inspiration

A Shortcut to Peace by Susie Lubell

A video about Road to Recovery. Keep a box of tissues nearby.

Yesterday I woke up at 5:30 a.m. and drove an hour to a crossing between Israel and Palestine. I called a Palestinian man named Nayim and let him know I had arrived there a little early and that I would wait. It was 7 a.m. and the crossing was teeming with Palestinian men waiting for rides to their places of work in Israel. I stayed on the Israeli side, parked in a dirt lot. Vans and trucks came and went picking up groups of men. While the men waited they chatted and swiped their cell phones. A few were smoking, though not many. Ramadan. After about 15 minutes, a tall man with a broad smile approached my car. I opened the window.

"Are you Susie?" he asked in accented Hebrew.

"Yes, I'm Susie. Nice to meet you." I replied.

He walked around to the other side where he and a female companion entered my car. 

"May I sit in the front?"

"Of course! Whatever is comfortable for you."

He introduced himself as Raafat. The woman sitting in back was his mom. She wore traditional clothing. He wore jeans and a tee-shirt. His short sleeves did not quite cover the port taped to his right bicep. His mom smiled and spoke a few pleasantries in Arabic. I smiled back and wished her a Ramadan kareem. Everyone buckled and we started our drive to Hadassah Ein Karem, an Israeli hospital outside of Jerusalem. A one hour drive from Eyal Crossing, near the city of Kalkiliya on the Palestinian side, Kfar Saba on the Israeli side. Raafat and his family live in Kalkiliya, a few minutes walk from the border. This was to be his second treatment at Hadassah Hospital. Raafat has Lymphoma. 

Last time it took him and his mom four hours to get to his appointment and 500 shekels ($125) in cab fair. One way. His treatment protocol is two days of treatment every twenty days, but it's outpatient. He doesn't stay at the hospital. Last week a friend of his mentioned an organization called Road to Recovery that provides rides to Palestinian patients who are being treated in Israeli hospitals. Raafat made a phone call to Nayim, the coordinator on the Palestinian side, and now here he was in my car.

About a year ago I had read an article about Road to Recovery in Tablet Magazine It was started by a man named Yuval Roth whose brother had been kidnapped by Hamas in 1993 hitchhiking home from reserve duty. During his grieving process Yuval joined a bereavement group of Israelis and Palestinians who had each lost family members because of the conflict and there he befriended a man named Mohammad who had also lost a brother. The story goes that Mohammad once asked Yuval if he could drive another brother to the hospital, just as a favor between friends. That ride turned into more rides. Word spread and Yuval received many calls from families who desperately needed rides, mostly for their children, to receive treatments at Israeli hospitals. Now Yuval and his team coordinate 600 volunteer Israeli drivers who provide 10,000 rides a year to sick Palestinians. Mostly children. Many Palestinian patients receive permission to receive treatment in Israel, paid for by the Palestinian Authority, but they cannot make the trip in their own cars, if they even have cars. So they rely on taxis which are often prohibitively expensive. Driving on Israeli roads in an Israeli car with an Israeli driver cuts out all the checkpoints and the waiting and the transfers and the hassle. It's a direct route. A much needed short-cut.

I believe it's possible for Palestinians and Israelis to live amicably as neighbors. Who knows when our politicians will be able to sign a peace agreement. I'm not holding my breath. But when we have the opportunity to connect as individuals, it's not difficult. There is a lot of common ground. Unfortunately opportunities are scarce because we live segregated lives. As citizens we also need a more direct route to interact and engage. I have wanted for some time to show my support of a lasting, peaceable solution but I'm not much of an activist. The public, sign-holding kind, anyway. So the idea of helping people directly with just a few hours of my time and maybe having a chance to talk and connect as human beings and not nationals from either side of a wall, appealed to me immensely. The road to peace, reconciliation and recovery, just like the road to Hadassah Hospital, need not be so convoluted and fraught with checkpoints.  

