Here you go:
If you follow my EyeJunkie writing you may have noticed it’s been absent for a while. After the holidays, I decided to take a sabbatical from writing for a few months to regroup and maybe reframe my thinking.
Last Fall, I heard words like “moving” and “inspiring” and “heart-breaking” and even “brave” from readers as I shared some of the story of losing my husband in September to suicide after his struggles with depression. I don’t know about the accuracy of all those words, but I certainly hope the writings have brought comfort or understanding or even hope for some of you out there. For me, I somehow found a new and deeper level of honesty and transparency in writing about our sorrows and survival that has helped me to clarify some of the overwhelming complexity of this situation.
But, I needed a break.
The holidays were difficult, as I knew they would be. And they were more difficult than that. They were a push and pull of steps forward and steps back, of thinking I was further along and accepting that I wasn’t. In many ways, the pace and “spirit” of the Christmas season were overwhelming, and I found myself emotionally right back where I was in the first weeks after Mike’s death. I needed a break.
I needed a break from the severe honesty of revealing all the layers of a husband lost to suicide. I needed a break to find how my voice in this journaling space would be reshaped. I needed to find how my life in this new season would reshape. I needed a break from the ever-presence of death so that I could find new ways to create and love and live.
Of course, taking a break from writing didn’t really give me a break from dealing with Mike’s death. Only from trying to articulate it succinctly. But, it did become a symbol and a catalyst to give myself some emotional space to just be — in whatever ways I needed to be through the first months of 2013. To experience the ebb and flow of continuing on without the need to describe it. To let it come. And go. As normal life tends to do. And perhaps in some kind of normalcy, I could gain an edge on death and begin to let other things rise to the surface.
I have a dear friend who, several years ago, after looking through EyeJunkie for the first time, wrote to me that it “crackles with life.” It was high praise from someone I admire, and it served as confirmation that my “message” was getting through. This writing space has always been about life. About ways to really see and experience the scenes of life. To glean their meaning in joy and sorrow. Now. While the moments are here. Before they “go” in that perpetual come-and-go. It’s always been about life. And this Spring I realized I wasn’t willing to surrender it to death.
As much as I loved Mike and admired his perseverance through the struggles of depression. As much as we miss him in this world and the idea of what he might have become on the other side of depression. As much as I’ve wanted to preserve a legacy for him with my children and as much as I need to fully deal with the remnants of his life on this earth, I don’t want my life to be about his death. I don’t want my life to be about sorrow and the mere reflections of this tragedy. And I don’t want my writings here to be a chronicle of death. As healing as it has been for me to share openly about my heart through this process and as vital as it has seemed to become a voice for some kind of truth for others like me, I don’t want to surrender this space to death. For that is not the whole story. Of writing. Of living. Of life. It’s not the story. And it’s not the story I want to write.
And so, I took a sabbatical. Until I could write again about other things. And perhaps about death while LIVING beyond it.
Today marks the 5th anniversary of EyeJunkie. It seems a fitting day to begin again. Five years ago today I launched this foray into blogging with a poem called “the work of angel wings.” As I’ve reflected on writing during this four-month hiatus, I’ve realized that this space has a newer purpose. It began as simply a creative outlet. Now, with a design business, a second design + life blog, an adventure in block printing and the crazy schedules of three itty bitty creative types, I have almost too many creative outlets. Now, my pursuits are more about finding the best places to invest that creativity. Still, I find the process of writing and well-crafted expression to be just as vital in making those choices, especially as I move through a new life as a single mother.
As I continue sharing in this space, I hope it continues to chronicle my “adventures in paying attention.” The newer purposes center in old ones — remolded and re-imagined through hard times that make the call to pay close attention to this precious life all the more real. I’m committed to the same level of honesty begun last Fall about sorrow, and suicide, and depression. The process of healing and living continues, and I believe honesty is necessary. It’s crucial in the prevalence of mental disorders in our world today. And it’s crucial in acting out real life and faith as a human being, But, I’m equally committed to keeping death and sorrow in their place among the broader pageant of living. One newer purpose gleaned in this sabbatical has been the fierce pursuit of joy. And how vital it is to commit myself to finding joy in each day. To make the choices and decisions that bring joy. Lasting and real joy. To see it rise. To weather the ebb and flow of life’s experiences in such a way that allows joy to rise to the surface as evidence of what life truly is. And in this space of thinking and writing, to rightly give joy — and not death — the last and most profound word.© Haley Montgomery
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Sigh. I’ve been struggling to find it lately. I set out at the beginning of this year on a writing pursuit, seeking to find, speak, know and share my own voice in new ways. I wanted to share my voice with new resolve in this particular medium, yes, but more importantly in the broader strokes of my life. Since then, my writing has been virtually nonexistent.
