Friday, April 30, 2010

Social Misfit

Hello, it’s me. I’m not at home.
If you’d like to reach me,
leave me alone.

~A Change Will Do You Good, Sheryl Crowe

I’ve never considered myself to be a very social creature. I don’t like parties and the pressure to either entertain or be entertained - usually I’m busy thinking of other things that I could be doing and enjoying more. I loathe big crowds. Crowd mentality is a frightening thing. In my opinion, too many of the same beast in one place is a recipe for disaster. It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye, and then the riot ensues. However, even in a one on one friendship, I catch myself humming that old Sesame Street song, “One of these things is not like the other… one of these things just doesn’t belong…” Sure, I talk a good game when I write, but in person I seem to forget any rudimentary knowledge of the English language, or any other language for that matter. Thoughts flit like hummingbirds. Just as I find one and think, “Now there’s something interesting to say…” It’s gone.

Any time I’ve voiced these feelings to people I know, they don’t believe me. Evidently, I cover well. Jolly good. This isn’t an exercise in self-deprecation. I like me just fine the way I am. I find it interesting, is all. Intriguing. I do enjoy the company of others (in limited quantities and always, only the finest quality), but I find myself feeling stymied, blocked, locked down, and lost. A couple of weeks ago I did an email interview with a fellow who is using my story in a book he’s writing (more on that at a later date). The questions were basic enough - “tell me a little about you … tell me what inspires you” - that kind of thing. They were easy enough and absolutely non-invasive, yet I found myself squirming a little. I thought, “Barb, ya big mundungus, what are you going to do if when your work gets famous enough for Oprah?!” I could just see it…

Oprah: Barb, tell me what you like most about making art…?
Barb: I… uh… I like colors.
Cue dead silence and a prying look from Oprah before she goes to the next question.
Oprah: Where do you get your inspiration?
Barb: Oh. Pretty much… um… I dunno… I look at stuff.
I would cue the sound of crickets chirping, but they’ve all died of boredom.

I’m sure I’m not all that bad. I know most of it is simply self-perception. Fortunately, that self-perception is heavily laced with a solid sense of humor.

Oprah: So, Barb… describe your method.
Barb: Mm. Describe. Hmm. Method? I… uh… guess I… um… I just let my work speak for me.
Oprah: Lucky for us!
Barb: Yeah…
Lights fade and camera pulls back as Oprah puts her head in her hands and takes a deep breath. Barb suddenly looks inspired.

... and yet, I'm one of the most kind and loving people you could know. Go figure...

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Gone For Good

Where am I goin'?
I don't know
When will I be there?
I ain't certain
What will I get?
I ain't equipped to say
But who gives a damn?
Who gives a damn?
Who gives a damn?
We're on our way

~Paint Your Wagon, Alan Lerner

I remember, oh, a good fifteen years ago or so, my older brother Tom said, "I really thought I'd have It figured out by now." I often hear friends talk of looking for answers to life's mysterious questions. While I used to worry about It, I stopped looking for answers long ago. Life has taught me that some stuff just is. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, the journey is the thing. The path we're on is what's important. The destination, for all it's mystery, is really pretty insignificant.

As an athiest, it stands to reason that I might believe that, and I do. I don't believe in Heaven or Hell. I don't worry about what will happen to me after this life. I do believe that our spirits don't just dissipate, but that they go on, as all energy does, in som fashion. So, I'm not working toward a long off, ethereal goal. My goal is the here and now. This part of the path is what occupies my time and energy. It really does little good to focus on anything else - focus on the gravel you just traveled over and you'll trip over the branch in front of you. Focus on the boulders up ahead and you'll trip over the branch in front of you. Focus on the branch in front of you, and you just might find a good walkin' stick to take you down the road a spell. But, I'm off on a tangent that I didn't intend for this post. So, we'll just take a short commercial break.

We may be lost, but we're makin' good time.
~Yogi Berra

A week or so ago there was a good spirited debate over whether vacations should be well planned things or wandering adventures. Self-proclaimed gypsy that I am, I prefer the adventure. I think back to two Winters ago, to what began as a trip to Montana and ended as a trip to Nevada. The destination didn't matter to me as much as just going somewhere. I enjoyed the drive almost as much as I enjoyed time spent with friends along the way. The scenery was beautiful and every mile held something new (oh, she's so clever slipping thinly veiled metaphor in like that!). I've always liked getting in the car and just heading in a direction.

There's two kinds of people, them goin' somewhere and them goin' nowhere. And that's what's true.
~Paint Your Wagon

This is also how I handle my approach to art, writing, and music. Sometimes I have a vague idea in my head of "where I want to go." Most of the time I wing it. The road never fails to surprise, and often, delight me. I've tried to plan the journey, and I'm always disappointed. It never ends up being quite what I wanted. I always wonder what I might have missed while I was stuck in rigid thinking. I know this much, when I don't plan things out, I feel like I'm going somewhere, and when I do plan things out, I feel like I'm standing still.

I almost, way back when, subtitled this blog "The Wandering Thoughts of a Gypsy." I'm glad I changed it to "Gypsy Soul." Because, really, that's the part of me that is constantly on the move and checking out the scenery. I like it that way. I like it just fine.

~Road to Nowhere, Talking Heads

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The I Can't Stand Can't Rant

Enough.... I mean.... E N O U G H!!! Enough already. Really. Seriously.

I've had it up to my earlobes with people who say, "I can't." I'm wading up to my baby blues in people who say, "I wish I had your talent." Bullshit. Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit. Knock it off. I am not so very special. Granted, fine... I'll acknowledge that I do seem to have some innate talent for some things. But the real reason I can do things, and so many different things is very simple. Are you ready? Try to grasp this concept...

The reason I can do many different things is...
I try to do them.

Oh, and here's a fun little fact... I rarely succeed on the first try. I often end up with abject messes that get tossed in the circular file. I can be heard laughing like a lunatic at some of my finished product. The point is, I try to do stuff.