A few weeks ago I finally sent Yuval an email asking if he needed more drivers. He put me on the list and that was that. On Sunday this week, his rides coordinator for the central region called and asked if I could get to Kfar Saba on Monday morning. There was a 40 year old man who needed a ride to Hadassah. I said yes. The next day I was driving Raafat and his mom to chemotherapy.

We chatted the whole drive. His Hebrew is very good. Before the cancer he worked in flooring installation. He'd been working in Israel since he was 16 when he obtained a work permit. His father had worked in a factory in Israel for many years also. He had three kids, 15, 12 and 10. He told me his doctor said he wouldn't be able to have any more kids after the treatment but he said that he and his wife made that decision 10 years ago, even before the cancer. We agreed that three kids is plenty. 

His wife is a hairdresser. She has a salon and he's thinking of importing cosmetics to help grow her business. He can't work in flooring anymore. He hasn't worked in more than a year, he said. But his brother is helping with his bills. His whole family is pitching in. He was open with me about his cancer. How he hadn't been feeling well and his doctor had given him medication but nothing was working. Finally he had a blood test and went to see a specialist in Ramallah. It was Lymphoma. And had he been diagnosed earlier, his treatment would have been easier and shorter. This is apparently his second round of treatment, something new, so he's hoping for the best. He said that he once spent a week at Rambam Hospital and a group of musicians came and played for the patients in Oncology. He showed me a clip on his phone. He had recorded it to show his family and friends back home. He couldn't believe that volunteers actually come to the hospital just to cheer up patients. We agreed that there are a lot of good people in the world. 

We arrived after exactly an hour and found our way to Oncology. I dropped off Raafat and his mom and wished them well and good luck and until next time. I'm Raafat's driver now. Every twenty days, two mornings back to back. I'm also one more person praying for his recovery. 

Please take a minute and click on this link to the online fundraiser for Road to Recovery. Yuval and his volunteer staff are raising money to cover the cost of gas/petrol for drivers like me. With the cost of gas covered, Yuval can recruit even more drivers. If you live in Israel and you have a reliable car, you can sign up to be a driver too. 

Allowing for Failure in the Creative Process by Susie Lubell

Imagine how different our professional lives would be if we allowed more time for ourselves to play. Tinker. Mess around. Daydream. And not just "creative" professions. Isn't it Google that allows their employees to spend 20% of their time developing pet projects. They've done pretty well for themselves, I'd say. I think probably the best ideas come out that way. They certainly don't come out from telling ourselves to come up with them.

A few days ago I got to hear an incredible speaker in our tiny community library. World renowned collage artist and illustrator Hanoch Piven came to speak on the topic of communication, creativity and play.  Maybe you don't know his name but you've seen his collages on the covers of Rolling Stone, Esquire and Time Magazine. He's kind of a big deal. And yet his genius sort of evolved from a place of failure. A little background:

Hanoch Piven always liked to draw as a kid. He loved cartoons and caricatures but instead of pursuing this passion he found himself studying software design and math after his army service.  Safer choices. But dissatisfied with this path he applied to Israel's premiere art school, Bezalel, and was not accepted. So he applied to other schools and ended up studying illustration at the New York School of Visual Arts. At some point he began to feel that his drawing skills just were not at the same level as his classmates and he hit a wall. He tells the story of how he came across an old poster advertisement for Charlie Chaplin's film The Great Dictator and the image was simply the contour of the face, a black block for a mustache and a wisp of black bang on top. But it was so obvious that not only was it Hitler, it was Charlie Chaplin playing Hitler. He was astounded by how such little visual information could convey so much. Soon after he was trying to draw a caricature of Saddam Hussein (this was around the time of the Gulf War) and nothing was working. He saw a box of matches near his drawing table (his girlfriend at the time was a smoker) and by simply placing the matches as Hussein's exaggerated mustache, not much else was needed to convey the persona. 

And so began a 25 year career of creating collages, mainly celebrity portraits, out of everyday items, food and garbage. Every portrait he showed was immediately obvious. He also talked about how the process of creation for him is more about playing than anything else. His studio has boxes and boxes of items and he simply plays with pieces again and again, switching and reconfiguring, until something works. And up until it finally works, it's a lot of stuff that doesn't work. He says, "there is a lot of inspiration in the process itself. To start the process with failure. To allow yourself to fail. But once you are there, the failures lead to success". 

