Tools & Talismans #97 — Susa Talan

T&T #97 Susa Talan.jpg

Yellow flowers in vase:  I buy these flowers at a local farmer's market and dry them. I have two vases of them in my studio. This little one with the stems cut short in a clear glass vase and then a larger light blue glass vase with 3 yellow poms, their long stems intact. I love them. They bring me an unparalleled feeling of happiness and ease to look at them. In the last couple years, I've discovered more directly how much color and form are very deep friends — like long-time companions, that I knew were there, but somehow missed their significance. These yellow pom flowers (I don't even know their proper name) have been a big part of that discovery and a very grounding addition to my studio life. Something about their shade of yellow, the texture of the pom itself, their bulbous heads and tiny, wooden bodies that feels deeply, aesthetically pleasing. I look to them often throughout the day, almost like a reset button for my mind.

Three rocks:  These 3 rocks have individual and collective significance for me. Together, they sit on our little make-shift altar at home in the area where my partner and I meditate. The rock to the far right (brown, with rings) is a rock I chose to use in a ceremonial going away circle at Insight Meditation Society, a Buddhist meditation center in Central MA where I worked from 2007-2008. When a staff member leaves, we offer them a closing circle. Anyone who wants to can join. It's often early in the morning, 8am, up in the attic staff sitting area. For my "check out" as we call it, people held this rock and shared thoughts, memories, wishes for me on my departure. So many people that I love were there. Many of whom are still in my life. I haven't been without it since that day. I took it with me to Burma, where I practiced for 4 months (and temporarily ordained) in 2010. The other two rocks my Mom gave me for my trip to Burma. The one on the left feels playful, a tiny ice cream cone or glass of soda spilling over — it also looks to me like a mini volcano or foam on a wave. I love the variability. The heart rock, in particular, feels special — mostly because it's from my Mom. She collects rocks and shells every time she goes to the beach. She carried this one in her raincoat for almost a year before she gave it to me. I love that. These 3 rocks are like tethers to what I care most about. Wisdom/path, connection, creativity. They have witnessed the evolution of my spiritual path: discovering the possibility of being awake and the nature of the way things are, and the community I carry with me and am a part of, always.

Beads: These beads have a similar meaning to me as I detailed above. I found them in a room at IMS that I was cleaning while working there. Someone left them behind. I've been told that this is how you should receive mala beads — as a gift. I also carried them to Burma and for many years on every flight, I took — keeping me company with a pervasive fear of flying. I am not as afraid as I used to be, so I don't carry them anymore. But they remind me of my own strength, inner friendship and the many, many people who have walked this path, and this life, before me. I don't wear them so much as they live nearby, often draped over a Buddha in my studio or near our bed. They remind me when I start to take myself too seriously, that there's more to the moment than just ME.

Micron Pens: These different sized pens have been my primary tools the last 3 years. Before finding them, I used paint brushes and paper, thread and glue. I was an abstract artist, and one who dabbled and felt a lot of doubt — adrift from my own creative voice. These pens came into my life at a time when I was ready to start simplifying my creative experience — kind of like, one last dance. Now or never. So I gave myself a year-long project: one drawing a day. No paper, no canvas, no big ideas. Just one. Precise. Singular. Simple. Repeat. So over the last 3 years, 005, 01, 02, 03, 05 and 08 have been my closest creative pals. Ever ready! And quite reliable. I have deep gratitude for them.

Postcard print: This block print is of a piece by one of my favorite artists who also happens to be a dear childhood friend. Anna Hepler. I have the actual print of this piece in my home (along with 3 other prints that she gave me, many years ago). This piece in particular, like the yellow poms (and in conjunction with them — they are color companions) makes me feel pretty aesthetically complete. Another dear companion, I look to this piece, these colors, this form, nearly every day for quietude, ease, joy. It's hard to describe. It's a non-verbal feeling of looking at nature, at myself, at something that is a part of me, or my experience of being human. It's deeply, deeply soothing and stimulating, both.

Tiny pillow: I made this tiny pillow at a weekend creative retreat with some dear friends I met teaching at Squam Arts Workshop a few years back. These ladies brought us through a bunch of creative, colorful activities together. My first foray into a group creative experience since high school. And so much more fun. There's lavender in this little pillow. It reminds me that I can make things with my hands — soft, textured, colorful things. And it's soothing. I smell it often. And keep it near my bed. Again, the colors (blues, pinks, cream) have somatic significance (in a non-verbal way).

Susa Talan — Illustrator, artist. Creative maker. Gratitude champion.


Tools & Talismans is a personal painting project where I document {in watercolor} the tools and talismans of 100 different women — creators and healers, thinkers and makers, wordsmiths and visionaries. Join me — I'll be sharing a new painting with you every Wednesday.

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