Saturday, July 31, 2010

A Month of Words


I've made my own challenge and met it. At the beginning of this month I said I was going to attempt to post every single day of the month (So The Story Goes...), and so I have. Will I manage to do it again? I don't know, but it was good for me.

Here is what a month of non-stop posting taught me:
  • I learned that I work best when I'm challenged. Actually, I knew this, but it was good to see evidence of it. Again.
  • I learned that I have things to say. Always. And sometimes people listen.
  • I learned that inspiration can come from some of the most unexpected sources, and often when you least expect it.
  • I learned that a month goes by unexpectedly fast. I knew they were flying by, but when I look back on the posts I put up earlier in the month I catch myself thinking, "I did that three weeks ago? Really?!" Time flies. Life is short.
  • I learned that I'm really good at resenting the pressure I put upon myself. I'm fairly unforgiving when it comes to me. There were definitely a couple of days when I thought, "Who's gonna care? Who's gonna notice? I'm tired. I don't feel it today." The answer invariably came back, sounding curiously like a feisty gypsy, "I care! Buck up and get with it."
  • I learned that what I've long suspected is true... I don't enjoy sitting in front of a computer. It's fun for a while, every now and then, but I don't miss spending the day that way. Not one bit.
  • I learned that writing itself is one of my inspirations. That one was actually a bit of a surprise to me. Even though there were days when I'd be exhausted from writing, I still felt compelled to spend time in my studio working on "real art." My arts go hand in hand. I can't have one without the other. I think I like that. No. I like that.
  • I learned that I have enough stories to draw from. Whenever I felt at a loss for what to post, I simply had to close my eyes and look through "old movies." My life has been rich, and scary, and beautiful, and sad, and lovely, and ugly, and wonderful.
  • I learned that the book I started a little over a year ago is still there. Still here inside me, that is, with just a little more of it added to my collection of electrons and pixels.
  • I learned that the more I write, the better I know myself. Yeah, I probably should have figured that out by now, but there it is.
I would encourage everyone to journal, blog, anything. Just write. Get the soul gunk out! I swear, you'll be amazed at how much better you feel. Even when the writing is painful, the release is more than worth it.

My challenge to myself this for the month of August? Art Every Day. I'm going to paint or draw every day. Hopefully I'll finish a project of some kind every day. I can't wait.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Help Your Selves

DaVinci Weeps

The other day my friend Colleen wrote, "Who else thinks self-help books should be comprised of blank paper and a pen...?" There was a deep, resounding recognition in me when I read that.

I tried therapy (talking to a therapist) a few years back when life was too big for me. It was okay. It was nice to have a relatively anonymous someone to say anything and everything to, but (at nearly $200 an hour) I just didn't feel it was really helping me. I wasn't getting the release I so needed and wanted. Simmer down, now... I'm not poo-poohing therapy. I know it works well for some. It just didn't work for me. I'm thinking there have to be others.

Finding what worked for me was partly due to good advice from friends, and partly due to my own determination to find my way to a better emotional state. All I know is that when I see a blank piece of paper, I see it as an invitation to loose (not lose) myself. Paper doesn't judge. I can write, scribble, use color or not, anything. The paper accepts me for who I am and, every now and then, reveals things to me that I might not have otherwise seen or understood.

I feel like a broken record lately, what with my edicts to create, create, create. But, my exuberance comes from experience. It feels good. Even if what you're creating is dark, it feels good. It gets the soul gunk out. To me, that's as important as physical exercise, good nutrition, and proper sleep. People tell me I'm amazing, or that my work is amazing, and I can't help but think, "Are you freekin' kidding me?! I'm just doing what I do to get by." However, this particular therapist is very cheap at far less than $5.00 a month.

I've been kind of mentoring a dear friend of mine, urging him to write. He has wonderful stories, a terrific gift of gab, and a beautiful sense of humor that, like all really good humor, comes from a hard resilience, a refusal to break when life gets tough. I'll admit, it's more than mentoring, I've been practically nagging him to write. At first he was astonished. Then, like a timid forest creature sniffing at treats left out on a log, started coming around to it. Now he's coming up with ideas and seems excited to begin. I love seeing that in a person. I love watching that leap. And then... yesterday... he said it. "I think this is going to be good for me." Oh yes. Yes, yes, yes.

Looking for a good therapist? Let me help you help yourself. Email me. I'll help you set up a blog, send you a blank journal, needle and thread, recipes, etc. Your you is in there, just waiting for a chance... all you've got to do is allow yourself some freedom to roam.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Nascar, Turtles, and Sharks... Oh My!

Lesser of Two Evils

Objects in the mirror are faster than they appear.
~Kyle Busch

It amazes me that something so profound can come from a silly Nascar race. It's true though. We should never rely on what we've accomplished. We should always push for better... better selves, better intuition, better goals. If we don't, we might as well stand still and let the rest of the race pass us by, and that would be a pity.

It's okay to rest now and then. It's perfectly fine and human to say, "Hey, I did that well." Just mind you don't stand there admiring yourself for too long. The turtles are on their way. (Only somewhat obscure reference. Just because you don't get it doesn't mean I'm insane.)

Sharks have to keep swimming or they die. They even swim in their sleep. Okay, so I'm on a bit of a free-associative tangent today, but bear with me. It's going somewhere. Where was I? Keep swimming... right. We need forward movement or we'll stagnate, we'll die. It doesn't have to be a mad rush. Watch a nature show about sharks. They're hardly ever in a hurry.

Neither are turtles.

And they both get somewhere.

Excuse me. It's later than I think.
~The World of Henry Orient

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Well Enough

Segment from DaVinci Weeps

It was somewhere around the summer of 1977, I think. I was in Toledo, Ohio visiting Grandma Schmutzer. I always loved hanging with her, especially when it was just the two of us with no other pesky family members cluttering up the scenery. Don't get me wrong. I loved my family, still do, but there was something so special about me n' Gram having alone time. It didn't even matter that she called me by every other grandchild's name - eventually she swung back around to Barb again.

Grandma's house, easily 60 years old by the time I came along, was a place of magic. It had funny little rooms, a creepy cellar, and an attic that felt like an attic out of every book I'd ever read. The doorway to it was off of a tiny, maybe 6'x6' room that had once been the kitchen. The steep stairs leading up to it were treacherous and seemed to end in an unknowable gloom. It was one of those places that didn't get any less gloomy once the single bare light bulb was switched on. It was unfinished and complete with creaky floor boards, a couple of chests, and other "old" things. But I loved it up there. It felt like a secret place.

But, it was Grandma's kitchen that held the true magic of her house, and in her kitchen she was a thaumaturge worthy of laud. The kitchen always smelled of old grease (in a good way) and paprika. There was always wonderful bread of some sort, always leftover chicken, always some kind of baked goodie, and always, always, always butter. Real unsalted butter. It is the stuff of my childhood and all the dreams therein.

All that is to say that there was a door off of the kitchen leading to a back porch and a handkerchief sized backyard. The porch was where we found ourselves one overly warm day. Grandma rocked in a chair and crocheted, as always. Lena, Grandma's elderly roommate, fanned herself with a paper and watched birds flit. I sat strumming my 12-string Gibson and singing Neil Diamond and John Denver songs. It was music that was likable by just about any generation and easy enough for me to play. I never thought Grandma paid close attention to my songs. I never thought she saw my music as anything more than pleasant background noise made by her granddaughter. I was wrong.

