Sunday, September 23, 2018

Power of your words

First of Don Miguel Ruiz’s Four Agreements: Be Impeccable with your Word:

Speak with integrity.

Say only what you mean.

Avoid using the Word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others.

Use the power of your Word in the direction of truth and love.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Love Letters to my Life #3: Editing ... how I love editing

Calle Arcoiris (Rainbow Street)
This time last month, I had just finished a book. Or, so I thought.

It was the first major writing project I had done in awhile and I had forgotten what happened at that stage. Suddenly the creativity gears shift from generation to refinement, from roughing in a painting to adding the golden highlights on the trim of a dress. 

The generation stage is blood, sweat and tears: facing a blank page, not knowing if anything will come forward.

Refinement is sweet, soft, confident, a no-fail zone ... unless the gentle sweeping away of typos, comma splices, and slightly off words reveals something deeper calling, suggesting other memories, new insights, a strange feeling of connection with something that hadn’t been there before, and is now demanding its space on the page.

Click here for free version.
This month, putting the final touches on the book pendulumed me back and forth between those two zones of creativity. One morning I woke up thinking the whole book was wrong. I had lost the thread of meaning and every page would have to be rewritten. By the next day, I could see gaps where a new page or image here or there … or maybe a whole new chapter … would pull it together. A glimpse of what I wanted to say was pulling me forward.

It fascinates me to start a creative journey like this when I truly don’t know where I’m going. I start out just wanting to rearrange the spices on the counter when suddenly I’m knocking out a wall because I just know it’s the right place to put a patio. (Thankfully, that’s merely a metaphor.)

While some writers and artists are very clear about what they want to say when they begin, others like me have to write to know what they think. When I was writing a lot of poetry, the last line almost always knocked me over and made me wonder just where it came from.

Being on a path for a long time has its benefits. I don’t get swept away by the tides as often. And, there’s a body sense when something is right or when it’s still slightly out of kilter and needs to be clarified and polished. I do love the slow, repetitive polishing, the looking for a word with the right rhythm and meaning, seeing the cliche hiding in a paragraph and pulling it up by its roots and then wondering what to plant in its stead. Looking at a page for the forty-first time and seeing a typo light up like someone had flipped a switch.

I’ve heard people ask how often a book needs to be edited. I agree with Roald Dahl who said, 
“By the time I am nearing the end of a story, the first part will have been reread and altered and corrected at least one hundred and fifty times. I am suspicious of both facility and speed. Good writing is essentially rewriting. I am positive of this.” 
Click here for Roald Dahl interview
Which makes me think of a video interview with him where he talks about his process. He writes in a tiny, quiet and unswept hut and wraps himself in ritual and a warm, comfy cover for his feet. He sharpens his six pencils, sits in his one chair with a lap board for his writing pad, pours a cup of coffee from his thermos, and settles down, saying, “Finally you get settled; you get into sort of a nest; you get really comfortable; and then you’re away.”

So, now I’ve called my book done again, and put it out into the world as a free offering. Gratitude sweeps over me and once again I give thanks for the incredible gift of time. I have time to go slow, ponder possibilities, explore passing interests and whims, drop every thing and have coffee with a friend or read a good book.

Of course, now that the book is done, (she says with hope in her heart) I also have time for new projects ... and playmates to collaborate with ... so who knows how many quiet moments of reading will actually show up.

A big find for the month ... after spending a great deal of time trying to find a printer to replace the metal prints I was getting from Bay Photo, I've finally found one who uses a coating which I may like even better than metal. The opening image is a piece I entered in Fotoseptiembre photo show. Of course you can't see the finish but it makes it look very close to what you see on the screen but still doesn't need a frame or glass since I build the frame into the image itself. Progress.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Foco Tonal and the beauty of bad photos

Fashion Fairy (More at Digital Art Gallery above)
I love bad photos … sometimes the worse, the better. Blurry, badly composed, tilted horizon; it doesn’t matter. It’s a good thing I like them because I take enough of them.

When most people are looking for that crystal sharp picture with the subject smack dab on the rule of thirds grid, why am I fond of the rejects? Because they invite me to play. 
When a photo is really good, it’s almost a sacrilege to change it. When it’s all warty and lopsided, I can mess with it, stretch it out of shape, smush it together with another misshapen image and see what they do together.

A symbol from Foco Tonal
A few weeks ago, I journeyed to a strange place … Foco Tonal, a flat place with an echo when you stand in the exact right spot. It has been turned into something like a spiritual Disneyland complete with multicolored towers. I still haven’t figured out why my voice resonated when I stood on the special spot, but it was a lovely place to walk quietly in the gardens and meditate on the mysteries of life.

From the Elf Garden
I almost missed the elf garden, but someone pointed the way and I found a glade strewn with broken toys and candies left by visitors. This is one of the little scenes I photographed and the Barbie elf charmed me with her flowing gown and beguiling look. However, of course, this was not a “good” picture; nothing more than a casual snapshot. I was surprised when she clambered into a photo and demanded my attention.