I've tried to get this idea across to people when they say, "I wish I could... like you do." (ugh) My response is always, "Give it a try!" Then the inevitable, "I can't." (low growl)

Oh, but you can! Indeed, you can. Here's why and how. Let's say you want to come to my house for dinner. We set up a time, we make a plan. Now for the tricky part... I give you directions. You look at the directions and think, "Oh, no problem!" You hop in your car, and head North on I-5. You glance at the directions and see that you need to head East on 522, which you do with no problem. You then exit at Rt. 9, headed North. Another exit and a couple of side streets later, you're ringing my doorbell. You followed directions. Making things is no different. Cooking, sewing, painting, it all begins with following directions. If you can follow directions, you can do it. I swear it's true. Here are a few helpful hints:

-Lower your expectations. It's not likely that you'll end up with a masterpiece the first time around. And maybe not even the second or third time. This is quite alright. Even the best artists, writers, chefs, etc. will tell you that well into their careers they came up with stuff they didn't particularly like. Even the most intelligent people have moments when they can be heard uttering, "Doh!"
-Don't be afraid to experiment. Unless you're working with toxic substances and acetylene torches, what's the worst that could happen?
-You don't have to invest a whole bunch or take an expensive class. There are these nifty buildings called libraries. They're full of "How To" books... get this... they're free! If you need supplies, only get the minimum of what you need until you decide whether or not you really like what you're doing. Look around you and see what "found objects" you can recycle into a project. One of the coolest quilts I've ever seen was made with old t-shirts.
-Make a mess. Get into what you're doing. Be tactile. Use all your senses.
-Relax! This is supposed to be fun!

As you get comfortable with what you're doing, you'll get better at it. Then you can use the option to change it up a little. You might also discover that whatever it is, isn't really what you care to do. Maybe you thought you wanted to do needlepoint, but after doing a project or two realized it just didn't yank your chain. Fine, fine, fiddle-dee-dee... quit and go on to something else.

For the sake of my sanity, I beg you, please stop saying, "I can't." I'd really like to hear you say, "Hey. That's cool! I'd like to try that!" I'd even be happy to give you directions. For free. So try something new and crafty. Take it from me, you just never know what you might discover about yourself in the process.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Outside of Hollywood cinema, love-hate relationships are rarely entertaining. I'm having just such a relationship with my sewing machine. It ain't pretty. Yesterday the thing decided to have a hissy fit and choke up on me in the middle of a project. I know... timing is everything, and Murphy never even takes a freakin' nap.. Of course, I cursed at it. Tried it again. Cursed some more. Tried again. Cursed. Flung a wad of fabric across the room. Cursed. Tried again. Then folded my arms in a huff and uttered a string of expletives that would make my mother reach for the nearest bar of soap.

I got up and walked away, muttering, as I turned to look at the machine, "Don't even think I'm through with you!" I was frustrated because a machine was making me feel like a failure. A mere machine! A blankety-blank, bleep-bleep, feathermucker of a machine! I'm not gonna take that. I'm smarter than a machine. Most of the time.

I went out on the deck and watched the clouds sweeping by on the wind. I heated up some left over coffee. I paced. Opened the fridge four times in search of some kind of answer. Of course, we all know the answer is never in the ice box, but regardless, it's where we tend to look. Finally, I stomped back up the stairs, along with a well placed, "Dammit!" Stood in the doorway of my studio, glaring at The Machine. It sat there, so still and oh, so smug. Its needle glimmered and beckoned, trying to pull some Sleeping Beauty hoodoo on me. Thread was wound everwhere like a waiting snake. Again, "Dammit!" I marched forward, Clint Eastwood glint in my eye, tongue between my teeth as I sneered. I lowered my voice to an equally Clint-esque growl and said, "You're just a machine. You have no power over me."

I took a deep breath. I sat down. I poked my index finger at the beast's plastic chest, and said, still channeling Clint, "Obey." In a moment of brilliance, I changed out the thread and bobbin. I plucked a piece of scrap fabric off the floor. Again I poked the beast and growled, "Obey. Dammit."

It worked. I was able to finish off my project in record time.

See... I'm only smarter than machines when I don't let them get the best of me. Granted, I should have learned this lesson years ago, but sometimes I'm a tad slow. Inanimate objects are always trying to steal my entire goat herd. It's partly my fault. Given my rampant imagination, I tend to anthropomorphise them into living, breathing entities. It would probably help if I didn't talk to them. Or maybe it would just help if I at least talked nice.

This time.... this time, I came out on top. Gypsy, one... sewing machine, goose egg. Yay, me.


~Showdown, Electric Light Orchestra

Monday, April 26, 2010

A Passionate Plea

Ever have those things that you're really good at, but that you don't particularly enjoy doing? I'm like that with sewing, and lately I've had a lot of sewing projects - everything from mending (ugh) to making curtains to pillows to clothing. I'm an adept seamstress and have made things for people all over the world, including a vest that got sent to Scotland and a Hawaiian shirt that resides in Australia. People always seem to be dazzled by my projects. Don't get me wrong, that's great.


I really don't enjoy sewing. I think because it's not one of those creative forms I get lost in. I have to use both sides of my brain when I sew, so the creative factor doesn't feel as pure. I love the finished product. Nothing satisfies like a pretty, warm quilt. Seeing one of "my" shirts on someone gives me warm fuzzies. I like being able to take a piece of fabric, cut it up, and make something useful out of it. I like that, in a disposable world where most people have cast "old" ways to the side, I know how to sew. Still, the doing of the thing leaves me wanting.

Having immersed myself in sewing for the past couple of days, I find myself missing my other art with a longing that only comes from true passion. I feel as though I've been locked away from my lover for days and I'm lost without that embrace. It's a revelation to me, and a good one. It gives me substance to draw from in those moments (few, but there) of doubt when I ask myself, "Are you sure this is what you want?" Yes, it is. Oh, yes.

