The point of writing in my art journal

Journal page white on black

Journal page in tribute to my mother by Suzanne Hollifield

I used to keep a written journal every day. In fact, I’ve got boxes of them taking up space in a closet. When I taught high school English, every class started with ten to fifteen minutes of the students free writing, which I never read. The point was to develop fluency, to support thinking in words instead of images, and to develop a writing practice that just might carry over to life after school.

At some point, however, I began to write less and less. It wasn’t that I had nothing to say, it was just that after I retired from teaching and especially after I stopped dating on a regular basis, I had less drama in my life and so less need to bare my soul on paper. 

When I began painting two years ago, I began to write again more regularly. At first, I only wanted to document my learning process, and then I started taking classes that encouraged self-reflection before picking up the brush. I used the prompts supplied to me by my teachers, initially by Kelly Rae Roberts in her Spirit Wings course to create mantras for the paintings and then by Effy Wild in Book of Days, a year long course that comes with a prompt for every day. The fact that I often painted over what I had written gave me a freedom to express myself without reservation.

Journal page

Journal page by Suzanne Hollifield

Over the last year, I’ve strayed from the prompts more as world events have challenged me to think about where I stand on certain issues. I often feel the stress of my values in conflict with those of people I love or care about, and although I am aware that nothing will make me stop caring for certain people, I wonder if we might become estranged by events if push comes to shove. 

I made a commitment several months ago to read the words of great leaders like Mohandas Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. when I get really upset with the way things are going in the world. I have also started listening to podcasts that either explain events or that offer a positive viewpoint. They help me stay rational and positive rather than reactive and fearful.

One podcast that is just back from hiatus is #ReikiRadio, which you can find on Blog Radio or on iTunes. It is hosted by Yolanda Williams. She spoke on a recent episode about how during the last year many people have been dealing with the Shadow, and she indicated that our country might also be dealing with its Shadow. I’ve been thinking about this ever since I heard it, and I’m sure it will provide days of fodder for my art journal. 

If you are wondering how that works for me, I usually write on the paper; then I either paint over it or glue collage piece over it. I have, on occasion, torn the writing and used it as collage pieces. (I’m thinking of doing this with some of those old journals.) in this way I get my feelings out, and then make something beautiful out of the pain or anger or frustration I’ve expressed. 

Another way to art journal is simply to make the writing a part of the page itself as in the two pieces here. Sometimes, I just use a poem or a quote that is meaningful to me. Recently, I’ve been using music as a jumping off point, thanks to a class I’m taking called Mixed Tape II.

This is not to say that I never save things I write anymore, but art journaling has given me a way to express the irrational and the confusing parts of my mind and heart without judgment. It is surprising to me how often simply doing that finds a resolution that all the self-analysis of previous years did not. Besides, I get to paint. 

Adopting a dog

pet collage

“Pearl” by Suzanne Hollifield: Pet collage inspired by teacher Kittania Miller for Olga Furman’s Paint Your Heart and Soul class

The last four dogs I’ve had were adults. I haven’t had a puppy since I was only a little older than a puppy myself. When my cocker spaniel/poodle mix, Benji, died, I knew I wanted another dog, and I started looking almost immediately even though I was aware that I needed time to grieve before bringing a new dog home. Still, looking seemed to console me. I’d felt so much guilt when cancer took Toto, my dog before Benji, that I waited years before getting another dog. I didn’t want to wait that long again.

I immediately decided I wanted a rescue dog. I didn’t have the time to train a puppy, and puppies have so much energy! I knew I wanted another adult dog, preferably one who had already been housebroken. I went online and to the newspapers to find out what dogs were available at the Animal Shelter, the Humane Society and at the rescue organizations.

photo of dog

Reference photo of Pearl for collage

If you go online to www.petfinder.com, you can type in your zip code and then go from there. It will ask you what type of pet you want (cat, dog, snake, rat, etc.) Then, you can pick size, age, breed, and other relevant details. The search engine will show you all the animals within your parameters in an increasingly larger radius from your home. There are other engines, but this is the one most shelters use, and it is the most complete, in my opinion.