I love the idea that he creates by playing. He accesses that curiosity that we all have as children but often lose as adults. It reminded me of that quote by Picasso "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up." He even showed a picture of Picasso, one of my favorites, one that I have hanging in my own studio, sitting at a table with rolls at the edge where his fingers would be. Silly Picasso. 

This is exactly where I'm at. I'm letting myself play. I'm painting layer over layer until I like what I see. When something isn't working, I let it dry and let it go. I glue some paper on top, make some new marks and move forward. I look at the those marks and see what emerges. A woman, a monkey, a giraffe. Whatever it is, I let it in. Hearing Hanoch speak about his own similar process was like getting a little nod and pat on the back. You got this girl. Keep at it.

And I should also mention that for someone so accomplished, he comes across as a lovely man. A mensch really. He holds creativity workshops all over the world for children and adults and lectures on the topics of creativity, communication, innovation and education. Here are a few snippets to enjoy. The Ted Talk especially contains much of the material he shared with us in the library.

Not My Circus. Not My Monkeys by Susie Lubell

My painting process is evolving. For this piece I started out by making a big background mess full of color and marks. And then to quiet it down I added some paper layers, the bits I found at the Jaffa flea market last week. And then I looked at the painting upside down and I saw a mouth. I saw a wide opened mouth with teeth which became the face of the little dancing guy. And those two circles under him became balls or color wheels or I don't know what. And then I saw the eyes of the woman next to him so I fleshed her out. I drew his body and at first she was holding him in her right hand but that was weird so I just left him jumping in mid-air. And then I saw the monkey. It was just his nose and eyes at first and then I sketched all of him. And the clown and the monkey were kind of on the same plane so I put them on a high wire. And then I understood what was going on.

Have you heard this Polish expression? Not my monkeys. Not my circus. Which is to say that not all of the crap and drama that's swirling around me is actually mine. Some of the crazy belongs to me, but not all of it.

This is true even about my own kids. I mean, I do feel the need to be aware of what's happening in their respective circuses but in some cases I actively step away and remember that it is not happening to me. For instance and totally hypothetically, it is not my place to tell another mom in my son's class that her kid sucks because he excludes my son, as much as it would give me great satisfaction to do this. It's not my circus. Sure, my son is kind of like my monkey, but he is not an extension of me. He is his own person. And my job is to equip him with what he needs to ringlead his own circus.

This is also true of our parents, our colleagues, our friends, our neighbors. It's important to listen and support and care and be available but it's also important to have boundaries. It's not my job to fix everything or everyone. In fact, when I do that it might suggest I don't have a lot of confidence in the other person's ability to manage their monkeys. And that is not a message I want to relay at all, especially to my kids. I want to empower, not undermine or underestimate. But supporting without interfering is a tightrope act all by itself.

Big Dreams by Susie Lubell

Her dreams were much bigger than she originally admitted.

Her dreams were much bigger than she originally admitted.

I've been lying to myself and most everyone else. Or rather, I haven't been totally truthful about my professional aspirations. I have minimized them because of this fear of owning my dreams. That if I told anyone that what I really want is to have my work hanging in galleries and museums, to have exhibitions all over world, to teach workshops in self expression through painting, well then they would know. And maybe they would laugh at me. Or say, oh yes, wonderful, but then secretly snicker and think, who does she thing she is? She's not an artist. She can't even draw a cat! She doesn't make art. She makes decorations. She can't teach people to paint because she never learned how to paint! And anyway, once anyone knows that I have these aspirations, then I would be held accountable for making good on my declarations. Like taking out a mortgage.

