Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!!!

My New Year's wish for all my readers -
may you walk in the direction of your dreams, and upon arriving,
find the new set of dreams that is waiting for you.

Wishing you all the very best for
good health, financial stability, and great love in 2011.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Dis(re)solving

Once again my friend Jessica has read my mind. Not only that, but she beat me to the punch (here). I say this because I don't want to be accused of plagiarizing, least she sue me for all my art supplies. Truth is, the two of us are such kindred spirits that I'm pretty sure we spend a lot of time camping out in the same cranial cavern. Worse things could happen.

Folks have been asking me what my New Year's resolutions are. I have none. Not a one. I don't do New Year's resolutions, that's why. Any time I hear people talking about them, I also hear Mary Poppins in my head saying, "That's a pie crust promise. Easily made, easily broken." Ever notice that come, oh... March, you don't hear anyone saying how great they're (still) doing with their resolutions? Uh huh.

My resolutions come daily from the moment I wake up and think, "What personal best can I better today? Which goal(s) will I begin marching toward, knowing that I might only accomplish a single step today?"

Resolutions are often unrealistic which makes them unproductive. Someone will say, "My resolution is to lose weight." Well, that's nice, but what are your goals? Are you striving for a pound a week? A dress size by Valentine's Day? Are you planning to eat salad for a month until that five pounds of Christmas cookie binging is gone? Then what? Wouldn't it be better to simply set a life goal and begin to eat healthier things?

Here's another thing that bugs me about New Year's resolutions. They are so often centered around physical things or material things. You don't hear people say, "I'm going to work on being more patient," or "I'm going to find a way to give some of my time and energy to someone who needs it."

So, I literally cheered aloud when Jessica said that if she was going to make resolutions they'd be things like being a better mother (though I have a hunch she's already damned good at that), allowing the art inside her to become tangible, making happiness part of her daily life.

We can't change the world, but we can change who we are in the world. And we can't change that by making some flip decision before we down a glass of champagne. It's a conscious millisecond-by-millisecond thing. Are you ready for that?! Because, like it or not, we're already in the moment. It starts now.

*****
Aaaaaand.... a Happy Birthday shout out to my friend Tim M. who turned me on to this great tune by Sara Bareilles.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Ten Things to Take With You

I first posted the following list two years ago today (here). I posted it again last year. While I had second thoughts about tossing it out there for the third year running, once I re-read it I realized that I still believe it. All of it. It still applies and they are still tenets by which I live.

Besides, I have some new readers since the last time around and maybe they haven't realized the brilliance of my blog and made it a point to wander through its archives. Well, now you're off the hook.

Here's my basic Life Toolkit - also known as Ten Things to Take With You on the Ride Through 2011. I promise, you'll be equipped to deal with pretty much everything if you keep these in mind.

  • Never mind that the word kindness is a noun - it is an action, and it requires action. No one was ever accused of being kind who sat in a corner doing nothing.
  • Contrary to popular belief, Time does not heal all wounds. Nature does. Surrounding oneself with natural beauty reminds one that everything shares an interconnectedness and that sometimes the big heavy stuff (while seeming to require a mental forklift on our individual parts) is but a grain of sand in the grand schema. That doesn't mean that we or our lives are in any way insignificant - keep in mind that a single grain of sand can change everything (ever get one caught in your eye?).
  • Laughter is a requirement, particularly the ability to use it while looking in the mirror.
  • Significant events in life will happen if you're ready or not. Keep these emergency supplies handy: observation, openness, at least one good friend (with two good ears), inventiveness and/or creativity, sense of humor, water, and chocolate.
  • Love, while a useful tool, is not a possession. Give it away. The one who dies with the emptiest toolbox wins.
  • Music is as essential to survival as food is. It can change an attitude. It can fix a mood. It just plain feels good to belt out a familiar tune, or dance (even if it's alone in the living room), or close your eyes and escape to whatever desert island awaits (I hear Bob Marley and I don't care how cold it is - I'm puttin' on a Hawaiian shirt!). And so, as the man sang, "Lively up yourself. Don't be no drag."
  • Physical Fitness, Mental Fitness, and Spiritual Fitness are a triad and require strength on all three sides. Therefore on a daily "nutritional" basis:
    ~Eat Well - We all know how to do that, I don't need to expound.
    ~Think (outside the box will give you the best workout) - Learn something, feed your head.
    ~Meditate - dream, pray, whatever you want to call it, so long as you take time to nurture your spirit.
    ~Get daily exercise - Walk, get outside and get outside yourself!
    ~Experience - give your heart a very long leash, remembering the words of Rilke: no feeling is final.
  • Connect with Innocence, whether it's a child or an animal. Seeing the world through unblemished, unjaded, non-judgmental, unconditionally loving eyes is a joyful thing. If you don't have a child or a pet, visit one - generally speaking, good parents and good pet owners are happy to share.
  • Sometimes the person you need most in your life is (still) a stranger. Sometimes the person they most need is YOU. Say hello (with a smile, dammit!) to people you don't know.
  • There's no rewind, there's no fast forward, there is no pause. There is only Play or Stop. Take care to keep it on Play - you're needed more than you know. (Oh, and there are no subtitles either, so speak up!)

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Fear & Loathing

Hatred is a learned thing. As sung by Lt. Cable in South Pacific, "You have to be carefully taught." Think about it - babies don't know hate. They know fear. When that fear hits them, they either cower, cry, or run away. Somewhere along the line, we're taught to turn that fear into hate. We're given orders to not trust people who "look like that" or "behave like this." Fear turns to distrust and prejudice which ferments into an unpalatable jug of hate.

We've all been there. We all know hate from both sides of the coin. We meet someone from a certain race, religion, pursuit, etc., and suddenly an icy internal claw curls around our hearts and squeezes tight. We feel somehow justified in that hate - we were taught that it's okay. Yet if we were to travel to other parts of the world, we'd be equally despised based on our looks and language. We'd be judged as the Ugly American - an arrogant, self-serving person - no matter who we really are. It doesn't even have to be someone from another race or creed. We've learned to loathe fat people, skinny people, people with long hair, people who aren't sparklingly clean all the time, poor people, rich people, disabled people... the list goes on. The slightest excuse will give us reason enough to despise another human being. We learned how to do that.

Often a quality we hate in others is one we refuse to acknowledge in ourselves. Classic example, a friend once said to me, "I hate her. She's always complaining and back-biting!" I replied, "Uh huh. And... tell me, what is it you think you're doing right now?"

The good thing is that learned behaviors can be "unlearned." We can choose to override those learned behaviors with education and understanding. This was brought home to me years and years ago by a spider. Yup. A regular old, garden variety spider. I hated spiders. I hated hearing the word "spider." Just hearing about them made my mouth turn down, my shoulders hunch, and my skin crawl - it's some pretty strong hate when it manifests physically like that. Then one day a friend said, "You should see the beautiful spider that's out in the garden! It's spun a gorgeous web and its got really striking markings!" My eyes narrowed as I said, "No thanks. I hate spiders." She wouldn't take no for an answer. She grabbed my arm and hauled me outside, up to a bush next to the patio, and pointed.

I summoned my courage. I decided I wasn't going to let a thing 1/3 the size of my pinkie nail push me around. I looked where she pointed. It was a beautiful spider. We spent the better part of a half hour watching it move around and finish spinning its web. From then on I paid attention when I saw spiders. I turned my fear into curiosity and curiosity turned into respect. Don't get me wrong. I don't want one for a pet, but I no longer hate them.

What is it or who is it you hate? Your hatred comes from fear and anger generated from that fear. So, ask yourself what it is about them (or it) that you fear, that makes you angry. Get curious. Then learn. Education is key to ending hatred. It doesn't mean you have to love that person (or group of people), or love who they are or what they are, but it can take you a long way towards tolerance and acceptance. All it takes is a little understanding (knowledge) to bring down barriers. I guarantee you will learn much about yourself in this process, and maybe you'll even learn to hate yourself a little less.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Hi-Def

Friday, Christmas Eve, brought surprise. Santa Baby came home early from work. Rather than pulling up to the garage below as is typical, he pulled up to the front door. I opened the door and said, "Just what are you up to?!" He started hauling all of his gear - laptop, coffee mug, project book, etc. - from the front seat and said, "I stopped and bought us a new TV."

