Sunday, December 8, 2013

Gothic Christmas Photos

Well, my first art show and sale at the Have Yourself a Gothic Little Christmas has come and gone. It was very fruitful—I met lots of amazing artisans and crafters, received positive feedback about my own work, and even sold a few pieces, which was very encouraging.

Here are some shots of me at my booth.

For more pictures of the whole gothic affair, please go to Jen Holtom's Facebook page and check them out. 

Have a Merry Gothic Christmas/Happy Holidays.

© All rights reserved. Angela Dawn MacKay.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Knotted Words Celtic Art's Debut Art Show and Sale

So here it is, my first official art show and sale, and the Have Yourself a Gothic Little Christmas Craft Fair is just the perfect venue for my work.

Held at Maritime Hall at the Halifax Forum on Nov. 30/Dec. 1/2013 from 11am to 7pm on Saturday and 11am to 6 pm on Sunday, the Have Yourself a Gothic Little Christmas Craft Fair and Sale is home to all things medieval, gothic, fairytale, and steampunk inspired. Hope to see you there, enjoying your gothic Christmas shopping spree. 

To view some of my inspirational celtic artwork, please visit my main website at Knotted Words Celtic Art or check out my profile page at Pixels/

© All rights reserved. Angela Dawn MacKay.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Why Gothic Art? How the Dark Arts Can Lighten Your Heart and Your Life

So right before the Canadian Thanksgiving holiday, I posted a new piece of artwork entitled Spinning Celtic Skulls (pictured above), my vision of a glimpse into the mind of Lewis' Carroll's Queen of Hearts. When I pointed my artwork out to my mother, she took at quick glance at the image on my facebook page and her sarcasm was very detectable through the phone when she said, "Very nice, Ange. Happy Thanksgiving to you, too." 

Now, while my mother has always been very supportive of my artwork, she has never really understood my darker side. "Ange," she has said in the past. "I don't understand why you draw and write such dark things. You are so cheerful and happy. You are a nice person. How can someone with such a pleasant disposition create such dark, depressing things?"

And so, Mom, this post is for you—my attempt to answer your question and to go a little further, arguing that it is because I create such dark and depressing things that I am so happy and cheerful. 
This post is for anyone who does not understand gothic art, culture, and philosophy, for all the mothers out there who don't understand why all their teenager wants to do is wear black and listen to death metal, for all the people who would rather focus on the nicer, prettier aspects of life rather than acknowledging the harsh realities of death and impermanence.

But first, I have a confession to make. I am a closet Goth. I have always appreciated the Goth aesthetic, the dark hair and eyes contrasting with pale skin and dark, elegant clothing. I have never had the courage to dress that way, mainly for professional reasons—I don't want to scare my clients away. :-) But while I may not look Goth on the outside, I am definitely one on the inside and this is why.

For me, one of the appeals of gothic art and culture is the acknowledgment of life in all its aspects, its horrors as well as its beauty. Gothic artists and writers possess the ability to see the beauty within the horror. All these images of skulls and blood and death are just an acknowledgment of the truth of the human condition—we are born, we live, and we die. When we can honour the truth of death as gothic artists do, then we can truly appreciate life. In some sense, Buddhists do the same thing, contemplating death in meditations on emptiness of the body and impermanence. Why, one of the major tenants of Buddhist thought is the first noble truth, which states quite frankly that "Life is suffering." So for me, gothic art and Buddhist thought go hand in hand.

"But how does this acknowledgement of suffering and death make you happy?" you might ask.

Because it is a relief to acknowledge the truth. When I remember my mortality, when I remind myself that I, too, will die someday, I can finally relax and enjoy life with a lighter heart, an appreciation for every bittersweet moment as it is. It is kind of like when you were a little kid and you were afraid of what was under your bed and you couldn't go to sleep until you checked to see what kind of horrors lived amongst those cobwebs and dust bunnies and old comic books. When you finally saw what was there and what wasn't there, then and only then could you take a deep breath, and curl up under a pile of heavy blankets and snuggle off to sleep.

