Honoring the queen of sticky notes

marlenessticky notes1
Journal page, with wash tape, found postcard, and notes from Marlene, April 2015

What a difference 12 weeks can make!

That’s how long it takes to make it through the Artist’s Way, recover your creativity and make powerful changes in your life.

At least that’s what happened in our group, thanks to Marlene Pelligrino, our facilitator and companion on  the Artist’s Way. It couldn’t have been easy to keep us on task, get us to shut up, help us confront the uncomfortable, and dare to make real changes.

But look at the results:

  • Margaret found her inner strength
  • Coleen merged her engineering brain and artist brain
  • Shelia uncovered her true self
  • Avril returned to psychic readings
  • I’m teaching a visual journaling class
  • You’re taking a color mixing class

So thanks Marlene, for your big heart, radiant energy, and profound sticky notes. And thank you to everyone in our group, for your listening, sharing, tears and laughs. After all,

What are we here for, if not to make life less difficult for each other? – George Eliot

How to Love, by Thich Nhat Hanh

thichn“Understanding is love’s other name,” Thich Nhat Hanh teaches in his latest meditation, How To Love.

He makes one of life’s great challenges so simple. And so beautiful, as summarized by Maria Popova in her weekly “interestingness digest,” BrainPickings.

“To know how to love someone, we have to understand them. To understand we need to listen,” Nhat Hanh tells us. That means expanding our hearts:

When our hearts are small, our understanding and compassion are limited. We can’t accept or tolerate others and demand that they change. But when our hearts expand…we accept others as they are and then they have a chance to transform. 

But the capacity to love doesn’t just transform our loved ones. It inevitably transforms us.

If you have understanding and love, then every moment—whether it’s spent making breakfast, driving the car, watering the garden or doing anything else in your day—can be a moment of joy.

howtoloveThere’s just one more piece of the equation, perhaps harder than any other: to love ourselves. Nhat Hahn’s advice:

Trust that you have a good and compassionate nature. You are part of the universe. You are made of stars.


One small step for a duck

duck2This is my “vision board,” a map of sorts, created after nine weeks of doing The Artist’s Way.

It’s actually the second one I made. The first tried to say so much about my dreams, it wound up saying nothing. That’s what makes this a great example of how the creative process works, at least for me.

1. First ideas are rarely the best ideas. What comes to my mind first is probably the same thought everyone has. The result is expected, predictable, safe. Boring.

2. There’s no way to do things well without first doing them poorly. To learn something, you have to be willing to fail. Besides, “mistakes” are often the opening to new, more interesting compositions (as in the black paper covering up where I spilled ink).

3. Ideas come from all over the place.  I cut the ducklings out of a book years ago and the words from a recent magazine— and somehow they wound up together on my desk (magic, in my mind).

4. Surprise yourself. You could say ducks are my totem: it’s one of Sam’s nicknames for me; my mother gave me many duck sculptures; and I often feel like an “odd duck.” But I wasn’t thinking of any of these things when I made this piece.

5. Express your unique self. My style has always been about simplicity and clarity, as you can see above. One image and three words: I can remember that and keep it in mind as I go about my day.

The vision boards of the other members of our group are as unique as we are. And isn’t that ultimately the purpose of art?

Chaos vs. order

Her side

Order is the shape upon which beauty depends.

Thanks PearI Buck: I couldn’t agree more. Order clears my mind, calms my soul,  and pleases my eye.

His side

Unfortunately, the forces of chaos are powerful. There’s even a word for it: entropy, which means that systems tend toward disorder.

I live with three people and two cats who are just fine with that. I don’t think there’s anything malicious in their disregard; they simply don’t see a problem till I freak out.

Then, of course, I’m the bad guy. Someone might even say bitch.

But is it too much to ask that people rinse their dishes and put them in the dishwasher? I don’t think so.  Is it fair that I straighten up after everyone else? No way. Is it likely to change? Not if entropy has anything to do with it.

So chaos, you win. But don’t even think about messing with my studio—or get ready for WAR.

Think process, not product

cover1edMy birthday present: going away with Sam, leaving everything else behind, taking an art class, and making a very cool journal. I can’t think of a better way to turn 65.

greenwomanI’m talking about two and a half days of making art, instruction from mixed media artist Pam Garrison, access to every art supply you can imagine, great food, and good company.

In other words, heaven.

Pam taught us how to bind a unique book and use mixed graffitimedia in new ways.  She encouraged us to get out of our comfort zone, try new things and remember “it’s about process, not product.” Besides,

“We can always fix it!”

The class was at Donna Downey’s Studio in Huntersville, NC (just outside Charlotte), which is a spectacular place for art play.

The classes are not cheap, but you get what you’ve treestencilpaid for: learning from national artists, getting support for your art, and being treated like royalty.

Donna Downey observing our class

Donna provides everything you need and then some: a  room full of tools, materials and supplies; breakfast, lunch, snacks and drinks; and her overflowing spirit, humor and graciousness.

So if you live anywhere nearby, do yourself a favor and register for a class. And if you live far away—register for a class, too.  You deserve it.

Autism is not a disease

autistickidcropNo one showed up for this boy’s birthday.

I get it. He’s autistic. I can just hear the teachers talking about his “social skills deficits,” parents whispering that he’s “out of control,” and kids calling him “weird.”