It's also been wonderful to realize that we can be good at something, really good at it, without it having to be a passion! I feel liberated. I'm good at a lot of things that I don't care a whole lot about. So, it's nice to be relieved of some guilt I've been carrying around. It doesn't mean I'll stop sewing. In fact, hauling out my fabric stash (two coffin-sized sterlite bins packed full) has made me think of other sewing projects I'd like to do, and will do. It just means I'll be able to walk by the stash, on my way to doing other art, without that inner guilt voice saying, "You should be doing that too...." Ahhhh. No more of that "torn between two lovers" feeling. Bliss.

Just because we can do something doesn't mean we should do something. What we need to weigh in the balance is where our real passion lies. If you're good at more than one thing (and most of us are good at many), pick the thing that is going to leave your soul satisfied. Pick the thing that makes you excited to wake up in the morning. Pick the thing that you can't wait to tell your friends about.

I think that if you put out positive energy, you’re touching people in a way that they need to be touched, whether you know it or not. And if you’re not expecting it or trying to do it for that purpose, then you actually touch more people.
~Sanjay Burnam

We can't be anything to others until we are everything to ourselves.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Oh, (Don't) Grow Up!

The Universe is attempting to hammer home a point again today. When I woke up, I blindly (sans my first cup o' bean) reached for a t-shirt, and grabbed one of my favorites. It's the one that says, "I am never growing up!" Then after I had ingested an appropriate amount of coffee, I read today's post at Mildly Creative. In it, Ken states: Sometimes, we think we’re all grown up, but I doubt it. Seems to me, we’re never fully-grown. If we were, we’d have no growing to do, and what a terrible bore that would be. Amen, Ken, and again I say amen. Third time being the charm, a facebook friend instant messaged me. As we were chatting, he made the observation, "I'm still an idiot... still trying to grow up." I replied, "Quit trying."

I love seeing the world through young childrens' eyes, through their innocence. There is wonder everywhere they turn, there is awe in a blade of grass. It takes extremely little to stir their imaginations, and they can displace disbelief in a blink. They are the gods of their worlds and everything at their hands is whatever they wish it to be. Although my view of things is often sardonic, I've never lost the ability to see the world the way a child does. I believe it's one of my best gifts. So, I don't ever want to grow up.

In the voice of the very old
I hear the wisdom of every year
In the eyes of the very young
I see the reason for every tear
Seems I'm not here or there
Not young or old
I've fallen somewhere
In between
But I love the life I feel in me
Maybe I'm the lucky one
~Lucky One, lyrics by Barb Black

I'm not gonna grow up! You can't make me!!! Neener, neener, neener...

Friday, April 23, 2010

You Uncertainly May

Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.
~Erich Fromm

There is a certain madness in making art. It does require the ability to let go of what we know, and what we feel comfortable with. It requires the willingness to see the deeper, maybe darker, side of ourselves. It asks that we displace our disbelief for a while. I can get lost in color alone. When I dream, the colors are always vivid and over-bright and, upon waking, the real world seems dull by comparrison.

Not that I put great stock in such things, but as I read my horoscope this morning, one phrase leaped out at me, "...this does not mean you should give yourself over to abandon." Not give myself over to abandon?! It's the Scorpio way, after all, and it's definitely my way. But more than that, art and creativity command abandon. So many of my artsy friends say that when they're "in the zone" they forget to eat, go without sleep, wear the same sloppy clothes for days, and are impressed if they manage to brush their hair. I know that for me, hours go by without me realizing it.

Letting go of certainty is a walk on the wild side. There's a kind of mania in getting involved with anything on a creative level. But, it's a good mania, it's a joyful madness. If there's abandon, it's because we (creative types) are blessed with the ability to abandon this world for a little while. What's so wrong with that? I ignored that ability for a long time. I was frightened and intimidated by it. I was scared what others would think of it. Plus, I had an overwhelming sense of responsibility to stand with absolute reason on terra firma. I was so full of shit.

There are people who spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to travel the world and see different and unusual things. Had I the money, I'd likely be one of them. Art gives me the opportunity to take a trip without ever leaving the farm (and without doing anything illegal). I can abandon the farm altogether. It makes for a very rich life.

The other thing I've found is that once you begin to stretch this ability, the further you can travel. Once you learn to let go of certainties, once you allow yourself to, the uncertain will seem welcoming rather than intimidating. I can't tell you how many times in the past few months I've gone from "Hmm. I'm not sure I can do this..." to "Ooooh! And I can do this... and this... and... hey... what about?!"

Abandon. Who would have thought it to be such a good word? Uncertainty. Who would have thought it to be the best road to travel?

Take a journey this weekend... but don't leave your house. Let me know what you see in your travels.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The 'F' Word

Learn how to turn frustration into fascination. You will learn more being fascinated by life than you will being frustrated by it.
~Jim Rohn

Oh boy, are those ever hard words for me to chew up and swallow. Nothing gets my proverbial goat like frustration does. So, while it's nice that Mr. Rohn gives such good advice, I'd also like to know just how I'm supposed to impliment his suggestion. Alas, he also said, "Formal education will make you a living, self-education will make you a fortune." So, here I go on another autodidactic foray.

I'm a relatively calm person, but frustration will push my limits. I get easily frustrated when I'm working on a project, because I want to be good at it, because I want it to work the way I want it to work. I quickly become frustrated when I feel I'm misunderstood or unheard, because that's my biggest fear. I'm frustrated when I hurt because it's a big neon sign that I'm as fragile as the rest of humanity. On the plus side, I'm as tenacious as a rat terrier on a ground mole, so frustration rarely stops me in my tracks. But, enough... I really think I'd rather be fascinated than frustrated. It just sounds so much nicer. 