A few years ago, when I was taking steps to design a career as a creative professional, I took an eight week coaching class based on the book Creating a Life Worth Living by Carol Lloyd. This paragraph from the book sums up everything for me:

"Some fear is healthy. It keeps us from jumping off buildings and saying smug things to violent drunks. But fear also works against us. Fear colludes with our most conservative self and allows us to stop before we try, dismiss before we think, mock before we imagine. We've all seen it in others; it is so easy to perceive when ou watch a friend refuse to take advantage of some remarkable opportunity, simply out of fear. But tey don't often say, "I'm too afraid." They say, I don't know if I'm ready," or "I'm just too busy right now." At the heart of their fear is the message, "If I try to get something really wonderful, I'll have to screw up everything that is already just okay."

So I've been keeping my dreams small because I fear the kind of criticism and rejection that comes with sharing and achieving big dreams. But there's another side to that fear (psst. I'm like the three billionth person to share this quote. It's still worth sharing):

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
- Marianne Williamson

I just can't do it anymore. I can't be small. Being small serves no one. I'm big. Like a whale. And my aspirations are whale-sized too. Unfortunately my whale-sized aspirations have to live in harmony with the everyday demands of my regular life including the whale-sized pile of laundry to be folded on my bed.

But it doesn't matter does it. The thing that matters is the truth. And the truth is that I dream big. Because anything else only serves to deny the world my gifts. We all have gifts don't we? And gifts are meant to be shared.

From Berlin with Love by Susie Lubell

This past May, in the middle of packing up our house to move, we went to Berlin for five days. And we had THE BEST TIME EVER. Berlin is beautiful and easy to navigate and fun and bike friendly and charming and full of tasty food and not super expensive and VERY HISTORICAL. So we kept busy but also managed to sleep plenty and hang out in parks and not watch our kids. Because we were BY OURSELVES. I know. It's confusing. But wait, where were the kids? THEY WERE AT HOME WITH THEIR GRANDPARENTS.

While we were there we had the wonderful fortune to meet someone whose artwork I have adored for many years and whose online presence is just delightful in every way. We met up withStephanie Levy for coffee at a lovely cafe in her neighborhood and chatted for two hours about everything from motherhood to living abroad to being a working artist. We laughed about how for a long time we couldn't find cranberry juice in our adopted countries! Or hydrogen peroxide! We talked about the daily struggle to fit everything in, to live so far away from family and some of the classic language blunders we've made. And the cultural differences when it comes to raising kids. Fascinating stuff. Well, let's just say we couldn't shut up. Plus she has a Tennessee drawl that just makes you want to bust out your fiddle.

Anyway, she runs a whole host of online and in-person creative workshops and lucky me, she asked me to be part of her latest one Creative Courageous Holiday which is a five week online course to add magic and myrrh to your holiday season. I'll be sharing some of our Channukah customs from over here in the Holy Land and seven other fantastic artists (including, I just found out, Lori Portka, who I just wrote about yesterday!) will share their personal thoughts, tips on holiday creativity and family traditions. I have a friend here who takes her kids out of school for a field trip to Machane Yehuda (Jerusalem's famous outdoor food market) for their annual tasting of traditional Chanukkah donuts (sufganiyot). That's a tradition I plan on adopting this year too.

The class also includes dozens of festive recipes, craft projects (thinks DIY gifts and Pinterest worthy holiday decorations), creativity prompts, inspiration from Berlin's world famous holiday markets, mixed media journaling, traditions from around the world and a lot more. Starts Monday so sign up here.

Cat and Canary by Susie Lubell

Her cage was purely decorative.

Her cage was purely decorative.

I have to be honest. I don't exactly know where these paintings are coming from. This one started out very dark. Like a lot muddy paint. Like what my three year old comes up with if I don't get the brushes out of his hands in time. And from the mud emerged an anemic spooky girl and a weird black shape hovering over her. And then the girl got covered over and the black shape was a bird. And then the black bird was sitting on top of a big cage. But then the bird had to go and the cage got a table. And there was a giant magnolia looking tree which I covered up and the pot for the tree turned into a cat in a dress. And a different bird appeared on top of the cat. And then I broke out my new neon vermillion cheapy paint from the craft store and held my breath and slathered it on. And suddenly it all came together for me. This painting was me dealing with fear.

