It’s the Year of the Sheep/Goat/Ram! Happy Chinese New Year everyone! This is a year for peace, health, tender moments, and creative thinking. A welcome relief from the racing horse year. This year I asked my fellow Empresses to share “something that they find comforting or take comfort in, in other words, something they hope to land on or fall into this year.” Sit back and relax with your favourite cuppa, it’s now time for another creatively charged group post. I love it when we do this and I can only hope it brings you just as much joy as it does for me. All the best for a fortunate and pleasant year – Gung Hei Fat Choy! ~Bridget
“Nighthawks” has hung in various bedrooms I have called “mine” over the past ten years. I was first introduced to it in my 7th grade visual arts class, as part of a history segment on American realism. The woman in the red dress caught my eye as a relatable character. I could be her. When I saw the painting in person for the first time at the Art Institute of Chicago, I immediately bought a print in the gift shop, took it home, and hung it on my wall. Ever since then, usually when I’m going through a rough patch, I pretend I am her, and escape for a little while into this lonely but thoroughly human painting. What is she doing there? What is she thinking? Is she married to the man on her left? On a date? Did she walk in solo and strike up a conversation? To me, she’s the main subject in this painting. Everything else is drab and dark, but there she is in a red dress, bright and alive, like a promise of good things to come. She is fully in control of her own destiny. She reminds me to always remain open to new futures and inspires me to own my decisions, and to be the one who is bright and alive and searching for more in what could easily be mistaken as a dreary race to six feet under. I ask myself, if the woman in the red dress were in the room with me, giving me advice, what would she say? She would tell me to never settle. And so, I won’t.
Cheney Brew – CANBERRA, Australia
My laptop is down, I’m sick as a dog, and I’m pecking away on my iPad trying to think of what I find comforting… Then I look up and see these two faces and realize I’m discovering that as much as I am used to coming home to solitude and my own thoughts I’m learning to take comfort in this man and his dog at the end of a long work day. Knowing that the pup starts watching the door as it gets close to my usual arrival time and that this guy will give me a glass of wine and a soft place to land makes me smile. I never expected to be a girl who found a boy and his dog her comfort, but there it is. The year of the sheep has me sitting in a warm ball of fuzz already. Damned sheep.
Jennifer Bunt (Niffer) – TORONTO, Canada
Middle of darkness, eyes barely open, perhaps, even glued shut. Stumble forward, fueled by instinct. Fuzzy little triangle, threatens to wake the dead, I shut the door. His rigid little body, leaps into my arms, screaming, hands in mouth. Holding him close I nuzzle into the small of his neck. The ends of his uncut hair tickle my nose and caress my cheeks, I squeeze him tighter. Singing and pacing, while he wails, each step getting us closer to calm.
Amber Henry – YELLOWKNIFE, Canada
Opening My Own Jar of Pickles
This might sound strange: this year I’m taking comfort in myself. It’s a big year actually – the cafe/store that has been in forever planning mode is now open. I’m also celebrating 10 years of making my life in Ethiopia. Beyond being a partner, mom and Canadian, it’s time to back myself as a business owner, baker and ex-pat (as an aside: I really don’t like the word ‘ex-pat’ and if anyone has a better one, please let me know.)
With this in mind, I want to make myself strong. It means expecting more – working harder and having a higher standard. It will also be work to take comfort in myself. But if that means shopping more and having regular massages and my first ever manicure, I am ready.
So here’s to a year of opening many jars of pickles. With fucking awesome nails.
Sara Patterson – ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia
Working Through the Suck
In these troubling times, when I’ve got writer’s block (I do), or when I feel that nothing I produce is quite up to the standard I want (I do) or when I’ve just been interviewing for my dream job for the past three months only to be told “Thanks, but no thanks” at the second-to-last stage (hey guys, guess what happened to me last week?), I need comfort. I need calm to balance out the chaos. I need The Year Of The Sheep like my hand needs a stiff drink to hold. And there are few things more comforting than being told that, yes, seeing what you want but not quite being able to get there is hard, but everyone feels like this sometimes, and it gets better.
I’ve watched Ira Glass’s video where he talks about “working through the suck” at least 20 times. In it, the successful radio broadcaster talks about how the only way to get better at something is to keep going, even though you might be producing things that aren’t quite perfect, but because you have enough good taste to know that they need improving, all you have to do is put in the work to keep moving toward making it better.
Remembering this gives me enormous comfort. Because even though I might fail, so long as I can keep seeing ways to better myself and improve on the next shot, I’m still on the path that leads to success.
Cheney Brew – CANBERRA, Australia
Emotional First Aid
I just had a pretty crappy year. The year of the horse was not all it was cracked up to be. Farewell night-mare you awkward beast. I was ever so glad to discover that the sheep is destined to bring peace & tranquility, balance & nurturing – exactly what I could use right now.