I'll report back with some "how-to's" and results... eventually. For now I can only say that I'll try.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Replacement Parts

It was our usual sarcastic banter. I was giving him shit and he knew it, and I knew he knew it, and as usual, expectedly, he lobbed it right back. Actually, I was talking to our neighbor, The Fishin’ Slut, about Steve being a gear-head and made the comment, “Hell, he even sprays WD40 on popcorn!” To which Steve, looking up from working on a boat motor, gave me his rolled-eye wry smile and calmly said, “You can be replaced.” I laughed, knowing full well it was impossible, and having absolute faith that it was the furthest thing from his mind.

You can be replaced…


There is only one of each of us. We may bear physical, emotional, and intellectual similarities to others, but it ends there. We can’t ever be replaced. I think of those I’ve lost in my life, whether they‘ve passed on, or simply wandered away. True enough, life has gone on and I’ve bonded with other souls - we are not meant to be solitary creatures. However, the absence of those I’ve lost is still a presence in my life, and ever shall be. See? There is only one of you. There is only one of me. We’ll never come across each other again in this lifetime. That makes me - when I consider all the people just in my little circle - that makes me think, “Wow…” Consideration beyond that leaves me groping for appropriate words and falling short.

In light of that, do you understand what an amazing blessing you are to me? Do you understand how superlatively, serendipitously wonderful that is? I mean… what are the odds?! I don’t believe in random collision of people, because I’ve seen proof that the people in my life are there for a reason, even if they don’t stay in my life. Further, I think that when we’re ready (and open) the right people come into our lives. Astounding. Incredible. Fantabulous. Holy shit! Wow...

You can’t be replaced. Not ever.

And so… think about this too…

There will only be one of you for all time - you must fearlessly be yourself.
~Anthony Rapp

We are individually precious... ought we not treat each other as such?

~Get Together, The Youngbloods

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Life in Every Breath

I'm back. I know, it was only two days, but it felt a lot longer to me. I intentionally took Sunday "off" because I was working on two card orders, and yesterday was sort of a sick day. Well, it was more of a sick and tired day, since I was mostly just tired (having only slept less than 3 hours the night before). It gave me lots of time to accomplish very little and to do a lot of thinking.

I took some sofa time too, and watched "The Last Samurai" (again). I'm not a big Tom Cruise fan, but it's one of my favorite movies - mostly because of the story and because of Ken Watanabe's incredible acting. Plus, every time I watch it I'm struck by some new Bushido (loosely translated: The Way of the Warrior) principle. This time around was no different.

Algren: What do you want from me?!
Katsumoto: What do you want from your self?

I've spent most of my life trying to figure out what others want from me - thinking that's what was most important, and how to make others happy and comfortable. Most of the time it worked, but in the process, I lost what I needed to make me happy, to make me comfortable. So, I really wasn't successful. I wasn't aware. How can we do anything for others that we can't do for ourselves?

The Way of the Warrior further translates to "life in every breath," meaning we need to be aware of every moment and every movement. As in the game of chess, we need to be looking forward five moves to the outcome of what we are doing now. Don't get too worked up about this concept... even the masters refuse to claim that they've perfected the concept. It's difficult (understatement of the year). However, by embracing the concept, we also embrace that we will persue the concept and practice it.

For example, what if we could actually see five moves into the future when we deal with others? What if that smile that you gave a stranger completely changed the course of his or her day? Is there really a need to see that fifth move? No, it's the action that signifies.

Now, I'm not even a novice when it comes to Bushido. I'm familiar with some of its concepts, but I wouldn't claim to know much about it. What I do know, I like. I've seen some very firm principles to live by, and I do practice some of them (sometimes without knowing). There's this: True warriors are people who know how to be at peace. I've had people tell me how brave I am, how unafraid I am. Maybe. But I don't think of it that way. And I think when trouble comes my way, I'm able to deal with it because I can see a certain peace within it, a certain beauty in the dance of battle.

I'm not sure I'm making concise points here as I try to get across what's been on my mind. And the question that keeps circling around (in Ken Watanabe's rich baratone voice) is, "What do you want from your self?" Not for yourself, but from your self.

I want a Warrior Gypsy girl who moves through this world in peace and (inner) beauty; a girl who is unafraid of her own spirit; a girl who will cross into unknown territory and see five moves ahead. I want... life in every breath.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Get Down, Get Funky

Earlier today I posed the question on Facebook: What do you do to get yourself out of a funk? I got all kinds of interesting responses, which is exactly what I hoped for. However, nobody said, "Sometimes I do nothing and just allow myself to feel some sadness." Nobody questioned the actual need for getting out of a funk, for beating the blues. I had also hoped for that.

I'm in a funk. Yes, cheerful, Pollyanna me. I've got the blues. And you know what? It's okay. I know how to get to the flip side, I could listen to some happy music and get up with the beat, or I could go hug Steve and set everything right with my world, or I could bake something - a proven way to soothe my soul. I know how to change my mood... when I'm ready. I woke up feeling this way. I think the dreams I had that fostered this feeling are a culmination of me ignoring some resurfacing sadness. It's that time of year - it was three years ago that I began saying my last goodbyes to John. Spring, even in all its glory, will always be bittersweet for me. I recall, three years ago, taking a break from caring for John and stepping outside for a breath of fresh air. The sun was shining, roses were blooming, the air was redolent with growing things, and I thought, "How can it be this beautiful when the person I love most is dying?!" So, I knew I was going to start feeling this, but I've been pushing it aside because I've had a lot to do, and because the stubborn part of me is trying to insist that I don't need to feel it this year.

Oh, but I do. We need to allow ourselves to feel sadness. It's healthy. We have losses and hurts that cannot go unrecognized. That doesn't mean we need to wander around being Eeyores and bringing the rest of the gang down. But it's okay to be sad. What do I do when I want to allow that sadness its time? For starters, I welcome it. I look in the mirror and say, "Okay... here's your chance. Go ahead and feel that deep melancholy." I try to pick a time when I can be alone. I let myself cry if that's what feels right. If I need to cry and can't, I'll find a good launching point, like a sad poem, book or movie.

