Sunday, January 13, 2008

dog art, rug pulling, and other acts of bravery.

About a week ago, I decided to take the leap and let my art evolve. I have a show coming up in my neighborhood coffee shop in March and, rather than simply continuing the coffee cup series, I've decided to do portraits of my favorite neighborhood dogs.

Dog portraits, you ask?

Remember a few weeks ago when I got interviewed for the article on dog training in the New York Times? Well, it got me thinking. It feels like too long of a story to try and fill in all the blanks due to my lack of blogging, but let me just say: there is SO much to say!

These days I feel two ways:
1). I feel like I am sinking in the quagmire of my own trapped, stupid, intensely boring, mindless, dumb job.
2). I feel an incredible sense of well-being every time I take a step closer to working with animals. That sense of well-being deepens even further when I include a creative element to that work.

As you can imagine, I like the feeling of #2 much better that the first.

In a way, I feel like I am tied to a string that is pulling me forward. It is just a thin string and the only thing that I can imagine that it is attached to is the Universe. You see, I don't believe that anything happens by accident, not really anyway. What I mean is that, throughout my life, a series of events have been unfolding. As they've unfolded, I have responded and reacted in certain ways which led to a continuation of the unfolding in one direction of the other. I also believe that we are all connected--everyone and everything--but let me try to not get off-track.

Through a series of both fortunate and unfortunate events, I feel as though I am being pulled towards animals on some level or another. The magnetism has always been there--but, these past several weeks, it has been making itself all the more obvious.

Sometimes I get stuck in the idea that I should be teaching. That is, after all, why I spent the past 7 years in school. It is also why I spent the 7 years before that traveling around the world, doing whatever it was that I was doing. Now that I'm almost done with my degree the next logical step would be to get a job in my field. Only thing is: I don't want to go back to academia--to either side of the desk--at least not yet. I still want to teach, but not necessarily in the same way that I originally imagined. I find it difficult to give up my own expectations for myself because it has been my absolute passion for as long as I can remember. I suppose it goes without saying that losing such a specific direction has been incredibly disorienting to me, but these days I am starting to find my way out of the fog and am amazed by the vision that I find formulating itself in front of me (this is perhaps something for a future post).

recently borrowed me a book: Start Where You Are by Pema Chodron. First of all, I should mention that I love the title. Actually, the title and chapter titles are all I really need. My favorite chapter, so far, is titled "Pulling Out the Rug"--because that is exactly how things feel right now.

I admit though, that I really like the way it feels to have the rug pulled out from under me. Things have been stagnant for so long, the rug getting yanked out from my uncomfortable footing is at least something. And so I go tumbling forward into my future. But tumbling doesn't quite feel like the right description because it only started out as a tumble and now I feel like I am being pulled by my little string towards something that makes me feel like I fit, once again, into my body, my skin, my spirit, my life.

Yesterday I took the leap towards the show's theme by asking K. if I could photograph her big, beautiful Golden Retriever, Ceasar. She agreed with enthusiasm. A little bit later, S. showed up with her Wheaten Terrier, Murphy, to say hi and get a few treats. She also met the idea with excitement. A few hours after that, L. showed up with my sweet little friend Russel, an Australian Shepard. He is so photogenic! We both oohed and aahed over the potential. Now that photo shoots have taken place I feel like I've committed myself--and the commitment feels really, really good. It feels, well, right.

Today that little string led me to the window where I saw a dog I've been hoping to run into. Never mind that it had been over a month since I'd last seen it. Never mind that the dog played a huge part in inspiring me to do a show of neighborhood dogs in the first place. I got nervous, intimidated, shy--and started back-pedaling the idea of including that particular dog in the show.

But there was that perfectly golden sunlight hitting everything just right (after a week of nothing but gray clouds and, later, more gray clouds) and there was the dog himself, just sitting there, waiting like the noble being that he is. I stood at the window fighting with myself about whether or not to run across the street and ask permission to do a photo shoot with the dog.

Then I thought of the Be Brave project.
And then I thought of Maddie and her own photographic bravery.
And Fiona who just picked up and moved to Spain.
And Bella Mocha who just started her own Be Brave journey.
And of all the bravery I've already accomplished.
And all of the bravery of everyone combined and...

Why not just go across the street?

And so I did. And I exchanged information with the incredibly friendly girl and her boyfriend who belong to "Bean," the most beautiful Rottweiler/Great Dane mix I have ever met. I took a few photos and made plans to meet up again in the near future to take more.

A few hours later, G. showed up with his Cocker Spaniel, Chester. Again, I exchanged email and phone numbers. And there I have two short days I have gotten some incredible photos of 5 of my most favorite dogs along with an excellent response from their human companions.

So anyway...I've decided to keep reminding myself to be brave. I've decided to let the rug get pulled out from under my feet and to enjoy the adventure that goes with the tumble. I've decided to pay attention to that little string and the places that it pulls me--because every time I do this, good things become of it.

Even though my work-day was yet another crappy, dull, dumb day--I came home feeling a lot more hopeful that I did before. Of rug pulling, Pema Chodron writes: "Having the rug pulled out from under you is a big opportunity to change your fundamental pattern. It's like changing the DNA. One way to pull out your own rug is by just letting go, lightening up, being more gentle, and not making such a big deal" (19).

