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Dancing with Rocks, Ropes and Rules

Dr. Suess' publisher challenged him to write a book using only 50 words. The result was Green Eggs and Ham, an all-time classic. Would it be better with fewer restrictions? I do not think so, Sam I am! Our creative juices are piqued when they’ve something to push up against. A challenge, a rule: Limitation can create the gateway to something new. When forced to flex our creative muscles, we are likely to move from merely pushing or plodding to something far more interesting.

Movement without rhyme or reason is simply spasm, but with rope, we create a dance. Push words against rocks, and poetry is revealed; sound bound to rules becomes song. The ropes, rocks and rules that we encounter offer us opportunities to stretch, concocting solutions, opening new ideas and emotions. That’s the dance I want while painting. A heartache can be the rock. Color schemes can provide rules. Themes create a rope with which to play: Double Dutch, anyone?

The blank canvas with its infinite possibilities is both marvelous and terrifying. Creating rules for myself can help move me past inertia. Limiting my palette allows the selected few to dance in ways they could not if I’d invited more to the party. It starts with an idea, a question, an emotion… something that takes up residence in a corner of my brain like a stray cat. Sometimes it’s cute and fuzzy and I just want to hug it and share the love. Sometimes it’s something big and scary that wakes me in the pre-pale hours of the night and won’t let go. Then I need to figure out what to do with it. Is my goal to slay or share it? Is it served up best through prose or paint? Is it a poem or a portrait, an essay or an abstract?

There are many things I don’t yet have the tools to express, but that’s OK. I’ll wrestle with them anyway, and sometimes I’m gratefully surprised by the results. Many more times, I find myself banging my head against the proverbial wall until my heart is tired and ego bruised. Then it’s time to put the brush down and go for a walk or take a nap. A little break (sometimes longer), and surprise—something happens. Wrestling is necessary, but when the challenge becomes Sisyphean, so too is the need to rest. If it’s meant to be, something eventually arises. Then, if I’m awake and ready, I rise up once more and reinvent something new, better and beautiful. At least to me.

Give me some rules, some rope and rocks. Then let me wrestle. Wrestle, then rest. And when the time is right, I will rise up and reinvent. I’ve come to respect this cycle and submit to it more respectfully. I‘ve learned the hard way and know now that fighting is not only futile but exhausting. And if instead I respect the cycle of wrestle, rest, rise and reinvent, there’s joy in the rhythm and the discovery of something new and unexpected.

We’ve been wrestling with so much: as a country, as a planet, as a species. The pandemic has forced us to rest. And when we rise again, I don’t believe it can or will be to put our shoulders to the same collective wheel and resume the push. My hope, my prayer and my loving belief is that when this time comes, we will reinvent. We can, we should and I hope we will reinvent ourselves and create a more sustainable, kinder, equitable world for us all.

The minute I first heard the old Scottish phrase, “Thole On,” meaning to endure, it rolled around in my head. Using a limited pale palette, this is what evolved. Not sure I’m done yet, but let’s just say I’m resting.

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