This past week I’ve been celebrating my oldest son, Little Drummer Boy, turning seven years old. As many mothers can relate, the birthdays are almost always bittersweet lumps of joy where my vision is quite clouded. I see him with all the new skills and interests and jokes and signs of independence. But somehow in the very same frame of the lens, I also see that little face resting on my shoulder, the tiny hand clutching mine and all the firsts I’ve witnessed that have now turned into his beautiful habits. As I was reminded by a friend, a “happy birthday” to LDB is a “happy birthday” to me as well, for a mother always has an intimate recollection of birthdays.
With much less fanfare, I’ve also been celebrating a personal milestone — the fourth birthday of this blog, EyeJunkie, on May 6. I started it in many ways because of LDB. I was at a time in my life where I felt I needed a personal creative outlet. My readers probably know that I’m creative for a living, like most of us are. I’m just called upon to do it in a much more overt way than most. I’m a designer. LDB thinks I draw for my work, and in many ways that’s true. But I started EyeJunkie in 2008 because I wanted a creative outlet that was apart from work for hire. I needed it. I needed something that would allow me to act out those creative tendencies in a more personal way. I needed to show him. I needed to show LDB, and Bug, and now Baby Girl what I was about on the inside. That’s the crux of it.
This space has been indelibly tethered to my voice ever since. So, to leave it unattended feels like a failure in many ways, like dropping the ball, like being out of the loop with myself. Do I even want to continue it? does it matter to me? Is it a valuable contribution to my life? A worthwhile investment? Can I continue it in a meaningful way? In some ways it feels like losing ground, like losing my voice. But, I know my voice is there. Somewhere. And that need for a creative outlet apart from work is still there. Somehow.
When I launched the whole “voice” thing for 2012, I wrote this:
To be able to hear the sound of our own voices with clarity sure simplifies things. It makes choices and decisions much more obvious. It makes the worthwhile investments of our time and energy much easier to find.
Those statements still ring true in my heart. I still see the necessity of hearing my own voice. Of discerning my own core requirements for a life of blessing. Of determining my own parameters of what constitutes a life of significance. Of rigorously chasing that life with daily decisions. Of giving the gift of that life to my children.
As I’ve been processing these two milestones, I’ve recognized that I HAVE heard my voice in many areas. I HAVE made decisions and movements that reflect my own voice. I have begun to more deeply refine my work life with Small Pond Graphics so that it serves me rather than vice versa. I have begun to reclaim control of areas of my life and relationships where I felt I had surrendered my own voice. I have begun to step outside of fatigue or busy-ness or laziness to create more significant experiences for my children, to recognize and incorporate habits of joy into their lives in small things. These are all urgings I heard from my own voice. And I’m beginning to speak them each day in tangible ways.
Here’s the thing. The writing isn’t the thing. The living is the thing. The doing. The growing. The learning. The listening.
It’s all those things that make the writing something — something that enriches all that I glean from the living and doing and learning. Through this soul searching, I’ve recognized that I write to keep my heart and my voice close to the surface. I do it to clarify my voice. And I do it to recognize the sound of my voice as I’m living. And that makes it valuable. To me.© Haley Montgomery
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I’ve been in a season of busy-ness. I feel it in every way — in my sleepiness and sleeplessness, my stretched schedule, my unkept home, my burgeoning to-do list, my perpetually delayed accomplishments. I always try to maintain gratitude for the wealth of opportunities busy-ness tends to signal and for the chance to help or serve my children in all their interests. But, I’m feeling it. There’s no question that we have a boundary line, a tipping point in the load of busy-ness that, once crossed, begins to hinder everything we do. And, it often seems those things we most enjoy (or most need) take the greatest hit.
I’ve been realizing this week just how much busy-ness robs me of a life aware. The sheer pace of activities numbs my senses toward experiencing each day, each place and each encounter fully. It numbs me to my own thinking and feelings and priorities.