A friend once asked, "How can I feel so happy when everyone I know is going through such hard times?" Ironically, right about the same time, another friend asked, "What right do I have to feel sad when there are people going through worse things than I am?" Either way, it's okay. It's part of the cycle of life and our emotions follow that cycle.

So, this morning I gave myself a couple of hours this to feel sad. I spent some time thinking about heartache that I've been through. I made some art that had a definite somber feel to it. I listened to music that made my heart feel as though it was being crushed. I looked at an old picture of John and asked him the most impossible question in the world, "How can you be dead?" And then I finally cried until I couldn't any more. It felt good to feel bad. It felt right. I'm still in the process of shaking the feeling, but I'm better. That's okay too.

My life is good, but even in all that good there is sorrow.

"When everything's made to be broken,
I just want you to know who I am."
~Iris, Goo Goo Dolls

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Way the Ball Bounces: All's Fair in Love and Basketball

Cartoon courtesy of Hugh MacLoed at

Yesterday I read one of the most poignant, motivating blog posts that I can remember. The title is You, Less Than by Pam Slim, one of the writers at I was already a fan of, but this post about had me on my knees. As I wrote in a comment to Pam, "I’m sitting here very nearly speechless and in tears. Trust me, it takes a lot for that to happen when I’m in front of the computer." In fact, I don't remember the last time that happened in front of the computer.

I'm not going to expound on the post because I want everyone I know, and everyone who reads my blog to go read it (the title is a live link). The basic premise is that there are circumstances that can make us feel like we are less than we are. Degradation of the human spirit is a multi-avenued tangle. Often what we feel is a product of what we allow ourselves to feel - we're a species that gets offended all too easily. To a degree, I concur with my friend Timothy that "no one can make you feel anything." That is so true... to a point. Where I disagree with him is that I feel that when we are subjected to some kind of demoralizing treatment over a period of time, we can't help but begin to question our own mettle. This is especially true if we are subjected to such treatment as a child.

It's no wonder we fear failure. It's no wonder we seek external validation. It's no wonder we lash out. It's no wonder we lack confidence and motivation. (And here's the Big But.) BUT, this is why you always hear me insisting that we need to be intrepid and tenacious, we need to realize that courage is simply the act of moving forward and has little to do with gut-level bravery, we need to rise above the moil and claim what we want and exclaim who we are. Our internal war against passivity and apathy is (and ought to be) constant and, as Thomas Jefferson said, "...the price of freedom is eternal vigilance." Bottom line, check yourself. Stop yourself and say, "Why am I reacting the way I'm reacting? Feeling the way I'm feeling?"

Yesterday a friend of mine started a Facebook thread asking for advice about some neighbors who had put their basket ball net up on her side of their shared driveway. She wondered if she was within her rights to say something. This wasn't their first rude behavior, so we were all up in arms. I hauled out my old "Peoples Gots No Damned Respect!" line. The responses were akin to a group of pitchfork carrying farmers gathering to do battle. We all were in a fair way to holler, "By all means! Say something to the bastards! Give 'em the whuppin' they so richly deserve!" Until... and this was so beautiful... until another friend of ours so adroitly and justly said, "Or, you could ask them if you can join their game." And for the second time yesterday I was nearly in tears. What a wonderful view of a difficult situation he had. He showed diplomacy at its finest. Comparitively, I felt like a neophyte for all the advice I'd given her. It was a great lesson.

Heavy stuff for a Friday, I know, but yesterday turned out to be a heavy day for me and I need to unload some of it. So, as you head into what I hope will be a wonderful weekend for us all, keep in mind the words of Henry David Thoreau: The question is not what you look at, but what you see.

We can't always be wise, be we can always be kind.

**Special thanks to TAK, TB, and JG. Good folks.**

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Sunny, With a Chance of Puerile Humor

It's a beautiful, sunny day here in the Northwest. It's the kind of Spring day that makes everything in its path come alive. Trees are dancing in all their verdant finery, dandelions are scattered about the field, the snow on the upper reaches of the mountains is shimmering in the sun, and the birds and frogs are partyin' down.

You'd never know that just a couple of miles away, on the other side of our sleepy, bucolic town, disaster waits. A couple of days ago, after a good rain storm, the levy broke on a pond that was used for spilling waste from a dairy farm. Nasty, ecoli rich feces-filled viscous ooze flooded the surrounding field and made its way to the nearby creek. It poses a serious threat to the Snohomish river (where Steve and buddies are often found fishing) that runs along the opposite side. We've been watching news helicopters fly and hover over the scene of the grime for a couple of days now. We make jokes with each other. When we turn on the news we now refer to it as The Poop Scoop.

It's as big as excitement gets in the thriving, bustling metropolis of Snohomish, WA. (For those of you who may not understand the sarcasm inherent in that statement, were you to drive by Snohomish just as you blink, you would miss it... conversely, that's exactly why I like it here.) It all just goes to show you that no matter where you are, and no matter how beautiful it is...

.... shit happens.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Just... Breathe

Lately I’ve been noticing a fair amount of discontent among my friends, evident in comments like, “I’m trying to keep the faith, but…” or, “Could today just go okay for me…? or, “So far nothing bad has happened…” I know those feelings. I’ve been in close personal contact with those feelings. It’s easy to get stuck and feel like there’s no rope to grab onto for support. When every day, or even a series of days, feels like that… whew… it’s daunting. We may try to put on a good face, may even manage to fool most people, but we can’t fool ourselves. I think that’s what’s so hard about it. You know how it is. You may manage to get things done and maybe even get a well deserved pat on the back for it, but underneath it all, you’re feeling more than a little resentful, and your basic attitude is, “Fuck this noise.” My catch phrase for those times is always, “Enough! I’m running away to Alaska!!!”