People, I can't paint a cat. I mean not really.  Cats are hard to paint. Truthfully most everything is hard for me to paint. I have a terrible fear of making mistakes and wrecking everything and having to start over and it's fairly pervasive. I feel it when I'm dealing with money, parenting, writing, cooking and especially when I'm painting. Which is why for many years I've stuck with the kind of stuff I can do well - little buildings, trees, fields, birdies. Also because i have so little time to create, I don't want to waste any of it on stuff I have to redo. Or can't sell. It can be kind of debilitating.

But all of that amounts to fear.  Fear of failure. Fear of rejection. Fear of sharks in the deep end (that's a literal fear of mine, but may have some figurative aspects). Here I am trying to raise empowered, self-assured, courageous kids while letting my own fears limit my potential. So I'm cracking that shit wide open. I'm painting cats because I can. And they can be in a dress. I'm allowing myself the space and freedom to make mistakes and start over how ever many times I need. I'm reserving judgement. I'm telling the critic in my head to pipe down. I'm leaving the cage to sit bravely with the one thing that, left unchecked, has the power to eat me up.

The Flood by Susie Lubell

Don't be alarmed but a chicken is driving the ark.

Don't be alarmed but a chicken is driving the ark.

There is a lot going on in this painting. I know. And as my friend said when I showed it to her, wait, let me call Marc Chagall and tell him his flying alpaca is loose. What can I say? I'm almost giddy to be back making art in the studio. Well let's go back even further. I HAVE a studio. I have a gorgeous space on the third floor/roof of our house with a giganto balcony that overlooks all of the southern Judean hills. Mr. Rosen installed wood floors and built me a huge, wall to wall desk for better flow and production. And I have a space to paint on an old architects desk that we fixed up and on the walls of the stairwell for when I need everything upright to spray water and fling paint around. Plus there's a little table and chairs for small people to come and paint or draw or glue felt to toilet paper rolls for, let's say, an upcoming holiday, which there are thankfully none. But now that the kids are all back in school, the place is mine again.

On Sunday I got down to business. Staring at a blank canvas after many months of non-creativity is a little daunting. So I finger painted to make the white go away. Then I added some pretty papers that I'd collected. And some old maps. And a stamp. And I tore a page out of an old Hebrew English dictionary I have whose words often dictate the direction of the piece and guess who showed up on that page. Noah! I swear. If you look closely you will see Noah is one of the entries. As is the word for distilling. Also drunkenness. Anyway, it happens to be that the Torah portion for this week is Noah and the flood! I mean, come on people! You can't make this stuff up.

So I take that to be a sign from the almighty and I smudge some more paint here and there and soon a pink sparkly ark and a chicken appear and a stormy ocean and dry land in the distance creating the perfect background for a flying alpaca in a housecoat holding an olive branch in his mouth. Just like that. And all I could do was get out of my own way and welcome the flood.

Only in Israel by Susie Lubell

Interpretive dance on top of biblical well.

A lot of things happen here in Israel that are so ridiculous that I just have to roll my eyes and keep my mouth shut. Otherwise I start to sound very holier than thou and we already have more than enough of that sentiment around here. The other day I went to pick up my kids from their playdate at a girl's house whose mom is incidentally the woman who runs their aftercare program. She's a lovely woman and the kids enjoy the two hours they spend with her after school every day. And they happen to be good friends with her daughter. So I came over at around 6:30 pm with the baby in tow. Two minutes after I arrive, this woman gives my one year old a krembo. Now for those of you who do not know what a krembo is, I bet you can guess from the name that it's not health food. In fact it's a sticky puff of synthetic cream wrapped in a thin layer of chocolate flavored wax sitting on a cookie base, the size of my fist. It need not be refrigerated. In fact I guess they started making these many years ago in the ice-cream factories since no one wanted ice-cream in the winter. So November 1st is National Krembo Day. Well, not officially. But that's when they return to stores. It's like when the Cadbury eggs finally come out in time for Easter. Kids go crazy. My deprived baby shoved that thing in his mouth and all over his face faster than I could politely decline on his behalf. Only in Israel.