Foco Tonal
Several hours later she had become the “Fashion Fairy.” You can only do this kind of stuff with bad photos. The good ones want to be cherished for what they are, maybe tweaked a bit or cropped a little, but no rough stuff.

Fortunately, I have a life time of bad photos to play with. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Artifact Memories: powerful indicators of who we are.

A few years ago, I lived in a lovely mobile home park on the central California coast. My neighbor was a certifiably crazy woman.

At first, she thought I was cool because I was an artist, and she would bring me broken glass for my mosaic work. I just thought she was a little odd, so when she started asking for small bits of money “for medicine,” I gave it to her. When I found out her medicine was cigarettes, I said “no” and all hell broke loose. She started writing me long, rambling notes about how awful I was … in pretty graphic language. Then, a few weeks would go by and I was in her good graces again, generally because she wanted money. It was normally only about $10 and she generally paid it back, but her requests escalated and, again, I had to start saying “no."

She had three small dachshunds that she would leave outside for hours at a time and they barked constantly to the point where I couldn’t peacefully sit on my deck. When I asked her to not leave them outside barking, she went off again. More letters. After I was there long enough, I learned that this was her pattern with other residents and the park administration so I just tried to avoid her. 

However, the point of this story is that at some point during our up moments, she gave me a dusty box of bits and pieces that included a broken elephant head. I don’t know why, but it called to me so I rescued it from the box. When I moved and did the normal downsizing, it wound up going with me. As the move to México approached requiring a drastic downsizing of all non-essentials, somehow it came, too.

Pat's doll
A conversation with a friend made me wonder why. Pat and I talk every week and when she mentioned that she had a doll on her desk that had been there for at least 30 years ... as long as they had been in their house ... I was surprised. She is one of the most organized people I know, and not the type to have an old doll on her desk. She told me the story of having that doll since she was 16 when she was corresponding with a soldier in Vietnam. She had met him through a pen pal program and he had sent it to her. It started us both thinking about things that hold memories for us. 

As we talked, it was clear that Pat's attachment to that doll related to her feelings about the world and herself at that time. Even though it had no intrinsic value, it was a significant artifact of her life, representing that time of chaos when she reached out to a stranger and connected to the world in a new way. It revealed a piece of herself that she had discovered at that time, a piece she valued highly.

One of my most treasured guides, Jerry McNellis, talked to me often about the power of artifacts, tangible things that hold memories, stories, meaning, and a certain power beyond their actual physical essence. For Pat, that doll is a powerful artifact. For me, that decorated elephant head seems to be an artifact. But, of what? It’s not like I have fond memories of the woman who gave it to me, or even that place since a political disagreement ripped the park apart and, somehow, I wound up right in the middle of the hostilities.

There must be something about this elephant artifact that is calling me, something to learn or recognize that I don’t understand right now. One of the gifts of this stage of life is time to contemplate things like this, reflect on our lives, and begin to gather pieces into a mosaic of who we are. 

I think it’s worth the effort to uncover the meaning of these powerful memory artifacts in our lives. 
Questions to ask about the “stuff” or “treasures” that surround you.

Look around you for something you’ve had for a long time, something that isn’t a family photo or heirloom, and ask: 
  • Why do I still have this prominently displayed? 
  • Is it because it is particularly beautiful or given to me by someone I love or loved? 
  • Is it a valuable collector’s item? 
  • Is it important to the room decor?
If the answers to those questions are “no,” you may be dealing with an artifact that holds memories for you that might be worth exploring. 

Some time later the memories unravel
Pismo Beach
Pat and I talked again about my elephant, and she suggested it might have something to do with  the political turmoil I experienced in the mobile home park where I had lived. As often happens, memories started unraveling in the middle of the night. 
When my neighbor gave me the box of broken bits that included the elephant, it was missing a tusk. I found the tusk in the bottom of the box and glued it back in place. Thinking it might be part of a future mosaic project, I stuck it in a wire bed frame which was part of a garden art installation. It stayed there until it came time to move away from the Central Coast.

I dearly loved living on the coast, but had recognized that it wasn’t financially viable in the long run. In spite of a massive downsizing, I retrieved the elephant from the bed frame, again thinking it was a mosaic potential. When I arrived in Grass Valley, there was a spot where I thought the elephant would fit, however, since it was broken, there was no way to hang it or even stand it up. I wound up wire wrapping it and including it in a wall arrangement of plates and other bright bits. 
My place was small and I saw the elephant every day and it gradually became a “he” rather than an “it,” always making me smile. In the final downsizing before Mexico, he made the cut and came with me, but I still didn’t think much about him other than he was cute. However, lots of cute stuff was easily left behind.

