Life Books, Strength, and Ethiopian Art: Angels Among Us

Source: ww.ethiopianorthodoxchurch.info

ethiopianorthodoxchurch.info

Back in September 2013, I took a leap of faith and sent in an “entry” to win an on-line, all-year art class. And I won. The amazing artist Flora Bowley is one of the instructors for a Life Books class, and she selected me. Here’s what I sent to Flora:

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You can read my post about it, “Adoption Stories In the Light of Day, Through Art and Hopes for Healing,” here.

The Life Book 2014 class started January 1. It’s intense, challenging, nurturing, and fun. There are hundreds of people (mostly women) participating from around the globe. There are videos, pdfs, inspirational quotes, meditations, manifestoes, and faqs: thoughtful information that is clear and attentive. The wonder of the Internet allows folks to post their work in various forums, both globally and locally focused Facebook groups  (examples: Australia, US Midwest, Holland, the Pacific Northwest, which includes people from Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia).

The astonishing creative force behind this is Tamara Laporte, of Willowing. She’s a British artist, whose work is full of color, whimsy, fantasy, warmth, and vibrancy. Her web site offers all sorts of classes, workshops, and ideas. She is exuberant in her sharing. She emphasizes self-care, by encouraging participants to stop listening to negative voices and to put themselves fully into the joy of the creation of art. Her video lessons are thoughtful in their detail and encouragement. She mentions simply in passing the rheumatoid arthritis that affects her fingers, which to me reveals a matter-of-fact and enormous courage.

It is a reminder that we rarely know what effort (pain, struggle, discomfort) exists quietly behind the lives of people who are doing amazing things. They don’t deny or publicize the pain or the struggle–they let it accompany them on their journey, and keep moving, creating, and achieving.

The first lesson of 2014 was “Inner Artist Guardian.”  The idea was to create an image of a guardian who would give us encouragement, focus, and energy as create art. Here is the lovely, ethereal, pink-haired creature that Tam created in the lesson:

Original artwork by Tamera Laporte. www.willowing.org

Original artwork by Tamera Laporte. www.willowing.org

While viewing the video lesson, my thoughts slipped to ideas of guardian angels, to the presence and power of guardians, and to various women I have known here on earth who have brought me inspiration and hope. I also thought about the role of angels in Ethiopian traditional religious art, though they also appear in contemporary Ethiopian art as well.

The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore had an exhibit at the Museum of Biblical Art in New York City titled Angels of Light: Ethiopian Art. Here’s an excerpt from the description:  By the fifteenth century, (Ethiopia) had developed a tradition of icon-painting that rivaled the Orthodox empires of Byzantium and Russia, as well as the famed panel paintings of Renaissance Italy.

There is so much people don’t realize about Ethiopia.

See the word “Presence” on Tamera’s painting above? We are, in this class, to choose a word to focus on in 2014. I chose “Gratitude.” I hope to be more aware and present, and to express gratitude more to other people, by saying thank you, and by acknowledging others’ kindnesses, efforts, accomplishments large and small.

Here’s the “Inner Guardian” I created:

Original artwork by Maureen McCauley Evans.

Original artwork by Maureen McCauley Evans.

May I cherish what is offered in good faith by others. May I embrace gratitude. May we see strength in ourselves and others. May the generous hearts of so many people not be overlooked.

Adoption Stories In the Light of Day, Through Art and Hopes for Healing

About a week ago, I was sitting alone in my house on the eve of my birthday. The last few years have been tumultuous, filled with changes and surprises, some unwanted, some wondrous, some confusing. I was in a contemplative mood, wobbling among doubt, enthusiasm, and bursts of inspiration. I came across this, on the artist Flora Bowley‘s website:

Hi everybody. Have you heard about Life Book yet?  It’s a really lovely year-long mixed media online art class put together by Tamara LaPorte.  I had the pleasure of meeting Tamara last year in the UK and she is super fun and dedicated to spreading the joy of creativity far and wide. Life book offers creative insights through video lessons, prompts, images and writing by 22 amazing teachers throughout the year.  What a great way to learn some new approaches and techniques!

I’m very honored to be one of these teachers this year…my first time.  My contribution to the course will be a class inspired by my recent infatuation with using non-traditional “brushes” such as vegetables, flowers, sticks, etc.  I will also be sharing some Bloom True tips and a meditation track.

And, guess what? I’m giving away one free spot for Life Book 2014 right here today!  Simply leave a comment in the comment section about why you would like to participate in this offering and you might just win this awesome year-long creative adventure.

Hmm.

In May 2012, I happened to be in Portland, Oregon, when Powell’s Bookstore (a wonderful place) featured the talented, warm, inspiring Flora Bowley. She paints big, bold, colorful canvases.

