dog and pumpkin days

We are approaching my favorite time of the year, fall! Temperatures are slowly cooling down. We’ll have another warm week, then hopefully temps will stay cooler. In the spirit of Halloween, one of my favorite holidays, I drew this fella and his pumpkin friend. I really didn’t like how the background turned out. Initially, I was going to draw a spooky tree against a dark blue/black background with stars, but decided to try a Van Gogh-ish “Starry Night.” I wasn’t quite able to use watercolor and acrylic paint in the way that I’d hoped. In any case, it was fun and another learning experience. Here’s to Halloween and sweater weather!

Cheers!

姐妹

You are blood. You are sisters. No man can break that bond.

In 2012, I reunited with my birth family in Taipei, Taiwan. I had been searching for them for nearly three years before making contact with my oldest sister via email. I had the help of a social worker who was also Taiwanese. Going back to Taiwan, the country of my birth, was one of the most profound and beautiful experiences I have ever had. To walk the streets of my home town was simply magical, and the ten days I spent with my sisters were extraordinary.

My sisters are older than me by ten and eleven years. I also have an older brother, a niece and a couple of nephews, and an Uncle, who is the patriarch of our family. Unfortunately, our parents had already passed away, so I did not have the opportunity to meet them. I continue to keep in touch with my sisters, brother, and niece via social media and hope to return to Taiwan next year.

The drawing above is of my sisters and I – my second sister is to the left and eldest sister to the right. I’ve been wanting to do a sketch of the three of us for awhile now, and after a visit with a dear friend of mine from Arizona, I was inspired to finally put it to canvas.

If you’d like to learn more about my reunion, you can actually read my memoir, Beyond Two Worlds: A Taiwanese-American Adoptee’s Memoir and Search for IdentityContact me if you’d like an autographed copy, as I have a few soft covers still available.

To my sisters, you are an inspiration.

Quote above by Kim Boykin, A Peach of a Pair

whimsical

I have always been fascinated by the whimsical, magical, and mysterious

I have always been fascinated by the whimsical, magical, and mysterious. My adoptive mom gave me a vintage book of fairytales when I was a young girl. It was a hard-cover book full of well-known fairy tales. The colorful illustrations seemed larger than life and fueled my imagination. My favorite story was Hansel and Gretel because of the fantastical pictures of the witch’s candy house – every kid’s dream home. The book became well worn over time.

My mom eventually gave many of my children’s books away, including a large collection of Nancy Drew books. I have no idea where they eventually landed, but I hope they fell into good hands. Perhaps my fascination with the magical explains why my favorite literary genre is magical realism and why I’m so drawn to the stylized whimsical art of Tamara Laporte, whose website is called Willowing Art. I also love how Tamara encourages the mind-body connection, noticing and acknowledging what sensations or feelings are flowing inwardly prior to beginning a piece of art, especially when feeling blocked creatively. She encourages a kind of empathic holding of these emotions or experiences, then sending compassion and empathy to them by way of a loving message, e.g., there is sadness, and my sadness is okay, etc. You can watch Tamara’s YouTube video on how to deal with creative blocks here. She then demonstrates how to draw a whimsical mermaid art journal page. It’s quite fun and fascinating! Tamara is such a master at layering and blending color and texture. So inspired by her work..

The little piece featured above was a fun doodle – I have a long way to go, but it’s really fun to draw for the simple pleasure of creative expression. I don’t particularly like painting as much as sketching and often like the initial sketch better than the painted outcome. Painting is a difficult process to me; however, it has been interesting to experiment with color using different mediums. So far, I haven’t liked the alcohol-based paint pens, as I feel that the color is extremely saturated, and I don’t have much control of the color. I remember Kelly Rae Roberts saying in one of her podcast episodes that you have to make a lot of bad art before getting to the better stuff. I used acrylics and watercolor for this gal and actually liked how she turned out. In between the bad stuff, there are a couple that I truly like.

Cheers!

 

let go, let it flow

let go, let it flow

Spontaneity. I’m not always up for it; however, I love the spontaneity that art allows me. It’s such a rush to begin drawing something new and to see where the sparks fly. I’m new to watercolour and acrylics, as in the past, I primarily sketched. So, I get frustrated when the paint I apply on the canvas doesn’t turn out the way I want.

Recently, I watched a very cool video by artist, Tamara Laporte, of Willowing Arts on how she created her moon children paintings. I just love her stylised whimsical style and the way she layers colour and texture using various mediums. I was fascinated by her creative process and delighted when she explained that she became so frustrated with this particular work that she almost threw it out. Even a seasoned, talented artist like Tamara gets frustrated with her work and doesn’t always like the way it turn outs. I’m tempted to do ditch many of the works I start because I don’t like how they end up looking. It can be utterly disappointing. Tamara painted over parts of this work multiple times, trying to get it to her liking. It was encouraging to see that even professional artists face challenges in their own process and work. The message I took away after watching Tamara’s video is let go and let it flow. And, don’t get too discouraged when things don’t turn out to my liking the first time around. Just keep exploring. Get out of my own way. Kind of a life metaphor.

