Lasso Your Mind, and Redirect your Focus
I live 15 miles from the Hill and Woolsey Fires burning now in southern California. After our experience with high wind a year ago during the Thomas Fire, I’m not comforted by the miles. I’m scanning Fire Department tweets, social media posts from friends forced to evacuate, and two more days of Red Flag Wind warnings. And I’m looking out the window over and over again. Should the wind shift, we know what to do. We can be out of here in 10 minutes, disgruntled cat and all. And since there is nothing we can do to control the direction of the fires, this is a lesson in frustrating, fearful, out-of-our-hands WAITING. Given the potential for depressing feelings and worry for friends who *are* in the line of fire and already evacuated, what we do have control over is ourselves, right? Pace the room, watch the smoke, listen to the news – or do something more conducive to calming frazzled nerves? Pass the art supplies, and bring on some watercolor sketching!
Busy is Better than Fretful
A few months ago, I posted a mini course to help my friends paint more often. The first tip in the series of six is to sketch and paint incrementally as a winding-down process at the end of each day. Thursday night, with the fire cresting the mountains in the night sky (above), I started sketching on a lap desk in my moleskine watercolor paper sketchbook on the couch. With art, ambient music and a glass of wine, I could see the fire through the windows, but we were ready if we got pinged with a text-alert to evacuate. I thought it might be hard to focus, but to my surprise, my brain vaulted into drawing. Tension lifted from my neck as the graphite skipped across the paper of my sketchbook. It was glorious, and *such* a great lesson. We are all in charge of our own wanderings – so would it be best to steer my focus towards the TV and news and social media regurgitating every fire-related possibility? I think Not. 🗣Drawing and painting watercolor is like an overstuffed chair, with a cup of tea and a playground under your grandmother’s quilt. As soon as I picked up the pencil – I could breathe easier. And I stayed in that spot, watercolor sketching, for the next 45 minutes, till bedtime. I did the same thing last night, and the night before. Guess where I’ll be tonight? 👩🏻🎨
[Not art related–>] If you live in a place where wildfire is a possibility, here are some tips we’ve learned after the Thomas Fire last year:
- Make an Evacuation Plan Check List and print it (versus keeping it on your phone, in case you lose power and/or cell service). In the moment, when you’ve got twenty minutes to pack and get out of your house, it’s hard to wrangle pets, pack cars and recall that time you thought about this list a year ago.
- List all the basics you’d need if you couldn’t get back to your house for a week or two: medications, passports, ID cards, phone numbers, hard drives, charging cables and a power strip, pet food, a change of clothes, cash, pillows and blankets or sleeping bags, a towel, a shower kit, etc.
- If you’re in an area where cell service is sketchy, or your cell provider is in the line of fire (the Spectrum fiber lines here burned, so there was no internet service for many city residents today) change the greeting on your phone to a outgoing message saying you’re okay, and where you’re evacuating to. If you run out of battery, folks calling to check on you will at least know where you are.
- Put a discreet note in a window near your front door to let firefighters know that you and your pets have evacuated, so they can save time and move on to check the next house.
Go to Your Happy Place
Folks might scoff at the notion that you can alter a stressful day by directing your thoughts towards something calming, but studies show that we humans can and should reach for easy remedies to quell anxiety. Drawing and watercolor sketching incrementally each night can signal a message to the brain. Even if you’ve only got 20 minutes, use a small sketchpad and doodle, or work on the basic shapes and structure of your next painting. By the end of the week, you’ve made art for a couple of hours in 30 minute sessions, and your mind is beginning to know that sketching is part of the calming, end-of-day pattern you’ve installed in your routine. Reducing stress, and increasing art-making time in one fell swoop sounds like an amazing elixir to me. How about you?
Stay Safe out there if you’re near the fires. Thanks for stopping by today, and I’ll see you in the next post –
P.S. You can subscribe if you’re new here, and each post will go straight to your inbox. Sign up (free) here.
The drawing is what the pattern is to the tailor: if the pattern is no good, all the work done later will come to nothing.