When I think about him now, it feels like I rescued him, and that he is a survivor … just like I was a survivor of that difficult time in the park. I had thrown myself and my energies into a political situation where I became a target of anger and fear. I was maligned, attacked and lied about by people who didn’t know me. Even though I was also respected and embraced by the minority of residents who saw things my way, it was a tough time. But, I survived and I think it taught me that I, too, could be tough.

I think that’s why the elephant is still part of my life. We may be bunged up a bit, but we are survivors. He is my reminder that I am strong and I can deal with whatever comes my way. Not a bad gift from what appears to be a dime store trinket. 
Invitation: if you have memory artifacts and would like to tell us about them, please leave a comment below.

Monday, August 27, 2018

My mother was always a mystery to me

I decided that Wandering & Wondering with a Storyteller’s Eye needed a Table of Contents. Simple, huh?

I’ve been through this process enough to know that it would also prompt some revisions. However, that’s all I expected, just revisions, not a whole new chapter, and definitely not some of the deepest writing I’ve ever done about my mother. 

I’ve always somewhat jokingly referred to myself as a motherless child even though I had a mother who did all the right things, who took care of my father and I, who was a good person, a kind and generous person … to strangers and people outside her closest circle. To us inside that circle, she was a prickly mystery, a closed book.

I am still working through the book revisions (and the Table of Contents), and will release the finished-finished book on September 17th, with the final copy sent to everyone who has requested the free version … of course. In the meantime, here’s the page about my mother, beginning the chapter on Wisdom. I will always wonder if I had been wiser earlier, if we might had made that connection that never happened while she was alive. 
Here's the page about wisdom and my mother. If you click on the image, you'll get a larger version.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Mindmapping in 8 Easy Steps

Mindmapping is one of the simplest, most powerful, tools a person can have in her creativity toolbox. It is a non-linear way of organizing information and a technique that allows you to capture the natural flow of your ideas. 

Here's a five minute workshop on how to use this flexible tool. Try it the next time you need to write a memo, prepare a meeting agenda, or are trying to get a bird's eye view of a complex (or simple) project. It's great for planning vacations ... use a big sheet of paper and give everyone a crayon.

NOTE: Your maps won’t look like these ... 
neither do mine ... 
these were drawn by a graphic artist. ;-) 

 Step 1: Center First. Our linear, left-brain education system has taught us to start in the upper left- hand corner of a page. However, our mind focuses on the center ... so mindmapping begins with a word or image that symbolizes what you want to think about placed in the middle of the page. As the images get more complicated, you can click on them to bring up a larger version.
Step 2: Lighten Up! Let go of the idea of finding a cure for cancer, ending hunger, solving the problem or writing a report that your boss will love. Mindmapping is simply a brain dumping process that helps stimulate new ideas and connections. Start with an open, playful
attitude ... you can always get serious later. 

 Step 3: Free Associate. As ideas emerge, print one or two word descriptions of the ideas on lines branching from the central focus. Allow the ideas to expand outward into branches and sub-branches. Put down all ideas without judgment or evaluation.

Step 4: Think Fast. Your brain works best in 5-7 minute bursts so capture that explosion of ideas as rapidly as possible. Key words, symbols and images provide a mental short-hand to help you record ideas as quickly as possible.

Step 5: Break Boundaries. Break through the "8 1/2x 11 mentality" that says you have to write on white, letter-size paper with black ink or pencil. Use ledger paper or easel paper or cover an entire wall with butcher paper ... the bigger the paper, the more ideas you'll have. Use wild colors, fat colored markers, crayons, or skinny felt tipped pens. You haven't lived until you've mindmapped a business report with hot pink and day-glo orange crayons.

Step 6: Judge Not. Put everything down that comes to mind even if it is completely unrelated. If you're brainstorming ideas for a report on the status of carrots in Texas and you suddenly remember you need to pick-up your cleaning, put down "cleaning." Otherwise your mind will get stuck like a record in that "cleaning" groove and you'll never generate those great ideas.

Step 7: Keep Moving. Keep your hand moving. If ideas slow down, draw empty lines, and watch your brain automatically find ideas to put on them. Or change colors to reenergize your mind. Stand up and mindmap on an easel pad to generate even more energy.

Step 8: Allow Organization. Sometimes you see relationships and connections immediately and you can add sub-branches to a main idea. Sometimes you don't, so you just connect the ideas to the central focus. Organization can always come later; the first requirement is to get the ideas out of your head and onto the paper.

Have fun! And, let your ideas flow.

NOTE: My mindmapping book was published almost 30 years ago and I created this simple workshop almost 15 years ago so everyone could use this powerful technique. A friend wanted to pass it along to her workshop folks so I was delighted to find it still on the internet ... although it had been appropriated by a website that used it verbatim without bothering to attribute it at all. I'm just happy to find it in its original form.

In case you would like to pass it along, please feel free to send this link ... or click here for a pdf if you'd like to print it out and use it.

Book Challenge: Day 7: The Tangled Tree

Sometime after the Big Bang, life on Earth emerged.