I finished strumming a tune and was mindlessly plunking away at the strings. Grandma looked up and said, "Play dat von abouta Grandma feddah bed. I like dat von." She was talking about another John Denver favorite, Grandma's Feather Bed. Happy to oblige Grandma (she who never asked for anything), I smiled and began to strum a little vigorously, nodded my head in time as the music flooded me, and sang, "When I was an itty bitty boy, just up offa the farm..." Lena kept fanning herself and tapped her foot along in time. Grandma stopped crocheting and hummed along somewhat tunelessly, throwing in the words, "Grandma's feddah bed" whenever appropriate. I finished. They clapped. I blushed. Grandma said, "Play dat von again." I did, gladly.

In all my teenage angst and feeling of being an outsider in this world, I'd found a place where I belonged. It was right there on Grandma's porch, strumming my guitar and making two old ladies smile. They looked young that afternoon, the ghosts of pigtails hanging over their stooped shoulders.

A long time ago my piano teacher, a practical woman, said, without much tact or compassion, "Face it, Barb, you'll never be a concert pianist." Before I could crumble entirely from the withering comment, she added, "However, if you learn to play well enough for your own satisfaction, and to a point where you can entertain company, you'll never regret it." A wise woman, that one. It's advice that I took to heart and thought of and applied to lots of different things over the years.

I may never strike it rich with any of my endeavors. I may not become famous or win any gilded awards. Who the hell cares? I once made a couple of old ladies grin like carefree girls.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

By Any Other Name

No. 5

I've discovered that there are over 500 Barb Blacks on facebook. Five hundred. Just on facebook! Considering that not everyone in the world has signed up for facebook (not just yet), I'm guessing that in actuality there are probably at least 500 more. One thousand Barb Blacks in the world. I thought I was unique. I am, kind of. There is, after all, only one me. However, the moniker is a bit over-used, it seems. I don't blame anyone - it's a good name.

When I saw the results of my search, I threatened to change my name. To Xgzdundurplig. It has a definite ring to it. It's likely to be unique. It's fun to say (zigz-DOON-der-plig). However, Xgzdundurplig Ink Pad just doesn't have the same swagger as Black Ink Pad.

As a youth, there was a time when I didn't like my name. I think that's because I wasn't who I needed to be back then. I had to grow into the name. Now I like it... love it really. It's solid and it means something. It's not a name that can be murmured, it has to be said. Barb Black.... all those wonderful bold consonants, the bbb alliterative... it works so well. Plus, it has meaning. Barb: a sharp, pointy, possibly hooked object; an acerbic comment. Black: well, there are just too many to list, but HERE is the list at dictionary.com.

I wonder if all those others appreciate the name as much as I do? All things considered, I can't imagine what other name would fit me nearly as well as this one. Although I did google Xgzdundurplig, and nothing, but nothing comes up. It's unique at least.

But then, I'd just be me. Barb Xgzdundurplig. One of one. Somehow that doesn't seem quite right either.

I think, instead, I will live as uniquely as possible as Barb Black. After all... I'm good at it, and it's really all I know how to be.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Days of Whine & Posers

I.
Have.
Had.
Enough!

The other day a facebook friend posted a blurb, and part of the text was, "I think how crappy my life is sometimes..." I've heard others say similar things and it just flat out pisses me off. Really.

It's not like these people have it so bad. Not really. They're alive, well, eating good food, have a roofs above, and the love of friends and family. Plus, clearly, they have computers, internet connections and televisions. What's the basis for comparison that they think it's so crappy? When, oh when, did we humans breed so many damned whiny babies?! Where did they all come from? It seems to have started in the baby boomer generation and its obviously working it's way down, and it’s just getting worse.

It’s not that everyone doesn’t have a lousy day sometimes. We all do. And, yes, bad shit happens. But this constant bitching, this perpetual Oh-Woe-Is-Me attitude, is just pissing me off… ugh. People wear their issues like they're some shiny, wonderful badge of courage. Bullshit. Utter bullshit. I know a gal who talks about her depression (yes, her depression, she owns it) like it's her favorite pet. I know depression is a serious issue, so don't throw eggs at me just yet. The point is, she doesn't want to feel better (trust me, several remedies and therapies have been offered to no avail). After all, then what would she have to gripe about?! Then what would she fill her life with?

I'm so tired of it. I just want to not be my compassionate self for a minute and lash out. Knock all their heads together. Life is not so bad, given the alternative. Life is not bad at all for most of us. Most importantly, even when life is bad, you get out of it what you put into it. So, go ahead, perpetuate the negative energy, dwell on all the horrors of the world, ramble on about the bad shit that happened in your past. See where it gets you. Write me a letter when you finally figure it out, because I will have moved on. Guaranteed.

Wonder what they’ll do when something really bad happens in their lives. I don’t get it. I just don’t get it.

There are others I know who would be fully justified in screaming and crying and throwing a tantrum, let alone a little well placed kvetching, but don’t. They just keep going, more often than not with a smile, and “have a nice day.” When I ask them, very seriously, how they are doing, I get real answers. I get, "It's not such a good day, but I'm hanging in there. By the way, did you see that beautiful sunset?!" To them adversity is just life, a tiny part of life in a life that encompasses so much more.

Ahh... there's the key.

Okay. I’m done.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Alone Again. Quite Naturally.

It's a perpetuated fallacy that Greta Garbo said, "I want to be alone." Several of the characters she played did make such utterances. For example, as the ballerina Grusinskaya in Grand Hotel, she did, in fact, say, "I want to be alone... I think I have never been so tired in my life." Also, in The Single Standard, her character, Arden Stuart said, "I am walking alone because I want to be alone." Alone was definitely a Garbo theme. In real life, however, during an interview (when asked if she enjoyed her vacation), Garbo said, "You cannot have a vacation without peace and you cannot have peace unless left alone." In a later interview she said, "I have always been moody. When I was just a little child, as early as I can remember, I have wanted to be alone. I detest crowds, don’t like many people. I used to crawl into a corner and sit and think, think things over." At a later date, she recanted somewhat, saying, "I never said, 'I want to be alone.' I only said, 'I want to be let alone.' There is all the difference."

Yes, there is all the difference, and I can relate to Greta... may I call you Greta? No?... I can relate to Ms. Garbo. As a child, I, too, was the kid in the corner - by choice. Even then, life seemed to move at a ridiculous speed with its constant whirl of input, swirls of color, and drop-of-a-hat changes that left me unwilling to participate. Alone though... I could control alone. Alone was where I functioned best. Alone was where I wanted to be left. I didn't want to be alone, it just worked best that way. I learned to be alone and rarely lonely.

I was thinking about all of this and, thanks to my friend Sharon, thinking about what it took for me to really break out of my shell. What it came down to? Death. It took death. It took John disappearing forever for me to rally against Alone. I didn't want the people I cared about to disappear without knowing my heart. I didn't want to disappear without them knowing my heart. It was time to speak up. Time to be honest. Time to be less alone. I've gotten much better at less alone, but I still prefer alone.

I was trying to understand why alone still works best for me when I got a package from my friend Jessica. We're collaborating on a couple of art books. In her preface for the book she wrote, "Ninety nine percent of my art making is done alone, at home in my studio. I work well this way..." My immediate thought was, "Ah, Jess... it's no wonder we're friends!" We get each other. I felt validated, in a way. Someone else who understands that Alone isn't necessarily a bad thing. Even so, we're collaborating, right? So, somewhere in that Alone, we've both discovered that reaching out, at least on occasion, is a necessity. Often, it is even a pleasure. Jess went on to write, "...but collaboration with other artists can breathe new life into one's work and give fresh perspective. Plus, it's just plain FUN!"