It is not until we acknowledge these horrors, both real and imagined, see them face to face and look them in the eye, that we get to know them and realize that they aren't as scary as we initially thought them to be, and that, my friends, brings a great sense of relief, to be able to think, "Ahhh, I will die someday," to never forget that fact, because we never know when that someday is. Maybe it's tomorrow, maybe it's today, and maybe it's 30 years from now.

And so when you look under your bed and your imagination plays tricks on you, and you swear you saw a monster under there, at least now you know what your dealing with, even if your mind has made it up to fill the space, to fill the terror of not knowing, at least now, your mind has given form to the worst case scenario, and believe it or not, my friends, knowing always makes us feel better.

The gothic art that takes us further into the dark side, the images of demons, vampires, and the like, things that the recesses of our mind like to dream up in their spare time, these images give form to the formless frights of our lives, our existential angst. And like the child in the night peering under the bed, in viewing these images, we can relax, and think "Ahhh, its only a blood-sucking vampire—I can deal with that. Ahhh, its only a brain-eating zombie—I can deal with that." But what we can't deal with is the all-pervasive anxiety that gnaws at our minds, chomping and chewing away every little bit of sanity we have left.

Creating gothic art makes me happy because it gives form to my greatest fears, allows me to see them for what they are, imaginary in some cases, the truth of the human condition in others. And being able to make the distinction between things as they appear and things as they are gives me a clarity and a knowing that cuts through any confusion that I have and lets me sit on the honey-coated razor's edge of the present moment, balancing precariously between light and dark, good and evil, resting in the here and now beyond labels, beyond form, beyond conceptualization of any kind.

It is here, in this bardo, this neverland of time, that true happiness resides, happiness without causes or conditions, contentment pure and true. So join me in that space beyond the niceities and horrors of the mind and see what you experience there. Visit the virtual homes of other gothic/fantasy artists, such as Myka Jelina, Charlene Murray ZatloukalJasmine Becket-Griffith and, of course, the infamous Tim Burton, and notice your own reaction to the dark arts. 

To view more of my artwork, please visit my main website at Knotted Words Celtic Art or check out my profile page at Pixels/ If you are interested in learning more about gothic art and culture, you can check out Gothic Beauty Magazine, sold locally at The Paper Chase on Blowers Street in Halifax.

© All rights reserved. Angela Dawn MacKay.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Stress Management for New Parents: Five Simple Things You Can Do to Help You Cope With Your New Bundle of Joy

So one of my first blog posts ever was "Stress Management for Parents", something I had written long before I actually became I parent. And while I still stand by most of what I had said before, there are a few things I would change about what I had written now that I have a four month old baby.

First, I would make the list of coping strategies shorter. New parents have enough new things to learn and do—any tips I have for them need to be small, simple, and to the point.

Secondly, I would rank the items from least important to most important. Sometimes doing one extra thing is enough to put a new parent (aka me) over the edge, let alone five. Now I realize the importance of giving parents ranked options so that they have a sense that what their stress management priorities are.

So, with that said, here are is Angela D. MacKay's Guide to Stress Management for New Parents. The five simple, most important things you can do to help you cope, in descending order, are:

5) Do something fun while you're baby is napping. All new parents hear "sleep when the baby sleeps", but I disagree. Sure, you need your rest, but you also need some connection to your life before you had a child, and that means doing something of the fun things you used to do in your down time. The key word here is "fun" and just to clarify, what you find fun when you're exhausted and you're life is turned upside down is very different than what you found fun when things felt more balanced. It may be as simple as watching a television show with your partner, or reading a novel while your partner, family, or friends are looking after the baby. As tired as I was, within the first three weeks after my beautiful babe was born, I was reading a novel and writing in my journal while my husband took over the evening feeds of pumped breast milk and supplemental formula. Reading and writing, things I did frequently before my baby was born, reminded me that there was a world outside of parenthood, and that eventually, I would have more of a connection with it.

