Archive for January, 2014

"Dancing with the Devil" c. Susan Sorrell Hill

“Dancing with the Devil” © Susan Sorrell Hill

The Illustration Friday word of the week is disguise.

A gregarious friend once confessed that he found parties and large gatherings exceedingly stressful. “How can that be?” this terminally-shy wallflower thought. He’d always seemed so confidant, so ‘in his element’ in a social arena that was stuff of my own personal nightmares. But then he went on to say that it was stressful because he was a different person in every relationship and with every person he knew. And that he didn’t know who to be when faced with all of those people at once.

That conversation stuck with me for a long time. Only recently I realized that neither of us felt good enough, essentially worthy. Neither of us was sure that people would like us, just as we were. My coping method was habitual withdrawal, and his adaption was wearing a disguise in each situation. But essentially the same dilemma. It was that same old impediment, a belief in a Hostile Universe.

Does a chameleon feels unworthy or stressed? Surely not. So there must be a healthy way to stay connected to one’s own essential Self—and still be adaptable to changing circumstance, environment and people. I’m still looking for that balance. Believing that the Universe is actually friendly seems to be the key.

“Dancing with the Devil”       (pen & ink)

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© Susan Sorrell Hill

© Susan Sorrell Hill

The Illustration Friday word of the week is beginning.

I think my Dad must have been part gypsy. He loved to travel–both for business and for pleasure, try out new restaurants, explore local history and especially, to move into new houses. Like a gypsy, he preferred doing things his own way, without being micro-managed. He was good at what he did but also more than a little independently-minded. He changed jobs a lot.

We moved long-distance thirteen times in my first fifteen years, and every move was a new beginning: new schools, classrooms and locker combinations, new friends and pecking orders, new neighborhood, new Brownie troupe, new house and new landscaping. Much of that was stressful for us four children, and I don’t think my Mom, who came from a well-rooted and close-knit southern clan, shared my Dad’s enthusiasm for moving at all. In spite of that, I came to love the arrival of the Allied Van Lines which loaded our lives once again into its cavernous hold. Moving was always prefaced by the numbering and color-coding of every piece of furniture and careful packing with clean newsprint and special padded blankets of every family belonging into crisply-new Allied boxes. I came to love fresh starts, that clean-slate feeling of anything-is-possible. And I developed a life-long passion for boxes. I’m sure a psychologist would have a field day with that last one.

In all that moving, which continued for many more years in my own adult life, I got very good at organization, packing, weeding possessions, efficient loading of U-Haul vans and borrowed trucks, and making a home wherever I landed. I got good (is that grammatically correct?) at all of the nuts-and-bolts steps of relocating a life. But from a more cosmic viewpoint, perpetual moving might have been my introduction to that Universal Truth, “Wherever you go there you are.” I began to notice that things like awkwardness with people, love of libraries and reading and writing, marginal athletic ability and adoration of all things Art, followed me wherever I went. I gradually realized that those things must be qualities of my essential self, separate from my surroundings…or at least the cutting edge of “where I was working.” Like any living thing, part of me hated that repeated uprooting. Another part reveled in the chance to start again. And another part (1 + 1 + 1 = ?), the deeper part of me, was watching it all from a place that never changed, no matter how far-flung or how often the moves and changes. A valuable lesson…thanks to you, Dad.

SusanHillI think ‘returns’ qualify as new beginnings sometimes too, and in that spirit I have decided to add oil painting back into my oeuvre. I’ve been away from oils for nine years while focused solely on watercolor and illustration. Tensely on the fence about this decision for several years, I’ve finally convinced myself that I can, indeed, maintain a dual focus. My Christmas money has been spent on oil paints, walnut alkyd and canvases, shiny new and very intimidating in their pristine-ness. I’m excited and very nervous. Will I still remember how to paint in this medium? How will my paintings look after having worked so long in small-scale watercolor? Will I fail miserably…?

Inguz, the rune of new beginnings.

Inguz, the rune of new beginnings.

Ralph Blume, in his most excellent classic, The Book of Runes: A Handbook for the Use of an Ancient Oracle, puts the conundrum quite succinctly in his description for the rune “Inguz,” which symbolizes fertility and new beginnings:

“…the time of birth is always a critical one. Movement can involve danger, and yet movement that is timely leads out of danger. The time has come to enter the delivery room.” 

January is the perfect time for new beginnings and a new turn of the wheel, and my birthday is just around the corner—April 1st: New Year’s Day in the Pagan, pre-Christian calendar. I say, “Let the games begin!” What newness will you introduce into your life this year?

“Awakening”    (oil on board)     From my archives, not a new one…

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"Inner Wisdom" c. Susan Sorrell Hill

“Inner Wisdom” c. Susan Sorrell Hill

The Illustration Friday word of the week is search.

❦ It seems incongruous at best, and perhaps even irreverent or even blasphemous to bring up this subject following my last introspective post. But in the true spirit of blogging, this is a subject near and dear to this blogger’s heart. The Illustration Friday’s word of the week challenge called these words out of me, and I always try to honor an inspiration. I hope no one will be offended if I nudge a bit in the spirit of planting seeds and shining a light…

Have you noticed that so many people are on a perpetual search for The Truth—accumulating knowledge, degrees, workshops, trainings and retreats—and still not finding peace? Their curricula vitae are very impressive indeed, but (yes, I do remember that we’re all works in progress) the litmus test for if it’s working can only be this: can they be truly present with a person here and now, and can they flow with the unfolding, often unmanageable circumstances of Life?