I'm always up for a good breeze and some fun. So, I'll go work on my portion of this little book (Jess did a fantastic job on her portion, by the way!)... I'll go work on the little book... in my studio... alone... but with a friend who really isn't so far away considering all the miles between us.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

George Washington Drank Here


Mount Vernon Sept. 29th 1770
Sir, In return for the Herrings, (which will be shipped as a joint stock by Mr Campbell & myself) you will please to bring me the following Articles, vizt 1 Hogshead of good rum. 1 Barrel of good Spirits. 200 lb. of Coffee. 100 lb. of best single refined Sugar. 100 lb. of—double Do & 100 or 200 Oranges if to be had good. The balance of my half of the sales of the herrings you will please to bring me in Cash, & of such kinds as will pass here without loss. I wish you a pleasant & prosperous voyage, & safe return to your Owners and Friends.
I am Sir Your very humble Servant
G. Washington

George Washington... a bean freak. Whodathunkit? I wonder if - when he crawled out of his tent in the morning, surveyed the troops, and began to think about his day - I wonder if he did as I do. I wonder if he yawned loudly, wiped gunk out of his eyes, and muttered, "I'm gonna need some bean. Strong bean." I can't quite picture it, but... he had to have thought something similar at least.

I have a mental image of him looking at a huge haul of herring. Perhaps he thought, "How much fucking herring can we stand?!" (Did GW say fuck? I think so.) But, back to George, thinking, "What am I going to do with all this damned fish?!" I'm sure he (or the good Mr. Campbell) brined it, or smoked it, or both. It wasn't as if he needed to worry about it going bad. Still... so much fuh... okay, okay... so much herring. "Ahhhh! Aha!" thought George. "I'll trade it. I'll barter with Capt. Whats-His-Face and get a new musket out of the deal. Wait! No... better yet... booze, that's the ticket... ahhh... and some good bean."

You know as well as I do that that's exactly how it went down. I mean, herring is nothing if not a decent bartering platform, am I right? And an army can probably manage without herring, but without coffee? Fie! No General in his right mind would even try.

An army marches on its bean. I know. I'm an army of one, and my day doesn't begin without it. Back when I still put stock in such things, I once gave up coffee for Lent. Longest 40 days of my life, I swear. I was nuts to commit to that. And what did I learn through my great sacrifice? Well... for one, I learned that I couldn't trust myself to make a proper decision about such things. I also learned that I can, when utterly pressed, curb the urge to destroy things when I'm under duress. Finally, I learned... I learned that I wanted, more than anything, I wanted a goddamned cup of coffee! Take my herrings... please! Just give me some coffee!

I'm an addict, a bean addict. I'll admit to that. But, y'know what? Suddenly I don't feel so badly about my proclivity toward the dark murky stuff. Clearly it was good enough for our Founding Father. Who am I to quibble with George Washington, or Henry Ward Beecher? It's good enough for me. Bean, yes, the deep luscious steaming crude that is coffee.

A cup of coffee - real coffee - home-browned, home ground, home made, that comes to you dark as a hazel-eye, but changes to a golden bronze as you temper it with cream that never cheated, but was real cream from its birth, thick, tenderly yellow, perfectly sweet, neither lumpy nor frothing on the Java: such a cup of coffee is a match for twenty blue devils and will exorcise them all.
~Henry Ward Beecher

I'll have what he's having! My twenty blue devils can just sod off.

The Original "Bean" Note Written by George Washington in 1770

Friday, July 23, 2010

Patching Holes

"...writing may align your thoughts and interests with another and help them to fill a hole in their soul."
~Jason Mraz, in a facebook post On Journaling (click here)

The other night I had a conversation with my friend Mitzi, who lost her 20 year old son a couple of months ago. Mitzi feels comfortable calling me whenever she hits a rough spot. She knows I've been through loss. She knows it's okay with me if she just sobs into the phone for two minutes before she manages to say hello. She knows I won't judge her going from weeping to hysteria in less than 60 seconds. She knows I won't freak out if she goes on a crazy rant. She knows I'll be straight with her. But I love her most because it's okay with her if I don't always have the right words, or any words at all. I think what's important to her (and she'll correct me if I'm wrong), is that someone in the vast nothing is listening. She needs for her grief to be heard. I get that. I so get that.

Loss has been part of my life... all my life. Although it frequently does, Loss hasn't always walked hand in hand with Death, but it's most certainly been a bedfellow of Destruction. Even in the best of times, even now, I know Loss is somewhere nearby - perhaps hiding behind the sofa, or standing slyly on the other side of the wall. It's there though, it's always there. I don't focus on it, but I know it's there.

I've never lost a son. I've never had any children to lose. So, I can't entirely relate to what Mitzi's going through. The closest I can get is having (too often) watched others who've experienced the loss of a child (at any age). I can't imagine how horrible that feeling is. But I do know how horrible loss is. I know emotional devastation and spiritual upheaval.

After I talked to Mitzi I felt inept. I thought, I have no idea how to comfort, and I said as much to The Universe. The chilling answer came back, "You are the comfort. This is one of the reasons why there is you." So, I listen, and I make art, and I write. Always, I write. Then I read Jason Mraz's post and the above line leaped out at me. I always thought the writing was for me, my way of figuring all of it out, a selfish investment. I've always thought, "If anyone else gets anything out of it, that's just a bonus."

How could I have been so blind? So wrong? How did I never notice the weight of this burden, this beautiful burden?

I write because of you. All of you. If my experience, my stories (as my friend Matt likes to call them) don't make a difference for someone else, then what is the point of them?

I write because I need to. Because I need to at least try to make a difference. To not write is true loss.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Crazy Ideas

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

Over 45 years ago, my Dad had a crazy idea. He was tired of his stint as a corporate worker and wanted to do something that utilized his artistic skills. Having a wife and four children, with one on the way, to support, he took a huge risk. He trusted his crazy idea and became a self-employed sign painter. These days they're called commercial artists. I think that if Dad was still around, he would probably give that title a sarcastic laugh, hold his pinkie up in an affected way, and with a poorly executed upper crust British accent, say, "I'm a co-MER-cee-ul ar-TEEST." No. Dad was a sign painter, plain and simple. He was, in fact, a brilliant artist. But I think he kind of liked the relative ease of making a sign. He knew what was expected in terms of look, feel and color. I also know that it gave him pride to drive down the street and to be able to see his artwork standing right out for everyone to see.

Dad trusted his crazy idea. He trusted it enough to turn it into a success. Granted, his success wasn't world famous, it never landed him a write-up in the New York Times, or even a spot on the local news. However, his success allowed him to work as an artist and house, feed and cloth a family of seven. We didn't always have extra, but we never went without. Had my Dad not made it in the sign painting business, he could have gone back to pretty much any manual labor job.

What if we trust our crazy ideas?

For almost two years now I've had this crazy idea. I want to make a living off of art and/or writing. I'm not the greatest at pursuing, I'm not aggressive, but I'm going with my crazy idea. I'm fortunate in that I have the help and support of a wonderful mate. Even so, there are days that I think, "Oh, Barb. Just take a job bagging groceries even and give it up." But... I can't. I can't let go of my crazy idea. It's mine. I own it. It owns me.

I don't have any secrets or great wisdom to share with you on how to trust your crazy idea. It's something I just do. I can't not, because any time I think about giving up, it feels like death to me. I think when there's something that internally tugs at you this way, you have no choice but to try to make it real. It's a matter of working toward whatever that idea is, or resign yourself to living with a lifetime of bitter tasting What-If.

Trust your crazy idea.

What's your crazy idea? I'd love to hear from you either via the comments section, or direct email at: blackinkpad@yahoo.com

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Pretty

The other day my friend Matt and I were talking about adversity - about how some people persevere and shine because of it, while others simply whine, wimper, and wither. We consider ourselves in the former classification.

The conversation got me thinking about a moment in time that completely changed my perspective of... damned near everything. As is typical of the greatest epiphanies in my life, it was a very quiet, completely unsophisticated, ingenuous moment.