Today marks the third birthday of EyeJunkie. I started it in May 2008 as an outlet–an outlet for creativity and for my centering my own thoughts about life and this world in a consistent stream. I sub-titled it “adventures in paying attention” because I found myself in this similar place. I found myself needing to curb the busy-ness of my own mind and my own schedule so that I could (as Thoreau said) live “deliberately.” So that I might re-claim a life of intention, at the mercy of my own priorities rather than at the mercies of everything else around me. I started EyeJunkie to articulate thoughts. My thoughts. The thoughts that had gotten lost in the din of activities and projects and needs surrounding me. I started EyeJunkie as a starting point. A place to begin and document an effort at paying attention to each day, and thereby elevating that day to the most important among days.
As I look at my stream of posts over the last few months, I see that what I’ve written above is true. One of the things I most enjoy (and most need) has taken a huge hit. And, I’m feeling it. It’s fitting that the anniversary of EyeJunkie’s beginnings falls on a Friday, the day I sometimes call “Oh Happy Day” and devote writing space to articulating gratitude. I am grateful for so many things in this writing experiment. Of course, I’m grateful for anyone who takes their own precious time to lay eyes on it. I’m mindful that this simple choice from a reader is an incredible compliment and gift since I’m assuming the realities of busy-ness aren’t just limited to me. I’m grateful for the experience of entering a non-traditional and growing medium. I’m thankful for the opportunity to experiment and learn in that medium. I’m thankful for the outlet it’s given me to express myself on whatever topics seem to rise to the surface at the moment. But, I think my greatest gratitude for EyeJunkie today is its ability to filter and center my thinking. That’s what I’ve sorely missed over these last few months of inconsistency.
Something about the act of articulating my thoughts into semi-coherent sentences and phrases helps to solidify them in my own mind. Somehow in the body of essays I produce for this space, I find the trends of my own heart. You would think those things would already be apparent to me, but it’s not so. Sometimes the process of understanding and recognizing my own place is so much harder from the inside out. To see it looking back at me in words and statements helps me recognize it more clearly.
Upon turning three, I’m ready for a renewed commitment to the founding theme of EyeJunkie. The adventure of paying close attention. Giving life the attention it so richly deserves. It seems to be a contradiction, but the reality of experience shows that we often have to cut back to experience more. We have to tune out to listen carefully. We have to speak more softly to be heard loud and clear. We have to look past some things to see the subtle blooming of life all around us. And, I want to see the blooms.
I want to get back to that pursuit that has brought me such gratitude and insight so far. I want to see May flowers, as the school rhyme goes. But, more pointedly, I want to see how May flowers. I want to be hard on the trail of that life aware — the one where I actually notice how each day (even each moment) blooms. Be it the sweet-scented blooms of opportunity and joy, or the bitter-sweet flowering of change or struggle, I want to breathe it in. Fully.
And I want to write about it.
[I hope you enjoy this week's destop wallpaper (a little late). Feel free to point-click the desktop version above or grab these for your iphone or ipad.]
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I saw last week that the book Just Kids by Patti Smith won the National Book Award for non-fiction this year, and it made me think about the book again. I enjoyed reading it earlier this year, and have seen a few great interviews with Smith about it as well. It’s been a while since I’ve written about books, so I thought I would share a few thoughts about this one.
Just Kids is a poignant memoir of the love affair and life-long friendship between Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe, two artists who became symbols of the alternative art culture of the early 1970s and whose iconic status in greater pop culture continues today. The staccato prose of the writing took some getting used to, and the rapid pace of Smith’s descriptions of encounters with poets and authors and musicians was at times dizzying. I really enjoy the stream of consciousness style, however, and I suppose her approach to recounting the pair’s activities matched the random nature of the times and the evolution of that particular sub-culture.
I’ll have to admit that there were a lot of names in Just Kids that I didn’t recognize. I’m just barely a child of the 70s and I guess my younger cultural experiences didn’t follow the same circles as those of the Hotel Chelsea scene. There were many names I knew I should recognize and felt a little tuned out because I didn’t — lost my official “artist” badge in a couple of instances, I’m sure. In fact, there were times when I felt I’d fallen into some giant cocktail party game of name-dropping. But, the people who took up the volume of Smith’s remembrance emerged as “characters” I learned in a new way.