That statement summarizes hundreds of years of gathered wisdom about the human condition, while leaving vast oceans of questions still to be answered. I love knowing that brilliant minds around the world are constantly nibbling away at the unknown. Their stories amaze me and make me wonder about life in general and my own life, asking myself the questions that fuel our curiosity:

Who are we?
Where did we come from?
Why are we here?

Currently I'm reading The Tangled Tree which replaces the lovely and comprehensible plant-animal tree-of-life of my childhood with a simple-looking, three-pronged branch of Bacteria-Archaea-Eukarya, based on characteristics that can only be seen in a high-tech lab. (I'm only 39% through the book and the author has already warned me that this, too, might change.)

The "Natural System" tree of Woese, Kandler and Wheelis, 1990.
Like many things in life, it seems as if we can comprehend it, we don't fully understand it. 

I was already prepared for the Bacteria part of this development after reading 10% Human which helped me respect the mass of bacteria that makes up my body and have a better understanding of how to feed and care for that important aspect of myself. And, Bill Bryson's book delighted me with his, as states, "sometimes profound, sometimes funny, and always supremely clear and entertaining adventure in the realms of human knowledge, as only Bill Bryson can render it."

I am grateful for authors who can simplify and translate science into stories and information that I can understand and relate to.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Book Challenge: Day 6 - Lab Girl

I’ve always been a tree person. Reading this book made me envious of the author’s relationship with trees and plants. Written with a fresh voice, this is a compelling story of a woman's journey through science, a friendship that doesn't fit standard molds, and fascinating insights about plants. A few notes from the book:

"I would study plants in a new way—not from the outside, but from the inside. I would figure out why they did what they did and try to understand their logic, which must serve me better than simply defaulting to my own, I decided.

"A willow tree loads these used branches with reserves, fattens and strengthens them and then dehydrates their base such that they snap off cleanly and fall into the river. Carried away on the water, one out of millions of these sticks will wash up onto a bank and replant itself, and before long that very same tree is now growing elsewhere.

"PLANTS HAVE FAR MORE ENEMIES than can be counted. A green leaf is regarded by almost every living thing on Earth as food."

Reading Lab Girl, is like talking to a scientist friend who tells you all the inside stories and all her most embarrassing moments.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

New Page for Free Book ... and corrected link

Lost in Technology
Apologies to everyone who had trouble downloading the book. It looks like I created a hiccup in the Wandering & Wondering with a Storyteller's Eye.

This image ... Lost in Technology ... is a bit how I feel about this learning curve.

And, below, there is a new page, which will expand to a readable size if you click on it.

It looks like there's going to be a completely new chapter in the final book: Magic!
You will have an opportunity to get the complete, final book, ... Free, of course!
Please click on this image to get a readable size.

Book Challenge, Day #5: Big Magic

Books have always been my guides and teachers. In my early life, Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich opened me up to positive thinking and Alex Osborn’s Applied Imagination led me into a life-long love affair with the mysteries of creativity. 
At this stage of life, I’m enchanted by Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic which invites us to live a creative life. While creativity is a word that intimidates many people, Gilbert defines it as being driven more by curiosity than fear.

One form of curiosity she encourages is discovering the hidden jewels within us. Those of us who have lived long tend to think we have discovered all our skills and talents. However, we are endlessly complex creatures, and as long as we have breath, there are things to discover about ourselves.

"The Universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, 
and then stands back to see if we can find them.
"Do you have the courage to bring forth 
the treasures that are hidden within you?”
— Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic, Creative Living Beyond Fear

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Book Challenge Day #4: Barbara Kingsolver

What thrills me most about Barbara Kingsolver … now at least ... is that I never know what to expect, but I always know it will be an interesting journey. I started reading her sometime after The Bean Trees came out in 1988 and drifted delightedly through Animal Dreams and Pigs in Heaven. I put her in a neat little box of authors I enjoyed. 
And then came The Poisonwood Bible and I didn’t know whether to put it on an altar or spit on it. It wasn’t what I signed up for when I bought the name Kingsolver.

However, after finishing it, I found myself thinking about the characters, thinking about the world they lived in and the challenges of living in such a different culture. Particular passages or events haunted me and still make me think about them. 
By the time I got through to Prodigal Summer, The Lacuna, and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I had stopped thinking about her as a name on a book, but rather as a woman who was thinking and writing about things that interested me. And then came Flight Behavior, a magical book. All I know now is that whatever she writes, I will read and be transported to a different place and informed about the world and all its wonders.

When I went to her website to write this post, I found some thoughts worth sharing:

"What keeps me awake at the wheel is the thrill of trying something completely new with each book. I’m not a risk-taker in life, generally speaking, but as a writer I definitely choose the fast car, the impossible rock face, the free fall.”
— Barbara Kingsolver

"Literature is one of the few kinds of writing in the world that does not tell you what to buy, want, see, be, or believe. It’s more like conversation, raising new questions and moving you to answer them for yourself.”
— Barbara Kingsolver

"The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. The most you can do is live inside that hope, running down its hallways, touching the walls on both sides.” — from Animal Dreams

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Book Challenge Day #3: To Kill a Mockingbird

The first book I ever bought for myself.