The moment occurred about five days before John died. He had been in and out of it, mostly out of it. On one of those days, I was sitting with him as he was sleeping. He kind of stirred and opened his eyes for the first time in a nearly two days. He just looked at me for a minute, managed a slight smile, and very weakly said just one word. He said, "Pretty." I just smiled back at him as he drifted back to sleep.

To this day, I have no idea if he was commenting on some distant place of splendor that he was already seeing, or my eyes, or what. It didn't matter, and it still doesn't. The lesson I took from it was that... here was this man, his body wasted and festering, wracked with pain, and yet the one word that was left in his (at one time vast) vocabulary, the one word he felt was worthy of expending his dwindling energy, was "pretty."

If he could find beauty in the midst of all of that he was going through at that moment, I too ought to be able to find it anywhere.

And I do.

Pretty.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Tuning In

A few days ago I landed on Laurie Foley's blog thanks to a facebook link from Pam Slim. Laurie had done an assignment given to her in one of Pam's classes. The assignment was to create a Soundtrack for Success. I loved the idea. My life is as wrapped around music as music is wrapped around my life. I asked if I could borrow the idea and was told to run with it. Run I have. This was an incredibly difficult assignment. I love so many kinds of music and so many thousands of songs that I feel a list of 20 is sadly inadequate. Even so, I've managed to stick to parameters.

What follows is a list of Go To songs for when I need inspiration of any kind. These are songs that speak to me very loudly as a collective Creative Soundtrack. They are in no particular order. I am including links to each song - the titles are live links.
  • Glenn Miller's A String of Pearls... because Glenn knew how to make finesse an art form. He'd pull a phrase to near death and then breathe life into it all over again.
  • Bob Marley's Lively Up Yourself... misery might love company, but it doesn't accomplish much else.
  • Goo Goo Doll's Iris... this will forever be my song of painful truth when remembering John. I listen to it when I need to reach the deep hurt and turn it back to beautiful.
  • Yes's Roundabout... because this is the song I want played when my ashes get scattered. No other song so well captures the natural beauty of the Pacific NW for me, or the beauty of the relationships I've had. Besides... that bass just flat out kicks ass!
  • Nat King Cole's Nature Boy... because, at the crux of everything I believe is this truth: "The greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return."
  • Dave Matthews's Crash Into Me... because it's one of the most sensual and sexual, luscious and lush, beautiful and heart breaking songs I've ever heard. I get goosebumps every time.
  • Jason Mraz's You and I Both... because "I'm all about them words... hundreds of pages, pages, pages for words."
  • The Who's Reign O'er Me... because it makes my pulse quicken.
  • Peter Gabriel's In Your Eyes... because we need to connect with each other.
  • Eric Clapton's After Midnight... because a little rebellion is very good for the soul.
  • George Harrison's While My Guitar Gently Weeps... because our passion for what we do will live on long after we are gone.
  • Etta James's At Last... because good things are worth waiting for.
  • Nickel Creek's Smoothie Song... because it just feels so doggone good!
  • Massive Attack's Tear Drop... because "love, love is a verb... love is a doing word."
  • Richard Harris's I Wonder What The King Is Doing Tonight... because no matter what our station in life, we have doubts and fears.
  • Joni Mitchell's Shiny Toys... because it's all about "whatever makes your time feel satisfied... whatever makes you feel like you're right on time."
  • Collective Soul's Better Now... because "the world's done shakin' me down."
  • Incubus's Drive... because "whatever tomorrow brings, I'll be there."
  • Eric Clapton's Signe... because I've never seen an artist as completely passionate about his work as Clapton is. He once said, of playing guitar, "I can't NOT play." Passion takes dedication and devotion.
  • Bob Dylan's Don't Think Twice... because it doesn't matter what you sound like or look like - if you've got something to say, don't think twice, it's alright.
So there you have it. This took a lot of thought and research, but it was great fun! I'd recommend the exercise to everyone. It's amazing what you can discover about yourself when you take a look at the things you like, and the reasons you like them. I'd love to see your list when you're finished.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Abiding

A year ago today I woke up to a beautiful sunrise. I was still living on Mt. Pilchuck by the river, and the apricot colored mist lifting from the trees was stunning. Birds twittered and flitted. Dragonflies hovered around the salmonberry bush. The river was low and, rather than its normal thundering, was burbling softly. I remember taking it all in as I sipped coffee on the deck. It was as if the Universe was telling me, "Enough harsh worry... time for fun."

I took the Universe's advice. Time for fun. Time to share some fun. So, on a whim, I posted an ad in the personals on craigslist (bold, brazen creature that I am). I wasn't looking for love, I was looking for fun and for someone who might appreciate the beauty of the day for what it was. All I wanted was someone to talk to... for just a little while. So I wrote a simple ad that said, "Glorious day today!" followed by some small blather about being out and about in the natural beauty of the woods and hoping to converse with someone smarter than the average bear.

About 10 minutes later I received the first of maybe 30 responses. It was a simple reply that made me grin. The guy wrote: "Glorious Day? Yes, it is... And it was a beautiful sunrise over Mt. Pilchuck today!!! Have a Wonderful Day. PS: I’m Smarter than the Average Ranger!!!"

Now, I hadn't mentioned that I was anywhere near Mt. Pilchuck, which is a little bit remote. So the response took me a little by surprise. However, being the smartass that I am, I couldn't resist shooting back with, "Mt. Pilchuck , huh? That's where I am! *looks over shoulder*... Hey! put those binoculars away!" To which he in turn replied, "That's just funny. Howdy neighbor!" He was using my vernacular. Uh Oh.

I responded again with, "Where in the Pilchuck are you? (That sounded like a really good curse, didn't it?)" He responded, "What’s with this cursing at me already? I haven’t even left the toilet seat up yet!" I was hooked, humor slut that I am.

We bantered back and forth like that until we fell into a phone call that evening. I saw his name and number show up on my caller ID. My heart did a little flip-flop as I thought... oh boy, here we go. I took a deep breath and answered the phone with what I hoped was a very cheerful, "Hello!" The voice that came back at me was deep... Sam Elliot deep. Be still my heart... The guy has a sense of humor and a baritone? Oy. You've got trouble.

A couple of days later he showed up at my door (invited, of course) carrying grocery bags full of steak, shrimp, salad stuff, etc. He proceeded to commandeer my kitchen and make me dinner. He made me laugh with his wit and his stories. His touch was tender. He was at home amid all the nature that surrounded me, and he seemed at home amid my nature. I felt as though I was spending time with someone I'd known forever.

I felt my fa├žade crumble. I felt old scabs fall off and scars smooth over. For the first time ever in my life, I felt entirely safe. Here we are, a year later, and those feelings haven't changed except that they've intensified. I've had a year already with my Steve. I'm amazed by him every day. I'm amazed at the love I feel. He gives every part of himself to me, and I to him. It's a relationship that feels as natural as breathing does, and I'm well aware of how rare that is.

Funny what comes your way when you least expect it. I might not have been looking for love, but that's exactly what I found.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Lamentation of a Passion Zealot

I learned a very sad lesson. It's probably one that I intrinsically knew, but I tried anyway. Can't fault me much for trying.

Passion can't be bought, or given. Passion can't be taught. Passion just is. Or isn't. Either people have passion in their lives or they don't. When it comes to passion there is a clear delineation between the Haves and the Have Nots.

There is no end. There is no beginning. There is only the passion of life.
~Federico Fellini

I've discovered the truth in this over the past few months. I have several stuck "friends" - it seems I'm something of a stuck people magnet. And that's okay. I'm happy to help and nothing makes me feel better than seeing someone break from their cocoon and fly. However... (How do I best say this without sounding arrogant and ostentatious, without sounding like a Passion Snob?) I'm sorry to say that I don't have a whole lot of patience for the Have Nots. Compassion, yes. Patience... eh... not so much. But, I've swallowed it down and I've tried. I've even tried harder.