The TV wasn't an entire surprise. He'd been talking about getting a new one soon, and our old one had been exhibiting death signs for a few weeks. As he walked in the door he handed me a stack of DVD's that he'd rented. "We saw this already..." I said as I looked at the titles. He tapped the top of the cover, it read Blu-Ray. I looked at him with a knowing grin and said, "Ohhhh... you are a bad man." He knows when I say this that he has done something very, very good.

He proceeded to bring in the box containing a new Blu-Ray disc player. Then he hauled in the enormous box containing our new LCD High-def TV. Tech-head Genius Man that he is, he had everything hooked up and running in short order. He popped in the disc that we had seen before, on our regular old TV and regular old DVD player.

Let me interrupt here to say that Steve's been doing research on this stuff for over a month now. He's expounded the virtues and pitfalls of every kind of TV out there to the point where my internal eyes would begin to roll back in my head as soon as I heard him say, "Here's an interesting review..." I mean, just buy a damned TV already and have done with it! I couldn't see what the big deal was. A TV is a TV, right? Wrong. So wrong. I'm finding it difficult to type while my head is hung in shame.

Where was I... "He popped in the disc that we had seen before, on our regular old TV and regular old DVD player." Right. Thank you. Wow, I mean, WOW what a difference! The cliffs were so defined I felt like I could jump off of them; the streams were so clear and crisp I wanted to dip my toes in them; I could swear I felt the high grass of the savanna tickling my knees. I could read the credits at the end (I may be weird, but I do that) instead of squinting at fuzzy letters that make as much sense to me as reading Swahili.

I'm convinced. I'm hooked. High definition is the only way to go.

It got me thinking. Of course. How much of our lives go buy in a blur, unnoticed and shrugged off. What if we took the time, and took the steps, to see things more clearly?

It's completely apropos that I've decided to participate in a writing challenge all next month (January 2011).

I have committed to participating in the National Month of Small Stones (read about it at A River of Stones, here). This will be a real challenge for me. Rather than my usual lengthy missives, I will be reigning in my writing muses and only writing a tiny nugget to capture what I've observed. The key is being open and aware, and noting the moment when it comes. So, the challenge isn't just about writing, it's about observing and really living a moment. It's about letting the moment strike you with clarity, and then writing a very short description of it.

What is a small stone? It's like seeing the very fine, high-def hairs on the monkey rather than the entire monkey and the tree and the sky. Instead of a long diffusive blog describing everything I observed about the monkey and its movements and how it made me feel, you'd get to read something like this:

Fine hair trembles in the breeze.
We feel the same wind.
We are connected.


So, Black Ink Pad is going high-def for the month of January.

Friday, December 24, 2010

From Our House to Yours

Wishing you all a very
Merry Christmas!

Enjoy the gifts that don't need fancy wrapping paper and bows:

Love
Peace
Joy

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Gift of Epic Proportion


I don't typically go looking for external validation. For one thing, it is never as satisfying as I hope it will be. For another, I'd rather do the things I do and have self-satisfaction as my reward. However, every now and then someone will say something to me that makes me feel as though my life - everything I've been through, all the hard work I've done on myself - has just received a tremendous payoff. Yesterday was one of those days.

Last week I posted about Christmas 2006 with my late mate, John (here). I posted it because I needed to post it, needed to get it out, not because I expected it to really rattle anyone's sensibilities. I should know better. We are watched, always. Friends watch us, family watches us. We are guideposts in so many ways - what to do, what not to do. Move a finger in the pond and the ripple will carry. Even so, I didn't consider the profound effect my post might have on others.

Until yesterday.

That's when I received the following message from my wonderful friend, Jessica (who blogs here). In a message to me, Jessica wrote:

"While shopping today, I got a little bummed because I ran out of money and couldn't get a certain gift for Paul. I started feeling a little down, and then it hit me - I thought of what you went through that Christmas with John, and I said to myself, 'It could be so much worse; you could be losing Paul, and a gift would be the last thing on your mind.' I really don't know how you went through that and not only came out ok, but have gone on to be a full, happy person. I do know John made you promise as much, but still, I can't even fathom it. You, my lady, are amazing, and that's no bullshit. I love you! .... I guess sometimes you just do what you have to do, but like I said, I can't even imagine having to endure the level of pain you must have felt, and then still being able to come out the other side to smile and laugh and enjoy life again. I know John must be smiling somewhere."

To say that I was entirely blown away by her words is an understatement. To say that she had me in tears is a ridiculous foray into stating the obvious. I was an emotional wreck after reading that.

But it wasn't for reasons that you're probably thinking.

I wasn't emotionally overwhelmed out of a renewed sense of grief, not at all. Instead, I felt as though one of those guys in the van had just knocked on my door and handed me one of those body-sized checks for $10,000,000. I felt as though everything I'd worked for, and fought for, and suffered for, and wished for, and dreamed of, had just paid off beyond what I had imagined.

What I've gone through changed the world for someone else. Tangibly. In giving voice to my journey, I've made a profound difference in one person's life. I dipped my finger in the pond and the ripple traveled all the way across the states to wash over another human being.

It might have filled me with a sense of pride, but it didn't. Rather, it knocked me flat with a sense of humility, an awareness that my existence has real reason, and I'd do best to be vigilant about my actions. Not that I was unaware, but when it hits you full-on between the eyes like that, stunned though you may be, you kind of sit up and take notice.

That's a Christmas gift of epic proportion. "Merry Christmas, Barb. Here's your life - it was all worth it."

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Bird Brain



She said, "I made fat balls."

I knew immediately what she was referring to. She was talking about mixing bird feed with suet and mooshing it into a ball around a piece of twine. The ball is then hung outside for the birds to feed on.

But I thought, "That's what my mind feels like today. A fat ball. It's a big smooshy glob of random thoughts. Picking them apart is like a bird pecking at the individual seeds on the fat ball. It's a one at a time process, but picking at one almost requires that I pick at another, and another, and... another."

Just like bird feed, all of my little random seeds of thought are different flavors, sizes and textures.

I've decided to share my fat ball, or at least part of it. Sometimes writing is the only way I can see things clearly, see things for what they are. Besides, I know you all hang on my every word. Oh, quit rolling your eyes.

  • Here's an odd little nugget... I miss wrapping presents this year. My very first "real" job (a million years ago when I graduated from babysitting) was as a gift wrapper in a department store. I loved it. I love wrapping presents. I love taking a plain box, folding paper around it, and tying a ribbon around the whole thing. I love the anticipation of handing someone such a box and knowing their first reaction will be, "Oh, how pretty!" I didn't do gifts for anyone this year - my family is far away, and Steve and I don't exchange presents. So, I've been missing wrapping presents. Odd, I know, but true.


  • "I gotta find Bubba!!!" Forrest Gump knew what was important and he didn't let anything stop him.


  • I need to figure out what my definition of relaxing is. I've been ordered to relax. So far this week that has included baking eight dozen cookies, four loads of laundry, cooking dinner, loading and emptying the dishwasher a few times, and a plan to clean bathrooms, dust and vacuum. I'm not sure I completely understand the concept.


  • I need to include more exercise in my life. More? Who am I fooling?! I need to include exercise in my life. Period.


  • I miss my family. A lot. A lot more than they probably know or understand.


  • I need to paint something. A bunch of somethings. I really need to paint. Painting is relaxing. But I need to clean my studio first, and that is not relaxing.


  • I hate it when people, especially people I don't even know, presume to know what I'm thinking. Hell, half the time (as evidenced by this post) I don't even really know what I'm thinking!


  • All I want for Christmas is snow (which I won't get unless we drive up into the mountains) and snuggling (a sure thing). And I think I'll make Mom's breakfast casserole.
That'll do for now. Enough randomness to set the day spinning. Enough fat ball to keep my little brain sparrows noshing and happy.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Longest Night

Happy Solstice!

Several people have heaved a collective sigh of relief at the idea of the earth's turn toward longer hours of daylight. I'm not one of them.

I love the dark. I like the grainy texture of the shadows, the richness of the colors. I like the excuse to watch candles flicker, stubbornly proclaiming their true selves against that which would try to encompass them.

I'm not a hibernator. I don't lurk under the covers and merely wait for the return of the light. I skulk in the dark, I explore. That's what the dark is for - exploring. It's for getting in touch with every sense we possess except sight. It's about tactile awareness. The dark is all about scents, sounds, and touching. It's about instinct.

I love the dark. I celebrate it.