In my opinion, it’s good to occasionally have those times. Often, it’s life’s way of saying, “Hang on a minute. You need to pay attention.” There’s no evolving without first recognizing the need for change. Very often, the thing that most needs to change, and the only thing we really have any control over in this world, is ourselves.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a project to work on and felt completely uninspired. That frustrates me. Try as I might, nothing seems to work when I’m in that state. There are those who know me, even just a little bit, who will gladly tell you that when I’m frustrated, I am not the most pleasant person to be around. I’ve yet to learn how to manage myself in that state. I have, however, learned not to throw or destroy things, and most of the time I can remind myself to walk away. Take a break. Go breathe. Chill, Baby.

Often, after I’ve returned from a “breather,” I find myself pretty much rejuvenated, and I usually end up getting lost in what needs to be done. So, what’s changed? The project is still there and waiting. My studio looks the same as it did minutes before. No, the answer is, my attitude changed. Really, wasn’t it the only thing I had control over all along?

So, when you’re having One Of Those Days; when it seems like Nothing Is Going Right; when everything inside you is screaming one long string of expletives; follow this process:

1) Walk away.
2) Find someplace dark and quiet, or at least quiet.
3) Breathe. Deeply.
4) Listen to the sound of your breathing, be conscious of your pulse.

Psst… it’s called meditating… does wonders for the soul. Forget about trying to reach higher plane of existence. That’s a bunch of bullshit spouted by some hookah smoking seer. We’re here where we are, we are who we are, and we don’t get to go anywhere until we die. So, just… breathe.

And, my friends, some days are rough enough that it’s okay… it’s okay, if all you can do is keep breathing.

~Keep Breathing, Ingrid Michaelson

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Prose & The Conversation

It has been an interesting few days. I've spent the better part of two of them going through all of my poetry - rewording some of it, reorganizing, and reposting it on my poetry blog: Scribbles on the Wall. Please, grab a cup o' bean and check it out. Let me know what you think, if you care to. All in all, it wasn't bad spending time doing that. It was, I'll admit, a little hard. My old poems are like old movies, and I can't help but feel pain in revisiting some of those memories... even some of the good memories.

Yesterday Steve and I took the day off together. We didn't do anything anyone else would consider special. We just kind of hung around with each other and enjoyed each other's company - which is special to me. We've both been so busy lately that we hadn't really taken time to connect in what seems like months. Funny how we both felt that way even though we're together pretty much every day. So, it was nice to slow the pace and just spend time smiling at each other and talking.

And so, that's my news for the day. No huge words of wisdom this time around. Yes, I do hear your collective sigh of relief. Enjoy it while you can.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Truth Remains: Lessons I've Learned

In August 2007, just three months after John died, I composed the following and sent it out as an email. I came across it the other day when I was cleaning out some computer files. Nearly three years later, it still holds true for me, so I thought I'd give it some air and share it again. It seemed appropriate for a sunny Sunday at the Church of the Wayward Gypsy. So, without further ado...

Lessons I've Learned

  • Blood is thicker than any water under the bridge.
  • Family does not necessarily involve DNA. 
  • Crying is good. Laughter is better and more healing. Nothing beats a friend with whom you are free to share both... at once. 
  • Creativity, whatever avenue it takes, will take you outside of yourself.
  • Hard work is a balm for the wounded soul.
  • There's absolutely nothing wrong with the occasional shot (or three) of tequila… as long as it's good tequila… as long as there are friends about… and limes.
  • Allow yourself to feel everything. You won't know what ecstatic feels like without the depths of despair to compare to.
  • Never underestimate the power of a phone call.
  • There are hugs and that's always nice. So hug a lot. And then there are the kind of hugs that leave you knowing you've been held, and knowing that everything really will be alright someday - even if, at the moment, you're crying your eyes out in the pouring rain.
  • Every day, you make differences in lives that you may never know about, but someone will remember. Try to make it a good thing.
  • Real love and real friendship are absolutely, indisputably unconditional and unending.
  • A good bottle of well-aged red can, on taste alone (never mind the quantity), soothe the soul... but it must be shared to do so.
  • Listen.
  • Wishing may not make it so, but wanting it badly enough can sometimes make it happen.
  • Don't ask people if they are okay. If you ask that question you are either a) being completely unobservant, or b) fearful of asking direct questions about what you have observed. Be constructive, not obtuse.
  • Beautiful and wondrous moments are found even in the very worst of times.
  • If you see a need, don't ask, "How can I help?" Just reach out and do your best to meet the need.
  • You don't always have to look on the bright side. Sometimes bumping about in the dark is actually required.
  • When someone's loved one dies, don't tell them they need to "find closure" or "get on with life" or "get over it." There is no such thing. It's like telling someone who's lost a limb the same things. It's a ridiculous suggestion. They may learn to accept the loss of the limb, they may adjust to it, but the absence of that limb will always be a presence in their life. Nature abhors a vacuum.
  • Take every opportunity to remind people you love that you love them. It's nice to hear, and equally nice to say. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "You never know how soon will be too late."
  • Animals will let you be whoever you want or need to be. They know the secret to the word unconditional. Get a pet.
  • There really, truly is no time like the present.
  • Just live and love.
  • Cigars aren't half bad.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Unsung Hero of the Rest Stop

In music not every second of a song is filled with notes. There are also rests, little pauses or spaces between the notes. We don't often notice the rests, but they are every bit as important as the notes are. They set the pace, they prepare us for the next swell of music, they trigger our brains to expect something more. So it is in any kind of art. There are visual pauses known as negative space. In writing we have commas, periods, and paragraphs. On stage there are breaks between scenes and acts. There is a kind of structure created in taking a moment of time for... nothing. That nothing has great power in the context of the piece. Silence resonates.