This is not the result of me giving unsolicited advice. I am talking about people who approached me, specifically asking for help. I offered suggestions, tools, and techniques. I emitted exuberance in hopes that some would rub off. All were met with a big But - always an excuse of some sort. Still, I gave these people the benefit of the doubt and followed up with questions, ideas and more suggestions. I was encouraging, uplifting, and fervent. Nothing worked. They didn't want it to work, so my efforts really had no impact. And that's okay. Hey, it only riles me a little bit that these are people that consistently complain about their lives and how much they wish things were different, or they regularly post inspirational quotes without seeming to apply them. They began to feel like baggage to me, these people. Energy vampires, they actually seem to thrive on being unhappy and unfulfilled.

What it comes down to is that they lack passion in their lives. They have no zeal for anything. And... here's the harsh part... I can't carry their weight. I can't be passionate for them. So, I've quietly disengaged. I've withdrawn from their lives. There is my sadness.

Funny thing is, I used to be afraid of my own passion. Now I don't know what I'd do without it. And... maybe I really am a Passion Snob. I suppose I could be kinder and call myself a Passion Zealot, but why pull punches? Either way, I think I've proved myself on some fairly tough ground, and I think I've earned my stripes. I'm alive.

If there is no passion in your life, then have you really lived? Find your passion, whatever it may be. Become it, and let it become you, and you will find great things happen for you, to you and because of you.
~T. Alan Armstrong

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The 80% Success Factor

Steve gave me a hug for no particular reason. We hug a lot. We're good at it. Then, as he ran his hand through my hair, he said something rather curious. He asked, "Where have you been all your life?" At the time I simply chuckled and passed it off with some flippant remark like, "Oh, just hanging around, waiting for you."

Where have you been all your life?

Everywhere and nowhere. I spent an awful lot of time doubting myself, my abilities, my worth. That will keep even the best people stuck on the path and hinder them from getting anywhere. I made my way down the path with all the finesse of a drunken sea bereft manatee. And, it's ironic, all that time I was worried about the destination, and not at all concerned with the journey. These days my mindset is quite the opposite. It's all about the journey.

The truly absurd thing, as I ponder this, is that it no longer matters where I've been. While I have goals, I'm blissfully unconcerned with where I'm actually going. The important thing is that I'm here. Right here. Right now.

Eighty percent of success is showing up.
~ Woody Allen

Friday, July 16, 2010

Black's Birds

The other day I sat on the back deck and watched half a dozen crows torment a raccoon. They circled just a few feet above the critter, cawing and nagging. The coon just sat there, unperturbed, smoothing its whiskers, and then looked up at me as if to say, "I hear them, but all I hear is blah blah blah. Yeah, yeah, yeah... whatever." Then it slowly shambled back into the blackberry bushes.

I haven't been able to get that little tableau out of my head.

How many times have I allowed the nagging crows in my life to distract me and keep me from doing what I need to do, going where I need to go? How many times have I heard the clamoring palaver in my head, and end up giving my attention to that don't require my attention? Trillions, I dare say. I'm easily distracted by unnecessary things.

I want to be more like Mr. Raccoon. I want to stop and enjoy the sunshine of the day, maybe preen a little at the glory of being alive, and then be on my way to doing what I really need to be doing, to what I'm meant to be doing.

The crows are going to be crows. They're always going to fill the air with their raucous prattle. I can't stop that. I can't change the nature of the crows. But, you know what? In the tradition of my little raccoon friend, the crows can just go pound sand.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Honesty Is the Best Poltice

There's a reason that I very rarely use the word hate. For one thing, it is so overly used that it has little impact any more. However, the greater reason I don't use the word is that there really is very little that I hate. I might dislike, loathe, abhor, disdain, etc., but I rarely hate. Hate, to me, is the extreme opposite of love, and should only be used when the absolute opposite of the depth of feeling that love engenders is felt.

That being said....

I hate pat answers. The other day a friend (on facebook) was lamenting an issue within an issue, one that included a lot of heartbreak. It was something that really, I thought, required some good compassion were any response given. Instead, the first person to respond to her post merely said, "Nothing worth doing is easy." Well... DUH! I don't know the respondant, but I wanted to reach through the screen and slap her for her lack of intelligence and insight. Instead, I muttered, "Bitch... you are lucky you didn't throw your trite crap in my direction!"

I hate, hate, hate pat answers. The gods know, I've been on the receiving end of enough of them for my vitriolic venom to be justified. I hate these phrases:

-Time heals all wounds. No it doesn't. It just plain doesn't. If you really believe that, you're deluded, possibly a sociopath, or you've somehow skated through life without being hurt.
-This too shall pass. Maybe, but so what. That doesn't lessen the impact. Just because lightening is only supposed to strike once doesn't mean it always adheres to that rule, and doesn't make it any less painful when it does.
-Try not to worry / don't worry. Impossible. If I care about something or someone, I am going to be concerned.
-I know how you feel. No you don't. You haven't got a clue. You can't know how I feel any more than I can know how you feel... any more than either of us can know how it feels to be plankton.
-Nothing worth doing is easy. Sometimes a thing worth doing is very easy. Sometimes I can work my ass off for something worthless. Regardless, this particular phrase, in my mind, is the same consideration as saying, "Sucks to be you, Dude," as you walk away eating a sandwich.

If you use these phrases, and there are others but, you see, I'm on a controlled rant just now (*cough*). If you're using these phrases, you are not helping. You're not even consoling. Yes, I'm aware that your "intentions are good," but (face it) if you're using these phrases (or any like them), your intentions are really about as heartfelt, realistic, and useful as a square bowling ball covered with honey.

I know, now you're all confused. Hey, I know how you feel, but don't worry, this too shall pass. See how horrid that sounds? You're wondering, "So... what do I say?!" Well, gee. Try speaking from your heart instead of reciting a worn phrase. That's right, try honest feeling. A couple of months ago, when my friend's twenty year old son died, all I could say was, "I am without words for this. Please know that I love you."

If you're reading this... if you're still reading this, that is... please... no more pat answers, no more trite recitations. Honest feelings only, okay? Please? If you don't know what to say, the appropriate response is, "I don't know what to say." There is nothing wrong with that. We are all blessed and cursed with The Human Condition. Like the song says, try a little tenderness.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Letter Eye

Apropos of my post a couple of days ago (here), I was going to post a letter as if written by my Grandmother (my greatest hero) to me. However, in writing it, it became much too personal - not in a revealing secrets way, but in a "this is best kept between you n' me" kind of way. So, I've decided not to share it here. It's not that I fear sharing anything with my reading audience... it's just that... I'm just not comfortable with being that naked. Sometimes it's difficult enough for me to look in the mirror without having an audience.

But. It was a good letter and a good exercise.

It taught me that, like my Grandmother was, I'm a quiet fighter. It's not passivity and it's not apathy. It's a matter of sitting back and watching where the chips are going to fall. Karma. When I think of Shakespeare's line, "Revenge is a dish best served cold," I don't think of someone sitting and plotting for years until the offender is completely unprepared for the moment. Instead, I think of karma coming back around (it always does) and knocking the offender upside the head just when they need it most.

I also learned (in the ersatz letter from my Grandma), that I'm an observer. I've always been an observer. Even as a child, in my reluctance to participate for fear of not fitting in, I sat back and watched. Everyone. Everything. I've been soaking up and storing it all for years. There's an untapped wealth in me, not just of my own stories, but of those I've observed. It's why I was a good student without ever having to study. I simply paid attention. Turns out that outside looking in is the catbird seat for an artist.