I grew up on a “farm” outside a small town in southeastern Kansas. Coffeyville had a library that I loved but no bookstore. In 1961, I went with a friend and her family to the big city … Kansas City … where I saw my first bookstore and purchased my first book … To Kill a Mockingbird. I didn’t know anything about it so I’m sure it was just because of the intriguing title.
On that trip, I fell in love with bookstores and my idea of wealth was formed. Someday I would be rich enough to walk into a bookstore and buy as many books as I wanted.

TKM knocked me over. Kansas at that time was relatively progressive. Schools were integrated and most of us didn’t think much about diversity and social conditions. Actually, at that time of my life, I’m not sure I thought much about anything. 
To Kill a Mockingbird made me think. Not long after that, I moved to Fort Smith Arkansas, where schools were not integrated and there were still “whites only” signs around. It was a different world and I could see the difference, and began to think about justice, equality and the world I wanted to live in.

To Kill a Mockingbird is now one of our most beloved books and definitely one of the books that shaped my world view. I'm not sure how many times I've read it, but it may be time to read it again.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Book Challenge Day #2: The Four Agreements

The Four Agreements
There is something dangerous about gaining awareness: it can bite you when you forget.

Recently I met a woman who pushed ALL my buttons. Within minutes of meeting her, I had several valid reasons for not liking her. I won’t bother listing them as they don't pertain to this insight and probably aren't even true.

Yesterday morning, sitting in one of my favorite coffee shops, a vendedora came in with load of bags and other bright, colorful items, as well as her two, very cute, children. I’ve bought several things from her in the past, but this morning I didn’t need anything. 
We exchanged pleasantries as much as two people can without a shared language. Then, she pulled out a piece of paper, handwritten in English, obviously by someone else, describing her situation and why she needed money. The note encouraged the reader to be generous. It was a touching note and at the bottom, it was signed by the woman I recently met, whom I had written off and talked unkindly about to others.

I contributed some pesos to the mother, but it didn’t wipe away the guilt I felt about judging someone so harshly AND indulging in unkind conversation about her.

As I sat there, I thought of the Four Agreements, principles I have worked on for years, and obviously still need to continue working on. After reviewing them again, it was clear I was out of sync on at least three, and maybe all, of them:
  1. I wasn’t impeccable with my word. It was bad enough that I judged her so harshly but I spoke to others about my feelings as if they were the reality of who she is.
  2. I took things personally. The woman and I had a small exchange that I definitely took personally and felt offended.
  3. I made assumptions. I assumed many things about this woman and judged her harshly.
  4. I didn't do my best to be kind, and fell far short on one of my core values.
    How fortunate I was to have this interaction that held up a mirror that helped me see an unflattering view of myself. A Facebook friend shared a quote from John O’Donohue that likens us to a tower of windows. Moving to a different window shifts our perspective.

    Today I am choosing to move to a window that reminds me that what I see in others is not who they are, but rather a projection of who I am.

    Thankfully, today is another day.

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    Sunday, August 19, 2018

    Book Challenge Day 1: John O'Donohue's Anam Cara

    There are books I read, enjoy and immediately forget.

    And, then there are some books, slow books, books that take weeks or months to read, that demand to be highlighted and contemplated, books so beautiful I can never forget them.

    In 2009, I was at a low point, feeling homeless, abandoned, untethered. Some how I came across John O'Donohue's book and fell immediately, head over heels in love with his words ... and, more importantly, the possibilities of my life.

    I couldn't get to Google fast enough. I wanted to experience more of this person; I wanted a workshop. It broke me open all over again to find out that he had died the previous year. I had to make do with his words so I have read them again and again.

    Here are just a few that a Facebook friend shared this morning. It reminded me to download a kindle version since I left my library behind when I moved to Mexico.

    Savor and enjoy.

    “There is a beautiful complexity of growth within the human soul.
    In order to glimpse this, it is helpful to visualize the mind as a tower of windows. Sadly, many people remain trapped at the one window, looking out every day at the same scene in the same way.
    Real growth is experienced when you draw back from that one window, turn, and walk around the inner tower of the soul and see all the different windows that await your gaze.
    Through these different windows, you can see new vistas of possibility, presence, and creativity. Complacency, habit, and blindness often prevent you from feeling your life.
    So much depends on the frame of vision—the window through which you look.”

    Friday, August 17, 2018

    Love Letters to my Life #2: New Book: Kaleidoscope of Self

    Click here for copy

    It may be the middle of the year, but I’m still thinking about the Christmas letter I didn’t write … that
    actually I never write but always think about writing.
    In the past year, I’ve created a mountain of art … well, it would be a mountain if it weren’t all stacked in my computer in neat, pixel-hungry Photoshop files.