We forget, at least I forget, just how much this principle should apply to our daily existence as well. We rush around trying to accomplish as much of everything we can without allowing ourselves a pause. I'm not talking about taking a break, which in the work world means spending 10 minutes getting coffee, making a personal phone call, or chowing on something to "perk" us up - breaks end up being just as busy as working is. I'm not talking about flopping in front of the TV for two exhausted hours every evening - banal stimulation. I'm not talking about sleep, which is usually on the back-burner of everything else we need to do. I'm talking about a true waking pause. I'm talking about standing or sitting still, being quiet, and doing absolutely nothing but breathing for a few minutes.

Lately I've found myself being constantly busy, not necessarily because I have tons to do (although I do), but because I have this inner urgency to not stop. Lazy people sit still. Uninspired people sit still. Bullshit. It's almost as though I fear losing momentum. Also bullshit. I need the pause between the string of notes that make up my life. I need that glorious moment of nothing that, in truth, is poised to actually take me into the next indicated thing. We all do. What was I thinking? Going at anything non-stop is a sure way to land head first in exhaustion and burnout.

I've been frustrated with not being able to accomplish as much as I want to in a day and feeling guilty for neglecting the things I thought I was going to get done. My thoughts end up as scattered as the dandelion pods in the field. Not good. Not good at all. This morning I recalled the lecture my old piano teacher gave me about the importance of rests. I was always trying to rush them because I felt I had to fill every second with music or it would be boring. My teacher taught me otherwise, that the rests are the unsung heros that actually carry the piece.

I'm going to allow myself that rest, and I'm going to wait patiently to see where it takes me. But I know this much, there is brilliance in a well placed rest.

~Moonlight Sonata, Ludwig von Beethoven

Friday, April 9, 2010

Less Is More & Some Iron Clad Reasons

I’ve been hearing it a lot lately. Artist friends of mine complain, and rightly so, that art supplies are too costly. I agree. Friends who want to simply try their hand at some kind of art or creativity have the same complaint. The don’t want to, or can’t afford to, invest in something they’re not sure of. I hear you, and I agree. If funding was unlimited, I’d have far more hobbies and crafts than I already do, as there are several more creative Muses calling my name. As for me, I’ve figuratively kicked myself until I’m metaphorically as black and bruised as a storm laden sky, because I didn’t have the balls to claim my Dad’s art supplies, much less acknowledge the talent he gave me, when he died 28 years ago.

To be sure, there is a lot to invest in. I could have an entire house full of art supplies and still go off in search of more. However, art and creativity, are also among those things you can do almost for free. It really only takes some scrap paper and pencil to write or draw. There are all kinds of "found objects" that can be turned into lovely bits of art. Back in the "old days," women use to turn worn out, retired clothing into beautiful quilts - they didn't go to the store to buy new fabric just to cut it up. I don't really need my Dad's old supplies to paint. All I need is my bucket of gesso and some of my dye inks and my fingers. 

Last year when I was in Florida, my great niece Madison (four years old at the time) and I were waiting for the rest of the Black Clan to show up for lunch. We wandered down a path to a small pond to watch the birds. The birds got bored with us and drifted off, whereupon my great niece also became bored. To amuse, her, I began picking up long willow branches and wove one into a princes tiara for her. She was fascinated. We spent another half hour picking up more branches and making necklaces for my Mom and my Aunt Irene. They wouldn't have sold for a nickel at any craft fair, but it kept us occupied and amused for what could have otherwise been a boring hour. Plus, I had a chance to teach Madison that fun can be found in something as plain as a stick.

Almost twelve years ago, on a trip out to Mt. Rainier, I stumbled on to some of my favorite sculptures in the entire world. There have been times I've wanted to make the return trip, not as much to see the mountain, but to see what's new among the Spirits of Iron in Dan Klennert's yard. Dan creates bigger than life sculptures out of stuff that rusts - old machine parts, car parts, horseshoes, you name it - any scrap metal will do, and even some driftwood. His yard is a wild and wildly ethereal mix of all kinds of rusty critters. It's a place of magic. In the vernacular of the day, it's just freakin' cool! Dan has a few acres of land and a big old barn for his workshop, and a big old pile that some might see as a heap of rusting junk. But from that junk rise dinosaurs and horses and fish and giraffes and... I'm telling you, it should be on everyone's "Things to See in the Northwest" list. My point is, Dan takes stuff that people can't wait to get rid of and turns it into stuff that people want to have. That, my friends, is art at its finest! We should all take a lesson from Dan.

Me? I've been collecting old, worn out pairs of jeans. I've threatened to smother Steve in his sleep if he ever tries to throw away his holey jeans again (I pulled them out of the trash last time!). They're going to be turned into an art quilt soon. Watch this space...

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Impossible? It's Possible!

Wesley: We'll be safe in the fire swamp.
Buttercup: We'll never survive!
Wesley: Nonsense. You only say that because no one ever has.
~Princess Bride

Once upon a time people claimed that the world was flat.
Round? Impossible!
Once upon a time people claimed that man would never fly.
Earth-bound mortals in the sky? Impossible!
Once upon a time people claimed that man would never land on the moon.
Humans in space? Impossible!

What is the impossible thing in your life? What prevents you from doing it? Finances? Time? Family? Friends? Self doubt? Talent?

I once told myself I was unlovable. I once told myself I had nothing to offer the world. I once told myself that althought I was maybe clever and sort of creative, I was not at all artistic. Three impossibilities that were proved otherwise. Three things I was certain of that took cataclysmic, cathartic events to change my view. What prevented me? Fear, self doubt, low self-esteem, apathy. But, here's the clincher... the truth was, I was the one who didn't love myself, I didn't care enough to offer anything to the world,  I didn't even try to be artistic.