In the painting above, I tried to do just that. I honestly don’t particularly like the purple streak in this gal’s hair or her eyes, but I didn’t want to paint over the watercolour, as it probably would not have ended well. I used coloured pencil and a black acrylic pen for finer detail. What a great three-day weekend to make more art.

Cheers!

true beauty

True beauty is not in the color of your skin nor shape of your body. True beauty is the courage to make peace with your imperfections and tune out all body shaming.

Yesterday, my co-workers decorated my little work cubicle for my birthday. A chocolate cake was waiting, sitting on a pretty, white platter. I hadn’t eaten breakfast, and it was almost noonish, so I cut myself a slice and ate it with relish. When I offered a piece to a twenty-something year old down the way, she kindly refused and promptly said, “I’m on a really strict diet.” Four or five years ago, I would have said and done the very same thing.

I have struggled with negative body image for a greater part of my life. For many, many years, I bought into dieting, fasting, body shaming, and generally wasting lots of energy on trying to look as thin as possible. I have a small frame, as most Asian women, yet in high school, all of the southern fried comfort food I grew up on caught up with me. I put on a few extra pounds, and others began making comments about it.

In college, I struggled with orthorexia. That term was not around at that time, and although it’s not in the DSM V, it is currently recognized as an eating disorder. “The term ‘orthorexia’ was coined in 1998 and means an obsession with proper or ‘healthful’ eating. Although being aware of and concerned with the nutritional quality of the food you eat isn’t a problem in and of itself, people with orthorexia become so fixated on so-called ‘healthy eating’ that they actually damage their own well-being (National Eating Disorders Association).” It was not unusual for me to exercise 3-4 times per day when I was at the height of my orthorexic tendencies. I binged then starved myself then went to the gym or popped in an exercise video to burn off the calories I consumed. I was also enrolled in multiple dance classes throughout college. My weight fluctuated across the years. When I felt too heavy, I dieted. Slim fast was my usual go-to. Needless to say, deprivation was something I practiced regularly.

Until recently, I continued to feel unhappy about my body. I discovered a podcast, Food Psych, hosted by Christy Harrison, a Registered (anti-diet) Dietician and Intuitive Eating Coach, that has turned my understanding of how diet culture perpetuates unrealistic and unhealthy body image. She advocates strongly for ending our culture’s stigma against heavier-bodied people and our society’s obsession with thinness and six-pack abs. The term “fat” is also not a bad or dirty word. It just is. I have fallen in love with Christy’s podcast and listen to it regularly. I highly recommend it.

I’m certainly not where I’d like to be. I still sometimes obsess over my body not looking the way that I’d like it to, and I’m not the healthiest eater anymore. In the past, I watched everything I ate and had what I called “self-control.” No gluten, no red meat, no nitrates, no sugar, no salad dressing, no sauces, hold the carbs, no sweets, no chips, no bread, no movie popcorn or popcorn at all, small portion sizes, nothing processed…But I’ve become much more aware of how damaging these habits are, and I stop myself when toxic thoughts enter my mind. I used to obsess over going to the gym, or lack thereof. I’m typically too exhausted from work to hit the gym these days, but when I do go, I try to be as mindful as possible, working on feeling stronger and healthy rather than losing weight or being thinner. So the piece above came out of making a break from diet culture and body shaming. I have to take it one day at a time. It’s my birthday, so yes, dessert is on the menu.

grief

“Grief is like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.”

I love the quote above about grief. There are times when I feel as though the waves are calm, and life is pretty good. There are other times when the waves of grief are overwhelming. It’s during the overwhelming times that I feel stuck, as though I’m trudging through molasses. I want nothing more than to retreat to the couch to watch Netflix. Maybe with a large bowl of popcorn.

I listened recently to one of my favorite podcasts (The Creative Superheroes) with guest, Francis Weller, who spoke of the wild edge of sorrow. When we think of grief or sorrow, it’s typically related to someone or something we’ve lost. However, Weller says that the energies of sorrow are constantly around us. For example, the sorrows of the world bombard us daily. Just turn on the news. Other sources of sorrow come from personal losses to our own integrity, our own sense of worth and value. These sorrows have a corrosive quality that eats away at our dignity over time.

When I listened to Weller’s broader explanation of sorrow, I thought immediately of all the sorrows that adoptees carry. We did not have a choice in our adoption. We lost our voice as other’s made decisions about our lives for us. Then we were expected to assimilate and integrate into our adoptive families and the predominant culture. All ties to our biological family, if adopted internationally, were severed. At the point of adoption, we lost our cultural identity and roots. Weller stated that every time we cleave off parts of who we are, it’s a loss to our wholeness. This is a profound source of grief. But we can’t grieve these parts of us because we typically hold them with judgment, shame, and contempt. Many adoptees struggle with feelings of shame and fears of being judged. We’re often expected to be grateful, and any feelings of anger or ingratitude are quickly dismissed. These untouched, unredeemed pieces of soul life get pushed off into the outer edges of consciousness, a wasteland, unresolved. There they languish, untouched, uncared for, unwitnessed, yet sources of deep loss.

