June 24, 2013

Though it has been mentioned occasionally here, I’ve been wanting to talk more about the ‘place’ I’ve been in on and off for about 2 years now.  Until recently the only way I could frame it was as a light burn out or some kind of long incubation period before the next creative cycle.

But it seems to go deeper than that this time. I have no energy or desire to promote myself or my work within an art world context, and my interests seem to be veering steadily away from the prevailing ones in this society. When I realized that there was no shared language to talk to even my online artists support group about my aversion to current contexts and marketing techniques for art, I realised that I am in a transition period comparable to the one I experienced when I was in my late 20s.

At that time, I had had 6 years of professional success as a calligrapher, artist and graphic designer in Pittsburgh, and I was facing the fact that internally I had no idea of a direction for the future other than more of the same. That started me a long internal search which ended up leading me to an international spiritual community, now an ecovillage, in Scotland.  It was a radical move to leave my family, boyfriend, cats and career to jump into the unknowns of communal life.  I’d expected to stay 2 years but ended up living there for the period between my 27th and 33rd year.  6 intense and beautiful years which formed my values and consciousness profoundly.

Now I am in my early 60s with the feeling that my best work is still in front of me. But the issues I care deeply about – the ones that I have always cared about most- are pushing to the surface and asking to be acknowledged and honoured.

I feel a new urgency to align with the healing, rebuilding, and transformative forces emerging in society, and not just through the arts. One recent trigger for this was the book ‘Walk Out, Walk On’, by Margaret Wheatley and Deborah Frieze. The two take a magical journey around the world visiting 7 different communities. These communities are almost all located in poor, dangerous areas with few resources or opportunities to build a safe, comfortable life. Yet through initiatives of  impassioned individuals coupled with the strength of community, these communities have found ways to be positive, resilient and healthy by drawing on their own resources, traditions and culture. And most significantly, without outside aid.

Always in these stories, one person takes a risk with a new idea. This one small step sometimes ends up spreading until it gathers momentum to become a major transformation which radically improves conditions for many people. One example of this kind of viral idea (I think they call it a meme)  is microcredit started by Muhammad Yunus.

So even though I live out here in the rich, Western world,  I, too, feel to be in a transition which many others are also facing. How to use my energy to help transition to the new society wanting to emerge in the midst of our broken dysfunctional systems. It is a healthier, more resilient society built on trust, community, collaboration, creativity, caring. That is my work as a person and an artist, and in a sense always has been.  I just don’t yet have an idea of what it is going to look like here in the north of Holland.

For right now it is just about taking the next step here- cleaning our home, tending the garden and my relationship, going deeper with my painting because that is where I draw my inspiration.

And holding still. Not grabbing at the first opportunity to be useful just to alleviate the discomfort of seemingly doing and achieving nothing. These periods of unclarity and sometimes darkness are necessary in transformative processes.They are rarely documented because one feels so uncertain and confused whilst in them. But things are a bit clearer now, and it is an important place to communicate from.

Of course I am also active, writing as guest author a chapter for a new book on care; reaching out for new connections in the circles which are involved with transformative societal work; planning my courses for next season; keeping up my blog and important new connections with other bloggers in transition(more on some of these great people in another post); and perhaps even starting a new blog just to track this journey, which I am sure will be ongoing.

Coming along for the ride? Would love to have you. I’ve started a new blog on this subject, you can see it here, www.tendingtime.wordpress.com


16 Responses to “Transition”

  1. Hi Sarah,
    these are exciting but unsettling times in which we live and I can understand where you are coming from. I have found myself pondering on the timing of events in my life after my recent trip to Cyprus. It was at such a strange time with the crisis of the banks going on as I arrived to promote a book? How was that going to work? The strange thing was that as I met and talked with people I found a surprising thing, my book had somehow inspired people and given them a feeing of connection with the island and their place in it, or more re-ignited their love of the things they had sort of taken for granted. The people I met had energy and creativity and a feeling that there was a new way forward through the disaster.Many of the people I met could see that there had been a real gold rush after joining the EU and it was crash and burn time but that could be just in time to save those in power from ruining the island completely. Now I feel a real desire to promote Cyprus to the Cypriots and if I can I connect people with each other where I see opportunity. I can see so much potential and goodwill around that like you I feel it is a time of birth and renewal. Gardening is a great help.