A discussion I had with friends reminded me of a poem I wrote about 15 years ago. I wrote it while in the bathtub, with only a candle for light. At first glance, it appears to be all about sex. What I discovered when re-reading it about a year after I wrote it, is that it actually has very little to do with sex. It's about power... the power of finding my way in the dark.

Need

I don’t care
about the women
you’ve taken to your bed –
don’t care to know
if they were
blond, brunette, or redhead,
if this one
came on like a whore,
and that one a shy little girl,
if their skin
felt like dandelion fluff
or leather,
used whips
or whipped cream,
left you limp,
gobbled you whole,
screamed your name,
or prayed for mercy.
Don’t want to be
compared to,
or an amalgamation of
all the names you’ve
slept with.
Won’t be your
first girlfriend,
wife,
slut,
or mother.
What I do want –
to throw you down,
go down,
take you down,
turn you inside out,
make you forget.
I don’t dare say,
want to be god to you,
hold you to my breast
until you lose
what makes you a man,
helpless in my arms,
content to be breathing.
Want to unleash
every screaming rage,
bottomless sorrow,
overwhelming joy,
and take the same from you –
walk all over you `til you beg my name,
treat you with such tenderness
you weep my name,
touch every aching part of you –
make you laugh, make you cry,
make you know.

What I want most?
(and this stops me cold)
I want you
to need all of it
from me.

© Barbara Ann Black, 2010-2011

Monday, December 20, 2010

It's All About the Joy

Let's talk about joy.

The other day I asked someone, "Where's your joy?!" She replied, "I'll have some joy as soon as I'm done shopping and wrapping." She really should have known better than to say such a thing to me.

Joy isn't a reward we receive for getting something right. It isn't a trophy that's won for finishing first or looking best. Joy just is and it comes from within. Joy is either present or it is not.

Joy is an attitude, and it's an attitude that we can choose to embrace or choose to ignore. Those who embrace it find that it spills out and effects everyone around them. You've seen those people, the ones who look like they're truly engaged in life, eyes lit up and aware, kindness at their fingertips, always ready with a smile.

Joy is infectious. It is, unless you're one of those dipped-in-dye, card-carrying crabby-ass people. I'm not talking to those people though. I'm talking to those of you who know better, who know how, who ought to, but who choose otherwise. For shame. You're making the Crabby Asses of the world look as though they've hit on something.

Being joyful may not be quite as easy as flipping a light switch, but it's close. Because, here's my theory (which I've tested and proved on yours truly). When we choose to be joyful, we are walking in affirmation. It doesn't mean that everything is copacetic. We'd be fools to think we can only be joyful when life is perfect. The truly joyful person is so regardless of what's happening in his or her life.

Here's an exercise for you (read: this is what works for Barb and most people like Barb's attitude, so maybe there's something to it). Go look in the mirror. Really, as soon as you're done reading this, go give it a try. Look in the mirror and say aloud, "I am joyful." Say it aloud a few times. Yes, I know it sounds silly, and I promise it will feel silly, but only at first. However, the premise behind saying it aloud is that when we hear something often enough, we begin to believe it (ask any ad executive). Now practice exuding that joy, whether you feel it or not. Give someone a genuine smile. Ahhhh, uhhuh! You see?! In their reception of your projection is the real joy. Watching it reflect on others is the true joy. Seeing the difference it makes to others is what will ignite your inner fire.

That, friends n' neighbors, is joy. That is what being joyful is all about, and it's that easy.

Now, go find a mirror and begin.

Friday, December 17, 2010

My Week Moments

Yes, week, not weak. Although both may apply. Suffice it to say, the spirit of my Grandma Schmutzer (who passed in 1998) has been dancing circles around me all week. I'm feeling rather emotional.

Really, I feel as though she's spending the holidays at our house.

It started last Friday when I made 400 kifli. For those of you not in the know, kifli (KEE-flee) are delectable little Hungarian cookies. The dough is made with yeast, butter (lots of), sour cream, egg yolks, sugar and flour. The filling is ground walnuts, lemon, egg whites, and sugar. I've tasted nothing else on earth like them. Really. Grandma used to make them all the time. Now I'm the only one who does, and it's ended up becoming a traditional holiday project for me. They are time consuming little buggers!

Anyway. I spent all of Friday rolling, filling, and baking. The house smelled just like Grandma's kitchen. The scent, accompanied by some Christmas tunes, gave me such a sense of wistful nostalgia. It was almost an out of body experience. I almost felt as if I was watching the cookies be made from afar, watching Grandma's hands do the work, hearing her tuneless hum along with the music.

As if that wasn't enough to rattle my emotions...

I packaged up about 3/4 of the cookies and we mailed them out to my Mom the following day.

I have to take a momentary break and say this: the US postal people rock! We sent them out priority mail on Saturday, and they were already there by early Monday afternoon. This was also true of three other packages that we shipped out, also priority mail, to the East coast. Everything was there by Monday.

As I was saying, I shipped a big box of them to Mom and she had them in her hands, and in her mouth, by Monday afternoon. She loved them. When I spoke with her that evening, she said that if she didn't know better, she'd have thought Grandma was in the kitchen. Cue my tears. Grandma was in the kitchen. Oh, she was indeed.

Grandma hung around for the rest of the week.

On Wednesday, Steve announced that we would be going to dinner with the boss and his wife. A very nice dinner. Fancy. Egads. I don't do fancy! It's not that I'm socially inept. I know which fork to use. I'm just far more within my comfort zone when everyone is wearing jeans and eating burgers.

The big problem was that I didn't have a thing to wear. Really, I'm not just being obnoxiously female. The only things in my closet are sweats, jeans and t-shirts. The other big problem is that I hate shopping for clothes. Not kidding, I detest it. I'd rather go to the dentist. I mean, I have a poor enough body image as it is, and I'm going to go surround myself with stuff designed for Twiggy?! (Oh great, I just dated myself too.) No, I think not! I'm going to go dump a pile of cash on something that I'll likely wear this one time and stuff in the closet to become moth fodder? Oh, hell no.

But, I didn't panic, and for that I was proud of myself.

I thought... I have stacks of fabric upstairs. Stacks and stacks of fabric! I have a sewing machine. I know how to sew pretty damn good. I'll just whip something up. To me it was no big deal, and in fact, a lot less painful than going to half a dozen different stores in hopes of finding something adequate. Friends thought I was nuts, but I've got to go with what I'm good at. And I'm not good at shopping.

Within an hour I had three different fabrics cut and laid out, Grandma's scissors and thimble at the ready. If I squinted just right, I could almost see her aged hand gently touch each fabric.

I know. You're probably thinking I'm a freak. I'm not. I haven't lost my mind. Of course I know that Grandma isn't really here. I'm not seeing ghosts. It's the presence of her influence on my life that I feel. It's the way she's in my heart, and the way that feeling in my heart comes through my fingertips.

That's a gift. That's a beautiful, sweet, loving, embracing, perfect legacy. I feel... overwhelmed with her love.

Psst... Grandma.... don't go anywhere any time soon, okay? I still need you.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Real Gift


To whom do you need to say it?

Who is the person (or persons) in your life that means the world to you? Who is it, when you think of them you think, "I'm not sure I'd know how to breathe without them in my world." Whoever that is, today is the day, now is the moment, to look them in the eyes and say, "I love you. You mean the world to me."

It needs to be said.

It needs to be said because tomorrow it might be too late. After lunch it might be too late. In another minute it might be too late.

Death. I'm talking about Death. We are all dying all the time. We'd like to think that Death would leave us alone from about November 1st through the beginning of the new year. But Death is not kind. Death is no respecter of people, love, or holidays. Death walks in whenever it wants to.

So, it needs to be said. We need to tell those we love that we love them. We need to not waste time.

I was reminded of this imperative a few days ago. We had some wild weather here in the great state of Washington. Huge torrential rain followed by wind and more rain. It was bad enough that it caused all manner of destruction in Western Washington. As I watched news coverage of the aftermath, there was a story of a middle-aged woman. About an hour after she'd gone to bed a huge tree fell over, crashed through the roof right where she was sleeping, killing her instantly. Her daughter and son-in-law were in another room. The daughter wept in front of the cameras. She thought they had more time together. She couldn't understand how something this awful could happen at Christmas time. She hadn't even told her mother that she loved her that day.

We need to tell those we love that we love them. Now. Often.

Presents will be forgotten. The true gift is saying and hearing, "I love you." That never fades. That never goes away.

The following is my new favorite Christmas tune. It sums it all up so well...