4) Take some time to problem solve about things that would make your life easier. I was a pretty organized person before I got pregnant, but baby brain left me feeling a little less smart and a lot less organized. There were many important things I didn't yet have when my water broke eight days early, including a night-light, a soother, and a bottle warmer. What you expect to need when you are having baby may be quite different than what you actually need once your baby arrives. Taking the time to think about my options, to talk things over with my partner, and get support from other mothers allowed me to figure out what needed to change and what I needed to tweak in order to make things go more smoothly.

The decision to supplement breastfeeding with formula was huge, and at first, heart-breaking, but I soon realized what a dramatic change introducing formula would bring to my life. No longer would I be engaging in breastfeeding-related activities for 15 hours a day, going without food for five hours at time, breastfeeding and sobbing, wondering when and if my baby would ever be full and how much longer I could feed my child without losing my mind. Now, I breastfeed my baby for an hour at a time, and someone else can feed him a bottle while I go do the things that I need to do to take care of myself. That one choice changed everything for me—wiped out half of my stress, and spread out the responsibility of feeding my child to others, rather than having it fall on me alone.

So take the time to think about what choices you need to make in order to get the most stress-reducing bang for your buck. Tweak your physical space to make it more organized and efficient as needed—organization and structure in the physical world will decrease the chaos in your inner world. Find the supports and structures you need from within the community as well as your friends and family.

3) Tune into your body to figure out what you need to do for you. In those precious moments of quietude when your baby sleeps, just take a moment to tune in with yourself and get a sense of what you need to do next. Do you really need to take a nap? Is food a priority? Do you need a shower? Do you need to talk with someone? Or do you just need to be alone? Only you can answer those questions, only you can tune in in the moment, and discern what you need to do right now. Being present with yourself helps you better respond to both your needs and your baby's needs—when you are at your best, your baby will be at their best, too.

2) Know when you need to ask for help. This ties into number three. You need to know your limits, to know when you are too tired, too hungry, or too emotional drained to properly care for you and your child. Err on the side of caution—do not wait until you are completely overwhelmed to ask for help. I learned that the hard way. Many a time in those first two weeks, I knew I was about lose it after about 2 hours of breastfeeding, but I kept going anyway, thinking that I could just feed him a little bit longer, that he'd get full soon enough.

The result three hours later? A sobbing, hungry Mama and a wailing, hungry baby. When I was finally able to ask my husband to take over before I got so overwhelmed, things were much less stressful for all of us.

And the number one thing you can do to help you cope with your new bundle of joy? You guessed it...

1) Exercise. Now, I know some of you are thinking, "Come on, really? You want me to exercise right after having a baby? That's just not possible." Again, let me qualify that by saying that what you would do as exercise before having a baby, during pregnancy, immediately postpartum, 6 weeks postpartum and 12 weeks postpartum are all completely different.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, exercise is defined as any activity that requires physical exertion. That's all I'm saying—get up and move and you'll feel better.

As a new mom, I spent most of my time sitting—sitting and breastfeeding, sitting and changing a diaper, sitting and reading a story. For me, ten days postpartum, "exercise" was sweeping and moping my kitchen floor. Oh, you won't believe how good it felt, working up the tiniest bit of sweat! I had no idea that I could ever love cleaning my kitchen so much. Finally, I could get up and move!

At one month, postpartum, "exercise" was a twenty minute leisurely stroll with my baby and my dog.

And now, at four months postpartum, "exercise" is roller skating by myself for a half an hour while listening to Rob Zombie's "Dragula" over and over again.  And the difference in my mood is night and day. Even my husband has noticed a significant change in my overall demeanor.

