Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Brush Strokes

The view from the kitchen window is a canopy of fragile autumn light. The redbud closest to the house is a deep vibrant yellow. The leaves of the ash are yellow underneath but garnet on top. The red maple that towers over both is in transition from deepest green to fiery red. I looked out yesterday as the wind ripped away a hundred ash leaves and tossed them to the sky. I wanted to cry out at the wastefulness, to slow down the destruction, so that I might savor it at my leisure. It's as if some marvelous painter, after a frenzy of beautiful bravura brush strokes, threw down his brush and tore the canvas to shreds and let the wind carry it all away. Nature says, I've done my work for the season, I've adorned my trees in their finest, for my own glory, and now I am tired and will take my rest.

I have never comprehended the radiance that emanates from the dying leaves. It appears not to be reflected light but generated from within. Particularly on a cloudy day, each leaf shines brilliantly as if a tiny solar system cycled around it, irradiated by its golden glow. I do not want to let it pass without celebration, this fleeting moment between autumn and winter, seconds before the wind ravishes the leaves and tosses them carelessly to the sky. I want to hold onto the leaves, pressing them into my mind, painting them with thick chiaroscuro strokes of pure pigment. If I turn my head, if I look away in busiedness, I may miss it, this dying of a million suns.

Nothing is wasted by the loss of leaves, but rather they are speedily dispatched to be shared by the ecosystem of which they are an integral part. I know all about the leaves turning to sugar and falling to the ground to be used as compost to nourish the soil. I'm a gardener, after all, and comprehend the overall genius of the master plan. But nothing makes me more sentimental.

I do not willingly allow the past to be flung away in gusts of time. I yearn for past autumns when my children walked down the street carpeted with leaves, backpacks flung over a shoulder, books curled in an arm. The light is suspended in tiny fluttering suns above them, around them, and below. Yet in my memory they are always walking away from me, always going towards some thing, some where, some one else. It is a selfish longing, to hold onto leaves, children, the past. They go the way they are meant to by the master gardener. Only in trying to grasp the present do we lose it. Let them be swept up into the azure sky, trusting that they will flutter down gently to be used mightily in another time and place.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


The summer is winding down. The angle of the sun is lower and the days are shorter and the light is golden. August was so exceptionally cool that September slipped in almost unnoticed but I want to proclaim it's arrival:

September is here!!! The high-schoolers walk past my house to the campus a block away. I heard the marching band practicing on the field early in the morning and the first football game over the loud speaker in the evening. My neighbor's sweet gum is, as always, the first tree in town to change colors, tempting the others to follow. I watch the lively finches gorge themselves greedily on the herbs that I let go to seed, tipping the stems almost to the ground as they feast. Open the windows and drink in the sweet ripening air. Drape the quilt over the porch railing. Take my coffee out on to the porch and sit a spell. It never lasts long enough for me.

October signals the dying of the year. Endings, not beginnings. But September is still mild and hopeful, life sustaining. The garden doesn't need tucking in yet nor do I bring in the plants. But I get an urge to "nest," gathering sticks and twigs. Renewed energy to clean house and rearrange the furniture. Must be some primal urge to "gather in" before the winds of winter blow.

I'm expecting a houseful of guests for the weekend. Perfect. No worries about adequate air conditioning or what to do with extra people because the weather will be fine and we can spread out over the house and grounds. And did I mention that it's also my birthday month? And my sister is coming to celebrate because she shares my birthday? And my mother and grandmother both had September birthdays. And my two best friends have birthdays in September, too. It really is the best time of the year.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Round Food

I don't cook much anymore. I let Tim take over the cooking a few years ago because he wanted to and was so good at it. I went from cooking every day to cooking only on weekdays to almost never.

I never minded cooking, really, but got bogged down in the planning and shopping phases. I worried about budgeting and calories, things which Tim never seemed to mind. He plunged into cooking like an artist, a composer, a CHEF.

Chefs view food differently that the rest of us mere mortals. To them, meals are the palette and food is the paint. The finely sharpened knife and the saute pan are the brushes that they use to create beautiful textures and tastes, the instruments to perform a symphony of sights and smells, temptations of the eye and the imagination.

These days it comes down to pragmatism. Time and Diet. Three nights a week we are in the studio and many other nights we are involved in festivals on Main Street or other outside activities. So we eat to live, not the other way around. I "do" breakfast and lunch most days. Tim "does" dinner (notice the sense of duty in the imperatives "do/does.") For expedience, he usually broils a chicken breast or fish fillet and pairs it with a steamed vegetable. When called upon to prepare dinner (once in a blue moon,) I only cook "round" things: soup, chili, cornbread, pancakes, pizza or eggs. Well, eggs technically are not round but are when fried in a skillet or scrambled. Some nights we come home from the studio and have a bowl of cereal.

How the times have changed. I remember when we would eat a full meal no matter how late when we got home. We entertained in our home and cooked lavish meals for friends and family. Food was an enormous part of our life. I'd like to think that we have something that is more satisfying, now, than cooking. Life in the arts is rich and stimulating. We use up our creative energy in the studio and have not much left for the kitchen.

Maybe that's a cop-out, I don't know, but tonight I made the best chili and cornbread...

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Creative Energy

I've been on hiatus. I decided to express my feelings of frustration and anger and even rage by painting them rather than writing in this journal. Perhaps it's because these emotions were unspeakably dark and I was afraid. Or maybe I just didn't want to dilute the passion by pouring it into too many vessels. I chose to paint.