I also visited the Humane Society and went to Pet Smart on Saturdays when they have rescue organizations set up inside their store. Meeting and holding the dogs helped me realize I wasn’t yet ready. I still needed to grieve for Benji. When I finally met Gingersnap and held her, I knew she was the one. I had called the rescue group, SCRATCH, because I saw a Yorkie online. Gingersnap hadn’t been put online yet, but the rescuer offered to meet me and bring Gingersnap along. It was a perfect match. She was just right for me.

I kept Gingersnap for seven years. She was a sweetheart, and when she died of kidney failure, I again went to www.petfinder.com and found my next furbaby, Pearl. She was at the Catawba County Humane Society.

The Humane Society of America has question to ask yourself if you are thinking of adopting (www.hsus.org). Quoted from their site, they are:

  • Why do you want a pet? It’s amazing how many people fail to ask themselves this simple question before they get a pet. Adopting a pet just because it’s “the thing to do” or because the kids have been pining for a puppy usually ends up being a big mistake. Don’t forget that pets may be with you 10, 15, even 20 years.
  • Do you have time for a pet? Dogs, cats, and other animal companions cannot be ignored just because you’re tired or busy. They require food, water, exercise, care, and companionship every day of every year. Many animals in the shelter are there because their owners didn’t realize how much time it took to care for them.
  • Can you afford a pet? The costs of pet ownership can be quite high. Licenses, training classes, spaying and neutering, veterinary care, grooming, toys, food, kitty litter, and other expenses add up quickly.
  • Are you prepared to deal with special problems that a pet can cause? Flea infestations, scratched-up furniture, accidents from animals who aren’t yet housetrained, and unexpected medical emergencies are unfortunate but common aspects of pet ownership.
  • Can you have a pet where you live? Many rental communities don’t allow pets, and most of the rest have restrictions. Make sure you know what they are before you bring a companion animal home.
  • Is it a good time for you to adopt a pet? If you have kids under six years old, for instance, you might consider waiting a few years before you adopt a companion. Pet ownership requires children who are mature enough to be responsible. If you’re a student, in the military, or travel frequently as part of your work, waiting until you settle down is wise.
  • Are your living arrangements suitable for the animal you have in mind? Animal size is not the only variable to think about here. For example, some small dogs such as terriers are very active—they require a great deal of exercise to be calm, and they often bark at any noise. On the other hand, some big dogs are laid back and quite content to lie on a couch all day. Before adopting a pet, do some research. That way, you’ll ensure you choose an animal who will fit into your lifestyle and your living arrangements.
  • Do you know who will care for your pet while you’re away on vacation? You’ll need either reliable friends and neighbors or money to pay for a boarding kennel or pet-sitting service.
  • Will you be a responsible pet owner? Having your pet spayed or neutered, obeying community leash and licensing laws, and keeping identification tags on your pets are all part of being a responsible owner. Of course, giving your pet love, companionship, exercise, a healthy diet, and regular veterinary care are other essentials.
  • Finally, are you prepared to keep and care for the pet for his or her entire lifetime? When you adopt a pet, you are making a commitment to care for the animal for his or her lifetime.

The Humane Society acknowledges that this is a long list of questions, but it will help you decide if adopting (or buying a pet, for that matter) is right for you. Furthermore, many of the animals at shelters have already had a hard time of it. They need someone to be their person who will love them and care for them everyday for the rest of their lives, not someone for whom owning a pet was just a whim. In fact, it is because someone got tired of the responsibility that many animals are in the shelter.

For example, my Pearl is a Boston terrier/poodle mix of a Bossipoo. I know because I had her DNA done. She had so many allergies, I needed to know if they were breed specific. I feel sure that the costs of her medical care are one reason she was surrendered. Unlike, Gingersnap, she had not been abused. Indeed, she has a really sweet personality, but she has to go to the vet at least once a month for allergy treatments, or she licks her fur off and scratches her ears until they bleed.

So don’t make the mistake of adopting just because you think a pet is cute. Think about why you are adopting before you adopt. If you are ready to commit your time, money, responsibility and love to a new pet, you are going to be rewarded with joy and unconditional love. Animals are often spiritual teachers. They take you as you are and love you for what you are. They don’t care about your money, your looks, or your reputation. That is their blessing to you.