I first discovered Amanda Palmer thanks to a blog post by the very funny, wise and wonderful Bloggess (AKA Jenny Lawson). She told a story of Amanda giving her a free ticket to see her show and then, being so overwhelmed by the social anxiety she experiences, feeling unable to attend. Amanda didn’t want Jenny to miss out so she arranged for her to watch the entire thing from a cat walk above the stage. Jenny was up, out of the crowd and still able to view and enjoy the performance.
I remember reading this story, not knowing who Amanda Palmer was, but thinking that it was so lovely how she’d created a safe space to accommodate the social anxiety of a friend and fan. But I didn’t go listen to her music and didn’t think to until The Bloggess posted about Amanda again, this time sharing a link to the music video for ‘In My Mind’.
This song became an immediate favourite for me. I put it on my OCD playlist, a playlist of songs I can listen to on repeat three or four or even five times in a row.
I memorised it.
I also found out she was married to Neil Gaiman, an author I greatly admire and have been reading for years. I did think to myself, “What an awesome couple.”
So I became a fan of Amanda Palmer and while not following her terribly closely, I was aware of her work in the periphery - like the incredible open letter song she performed for the Daily Mail (NSFW but entirely worth watching). I also got more of her music, including ‘The Killing Type’, which was a therapeutic anthem for me whilst I was nursing a broken heart.
I had seen, probably through social media, that she’d published a book but I hadn’t considered buying it. In fact - confession time: I have a tendency to avoid things by people I feel are too similar to me out of some bizarre kind of jealousy. I can’t quite explain it but it’s like, my envy of them expressing something I believe so well, and getting paid for it, makes me shut down entirely around the idea of reading what they’ve written.
I appreciate this jealousy is my brain shouting at me to ‘WRITE MORE AND GET PUBLISHED AND MAKE YOUR LIVING AS A WRITER FULL TIME ALREADY’ - but it still doesn’t really stop me from feeling like not reading this stuff will somehow protect my ideas. Which is silly because as soon as I do read this stuff it’s always amazing! It’s always wonderful! I feel great gratitude and generosity and joy to know that there are others out there with the same appreciate for empathy, compassion, wonder, curiosity, questioning etc. etc.
But I digress.
I was resistant to reading Amanda’s book so I wasn’t going to go out of my way to buy it. But then I spotted it in a bookstore in Colorado on a rack labelled ‘signed copies’. I flipped it open and sure enough, there was a signature in red marker on the second page in. It was a signed copy of a hardback book.
I’m a child of nerds and my parents, especially my dad, have taught me well. Buy books with signatures. Buy books in hardcover. Protect the dust jacket. Love it.
I wanted this book. I didn’t want this book. I was still jealous. So I put the book back down.
But I wasn’t alone. I was with my fiancee, who spotted it in my hand and asked about it.
“It’s signed,” I told her. “And Amanda is amazing.”
“Do you want it?”
I did. But I didn’t.
Having read the book now, the irony of what happened next is not lost on me.
My fiancee earns more than me, significantly so. The cost of the book wasn’t significant to her. While I was battling my jealousy I was also aware that I could hide behind the excuse of not being able to justify the cost. I was at that moment on a very expensive trip to the States to attend a retreat. I had wiped out ‘free spending money’ to even be able to be standing in that bookstore.
But I knew she’d buy me the book. And I didn’t want her to. I didn’t want her to think I expected it of her. I didn’t want to risk that she’d ever resent me for not being able to afford things - that was uncomfortable, familiar territory I was never interested in visiting again.
She bought me the book.
I accepted it graciously while on the inside I felt useless for not buying it for myself and equally miserable for agonizing over being given a gift when some people don’t even have clean water or decent shelter. In short - I was beating myself up for my #FirstWorldProblem.
So I accepted the book, took it home and put it on my ‘To Read’ shelf. Then I went to war with my jealousy.
The book was a gift. It would be a supremely asshole thing not to read it out of some weird (unhelpful and neurotic) jealous streak when it was bought lovingly and with the intention that it would be something I would enjoy.
So I read the book.
And I love it.
This is not actually a book about asking.
It’s a book about generosity.
It’s about being kind, being genuine and showing gratitude.
It’s a book about love.
Real, genuine, heartfelt love and trust. Love, not as an emotion, but love as a place in which we can all reside. A limitless thing with no conditions on it.
Amanda shares what it is to love and be loved through a random assortment of narratives, stories and contemplations. She talks about love openly, in all its flavours, and how, if we let life touch us, we can open up to that and see just how abundant love really is. She totally understands love and communicates her understanding beautifully.
I don’t want to give anything away. I will just say this:
I cried multiple times when reading this book, spontaneously, because of how genuine and relatable it is.
