Monday, February 27, 2012

My Dinner with Jerome

Sometimes life turns on a dime and last night was one of those dimes.  This morning everything looks the same but inside the tectonic plates have shifted.

I live in a small town where there is a web of connections that hums whenever something or someone new arrives.  Recently the announcement of a new art class started the vibration.  Jerome Grimmer is back. Jerome Grimmer is teaching a class. Jerome Grimmer is doing an art teaching app.  Jerome Grimmer.  It seemed like every direction I turned there were stories and comments about Jerome Grimmer.  I signed up for his class in art fundamentals wondering just who this Jerome Grimmer was.

When I arrived at the class, one of my friends told me, "If he asks you a question, just respond, 'value contrast.'"  And then they all laughed. The first class was indeed on value contrast, well plowed ground, one of those intellectual concepts you think you know.  I sat in the back of the class waiting to be convinced.

A friend who is working on Grimmer's app told me that he had sent him a copy of my mindmapping book but I was startled when the class opened with a slide of the book cover.  I knew something was different when he spent the first several minutes talking about how to think about our paintings and how to find the story we're trying to tell ... using mindmaps. He proceeded to show us value contrast in sample photos and then, one by one, displayed our individual works.  Over and over he asked, "Where is your eye drawn?" "What is the story you're trying to tell?"  By the end of the class, I was ready to go back to each of my art pieces and look at them in a new way.

However, last night started because I was handed an opportunity I didn't know how to handle.  The gallery in Morro Bay offered me a spot as a featured artist in May and right after I said "yes," I started panicking.  Things I didn't know about managing an almost-solo show made me dizzy.  Dizzy enough to send a note to Jerome asking if he would meet and give me some advice.  I was somewhat hesitant; I had heard that he was busy and that he had a big ego so I didn't know if he would have time for me.

What I learned later was that he does have a big ego ... but that he also expects everyone else to have a big ego ... what could more correctly be called a healthy ego. I would go on to learn that he expects greatness from everyone he meets. Expects greatness.

So we met at Starbucks and slowly, through a conversation laced with stories and tangents, we talked through images of my art and through an endless series of "why" questions.  Why this subject?   Why this medium?  Why metal?  Even, why this signature on this slant?  This conversation went on until hunger forced us to a pizza place where it continued.  

And, somewhere along this conversational path, something in me shifted.  At one point, he told me I was fearless.  The way he said it and the way he linked my story together made it feel right.  I wrote in the journal where I was taking notes:  I AM FEARLESS.  And, I swear, I could feel those 50 trillion cells in my body perk up and take note.  Somewhere in the background, I could here a bugle blowing and a telegram passing down my spine:  Wake-up!  There's a new game in town!

Possibly the greatest gift from my dinner with Jerome was not about my art ... or even the confidence that he somehow poured into my spirit ... but the witnessing for myself the incredible power of mentoring.  I have now experienced first hand how gentle guidance and sharing of relevant experience combined with an expectation of greatness is truly life-changing.  I have no idea where this "new game" will take me but I know that I want to hold that expectation of greatness for everyone I come into contact with and hope to pay forward this gift of mentoring I received.

About this image:  In the Garden of East and West

With Jerome's help, this is the image I chose for the postcard for the Morro Bay show.  The theme of the show will be "Dynamic Dreamscapes" and the reception will be Friday, May 11 at the Gallery at Marina Square in Morro Bay ... you are all invited!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Jon Morrow: Fight for Your Ideas

"If my mother could ignore a doctor who would condemn me to death, then I can ignore my inner demons who tell me I’ll never make it as a writer." -- Jon Morrow

If you don't read another blog post ... ever ... read this one.

It's a love story; it's an underdog story; it's a story that no one believed could happen.

And the bottom line is, if Jon Morrow can fight for his ideas, the rest of us have absolutely no excuse not to fight for ours.

Read this and pass it on.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Dreams of Death

Like most people, I don't remember the majority of my dreams, but, every once in awhile, one comes along that breaks through the fog.

Last night, in my dream, I am sitting in my car when I see a young man approaching me.  He is dark-haired, clean cut, normal looking.  He walks up to the passenger side window, which is down, and I realize something is not right.  I am trying to think what to do when he pulls out a gun and shoots me in the forehead.  I know I am dead and everything goes black.

