so dreary.

It actually can be functional too. Section breaks are more obvious with a thin line of Washi. I can underline an important item with thin Washi or give super-important ones a whole border so they stand out. Delinating columns is easy with a strip of washi. My mistakes even look good now… because they are covered by a delightful strip of Washi.

My little pick-me-up has turned out to be rolls of washi. I wonder how I will look when I go back into the office someday carrying a couple of rings of washi with my notebook and pencil case from meeting to meeting? At least it will fit with my colorful sticker laden laptop!

Bullet journal blues

This last week or so I’ve spent a lot of my free time looking at journaling and planners and organizational systems again. I seem to go through this form of soul searching on a semi-regular basis as a result of some external factor that shakes up my existing system. This time it was discovering the Hobonichi Techo Planner when I was looking for pen refills for my wife’s favorite pen the Otho Horizon. These amazing planners with grid paper come with fun covers in a myriad of colors (even in Marshmallow – want, so badly.) The pull of actual paper and seeing a new option threw my brain into a tizzy, resulting in hours of digging, questioning, and soul-searching around whether I really needed to change my system again. I’d once again fallen into the Bullet journal blues.

How I got here

I never used to have this problem as for so much of my life I didn’t even imagine I needed a planner, organizer, journal, or any such thing. I’d tried a few things in college, and then again when I started to work professionally. I really didn’t have a need. I tried mostly because I saw other people using day planners, portfolios, pocket calendars, or notebooks on a regular basis. They looked so cool and put together pulling them out in class or in a meeting – taking notes, jotting down dates, referring back to things. I wanted to be like that too, so I tired to use the tools too.

Pretty quickly, I discovered I really didn’t need those things as I had a good memory. I would forget to use my planner, but still remembered to do stuff. So I never wrote anything down, and I just remembered it. Sure, I might take a few notes in a class and I had a wall calendar to put important dates on. I might jot down a grocery list or some important dates from a meeting on a scrap of paper. For the most part though, my memory was good enough. My life just wasn’t that complex. My fancy day planner went unused. My pocket calendar was ignored till long after it expired and my nicely bound journals kept a shelf from getting dusty. I was good.

Then several years ago my life outgrew the basic organizational system I’d fallen into for most of my early adult life. It started when I got some more responsibility at work and I had to track my calendar closely, so I started using Outlook for more than just email for the first time. Then I had a lot of information to take away from meetings, so I used letter sized note pads for notes despite my awful handwriting. I tried a Palm Pilot for a while, though it was actually a Sony Clie which I adored, but mostly used as a precursor to a Kindle. More important dates and plans went onto a whiteboard in my office. As I became responsible for even more things, those tools weren’t enough and so my search began in earnest.

My first stop was back to a page-a-day planner. I dug my old one out of a box of stuff in my basement. While it helped a bit, I found it too constraining and small. So I went back to pads of paper which now felt too unorganized. Then I tried using OneNote for a while, and I did have some reasonable success with it for a couple of years. Though in the end I found the interface got in the way of my capturing ideas. Anything besides text didn’t flow freely on a computer and I also missed the feel of pen on paper. With the idea of paper back in mind, I did some research and discovered bullet journaling. It seemed promising, offering some organization with space for free form content using a regular paper notebook! In my further research I stumbled across the compendium of Pinterest bullet journal pages which connected to a rekindling of my artistic impulses and I was hooked on the idea.

Quickly I pulled a freebie journal that was a give-away from a trade show off my shelf and decided to practice for a month to decide if this would really work. Despite my (still) awful handwriting, the format *did* seem to work for me. I bought a real notebook and never looked back. For the first time I had a system that actually worked for me instead of hindering me. I went through a series of bound notebooks over the years, some lost to the inevitable moves and purges of the previous 5 years. Somewhere along the way though, two important things happened.

Four Old Bullet Journals
A collection of the the old bullet journals I still have. Did you notice I like Teal?!

First, at the behest of my therapist, I started to keep a personal reflection journal. A place to spill out all of the things inside my head. It absolutely did not feel safe to put things that were in my head on paper where people could just read them. Some of them were too scary to share. I was totally sure something awful would happen if I did that. It wasn’t until later I came to realize that as a childhood trauma survivor a paper journal felt incredibly dangerous for a reason, but that’s another post… or perhaps several. In any case it seemed safer to keep an electronic journal I could protect with a password, and so I splurged for DayOne at a whole $4.99 (it’s since gotten more expensive!) It worked on my iPhone and iPad seamlessly, and I became a daily writer as a result.

Second, I kept wishing for an electronic version of my planner. I missed the ability to search which I’d had with OneNote. I found I could only fit a year at most into a bound notebook which I could reasonably carry in my purse or backpack. I used my iPad & phone for my journal, calendar, email and reminders. It just seemed like there must be a way to make the leap to using a tablet for my planner/bullet journal as well. Yet try as I might, there just didn’t seem to be a way that worked for me. UNTIL… Apple came out with the iPad Pro and compatible “pencil”. I saw the promise and finally made the leap to an iPad with a stylus and using GoodNotes for my Bullet Journal. I can import documents and photos, then mark them up or take notes on them right in the stream of my bullet journal.