But I'll tell you the same week this happened we headed down south to see the amazing red wild anemones in bloom. Carpets of red flowers in the desert! The southern regional arts council made it into a big event over four weekends and had stations set up for enthusiastic flower seekers like us. Music, performances, arts and crafts, food tastings, storytelling. After picnicking with friends behind one of these stations we walked over to find two young women with elaborate flowery head dresses, Chiquita Banana style, doing an interpretive dance above a biblical well in the middle of nowhere. They had rigged haunting music to play from seemingly inside the well and a crowd of thirty or forty people stood around in awe. It was magnificent.

Only in Israel.

 Well dancer Well dancers

Clearing space for tiny sparks by Susie Lubell

SparkDante_final

I am starting some new habits. Small daily practices, if you will. Until last week the only consistent actions I did each day without fail were brushing my teeth and drinking my coffee after I drop off the kids. Everything else either happened or it didn't. There was no schedule. There were just wide open days that were either productive or they weren't. It felt like bumbling. Made me long for the days when I worked in an office and someone managed me. 

WHAT? Yes, I just wrote that. Because working from home as an artist can feel very sloppy. I am constantly distracted by the laundry, the unmade beds, the thought of dinner and the empty refrigerator, the lives of the three children I manage, the lives of my friends near and far, the news, the gremlins in my own mind that are often mean and outspoken.  And this feeling like it all has to be perfect and lead to a final piece or product so there's no room to play. I know that sounds counter-intuitive - needing structure so I can relax and play. But imagine a room with hundreds of toys on the floor. My kids might jump in but then quickly feel overwhelmed and step to the side. Or more than likely they would look at the mess and whine that there's nothing to do. I need a system to manage the internal and external chaos. I need a schedule. I need deadlines. I need an order of operations. I need daily motivation and daily inspiration. I need all these things to help me quiet the distractions and allow my imagination to breathe.  It turns out the sloppy bumbling nature of my day is making me unproductive and actually stressing me out. So last week I started a daily practice to add more structure and rhythm to my life, the idea being that a daily practice, not related to my creative work, creates a space for ideas to spark. And I tell you, it is working already.

I decided I would wake up at 6 am every morning and do 20 minutes of yoga. A few months ago I signed up for this service called YogaGlo and it is fantastic, when I actually use it. You pay a monthly fee which is less than the cost of a one hour class in some cities and then you can filter the zillions of classes they have by duration, type, level, teacher, area of concentration etc.  Of course, as Murphy would have it, the minute I started waking up before the kids, they started waking up earlier too. So a few times this week I enjoyed doing shivasena with a giggling toddler sitting on my heart chakra. Nonetheless I managed to do yoga five out of five days and I actually looked forward to waking up at that ungodly hour. I'm trying to add other daily habits too. Sketching. Hand-lettering. Learning new tools, new media. Taking field trips. Writing. Sharing it all in a  way that doesn't feel socially spastic. I am finding it very challenging. But little by little I'm hoping the structure will lead to more sparks and the sparks will lead to a big ass inferno.

Weeds by Susie Lubell

Milkweed
Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them. 
A.A. Milne (via Eeyore)

I've been trying to walk most days to keep my blood sugar down and my hips supple. They seize up on me every morning. Something about widening to make room for a baby's head to get lodged in there. The walking helps. This is a shot of my favorite garden in our neighborhood. I remember when the woman planted it a few years ago and now it grows more enormous every year. That's because it's mainly weeds. Like these beauties. I think they're called Milkweed and they grow huge. They don't say kids grow like weeds for nothing. This is just a tiny corner of the garden but the rest is mostly more of the same - a lot of bordeaux and lavender mixed with chartreuse and other yummy shades of green in a kind of cabbagy melange. Delish. And it wouldn't be a garden in my neighborhood without a few orange California poppies which, even if you hated them, though you never could, they'd find a way into your soil (and your heart). Happy spring.