THE BLOG

5 Days of Unpacking: Reflections on Love, Loss and the Art of Becoming

11/04/2015 05:50pm ET | Updated November 4, 2016
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Five days ago, I woke up in a new house. It still feels quiet and unfamiliar. I made a coffee, popped the mug on my bedside table and climbed back into bed to write. It wasn't the most comfortable writing space, but my desk was hidden under unpacked art supplies, books and a chaotic jumble of shoes. I haven't yet unpacked into this new life. I like to write. I like to draw and paint too. And some time ago, I made a commitment to doing something creative every day. It could be anything. Singing, baking, reading, walking... a creative practice of 'daily somethings' in an otherwise busy life.

On that morning five days ago, I leaned back against the pillows, knees up, and wrote longhand as per Julia Cameron's suggestion in The Artist's Way, on any old thing that emerged. It doesn't need to sound clever or poetic; it's not meant to be art, Cameron says. It's about getting out of your own way. A ritual of sorts: wake up, make coffee, light candle, and write before the day begins. Sometimes ideas grab me by the throat, desperate to be born. Not that day. Those pages are filled with longing and self-indulgent nonsense. Heaven forbid anyone sees it. I scribbled a reassuring message in my notebook to my two sons, in case one day when I die, they browse through these random, unedited thoughts that have tumbled out onto the page and don't recognize their mother.

The next day, I again woke early, made coffee, lit a candle and wrote before the day began. I'd unpacked a few things and my desk was now clear, although I still had to navigate an obstacle course of boxes to get to it. My phone beeped. A text from the UK. "How'd the move go, Mom? Smiley face."

I shook my pen. My trusty black Fineliner was running low on ink. I stay away from blue if I can. Blue pens remind high school's shackles of "shoulds." My hand moved across the page. I talked to my husband. About freedom and missing. How does one describe missing? I looked at his photograph in which he stays young. I've become more wrinkly in the nearly nine years he has been gone. But grief is not bound by time, and I like to chat to him about the boys, their travels and the family milestones he'll never get to see. I wrote about the inevitability of change and resisting the change to come. Death has long removed any fantasies I may have had about control, but parenting my sons gave me stability. My life took on their shape and now that they have launched, as they must, I realize I have lost the shape of me.

The day after that, I unpacked my art supplies onto shelves in my new studio space. Creativity has been a great friend throughout my busy, sometimes chaotic life: as a wife, a mother, a social worker, an immigrant, a widow, a solo parent, a new empty nester. She has helped me navigate deep sorrow. She keeps me steady in the unknown. She grows my courage as I dare to love again. One could argue that I don't make art, rather art makes me.

Here's what I love about painting. I delight in the freedom it provides, where apples can be purple and pigs can be lime green. I love how paint moves when it is wet; how it drips and pours. How colors merge and create something magical and new. I love the feel of painting with bare hands, moving paint from here to there. Trusting the process when it all turns to mud because, I know from experience, accidents have a way of making more enchanted marks on a canvas than I could ever plan. Painting is less about talent and more about ways of seeing.

Yesterday saw me trying to write a children's book about a giraffe. I've been working on it for months. I've drawn this long necked creature. I've painted her, but the writing...ugh! I don't seem to be getting anywhere. Because, really she's me, and I keep hammering out woman-in-the-process-of-reinvention stories instead. I remember a writing teacher who once said, "Sometimes what you want to write is sitting underneath what you are trying to write."

Perhaps my giraffe, rather than having her own story, is nudging me to stick my neck out with this other stuff? A second memoir maybe? I emailed my editor cum creative magic weaver. She said I had a point. But that's not to say there isn't a children's book in there too. Children also deal with reinvention and courage. Let it simmer, she said. See what pops out. I closed my computer and headed out to the bush. Nature is such a giver. It speaks if we listen. I walked my favorite trail in the state forest park and finished up by the dam, watching ducks be ducks. Didn't Mary Oliver say, "Things take the time they take. Don't worry. How many roads did St. Augustine follow before he became St. Augustine?"

I woke up early again this morning to write before the day began. I scribbled away about the past five days of unpacking, shifting, sorting, chucking and trying to see where things fit. I put my pen down after the last word, "Enough!"

They say play is as good as a rest and creativity thrives when one plays for play's sake. I put a handmade sketchbook in my bag. This portable treasure is so easy to carry around. I went to a park by the river and sat under a tree. I borrowed from Paul Klee and took my line for a walk. Wherever it wanted to go. A walk for a walk's sake. I didn't lift my pen. One long continuous line made its way across the page. Then boom! In the movement, a girl appeared. She wore Robin Hood boots and fished for stars from the moon. There were houses on stilts leaning this way and that. She saw a boy next to a church holding her book and a heart and there were flowers, rabbits, castles, and birds. Then my hand smudged the ink. From this happy accident, a mouse joined the scene. He looked up at the girl and scribbled CS Lewis's words in the sky. "How many hours are there in a mile? Is yellow square or round?"

I just love how this crazy shit works.

Gela-Marie Williams spent many years working as a clinical social worker(MSW) in health settings, non-profit sectors, clinical education and private practice. She is also an artist and author. Her award-winning book Green Vanilla Tea won the 2013 Finch Memoir Prize in Australia. The American edition is published by New Harbinger. She lives in Brisbane, Australia.
www.mariewilliams.com.au