    All the best with it slow but sure.

    • Sarah Zoutewelle Says:

      Sonia, thank you for your thoughts on this. It is so weird, it almost feels like some kind of coming out to admit that my focus is moving more to these issues than the arts per se. Maybe it is because in writing the first chapters of my book about art as a transformative force, I realised that the main issues are so much mroe far reaching than just the arts- and that the arts are simply one area which is reflecting major changes happening in every area of society.

      I can imagine your dilemma in bringing your lovely cook/lifestyle book into such a turbulent environment. How heartening that the book was able to bring solace, healing and inspiration. I love when pure expressions, done without any hidden intent to teach or change, somehow, through their purity act as agents of change anyway.

      I love the way your goals are maturing and developing. It sounds like a really good direction. There need to be many more of us focusing on the birth- renewal part rather than the breakdown and destruction which is all too evident.

  2. Cat Says:

    Hello Sarah,

    It’s heartening to read more about your journey of deep transition here with your own blog. I’m interested that you went through a period of extended realignment before, the prompting that took you to live in Findhorn for six years. Although it’s possibly wishful thinking on my part, I wonder if an aspect of the long between is the time it takes to draw together, in the right moment, the other people and elements needed for the new vision you’ll be part of to thrive. You mention the key role played in WOWO ventures by one person risking a new idea; I guess the success comes when that seed can take root and grow in fertile soil, in the form of others who are in the right place, who ‘get it’ or are at least open to experiment and finding out.

    Looking forward to sharing the ride!



    • Sarah Zoutewelle Says:

      Cat, This is so spot on, what a wonderful and helpful insight. That the ‘long between’ (kind of a nice name for a new blog on this process 🙂 ) could be the preparation needed before the new situation ripens. I think this is so true, and is linked to a parallel aspect- that before you attract to yourself or create the new situation in which you can thrive, you have to have changed internally to fit it. So there are 2 processes going on here, internal and external.

      I’m also reading a book recommended by a psychologist friend about women and initiation which is also shedding some light on the universal archetypal quality of these kinds of transitions. Interesting that so far the most intense dialogue about this has been betewen you and me and Vanessa, all women. Do you think it is because men still can’t afford to lose face by admitting that they don’t know what they are doing or where they are going next?

      • Cat Says:

        Sarah, I think you’re absolutely right that the deep internal change has to happen before, or in tandem with, being able to manifest something new in the external world. I think some people change themselves through constant experimental interaction with the outer world, while for others like ourselves it’s much more of an internal process, which demands withdrawal and prolonged periods of not appearing to ‘do’ very much.

        I definitely feel that there’s a particular transition and unfolding happening with women and feminine awareness at the moment, and I’m making some conscious effort to put my energy there, by focusing much more on what’s going on for me and other women, rather than doing the traditional thing I’ve done in the past, which is look to men as the yardstick of what’s important. I do though think that there are men who ‘get it’ and are on their own deep journeys with this stuff, and I’m wary of setting up women in general as tapping into something here that men in general aren’t capable of, because it creates a ground for antagonism that then draws energy away from the process itself. That’s just my personal inclination, though; and I tend to agree that uncertainty is a much more difficult proposition for some traditional models of masculinity to deal with.

      • Sarah Zoutewelle Says:

        Thanks for your thoughts, Cat. And it is good to be reminded that there is not one ‘right’way to go about this. Some people thrive and change by engaging externally, true.

        Hmm, more food for thought, interesting about looking to men as the yardstick. I ‘m sure I do that to some extent, though I”m more inclined to compare myself unfavourably to women (and men) who have managed to make it within the existing systems and organisations. Whereas I’ve mostly stayed in the margins. Yes, the last thing we need is to set up judgements between the sexes again! Thanks for mentioning that.

      • Cat Says:

        Hi Sarah,

        Thanks for these thoughts, and your other comments on the WOWO site and my blog too. They’ve set off in me a train of thought about finding our way by how we feel or how we’d like to feel, rather than by naming it as a doing or a role. It’s funny, isn’t it, with those kinds of self-help books that one tells oneself one will never read again, yet they’re always a needed part of the journey, somehow, with unexpected gifts to offer.

        Staying on the margins – oh yes! Put me in any kind of community and I run for the edge. Those are interesting places to be, but sometimes difficult to know where they fit, and how to be useful from there. I’m getting more and more to the question of where communities find their edges, and what they do with their edges, and how to serve from the edge.