I'm constrained after all, by the fact that my family and friends read this. Of course, I could write in secret, lock it with a key, "Dear Diary", and all that. However, constraints are not necessarily bad. They provide a framework, a metered verse, a haiku, into which I must form an economy of ideas and words.

But more than this, I needed to push away from the safety of the shoreline in my painting. Looking over the progression of my work this year I see growth, change and some success. But mostly I detect a change in direction from the painting of safe, pretty pictures to bolder statements of vulnerability and exposure. For that I needed to mine raw emotional materials that had not been codifed and cauterized through writing.

Of course, I am aware that I've just written about not writing and... I'm still writing... and I hope this hasn't siphoned off the energy needed for my next painting.

Friday, July 10, 2009

In Search of Wings

Mom and Dad say I was a naturally pleasant and cheerful child, even as a baby. They said I would greet them in the morning, while standing in my crib, with: "Hi! Hello! Good morning, Mommy!" I'm sure I was indulged and cosseted, being the third child and the first girl. But, even so, or despite that, I was sweet and good.

I also had a devilish streak, too. One time my friend, Suzy Kohl, and I were taking a nap at my house. I guess that makes us about four years old. For some reason we were placed in my brothers' room. We didn't nap, but instead the devil got into us and we proceeded to tear up the room. I don't know if it started with a demon or a dare, but before we were through the room was destroyed. Not even my brother Steve's brand-new box kite, which I don't think he had even flown yet, was spared. I'll never forget how sad and ashamed I felt when I saw his face. He stood in the doorway and his face crumpled into tears as he looked over the devastation.

But, when I was being good, truly good, my mother would say to me, "Oh, look, Chrissy: I see your wings budding. Look here!" She pointed to a spot just inside my shoulder blades and I would turn in circles trying to see behind me. "There," she said, "tiny little wings. Can't you see them?" When I cried, "Where, where?" she reassured me that they would grow if I would only be good.

I think I'm still by nature a pleasant person. I'm good natured and I laugh easily. I can't stay angry at someone no matter how I try. I easily forget wrongs and I rarely say mean things on purpose. That doesn't mean I don't hurt people by mistake, but I'm not vindictive in any sense of the word. But does that make me "good?"

I believe that, even though I have goodness in me, I'm not "good". My human nature, left to itself, is pretty rotten. I desperately want to be better, to get my full set of wings, so to speak. While I'm not consciously trying to improve myself every day, I do have a plan.

The main thing I try to do is to put good things inside my mind. I read great literature, listen to music that enriches my mind and soul, study great art and most important of all, I read the Good Book consistently. When I get sad or discouraged, I usually find that I've failed to "fuel-up." My storehouse has gotten low. I don't want to run dry. I know that none of these things will make me good, that only by being truly renewed in my spirit by God's grace have I any righteousness at all, but that by developing the habit of fueling up with good things will I ever have a chance of getting my wings.

When my youngest child, Ben, was about seven years old, he was sitting at the table eating breakfast before school. Beautiful music was playing on the stereo and I was busy getting his things together. When I turned towards him I saw that tears were streaming down his face. I said, "Oh Ben, what's wrong?" And he turned towards me and said, "Mom, why don't we have wings?" I suppose the music had touched his tender spirit and made him want to soar like a bird. I don't know where it came from but I said to him, "Because then we would have one thing less to look forward to when we get to heaven."

I don't think we will, like Clarence in It's a Wonderful Life, all become angels nor that we have to earn our wings when we get to heaven. But Ben was sharing my life-long desire to soar on wings of beauty and goodness. Next time you see me do something good, you'll know that I'm still trying to grow those wings.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Invisibility Cloak

I've been meditating on the imperatives in the Bible to "be humble." Paul, in Colossians, says to "put on" humility, as if it were a cloak. Peter says, "Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for 'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.'” (emphasis mine.)

In the much loved David Copperfield, the smarmy Uriah Heep says: "I am well aware that I am the umblest person going." As soon as you think you are humble, by virtue of your awareness, you are not. So, I am deducing that humility it is an action that we must employ, not a quality that we can claim to have.

It's not until the end of the saga that Harry Potter realizes the uniqueness of the invisibility cloak that Professor Dumbledore has given him. Throughout the story Harry employs the cloak to slip in and out of Hogwarts, to do mischief and to do good, but mostly he just takes it for granted. He draws it over himself and he becomes completely invisible to the eye and even to witchcraft, virtually undetectable. Invisibility is something which he puts on. In no wise, even as a wizard, is he able to become invisible any other way.

Where do I find a cloak of humility? If this is a characteristic that I am commanded to display but which I can't manufacture from within, then how do I go about putting it on? "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." So, is the Bible saying that if I chose to love someone in the way that is best for them then God will give me the grace to do it? This is tough. I like having the last word. There is something so monstrously satisfying in being justified in my own mind. But there is no peace in it. No, the only choice is to love and that can only be done well through the grace of humility, not in weakness but in strength.

I don't have to become invisible but I do have to get my motives and preconceptions out of the way. Choice is the action, grace is the means, humility is the result. After all, as Dumbledore says, it's not our abilities that make us who we are but the choices that we make.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Balance of Nature (continued)

I pray as I work in the garden. It's great alone-time with God. I don't listen to music or talk on the phone. Just me and God against the weeds. I meditate on the parable of the sower and the seed. Jesus tells the story about a farmer who sows his seed; some falls on the rocky path, some on good soil. Some of the seed that falls on the good soil gets choked out by weeds. Jesus explains the parable to his disciples and says the weeds represent the cares and worries of life while the seed is the word of God. I talk to myself and I talk to God and I rip out the weeds and the cares and the worries of my life.

