State of the studio

November 16, 2014

Happiness is having the time and space to exercise creativity on a daily basis. :)

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His art is fearless. Art for art’s sake. Authentic. Shameless. Bold.

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My Notting Hill

November 4, 2014

At LHR. Walked past a man whose cologne reminded me of early days with G. Cold morning walks from Fabian Road to Fulham Station. A peck on the cheek at Notting Hill Gate. Navy suit. Red tie. Black shoes. A smile. Butterflies. Warm hands. An evening on the couch in candlelit Shunt. Falling in love. – October 27, 2014 (notes from London)

During a two-day whirlwind business trip to London, I managed to escape for a few hours to visit my old neighborhood. I felt like my 26 year old self, a nervous energy pulsing through me as I walked past the familiar vintage record store at Notting Hill Gate Station. Sidewalks gum stained and grey, I rushed past the heat of fried chicken tenders wafting from the KFC I used to visit after very late nights out. The high street, grungier than I remember, was pretty in the way old books can be pretty after many years. A riff raff of shops old and new, soot stained window signs, the low hum of Sunday morning joggers.

There’s a reason why this little village inspired a movie. In my life it has inspired a whole universe of interweaving stories, many mine but also my friends’. The chance encounter. A foolish tryst. One life changing first date. Shelter for a broken heart. Girly brunches on lazy Sundays. Summer evening strolls along rainbow streets. Garden guitar melodies, wool sweater hugs, cigarette smoke swirling into the heavens. And dancing. Always there was dancing. In bars, in living rooms, on front steps – there was dancing.

Meandering down Pembridge Gardens enroute to Westbourne Grove, my breath caught in my throat. What beauty. I had walked this route to and from work everyday. Had it always been this gorgeous? The whitewashed estate buildings. The brightly painted doors. The way streets languidly curve at just the right angle to keep you guessing what lies around the corner. Had all of this really been mine? I berated myself for not having devoured it with more ferocity then. Hindsight, in this case, is 30/20.

My first flat was perpetually cold and smelled of old lady night cream. A cavernous junior one-bedroom, it witnessed my loneliness and pleasures, keeping secrets like a time capsule of dreams.  The imposing ten foot windows whistled in the winter wind and on Friday nights drunk commuters screamed at each other on the street below. Sometimes the shouting would jar me awake with fear. Twice I thought to call the police, sure that someone had been stabbed.  Often there were beggars. Always there were tourists. And just beneath the surface – wealth and glamour. Among the basement flats and council housing were lush gated gardens, posh montessori schools and glass encased penthouses barely perceptible from street view. It is a barrio of rockstars, executives, super models, students, expats, antiquarians and immigrants.  And its little streets are as diverse as its residents.

My second flat was on the third floor of a walk-up above Mulberry Street Pizza. Just down the street is Khan’s – by far the best Indian restaurant west of Asia. Around the corner, a little foreign foods market where I bought noodles, fishsauce and pan de sal whenever I was overcome with homesickness. South of there, at Aphrodite Taverna, I channeled my inner Greek and hosted large Friday dinners with friends, friends-of-friends, and their friends. And just a few blocks north, at The Oak, I had my first taste of truffle (on pizza) while claiming bragging rights to discovering the cozy lounge upstairs.  Further west, at The Lonsdale, C and I drank one miserable Monday away with shots of tequila and consequently spent the remainder of the evening teetering on sidewalk ledges willing ourselves to keep our dinners down. I threw my 27th birthday party there, less than a week before I packed it up for good to travel the world for a while.  On Portobello, thousands visit the famous antique market each week often bypassing the treasure that is The Notting Hill Bookshop. Place of wanderlust, poetry and maps.

There’s something very special about coming back to a place and seeing it with new eyes. A beauty that was overlooked, and flaws too. Notting Hill feels more like home five years later than it ever did in my twenties. I was too busy swallowing London up to make a nest of this little neighborhood. Back then, I was just passing through. Today, it feels like a part of me will always live somewhere between Westbourne and Pembridge Gardens. The me that was too naive and impatient to appreciate its beauty. The me who assumed that my time in London would be a blip – off the record, unabashed, reckless. Little did I know that the city’s ghost would become an ever-present companion in my more settled life.  Its apparitions transporting me with breathless nostalgia to the movie-like moments of my years as a Londoner.