May the spirit of love touch the human race
Put a smile on every single face

~Smokey Greenwell

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Wish Big

When we wish we don't screw around. We wish big.

A couple of weeks ago I posted as my facebook status: What do you wish? There were a couple of silly responses, but most of them were heartfelt pleas to the Universe for something bigger and better - financial freedom, a new car, peace, health, etc.

When, as children, we'd say, "I wish..." My Dad would respond, "Wish in one hand, shit in the other. See which is true." Which told me that my wishes were about as worthy as a handful of crap.

I say there's nothing at all wrong with wishing. There's nothing wrong with wishing so long as you stand behind your wishes, so long as you're accountable for them, so long as you're responsible for them.

There's nothing wrong with wishing as long as you're willing to do some of the work.

I believe that wishes come true. I've seen wishes come true. However, I don't believe that some glittery Fairy Godmother is going to drop our desires into our laps. It just doesn't work that way. I know that if I want to go to the ball, I may just have to dust off my sewing machine and make myself a ballgown. I may have to call a cab to get there. If I want to dance with the handsome prince, it might just require me walking up to him and saying "hello" and "care to dance?"

There's nothing wrong with wishing as long as you're willing to participate, if you're willing to be active within that wish.

If our wish is for peace, I strongly believe that we have a responsibility - to paraphrase Ghandi - to be the peace. After all, is it going to matter that all the warring factions of the world have put down their arms if you can't stop arguing with your spouse at the dinner table? Not much.

If you're going to wish, make your wish known. Don't believe all that garbage about "it won't come true if you keep it to yourself." Hogwash!

If you wish for a new car, take steps toward it. Do the research, plan the budget, get the word out - because while there's never a glittery FG, sometimes they do show up wearing t-shirts and jeans. They won't park your new car in your driveway, but they might just say, "Hey, I've got a very good friend who needs to get rid of their car, nothing wrong with it, but they're selling cheap because...."

If you're going to wish, make sure you are truly open to that wish and all it entails.

If finding the mate of your dreams is your big wish, get ready to dance! You need to get out there in some form or another. You're not going to find that person sitting on the sofa and watching TV. You're for sure not going to find that person by whining about how horribly lonely your life is. Show some enthusiasm. Others are never so attracted to us as when we let our passion(s) in and for life shine.

Wish all you want, and go ahead, wish big! There's never a better time of year to do it than the holiday season. Sometimes (are you listening out there, Dad?) the crap in the other hand can be used to fertilize what needs to grow.

Oh, and one other thing that goes along with the wishing gig... when the Universe does conspire to make it happen (nod to Paulo Coelho), be grateful. Don't complain. When you get the new car, don't gripe about how much gas it uses. When you find the mate of your dreams, don't bitch about them leaving their socks on the floor. The Universe doesn't like attitudes like that and will gladly yank your good fortune. You'll find yourself walking to the bus stop and living alone again before you can say, "I wish...."

"What kind of world do you want? Think anything..."
~Five For Fighting

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Ho Ho Ho - It's Magic

Christmas Eve 1980. My sister-in-law Mary took my nephew Homer downstairs to read him a book. Homer was just a few days shy of being four years old. That's when three elves - Mom, my brother John, and myself - sprang into action. Mom and I hauled presents out from their previous hiding places and stuffed them under the tree. John dipped a pair of boots in the fireplace ashes and made sooty footprints across the hearth. Once we had everything in place, John stomped around, making noise like someone heavy clomping across the floor. I gently rang an old cowbell as John, in his best booming baritone, shouted, "Merrrrrrrry Christmas! Ho ho ho ho!!"

In seconds we heard Mary and Homer on the stairs. We watched as Homer, wide-eyed with wonder came to the top of the steps. Mary said, "I think that was Santa that we heard..." Mom said, "We heard it too! I think he was in the living room!" With that, we walked to the living room, Homer leading the way. His eyes went from the sooty prints to the tree. Upon seeing the presents, with a cry of delight and in a flash, he was across the room and diving for the tree.

This is one of my treasured Christmas memories. Did we dupe Homer? Of course we did. But, he's nearly 34 now and doesn't seem overly traumatized by the whole thing. My gift that year was seeing that look of wonder on Homer's face, of watching his uninhibited delight.

I often think back on that moment and wonder just where it is along the way that we lose that kind of innocence, and why? When does the magic disappear for so many of us, and why?

As cynical and sarcastic as I can be, I still know that kind of magic in my life. I still experience that wide-eyed wonder on an almost daily basis. Is it a choice? Somewhat, because I'm not naïve. I'm not blind to how harsh existence can be, nor am I without some deep scars from the cruel side of the Universe.

I'm beginning to think that it is, quite simply, a gift. Maybe it's a gift that the Universe gave me in exchange for some of the hard, ugly stuff it put me through. Nevertheless, it is a gift. I somehow proved myself worthy enough, or landed on the good side of some mystical benevolence, that allows me to see the magic, that allows me to remain unjaded. Because I still, with everything in me...

... believe in love, deep unconditional love
... believe in dreams and dreams coming true (if we'll let them)
... believe in the wonder of a single blade of grass
... believe in watching the clouds for shapes
... believe in howling at the full moon
... believe in the basic goodness of mankind

I believe in magic.

Monday, December 13, 2010

I Just Don't Get It

This is going to be a rant. This is going to make some people squirm uncomfortably (good... good...). It's going to flat out piss off some people. It will likely lose me some popularity points. It may even divide my readers into small warring factions. Alas... why not... it's the holiday season.

Which brings me to my point: I just don't get it.

Welcome to the Church of the Wayward Gypsy. Settle in, quiet down. We're going to revisit one of my favorite topics - third year in a row now.

How is it that a tired ol' Atheist like me can have more Christmas cheer and spirit than the Christians who claim the holiday as their very own? Seriously. I've been spreading peace on earth and good will and best wishes and smiles like crab dip on a cracker. I do it because I like the good feeling that comes from it, not because I believe in the birth of a savior. I do it because, sadly, it's the one time of year that I can get away with smiling at anyone and everyone, and give them a hearty heartfelt greeting without them giving me the oh-how-nice-that-they've-let-you-out-of-the-asylum-for-the-day look. I do it because... kindness and a smile is just how I roll.

Yet, I've seen people who claim to be Christians treating people, especially loved ones, in a deplorable manner. The only spirit present in them seems to be loathing for the holiday they claim and anyone who expects them to be the slightest bit involved in it. The other day at the grocery store, I saw a woman who was sporting a button that, in big bold lettering, read, "Jesus is the Reason for the Season!" Evidently the button had lost its super power because two aisles later I saw her smack her child upside the head and snap at him, "Shut up!" The child's offense was asking if they could get cookies. I just don't get it.

I have a facebook friend who, at least once a week, posts as his status, "Put Christ back in CHRISTmas!" Evidently he's still trying to figure out how to do that himself, since these posts are typically followed by some tasteless holiday-themed picture such as topless slutty Santa girls and/or raunchy holiday-themed jokes. I just don't get it.

Still others who purport the same ideals (and yes, I'm calling them ideals, because I'm not seeing any real faith), talk about "getting shit-faced" at the next indicated holiday party, and doing unspeakable things to elves under the mistletoe. I just don't get it.

I've seen people with "Christ in CHRISTmas" style bumper stickers driving like maniacs and flipping people off - probably because they're in a hurry to get to the church for choir practice. I just don't get it.

I could go on. There are more examples. Many more. I just don't get it.

And I end up feeling like a world class asshole because every time I see or hear something like this, I (The Atheist, mind you) want to holler (or type in all caps as the case may be), "Are you kidding me?! What would Jesus say?!" But, really, I'm not looking for explanation. I'm looking for change. Trust me, I don't expect perfection. As if. What I'm asking is really quite simple: don't claim it if you're not willing to live it. Stop shoving your beliefs down my throat when clearly they mean nothing at all to you. Because, I'm all for anyone believing whatever they want to believe, but y'all are acting like the man who claims to love his wife just before he lowers a fist into her eye. What would Jesus say.

Thing is, I do believe that historically, as a man, Jesus existed. I believe that he was a kind man who had a lot of good things to say (and do). That's where my belief ends - I just don't see him (or anyone else for that matter) as a deity - but I can't help but think that he'd be all kinds of pissed if he saw how the world was (mis)using his "birthday."

To paraphrase the line from My Fair Lady, don't talk of God, show me. 'Cause as it stands now? I just don't get it.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Shadow and Light

I'm taking a short break from the 20 Questions gig. There's something I need to get out, that's why. Sometimes the only way to get rid of the shadows is to turn off all the lights.