Built my way out of the blues

This is the combination I’ve come to rely on – a sort of hybrid bullet journal system I’ve evolved to meet my needs. It’s written, and fills pages in a virtual notebook, but since it’s electronic there’s as many pages as I could ever need. It’s all backed up in the cloud so I never have to worry about losing all of my notes and ideas if a notebook (iPad) gets lost, stolen, or accidentally used as kindling to start a fire. Thanks to the OCR technology built into GoodNotes, my bullet journal is searchable. I have an infinite number of marker/pen colors available too. My reflection journal is on the same device, and so is my kindle. The list of pluses goes on and on. I can do pretty much everything I need to from a device that fits in my purse. It even has a wireless data plan so I can use it anywhere. It’s become my one thing to carry around, my one device to rule them all.

Yet there are a few major drawbacks. First, at least until very recently, GoodNotes was a battery hog and I had a difficult time making it through a day without boosting a charge. My purse and backpack now both contain a robust charger and cable for just that eventuality. Second, I’m now looking at screens all-the-live-long-day. My eyes and head often are unhappy with me after a long day. Third, and most annoyingly, I miss paper. The feel of my writing implement on paper – a pen or pencil scraping across the not-unnaturally-smooth surface. I can’t hold 3 different pages open. My brain can think about and body can interact with a notebook in three dimensional space, but not with an iPad. It’s only mimicking paper. I’m an analog object using a digital one to impersonate an analog experience.

That longing for the feel of paper fills me at times. I find myself yearning for the imperfections of a pencil’s uneven shading, or bits of carbon scraping off from the freshly sharpened end. The smell of that freshly sharpened pencil is comforting. There is joy in the bleed of marker ink into the fiber of a page, of the smoothness left behind from a crayon filling in the imperfections of the page underneath it and yet somehow raising them up to make imperfection something pleasing to the eye. Sometimes I miss these so much it makes my heart ache and want to ditch the tablet for paper again. I’ve been in that space for a while lately.

Back to the blues…

So I was already primed and ready to fall headlong into the ultimately unconsummated love affair I had with the Hobonichi Techno Cousin Planner this last week. There was a hole in my heart which cold, digital technology couldn’t fill. It was a whirlwind week of romance and research followed by final letdown as I realized the Hobonichi wouldn’t replace my iPad, but simply supplement it. I would have yet another thing to carry around, to try to fit on my desk as I worked, another constraining planner system I’d just get frustrated with. I’m glad I didn’t buy into the siren song of a new planner half way through the year. I’ve kept my sanity for now.

And yet.

I do miss paper and ink. The rasp of the pen, the scratchy flow of a felt marker, the smooth scrape of graphite on paper. So maybe there is room on my desk and in my bag for a small notepad or sketchbook. Just enough to meet my needs. Maybe even a small discbound notebook so I can mix and match pages, customize, make it my own. Hmmm… maybe I should research that…

Guess I’m back to the Bullet Journal Blues. See you in another week!

A New Blog

After a fair amount of soul searching (and a communications class), I’ve decided to migrate my old blog from a freebie site to a real site I’ve built and setup myself in the cloud. It was a the first time in a while I’ve been able to use my technical skills at all, and the fact it was to do something for my writing gives me a warm-fuzzy feeling all over. My professional world and my writing world collided for a brief moment, with one making the other much better.

I’ve been bursting with ideas, but slow to get moving on them. My drafts folder is full of pieces I’ve started and not finished, each in a varied state of composition needing work. They run the gamut from a couple of sentences of an idea to an almost complete piece that sits on the balance between being self published here on my blog or getting submitted for more formal publication.

Before getting back to those pieces, and bringing them closer to fruition here or elsewhere, I’d like to share something fitting for a new start — a drawing. There is some back story to this. Several years ago when I started working in earnest with things from my traumatic childhood I started to draw. It began as a simple respite of tactile input, pencil scraping along paper. It quickly became more as images of the past full of joy and terror flowed forth. My subconscious taking form on the page. Memories moving into the world. I moved from pencil to crayon, to marker, to colored pencils, to pastels, then to gel pens experimenting and relishing the feel of implement meeting paper. For 3 years I drew, and colored, and sketched getting better with practice.

One image of a flower showed up over and over again. I came to see it was a form of comfort for some long suffering part of me that wanted our existence to be as happy and simple as the world we drew on sheets of paper in 2nd grade. There are dozens upon dozens of sketches and drawings of a similar flower. Then I mostly stopped my art for a while as my life turned up-side-down. Every now and then a flower sketch would show up in my bullet journal or I’d drag out a sketchpad and color a flower when I felt the need for comfort.

After a few years of keeping a bullet journal on paper, I bought an iPad and went digital using GoodNotes. It works well enough, and I can keep all of my notes with me all the time, not just what fits in the most recent book. Still, flower sketches showed up in my bullet journal in the margins of pages. After a couple of years of missing my coloring and drawing, I noticed a sketch & coloring app for the iPad. It’s given me the ability to creat art wherever I am, but I miss the tactile feel of implement on paper.

The first drawing I did on my iPad marked a new beginning, and it seems fitting to share it here for the new beginning of my blog.

Drawing of a flower in front of mountains