My tools are inadequate. I need machetes and scythes, not clippers. I whack, yank, clip, cut and slash my way through the overgrowth in one particular corner of the yard. I see some bricks and I exclaim, "There's a wall under here!" Honeysuckle vines snarl around Virginia creeper and together entwine some unknown shrub that sends out both vines and branches. Goldenrod has freely sown itself in the area where the Japanese maple tree died. The variegated vinca that I planted a few years ago has gone wild. Ferrel. Cracked the concrete, undermining our whole back porch. The sunflowers have sown freely outside the beds. Of course there is the ubiquitous milk weed which, if left unchecked, will suffocate whatever it entombs. All those and a dozen more unwanted, uninvited plants have taken a stand in one small area of my yard and I am NOT backing down.

I am amazed at how thick and tangled the growth has become. The outer layer of foliage is cut back; I begin to see what is what. There's a lot going on beneath it all. Ho, there's an elm seedling and ah hah! a black walnut tree underneath the vines, too. So I keep snipping and slashing away. Then, as the muscle fatigue is setting in and I am barely able to lift my nippers, I discover the brick border. Tears spring to my eyes; I'm finally breaking through. I may not be able to finish it today, but at least I can see the bones of the landscape again. I want my border and my garden wall and my cultivated plants back.

I don't ever want to let things get this overgrown again. It's not easy to take the garden back after nature has had her way with it. So much of it and so little of me. All I have is a few hours each week to rebuild the broken down walls and restore the borders. All I can do is my best and try to be more vigilant. Some people have memberships at the gym; I have a garden. It's all good.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Balance of Nature

It's been a hot summer. Too hot, almost, to sit out on the porch in the evenings and listen to the rackety chorus of katydids and crickets. I like to spend time outside every day and some nights. I like the velvety feel of the heavy air wrapping itself around me. I like the hum of the insects and the rattle of the leaves in the slightest of breezes. It is an insincere pretense that I could live like this if I "had to." Sans air condition, that is. It helps me to regulate my body temperature so that I don't have to keep the inside air so darned low, and the 80 degree inside air feels good after being outside in the 95 degree swelter. It balances things out.

The cicada killers are back. They're beautiful, scary, ominous looking insects of the wasp family that are the natural predators of the cicadas. We first noticed them a couple of years ago. They fly low, circling the back yard inches above the ground. They are about an inch and a half long, slender, with bright yellow stripes on their backs. But even though they are large, as wasps go, they struggle to take down and hold onto a full grown katydid. An epic battle ensues when the smaller wasp conquers the larger insect and pulls it down into it's hole in the ground.

When we these hunters first colonized our back yard, we were terrified to go outside. The exterminator told us that cicada killers are beneficial insects that will keep the katydids in check, the natural predator that keeps the balance of nature. He said they will only sting if provoked and that the best thing is let them do their job. We've found this to be sound wisdom and so we have grown accustomed to their early summer habitation of our yard.

My climbing rose has mysteriously come back after five years of absence. It died back to the ground after the first year. Then something alien grew out of the root stock: straight shoots of suckers that had thorns as thick as fur, thousands of them per inch. The little-bitty roses that grew from the suckers looked like sweet, pink miniature roses until they fully opened. Then another bud formed in the middle of each. Those secondary buds turned brown, withered, then the whole flower turned soggy. So I cut it back to the ground and sprayed it with weed killer. Then vine killer. Then I whacked at the roots with a shovel. For five years I've approached the demon rose with long sleeves and gloves and weapons of destruction and chopped, stomped, and hacked anything that dares to grow above the ground. This year, quite mysteriously, the original rose seems to have reborn and sent out nice little shoots, with a respectable amount of thorns. I'm hopeful we may even have some normal roses later in the season. But to my dismay, on my early foray into the garden this morning, I saw, growing along side the nice rose, angry, jutting, vicious suckers of the demon rose. Would that all my flowers and trees and shrubs had the will to live and thrive that this evil rose has.

What would the world look like if all the evil dictators had natural predators that would take care if them? Like wasps that would swoop down and drag them down into their holes in the ground. Nature has such wonderful checks and balances, when left to it's own devices. Shame, isn't it, that there is no balance in human nature?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Hide and Seek

From our earliest cries of hunger or distress, we long for, need to be found. From infancy we demand to be important to someone outside of ourselves. This response nourishes our spirits and enables us to grown into fully human beings that can respond to others. We need affirmation that we matter, not just cosmically, but personally, interpersonally. The lack of this confirmation creates fear and phobia and insecurity and antisocial behavior.

A baby panics when mommy leaves him at the nursery. A toddler wines and wheedles and demands his own way. A child needs to be tucked-in repeatedly. A teenager wears outrageous or inappropriate clothing. An adult flirts with sex or drinks herself to "significance." We just need someone to find us and know us. We need to be fully acknowledged and deemed worthy.

In the movie, "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," the son shaves his almost-invalid father who is confined to a fourth floor apartment. The father questions him about his life, his choices, his career. He slowly and carefully scrapes off the bristly whiskers. When he is done with the shave, the son tweaks his father's nose, ruffles his hair and hugs him. The voice-over says to the viewer, "I think we will always be children." Don't we find that to be true, no matter how old we are?

Why do we then play peek-a-boo? Why are we always testing the limits of love? If life isn't a game, why do we play as if it is? We like to play hide and seek because we know that there is a certain outcome, a predicatability that we count on. I call, "Marco." You reply, "Polo." I hold my breath and swim towards you and find you. You call "time out" and we all come back to "base." There is security in that. In relationships there needs to be an "olly, olly, oxen free." Come out, come out, wherever you are! If I can't find you, then at least we need to start again at home base.