Christmas four years ago was the saddest Christmas in my history. It was as bleak and void of cheer as the salty crust at the edge of a wintry road. It's an understatement to say that it was a really shitty Christmas.

John was well into his illness, having gone through two useless chemo treatments. He had a horrible mysterious raging reaction to something - possibly the chemo, possibly the cancer, possibly the rotation of the planets, no one could say - and spent the two weeks before Christmas in the hospital. My days were filled with getting through my job so I could slog through traffic and sit at the hospital with him.

At any hospital, all things meant to exude holiday spirit are a garish juxtaposition to the mind numbing oppression of the building, it's use(s), and the occupants. There is no peace in a hospital, no joy (unless perhaps one has just given birth to the perfect baby). Sparkly paper snowflakes in a disinfectant scented hospital hallway are just all wrong in so many ways. The fake Christmas tree in the waiting room is a mockery, a tease, a banner saying, "Your Christmas is so screwed!"

John fought hard. He wanted to be home for Christmas. After much discussion, wheedling, begging, crying, and cajoling, it was finally agreed that I could take him home on Christmas Eve, but only upon the promise that we would come back Christmas Day so that he could have a transfusion and IV meds. We assured compliance.

We arrived home to a dark house that hadn't been cleaned in more than a month. There were no decorations up. There were no presents. It felt like a shell, like a cave we were hiding in from some monstrous storm. We ate scrambled eggs for dinner that night, about all John could manage to keep down. We watched something mindless and mundane on TV. We held hands, ignoring the tremendous, threatening cloud that hovered between us, both knowing but not acknowledging, that this would be our last Christmas together.

Christmas morning we woke with passive smiles for each other. We called our families and let our voices carry cheer that we didn't feel. We dressed and we went back to the hospital again for a seven hour gamut of stuff oozing from tubes into John's veins. Hospital staff wished us a Merry Christmas. As I wandered the halls, other hollow-eyed families, mimicking the numbness I felt, gave half-hearted smiles and good wishes. The coffee was terrible, the food was worse.

Through all of this, the only thing on my mind was, "This is our last Christmas together. It's not supposed to be like this." Every time someone wished me a Merry Christmas I either wanted to break down and cry, or lash out and scream, "Fuck you and your goddamned good tidings!" My spirit was at an all time low.

The hospital staff seemed to understand people going through these things. Nurses hugged me. Oncology folks gave me knowing nods. It didn't help, but it helped... a little.

It was a lousy Christmas. There was no way around it but to go through it. The only way to ignore the shadows was to turn off the lights and stumble through the dark.

That's it. That's all there is to this story.

Except... except...

My good friend Vandy has recently logged long hours visiting the hospital ICU area where her daughter lay recovering (thankfully!) from a serious injury. She came up with a wonderful idea that she posted as her facebook status this morning. How about this holiday, any day really, you take some good homemade food down to the hospital and share it with people in the ICU waiting rooms, or the oncology ward waiting rooms. These are two places in a hospital where the harshness of reality is a painfully sharp outlined focus. Why not give these people something, even something as minor as a homemade cookie, to cling to.

As one who's been there, it would have made things at least a tiny bit easier if there had been some decent food to eat... if I had felt there was some stranger out there who cared about us being lost in the storm.

At some point, we all have to face the shadows. At some point the shadows are too much and we turn off the lights. You don't have to know someone to hold their hand. You don't have to know their story to be a beacon.

... and isn't that what this holiday is all about? Bringing light.

Don't just say it. Do it.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Twenty Questions: Secret Santa

Today's question comes from that ubiquitous gal, Ann Onymous. She asks: What is your favorite Christmas memory?