It wasn’t until I entered graduate school in 2013 to become a social worker that I emerged from the “fog” and began digging deep into my own personal wasteland. I’ve sought healing from adoption loss and trauma with intention ever since. I’m in a place of healing, yet I feel as though I’m always on the edge of sorrow, partly due to the work I chose to be in. Art has become not only a tool for healing of late, but a means of self-expression and exploration.

The waves in our lives ebb and flow. It’s guaranteed. Art meets me where I’m at every time in the most unconditional, nonjudgmental way. I have grown to love and trust her.

Quote by Vicki Harrison of Goodreads

lucid

For adoptees, the journey is never over. It evolves, it twists and turns, but it never ends.

I reunited with my birthfamily in Taipei, Taiwan, in January 2012, during the Lunar New Year. I can’t even begin to express what a life-changing event it was. I met my two older biological sisters, their spouses, my older brother, nieces and nephews, and our Uncle, the Patriarch of our family. I did not have the opportunity to meet my birthparents, as both had passed on years earlier. I learned that my birth father died around the same time as my adoptive mom.

Lucid_Light sketchGrowing up, I never entertained the thought of searching for my birthfamily. My adoptive parents hid my adoption records, which I later found after my adoptive mom passed away. My adoption record held information that was quite contrary to what my mom had shared with me. To this day, I’m left wondering if she lied about my past. After learning the truth, I was struck with an insatiable curiosity. I set out to find answers. That led to a three year search for my birthfamily. I won’t go into all the details, but will share an incident that led up to my search.

After my adoptive mom passed, I attended a Bonny Method Guided Imagery & Music (GIM) training at Arizona State University. Briefly, GIM is a type of psychotherapy utilizing classical music to assist individuals in uncovering unconscious material and emotions. Watch a brief video about GIM here. My classmates and I were graduated music therapists. We were paired up and were each given the opportunity to be the “client” and the guide, or therapist. I went into the training worried because my adoptive mom had recently passed away, and I knew that the training might cause more grief to surface. At the same time, I was also concerned that I would not be able to “travel” as they call it, or be able to conjure any images while “travelling.”

When it was my turn to be the “client,” my partner and I found a spot on the floor. I was lying on my back, and he was kneeling near my head. The music began. Eventually, images began to flow. I entered a room that looked like a library. There were bookshelves with hundreds of books. Several minutes in, a cloaked figure emerged in the distance, its face was hidden by the hood of the cloak. Initially, I was afraid, as the figure appeared ominous, its cloak was as dark as charcoal. Barber’s Adagio for Strings was playing. If you’re not familiar with this piece, it is intensely beautiful and mysterious. There is also a yearning and a sorrow underscoring this composition. I highly recommend giving it a listen here.

As the figure drew nearer, I knew in my heart that it was my birth mother. She reached out to me. I remember her long, graceful fingers, which were gloved in grey. We embraced. It was a feeling like I’d never experienced. Joy, sorrow, disbelief, mystery. I then saw my adoptive mother. Her face was lit up, and she was beaming down at me. The first thing she said was, “I’m okay!” By this point, I’m sobbing. I sensed that she wanted to tell me something vitally important. She wanted me to know my birth mother. It was time. It was like she was trying to connect us. I didn’t know at this time that I would eventually set out to find my birthfamily – that did not occur until months later. My birth mother and I held each other for what seemed like an eternity. She told me that she did not want to give me up and that she had given me my musical abilities. I later learned from my biological sisters that our mother loved classical music and learning, which are two of my favorite things.

When it came time for my birth mother to leave, she exited slowly, walking backwards. I cannot begin to tell you the sorrow I felt in watching her leave. Later I watched as my adoptive mom was taken away by white beings. I can only describe them as angels. The music had changed to Mozart’s Serenade in B-Flat. The angels moved to the beat of the music, lovingly carrying my adoptive mom away until I could no longer see them. Both my moms had left me. I should say that because I had such an intense experience, one of the facilitators came to my side to help me through it. They had purposely selected the piece by Mozart because of its ability to contain strong emotion in a way that felt safe and comforting. There was much more to this event that I don’t have time to share. Suffice it to say, it was truly transformative.

The drawing above is an imagining of my birth mother. I never saw her face during the GIM imaging. It remained cloaked in darkness. My biological sisters gave me a picture of our mother when I went back to Taiwan, but she was much older when the photo was taken. My sisters said that I look like her when she was young. Unfortunately, they no longer had any photos of our mother when she was a younger woman. So I’m left to my own idealized imagination and creative intuition.

I believe that the experience that I had with GIM was only the beginning of a journey that led me back to my roots in Taiwan. For adoptees, the journey is never really over. It evolves, it twists and turns, but it never ends.