Of course, when we have dramatic dreams such as that one, it's a little unsettling so off I went to see what I could find online where I found a relevant post on Huffingtonpost by Jeffrey Sumber, M.A., M.T.S., L.C.P.C., a psychotherapist and author in Chicago, 

The article states:  "dreams about death often indicate "the symbolic ending of something, whether that's a phase, a job or a relationship." He suggests that a dream about death can also indicate attempts to resolve anxiety or anger directed toward the self. "It does not, however, suggest that [a person] will actually die imminently," Sumber notes.

Well, that's a relief.

The article further states, "People who have dreams about death tend to be those who are entering or exiting an uncertain phase or period in their life. It could be a potentially life-changing event that creates anxiety and fear of the unknown."'s dream dictionary states: "To dream that you die in your dream symbolizes inner changes, transformation, self-discovery and positive development that is happening within you or your life. You are undergoing a transitional phase and are becoming more enlightened or spiritual. Although such a dream may bring about feelings of fear and anxiety, it is no cause for alarm as it is often considered a positive symbol.  Dreams of experiencing your own death usually means that big changes are ahead for you. You are moving on to new beginnings and leaving the past behind. These changes does not necessarily imply a negative turn of events. Metaphorically, dying can be seen as an end or a termination to your old ways and habits. So, dying does not always mean a physical death, but an ending of something."

I like that.

Both seem appropriate since I just went through a rather intense process of deciding whether or not to get involved in a new project. (I didn't.) And, I'm still grappling with the question of whether or not to move to the central coast.  But what I thought was also telling about the dream was that the fatal shot was to my head.  I really have been trying to apply logic to my decision process and think through the pros and cons.  Maybe the dream was nudging me to focus more on what I want, what will bring me joy, rather than the options that make "sense."

Of course, if you hear that I've been shot by a nice looking young man, remember I saw it in a dream before it happened.

About this image:  Let's Party!

Maybe death is on my mind ... I just finished this painting inspired by a photo I took of a painted skull done by Judy DeRosa, who always inspires me.  

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Love and Best Wishes to Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver, by far and away our most beloved, and best-selling poet, has been diagnosed with a serious illness.  Millions of us have read and shared her words widely and I can't think of a better way to wish her a speedy recovery than to share some of her words that have become some of our favorites.

"What are you going to do with your one wild and precious life?" A Summer Day

"One day you finally knew what you had to do and began."  The Journey

“You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body 
love what it loves. " Wild Geese

“Instructions for living a life.
Pay attention.
Be astonished. 
Tell about it.”  Sometimes

And here is Mary reading some of her poems ... may we be blessed with many more.

Friday, February 17, 2012

30 Second Window

Years ago a friend of mine in Santa Barbara was attending a conference where one of the speakers was Robert Muller, Assistant-Secretary General of the UN Barbara Gaughen is one of the most dynamic, positive people I know and she has the perfect profession for her out-going, we-can-do-anything personality:  she's a public relations specialist for authors.  At the conference, Barbara and Robert talked a lot and at some point, Robert said, "I love you, Barbara."

For Barbara, the moment is like a video snippet on YouTube, she can play it over and over as if she were in that moment.  "I knew that it was more than conference chatter," she states.  "And, I knew I had 30 seconds to make a decision that would impact the rest of my life."  She wound up replying, "I love you, too, Robert."  That was the beginning of a life adventure that took Barbara all around the world and introduced her to people like Ted Turner, Deepak Chopra, and Mikhail Gorbachev.  She and Robert spent half their time in Costa Rica working for the development of the United Nations University for Peace.  

In September, 2010, Robert died and Barbara was asked once again to reinvent her life.  She is back in Santa Barbara and has turned her energies to helping authors bring their messages into the world, specifically through the Global eBook Awards program.  But, she is also, finally, settling down to tell her story.  Her working title is "The 30 Second Window ... when the tiniest decision can transform your life."

I have long been fascinated by those tiny decision windows that change everything.  The one that comes to my mind happened one night shortly after my husband died.  I was sitting at the computer, distracting myself on google, when I found an art workshop in a tiny fishing village just south of Puerto Vallarta.  Richard and I had vacationed in PV and it was one of our favorite places.  But, it was too soon to be rushing off to a "vacation."  There were many reasons not to go and only one reason to go ... it called to me.  The decision was made in 30 seconds and within a week I was in a different time and place, on my way to a different life.

