The Button Jar

ink and watercolor button illustration by Jacque Oman Clinton

“Buttons”, ink and watercolor

4 years ago, my husband and I — newly engaged at the time — received an early wedding present from a friend. This friend (a true gentleman and scholar) was about to leave for Liberia on a Peace Corps mission and wasn’t going to make it to our wedding. In a grand gesture of heartfelt congratulations, he gave us one of the greatest gifts ever. He gave us…

…the button jar.The Button Jar

Brace yourselves, you know what’s coming: metaphors. Oh how I love them!

Man, oh man, the button jar is great. Who can resist a collection of colorful round things?! But it’s more than just a shiny vessel of visual delight. It has become, in my mind, a symbol of home. Of OUR home — my husband’s and mine — and the life that we are building together.

It’s a jar of buttons, but it’s also a jar of memories. Some are small, some are big. Each one is colorful in its own poignant way.

It’s a jar of possibilities and hope. There are many ways one could use those buttons — it’s a jar full of potential! It’s like our future and all the adventures ahead.  It’s filled with unknown and wonderful things that will make us stronger and bring us closer.

It’s a jar filled with all the tiny, special moments — from the mundane to the spectacular — that accumulate, day after day, year after year, and make this a truly blessed life.

I bring this up now because, since moving into our first HOUSE, it seems like we’ve been adding a lot of button moments to our jar. It’s been a new and exciting adventure, and it’s fun tackling this “home owning” thing together. There are buttons for the peaceful nights that we’ve plunked down, exhausted, on the couch and listened to the crickets chirping through the open windows. There’s a button for the afternoon that we dismantled the clothes dryer, and one or two buttons for the almost daily trips to Home Depot. There are buttons for the lights that don’t work yet and buttons for the neighbor’s dogs. There are lots of buttons, so I won’t list them all.

I made the ink and watercolor drawing above (which I’ll turn into a print and put on Etsy as soon as I unearth all my printing supplies from the chaos that is my unfinished new studio) simply because the buttons were colorful and cute. They were calling out to me amidst the disorder of half-unpacked boxes and post-moving clutter, begging me to draw them. In retrospect, of course, I see that, like most other things I make, this is a documentary drawing, helping chronicle my life.

Yes, life. Ain’t it great?

It sure is. Bye!

Related posts:

Learning to Honor “Creative Time” Despite a Busy Schedule

This is turning out to be a summer full of good things. Art shows, a Paul McCartney concert at Fenway Park (thus fulfilling my childhood dream of seeing a Beatle in REAL LIFE!!!), celebrations with family and friends (weddings, birthdays, togetherness, oh my!), and…(drum roll please)…buying our first house!our first home (birdhouse)

Yay! I’m SO excited about the house. We’ll start making our move over the next few weeks. Planning has been in full swing and soon it will be time to tackle the PACKING. Let’s be honest: moving, as exciting as it is, is also a lot of work. But I look forward to making this place home – a place that, over time, will undoubtedly become special as we live, work, grow and play there. We are very blessed, and I am mightily grateful, indeed.

Meanwhile, I’m also busy preparing for another exciting event: the upcoming art showcase, REVEAL. Making and matting prints, pricing everything, figuring out display and marketing logistics, gathering all my materials, writing statements…show prep ends up taking more time than one might think.

Prints for Upcoming Show

making prints

Interspersed amongst the many tasks of moving and show prepping are an upcoming wedding and a few family get-togethers. So many good things. Good things that all demand time, energy, and commitment.

So…all is well and I’m happy as a clam, right? Well…to be honest, until recently, I was feeling pretty overwhelmed.

Well, not really overwhelmed, actually, but just sort of…dead inside. Empty. Detached. If I wasn’t feeling numb, then I was feeling anxious about my responsibilities and annoyed about having to attend to them.

Which in turn, made me feel bad because…aren’t I supposed to be happy about all these good things? How can I be so ungrateful? Not only that, but compared to other people, my load seems pretty small. Other people constantly juggle more things than this. What’s wrong with me? (blah blah, broken record, so typical)…

But! I’m feeling better now. What changed? My attitude, of course!

It occurred to me that there were 2 things in particular that were getting me down. Things that, once identified, I realized I could change:

  1. I was holding on to exceedingly high personal expectations. “I am going to be SO flawlessly prepared to showcase my artwork and impress everyone. And I’m going to get all my work done for the show before THIS weekend, so that I can focus on moving and my other commitments in the weeks following.” “I am going to ROCK this move – I will be so organized with the packing that it will be stress-free and painless. I’m going to clean our apartment so well that the landlord isn’t even going to have to clean it before the next people move in. That shower is going to glisten!” And “I’m going to be the best wife/daughter/sister/aunt/friend during all the get-togethers. I’ll be present for every single moment and full of energy, too.”
  2. I was not allowing myself any time to do CREATIVE work. In pursuit of perfectly executing the expectations listed above — preparing for the show and organizing for the move — I couldn’t justify taking time to create NEW things.  It seemed like a selfish luxury, something that should be “backburner-ed” until all the hustle has died down.

Obviously, such high expectations (issue #1) are a real trip-up. You know how, growing up, “they” always encouraged you to “do your best?” in every situation? Well, that’s always been kind of a killer. Theoretically, my best could always be better, right? I could always sacrifice more to go the extra mile…maybe forgo sleep, or dinner, or sanity. There’s simply no gauge for what “my best” really is and it’s a shaky ideal to aim for.

Once I realized I was thinking that way, I remembered something my husband has pointed out to me numerous times. If I change the focus from “doing the best” to “doing something meaningful”, it’s a lot easier to move forward. “Perfect” is not the goal. The goal is to be engaged and connected to what I am doing, to do MEANINGFUL work – work that I can feel proud of doing, for which I don’t feel ashamed claiming ownership, and work that connects me to the people and the experiences at hand.

That second issue, though — the need to honor my “creative time” — that took a little longer for me to get comfortable with. How can I justify telling people that I need to be alone this morning so that I can sketch out some fuzzy creative ideas that are dancing around in my brain? Surely, I don’t really need that.

But if there’s anything I know about myself, it’s that when I stop creating for a period, I begin to feel detached and dead. Over and over again, I’ve had to relearn the importance of honoring my “creative time”. It’s no small thing. A mere 30 minutes of drawing/painting/sketching can rejuvenate my sense of vitality and restore my desire to interact with the world. It’s wonderful, and it’s an easy thing to do! In the grand scheme of things — of all the strategies out there for keeping oneself afloat — it’s not a very demanding thing to do.

Even so, I had to hear it from someone else’s before I was willing to reclaim my “sacred” creative time. In the book “Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention”, author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says: “Perhaps the most difficult thing for a creative individual to bear is the sense of loss and emptiness experienced when, for some reason or another, he or she cannot work. This is especially painful when a person feels one’s creativity drying out; then the whole self-concept is jeopardized.” He goes on to say “When the person is working in the area of his or her expertise, worries and cares fall away, replaced by a sense of bliss.”

YES! I know what he’s talking about! When I experience that bliss, I see things with greater clarity. My senses turn back on and I feel whole. When I feel whole, I can connect with life — I can connect with YOU — and act with more grace, conscientiousness, and intention than when I cut myself off from creative pursuits.

And now, instead of tying this all up with a nice concluding bow, I’m going to call it finished and go put my words into action by taking 20 minutes to draw before it’s time to cook dinner.

Oh, but one more thing. Grandma, if you’re reading this: hi! I love you. Just wanted to say that.

Ok, bye.

Related posts: