Saturday, 14 January 2017

The Art of Turtling

There was a bit of a cloud hanging over the Valley as 2016 moved on to 2017. Or maybe it was just hanging over me.

The depressing statistics: we had 750 mm. of rain in October and November – 3 times what’s normal for us. And then we fell into a snowy cold which left the roads icy and treacherous. Those conditions are still with us. I am ready to write to my member of parliament to complain that this is not what we signed up for when we moved to Canada’s banana belt.

Then also, 2016 was not one of those years that will go down in my books as being a grand experience. It had more than its share of stresses and anxieties and sadness, much of it coming home to roost during the Christmas season. I hustled the old year out the door and then I locked it. As one friend who had her unfair share of health issues said, “I gathered all our 2016 calendars and placed them by the fireplace to burn up as quick as possible. I don’t want another year like that.”

Then I did what many women of a certain age do after the Christmas season is over and the last dish is washed, the last leftovers put away, the last tree needles swept under the carpet, and the last box of forbidden candy is empty: I weighed myself and cried. Then I sat down in front of the fireplace, had a glass of sherry and some potato chips with a fruitcake chaser, and decided it was time to turtle before I tackled any other crisis.

I don’t think “to turtle” is actually a verb. But it should be. Think about it: turtles have these lovely, protective shells in which they can hide away from the world when the going gets tough. They retract their heads and legs and just hang out in the dark, blissfully and willfully ignorant of what is going on around them. I’m guessing that when they emerge from their shells eventually, they are stronger, more optimistic, and ready to tackle the world again. If it works for turtles, why not for overwhelmed women? And that was me.

So beginning January 1, I turtled. Oh sure, I stuck my head out once in a while to take a breath of fresh air, and exercise my limbs – after all, nobody does the laundry, cooks meals, grocery shops, or answers the doorbell for you while you are in your state of turtlation. You need to do a few rudimentary things to survive, but basically, when you turtle, you put yourself on hold. No meetings. No commitments that take energy. Don’t need to answer the phone or e-mails unless you feel like it. It’s like Lucy of Peanuts fame putting out her sign: The Doctor is NOT in. Be content with what is, and do not resist it.  Make yourself at home within your shell, and grow strong.

There are many ways of turtling: binge reading, for instance, can take you away for a good long time. So can going to bed early and sleeping in late. A holiday on a warm and sunny beach far from the phone and computer might do it for some. (That would have been nice, but it wasn’t in the cards for me.) Slow-stitching – whether it’s knitting, embroidery, crocheting –  is a great meditative turtling activity, especially when a big pot of slow-cooker soup is simmering in the background. Especially pea soup with a smoked pork hock adding its aroma. MMM. Speaking of which,  M&Ms are helpful, too.

Some people pull others into the turtle shell with them; that’s what revives them. But that’s not my way – I turtle mostly alone. I turtled in my favourite place: the studio. Every morning, after going through my wake-up routine of sudoku, spiritual reading, and journalling (with coffee, of course) I kissed the RS goodbye and trundled up the stairs. I had an art project in mind, one that was engrossing enough to take me away from everything else. Inside my cave, my turtle shell, I would conjure up a renewed vision. My inspiration was a painting by Edvard Munch called The Sun.

I’d seen it on the cover of a book and loved it. Looking at it, I could almost hear Cat Stevens singing “Morning has broken, like the first morning.” The sun looked almost like a Celtic cross. How lovely it would be to bathe myself in that light. Could I reproduce it?

As I worked – or rather, played – I found myself detached from the outcome. It might look awful when all was said and done, or, it might be great, but it really didn’t matter. The process gave me time and opportunity to reflect on what was happening in my life, especially the latest pain of losing our precious little grandchild Farrah Hope. I took my time, and it was good.

Sometimes I reached out to others for help and advice on my work, and that interaction also nourished my soul (thanks, Lorraine!). I shed some tears, laughed a little, listened to uplifting podcasts. I tried different things, struggled for a while, and then realized it was my own vision of a morning sun that I needed to portray, not someone else’s. This morning sun, the one that lives within, would be a beacon to me, lighting my way into 2017. The final epiphany came when I realized that the second line of “Morning has Broken”  was, “Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird!” How appropriate! The crow was speaking to me again, and would be included in this piece.

Here is the result. It’s not finished yet, but getting there. The tree, the bird, and the reflection on the water are just practices, and will be refined as it becomes revealed to me.

Once the turtle emerges from her shell, she goes off and does what she has to do. I think that I’m ready for that now, too, with a song in my heart: “Morning has broken...”


  1. This blog moved me more than the one before. I hated my scale too.

  2. Beautiful work! I can't wait to see the finished piece! :)