I was delighted when Barbara asked me to help her with her book and we would love to hear about your "30 second story" that transformed your life.  Drop a note in the comment section below ... or email me at jwycoff at

About the Image:  Orchid Queen

This is an Intuitive Lifescape from Barbara's house which is a lush oasis of orchids, art and beauty.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Bloggers! Free Review Book Available

If you are a blogger and have an iPad, I would like to offer you a free review copy of my book Joy after the Fire, when grief, loss and despair are the seeds of new joy and growth.  If you are interested in writing a review of this book, please send me an email at jwycoff at with your blog url.  There is also a downloadable pdf of the book available for your readers.

Here's an overview:

Sometimes you can do everything wrong and still have things turn out right.  The common wisdom after a major loss is to not make any major decisions in the first year.  I not only broke that rule, I tore it into tiny pieces and tossed my entire life to the wind.  

While it's not an action I would recommend, it's the path I chose and it was a bumpy ride. This is a story of death and loss but it is also a story of miracles and growth.  At the end of the introduction, I write

Miracles await us.
Miracles wait for each one of us who makes the journey into the darkness, whether we go willingly or are tossed there by the vagaries of life. Regardless of what brought you here, whether death, divorce, disease or disaster, I hope you will join me on this journey and find for yourself the multicolored gifts and miracles of joy waiting for you in the deeply beautiful country of your authentic self, your very own Wonderland.
Rainer Maria Rilke, German poet and visionary, captures the essence of this book in two short sentences:

"Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses 
who are only waiting to see us act, just once, 
with beauty and courage. 
Perhaps everything that frightens us is, 
in its deepest essence, 
something helpless that wants our love." 

Joy after the Fire was written to help others navigate the new territory that comes with loss.  At the end of each chapter, there is a series of questions that lead readers on their journey back to joy.

Show Your Art

 This quote comes from Alyson Stanfield this morning:

Art is a form of communication. You might think you make art as a form of self-expression, but you know that your work is incomplete until people see it and respond to it. You understand the synergy that erupts when you are in a room full of people looking at and talking about your art. 
It also reminds me of the incredible poem from Mary Oliver that prompted this image and ends with the lines:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do 
with your one wild and precious life?

The Summer Day

Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Clarity Comes Slowly

The Radiant Question
This morning is the second day of my concrete foam sculpture workshop with Fred and Donnell Pasion in Arroyo Grande.

I was driving south on Hwy 101 when I saw a bundle of packing boxes in the middle of the freeway.  My first thought was, "I need those boxes for my move."  I've been spiraling around the possibility of moving to the central coast. I love the coast ... I miss the beauty, temperate climate and activity.  Of course, I also love the foothills, my house and my friends so, once again, I'm caught in a spiral of indecision with clarity about what to do hovering like a cloud just off the coast.

My third thought ... the second one was how to turn around and get back to that free bundle of moving supplies ... was, "That's stupid. I could get killed trying to pick up a $20 bundle of boxes."  It's not every day you see a neatly bound packet of boxes in the middle of the road so I began to wonder if it was a message ... a message that basically blinked "DANGER" in neon lights.  

OK, so maybe I'm not supposed to move.  It's not the first warning signal I've gotten.  A few weeks ago, I was driving over to the coast on a road that sprinkles 55-mph zones along the way.  I missed one of the signs and, sure enough, got a speeding ticket.  Slow down.  It was a message I didn't want to hear so I plowed forward looking for a place to live, put two offers in on places and neither was accepted.  Slow down.

So, I put the move on the back burner until last week when one of the places I made an offer on reduced the asking price and I thought maybe it was a sign.  So off to the coast again, looking at a few more places ... and getting nowhere ... again.  I can't find a place to live that makes sense financially ... and the thought of moving again makes ice crystals slide down my spine.

Sometimes the Universe seems to playing flirtatious games ... beckoning me hither, showing me some of the wonders to behold and then coyly purring, "Not now."  If I were designing the Universe, I'd make the message system a whole lot clearer.  Of course, the problem could be in the receiver rather than the sender ... but that thought would be way too adult.

It all reminds me of Rilke:  (again)
I want to beg you, as much as I can, dear friend, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books written in a very foreign tongue.  
Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you, because you would not be able to live them.  And the point is, to live everything.  
Live the questions now.  Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.   
Did Rilke have any idea of the patience this passage requires?

