My creative partner-in-crime for this recovery-themed art exchange project is Sondra Primeaux - sober sister, clothing designer, writer, photographer, artist and creator of the blog, The Unruffled. She oozes creativity and inspires me on the daily. We settled on a theme of Surrender for our second art exchange and invited women from our digital recovery spaces to join in. Twenty women are jumping in with us for the Winter Solstice art exchange.
Sondra picked names and paired people up, wished them well and sent everyone off with the theme and asked them to interpret it any 'ole way they wanted to.
I was lucky enough to get paired up with two women for this art exchange. I immediately knew I wanted to make something that involved letterpress and I started jotting down notes in my notebook; excerpts from Mary Oliver poems, quotes and words that sprang up for me when I thought of the word and theme for this next exchange - surrender.
The one tiny little detail that I forgot about letterpress printing is that, well...I, um... hate typesetting.
Reminding myself that surrender is all about letting go and trusting the process, I pushed aside the feelings that sprang up for me about what I didn't look forward to doing and decided that I would just calm down, enjoy the process and see what happens. When I walked into ink + paper + plate's studio, I quickly dropped my belongings on the table and dove into my notebook of ideas. I thought that if I was going to typeset something, it needed to be short and sweet.
I had reserved time for a private workshop with Sirima Sataman, owner, artist, designer, master printer and kind human being. She's the real reason I wanted to come back to this studio and make art. She has a way about her that made me feel right at home. We talked about my sobriety and the metaphors that spring up through art-making and I told her a little bit about this project and the theme.
Knowing we would only have three hours together I picked what I thought would be a really easy project: a bookmark with the word surrender letterpressed into it. Sounds simple, right? Wrong.
Well, this little bookmark took over two hours to typeset and I got super frustrated during the process. I think it's safe to say that I will never typeset any kind of small type again. Letterpress demands perfection and while that speaks to me on one level, I like to run from it on another. I simply no longer want to be that precious or exact about my art-making.
Over these past 22 months of sobriety, I've really leaned into the Japanese philosophy of wabi sabi, the art of imperfection. These principles are no longer foreign to me. I know that I must surrender and accept a crooked line, an uneven cut on a pristine piece of paper. This philosophy also has translated into my day-to-day life wherein I've given up striving to have the cleanest baseboards in town or vacuuming up every speck of dust from my wooden floors. There are no prizes for the cleanest floors, contrary to what my mother may have impressed upon me. Oh, the metaphors are writing themselves here, I see.
I realized that I needed to knock out another project with the hour that remained. Sirima was great. She knew I wanted to accomplish two projects and she helped me quickly typeset a phrase using larger, cursive wooden type, which turned out to be much easier. We were aiming for simple and easy and we got it.
When I think about how I found my way into the rooms of AA, I think about surrender. I think because I quit drinking all by myself for seven whole months, I felt like I didn't need this kind of program. When I finally got a sponsor three months into the program, I had to surrender to the words they used in AA - like alcoholic, character defects and the biggest three letter word around, God. One night, at a women's meeting, someone used the acronym for G.O.D. and said she referred to it as Grace Over Drama. Oh, how I loved the interpretation of this loaded word. By redefining the word, it helped me to discover and choose the acronym of G.O.D. as my higher power until I could settle on a permanent higher power. This little catchphrase assisted me in starting to react differently to people, places and situations.
When my sister would start to gossip with me on the phone, I would jokingly say to her shouldn't we be choosing grace over drama in this situation, Traci? and she would laugh and say, yeah, you're right. When ugly feelings came up for me or a pity party would ensue in my head, all I had to do was ask myself are you choosing grace over drama right now? and the answer was usually a big fat no.
Drama was what I created when I was drinking.
Drama felt like a well worn pair of jeans, a broken in pair of boots or a comfortable t-shirt.
Drama felt like home. A home that I've resided in most of my life.