I am feeling so inspired by what she has shared that I am never going to let my jealous mind keep me from reading something. In fact, I’ve been avoiding Brene Brown (who wrote the forward of the book) since I first saw mention of her TED talk. Amanda herself writes about how Brene Brown’s book was exactly her book, but written from a different point of view. Reading Amanda I have come to understand how like-minded we are. So I’m going to read Brene Brown next.
Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman are an example of what it is to genuinely love and be loved, to accept someone just as they are, warts and all for better OR FOR WORSE and OMG I know exactly how that feels. May I never, ever stop appreciating how valuable it is to be seen and to see.
Read this book.
Just. Read it.
Back in uh…oh, 2011? Yeah, 2011, I finished my Tarot card series. These were 24X36in acrylic on canvas pieces depicting the major arcana of a tarot deck as animals. The entire project took me just over two years and was a major learning experience for me both personal and professionally.
They helped me improve as an artist as well as really feeding me spiritually. Now, I don’t want to come off as ‘woo’ when I say that. Understand I view Tarot as good fun. It doesn’t tell you anything you don’t know because the cards are rich with rather obvious symbolism. In short, you see what you want/need to see in the symbols.
In my case, as I was working on them, I was also exploring how the symbols crossed over into other belief systems - primarily and most heavily - how they crossed over into Buddhism. There were a lot of parallels in the symbols used in Tarot and the symbols used in Buddhist teachings.
It was a very fun and very all-consuming project which culminated in a successful gallery exhibition in London, where I sold my first originals on a public scale, rather than to the odd interested private buyer. Okay, *shuffled feet* the only other person who’d bought my art at that point was my psychologist.
It was very liberating to exhibit and sell my art but afterwards was a bit of a come down. I didn’t have another project, really, and I’m the sort who ALWAYS WANTS A PROJECT.
Well, I picked a project but it was the unsuccessful adventure into self-employment as a life coach, at which I failed miserably - much to my relief. I like giving it away for free. That’s why I now have my podcast.
But for a year and a bit, art just wasn’t happening. I dabbled in a few projects and ultimately decided my writing needed to take precedence so I leapt feet first into finishing the manuscript that would turn into Wise at Any Age and land me the added accomplishment of published author (woo!).
All very exciting and thrilling and what-have-you, but I quickly realised that, as much as writing is my ultimate, favourite, most consistent passion - I have to make art. If I don’t make art, even just a bit a week, I start to get… twitchy. Can’t explain it. It’s like there’re bees in my brain and they’re producing creative energy that must be released because if it isn’t, well, I twitch. I twitch and I get uncomfortable in my own skin and my neurosis begins to run wild despite meditating twice a day. For serious. It's a problem.
When I realised all this I was going through a major transition* and I had become a bit of a Buddhist hermit. I’d set my life up in such a way that I was meditating two or three times a day, listening to dharma talks on my way into work, listening to dharma talks on my lunch break, reading dharma books after work and going to weekend retreats every two or three months.
I didn’t realise it at the time but what I was doing was effectively living in retreat. I was working out a way to integrate practice into everything I did. And it was paying off, for sure. I was feeling way calmer and focused in everything. I was becoming a sort of ‘peace maker’ at work. I found myself always watching my mind, in every situation.
And I found myself wanting to make art about it.
Consuming all this dharma was intense. I felt saturated and yet, also insatiable. I would contemplate what I was studying, what it meant to me, how I could apply it to my professional and personal relationships. I was catching my negative thought patterns and noticing unhelpful actions and turning them around. I was improving my speech and having a level of self-awareness that was noticeable to others.
I started writing down snatches of things that came to me. Words which I thought of but didn’t feel like I’d come up with, exactly. They were just things that stemmed from the talks I listened to, the books I was reading, the teachings I was attending.
My journals filled up with them and I started visualising imagery to go with them. Some of it was very specific to a particular teaching or symbol in traditional Tibetan Buddhism. Some of it was more spontaneously just because - like on a gut level of feeling it was the most fitting image for a particular bit of text I’d thought of. I had some pieces I’d done in the years when I was more focused on my tarot card pieces. I decided this would be a continuation of that.
When I was re-designing my website I decided to create an online gallery for the sake of simplicity (all my work in one place) as well as to save time. One page to design instead of one for every project. That whole promise to stop compartmentalizing what I do and share it in one place.
In laying it all out this way I realised I have created a body of work that far surpasses anything else I’ve done. There are twenty-three pieces in the gallery right now, although twenty-five completed ones ( I promise I’ll get my Vajrayogini up soon), and so many more bubbling in my mind’s eye, waiting to be made into something tangible.
It’s amazing to look back and realise there’s something here, something I did not set out to do but has happened simply because I feel so compelled. Compelled to deepen my studies and understanding, to share what I’m learning, and to create.
Always to create.
*We are always in transition. Sometimes it’s just more noticeable.
So - over on my Facebook page I’ve been posting pictures of fierce naked ladies that I’ve been drawing AKA Dakinis! Thus far I’ve completed three Dakini pieces and I’ve got many ideas for several more.