I notice that when I let go, lighten up, become more gentle, and quit making such a big deal out of everything, things have a tendency to happen. Not only do things happen, but they happen easily, gracefully, naturally.

There's a part of me that is worried that my pet portraits will be tacky and ugly and embarrassing and that they won't reflect my talent as a painter. But then there's this other part of me that feels like this is just the right step in my artistic path--even if that means taking a risk. Something happens when painting portraits--something strange and wonderful and powerful. Through painting it is possible to get to know someone from the inside out. It is in their eyes, in their posture, in even a slight gesture. These things are not noticeable at first, but through the process of artistic recreation, something happens. A relationship forms.

Ceasar, Russel, Murphy, Bean, and Chester--they have already become much more important to me that they could possibly know. Or, perhaps, they do?


Sharon said...

Oh, my, dear, Jessie! What a brave, brave person you are! Even if you don't teach in the 'traditional' way (behind a desk) you are teaching this OLD person to be a little try something BE something listen to that little voice inside MY head and move toward some of MY dreams. Thank you!

madelyn said...

Gee ~ I would just love love love
it if you did a portrait of
my dog ~ your love of
dogs is so moving and
i always love to read of your
walks with your pups in the woods ~
you have such a soulful connection
to these four legged spirits ~
and you will capture such
details of them ~

hopefully you can share these
and darn! I want to fly over
and see your show and toast a glass
of champagne with you!


Leah said...

love this idea, miss. jessie!! and so proud of you for taking a risk and speaking to the dog owners of your favorite pups. i'm so excited for you!!! xoxo

Olivia said...

This is the start of something, Jessie, that will lead you to where you want to be. Flex those BE BRAVE muscles and follow your intuition and you will end up in a wonderful, wonderful place. Continuing to gather inspiration from your journey,


Tammy said...

How exciting Jessie and it sounds perfect for you. Good luck! HUGS

Anonymous said...

good for you jessie!!! you know i think it's excellent that you are integrating the things you love...i can't wait to see the results!

Jenn said...

As a fellow dog-lover, I just wanted to say what a wonderful gift you're sharing! And very cool to have taken the risk to talk to the human companions (I know it can be so much easier to just interact w/ the dogs and not even ever know the person's name!). Kudos to you for connecting on a new level.

I gave you a "You Make My Day" award. Come see on my blog!

Melba said...

Amazing post! I am so proud of you for Being Brave! I loved your string analogy. I can see it. and I always see you with dogs. It is your calling.
I can so relate to the rug being pulled out from under you ~the robbery...definately my rug. My sense of safety. But I just KNOW, I just know that every event propells me forward to live my potential.
Coincidentally I got my new O magazine and was browsing through it in bed last night and was excited to see that the O interview is with Pema Chodron
I sensed it was an important interview for me to read so I decided to put it off until I can soak in the words. and now you write about her in your post.
EVERYTHING is Connected!

GreenishLady said...

I love the idea of your project - and your jumping in and taking the risk. Wish you lived near me, and had met my Trixie. I'm sure you would have done a wonderful portrait of her!

laundrygirl said...

Reading this was like taking in a satisfying gulp of water or feeling a refreshing breeze. I love hearing about all of the synchronicity happening in your life. The idea of ‘pulling out the rug’ is how I feel now that the accident happened. I feel more awake and I have this uncomfortable feeling that makes me clarify what want or at least feel more inclined to move in the direction of what I think I might want.
That sentence you quoted – “One way to pull out your own rug is by just letting go, lightening up, being more gentle, and not making such a big deal" resonates with me because when I get too anxious or feel like I am holding plans or ideas too tightly, (like this past week) I noticed that is not until I surrender trying to control the situation that things change.

Colorsonmymind said...


Girl-I have just been dealing with some of this big stuff-especially about teaching.

I love seeing how the universe works in your life-and your act of being brave consistantly.

It inspires me.

You bring me happiness and inspiration:)

Anonymous said...

Jessie, wow. Keep letting that string pull you. It feels so right!

Amber said...

May I just say, WHAT A GREAT IDEA!!! I LOVE it!! And I know it will work, and be wonderful. I bet people from all over would even send you pictures to paint their own dogs and pets! People are CRAZY about their pets. And NO WAY will they be tacky-- Please! lol!

I just love it. And I love you, too. This was full of inspriation and Light.


Anonymous said...

this is genius!! dog portraits are very cool.

i went to an outdoor art show in hoboken, nj last summer and met an artist who does the same. she is 70-years-old and freakin' hoot of a lady!

i couldn't afford a "real" painting but i brought home a hand-full of prints. my friends had a portrait commissioned of their dog.

check it out:

can't wait to see your louis all done in acrylics and oils.

Isabel said...

"To be a little braver" is officially my motto for 2007, thanks to you.
I am always telling myself I need to be braver, but you voiced it in such a way I felt I am not alone in my struggle.
I also believe we always cross someone's path at the exact moment we are meant to.I was supposed to come here today. Thank you.