I was quite enamored by the story as a whole and particularly by the ebb and flow of the relationship between Smith and Mapplethorpe. It was an interesting study of muse and artist, of friendship, of family created out of common loves and of the weathering of change. And of course, the emergence of both the artists’ “voices” in prose, photography and song is unique and compelling.
The way Smith described the end of Mapplethorpe’s life, her continued protectiveness of him and his vision, and her process of letting him go was very moving for me. It spoke volumes about life lived entwined with another person and the realities of how that type of relationship changes by necessity over time. The poignancy of the last chapters of their relationship and Mapplethorpe’s death perhaps highlight some of the ways I was disappointed with the book. The close of their story made me cry. It moved me. It showed me her grief at losing the person who was so influential in her life. It made me feel her grief over how situations change–both for good and bad. But, in many ways it was the first time I felt I really saw her in the book.
For much of the book, I felt as if Smith was painting a picture for me. Yes, that’s partly what a memoir is, but it seemed she was trying to portray a contrived image of herself. It was clear in much of the book that her goal was to emphasize Mapplethorpe, but her perspective and role in his life would have gained greater credibility from more of that rawness I saw at the end.
For me, she didn’t answer the “oprah question.” You know, the question every onlooker would ask. She didn’t seem to address with any depth her own feelings about the delving of Mapplethorpe into the gay culture he became so synonymous with. They were lovers. And young lovers at that. At a time in their lives when both their artistic visions and their forays into adulthood were very new. That’s a very powerful relationship. The woman who described her own fantasies of being Baudelaire’s muse seemed completely detatched from the fact that her lover was hustling in male prostitution. She seemed almost indifferent to his decision to pursue a homosexual lifestyle. For someone who throughout the rest of the book infused so much meaning into small details and chance encounters, it seemed just a little too cosmopolitan. I was amazed by her acceptance of Mapplethorpe’s choices, and I recognize that acceptance as one thing that made their relationship so enduring and impactful for the two of them. But, I wanted to see her care. I wanted to see her work through the emotions of that change in their relationship. It would have brought a very human perspective to the “starting gun” affect his work continues to have in our culture.
All in all, I really enjoyed Just Kids as a memoir, as a record of a very intriguing time and a very intriguing art “scene.” I just wish that in her zest to show me Mapplethorpe, Smith would have shown me more of herself as well.© Haley Montgomery
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I’ve noticed a change in tone recently with many of my essays. There has been a heaviness that perhaps isn’t usually part of what I write. There has been an emphasis on challenges and questioning. Also, “change” and “transition” seem to be repeating themes. I can’t remember when I’ve written about the media or politics. I haven’t devoted much time to being funny (which may have actually always been the case except for in my own mind), and I haven’t even used my children as heart-warming inspiration as often as usual. I realize that it’s the height of overthinking to be so carefully evaluating my own writing bent again. But, that’s not really what this mini-essay is about. Taking note of my own recent themes has made me think about authenticity and my desire to make transparency part of this writing experiment. It’s made me revisit the premise of EyeJunkie, examine its relevance again. Here’s what I’ve come up with.
Paying attention has been my theme from the beginning — becoming more deliberate, as Thoreau wrote, in how I approach life. It’s been my desire to explore how that plays out in real life. It’s been my goal to be awake through whatever experiences come my way and to use writing to keep my own heart close to the surface in that endeavor. It’s more a personal pursuit than a public service. But, paying attention doesn’t just apply to the warm fuzzies. The rich pageant of life involves ups and downs, pushes and pulls, comings and goings, ease and hardship. To refuse to pay attention in the down side or the waning side of experiences is to avoid a large portion of existence. And, it is to miss out on the great volume of wisdom that challenging circumstances can provide. To create a way of living and approaching life that can be sustained through good times and bad seems to be the only relevant pursuit. As I meld important areas of focus–things like faith or parenting or creating–into one life experience, the process is no good if it only applies to the happy times or the easy moments. The real grease that enables the gears is what I have the courage to experience fully and transparently during difficult times. That’s where the real denial of numbness and slumber finds its depth and sustaining power. And, I’ve come to the conclusion that EyeJunkie really wouldn’t be mine if I didn’t give the rainbow-free soul searching it’s rightful place in the “recent posts” column.© Haley Montgomery
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