Point of view is everything. Looking at our lives with fresh eyes, with someone else's eyes, gives us a perspective that we don't see otherwise. While it sounds like a selfish and pretentious exercise, it really isn't. Quite the opposite, it is extremely humbling, and even a little humiliating.

If we were to sanction ourselves to be all that others see in us, we would truly free ourselves. We would be formidable forces in this world.

Give yourself a break. Put on someone else's glasses today.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The 64 Crayon Experiment: A Life Lesson


I told you about my vacation in the doldrums last week. The thing about that is I need to challenge my way out of them or I'll end up loathing myself for lack of productivity (of any kind). So, as I was treading water and keeping my head above water, I took an old challenge from Ben at benspark.com (here). I can no longer get the link to work, but you may wish to try.

The challenge, as mentioned before, was to use every crayon in the box in one sitting. I set my own parameters thusly: Use all 64 crayons and allow one minute for each crayon. Before I get on to what I learned from this experiment, let me just say that I was surprised there were no light purple crayons of any kind in my box of Crayolas. No lavender, no mauve, nothing. Not my color scheme of choice by any stretch, but still. Why were they completely omitted?

As it happened, I finished the challenge in 45 minutes. It's not my finest work of art, but that wasn't at all what I was going for anyway. While I didn't finish the letter to myself, "Barb, there's something you need to know...." was intended as an eye opener for myself. It was my way of being cryptic and coy with myself, while at the same time, giving myself a shake and saying, "Hey! Pay attention!"

Pay attention, I did.

What I learned from the 64 Crayon Experiment:
  • Every color is beautiful and deserves my attention. Each person in my life is a different color, equally deserving of my attention.
  • I work best when I'm forced to work on something. A little pressure applied to just the right spot(s) will help anyone keep their edge.
  • While blues are always my favorite color, I'm nevertheless more drawn (pun intended) to reds. What we think we want is not always what we need.
  • Sometimes the simplest things, like paper and crayons, are just what we need to reset our internal drives. K.I.S.S. - Keep It Simple Stupid.
  • I can have no idea whatsoever of what will end up on paper, and still manage to fill an entire page. If we allow it, it will happen.
  • Much the same as the old adage, "when the student is ready, the master appears"... when the artist is ready, the vision appears. Example, I had the idea in my head to draw the flame, but I didn't notice until I was almost done that there was something writhing within the flame, begging me to make it real.
  • Art doesn't require the devotion of an entire day. Sometimes I have other things to do and by the time I get to thinking about my studio I give myself the excuse, "Ah, well.. it's too late in the day..." Bullshit. There is always time to do the thing that makes you feel best.
  • Not everything requires or bends to a black outline. In fact, very little seems to do just that. Colors blend and take shape all on their own. Being without borders is freeing.
  • Nothing hurts worse than doing nothing. I had spent all week convincing myself that I was too hot to think, too hot to do anything. I was wrong. It was merely too hot for me to do what I normally do in the room I normally use. Art is everywhere. I knew that and I ignored it until I was so internally wound up that I could hardly function. When we're not doing what we're supposed to be doing, it screws with everything else in our lives.
  •  The only one who can change your attitude is you. I had to pick up the crayons and paper. I had to make the first move.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Ex Nihilo

From Ashes

Last week was an odd week. I'm already referring to is as The Lost Week of 2010. It was mostly due to the heat, but... I don't know... things just felt kind of out of whack. Even so, I accomplished some things and learned some things, especially while talking to friends.

I also did the crayon challenge. More on that at a later date, but basically, I gave myself a big blank sheet of paper, a box of 64 crayolas, and 64 minutes to use every crayon in the box. It was great - a wonderful challenge that I'll repeat any time I need to unwhack.

As my dear friend Matthew says, "Even when the universe is out of whack, it still can provide."

So it does. So it does. I spent a lot of time away from my rabbit hole, as it was just way too hot up there. Instead, I spent more time than usual surfing the web and chatting with my buddies. Typing was about as much physical activity as I was willing to deal with.

Toward the end of the week, three of us in the Whacked Out Universe were having a Mutual Appreciation & Boredom Society meeting. One member was lauding the other two of us for our amazing skills, and said there was no way she was on the same playing field as we. We both shot back equivalents of "don't be ridiculous - you're all that and a bag of chips!" She responded, "I'm too used to me."

I nearly fell off my chair. It was a completely unexpected revelation, an answer to a perplexing equation, a reason for the question I've asked for so long that I don't even notice myself asking it any more. The question is, "What's so special about me?" People comment on my work, on my writing, on what I give them as a person, and I just don't see it. I don't see what makes me special. The reason for that is... I'm too used to me. It's not modesty, and it's not self-deprecation, I simply don't see it. I'm used to me... too used to me.

I think maybe I need to reintroduce myself to me. I think in all the self-analysis I've done, I've lost sight of the human in here. And it's funny, right when I was receiving this fabulous cosmic epiphany, I was handing out an assignment to the other of the three. He asked for a challenge. I said, "Write about one of your heroes. But here's the kicker... I want you to write it as if it's the hero talking about you."

The Sensei never asks the Student to do something she is not willing to do herself. So, I think that, as a way of reintroducing myself to me, I will take the challenge too. I will pick one of my heroes and write myself a letter as if it is the hero talking. Coming soon!!! Watch this space.

The weather is back to normal. I'm back to my usual self - a night of cooler weather and decent sleep certainly helps that process!

Even when the universe is out of whack, it still can provide.

Ex Nihilo. Latin for out of nothing.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Airing My Soles

I don't fear failure. I really don't. I've failed enough to make it an art form.

What I fear is success. I fear achievement beyond my wildest dreams, and trust me, those are dreams of epic proportion.

It's not even the success that I fear so much as I fear... then what. Then what happens? Then what do I do? What do I go after once I've succeeded? What dream to I chase after that?

I fear that once I succeed I'll be bored with success.

Isn't that ridiculous. Yes. It is.

Even so, I want out of that fear. I want to cut myself free from the ropes of worry that bind me and hold me back. I want to release myself from the cloying quagmire of unrealized dreams.

I want to be far away from the who (I am) of today.

That, to me, would be true success. In reaching beyond those dreams, in stepping past them, in.... hmm... forward movement of any kind is success.

I get it. It's more than scraping muck from my boots and moving on. It's leaving the boots behind altogether.

And I'm not afraid to go barefoot. Because, then what...?

Then I get to feel the wind beneath my feet.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

It Floats

"You ever feel lost?"
"I invented it. It's mine."
~Forever Young

Except for my online connection, the past few days have left me feeling lost. I know it's the heat. I'm a heat wuss. I simply do not function well when it's over 75 degrees, and I function best when it's 65 or less (and it can be much, much less). It's not that I can't be stoic about the heat, it just leaves me feeling... lost. No other word for it. The worst thing about it is that I haven't felt terribly creative, and that's always a lost feeling for me. It's as if I've been adrift and waiting for someone to throw me some swimmy fins.

No one's throwing me any swimmy fins, life preservers, buoys... nothing of the sort. That's okay. It's not up to them to keep me afloat. It's up to me to stay afloat. Lucky me - I'm good at treading water. I tend to stay very calm in situations that are traditionally panic driven - I'd have made a good field nurse. I wait to panic until it's all said and done. Really. Whenever I've had to play piano and/or sing before a crowd, I'm cool as a cucumber through the whole thing. As soon as I'm done and the applause starts, my legs are so wobbly that it's all I can do to stand up and take a bow.

But. Back to treading water. I remember learning how to do that. I believe it was the Summer that I was five years old. I remember the feel of my chubby legs wiggling slowly back and forth as I got it. I got it! There was that beautiful moment of getting it right, of knowing I was afloat and would stay that way. It takes effort to stay afloat. I learned that too. I also learned that I can stay afloat under my own power - for a very long time if need be.