Whose turn is it, anyway?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Social Goo

Some people will never like you, no matter what.

The worst feeling is when you think they do and you go along being yourself and then find out. Do you do what I do: try to act like you think they would like you to act in order for them to like you? Ah well, I'm a middle child. I do things like that.

But this rarely works. They know you're acting and are easily disgusted by your irrational behavior. It could be that you're loud or obnoxious, or self-centered, or that they are jealous of you or you remind them of someone else. They just don't like you.

Not liking people comes natural. What I mean is, once you actually get to know someone, it becomes second nature to judge their actions and worse, motives. It's the simplest thing to jump to conclusions and make assumptions. It's easy to misinterpret words. It's incredibly easy to dislike someone who is smarter, prettier, more clever than you. What is unnatural is to work at liking ornery, talkative, self-centered, bossy, boring, (your word here) people. You know, most of us.

Don't we all have certain friends or family that we accept, excuse, forgive and include in our lives? What makes them tolerable and not others? There must be some lubrication that greases the societal machinery, some special goo that makes it possible to have fellowship with certain fellow humans.

Perhaps this lubricant is common courtesy or respect. If you treat people as if you like them, then you might be surprised at the change. Either they've risen to the kindness you've extended them or your perception of them has changed. I think there is something in the Bible about treating others the way we would like to be treated. Hmmmm. Sounds like good social goo to me.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

White Feet

My dog is very proud. He grooms himself excessively, especially the white on his chest and paws. He doesn't like going outside when it's wet. I have to force him to go down the back stairs and into the side yard to "go potty." He will go down a few steps and look back woefully at me as if to say, "Do I HAVE to?" I yell "GO" and he will, ever so slowly, descend into the yard. Then he will stop on the concrete pad at the bottom of the stairs and tentatively touch the dirt. He reaches out again, uncertain what to do. Then he lifts his leg on the fence post and runs back up the stairs.

There is a wilder, more daring dog that emerges when we go to my parents' farm. We load the dogs into the bed of the pickup truck and drive down the hill from the house to the barn. Before we even come to a stop he is flying out of the back of the truck. He yips joyfully as he hits the ground in full stride and circles around in clouds of dust. He tears through the paddocks and puddles. He skids to a stop to savor fresh manure then dashes off to the creek. He splashes around the edge of the pond, not actually plunging into the water. This is fine by me because I'm not certain about the snapping turtles or whatever else lurks beneath the dark surface.

At the end of the day his paws are pink from the Alabama red clay. He is dirty and stinky and delightfully exhausted. Country Dog has earned his rest. But as soon as we are back home, City Dog will give me a reproachful look the next time I insist he go outside to potty in the rain. Doesn't want to get his white feet wet.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Artist's Block

I can't do anything. It feels like not being able to feed myself or forgetting how to walk. It's awful. I laid out my pallet, loaded up a brush with paint and brought it to the canvas and nothing happened. No shading, no contour, no values: just paint. I manipulated clay and it never became an arm or a nose or anything other than mud. My hands have betrayed me, my eyes do not see. I am bereft.

I question everything. Why do I bother? What does it all matter? Who cares if I make art? My art doesn't measure up anyway. I think I'll throw my paintings in the garbage or burn them. Smash my sculpture and stomp on it.

It fills me with despair. I blame myself, my husband, my bank account, my students, everything. What is wrong?

Am I tired? Am I empty? Have I given all and left nothing for myself? Have I failed to nourish my body, my spirit, my mind? Do I need to sleep? Walk? Play with the dogs? Swing on the hammock?

I'm going home now. I'm going to take a nap and sip a beer and swing on the swing and call my momma and play with the dogs and wish Isaac a happy birthday and watch a Woody Allen movie and sleep late in the morning and go to church and spend the rest of the weekend praising God for all his many many gifts. And maybe next week try it again.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Tree House

It looked very different when we moved in. Six little arborvitaes had been planted near the foundation, dwarfed by the jutting bulkhead of our facade. We had a century maple, ailing, on the north side of the house and a couple of old maples in the back. In the bigger one we tied ropes to the lateral branches to make swings for the grandsons who used them for years. I loved to come home from work and swing with my head thrown back like a little child, gazing up at the winter evening stars. Even then, the maples were so diseased and hollow that the tree trimmer said he would never climb them again.

So we planted cotton wood, weeping willow, pin oak, redbud, and I don't know what else. We just stuck things in the ground and hoped some would survive. All of them have.

In the front we planted clump birches, pin oaks, a Bradford pear, red maple, ash and redbud. Any of these trees would have been big enough to fill the yard but instead they have all grown and filled in. I've tried to "layer" them, limbing up so that there are mid and upper story branches.

It looks like an animal sanctuary or the beginning of the movie "Shrek": birds and rabbits and squirrels "tweet, tweet, twittering" around the yard. The tips of the branches overlap, forming roadways for the squirrels to run from tree to tree. It's lush and leafy, almost too green. But I like living in my tree house, shaded from the blazing afternoon sun and shielded from passers by.

Years ago my mother-in-law, Emy, and I would sit outside in the late afternoons. From our perspective on the porch, we would place bets when the red maple would reach or exceed the apex of our neighbors' roof across the street. She'd laugh at the ash because it didn't look like a tree at all, more like a stalk of celery. I insisted that it would assume the appearance of a tree eventually.