    What I really wanted was an album where I could look at my art and share it with friends. The solution I hit on was a digital magazine: dump in the photos, make a link and send it out. Simple.

    Why is it that simple ideas seldom are?

    Beautiful though digital magazines are, it didn’t take long for that solution to reveal it’s complications … and expense. However, I was just about to leap into the new software and monthly expenses when a friend recommended iBooks Author.
    At first, I rejected the idea. I didn’t want to publish another book and go through getting an ISBN number and publishing it to some e-book site. And, I definitely couldn’t afford to actually print a full-color book of art.

    My friend let out a not-so-patient sigh and said: 

    So, I opened up the free software, somewhat determined to prove her wrong … and fell into wonderland, substituting my own letters: OMG!

    Suddenly, I was on a path that allowed stories, poetry, lessons and bits of wisdom I’ve picked up along the way to be part of the journey. It was like a life collage forming in front of me … with no glue bubbles to try to eliminate.

    Slowly, it turned into a book. But, not a 50,000-word book … more like a 5,000-word book with lots of pictures. A picture book for adults, especially adults trying to navigate "this stage of life."

    In the process, the book became my second love letter to my life. And, to celebrate the completion of it, I’m giving away the pdf version for a month to my friends and all their friends and friends of friends.
    So, if you would like a FREE copy, click on this link

     … before September 16th at 10:00 p.m. CST. At that point, I'm either going to sell it or retire it.

    In case you would like to see small views of a few of the pages ... if you click on the image, you'll get a bigger view which you can actually read:

    Chapter 1 - WONDER, page 7

    A major question ends each chapter.
    Chapter 3 - WANDER has a lot about Oaxaca - the story behind the frame is a favorite.
    Chapter 6: CONNECT, page 63 ... all art is mine.
    It took 10 pages to say Adios (to god) and required a brand new piece of art.

    Thursday, August 16, 2018

    FREE Book: Kaleidoscope of Self

    Hola! It's here ... my new book filled with stories, sights, art, and bits of wisdom about "this stage of life." To get it click here:  Kaleidoscope of Self.

    It changed titles three times in the process, and also changed the business model ... if you can call FREE a business model.

    Going through the process of writing a book automatically triggers questions of marketing, formats, distribution, and pricing. This past year, as I thought about my art, I realized what I really wanted was to make connections. Now I realize it's the same for my writing.

    Because this book is filled with full-color art, printing it would be extremely expensive and even putting it into e-book format is far more complicated, expensive and limiting than a standard black-and-white book.

    PDF is a simple format and there are ways to sell pdfs online, however, it would mean doing things I don't want to do, and it would limit my connections.

    So, free is the easiest and I hope it helps me meet more of you. I've also started a Facebook learning group ... Kaleidoscope of Self ... where the chapters will be serialized and encourage sharing of stories and insights.

    First review made me cry:  
    "It’s fabulous - it’s amazing - it’s unique - it’s uplifting - it’s courageous."
    If you think any of your friends would like to have a FREE copy ... just send them this link:

    Kaleidoscope of Self ... thoughts about creating ourselves anew in "this stage of life"

    Wednesday, August 8, 2018

    Rumi: What Was Said to the Rose

    What was said to the rose to make it open. Rumi
    Remember, the entrance door to the sanctuary is inside you.
    -- Rumi

    What was said to the rose that made it open
    was said to me here in my chest.

    8/17/2017 -- Rumi's words this morning drew me into creating this image and contemplating the unending beauty that flows through the universe. It's an easy thing to forget in these days of turbulence.

    Today's guidance from The Rumi Card Book:
    Reward Card -- Eat on and on, you lovers, at Eternity's table; its feast is forever; and spread out for you.  Prosperity of all kinds is now open to you.
    Category explanation from the book: The divine Love that urges our journey ever onward also constantly and lavishly rewards us for every sacrifice we make and every action of true generosity that we undertake.  When the eyes of Love really open in us, we see that life is an unbroken stream of ordinary miracles and that just to be alive is a matchless reward.

    8/8/2018 -- What an interesting world. Eryk Hanut, author of The Rumi Card Book, and I have become friends on Facebook, where I learned what an absolutely amazing person he is. His Rumi deck is so important to me that it's one of the few things I brought to México with me.

    It is available at

    What Was Said to the Rose

    What was said to the rose that made it open
    was said to me here in my chest.

    What was told the Cypress that made it strong
    and straight, what was

    whispered the jasmine so it is what it is, whatever made
    sugarcane sweet, whatever

    was said to the inhabitants of the town of Chigil in
    Turkestan that makes them

    so handsome, whatever lets the pomegranate flower blush
    like a human face, that is

    being said to me now. I blush. Whatever put eloquence in
    language, that's happening here.