Oh, easy! This isn't just a favorite Christmas memory, but is at the very top of all my family memories. I guarantee that by the time I'm done writing it, I will have tears streaming down my face.

~~~ Christmas Eve, Circa 1970 ~~~

My Mother knew something very strange was going on. The first clue was that all five of her children were huddled together in the basement. The second clue was that they were all getting along. The third, and perhaps most telling, was that they were very quiet.

"What on earth are you kids doing down here?! Staring out the window like that... you know Santa won't come if you're watching! Go on, find something else to do. Put on your ice skates and go outside."

Reluctantly we obeyed. We were, in a sense, waiting for Santa. Santa that year was going to be showing up disguised as my brother Tom's boss, Carl. Carl was the owner of the bicycle shop where my brother worked. We had pooled all of our earthly wealth (I think at the ripe old age of 8, I was able to contribute a whopping $2.74), and with my brother's store discount, were able to buy my Mother a new bicycle. She hadn't been on a bike since her own childhood years. It's the first time I can remember being more excited to give than to wonder what would be waiting for me. Regardless, we gave up our post at the basement window and obliged Mom by going ice skating in our back yard.

An hour or two later we came back inside, all runny noses and rosy cheeks. We unlaced our skates and took off untold layers of winter gear. Mom stood at the entrance to the living room, appearing mysteriously winded.

"See? I told you kids that Santa would come if you weren't watching! Come look what he's brought!!!" We hustled into the living room, delighted by the vast array of ribbon festooned boxes under the brightly lit tree. It wasn't quite the Santa bounty we were waiting on, but we weren't about to quibble! We dove in with all the genteel reserve of beggars at a feast.

We barely noticed the moments of my parents catching each other's eyes and raising eyebrows in question and the slight raise of the shoulders in an "I don't know" gesture. We were busy. We were kids with Christmas presents.

Maybe my big brothers were more alert, but I was giddily lost in the present unwrapping melee. The delivery of Mom's new bike disappeared into the recesses of my eight year old mind.

As the sounds of paper being torn and crumpled wound to an end, my parents again exchanged the glance, the raised eyebrows, the shrug. What they didn't notice is that my older brothers were engaged in the exact same non-verbal communication.

It happened right about then. We were all playing Christmas basketball - you know, that yearly game of someone holding a big trash bag and everyone else taking shots at it (or the person holding the bag) from across the room with wadded up wrapping paper? The doorbell rang. Everyone jumped!

My Mother hurried down the steps to answer the door as all of us crowded at the top of the steps. There stood Carl, cheery grin on his face. In chorus we all hollered "Merry Christmas!" Not one of us seemed to think it the least bit odd that my brother's boss would be stopping by on Christmas Eve. Not one of us found the secretive smirk on his face the least bit strange.

Then my Mother remembered to act flustered. "Well! Why, Carl. Uh. Come on in!" "Oh, thanks, but I can't stay Mrs. Black. I just stopped by to uh... well... I'm not quite sure how to... I'll be right back."

In seconds, Carl was wheeling a fancy new 10-speed through the door, complete with the kind of hard skinny saddle that only a true masochistic cyclist could love. We kind of murmured and shuffled. This wasn't Mom's new bike. It was a boy's bike, and it was big, and it had 10 speeds! As Tom opened his mouth to question it, Dad turned to him and said, "Merry Christmas, son!" What?! The folks were in cahoots with Carl too?! Sneaky boogers.

Tom, enthused, thanked my parents, but it had to be obvious to them that his confusion wasn't just the usual "really? for me??" sort. Whereupon Carl, still with the mysterious bemusement on his face, said, "Oh! I forgot something... one second..." Again he disappeared outside only to return very quickly, wheeling in yet another bike. My Mom's - a shiny ladies 3-speed. Now it was my parents' turn to look utterly perplexed.

"Uh, Carl..." Mom hesitated. Dad said, "But...we didn't..."

Right then, the five of us said, "Merry Christmas, Mom!"

The look on both of my parents' faces was priceless. I remember Carl laughing. I remember all of us laughing. He left shortly after to get home to his own family, waving behind him and hollering one last "Merry Christmas!" like the very adept Santa that he was.

My brother Tom and my Mom looked at each other and simultaneously said, "But... how did you...?" And more laughter. More laughter still when Dad tried to sit on Tom's bike and said the seat made him feel like he had an antler up his ass.

I don't remember what presents I received that year, no idea what I unwrapped. I remember the bicycles.

But it's the gifts from that year that have stayed with me all these decades. The gift of excitement over a big beautiful secret, the camaraderie in keeping that secret, the laughter, the joy.

There were other years when Christmas wasn't such a joyful event, but that one was. We were all together. We were having fun. It was the best Christmas an eight year old girl could have had.

It made me believe in the magic.

It still does.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Twenty Questions: Six of One, Half Dozen of the Other

First of all, I'm the featured artist today at Indie Ink!

I've also been published in New Art Review's latest book, Seek Truth - available here.

=*=*= And now, back to your regularly scheduled programming. =*=*=

Please allow me to introduce you to my dear friend Dave Barnes. Dave is a nut, a totally off the wall, whacked out sense of humor nut - which is one of the reasons I adore him. He's got a huge mushy heart that he wears on his sleeve, and clearly cares deeply for everyone he knows. Dave's such a loser - about half his body weight now, a struggle I'm familiar with, and I really admire his tenacity in "getting it done."

When I asked for questions, Dave (in typical Dave fashion), spewed out the following:

why does a fast go so slow?..seriously?...why do i help my friends do things [example..help clean their rooms or fix a car..but my room is a total mess and i barely keep oil in my car]...why does my good friend barb have to live so far away? there's a few for ya... or do you want questions like whats your favorite color? ...na too easy ...lets figure out the universe ...or try ...what's the best penis enlargement cream?

Let's see what I can do to help Dave out of his perplexed and vexed state. Here are my answers:

~ A fast goes so slowly because you're depriving yourself of something you want, namely food. Almost any time we delay pleasure, it is agonizing. Try immersing yourself in some other activity - like fluffing orphaned wombats - to help pass the time and take your mind off of it.

~ I'm also guilty of helping my friends do things that I don't bother to accomplish at home. For some reason it's just more fun when you know it's going to make someone else feel good. Plus, I'm a procrastinator (and I know you are too, Dave) when it comes to getting my own crap taken care of. So, if I'm helping someone else, it makes for a great procrastination excuse. For example, "I didn't get the laundry done today. I was helping my friend Marge take down last year's Easter ornaments."

~ I don't live so far away. I live right here. Where I belong. Why haven't you come to visit yet? (Spoken in true Jewish mother style.) You just leave me sitting here... alone... in the dark... *heavy sigh*

~ My favorite color is blue. More specifically indigo. It's the color I see most often in my dreams and visions (see painting below, which was the result of a vision I had). It's really a pretty cool color to see all the time, not just because of the richness of it, but because in spiritual terms, indigo is used to symbolically represent the sixth chakra (called Ajna), which is said to include the third eye (which I wrote about here). This chakra is believed to be related to intuition and gnosis (spiritual knowledge). I must have something going for me if that's the color I see most often. Right? Right.

~ There is no figuring out the Universe. The Universe just is. It's easier (sort of) to figure out ourselves as travelers in the Universe, and how we're going to measure our steps along the path.

~ The only time any kind of cream will work to enlarge a penis is if you stroke the thing just right and dream of scantily clad women (or whatever... I really do not need to know).

Bet you didn't think I'd do it, huh, Dave? You know me better than that.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Twenty Questions: The Shine

Today's question comes from Marina Reede, who writes here. She asks: Knowing who you are today, what would you have done differently to cultivate your creativity/parts of you that took a few years to shine forth?

I'm not sure what I would have done differently. The biggest truth that I've found within creativity is that it was there in me all along. I think what I would have done differently would have been to simply allow it. I think when we have talent, when we have gifts, and we don't let those things shine, we are robbing not only ourselves, but the rest of the world of something precious.

I know that had I allowed this kind of creativity in my life earlier I would have been a happier person. I would have felt a sense of fulfillment that was sadly lacking. Had I experience those things, I know it would have changed me as well as my relationships with others. Every now and then Steve asks, "Why couldn't I have met you 25 years ago?" I say, "We'd have never gotten together. You wouldn't have liked who I was then."

I think, and I'm kind of thinking aloud here... I think that had I found the confidence in my creative skills that I have now, I would have been a more confident person as a whole. When we're creative and when we share that creativity with others, we can't help but be wide open. It's impossible to keep an emotion bottled up if you're translating it into an art form.

I feel sorry for That Barb, the Barb from days of yore. I feel sad for her that she kept so much in, and in doing so, kept so much from getting in. The other thing that I've found in doing the thing I was meant to do is that my intuition is much more keen. I've learned to trust what I feel instead of setting it aside.

I don't think I would have honed the creativity in me so much as the creativity would have honed me. When you first light a candle, it's a small soft glow. Then, as the wick and wax burn, the flame gets bigger and brighter. I'd like to think that there's still plenty of shine in me. I'm reasonably certain that I wasn't too late in opening my creative doors. I can't go back and change who I was, I can only go forward and be.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Twenty Questions: Euchred, a Short Conversation

I often refer to my Muses when I talk about my various creative endeavors. It's not just my voice that I'm getting out onto page or canvas or whatever, but the voices of others... the voices of those I carry with me. Always. You don't have to be dead to be one of my Muses, but evidently it helps. Yes, Muses - always capitalized out of deep respect (and some fear, awe, and okay, occasionally a soupçon of loathing for the way they hijack my days).

My nephew Jason asked: If you could sit down with either your dad, or Grandma Schmutzer, either or, or both. What would you talk about, who would lead the conversation, what questions would you ask etc...

In some ways, that's an easy one. I talk to them every day, or at least listen to them. They are my two top Muses. Even so, I can't really say that we converse. Words are kept at a minimum - we have work to do. At most, I'll look at Dad's picture and say, "Help me here, Dad...?" In reply I'll get, "Like this..." Or, having done the work, I might look at his picture, feeling rather proud, and say, "What d'ya think?" To which he'll answer, "Looks good, Punkin."