The Tibetan Buddhist master and founder of Naropa University in Boulder, ColoradoChögyam Trungpa, coined the term, spiritual materialism in his classic book, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism. It is worth a browse (or at least a contemplation of the term) if you—like I—are tired of the endless flow of teachers, experts and consecrated ‘paths’ of the New Age scene. “The New Age loves anything as long as it doesn’t work” is a related expression. Sarcastic? Well, definitely not using the kid gloves.

Perhaps I am just lazy or being rebellious, or maybe I have been the object of too many well-meaning, dead-sure spiritual rants and holier-than-thou (but well-meaning, I know) pontificators. But as I grow older, it seems ever-clearer to me that true wisdom, true knowing is only find-able deep within: found in solitude and silence, in slowness, with humility, with patience and with gratitude. Found mostly in the region of the heart, with no formulaic map at all to its abode, nor any formulaic approach to its expression in this all-too-fleeting and ever-challenging world. And this ‘within’ is the only place where the appropriate answers to that question, “What now?” can be found.

I’ll leave it on a humorous note with Emily Dickinson’s classic poem, I’m Nobody! Who Are You?:

I’m nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there’s a pair of us–don’t tell!
They’d banish us, you know.

How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!

“Inner Wisdom”    (watercolor, pen & ink, colored pencil)      An oil version of this image is here

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(detail) c. Susan Sorrell Hill

(detail) c. Susan Sorrell Hill

Our friend John died today.

We had known him for thirty-five years and a lot had happened to all of us during that time. John was a presence, a self-made man in the best tradition, a force to be reckoned with. He accomplished and adventured much in his span of sixty years.

John was: lightness and darkness, sweetness and sometimes less so, massive self-confidence and sometimes a little wiggly, independent and sometimes lonely. He was boundless energy personified and sometimes he was nailed to the floor. John was determined to make things happen and sometimes unable to let things happen naturally. He was adventurous and brave and yet there were some places he probably just could not go. John inspired great love, and occasionally the opposite.

In a word…John was human, just like me.

In his last days of consciousness, all of his light and sweetness were very much in evidence, and all of the less-so’s of the human nature had been surrendered. It was a good death, with time for closure with his family and many friends. He was seen and appreciated in abundance for his essential qualities, and I think that had always been his secret goal, perhaps even unknown to him. Perhaps that is all of our secret goals as we machinate through life trying to prove ourselves…?

Watching it all unfold over the course of a month taught me something important. I saw clearly that the light, soul-centered side of one’s nature is always there in the background, sometimes in evidence and sometimes well-disguised. But in the end, the side of Light is the only presence that holds sway. It is the essence of who we each are, and the only part that continues to live on, somehow and somewhere. Watching John go through his dying taught me that each of our essences, the spirit of wholeness and loving peace, is always available, just underneath all that stuff we humans tend to ‘lead’ with in this life. We never lose it, and we return to it at the last, even if we’ve been a bit estranged for quite some time.

Thanks for that lesson, John. I will endeavor to deserve it and practice letting my own light shine more often. Godspeed on your next adventure.

“A New Life”      (watercolor, pen & ink)       

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c. Susan Sorrell Hill


The Illustration Friday word of the week is time.

I have a friend who is—on the surface of things—about to run out of time. Though he has always run faster than just about anyone, one of the diseases of our age has caught up with him. “Dying,” I think, “What’s wrong with this picture?” It’s Mad-Tea-Party surreal, and accompanying the experience is a tinny voice in my head singing that Second World War era tune, “We’ll Meet Again.” You might remember it from the 1964 film, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

We’ll meet again…don’t know where, don’t know when. But I’m sure we’ll meet again some sunny day.”

In response to the news, a friend in the market said yesterday, “Well, we all have our expiration date.” Such a dreadful way to put it…so very final. Having no personal evidence, I cling stubbornly to the belief that we dance again with those who have been significant in our life, maybe even over and over again. It just makes sense, and my heart-knowing agrees. When another friend’s mother passed on last year, I quietly assured her father that he would see her again. His bitter response was, “I don’t believe in all that.” I could feel his pain, and wanted to at least plant the seed of hope there, for isn’t life all too brief and difficult if we believe that this is all there is? “Well, you’ll be surprised then,” I replied. Perhaps I should have kept my thoughts to myself and mumbled the usual  social condolences…

I can’t say I understand the mechanics of it all, nor do I believe in the standard version of a Heaven, but I have always been a firm believer in the idea that there is much more going on down here and ‘out there’ than we can even begin to grasp or imagine. If it’s just us, and this is all there is, it “seems like an awful waste of space,” as the young Jody Foster’s father says in the 1997 film, Contact. My personal version of a Higher Power wouldn’t make that sort of error in judgement.

No, I am sure we will meet again.

“Mad Tea Party”     (watercolor, pen & ink)      The original is available here

"Mad Tea Party" c. Susan Sorrell Hill

“Mad Tea Party” c. Susan Sorrell Hill

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