These days, as I look up through the mature canopy, I think about which branches need to be removed because they're brushing up against the house or cutting out too much sunlight for even the shade loving plants in the under story. The big old maple out back is gone and I miss the boys swinging on it. I wish Emy were here to see how the ash has grown into a real tree and not just an odd celery-top looking thing and that the red maple is now as tall as the house.

What will the next owners think when they move in? I wonder if they'll think we were crazy to plant all of these trees and have them all taken down. They might not like living in a tree house, after all.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Prayer of Forgiveness

Something I said or did or didn't do or couldn't do has pinned me like a butterfly to a board.

I am bound. Captive. Held for ransom.

I am muted. Silenced. Stifled, like a hand over my mouth; violated, violent.

I am baffled. Wounded. Confused.... as if my world is tilted, I stumble.

I am stunned. Impoverished. Powerless to improve or disapprove or reprove.

I am angry. Indignant. Frustrated, I reach out, lash out, cry out.

"Forgive as you have been forgiven." I do, I do, I do;

Help me in my unforgiveness.

Let me live this prayer and employ it at all turns: that the darkness may not descend upon my light and that the one who owns it may no longer be captive to it.

Forgive, forgive, o forgive the one who wills to forgive.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

In Between

It's hard to put into words. It's like I'm living on a precipice, teetering over the edge of the falls. The view is phenomenal, the thrill is exhilarating, yet I have an awareness of how precious life is and how quickly things could change.

I hurt for my sick and ailing parents whose days are growing darker. I'm no expert on the subject but research has shown that life is 100% fatal and my folks are no exception. It's painful to watch as they grapple with their own and each others illnesses. Both have bright minds that are being turned inward towards pain and suffering. More and more things are done for them that they can no longer do for themselves. And they are fearful of losing command of their lives and their possessions and thereby autonomy.

Yet I've never known such joy in living as I have today. My husband and I are more in love than ever. My work is satisfying and it compels me to rise early every day and hurry to the studio. I'm living in between.

We're heading for Alabama in the morning. Dad has had two surgeries, three ambulance trips to the emergency room and four admittances. I don't know what to expect as we return. I know one thing, my work is cut out for me: I've got to encourage them and help to hold up Bud's hands. He's strong but needs support.

Forgive me if I sound selfish when I wonder when I get to take a vacation that isn't to see the family in Alabama. Tim and I took one trip to Wisconsin three years ago for a weekend in Two Rivers. Alright, we took a load of pottery to sell, but it was primarily a vacation. Our first ever in 35 years that didn't have family at the other end. The first morning we woke up to a phone call from the nursing home that Tim's mom had passed away during the early morning.

But really, aren't we always living between two worlds? Aren't we, as Christians, working and waiting for the "big reveal" when Jesus comes again? The Bible tells us that when he returns it is for judgement against evil and wickedness, but also to do the ultimate makeover on the earth. We aren't just pilgrims passing through this life, but passengers on a wayward planet, struggling to do what is in our power to preserve and restore people and the earth to their right relationship.

So, even though my life and work are richer and more fulfilling every day, I am aware of the slender thread that holds it all together. That thread will snap any day and one of my precious parents will pass through the veil, to be shortly followed by the other. This is life, lived in between.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Small World

You are in an airport in a city far from home when you begin a casual conversation with a total stranger and you find out that her home in Birmingham was built by your uncle. You say, "Small world, isn't it?"

I am linked by my cell phone to satellites. My phone can twitter, tweet and find my way home. I am instantly connected to the world via the internet or tv. I can see wars, riots, rocket launches, assassinations, coups and conquests in real time (as opposed to "not-real" time? When is time not real? .... I digress.) The world grows smaller every day. I watch starving children in Africa, wars in Afghanistan, poverty in Bolivia, child labor in China. I know too much and can do too little.

I don't think the human psyche is made for it. I think we were made for smallish towns. Villages, maybe. Three or four churches, a tavern, a grocer or two, a barber. Places that you can walk to, people who recognize you, boundaries that are marked by rivers and roads and tradition.

Wendell Barry wrote a lyrical book about a small Kentucky town and its bachelor barber, the character for whom the book is named. Jayber Crow gives his car to his girlfriend and never owns another. His world which encompasses Port William and the surrounding county and even Louisville suddenly becomes much bigger. That which can only be reached by walking or hitching a ride suddenly becomes expansive, huge.

I used to feel a smuggish sort of disdain for people who had only lived in one town their whole lives. Being the child of a military father and having lived most of my married life as a Navy wife, I treasure the experiences gained from living in almost every region in our country. I used to think that those "less fortunate" people had very small worlds to contend with. Now, I think maybe it's the other way round.

My world seems much too small.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


I never knew I was such a worrier. I thought I was quite composed and above common worrying. Until recently.

I got home from Alabama two weeks ago. Pouring myself a cup of coffee, I noticed a fluttering in the plum tree outside the kitchen window. I saw a bird busily stuffing a piece of plastic bag into a nest she was forming. I thought: "Silly bird! That will trap the rain and drown your babies!" I worried about that.

Over the next few days the robin constructed a beautiful piece of architecture. But I fretted over the fact that the branch on which she built her nest stretches over the concrete patio. I worried that one of her babies would fall out and be dashed on the hard surface. Tim suggested I drag that bale of hay and place it under the nest until the babies fledged and flew away.

The next morning I was disappointed to not see the mother bird at all. I've kept watch for several days now and she is indeed gone. I think about her every time I look out the window and see the nest: what a good mother she was to build such a fine nest; she wouldn't have abandoned it unless something happened to her. I'm saddened by the thoughts. And I worry.