I know because that’s how it was with my son. Although Ben didn’t have the same experience, he experienced the same pain: not understanding the social conventions, what he was doing wrong or why he was being picked on.

I remember one time driving to his therapy group when he told me the tortures he’d endured that day. (The minute I dropped him off, I went straight to the neighborhood bar for a scotch, something I’d never done before—and haven’t since.)

Somehow Ben made it through all this to become the young man he is today—beautiful inside and out.  People love him wherever we go,  because he’s so there when he’s with you. He looks at you without pretense or judgment and really listens, and responds thoughtfully.

No wonder Ben is pissed when people refer to autism as a disease. He sees it as his identity—and wonders what’s so great about being “normal.”

But getting back to the other little boy. His mother posted something on Facebook and the town’s fire fighters, adults, and children all turned out  to celebrate.autistic-firemen

It’s such a pleasure to hear about people doing the right thing, we ought to pass it on.

Where are you going in such a hurry?

skatingw“Debbela! Where are you going in such a hurry?” Grandma Rose often asked me.  But I was too busy zooming around the house and crashing into things to answer.

Now I’m the age she was then, and I wonder the same thing—about everyone else.

I know our world keeps moving faster, but still…Do we really need to run around like crazy debcastwpeople? Stay perpetually busy? Check everything off the list?

I don’t think so. In fact, I’m pretty sure we need just the reverse: more time to do little or nothing, to stop being so productive, to get bored.

Bored?! I know. It sounds shocking, backwards, wrong. But apparently we need long stretches of empty time to tap into the creative part of the brain, let new ideas emerge and combine old ones in new ways.

I’m not the only one to come to this conclusion, by the way. Diverse thinkers from Soren Kierkegaard to Virginia Woolf and Van Gogh have recognized the value of boredom (or “idleness,” if the B word offends you).

Brenda Ueland, author of the classic guide, If You Want to Write, put it this way:

The imagination needs moodling—long, inefficient happy idling, dawdling and puttering.

So do yourself a favor today. Ignore your to do list. Do nothing purposeful. Get bored (or idle). And I think you’ll find, in the words of mindfulness guru Jon Kabat-Zinn:

When you pay attention to boredom, it gets really interesting,

Moving sloooowly

Marker on huge newsprint pad.

I know that Continuum Movement has been a healing practice for my friend Susan Fowler. But I didn’t know why until last weekend, when I finally took a class with her.

Before I explain, let me set the stage. You drive through the countryside, arrive at a beautiful, renovated  old school, and enter a world of white walls, 14-foot ceilings, hardwood floors, big windows, and lots of light.

Then you walk into Spanda Studio and meet the teacher, Sabine Mead, a shining spirit who lets you know that it’s okay, you’re okay, and whatever you are called to do is okay.

I was totally ready to love the class, Diving To Write.

Sabine coached us on ways to go deep into the body to escape the internal censor and write from the heart. My favorite movement was “sloshing.” You lie on a mat and let your body lead you to make small, organic movements—very slowly—and feel what’s going on inside you.

Slow is not my normal pace, so I was surprised by how much I liked it.  My writing surprised me, too: it s-t-r-e t-c-h- e-d out, just like me.

Please post a comment (now that you can)

havefunweb1_edited-1I just fixed my technology problem, which means you can finally post a comment on my blog! I love your comments and have missed hearing from you.

The solution turned out to be simple: uncheck two boxes on the Settings/ Discussion page. That’s it. No problem—if you know where the page is and that Discussion means Comments. (I didn’t.)

The real obstacle, though, was internal. I’d heard that WordPress wouldn’t let you do that; subscribers had to “register.” It didn’t sound right, but it was easier to do nothing and besides, an inner voice was shouting, “You can’t do it! It’s too hard! You’ll screw it up!” and so on.

Fortunately, Lynda reminded me of the problem yesterday, and I finally dug in and figured out how to fix it.

“Aren’t you proud of yourself?” Margaret has often asked me, and I’ve always said no. Until now.

Finding my way back to the artist’s way

1998jrnlsI can’t believe it was 1998 the last time I did The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron’s 12-week program for recovering creatives. Seventeen years later, it’s a very different experience.

It’s not just that I’m older and at a different stage of life; I’m also approaching it differently. This time I’m in a class—a group of six fabulous women led by Marlene Pelligrino—at Sertoma Arts Center.

The group dynamic changes everything for me. I’m not alone. I get to experience this through my peers, as well as my own private practice. I’m both supported and accountable to the commitment I’ve made.

Basically, that means writing morning pages (three pages fast, unedited, every day), taking a weekly artist date (doing something special on my own), and doing some or all of the exercises at the end of each chapter.

On a larger level, though, this is an opportunity to dream, to dare, to fly. The question is, Can I get past my fear? My self-doubt? My self?

It’s got to be easier than it was 17 years ago. I’m amazed that I took this on when I was at the peak of my career, raising two teenagers, taking care of Mom, managing a house, and keeping our marriage together. (Just writing that makes me want to go back to bed.)

When I finished the Artist’s Way last time, I wrote some stories about my life and my fantasies. Wonder what to expect at the end of these 12 weeks, just as I’m turning 65…