Dad is in the grand picture. Grandma Schmutzer is in the details.

Grandma is there when I need to do tiny work, when I need to do pointillist styled drawings or tie little baby sized ribbons, or sew or cook. Whenever small detail is accomplished, I hear Grandma's satisfied sigh, and her barely uttered, "Nuh." This is Grandma Schmutzer speak for "job well done." She's there when I sew, always telling me to slow down. She is always present in the kitchen. I can still feel her aged hands on my small pre-adolescent hands whenever I kneed dough. She's there sipping stew from a spoon, saying "Needs salt." Or if it tastes just right, "Nuh."

But. Conversations? Those don't usually happen. I'm having a really difficult time imagining a conversation because we get along so well in our silences. It's as if everything that needed to be said is done and gone. It's the doing that counts. I'm not sure what I could ask or what answer I could get that would matter any more. So much of it has already been answered through my work and through the way that they are with me when I'm working. All their love funnels through me and out my hands.

When Grandma was alive, all my conversations with her were about her stories. I loved her stories and they will be a book someday soon. If I were allowed to sit with her again, I'd go over those same old stories, or prompt her for new ones. One time she told me, "You know vhy I like aboud you? You always listenink... none a'dis 'oh Gramma' or runnink off to do som'tink." So, given the opportunity, I would just listen again.

Were I allowed to talk with my Dad? I can think of questions I'd ask, but I don't think the answers would signify. So much of how I felt about my Dad, my opinions and judgments, went out the window when I embraced the artist within me. It gave me a window into who he was and how he felt. I understand so much more now. I think I wouldn't say a word. I think I would simply hand him a sketch pad and pencil, and I'd sit back and watch through my tears. Everything real that he had to say came through in his art. And that's what I'd most like to "hear" again.

This is probably not the conversation Jason wanted to hear. When I try to picture something else, I see us at a table playing euchre. (My family is a card playin' bunch of maniacs. There is no gathering that doesn't involve a deck of cards.) I see Dad sitting across from Grandma, and they're partners in the game. I don't see my partner, just a shadowy figure and a set of old hands holding up some cards. Dad says, "My nickel's in. Let's make it in clubs." The shadowy figure sighs and rearranges its cards. Grandma leads with a jack of clubs and says with a grin, "Nuh." I giggle and say, "Oh, Gramma! How could you?!" In pretend disgust I throw my left bower on top of her jack. Dad just smiles hugely and nods.

Fade to black.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Twenty Questions: That's Just Not Funny!

A person who wishes to remain anonymous sent in the question: Have you ever thought of doing stand-up comedy?

The answer is, firmly, NO!!

It's not that I don't think I'm funny. On occasion, I'm actually pretty pleased with some of the humorous stuff I pull out of my magic hat - I have a good eye for quirky (the bad eye I use for staring down obstreperous children at the grocery store). It's not that I fear being on stage - been there, done that, didn't get a t-shirt, a plastic dashboard Jesus, or a free Happy Meal even.

Stand-up comedy is just something I'm completely uninterested in doing. I have no desire to stand in front of a group of strangers and fillet myself via my sense of humor and desperately hope that somehow they get it. Get me around a campfire and feed me some tequila and we're good to go. Sit back and enjoy the show.

Because, people either get me... or they don't. There doesn't seem to be a lot of gray area to swim in.

I'd love to write comedy. I think it would be great fun to develop a script for a show. I would even love to act in a comedy. I love to make funny art, and sometimes it's only funny to me. For example, I once did a self-portrait with a "poison" label slapped across my forehead. I showed it to several people and one friend, with a very concerned look on her face, asked, "Do you really think what's in your mind is poison?" And suddenly I felt as though I should be lying on a green couch, holding a box of tissues, and crying over the fate of baby harp seals, spotted owls, having ever had to wear a slip, and my certainty that the Catholic church loads those incense dealies with some lousy low-grade pot.

Of course I don't think my mind is poison! Toxic, sure. Poison, no.

Stand-up? Nuh uh. Not even if I get to sit down for it. But thanks for the compliment...

... I'm here all week.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Twenty Questions: Follow That Dream!

My question for today comes from my friend and fellow blogger, Gypsy Jo, who writes here.

Do you have a dream that you haven't followed yet?

Before I answer, I'd like to say that it's my firm belief that if we stop having dreams, we die. I don't know anyone, no matter how old or how fulfilling their life is or has been, who doesn't still have a dream of some kind.

Yes, Jo. I have a dream I haven't followed yet, more than one. I'm also sure I have dreams I haven't yet dreamed.

The Big Dream that I've been ignoring is writing. Yes, I know. I write every day. But. I want to write a book. It's there, all in my head, the concept, the characters, several chapters even. I'm often asked when I'm going to write a book. I'm often asked if I've been published. Alas. Then I get asked, "Well... what's stopping you?!"

Me. As usual, I'm stopping me. It's not fear, not any more. It's a matter of taking the time to write. It's a matter of discipline and consistent commitment. It will happen. I'm just not quite there yet. Ah, but I'm so much closer than I've been before.

I've thought about self-publishing some of my artwork and favorite blog posts and poetry, but... eh, I don't know. I mean, it's all here for free, isn't it? Who'd pay for that?!

By the way, I do have a poem published in New Art Review's book Seek Truth, available here.

There's a book in me just waiting to happen. That's the Big Dream that I've yet to follow.

And there's a little dream... almost more of a niggling idea rather than a dream. I have this funny notion that I'd someday like to open a coffee/bakeshop/art gallery/book shop type of place where bean seeking cerebral types will come to hang out and spend tons of money.

Who knows what dreams may come...?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Twenty Questions: The Story

Last week I asked readers to supply me with 20 questions to answer in December (here). I received a wonderful variety. Today begins the revealing of those questions and my answers.

This question came from my friend, Tim Marshall. Considering how insanely artsy-busy I am this week (and have been for the past couple of months), I thought it was an excellent question to begin with. Here we go.

His question is: What is the story behind the creative inspiration for the first card you ever sold?

That's easy and I remember it well. I had been making cards for about half a year and had sent a couple to my dear friend Timothy. At the time he was working for a lighting company in Tennessee. He called one day and asked me if I could, if I would like to, design some "thank you" cards for him. He wanted to send out something unique to his business contacts and asked that the design include something lighting related.

Could I? Would I?! Oh, hell yes! I was thrilled, and it just so happened that I had a lightbulb stamp. Of course I did... I mean, who doesn't? So, I made the cards for him.


Timothy was thrilled with them. While there's a lot I would do differently now, I'm still mostly happy with the basic concept.

What's important here is that Timothy planted a seed, a tenacious, sprout-through-concrete-if-necessary weed of a seed. Because, the thing is, Timothy has a great sense of aesthetic value and he has excellent taste in all things artsy. So, when he ordered cards from me, and continued to order cards from me, I couldn't help but think, "Gee, maybe I'm on to something here... if Timothy likes my stuff, maybe other people will..."

Even so, my confidence in my skills wasn't quite what it is now. I still considered myself just dabbling in a fun hobby. One Monday, after a particularly art filled, card making weekend, I brought some cards to work with me - thought it would make for a fun sort of show n' tell during coffee break time. One of the gals I worked with looked them over. Then looked them over again. "These are really nice," she said. She turned away, then turned back, "Do you ever sell them? Because I really like this one." Feeling a little shocked, I said, "Sure, I'll sell it to you." She replied, "Oh good. Then I want this one, and this one, and that one too. And can you make me two more of this one?" During a 10 minute coffee break, I made $20.

It wasn't long before I was the designated card maker for company birthdays. As I carried the card around for each of my coworkers to sign for one such birthday, my friend Bill said, "You're really good at this, you know. You are. This is what you should be doing." I sighed and said, "Yeah... sure... I know." Bill leveled me with a look and said, "Really. Can you picture it? You design cards all day and hand off the design to someone else to make dozens... Can you see it?" I couldn't at the time, but I demurred anyway, just to get out from underneath Bill's stare.

Oh, but I can see it now. I've been so busy lately that I've caught myself thinking, "I wish I could just design these things and let someone else do all the cardstock cutting and folding and gluing!" And then I feel Bill's stare again... that piercing, screamin' at ya, blue stare. It's always fun when people know me better than I know myself, when they seem privy to the map that delineates my path.

At least I eventually catch up.

In the past two months, I've sold 400 cards... and I've been wishing I was even busier.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Five Perfect Words

Five words keep me sane during the holidays. Five words that I always hear in my head in my oldest brother, Mike's voice. Those five words work at all other times of the year as well, but never so effectively as they do at Christmas time.

It's been, oh boy, at least fifteen years - probably more - since I heard Mike say those five words. I was still living in Maryland and had made the trip back to Michigan to be with my family for Christmas. We all gathered for Christmas Eve at Mike's house - there were probably about 16 of us altogether, between the assorted adults and children. My sister, Nancy, showed up a good hour later than anyone else, looking out of sorts, officiously hauling in load after load of cookies and food and presents, all the while complaining loudly about... everything. She, for all the veritable Santa's sleigh loot she hauled in, was clearly not in a holiday mood.

We soon found out why. Dinner with the Black clan is always filled with good sarcastic banter. Shit gets flicked with great alacrity (and accuracy!). We've all developed pretty thick skin and can take it just as well as we dish it out. Such was not the case that day with Nancy. Her feathers were as ruffled as a renegade Christmas goose. Her return comments were snide, not silly. And, what's a holiday gathering without someone falling apart into a cathartic puddle of tears?! Yes, she did.

In my brilliance at dealing with my sister and her emotional swings for over thirty years... which was like wrestling alligators - if you stay away from the teeth, you're likely to get thumped by the tail... stay away from the tail and you're gonna get chomped... anything in the middle is okay, but don't expect it to last. So, as I was saying, I had no clue how to deal with my sister, even after all those years. So, I pulled out my trump card. "Cheer up, Nancy! It's Christmas!" (I know, I'm an idiot.)