"Are going roller skating tomorrow morning?" he would ask. "I can stay home and keep an ear out for the baby." Because he knows when Mama's happy, everybody's happy. And what makes Mama happy is roller skating.

And so there you have it—Angela D. MacKay's Guide to Stress Management for New Parents. Do keep in mind that while this list is meant to be ranked in order of importance, as you can see, they each tie into one another, and only you can discern what you need to do when. The bottom line is that you need to trust yourself more than anything, even more than the books, more than the professionals. Give yourself permission to take care of yourself as well as your baby and everyone will be all the happier.

© All rights reserved. Angela Dawn MacKay.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Healing Power of Celtic Art: How Celtic Art Helped Me Heal My Body and Mind After Giving Birth

So I just had my first baby this past May and the recovery from labour and delivery was not exactly what I had envisioned. I had imagined myself strolling through the Halifax Public Gardens eating an ice cream while pushing a peaceful, sleeping baby along in a stroller just weeks after he was born. I had imagined myself walking the dog while my newborn babe slept cuddled up to my chest in a snuggly.
I had imagined myself roller-skating at six weeks postpartum and being able to practice yoga again.

Now, those of you who are already mothers might be saying to yourselves, "Angela, what were you thinking?"

But my expectations were not as far off as to what the books and the nurses tell you. I was being optimistic, I suppose, but not unrealistic, but boy, was I ever off in my expectations of what my healing process might look like.  I had a hard labour, 22 hours, a natural birth as I had hoped it would be, but I was not counting on pinching a few nerves in the process, thereby rendering my left foot practically useless. Walking down the hall became a huge challenge, and when they sent me home from the hospital three days after giving birth to a beautiful baby boy, I knew it would be a long time before I'd be taking my little one on a leisurely stroll through the Public Gardens.

I was aware that moving around and getting outside were vital for my mental and physical health, and yet my life-lines to the outside world were as shut down as the nerves to my left foot. My husband, family, and friends were very supportive, but I knew I needed something that I could do on my own in order to cope. Without being able to safely walk carrying my baby, what could I do? What could I do to keep myself sane for the next two months while I sat around my house waiting for nerves to heal?

I could draw, that's what I could do.

So while my baby napped, I drew. I drew celtic spirals and celtic knots and celtic vampire bats and celtic mermaids and celtic versions of fairytales. I drew celtic spiders and celtic angels and celtic butterflies. I drew and drew and drew and drew some more. I drew celtic art 'til my head was spinning and I went to bed seeing the under/over repeating patterns of the never-ending lines, weaving in and out, over and under, until I drifted off to sleep. I drew when I should have been napping, because I knew that it was the celtic art that was keeping me going, the never-ending lines keeping me sane when my life had changed so much. My baby slept and I drew. For the first month, that's all I knew. Breastfeeding, diaper changing, and the never-ending lines of my celtic art.

Over time, my nerves healed and I could walk again. Hurray! I thought, I can go out an play! But again, my hopes were dashed, as my energy level was so low that a twenty minute walk felt like running a marathon.

And so I kept drawing. More celtic knots, more never-ending lines, more celtic spirals that spun endlessly into infinity. And my baby slept on.

And now, almost four months postpartum, I feel like myself again. I'm roller-skating almost every day, doing yoga, walking the dog with a sleeping baby in a snuggly, and yes, we have even made it to the Public Gardens several times. And while my baby sleeps, I still draw, maybe a little less now that I feel that I have my mobility back, but the lines must go on and so I draw whenever I can.

It wasn't until recently that I discovered that there is such a thing as Celtic Art Therapy, an experimental form of art therapy where clients trace the lines of closed line celtic knotwork, apparently taking clients out of the fight or flight response and into a more mindful, meditative cognitive state. And while there is only limited observational evidence and case studies to go by, I cannot help but reflect on my own subjective experience in creating celtic art and drawing all of those lines.

Is that what I was doing, drawing my brain back from fight or flight into a more meditative state? While there is no conclusive evidence to suggest this is so, I am curious as to what you think.