Notting Hill will always be mine.

And me, hers.

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I’ve had an epiphany. I’m not certain if I read this somewhere or if I conjured it up in my head with the confluence of many books about the subject. I’ve scoured my reading lists and bookmarks and can’t find the article it originated from. Wisdom, in whatever form, comes to us in whispers and this piece of insight materialized during my morning painting. I think it has the power to change my life.

Happiness = Joy + Sorrow*

Wow.

Think about this for a minute. The terrible meeting you had at work today, the frustration over a lost raise, the unrequited dream of making millions and living abroad, the relationship disappointments, the biting self doubt – all of these annoying, frustrating, sad moments, according to the above equation, are adding to the sum total of your happiness.

At first glance it seems absurd. Happiness = Joy. Full stop. Right? Isn’t it that feeling we get that makes us smiley, alive, light and free? Well maybe it’s not quite so simple.

According to Martin Seligman, author of Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, happiness is actually better defined as well-being and is composed of four factors: positive emotion, engagement with what one is doing, a sense of accomplishment and good relationships.

At the risk of oversimplifying, I think it’s important to remember that it’s unrealistic to be in a state of joy 100% of the time. We will always experience a mix of highs and lows as we stumble, learn and get back up again. Positive emotion isn’t blind to negative emotion and instead can be seen as a daily practice in choosing to nurture, recognize and be thankful for the good things in our lives. True engagement isn’t free of challenges either. It requires intention, self-discipline and patience. Same goes for accomplishment – the road to true mastery and achievement is long and hard. And, as if we don’t already know this from the sting of past hurts, no fulfilling, genuine relationship is immune to frustration and pain.

The most incredible part of this epiphany is how it can be used as a mental tool to instantly lift my mood during the day. In the middle of a frustrating conversation, I playfully say to myself “Oh, this moment is just adding to my happiness bank today”. It makes all the difference to shift your thinking and realize that in life, imperfections and negative emotions are completely normal. They’re part and partial to our daily existence. They’re unavoidable and essential to the human experience and the sooner we realize the inevitabiliy of this, the sooner we’ll quit trying to chase just one half of the happiness equation and learn to wholly accept what comes at us.

Perhaps happiness isn’t an end goal that we perpetually chase, occasionally experience and then yearn for over and over again.  Perhaps it’s the sum total of all the things that make us stronger, better, wiser, humbler and more aware of our existence here on earth.  Joy wouldn’t taste as sweet without the salt of sorrow.

* Where Sorrow can = Frustration, Sadness, Annoyance, Anger or any other yucky feeling.

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I’ve had some trouble keeping up with my 100 Days of Art project (mostly due to time constraints) and have decided to convert it to 100 works of art instead. It’s going very slowly. I’ve got 97 projects left to go (!!). When I do make the time to paint, it makes a huge difference to my mood and well being. I’m hoping to be able to catch up this weekend.

This is my first self portrait. I decided early on to stop stressing about proportions and perfection. When I let go of my own expectations the fun crept in. I’m really proud of this one. The expression feels alive and though it doesn’t look exactly like me, I feel like I captured something very authentic.

7/100 (7/14/2014). Created after Ramiro's visit, used Kauai selfie as inspiration (http://agirlintheworld.smugmug.com/Family/2012/USA-Kauai-Hawaii-Private/i-T9M3McN/A).  Also created during Brazil World Cup 2014 fever :)  Ramiro gave feedback that I should add blues in skin tones to add contrasts.

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Today’s painting was inspired by a nameplate a friend gave to me as a gift from Tanzania many years ago.

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My succulents in watercolor. And also my first time, in nearly two decades, working with watercolors again. Fun fun fun!

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Presence

June 19, 2014

Her steady quiet presence makes a house a home. Always she makes me wish I was more kind, more generous, more gentile and more excited to go on walks. How do dogs do that? Soften us up and give us pause.

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