Monday, August 31, 2009

Are You Brave Enough To Be Authentic?

That is a serious question. Do you consider yourself to be creative....or do you leave that to the people who seem to fit the label? You know, those writers, artists, designers, composers, musicians, dancers, film-makers who create the great works. Surely, not you. But what if your great work of art is to create an authentic life, with all that means for you and for the world, and you never do that? What if, by refusing to create that which you were put on this earth to do, that regret is what ultimately kills you?

When I found MontMartre....the hill in the18th arondissement on the Right Bank of Paris, authentic parts of my heart found a home. The hill, whose name means “mount of the martyr,” has great religious significance. It is the place where St. Denis, the patron saint of France, is said to have been beheaded in 250 AD. Before that, legend says it was a Druid holy site. Martyrdom is not why I feel connected to this place, however.

The streets are a jumble, circling 'round buildings and tiny, multi-sided squares, rising rapidly through breath-snatching steps, seeming to cut through alleys that emerge onto respectable cobblestone byways, that disappear again under archways and end at stout iron-wrapped gates. This place has been synonymous with theater, art and music, famed actors, dancers, musicians, artists and writers for over 150 years. At its peak, rising above the jumble of streets and visible throughout Paris, are the distinctive alabaster domes of the Basilica of Sacré Cour, built to honor the heroes of the 1871 Franco Prussian War. Our word courage comes from the French word for heart, or coeur.

No coincidence, I think that this place's visible symbol is sacred heart – sacred courage. For the artists and writers who made Montmarte home knew what the brave always learn. That acts of courage come directly from our center of being. And to create anything, requires an ability to channel that heart to action.

We spent an entire day wandering Montmartre. Not just the tourist-crowded streets, sites of raucous dance halls and seedy rendezvous on the front side, but the quiet, vine draped back streets near the monastic vineyard. Up and down the steep cobblestone paths we tracked the homes of Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, Anaïs Nin...the haunts of artists like Toulouse-Lautrec, Picasso, Monet, Utrillo, Van Gogh. All of them drew courage to create in this place. Not just works that represented entire departures from the way things had been, but works that hang in the Musee d'Orsay. Works that drew deep upon their authentic selves.

In Montmartre, time slowed down. Musicians tuned away at odd corners seemingly just for joy, with not even an open violin case to receive tossed Francs. On that early spring day, when the raw tree branches were barely softened by spring green leaves, artists plied their paint brushes and photographers sat waiting for the light be be right. Writers could be seen propped up against stone walls, laptop computers and pens at the ready. Even in the hectic Place du Tertra where art commerce was in full swing, the mood was bright, full of possibility.

When it came time to begin the descent from Montmartre, I was not ready to leave. Big parts of my heart were home. Rather than be intimidated by what had been created here, I found myself buoyed by the courage at its center.

Summoning the courage to find ones true self is the heart's creative work. How creative are you?
©2009 Jan Johnson Wondra

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Moments Make up Life

Most of us think about life as flowing from one big event to another. And certainly, there is a flow. But now I think that life is really about little moments in time. The root of the word “momentous” is “moment.” Think about that. When we talk about something being a “momentous event” we are actually describing a tiny, emotion-laden instant in time, around which our lives may balance for only a few minutes, but which may change the course of our lives.

It might be, as Gwen Ellis describes it “A moment when our hearts nearly burst within us for the sheer joy of being alive. The first sight of our newborn babies, the warmth of love in another's eyes ....” Yes, and also the moment a few years ago when my son called the first day of a summer job and began his conversation with “Mom, there's this girl.....” In that instant his course toward his life-mate was set in motion. Last Saturday, for a moment, I glimpsed his face – as he watched his beautiful bride walk down the aisle.

Emotions are laced with memory. Memories are emotional moments. It's not just what happens, but how we feel about what happens. I don't think it is a coincidence that Moment and Memory are linguistically so close. It has been said that to remember the past is to sanctify the present. And what we remember are really those moments in time when life sounds the bell of fate and providence reaffirms that life, with all it's imperfections, is still worth it.

Sometimes we get almost more than we can handle. I have had reason, these past weeks to consider the entire spectrum of the human comedy – from birth through life, to death. For two days after my son's glorious wedding came my husband's birthday, on what would have been my Father's birthday, which was also the first anniversary of my Mother's passing. Oh how I miss my Mother, especially as Mother would have loved the wedding. We would surely have talked much about it in the days leading up to it and following it and she would have reveled in the presence of the entire family, come from afar to celebrate with us.

So many of us let our moments slide by, waiting for better parts of life. But those moments ARE life. I think the only guarantee we get is yesterday's memories and the precious here and now. As James Otto sings the Seth Godin words.... “These are the Good Old Days,” only most of us don't see the truth of it soon enough.

This past year I've tried to see the world with new eyes. Sometimes it takes a conscious effort to let the moments renew me instead of beat me down. But in the process there is a heartfelt appreciation of life stirring in me again. I hope the same will be true for you. You have the choice to embrace your moments rather than flow along through them. Life truly is beautiful once we decide to appreciate the moments for what they are. After all, as the writer Colette observed: “What a wonderful life I've had! I only wish I'd realized it sooner!

©2009 Jan Johnson Wondra