Below is one of my earlier pieces of celtic art, my rendering of a celtic "T" from the Book of Kells.

Now, you may have to zoom in super close, but grab a pencil or a pen, and start tracing the red line, start anywhere you like, and just notice what happens to your body and your breath as you follow the knots under and over one another.

Does it make a difference in your brain chemistry? Does it change how you think, how you breath, what you feel? Does celtic art have true healing power? I'll leave that for you to decide.

© All rights reserved. Angela Dawn MacKay., Twitter: @AngelaDMac

Monday, January 7, 2013

Emotional Boundaries: How to Hold Your Ground in the Midst of Fear and Chaos

So… as you might imagine, being a psychologist, at times, can be an intense job—people's stories pulling on my heart strings, as well as their stress and emotions tugging at my nervous system. Being able to stay grounded is at the heart of what I do.

So how do you do it, you might ask? How do I hear the sorrows and woes of others without becoming stressed or overwhelmed myself? Well, after years of practice, I've learned a few tricks of the trade and I thought I'd share them with you.

But before I share my secrets, there are a few things you need to understand about people and their emotional states. First of all, emotions can be contagious—negative emotions spreading from one person to another like some infectious disease or fungal outbreak, positive emotions spreading as quickly as a gentle smile and a few kinds words. Which way it will go, an infectious contagion or infectious good cheer largely depends on how we respond to the emotions of others.

You see, human beings are much like a tuning fork. A calm, grounded individual can be a calming presence to someone who is stressed just by being calm - what they say or do isn't as important as how they are saying or doing it - whether their words and actions come from a place of fear or a place of presence. Imagine what would have happened if Chicken Little, when frantically trying to make her way to the King because the sky was falling, had come across a calm, grounded Turkey Lurkey. The story might have turned out very differently, don't you think?

But beware: the emotions of others can pull us out of our sense of calm, leading us into a whirlwind of emotion. (Chicken Little is a great example of this, and look at what happened in that tragic tale—All of the farm animals were pulled into Chicken Little's fear, and followed her around to find the King only to be led straight into a dark cave and eaten by a fox.  Ahh, such needless suffering…)

I don't want you to fall to the same fate, so here's a few pointers that might help you stay present and calm even though those around you are overwhelmed by fear and strong emotion:

1) Notice your Breath: Very often when we are stressed, we are not breathing to our full capacity. It is the breath that separates us from life or death, quite literally, and if we are not breathing, we are generally not calm. So slow your breath down, nudging it into deep, even inhales and exhales. The breath calms the body, which calms the mind.

2) Notice your Body: Are you feeling tension anywhere? Bracing yourself in any way? If you are, notice it and see if you can bring awareness to it, letting it soften and let go with every exhale.

3) Notice your Posture: Are you leaning forward, all hunched over, stifling the breath? Are you leaning back, almost as if to avoid the intensity of the emotion coming at you? Neither will do. The term "being centered" means that quite literally - we need a long spine, vertebrae stacked on top of one another, our feet connected to the earth, our head and heart open to the sky in order to be "centered", as it opens up the breath, which gives us both the energy and the wisdom to deal with the situation skillfully.

4) Notice your Surroundings: Do you know where you are? Or has the stress of the other person made the physical environment a blur? Tune into the five senses, letting your eyes take in whatever you see around, your ears resting on whatever sounds they notice, and so on. Bringing our awareness to what's around us can help us regain perspective and help us see the wisdom of the big picture.

5) Trust What Comes: When we are present, we are in tune with others and our environment, and our words and actions seem to be just what is needed. Trust that you will say and do exactly what the situation requires.

6) Repeat the Above Over and Over, as Needed: Being grounded and present is not a static state - it is something we must tune into over and over again.

© All Rights Reserved. Angela Dawn MacKay
www.knottedwordscelticart.comTwitter: @AngelaDMac