Painting by Flora Bowley

Painting by Flora Bowley

Flora had just published her amazing, empowering book Brave Intuitive Painting, and she spoke that night about it at Powell’s. The book has since sold over 20,000 copies..

Flora embraces life with passion, and generously shares her talents, joys, insights, techniques, and sense of wonder. She’s a successful artist: her work is sold in several galleries across the country, and she has licensed merchandise sold around the world. She teaches hugely popular classes on-line, and holds art retreats in Bali, Brooklyn, Ireland, Boston, Mexico, and other exotic places. Jess Greene wrote about Flora in “Artistic Abundance: Flora Bowley” on Huffington Post: “Flora Bowley’s story is a beautiful example of full, unapologetic knowing that life unfolds and abundance follows when you follow your heart.”

One of my great passions is stories. There is no doubt in my mind that, if we truly asked about and listened to each other’s stories, deeply and patiently, we would have a better world.

When I chose the name for my blog–Light of Day Stories–I did so intentionally, with the hope that it would be a place to bring the light of day to adoption, to stories, and to art, through writing, listening, and creating.

When I read last week about Flora and the upcoming Life Book class, it made me think about how adoptive parents sometimes use “Life Books” with their adopted children. I think they were originally designed for foster children, but they’ve expanded well beyond that. They are special compilations of the child’s adoption story: where, with whom, how a child lived before he arrived in the adoptive family. Life books are a version of a “baby book,” meant to provide a sense of identity and of connection with the past. The books can help parents talk with the child about a complicated past, and are a means of acknowledging the child’s life prior to adoption. They can contain photos, letters, mementoes, and more.

Life books are relatively new in the world of adoption. Keep in mind that there was a time (especially in the days of same race, infant adoption) that adoption policy recommended not telling a child he was adopted. For children from abusive or otherwise difficult origins, there was once (not all that long ago) a policy that recommended forgetting the past, not talking about it, not rocking the adoption boat. That recommendation was passed on sometimes to birth/first/original mothers as well.

For some people, that has been a heart-breaking approach. Birth mothers never forgot. Adoptees, whether from US foster care or another country, wanted to know their history, even if it was grim, or difficult to find.

It’s hard telling stories that are complicated. It’s hard telling stories that have lots of missing or inaccurate pieces, which can happen in adoption.

Still, they are important stories to tell.  We need to tell them, and we need to listen to them, because they help us to heal, learn, and grow.

I’ve been working this past year on developing creative, empowering ways for adoption stories to be told. I’ll be presenting a workshop in November at the national conference of the Association of  Personal Historians. My workshop is titled Adopted and Estranged Families: Rebuilding a Personal History.

Here’s the workshop description: “Many people don’t have the luxury of knowing their family. Those who are separated by adoption or just estranged from their birth family still need to know where they came from and how to embrace their cultural origins. In this workshop, Maureen will discuss methods to find information, help normalize difficult pasts, and celebrate complex histories, even if birth records are not available. You will learn about innovative approaches using mementoes, DNA services, adoption records, new technologies, and more. And you will learn that even if conventional methods and research materials aren’t available, you still can have powerful personal history stories.”

Stories matter. Telling stories matters. Listening to stories matters. Flora Bowley describes her art this way: “a celebration of life: chaotic, subtle, beautiful, mystical, and ever-changing.”

Adoption stories can have some of those qualities as well. They can also be powerful, challenging, evocative, and intense: just like art.

That night a week ago, alone in my house, I decided to post a comment on Flora’s site, not thinking I would win the free spot for the year-long mixed media course.

Here’s my comment.

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And guess what?

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I am so thrilled. I share this with you because I took a chance, a leap of faith, and a deep breath, and I hope you will too when opportunities crop up. I share this with you because this class will allow me to connect with some amazingly talented and generous artists, and I can’t wait to share their insights and ideas in my work with the stories of adoption. Maybe they will be new versions of Life Books in adoption, maybe creative approaches to personal histories, maybe something right now unknown.

The themes of the Life Book 2014 course are self-development and healing: we can use those skills in the adoption community. I am very grateful to Flora for choosing my comment from the hundreds that were submitted. I am in awe of Tamara LaPorte of Willowing Arts for creating this Life Book class, and for partnering with 22 incredible artists who will present mixed media art lessons. Tamara writes that she believes “practising self-care through art and self-enquiry creates happier people, and happier people equals a better world.”

Mixed media: water color, gel transfer on wood. By Maureen McCauley Evans

Mixed media: water color, gel transfer on wood. By Maureen McCauley Evans

So many stories. Lots of hope for healing, out in the light of day.