This is me with Cisco, Debbie’s dog. It’s somehow fitting that I couldn’t find any photos of Deb and me among her things. Just Polaroids primarily of my siblings, my parents, and myself. And Cisco, of course.
Cisco was the Ghost to Debbie’s Jon Snow. She embodied the very concept of a “familiar” or animal companion, walking alongside Debbie everywhere she went. A leash was wholly unnecessary, even an insult.
To know Debbie was to know her relationship with animals and the natural world. Her spirituality was profoundly personal- borrowing in ways from common animistic beliefs, yet remaining distinctly her own. Whoever or whatever God was to Debbie, you could find him/her/it somewhere between the hearts of humans and their animals.
And it’s not like this was mere woo. Whether with Cisco or Boo (her cat of 15-some-odd years), an undeniable energy and mutual respect could be felt by anyone. It just was, and it shaped me before I had the words to describe it.
As Cisco was her companion and guide, Debbie was mine through my first explorations of imagination. Her visits to our home in Memphis were synonymous with wonder and fun as she’d patiently sit with me like no other adult would. Together, we’d coauthor entire narratives with my action figures and stuffed animals, most memorably with a realistic rubber bat (named Batty Bat) and a stuffed snow leopard (named Snow Leopard, of course).
Any talent I had as a child was a direct result of this encouragement. She was always gifting me something to inspire my mind- quality pencils and paper for drawing; books on mythology, art, or eastern philosophy; totems of deeply symbolic meaning. At a young age, she exposed me to The Odyssey, Carl Jung, Feng Shui, Native American beliefs, and so many more things that have become integral parts of who I am.
This slideshow is a photo of Cisco, followed by two drawings of mine from when I was really little that she always kept on her bulletin board.
Throughout high school and college, we’d write emails to each other, discussing movies we had watched, what we were working on, creative goals we had, etc. She never ceased to be a mentor to me.
But as much as she inspired me to create, she struggled to do so herself. Well, that’s not entirely true; she was constantly creating, but always struggling to achieve her vision or to move through the creative space as freely as she’d have liked. Resistance is a hell of a thing to overcome and it’s something that has immobilized me, as well. I’ll let her describe it:
Creativity is a mystery. It is elusive, but it is all around me. Circling. Waiting. Waiting for that magical moment to connect me to God, The Great Mystery. It has always come when I sought it out. But I only rarely seek it out, and then usually in short sporadic bursts, when what I really want is to take long refreshing drinks from the God-well.
What I want to get from Picture Writing is just that- to write and organize what I hold in my head, to bring it out of the mist and tell the story well. To tell it with color. To tell it honestly.
Writing is a secret rite. And a craft. The story part is the rite, how the muse speaks to you. It is something you can discover, but not something you can learn. The language you use to tell your story- that is the craft and it can be learned. The dance of words in your head and the choreography of the sentence and the paragraph. Rite and craft- never exactly in equal parts, but in adequate measure to complete the cycle and to renew your energy flow with the Great Mystery.
I am always rushed by the hare brain. It wants things done now, now, now. The tortoise mind wants to consider and think (and do it later). The result? Nothing ever gets done. Of course, the hare brain also wants it done “right” and seems to be in control most of the time. When the tortoise mind gets control, mistakes are possible and not really that big of a deal. I prefer the tortoise mind (less pressure), but the hare brain is doing most of the driving and demanding perfection.
How to find stillness. How do I quiet the hare? I can find stillness in the art room. It is an informal kind of meditation. I like to close my eyes and just let the thoughts come to me. Drifting in and out without direction.
It is one of the few times when everything has a chance to be peaceful.
Another time is just before I go to sleep. When I turn the light out, the few minutes I have before I go to sleep (and drop off very quickly). On the nights when I don’t turn on the TV is a very peaceful time of reflection.
Likewise, when I take a long bath and on those few occasions when I don’t take a book to read. The warmth, the quiet, and the water all lend themselves to stillness thinking.
I never really stopped to think about how many times I pass up opportunities to find stillness.
In your memory, in my own acts of creation, I will find this stillness. And when I do, you will be with me. I love you, Debbie.