I ask again. What is the impossible thing in your life? What prevents you from doing it? Bet I can guess the answer, even if you don't know it yourself yet. The million dollar answer is: Y O U

You're the only one who can stop yourself from living your dreams, from doing the impossible. I've talked a lot lately about getting out of my own way to allow things to happen. It's so true. I spent years thinking and saying, "I'd be doing this if, if only, but but but..." Half the time I didn't even voice my dreams to others, much less acknowledge them myself. Here's the deal. You can't feel the warmth of the water and get to know all the beautiful sea creatures from the comfort of a ship. You've gotta jump in and swim. You can't touch the deep snow and enjoy the view from the top of a mountain by wishing it. You've gotta climb. You can't write a book without starting a sentence. You can't paint a picture without picking up a brush. You can't bake a cake if you don't get out a mixing bowl.

Love your self.
Offer what you have to the universe.

Easy as that. It's possible, because...

"Impossible things are happening every day."
~Cinderella, Rodgers & Hammerstein

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer 3-Day Walk

Today I'm departing from my normal bloggage to make a special request.

There have been several dear friends in my life who have fought breast cancer, three of whom lost that fight, a few who are still fighting, a few who have won the fight. As many of you know, I did the Breast Cancer 3-Day walk a couple of years ago. I'm not doing it this year, but a friend of mine, Becci Surgz Harrison, is. I'm working with her to help raise some support - her goal is to raise $3000. Personally, I'd like to see speed past that and make it a double.

Toward that goal, I have created the card above especially for her. I'm selling these cards for $25.00 a half dozen and will donate $10.00 of that toward Becci's walk. This is a bright, cheerful card that can be used for any occasion. It's made using three layers of high quality card stock, which is hand stamped with equally high quality ink. Anyone who orders a dozen or more will also get a free "Mood Du Jour" magnet (seen below).

This is a win-win-win situation. You win by receiving some pretty special cards. Becci wins by making her goal. Most importantly, the fight against breast cancer wins by getting the funding needed to knock this disease on it's butt.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Rat Patrole

Who decided that we're all rats in need of a race?

It wasn't always like this. There was a time when people didn't set alarms. They awoke when they awoke (or when the chickens awoke), they got up, had some breakfast, and went to work on whatever needed to be done. Maybe they worked their farms, or maybe they owned a merchantile, or were veterinarians, or doctors, or teachers, or clerks of some sort. They didn't simply drudge through an eight hour day in search of a weekend. And, since we're on the subject, weekends weren't simply a vehicle for getting "stuff" done and running erands. Often, items and labor were bartered. Doctors were humble people who gladly accepted skilled labor and home-cooked meals as tender for services rendered. There wasn't the stress of "if I miss a day of work, I'm screwed."

Somewhere along the way, the world became convinced that our least favorite four-letter word, "work," meant setting an alarm clock, speeding down the road, and spending eight hours at some mundane task only to pay bills with the earnings, and yearning for a weekend that would likely be spent rushing around in panicked state trying to "get things done" before the work week started all over again, and along with it all, maybe, just maybe, there'd be an entire week off of rushing off to do something different in the name of "relaxation"... whew... I'm exhausted just typing it... somewhere along the way, it was decided that this is life. It was even labled: The Rat Race.


I'm not unaware that there are very necessary jobs out there, and that there are certain schedules that need to be adhered to in order for everything to run properly. But... this is one rat that refuses to be part of the race any more. I did it for a long time and even convinced myself that I enjoyed it. I lied. I was mostly miserable and unfulfilled, and constantly worried that it wasn't enough.

I'm not a lazy person. I have a pretty decent work ethic. I don't sit around all day watching daytime TV and searching for snack foods. But my days now (as opposed to when I did the 40-hour gig) begin whenever I wake up, usually not long after the sun rises. I take my time over that first cup o' bean. I take some time to smile at my mate and get some good hugging in. I wander around in my robe for at least an hour. Then I change into jeans or sweats and a t-shirt... anything I can slop ink, paint and glue on. Then I get busy. I craft, I write, I communicate with clients, and - here's the important part - I take time throughout the day to enjoy the little moments. I listen to whatever music I want to listen to. I take breaks and look at the scenery. Maybe I do a load of laundry if I feel like it. I do the dishes, maybe make lunch... y'know... I putter. Then, fully rejuvenated, I do some more work.

It's a much better way to work. It truly is a work life.  I no longer feel like I'm setting aside Barb for 50 plus hours a week. This is one rat who has abdicated the track... hopefully for good. Do I have advice for others who've found themselves unemployed, or who are still employed and at the end of the proverbial rope? Yes, I have some.

1) Find the passion in your life. What gets you jazzed? Joni Mitchell has a line in a song that goes, "Whatever makes you WOOHOO!"

2) Try not to worry so much. It's hard, I know. But what's going to happen is going to happen. Be the best you.

3) Do something every day. Don't just sit there. Keep busy. But try to make it busy that you enjoy, like walking, or planting a garden, or drawing, or... whatever makes you WooHOO!

4) Cut back on everything. We don't need nearly as much as we've come to believe we do.

5) Connect with other people who are striving for the same thing. Support makes all the difference.

6) Dance to your own drummer. Stop defining yourself by your job title. Instead of saying, "I'm an accountant" or "I'm unemployed," try saying, "I'm a gardener who enjoys baking blueberry muffins."

7) Surround yourself with things that inspire you - artwork, music, literature, pictures of your role models, pictures of your favorite places, quotes that make you feel good, etc.

8) Don't let people pooh-pooh you. If someone starts a sentence with, "You can't..." or "You shouldn't"... give them a palm in the face and politely say, "Talk to the hand." Take it all with a grain of salt. They're the unenlightened ones foolishly trying to walk in your mocassins.

9) Daily affirmations, folks. I can't stress this enough. The more you believe in what you're doing, the more others will, and doors will open for you.

10) Discover or learn something new every day. It will keep you inspired and motivated. It will also make you a more interesting person when you talk to others.

What makes you wooHOO?

~Shiny Toys, Joni Mitchell