Thursday, as I was figuratively treading water, I decided to catch the next wave and ride it in to shore. I sent samples of my work and a bit of my history to an online rubber stamp store in hopes of becoming a design team member. I did it, not just because I adore their stamps, but, truthfully, because I was a little bored with simply treading water. When I'm bored, I end up annoying myself, so it's best to quit treading and start swimming. Anyway, I've received a couple of emails back from the owner of the shop saying how much she loves my work. I don't want to be overly hopeful, but I think I've got a good shot at securing the gig.

Being afloat isn't a bad thing...
take the time to look around you while you're treading water...
assess your options...
make a goal, even a teeny one...
and start swimming.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Going Post(-it)al

The Gods

Some of the best artists I know are those who take bits and scraps and junk and turn them into things of beauty. I have a picture John drew of a rose. It's on a damned post-it note. The rose is so perfect that I can almost smell it, but... the damned yellow post-it! Every time I look at it I feel a mixture of wistful joy and annoyance. I was, and still am, so touched that he drew it for me. It's one of the few things I have of his artwork. At the same time, I just hate that it's on... a damned yellow post-it. Alas. Who am I to bitch? He took what was in front of him and turned it into something rather lovely... and stuck it to the coffee pot.

A damned yellow post-it. On a coffee pot. It's so... John.

I'm off track again. I meant to talk about art. It's gotta be the heat. It sticks to me like a damned yellow post-it. I loathe those things. They've taken over the world. Even so, there is a stack of them right in front of me. There are a few stuck around the area too. Notes that Steve has written to himself, supply lists, motor parts, phone numbers, cryptic jotted bits all - little yellow pieces of paper that somehow mean something.

I remember life before the post-it note. There were still scribbled bits of paper, held down by something heavier to keep from getting blown away or shuffled, or tacked up with tape or a magnet. But, they were different somehow. Different than the damned yellow post-its. They didn't have that tacky strip, that sticky pretend glue thing. I'm somehow as offended by the sticky strip as I am by the pissy yellow color. Yes, I know they come in myriad colors, but to me, they're all pissy yellow.

Those damned pissy yellow post-it notes are almost always about something that needs to be done, something that needs attention. Call this person, buy something, don't forget that, do this, pay that, etc. I once had a co-worker whose sole means of communication (pre email) was to use post-its. I'd get a hello out of her in the morning and the rest came as pissy yellow edicts.

Totally off track now... down the slope and into the woods and lost in a damned pissy yellow stream of paper. Why do these things stir up so much rancor in me? Why such annoyance? I don't really know. They just do. I guess it's just one of my many quirks.

Even so, there's a bit of art that I love... a single rose lovingly drawn with ink... on a damned pissy yellow post-it.

Art in the ugly. Yeah, that's what I meant to say. I'll put it on a post-it note, a damned pissy yellow post-it note, no less, tack it to my computer monitor's edge and write about it someday.

A poet never takes notes. You never take notes in a love affair.
~Robert Frost

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Sweating to the Oldies

In Summer, the song sings itself.
~William Carlos Williams

Summer finally hit the NW. Ninety plus temps, here we come! I can't complain (much), considering that everyone East of the Mississippi is absolutely sweltering.

I'm not a fan of Summer. Oh, put down the rotten tomatoes already, you knew that about me - I'm a Winter girl. I'm just not a "let's go outside and get all sweaty and sunburned" kind of gal. Neither do I possess the statuesque physicality required for most Summer clothing. True, most people don't, but I'm a little more self-conscious than some. Clearly. If you've achieved boobs, tube tops are not for you. Short shorts should be worn only by the Dallas Cowboy's cheerleaders and no one else. Okay, maybe the Rockettes.

But I'm already off-track. See? This is what heat does to me. It's uncomfortably distracting and distractingly uncomfortable. I just can't concentrate. I was really about to say that there are some things about Summer that I love. I'm just trying to remember what they are. Let's see... fresh local produce. Yes, I like that. Swimming too, when I get the chance. I like that.

I think that's it. With shipping speed what it is any more, we can get fresh produce all year long. Maybe it isn't quite as good as in the Summer, but it's still good. Swimming can pretty much be done year 'round too. I guess I can pretty much do without Summer. We could cruise out of Spring, right into Autumn, and back into Winter again. I'd be perfectly fine with that. Summer could just as conveniently take place somewhere else.

I do like the music of Summer. I was just becoming a cogent creature during the famous Summer of Love, 1969. When I think of Summer, I think of the music from that Summer. Thankfully I had (still have) older brothers who were into both rock and folk. I think that's all I really do like about Summer... the old music. There's a lovely sensation of reading a book while sitting on the beat up sofa in our basement, the sound of the laundry machines humming in the wash room, accompanying my brother Tom's stereo. Suddenly my mother's voice interrupts, "What are you doing inside on such a gorgeous Summer's day?!"

*sigh*

Maybe that's why I don't like Summer... all that pressure to go do something. I'd rather just be me than change into a creature that I'm not at any other time of the year.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Pursuing Happiness

On Sunday I did my annual reading of the Constitution of the United States of America. I think it's something everyone should do at least once a year. We've all heard it, or at least bits of it, but how many have actually read it? We all should. It's an excellent reminder of many things.

As always, different parts of the Constitution struck me differently than last time I read it. It's one of those documents that always seems to offer something new to ponder. It stays solid as the current of time flows through it. For me, it puts things in perspective, not just about our country, but about life in general.

Anyway, one small phrase in particular always strikes me... "the pursuit of happiness." It doesn't say we're entitled to happiness, doesn't say we're going to get happiness as an end result of what we do in our lives, it only says we're allowed to pursue it.

It is not easy to find happiness in ourselves, and it is not possible to find it elsewhere.
~Agnes Repplier

Pursuing happiness. What is that? And, why are we so relentlessly, and it seems, futilely chasing it down? Will we recognize it when we catch it? I hear people say, "I'll be happy if..." or, "I'll be happy when..." So, that leads me to conclude that happiness is an attainment? A destination? I don't think so.

Why do we humans persist in believing that something has to change favorably in our direction in order for us to be happy? Maybe... maybe happiness just is. Maybe happiness is there if we allow it to be. I think there's truth in that for a lot of us. We claim to want happiness, but we don't allow it because, for whatever reason, we feel undeserving.

In my pondering state, I took a look around me. I got in touch with the people. What I noticed is that the people who seem happiest are the ones who create happiness. Not only that, but I noticed that the happy people are the ones that others seem to flock toward. When we exude something good... and, hey... happiness is good! When we exude something good, it stands to reason that it's going to change not only our day, but that of others.

I know, I know. Trust me, I know how ridiculous it sounds to say, "Be happy." I'm well aware of strife and sadness. Being happy doesn't change the bad in our lives in and of itself. It does, however, change how we view the bad, and it changes how we react to the bad.

I'm done pursuing happiness. I think the founding fathers had that one wrong. I hereby declare that it is our inalienable right to create happiness.

I have, in my quest to create happiness, found some very simple happiness triggers:
- Whistling makes me happy.
- Hearing small children laughing makes me happy.
- Watching a beautiful sunrise or sunset makes me happy.
- Hugging makes me happy.
- Listening to the sound of my own breathing makes me happy.
- Working with my hands makes me happy.
- Writing makes me happy.
- Making others smile or laugh makes me happy.

Being able to wish my dear friend Iggy a very
Happy Birthday !!!
...makes me happy.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Go Bananas

I love typos. I ought to, eh? I'm the queen of 'em. True, it's not so funny when I'm in charge, but when others mis-type things, especially when it ends up being a play on words, I get the giggles. Yesterday a friend posted on Facebook, "I'm a woman with a lot of patients." No, she's not a doctor - she doesn't even play one on tv. I'm reasonably certain she meant patience, but... there go the giggles.

