The Complicated Landscape of Loss

[Note: This post was previously called “The Geography of Loss.” After I hit “publish” I discovered/ remembered that Patti Digh, the author of several well-known self-discovery books, is writing a book and class with that title. On my own (Patti did not contact me)  I changed my title because the word “landscape” is less of the study (as geography is) and embraces more of where one finds oneself and includes the struggle of change and creation. (As the image below shows). I also have a chapter on Imagined Landscapes in Raw Art Journaling, and this change suits the whole experience better. ]

The week in Cincinnati was hard work, fun, interesting and well organized. North Light, my publisher, treated me well. Of  course, a company is made up of people, and the two people I spent most time with, Amy Jones (editorial) and Christine Polomsky (photographer) were patient, professional, and spoiled me. I would say, as I often do in my studio, “OK, time to change the watercolor brush

Christine getting a completed piece just right.

Christine getting a completed piece just right.

water,” and Amy or Christine would reach over and do it. (That never happens in the studio!) Amy stood in for Tonia Davenport, my editor, who is based in Phoenix. That means more work for both of them, too, as they communicate back and forth over details that Tonia can’t see and Amy has never read the text for. It’s enough to make their heads hurt and eyes water.

I met the design team, the cover designer, the sales and marketing staff. And for one solid week, I reproduced the art, step by step, for the book so Christine could photograph it.  At night, I’d edit the text, finish diagrams, and write the bits and pieces I’d left undone. I have never spent so much continuous time making art. (I have a day job– a thriving creativity coaching business as well as developing and teaching writing, from grammar to technical writing, to business clients. I own the company, but it’s still work.)

Christine directed and photographed every project in the book, but not  any of the illustrations –and there are a lot of them– scattered throughout journals, and done on separate pieces of paper. I thought they would be photographed this week, too. Nope, separate step. “When will that happen?” I asked, thinking maybe the next week. Nope, again. And when it is photographed, the artwork is kept until the book is delivered to make sure that nothing is lost and it’s all kept together.

Amy, numbering and describing photo files

Amy, numbering and describing photo files

That means I won’t see my journals and the free-standing pages, the covers, the folders, the contributors’ art until January of 2014. I wasn’t expecting that. And it doesn’t matter that I understand clearly why that needs to happen. It was a huge feeling of loss. I didn’t use “prepared” journals–these are my daily journals that I write in, figure stuff out in, and deal with life. And they are gone, for a long while.

Yes I can make more; yes its a privilege to have them in the book; yes, I will get them back, but my journals are part of my life in a very intimate way, and for now, they are missing. It triggered a lot of  emotion about “missing” happening in my life lately. The food I no longer eat, the changes to my behavior that’s healthier for me, the consequences of some decisions I’ve made, some health issues, the loss of a friend who was threatened about the changes in my life,  illness and bad news in my family group—things I don’t talk about on the blog or Facebook, because I believe that not every aspect of life is a sharable moment.

So there I was, facing the things I talk about–fear, sadness, mixed in with joy and relief (my part of the book is largely done!) but washed over by a huge sense of loss. I’d just finished reading Stella Pope Duarte‘s Writing through Revelations, Visions, and Dreams, and a powerful idea from her book came back.

Darkness is a teacher. If we look into the dark parts of our lives, we will encounter the truth, explore our dreams, come to term with our ghosts, and we will see parts of ourselves alive and well in the darkness, and they will live on in the characters we create

Or, in my case, not characters, but art. While re-creating a piece for the book, I brought with me letters from the friend I lost, menus and wrappers of food I no longer eat, photos of places I will never see again in the way I did when seen with those who won’t travel with me again.

The Landscape of Loss. © Quinn McDonald 2013, All rights reserved. For reprint permission, contact Quinn--see contact box above page header image.

The Landscape of Loss. © Quinn McDonald 2013, All rights reserved. For reprint permission, contact Quinn–see contact box above page header image.

I created a landscape from the shapes I use as icons and talismans–the wavy lines that connect us all, and I stitched over them to hold them in place. It was a piece of mourning and a piece of memory, and I will recognize it in a different way when it comes back to me in a year.

We can run from fear and pain, and then we will spend our lives running. We can hold still, let it catch up with us, wash over us. It will not drown or kill us, because the human spirit is resilient and grows, even in fear. It may not be fun to sit with hard emotions, but there is peace in it. And after peace, we change, and we continue the journey changed, but we are no longer hiding and afraid. And that, for me, is success.

Quinn McDonald has completed the Inner Hero book. It will be in book stores in January of 2014. She is now developing classes to go with the book. One of them will be about the landscape of loss.