The Bible says that God knows when a sparrow falls, so I know he knows about my mother robin. And he knows about the tiny dead, naked baby bird I saw next to the sidewalk on my walk to the studio this morning. In church this past Sunday, Pastor pointed out that Jesus' miracles were mostly demonstrations to remind people that this is not the way the earth is supposed to be: broken, hurting, deadly. And that He cares for this earth and is returning to it one day to put things right. I need to not worry about the little birds but care for them as I care for all of the broken things in my life.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Stream

I'm beginning to think that we can have absolute perfect assurance of God's will ONLY concerning the universal, revealed will of God, not the particulars. God is the same yesterday, today and forever but our hearts are wicked, selfish, evil, changeable and emotional! We can want to want God's will for our life but even the best of intentions are always tainted by self. And since we can only judge by our own faulty reasoning, emotions and intellects, we can never be assured that he wants us to go this way or that. So, where does THAT leave us? Trusting and obeying the revealed will of God and leaving the rest to him. That's the faith part.

I visualize the will of God being like the Mississippi (before the locks and levees.) The mighty river has many rivulets, streams, islands and channels. Each of those is part of the river and all of it reaches the gulf. I think the absolute perfect will of God would be the deepest navigational channels that gets us downstream without obstructions, but all the little streams and channels are too. And you still get to glory in the end. That gives me confidence to go right or left, given the best prayer and revelation I can discern, knowing that God will allow me those choices and assured that I'm in his will no matter what!

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let you requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Phi. 4:6 (paraphrase mine)

We are commanded to prayerfully submit our requests to God. The peace we receive is God's peace. The answer is his also.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


Momma said, "He's back. He's really back." I didn't understand. I thought she meant, "He's going to make it. He's making it. He's home again." She said that shortly after Dad returned home following the triple by-pass. None of us could believe they would release someone in such a fragile condition. He hadn't eaten the whole week in the hospital. He still hadn't had a bowel movement. He was having hallucinations and delusions. And Mom thought he was "back."

Mom rallied all of her strength to care for him. She's been treated for Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma for two years and has a congestive heart and ulcerative bowel disease. But she and I, along with my siblings, Bud and Kacy, began the incredibly daunting task of caring for this very sick old man. During the first night home, Mom was leaning over him in bed talking to him. Dad smelled food on her breath and said, "Whatcha eating?" She said, "Bugles." Dad said, "Give me some!" He smiled as he crunched and opened his mouth like a little bird for her to place the salty snacks on his tongue. So Dad's first post-op "meal" was Bugles.

Over the next couple of days, as we settled into a routine of care, Dad grew sicker with bowel impaction. We learned how to test his blood sugar and give insulin shots. He had to be assisted by two people and a walker every trip to the bathroom. And shortly after that he had to begin wearing adult diapers because he had diarrhea as well as constipation. He was eating some small bites at each meal but barely enough to sustain himself, let alone heal. And we feared how little nutrition he was actually able to receive with the impaction.

But despite all of our concerns, we were delighted to discover that he was able to hear better without his hearing aids than he did before surgery with them. He understood almost every word said to him. He accepted our ministrations to him with sweetness and good humor. He apologized to us for having to care for his every needs, but he kept telling us how much he loved us. Especially "Ole Bud."

Bud and Dad have had lots of fun over the last few years reconnecting and building a relationship that they never shared in their younger years. Like so many fathers and sons, there were expectations and disappointments that prevented them from being close. Even recently, Dad still criticized and spoke harshly to him. What none of us realized was how poorly Dad was actually feeling with the hardening of arteries growing steadily worse. No wonder he was short-tempered and cross. But they watched westerns every night and worked the farm every day. Dad learned to depend on Bud as his strength waned and their love grew.

Dad was readmitted twice for complications. Bud hardly left his side. He helped him to the bathroom, brushed his hair, helped him with meals, and sat with him while he slept. When Dad came home again, Bud was still beside him, changing him, bathing him. Dad accepted Bud's tender care with grace and dignity, saying, "Thanks, Ole Bud. I love you."

On several occasions, Momma wanted to be the patient. She was exhausted beyond endurance yet she called on deep reserves of love to care for Dad. We noticed them holding hands and talking quietly in bed. Almost whispering. And that is when it hit me: Dad WAS back. It wasn't his strength that had returned, it was himself. He wasn't withdrawn or irritable. He was sweet and smiling and communicating, something he had not been for.... could it be, years?

Mom had been trying to describe to me, before the surgery, how she "missed" him. I realize now that she was grieving the loss of relationship, almost as if Dad was "gone" already. We assumed it was because of his hearing loss that he had withdrawn inside himself, frustrated with trying to talk and not being able to. But could it be that he was hard of "comprehending" rather than hearing, due to the decreased blood flow to his brain?

Dad will have a very long recovery, extended due to complications of bowel and soon, gallbladder surgery. Mom was told by her oncologist that she's reached cruising altitude with her leukemia. For however long God blesses them with life, they've got each other to hold onto.

Dad's back. He's really back.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Another Springtime

I knew Pop would do well. He has been incredibly healthy until only recently. Two years ago, when my brother and I helped our parents move, Pop was outworking Bud and me. We had to tell him to stop so we could rest, and Pop is 23 and 30 years older than we are, respectively. He lost a little strength over the last year, becoming unsteady and slightly forgetful. But now, with three arteries bypassed, he has a new lease on life. The hardest thing will be to keep him down long enough to heal properly.