My aim is to look inward for solace and a soft place to land. To take comfort in myself, my own mind, my creativity, my skills & my abilities, and to cherish the characteristics that make me who I am. I will be looking to myself for nourishment, healing myself on the inside, finding comfort in who I am, and being proud enough to show the rest of the world. I’m going to actively continue to cultivate a place of zen while simultaneously sharing the ‘Awesomeness of Bridget‘ with the world (making my HK wife, who helped me coin the term, proud). At the risk of sounding airy-fairy I am going to practice self love and building my emotional resilience because they can always use a little more work.
A new friend of mine just posted this TED talk the other day on the importance of practising emotional first aid. Perfectly timed for me to have a eureka moment about how I intend to find comfort this year. May you also find that your biggest cheerleader is you. Best wishes for a happy year!
After last year’s debacle (aka: Year of the Horse) I was happy to wave 2014 away. On the back of quiet conversation involving everything but resolutions I spent a quiet New Years Eve and, when the clock struck twelve, flipped two digits at ’14. At about 00:02 I tucked myself into bed with the hope things would be better upon waking eight hours later…even if that semblance of ‘better’ really only meant marginal.
Now, while it may be too soon to say (it is only mid-February after all) it does feel like we’re on a better track. It is possible the writers of www.chinesefortunecalendar.com are on to something and we’ve shed 2014’s sticky skin; however, I suspect the only thing truly displaced is my cynical attitude and self-depreciating whining. When we slipped into 2015 I chose to leave that weighted garbage behind.
The year of the sheep is supposed to be creative, calming and soothing. It is said to be innovative, balancing and will provide a few moments of peace. If so, what a nice change that will be from the hop-stepping furor of 2014; a year where we were implored to move faster, push harder and grind our way into fifth gear even if we were unprepared to breach the speed limit. It was a year where hamster-wheel-running became the norm and if you were not progressing in some fashion (be it with work, relationships, personal projects or life-in-general) you were lazy, boring or woefully unproductive.
To hell with norms and normcore—a big thank you 2015 for getting rid of all that. Thank you also New Year for the ataractic resurgence and finding a ways to make calm the new cool. I have gleefully pushed my wheel aside to reclaim my path and as search for an inner beat to skip to I’m reminded of a piece of art that captivated me the moment I saw it a decade ago. Simplistic in form, even borderline banal, it quietly points to the unknown and infinitesimal. (Such grandiose things.) It does this while also embracing concepts like comfort, slowing down, drawing back and leaning in. It points towards switching up the angles, and doing it in a collected, calculated and chillaxed manner.
The aforementioned artwork [above] is Lucio Fontana’s Spatial Concept ‘Waiting’. It hangs rather arrogantly on the wall at the Tate Modern and is a piece you’d scoff at thinking, “I too could have stuck a knife into a goddamned piece of canvas, given it a name and called it art.” The thing is, this piece is 50 years old, which makes that singular arty-farty stab wound avant-garde for its time; yet, despite its apparent simplicity and indifference I still gravitate towards it.
Every. Single. Time.
I’ll start by standing in front of it before shifting a couple degrees to the left. There’s something about the way the light hits the canvas at that angle: it causes the piece to rupture and assault your eyes. I’m telling you, if you look at it the right way it will move and bend. The canvas will become distorted and that gaping wound, well, it will yawn. Though I try to limit my viewing time to a minute, I always end up standing there far longer because that inky slit—the nothingness behind the black hole—has a habit of pulling me in. Forcing me inside out, it takes me apart until I am reduced to the (star)dusting of molecular particles I, in fact, am composed of. Indeed, without fail, Fontana’s rip in space-time takes me for a ride. It plays around with all the disassembled parts of my self and shoves them about until each fragment becomes smooth and burnished, just like a pinball. These perfect circles then rim the bony gates of my mortal enclosure to clang about and do the rounds before eventually falling down the drain.
One thing I like about this piece is the way it forces me to ponder all manner of things. The superficial. The fundamental. The immaterial. The metaphysical. However, the element I admire the most is the quiet hope that exists at the heart of this work. Yes, believe it or not, an unseen optimism or, better yet, faith, is apparent. It is there. And the cut-up canvas makes this known in the way it forces me to take a moment and reflect. The way in which the medium (or is it the message?) compels me to slow down and seek answers in the only place they could possibly reside.
So with this image in mind part of my 2015 plan involves slowing down for a clip because I’m tired of running. Now is the time to gear down, prepare wisely and turn down the heat to relish in the warmth of a slow, slow burn. It is time to embrace the following truth: destruction and creation—failure and success—lie on the same spectrum. It is time to read between the lines and listen to the silence and look through the cracks and peel back the layers.
It is time to take a step beyond the canvas because the only way out is in.
JoAnna Matthys – NEW YORK, United States