“But what?” you may be asking, “is a Dakini? And why are drawing them?”
I could tell you ALL THE THINGS about Dakinis but there are other people much better suited to do so - like Judith Simmer-Brown, for example. I am a very fortunate owner of a signed copy of Dakini’s Warm Breath, which, whilst not necessarily containing everything there is to know it certainly contains enough to provide a really solid understanding of Dakinis, Dakini Wisdom and their iconography.
Because Simmer-Brown has done all the research I am going to quote the description from her book to explain Dakinis (in brief):
“…the dakini symbolizes levels of personal realization: the sacredness of the body, both female and male; the profound meeting point of body and mind in meditation; the visionary realm of ritual practice; and the empty, spacious qualities of mind itself.”
Quick clarification here - Buddhist iconography is almost always created to reflect the wisdom of the individual who looks at it. Thangka paintings are classic images rich with symbolism representing the inherent wisdom and enlightened state of every human being.
And Dakinis are a big part of this, though a very misunderstood part because, well, that whole sticky issue of sex and sexuality and celibate monks. But the nudity of a Dakini isn’t sexual at all. It’s a blatant representation of the naked and open quality of an enlightened mind.
I am not an expert, thought, and not here to give a lesson on Dakinis and the teachings surrounding them. I’m a Creative Polymath and student of the Dharma (Buddhist teachings/scripture/way of life) therefore I am exploring these teachings by making art!
Why Dakinis? Well, one of the teachings that Simmer-Brown shares in her book is that the Dakini does not belong to women. Rather, we belong to the Dakini. And well, so do men, for that matter. And gender ambiguous people too and all the lovely in between identities of gender.
What this means is up for interpretation and not something I’m yet able to put into words - although I do feel I 'get it' more often than not.
All I know right now is I’m compelled to draw them.
I dreamed about one and I want to draw her. I see certain women - powerful, proud, strong women - and I want to create Dakini versions of them. I listen to a teaching where the teacher describes a Dakini and then I feel the need to draw it. I take a picture of myself dancing and decide the pose is that of a Dakini.
So, I just wanted to let you know what all these brightly coloured naked women are about.
To see more of my Dharma inspired work check out the Dharma Art in my online Gallery. The Vajrayogini piece pictured with this post is now complete but not yet in The Gallery. It will be soon!
Changes are afoot! Many, many, many changes. You may have noticed, for instance, that my website is looking very different all of a sudden.
Basically, I’ve been looking at all the things I do and decided I’m going to embrace my Jack of All Trades creativity.
Little know fact – the original saying was longer and had multiple versions including:
Jack of all trades, master of none,
Often times better than a master of one
Jack of all trades, master of none,
Better than Jack of one trade, master of none
I’ve called myself a Creative Polymath for some time now but still, I am regularly told, directly or indirectly, to ‘specialise’.
So let me describe how the idea of ‘specialising’ feels for me (this may be familiar for some of you) – when I am told to ‘specialise’ I feel restricted. I feel like I have to ignore or deny huge chunks of my imagination and energy. I feel tiny, in a little box, with limited options on where to go.
I don’t actually think I spread myself too thin by drawing, painting, making masks, designing, writing and putting out a podcast. Each of these things feed the others and ultimately, I couldn’t stop trying new things if I wanted to.
I’m enthused by the learning process.
I enjoy discovery and my ability to teach myself new skills.
The problem I’ve faced, though, in listening to these voices telling me to ‘specialise’ (some being from my own neurotic mind, of course) is that I’ve compartmentalised my projects. I’ve put things out in separate channels in an attempt to look like a specialist in any one area.
But I’ve had an incredible dawning realisation.
I AM a specialist.
I’m not actually a Jack of all trades at all, really. I’m a master at creativity. I write to explore and understand the world around me, to share ideas and contemplations. I draw and paint Dharma inspired artwork to deepen my understanding and share valuable wisdom. I make masks and paint shoes to flex my creative muscles, to let my creativity flow, without thought, from a place of physical relationship with the tools in my hands alone.
The Everything is Workable podcast has become an incredible tool for me in so many ways. I write scripts for it, so it involves flexing my writing muscles as well as really refining my language and understanding of specific teachings. The work I’ve done exploring these teachings through my art feeds the content of the podcast and thus, my talent feels brought together in this particular project.
Ultimately, trying to stop my creative enthusiasm would be like attempting to live without breathing. I just can’t do it. And I’ve taken the decision to stop listening to the voices inside my head (and out) telling me to ‘pick one thing’.
Because actually, I have picked one thing. It’s just, one thing can actually be a collection of related things. Embracing this is my latest daily practice.
I hope you’ll join me on the adventure.
When not writing, making art or recording podcasts,
Kaitlyn can be found in trees, listening to Dharma talks on her iPod, Boon.
Thusly named because
Brian Froud = Awesome.