This threw Nancy into a fairly complete tailspinning nuclear Christmas meltdown - holy shit, pass the Tylenol. The tearful tirade consisted of none of us having any understanding of what she'd been through ever, she'd been busy doing this, busy doing that, spent way too much money, trying to make things nice, had to had to had to, busy busy busy, doing doing doing.... it escalated in volume and in capacity, and ended with "And I'm exhausted! I was up until 4 this morning wrapping presents and making Christmas cookies for today... for YOU GUYS!"

That's when Mike spoke those five perfect words. Very quietly, he said, "No one asked you to."

At the time, it sent my sister, wailing, to another room of the house. But his words struck me and they've stayed with me. Maybe Mike didn't realize which sister was really listening. Those words have stayed with me and they help me out whenever I start to lose my shit and wonder how I'm going to accomplish everything I "need" to do. I stop and ask myself, "Who's asking you to do all this? Anyone? Or is it just you?" Any time I feel myself becoming frazzled and frustrated and internally (at least) hollering, "I can't handle this by myself!!" I hear Mike's voice, "No one asked you to."

Already I've heard people complaining about everything they "have to" get done in time for the holidays. And isn't it always prefaced with "I have to..."? I have to put up the lights, I have to shop for my folks, I have to bake cookies for the office/school/church, I have to clean the house because company's coming, I have to attend a party, I have to, have to have to have to. No you don't. You don't have to. No one asked you to. No one expects perfection out of you, and if they do let them deal with the disappointment that comes from having expectations that are far too lofty and unrealistic.

Give yourself a break. Stop saddling yourself with unreasonable demands... because when it comes down to it? No one asked you to.

**********************

Important Note: I would like to say that my sister and I have both changed drastically in the years since the above event took place. I love her dearly, and it is not my intention to disparage her in any way. She is a wonderful, warm, funny, loving person who is full of life. We've both learned the importance of moderation.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Frantic At Its Best

I'm feeling a little frantic today. I spent a pleasant weekend doing fun things, visiting with friends, watching a movie with Steve, and eating far too much. It was lovely. And now I'm frantic. I'm feeling like an elf on speed... (if only I knew what an elf on speed felt like).

I have tons to do this week, orders to fill, a Christmas craft bazaar to prepare for (it's only this Saturday, no need for panic... ACK!), and presents to make for my oh so lucky loved ones.

But you know what? This is Good Frantic. This is the kind of frantic that puts a fine edge on my artistic skills. I work better under pressure. Always.

I used to work under Bad Frantic pressure. Icky. Forty hours a week of feeling like I was never going to meet my work load, never going to make anyone happy (including myself), 10 - 20 hours of commute time per week, a weekend that was gone in a blink, laundry piled everywhere, dishes in limbo between cupboard, fridge and dishwasher, house never ever clean. I hated it. I hated that feeling of being pulled in a direction I didn't want to go. And I rarely had any real time for creativity. The longing for that was crushing.

Now here I am, doing what I love, all day, pretty much every day - yes, even on weekends. I don't have to battle traffic and, as a result, despise people I don't even know. I'm sitting here in my pjs and bathrobe writing this, my unbrushed hair would be the envy of Witchy Poo, and I took time out of my other tasks to make some bread from the left over sweet potatoes (which is beginning to smell damned good!). I can work whatever hours I want to. If I'm up at 2 a.m. and feel like working, it gets done, and maybe I'll take a nap at 3 p.m.

I think if you figure out what you really love, find your passion, and strive to do whatever it takes to make that your "work," the feelings of franticness will make you happy. Why? Because being busy, and even overly busy, means you're doing it right.

So, bring on the frantic. Me n' my super suit are ready.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Dear Readers,

Let's play 20 Questions in December. Ask me a question (just post a comment below or send me an email: blackinkpad@yahoo.com). I'll answer it within the first 20 days of December (nothing policital, please). If I use your question, not only will you get an honorable mention on my blog (wooHOO!), but I'll also send you something wonderful and hand-crafted by none other than... ta da!... me!

Let 'em rip...

Thursday, November 25, 2010


Happy Thanksgiving!!!

I will see you all on Monday...
not that I'm going anywhere,
but I'm gifting myself the rest of the weekend "off"!

Stay safe out there
& don't let the turkeys
(human or otherwise)
bring you down.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What Makes It True

Everyone is posting about being thankful this week. It's expected, right? This is the week that, by national declaration, forces us to focus on the good things in our lives, on the things we feel fortunate about and grateful for. Nothing wrong with that... except that it should be a daily occurance.

But, I'm not here to lecture. Not today.

I'm here to express my gratitude. Not because I want everyone to say, "Aw, look how precious she is!" I want to express it, need to, because as my friend Tim so eloquently posted on my facebook wall, "I think that people that want to do good and actually DO it, should be recognized." Amen, Rev'rn Tim. So, that's what I'm doing.

Unless you've been under a rock for the past year or so, or have never met me, or this is the first time you've stumbled across my blog, you know that I'm in a relationship with a wonderful man named Steve.

The other day, upon returning home from work, he asked me how my day was. I told him my day had been great and shared that I had received two more orders for cards and another request for some other art work, plus I had someone negotiating having me make calendars. He hugged me and said, "That's great. I'm so happy to see you getting to do what you want and love to do. It's wonderful that this is working out for you. You're becoming a busy artist!" I smiled back at him and said, "I couldn't have done it without you."

Steve doesn't take compliments like that well. He's a very humble guy. Typically when I compliment him or thank him for something, I get a faked innocent blink and, "What? I didn't do anything. I don't know what you're talking about." This time I forced him to take the compliment. I blocked his escape until I knew he had heard me. I wanted him to know what his support means to me. Well, really, I know he knows, but I wanted him to acknowledge my gratitude. I wanted to be sure that he understood his impact on my life, not just as a lover and a friend, but as someone who supports me in everything I do.

He does support me in everything I do. Really. This isn't just some smarmy "Barb loves Steve" blather. I want the world to know how much being loved by this man has changed my life. He has consistently and unconditionally provided for me in a way that I never expected from anyone, ever. That has given me the freedom to explore the art world and my place in it. He saved me from the mundane 40 hour work week that always left me too physically tired and emotionally lethargic to want to give into my passion(s). It's not just that he puts a roof over my head. He's also there for me whenever I need anything for my work. He drives me around on supply safaris, making sure I have whatever I need. He comes up with ideas and suggestions that are usually spot on.

So, I'm publicly declaring my thanks to Steve. Thank you for allowing me the freedom to turn my avocation into a vocation. Thank you for the sacrifice, hard work, and love that you've put into making my dream come true. You are a great man, and I am inexpressibly fortunate to share this life with you. I love you.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Dear Barb, Get Out of My Way!

More often than not, I'm the only thing standing in my way. Judging from the response I received from a facebook post where I stated as much, we all feel that way. I think that's why I like a challenge, and I'm pretty sure that's why I'll so readily (and greedily) accept a challenge. I think it's my way of telling that recalcitrant, hands on her hips Barb to stand down and step aside.

Such was the case last week.

My friend Paul Boynton, author of Begin with Yes, approached me about coming up with a design that he could use for lapel buttons, which he would give out at talks and book signings. I was absolutely thrilled to be asked. I mean, geez, what an honor! Before I could give myself half a minute to find reasons to talk myself out of accepting, I said... "Yes!"

And then That Barb showed up. She likes to doubt. She likes to think that people are only being nice, that they don't really see any value in what she's doing. In short, she is full of shit. Even so, there she was, standing in the way. She whispered things like, "Why did you take this on? You know you're not capable," and, "It doesn't matter what you come up with, it's going to look like crap and he won't like any of it."

Silly me, I just took it. I spent the week fretting. I spent a partly sleepless night wondering how I was going to tell Paul that I didn't know what I was doing, and that I really shouldn't have accepted the job, and that there are thousands of people more qualified. Had I done so, I'm sure Paul would have very kindly clobbered me with a full case of his books. I mean, Begin with Yes is all about positive living and taking action. I know, I know - I've read the book three times. You'd think I'd have learned something.

I fell asleep Friday night thinking, "Tomorrow I'll email Paul and let him know that I just can't do it." And I dreamed. In the dream I was sitting by Puget Sound, watching the waves roll in, and thinking about how to approach the whole design and coming up short. Just as I was becoming really frustrated by it all, Paul (whom I've never met in 'real' life) walked up to me. I mentioned my frustration and that I wasn't sure I was up to the task. Paul looked out at the Sound, shrugged and merely quoted Buckminster Fuller, saying, "Each wave has its own integrity." Then he walked away.

I woke up and knew exactly what I wanted to do.

Even though I knew what I wanted to do, she was still standing in the way, still casting doubt. "Okay, so you have a vision for it, but can you really implement it?" I ignored her. Instead I emailed Paul and said, "I am working on your design today!" Then I went upstairs to my studio.

I sat in front of the blank paper, paints and paintbrushes laid out on the table. I mixed paint to the color I wanted, dipped my brush in it and swiped it back and forth on the palette until it was loaded just perfectly, and hesitated, brush poised just above the paper. That was when I heard my Dad's voice - although I can't be entirely sure it wasn't my voice doing a really great Harold imitation. "You're a sign painter's daughter f'chri'sakes! You know how to do this... it's in you. It's always been in you."

As I touched the brush to paper, splayed the bristles just ever so and followed the line and curve of my design, I knew it to be true. Right then, That Barb disappeared, and This Barb learned a whole new truth about her involvement in the art she so loves doing.

The truth is, I can do anything if I'll step out of my own way...

... it begins with Yes.

******************

PS: Paul loved the design I came up with. Please follow one of the links above and get a copy of his book. I firmly believe in what he has to say... even if at times I'm so stubborn that I have to whack myself over the head with his book to get myself to comply. Really. Read it and apply it. It works.