        You might well have seen this through WOWO, but it seemed to speak right to you and where you find yourself somehow.

        (if that link doesn’t work there is more info here under the event A Time of Artistry http://www.the-lwi.org/summer-2013)

        Even if you can’t attend, it’s so heartening to see this momentum for deep transition arts gathering energy.

      • Hey Cat, I’m glad our exchanges have inspired trains of thought in you, I think that is probably true mutually for all of us.

        The self help books, yes. They usually drive me nuts when they are about setting goals and then using one’s will and linear thinking (first you do this then you do that) to go for them. They so set you up for failure. And that method has hardly ever worked for me anyway. Then if you don’t succeed you beat yourself up for not trying hard enough.
        But yes, once in awhile there is a good exercise in there!

        Interesting what you say about the edges. I am trying to feel into where I am on that. I spoke of margins more from the artist’s point of view, ie, after several attempts to work within mainstream organisations, I tend to retreat back into my studio and my own inner world where I receive nourishment and can renew myself.I don’t last long in places where my values are out of synch with the ruling ones. It seems tht there are few organisations these days which are not toxic, ie based on power plays, posturing, competition, and stress.
        I’ve been happiest in the periods where I’d have time in the studio to create, write and dream, then be called out into the community to teach or collaborate.
        And yes, how to be useful from the margins? A huge obstacle for me here in NL when I was trying to establish myself professionally as a healthcare artist was my lack of the right credentials. Having 10 years intensive experience in the field, I’d propose a project to a nursing home, involving using art to work with individuals (I’m not an art therapist, art practitioning is more about engaging people creatively which spontaneously involves them in their own healing process), and they’d have already funded a similar project proposed from a student in the scientific or other academic branch. They simply couldn’t place me and no matter how eloquently I pitched my ideas, I had no credibility because I was outside the labelling system of the existing structure.

        I’m interested in your thoughts about how communities find their edges, and how to serve from there. Will stay tuned. And yes, the margins are always where the creativity is.

        Thanks for the Time of Artistry link, it looks great, but on closer examination, more about individual creativity? I’d like to see a congress (somewhere near me preferably) seriously devoted to the transformative role of art in transition with some of the key players.
        I did a 5 part series in my blog about a book, ‘Between Grace and Fear’ which addresses this profoundly well. https://artcalling.wordpress.com/?s=between+grace+and+fear (The sequence is out of order, but you can find part 3 and 4 by scrolling down.)

      • ps I love the term ‘deep transisiton arts’ !
        Today I saw this Ted x talk on urban gardens as transformative, miraculous, amazing, healing spaces. And I think, well that is deep transistion arts too!

  3. Rock on, Sarah! A life lived without regrets is a life well lived! Annie

    • Sarah Zoutewelle Says:

      Thanks Annie. Yes, you, for one, are a wonderful role model for living authentically. I don’t quite know how this thread fits into my present blog, if people will still be interested since it is tending more toward the social activist side of things. But it has been emerging gradually over the years, so we’ll see. Sarah

  4. Julie Says:

    This post resonated with me. You really captured the strange ol’ transition place… Thanks for sharing.

  5. One of the most sincere and inspiring blogs I’ve ever read. Sarah, I too have been in transition staring down the big ’60’ this year myself it has been a period of great uncertaity. I’ve decided I’m going to shoot for at least another 30 years. Now the issue is exactly what am I going to do and how am I going to do it. I look forward to sharing the adventure with you!!!

    • Sarah Zoutewelle Says:

      Wow, Richard, thank you. Feeling a bit low energy this morning so it is a welcome shot in the arm.

      And I appreciate your reblogging this. I hope others feeling the same puzzling alienation from what everyone else seems to be so excited about (ie. Jacking Up Your Sales to 6 figures, Getting the Most Followers Aywhere, Being the Next Big Art Star, Buying the Most Trendy Designer Handbags, etc) will take comfort from it.

      I hear you about your own feelings of transition. I’m glad you’re going for the next 30! I’ll join you on that one. Who knows what blogging will look like when we’re in our 80s! 🙂

      Glad to be walking along with you, (paints in the rucksacks for sure). Sarah

  6. Reblogged this on richardhustonart and commented:
    These are so very important thoughts and ideas. I just had to share them

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