    The great warehouse doors open; I fill with gratitude,
    chewing a piece of sugarcane,

    in love with the one to whom every that belongs!

    Poem by Jalaluddin Rumi

    More about Coleman Barks:   

    translation ©2005 — Coleman Barks

    Tuesday, July 17, 2018

    Love letters to my life #1: A new venture

    Tree of Life
    This is the first in, hopefully, a long series of love letters to my life, to be written on the 17th day of each month remaining to me. The thought that I might not be here to write the next one, prompts me to express my appreciation for every tiny moment, all the joyous occasions, and each heart-wrenching setback that has landed me in this particular moment of birdsong and unfolding new directions.

    I am one of the lucky ones. Here in this moment, in the early days of my eighth decade, I am free, healthy, engaged with beauty and expression, rich in friendships and community,  exploring a new culture, learning a new language, watching, sometimes with astonishment, as each new page turns, revealing bits and pieces of the world and myself that I never knew existed.

    Understanding the infinite immensity of all that surrounds me, I rest in the awareness that revelation will continue as long as I breathe. After that, who knows?

    Neill James, photo and article
    Today, I thank all the forces that brought me to a new landscape ... Mexico … and invited me into the unique culture of Ajijic, a small village guarded by two distinct feminine spirits … Teomichicihualli, goddess, fish-princess of Lake Chapala, and Neill James, an adventuress, travel-writer from the United States, who settled in Ajijic in 1943 and proceeded to do the work that called her … perhaps as an incarnation of Teomichicihualli herself. (For more about these spirits, read here.)

    Artist: Jesús López Vega
    Each of us writes, and lives, a story about our lives. It’s
    never a true story, but it’s a handy one that provides a lot of justification for the choices we make and explanations for what befalls us. My story was simple … I was an only child, separate and alone, childless and unmothered, rolling through life free and independent. I could make all the details of my life fit that story. It was a story that didn’t allow space for community as I rolled from one place to the next, even though I frequently proclaimed my desire to find connection and community.

    When the rolling stone of my life plopped me down beside the largest lake in Mexico, something changed. Life took me out of my rolling, 60 mph life and said: Walk! And, while walking through the streets and along the shores of the lake, community sneaked up on me. I fell in love with this odd blend of immigrants and indigenous, Spanish and English, wealth and poverty, raucous noise and generous souls. It’s like I have been touched by both Teomichicihualli and Neill James.

    Many years ago, in the throes of an entrepreneurial moment, a friend and I started a small gallery of art and crafts. It was a joyous adventure and we created a luminous, creative offering for the community. It lasted three months and, when it failed, it broke my heart … and the friendship. I swore I’d never take a risk like that again. 

    Never say never.

    Tiny gallery to be on Colón
    A new friend and I just signed a lease for a new gallery here in Ajijic … Galería del Futuro.  Steve and I are both digital artists and had been talking about finding a place to show our work. When the right place at the right price showed up, we started talking seriously about the possibility. Shadows from the old venture wafted through the air and I outlined all the reasons I didn’t want to be part of it. I didn’t want to be tied down to a retail store; no one was going to buy our work anyway, it would be a waste of money … amazingly negative talk from someone who believes in positive thinking and benevolent self-talk. 

    What it might look like after painting.
    However, as we continued to discuss the possibility, a new thread appeared … we could help young, local artists by showing their work also. Suddenly, passion was ignited as the whole project took on a different aspect. We both recognized our deep interest in supporting young artists … a kind of support we had never experienced ourselves. This possibility also linked us to a project some established artists here were working on to try to support promising young, local artists in their artistic development. We began to see this new gallery possibility not as just a commercial venture that might succeed or fail, but as a connection to the community, an investment in the future, a legacy.

    As always when a new venture begins, we do not know whether it will succeed or fail. However, I do know that this is now part of my journey, a new piece of me being opened to life and the connection of everything. 

    I am so grateful for my life and all the wonderful experiences coming my way.

    Thursday, June 21, 2018

    When preconceived notions explode

    I confess. For thirty-some-odd years, I loved traveling in Mexico, which I would have described as a beautiful, colorful, happy country. However, it was always the backdrop to the vacations or workshops that were the main focus of my attention. I loved the food, the music, the laid-back, anything-goes feeling. The people I met during these trips were mainly waiters, hotel workers, or kind strangers who dug us out of deep sand, rescued our lost selves, or rebuilt broken car parts seemingly out of spit and sawdust. I "loved Mexico.” And, Mexicans.

    It’s hard to admit how deeply into the “happy, carefree Mexican” stereotype I was. I knew Mexico's history was traumatic and that poverty was widespread, but I didn’t have an inkling of how narrow my understanding was until a few years ago when I was in San Cristóbal de las Casas. It was September, 2014, and I was walking through the Cathedral plaza, loud speakers blaring words I didn’t understand and a gathering crowd of a thousand or more. I had no idea what was going on. However, as I moved through the crowds, I was suddenly hit with a feeling of overwhelming sadness.