I used to dress up my drama as sarcasm and flounce it around thinking I was witty and funny. It's still fresh in my mind all the "hot-dialing" I would do with my family members and friends, creating a bigger deal out of something or someone in order to keep my uncomfortable feelings at bay or stoke a grievance. I'm not proud of that version of me, but I'm happy to say drama is no longer taking center stage in my life, but it's still present and floating around the edges as a quiet reminder that there is always more work to be done.
I'm finding that the self-imposed drama I used to create no longer serves me. I avoid people and situations that make me want to bring that drama-filled girl out of retirement. I've had a few recent situations where she rose up, but I pushed her back down and recommitted to doubling down on not making something out of nothing. It's hard, worthy work. Sometimes I win, sometimes I don't.
And so that brings me to the print I created using the vintage Vandercook printing press, wooden typeface and red ink. I felt like the word "grace" needed to be in cursive writing, while DRAMA definitely needed to be in all caps and a little bit bigger. We used a thin metal plate to form a line between the words "grace" and "DRAMA," but it didn't press into the paper like we'd hoped. Rather than re-set the type, I surrendered and decided I would draw in my own lines on each of the pieces and walk away from the printing press.
My ability to adapt and switch courses without any DRAMA is pretty big for me. If things didn't go my way on a project, with a customer, with my family or my community, I would talk about it to anyone and everyone who would listen. I would simmer in the perceived mess and just talk about it rather than do anything about it. I can only see this in hindsight, but I know it to be true. Only time and sobriety has illuminated myself to me. Upon careful reflection and doing a thorough Step 4 with my Sponsor, I'm now able to see my part in things. The drama of life has been minimized now that I no longer drink alcohol and surrendering to the 12 Steps has changed my life for the better.
In keeping with the theme, I decided to pick up a few books that I thought went along with the surrender theme.
Elisabeth Tova Bailey's book The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating turned out to be a surprisingly interesting read for me a few years back and it left a beautiful impression on me about appreciating my health, paying attention to nature and taking the time and space to ponder my existence. The author was bed-ridden for a year and in that time she surrendered to her illness, pondered life's big questions and writes about her encounter with a Neohelix albolabris - a common forest snail, who turned out to be her teacher.
I have not read The Bhagavad Gita yet, but it was recommended reading in the Winter Hip Sobriety School I attended. When I'm approaching a new way of thinking or spirituality quest, I first must surrender to those new ideas and concepts. I thought this book might land at the right time for the two gals I was exchanging with. And, if not, maybe they would be open to surrendering any old ideas or preconceived notions and try it on for size.
The book bag says it all, really. Eat. Sleep. Read. If that's not surrender, then I don't know what is.
Surrender could also be interpreted as giving up or raising the white flag, but I have decided to interpret it as a letting go, transformation, or a metamorphosis.
Now that I no longer drink alcohol, I feel like I surrender everyday. I start my day with a hot cup of tea while I write a gratitude list. I surrender the old ideas about myself and open myself up to new ideas and concepts about how I can live in this world. By giving up my old ways, I'm discovering so many new things that would have been unavailable to me if I was still drinking. I'm consistently amazed at my growth and ability to change at my age, 46. By surrendering, I'm not giving up, I'm simply sloughing off old ideas and habits that no longer serve me. I'm allowing more room in my life to expand my notions about what it means to me to be a woman, a friend, a wife, a daughter, a mother and a student of this world.
When I choose G.O.D. now, Grace Over Drama, I'm choosing to surrender many of my old patterns and ideas about myself and others. I'm daring to do things differently and pushing through uncomfortable feelings. I'm showing up for myself and daring to do life on life's terms. I'm no longer living in fear of the unknown.
Surrender looks a lot like salvation to me now.
And, I thank G.O.D. for that.
If you are interested in participating in our next recovery gals art exchange (in the Spring 2017), please leave a comment here or email me at email@example.com
Links to a few other projects can be found by clicking these links:
Surrender (verb) by Sarelle McCoard
Winter Solstice #recoverygalsartexchange - Surrender by Caitlin, N.M.M.D.