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Unsung Artist

The Unsung Artist
Two years ago, my friend Suzanne and I had a retreat at her sister's house on Kiawah Island, SC.  We took hundreds of photographs and tonight I was wandering through them and found one that I was particularly taken with at the time.  It was a curly weed amidst tangles of beach grass.  But as much as I loved the photo, I couldn't make it leap out at me as it did on that chilly day on the island.

So tonight I started playing with it, intending to just spend a few minutes seeing what would emerge.  Slowly it began to speak to me and, hours later, I realized that I was in  collaboration with a master artist.  The colors, the brush strokes, the dramatic energy ... they were all there just waiting for me.  My job was just to set them free.

One of the presenters at Ariane Goodwin's SmARTist Telesummit asked us to ask ourselves why we are artists.  Tonight the answer came back again ... because it is so much fun!

Here is the original photo which has haunted me for the past two years.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Moonstone Beach Rocks: Tafoni

Update:  I love the web!  My friend Maureen at Writing without Paper immediately supplied the missing term:  tafoni ... also called honeycomb weathering and apparently related to salt weathering.  See her response in the comment section.

From: Wikipedia:
Tafoni (singular: tafone) are small cave-like features found in granular rock such assandstone, with rounded entrances and smooth concave walls. They often occur in groups that can riddle a hillside, cliff, or other rock formation. They can be found in all climate types, but are most abundant in intertidal areas and semi-arid and arid deserts. Currently favored explanations controlling their formation include salt weathering, differential cementation, structural variation in permeability, and the length of the drying period between wettings. They also frequently occur in granitic rocks.

More information here.

Last weekend I was beachcombing at Moonstone Beach in Cambria, CA, when I found these cliffs with beautiful, lacy holes.  Recently I heard the term for this formation but have lost it.  If anyone knows what this is called, please let me know.

I've been told that it is evulsion or the work of piddock clams, but I think there's a different term for it.  Anyone have any ideas?

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Friday, February 3, 2012

Flow-Tography: A Guide to Taking Better Pictures

It's not quite the same as being present at the birth of a baby, but it's close.  Two and a half years ago, my friend Suzanne Merritt and I were taking a "joy ride" across the country (picture "Thelma and Louise" without Brad Pitt ... or the giant leap).  

Suzanne is one of the most creative people I know and an amazing photographer.  As usual, we were talking about possible projects when I suggested that she write a short guide for photographers introducing them to her "Eight Patterns of Beauty."  I had a small flip-book in mind but in her own inimitable way, she turned it into an incredible work of art, and I am proud to have played a small role in its birth.

If you're a photographer, at any level, I highly recommend that you jump on this opportunity to buy her book ... available from iBookstore for iPads.  (Search iTunes bookstore for Suzanne R. Merritt - Flow-Tography, Better Photos Now)

Here's a trailer which will give you a delightful taste of her and what you'll find in her book (and she did every aspect of this book ... from the photography to the development of the Eight Patterns of Beauty, to the drawings and writings, and making this very clever trailer ... she is amazing!):

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Why Am I An Artist?

Why am I an artist?  Someone asked me that recently and I replied with my usual, "Because it brings me joy!"  Then another wise person asked, "But what does that mean?"  And, that sent me onto a new trail that looked something like this:

Why am I an artist?
Because ...
  • It's fun.
  • It makes my spirit sing.
  • I love seeing colors and shapes come together in new ways.
  • It surprises me when new things show up.
  • It takes my breath away when beauty shows up.
  • It proves that I was wrong when I thought I could not do art or be an artist.
  • It shows me that there is a river of creativity waiting for each of us to step into it in our own way.
  • It reveals pieces of myself that I didn't know existed.
  • I often don't know where things come from or how they got into my camera and computer.
  • It feels like a sacred gift from the Creative Force.
  • It makes me feel part of the Whole, connected by strands of beauty through the act of making art.
  • It is my prayer for the world, my small way of sharing the joy and beauty that has been given to me.
It is my prayer for the world.  The person who originally asked the question said we'd get a jolt when we hit the core reason of why we're an artist.  This is where I got my jolt.

I encourage all of you to do this exercise ... you can substitute whatever word is appropriate to you for the word "artist" ...  writer, mother, teacher, doctor, politician, singer, butcher, baker, doer of whatever you love.

Eden Maxwell, author of An Artist Empowered: Define and Establish Your Value as an Artist-Now, initially asked the question that launched this train of thought as part of the SmARTist Telesummit.  Ariane Goodwin, founder, organizer and host of this incredible gathering of artists and art marketers, pushed my thinking even further.