    The feeling was so strong I started looking around, trying to figure out what was happening. I noticed large photos of young men on the ground, arranged like a quilt. Children were placing flowers and candles on the photos. Something was terribly wrong. I finally found a woman who could explain that 43 students had recently been kidnapped and no one knew if they were dead or alive.*

    Over the next few months, I wound up in several demonstrations about “the 43,” talked about it as much as possible with the Mexican husband of a friend, and read all I could. Mexico's history … and it’s present … opened up a sliver of understanding about this incredible country, traumatized for at least 400 years, and the complex culture of generosity in the face of poverty, kindness to strangers while trusting only family, open skepticism of government, and defiant celebration of life and joy in a world that mainly offered pain, suffering and death.

    Where moments of life and joy are restricted,
    Music, dance, food and festivals enhance those precious moments.

    Slowly, it becomes more clear why family is everything in Mexico. For centuries, family has been the heart of the culture while trauma, abuse and death have been constant external forces. It is no wonder why music, dancing, food and festivals are such a huge part of this culture. My view on this is that the Mexican people have never been able to take life or joy for granted, so they celebrate as often as possible.

    Gradually, as I explore the country, less as a vacationer and more as someone trying to understand this intriguing and confusing culture, I keep running into the deep vein of abuse of wealth over poverty. Mexico is a rich country and from the first days of the early 1500’s, Spain exploited the wealth of Mexico, stripping gold and silver from its hills and life from the miners who brought it up from the depth.
    Zacatecas Cathedral

    Concentrated wealth 
    is generated 
    by widespread poverty.

    The Zacatecas Cathedral (Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption of Zacatecas) is one of the most beautiful in the world The ornately carved, Baroque style is termed Churrigueresque, named for its architect and sculptor Jose Benito de Churriguera (1650-1725). 
    This style is kindly called “lavish” and not-so-kindly described as "over-the-top.” Many references state that the building of the Cathedral was funded by and built as a temple worthy of the "aristocrats of silver."
    Model of mine worker
    After touring Mina El Eden where we learned that miners never saw the light of day as they worked 16 hours a day for barely enough to eat, went to work when they were 8, and died at the rate of 9 or 10 a day, it is clear that it was the miners and their families who built that cathedral. I have seen no sign that their contribution to it is honored.

    Slowly, it becomes more clear why family is everything in Mexico. For centuries, family has been the heart of the culture while trauma, abuse and death have been constant external forces. It is no wonder why music, dancing, food and festivals are such a huge part of this culture. My view on this is that they’ve never been able to take life or joy for granted so they celebrate as often as possible.

    My stereotypes go even deeper

    However, my stereotypical view of Mexicans went even deeper than not understanding their relationship to authority, both church and state, and their culture of celebration which results in loud, exuberant music, startling rockets and firecrackers, and a deep acceptance of middle-of-the-night crowing roosters and barking dogs. My view of their art has always focused on Frida Kahlo, the muralists Rivera, Orozco, and Siqueiros, and the vibrantly exciting street art and murals found in many of the cities I’ve visited.

    Pedro Coronel - Wikipedia
    That preconception was blown apart by visiting Pedro Coronel’s museum in Zacatecas. Housed in a Jesuit convent built in the early 1600s, it was used as a college, hospital, barracks, and prison before being converted in 1983 to a museum to exhibit the art collection of painter and sculptor, Pedro Coronel, who apparently bartered his own paintings to build his extensive collection and said, "Pedro Coronel said: "Little by little I was acquiring the pieces that had the most meaning for me and I formed my own idea of beauty.”

    Walking through the mind of a genius.

    I’ve visited many great art museums but this one knocked me sidewise because it was like walking through the mind of a genius. One man with an artistic scope that ranged from ancient Mexico, Japan, Greece, and Africa to dozens of modern artists such as Goya, Miro, Picasso, Chagall, Giacometti and dozens of others. 
    Standing posters share his thoughts about art, beauty, psychology. As I walked deeper and deeper into this tangible brain, I felt my perceptions sputtering like sparklers at the end of their lives. I had expected so little and was being flooded by so much. Suddenly I recognized that my perceptions of Mexican art and artists had been blown to bits. 

    Whoever Pedro Coronel was, his vision, curiosity, and talent were immense. I wanted to know more and immediately made arrangements to come back in a month for permitted study, which will allow me to take pictures and document more of Pedro Coronel’s art and thoughts. 
    * Postscript: The story of "the 43" that slowly came out was that a woman with connections to a cartel and political ambitions had had the students kidnapped because they threatened to disrupt a political speech she was planning to make. The government investigation released a report that did not jive with the investigations of others.

    On June 5, 2018, The New York Times reported: A federal court in Mexico ordered the government on Monday to investigate the 2014 disappearances of 43 college students again, but this time under the supervision of a truth commission to be led by the nation’s top human rights body and parents of the victims.