Tim and I came before the surgery. Each hour we drove south the tender signs of earliest springtime became more apparent. Down here in Alabama it's weeks ahead of Missouri and getting greener by the day. Bradfords are almost finished blooming, redbuds are taking their place, and just a few dogwoods are starting to unfurl.

I am one of the luckiest persons in the world. I have two parents who are still parenting me in my late 50's, loving and caring, a blast to be with. This is the first time I've had to be the caretaker for both of them. I don't mind. Just returning a tiny portion to them that they've blessed me with all my life. They are more uncomfortable with the transition than I am. It's not easy to be cared for by someone you have always taken care of.

Proverbs 4:18 says, The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, growing ever brighter until the first light of day.

That's what I want for my parents as they climb these last hills: sunrise becoming brighter and more certain as they reach the top. God grant us grace to grow older, to become better and better until we become like you. Bright and shining on the mountain top.

We'll drive north in a few days, watching the redbuds and dogwoods growing more sparse each hour we drive. We won't be too sorry to go knowing that springtime in Missouri will follow in a few weeks. Much harder will be leaving my parents behind, not knowing when we will return. But at least we have another springtime.

Saturday, March 7, 2009


I change my perspective a couple of times a year. I move to the other end of the sofa in the late Fall so that the floor lamp will be over my shoulder when I read my Bible and meditate. I look out into the red maple tree beyond the window that is behind the sofa. When the Spring mornings are brighter, I move back to the left side of the sofa, place my coffee on the window sill and gaze out across a much wider vista beyond the yard and the street and above the neighborhood.

One day this week I noticed a jet trail that arced over the entire expanse of sky. I saw it drift in the upper level winds beyond the tops of the elderly elm tree across the road. As high as it was, it must have been moving at a high rate of speed. I've never seen one do that before. My perspective has changed.

A couple of years ago I purposely planted a male and female pepper berry plant at the base of the arbor that spans the front walkway. I wanted the two plants to pollinate and send out fiery orange berries among the white roses. When I told my sister in law, Sally, about it, she told me that those plants have been outlawed in Maine, where she lives, because they are invasive pests. Suddenly I no longer thought of these plants as desirable. I'm dreading the day when they begin sending pernicious underground shoots into the rest of my garden. My perspective has changed.

I am in constant battle against invasive plants. Milkweed is one of my foes. I go on almost daily forays into the garden to yank it out by the roots before it entangles and strangles everything in its path. All it takes is one pod to shower the yard with thousands of seeds that will perpetuate the battle into another year. I take these raids very seriously.

I lost the battle over at least one vine. I didn't notice it until this week when I changed positions on the sofa. I spied three pods in the arbor among the rose and pepper berry vines. The pods were cracked open, exposing the downy seeds to the wind. Frustration mounting, I envisioned milkweed all over the yard again.

The next day I established myself on the sofa and looked out the window and watched more contrails zipping across the sky. My eyes drifted down to the rose arbor where a black-capped chickadee was busily plucking seeds out of a milkweed pod. I reckoned she was taking them to line her nest. Suddenly I didn't mind the milkweed pods so much anymore. My perspective has changed again.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Little Things

Sometimes it's the little things that make a huge difference.

My mother spotted this in a catalog the other day and had it shipped to me. It's called "Tea for Me" and it's a personal size teapot with strainer, cup and saucer. She said it just reminded her and Dad of me. No special occasion, just because....

My parents are in their mid-eighties. Dad is a cancer-survivor awaiting multiple by-pass surgery in a week or so. Mom has leukemia and Crohn's Disease. I don't know what's more precious to me: that they were thinking of me or that Mom took the time to follow through the ordering process. You can be sure I'll never use it without thinking of their love and generosity.

I'm thinking about the perfect little bouquet of roses my daughter gave me for Valentines Day. I placed it in the front hallway so that I would pass by a dozen times each day. It was just a multi-colored bunch of roses from the grocery store, but it was absolutely lovely and lasted and lasted, maturing and opening as the weeks passed. The flowers finally expired, but I haven't had the heart to toss them out.

Tim hugged me this morning and said, "Guess what I'm going to do for you? Something you want that I want to give you!" And he scratched my back, good and long, until I didn't even have a smidge of an itch.

Little things make a huge difference.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Time Machine

How many dump trucks does it take to hold a trillion dollar bills?

The government is handing out trillions of tax payer dollars without any rules or restrictions, definitions or accountability. "Here, my children," says Washington,"go spend this money for the benefit of others." Sounds all very well and fine, almost Christian in concept. But there are some huge flaws in human nature that make this a flawed enterprise. People do not spend wisely that which they haven't earned. It's like finding a $20 bill on the sidewalk. It's not "mine" so I might as well spend it on something frivolous. Take the civilian contractors in Iraq, for one example. The people that were given contracts to rebuild the infrastructure of that country were given money without bids. They made fortunes gouging the United States, spending without restraint, answerable to nobody. So, as we pull out of Iraq to save billions of tax payer dollars, we are now pouring it out on other equally unrestrained spending projects.

Already we have seen abuses, such as the bank in Chicago that threw a huge celebratory party with the incentive money. When chastised for their lavish spending of tax payer money, their response was, "We didn't ask for it." They might as well have said, "It's not OUR money." Whose money is it, anyway? It is lent to us by our good friends, the Chinese, to whom we are already so indebted. If our country doesn't become "New China," our great great great grandchildren will still be paying for this government generosity.

I think government assistance is more to the point. Since the terrible depression of the last century, our country has increasingly taken the roll of benefactor to millions of people. It has created a permanent underclass dependent on the government for their existence. No time limits, no age limits, no constraints. Just multi-generational subsistent, sub-existence.