I'm in a giggly mood.

A couple of weeks ago on Facebook I put the following lead in as my status update:

A Monkey walks onto a bar and says, "Hey, Bartender..."

What follows are some of the responses I received:

In perfect English, "I would like a nice tall glass of your finest ale . . . for I am parched and an ale sounds very nice, thank you."

" ...Is this Duval Street? I thought so. These people are all acting pretty hilarious down here!"

" ...Your brother's my Dad. The bartender replies, "Well, I'll be a monkeys uncle!" The monkey says, "You already are."

" ...Where are all the swingin singles?"

And my favorite:

" ...Is that a banana in your pants, or are you just happy to see me?"

Monday, July 5, 2010

Heard It Through the Grapevine

It's been said that, in order to grow a grape that is worthy of good winemaking, one must somewhat deprive the vine of water. In essence, the grape is starved. However, rather than wither and die as some plants would, the grapevine fights back, grows stronger and more bountiful. My knowledge of winemaking being what it is (read: don't go packing for Bordeaux), I don't know how much truth there is to this idea. Still, it makes sense to me, in fact, I like the idea.

I've noticed that, among my more creatively prolific and successfully entrepreneurial friends, many of them game through all kinds of hardship. Rather than give up, rather than wither, they fought back. They fought back and became something worthy and wonderful. From starvation, whether physical, emotional or what have you, came a willfulness that turned into beauty. I don't know of anyone who gave up whose life also amounted to something admirable.

You've heard me say before that I wouldn't take back a single minute of my life. I also say, again, that even the worst moments are ones that I use to my advantage. I've learned from them. Even better, I've cultivated those times into something worthwhile and, I think, lovely. While there were definitely times when I thought I would simply languish, when I thought I might give up, I just couldn't. There was always something in me that fought back, even if it was, occasionally, a rather feeble fight. I wanted more.

It took me a long, long time to realize that the "more" that I wanted was, in reality, more from myself. It took some force for me to stop expecting, or even hoping for, more from the Universe, from people, from things, from everyone and everything but myself. I alone could force my existence. So I have. It's not without sporadic blight, but it is mine.

You have to have it in your blood, you have to grow up with the soil underneath your nails, the smell of the grapes in the air that you breathe. The cultivation of the vine is an art form. The refinement of the vine is a religion that requires pain and desire and sacrifice.
~Bottle Shock

Sunday, July 4, 2010

May the Fourth Be With You


Happy Birthday, USA!!!

My heartfelt thanks goes to all who came before me - those who, through courage, strength, tenacity, and unyielding spirit, built the dream that I am so privileged to be living. My gratitude goes to those who fight for the freedom I enjoy, and who guard and protect the liberty inherent therein.

Please everyone, as you celebrate, stay safe.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

So the Story Goes...

It is all about the footprints...the fingerprints...the writing on the mirror that has been fogged gray by steam from a cathartic bath. And everyone has a story. Everyone has at least one story that will stop your heart. Everyone has the potential to teach us something. It is all about listening to those stories. How else do we discover our collective humanity? ... All we are is our stories.
~Matthew Grandstaff

Matt's words struck me yesterday. Of course, the poet in me loved the whole steamed mirror / cathartic bath analogy. More than that though, was the truth that rang in what he said. So much of who I am today comes from the stories I heard at the feet of my elders. I was the kid in the family that didn't have a cousin who matched in age that I could run around with. So, at family reunions I preferred to hang around with the "old folks." I think I loved a good story anyway, but sitting with them taught me something more. It taught me that in telling a story, we give away a piece of ourselves for all time. We leave that bit behind. It's so true. Those "old folks" are long gone now, every one of them, but I still remember their stories. I still keep the lessons I learned from them. I still lean on the humor and pathos that were stirred in me all those years ago.

Everyone's got a story. Everyone has a different way of telling the story. You can learn another's story simply by observing them. We tell the story of ourselves even when we don't know we do. How often have I made some comment about another person, only to have them react in surprised and say, "How did you know that about me?!" I watch. I listen. I discern.

This weekend not a few of us will be at parties, reunions, sitting around a bonfire, etc. While you're there, listen to the stories. I mean, really listen. And tell your story - at least some of it. Me, I listen to anything that starts with, "I remember when..." Nostalgia is a great launching point. Take the advice from me and my friend Matt, leave footprints and fingerprints in each other's lives. When all is said and done, it's really all we have of each other. All we are is our stories.

I was looking back at my posting record for the past year or so. This month I'm dedicating myself to posting on this blog every day. I want my story told.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Cloud Burst

Ever hear the word virga? Virga is the precipitation seen streaming from a cloud but evaporating before it reaches the ground. We get it a lot here in the Pacific Northwet. The cloud bursts and tries so hard to reach the earth, but it's as if the gods tell it, "One day, Grasshopper, but not yet."

I had some virga days at the beginning of the week. I felt as though my head was exploding with ideas, but none of them quite reached their target. Visions would lixiviate and then disappear, as if evaporating. To me that's almost more frustrating than having no ideas at all.

I have the great fortune to be living in a valley with an expansive view, and virga is a beautiful thing to watch. Clouds give off fine, wispy moisture that feathers its way down and then dissipates like magic. It's especially pretty if there's some slight sunshine around.

So, as frustrating as it was, I learned some things, and had some moments of clarity and beauty. And, just like the weather, if I wait long enough, it starts raining again for real. Just now, I'm enjoying a most wonderful inundation. Let it rain. Let it reign. Please.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Red Letter Day

I have one word for today. That word is create. I'm not asking you to give up your day job. Neither am I asking you to invest hundreds in supplies. Just grab the nearest scrap of paper and a pencil. It really is as easy as that. It doesn't have to be good - let it just be!

Health "experts" like to talk about how beneficial proper nutrition is, how necessary physical activity is. What they don't talk about is how important it is to exercise the brain or to properly feed and purge imagination. Quel dommage. I'm here to say, "Air your Apparitions!" You'll feel better if you do.

Create Create Create Create Create Create Create Create

C - Cultivate the feelings and emotions that are within you. There is a vast well in each of us from which we can draw (pun intended). In my experience, I can't properly release a feeling until I've acknowledged it. Don't be afraid of your "dark" side. Some of the best things I've made have come from time spent confronting the beast within.

R - Relax. I used to get uptight about creating anything. I worried about getting it right. Then I thought, "What's the worst that could happen?" It's not like I'm sewing a royal ball gown for the queen, or writing a speech for the president, or cooking for Emeril Lagasse, or painting for the committee at the Louvre! Relax. Re-e-e-e-lax. Thing is, now that I'm past that uptight feeling, I feel much more confident. I'd do any of those four things in a heartbeat.

E - Educate yourself. The more input you receive, the more you'll want to and be able to create output. Learn something new every day - a new word, a new fact, a new recipe - anything, so long as it's something.

A - Align yourself with people who share your interests, and with people you feel understand you best. Nothing sparks my creative drive so much as talking with other creative souls. People who really care about art for art's sake, much less care about you as a human being, don't mind one bit if you borrow their ideas.

T - Tell the story. Tell it truthfully. Tell it simply. Nobody knows your story like you do. Don't question whether it matters to any one else or not. There have been many times I've been tempted to delete an entire post, only to have people comment on it and say how much they appreciated what I wrote. You never know. Just tell the damned story.

E - Enjoy! Don't worry about critics (what do they know anyway?) - some of the finest works of art in all media have initially been pooh-poo'd. Aren't you glad Beethoven didn't give up? Or Van Gogh? Art is subjective. No matter how good we are, someone isn't going to like us. No matter how good we are, someone is going to be better. So what? So what.

Create  Create  Create  Create  Create  Create  Create  Create