Something for nothing has become a siren call to more than just welfare recipients. Now we are poised to see the government take over our banks, our mortgages, our health care and more. We have become like the doe-eyed "Elois" in the movie, The Time Machine. Every time an air raid siren would blare, they would drop whatever they were doing and walk mindlessly into the mountain. That which had once been a response to a call to safety had evolved into a mindless conditioned response manipulated by the Morlocks, the evil mutant race that led them like cattle to their doom.

70% of our country think the huge financial "stimulus package" is a good idea. I think we are being led, like Elois, to the doom of our country. America, as she has been, will be no more. What she will be, no one can know.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Labor or Love?

Did I mention that painting is hard work? Learning to paint is like learning another language. Most people don't learn a new language overnight; it takes struggle and practice and lots of repetition. And if you ever think you've reached a level of competence but fail to use that newly acquired skill, it'll fall away quicker than you ever thought possible. You don't want to lose your fluency.

Each painting presents new challenges and opportunities for problem solving. I've been painting and repainting this one painting for a year. I almost scrapped it for the second time to start over but I decided to just put it aside for awhile and keep on struggling to get better and when I get better I'll return to it and figure it out.

When you look at the price of an original piece of art, you're not seeing the sum of an hourly rate but the accumulation of years of work. No amount of hard work is going to make some pieces become "art" and conversely, "art" is never achieved without a great deal of perspiration and perseverance. I will leave for another day the rant about "what is 'art'." For today's purposes, "'art' is work," albeit a labor of love.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Gospel Transformation

How is my community different because I am in it? How differently do I perceive the world because of the reality of the Gospel? How does this apply to my every day life?

Some days life hurts so much that it's not enough to just read the Gospel.

I am starving.
I need to eat it, consume it, be consumed by it.

I am dirty.
I need to bathe in it, plunge into, underneath it.

I am thirsty.
I need to drink deep draughts of it.

Did you ever drink so long it's as if the water was replacing your need for air? That kind of thirst... great gasping gulps.

The Gospel applied to everything: my work, my sleep, my eating and drinking, thinking, breathing, loving, caring, hurting. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over.... out of this abundance given to me, I am able to, need to, constrained to give.

It should make a difference. It should make all the difference in the world.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Eyes Have It

The radio commercial said, "If, as they say, 'the eyes are the window to the soul', then your windows are the soul of your house!" I thought about that for a moment, then cried, "NO!!!! The saying should follow, 'then your windows are the eyes of your house.'" Obviously, the commercial was trying to sell me new windows. (Well, I'll have to write a letter about that!)

Jesus said, "If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness."

Our house has 56 windows. Most of them are original "six over one," double hung windows. Some of the double hungs are now "singles" (the cotton rope frayed and broken) which makes for not only a difficult time raising but also a noisy one. It's makes a characteristic yelping, like the screech of pain from your dog when you accidentally step on her hind foot. Some of the glass is wavy. All of them are leaky and inefficient. Never at any time have we had all of them clean at once. A few of them have never been cleaned from the outside (the ones on the back, three floors above the ground.) Forget hiring someone to do it. No professional will clean for less than $50 per window (not in our part of the world. anyway.) You can't hire some well intentioned, uninsured handy man to climb a 40 ft. ladder to reach the back of the house. We should replace them with modern, energy efficient ones, but to the tune of about $10,000, that's not going to happen any time soon.

So, the eyes of my house are dim. However, it's a soft light, not harsh or glaring. It adds to the various charms of our 114 year old home. You either love these old houses or you hate them. We love this one.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Bags of Wind

The plastic bag is still tangled in the branches of the plum tree outside the kitchen window. It just flaps all day long, stuck on a bare, winter twig. A bit of man-made detritus skewered on a dead tree tip. It reminds me of the film shown at the art center last year. It consisted solely of a similar bag stuck in a similar tree top. Nothing happened. It just flapped in the wind endlessly, the film looping continuously. No beginning or ending. Futile. Barren. Ugly.

My bag will never be able to untangle itself. I'll have to get the ladder and clip it off. It affronts my sensibilities. I can't leave it there until it dries and tatters and eventually becomes concealed by the leaves.

Makes me wonder why I care. "What does it matter?" Is this a metaphor for the ugliness that has a tangle-hold on the world, that will never free itself, but must be cut out? Who defines what is beautiful or ugly? Or does it just offend my sense of orderliness and control over my immediate environment?

Maybe it is just my way of trying to bring order into the chaos of the cosmos, something I strive to do everyday with my art. I don't think bags blowing in the wind is art, nor do I think bags of wind can define what is art. (Yes, I do mean the double entendre.)

I'll get out there pretty soon and cut it down.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Universe in my Cup

I put my first, fragrant cup of coffee on the table and pour in the half and half, watching the sensuous swirls of cream lazily fall to the bottom of the cup then rise in mushrooming clouds until the coffee is almost completely creamy. People say you should put your cream in the bottom of the cup and then it will be stirred as you pour the coffee over it. Nonsense. And miss this little miracle? I stretch my legs out in front of me on the sofa, leaving room for Gromit to climb up beside me. He won't stay long; he isn't much of a cuddler these days. Pogo barely waits until I'm settled to bring me her squeaky ball for a few minutes of fetch. She squishes the ball feverishly and then pokes it in the hole between me and sofa arm. I toss it to her a few times. Gromit indignantly leaves the sofa, vacating a space for Pogo. She jumps over my legs and flops down as only she can (having only three feet makes her clumsy in such a tight space.) I savor the hot, strong coffee. It will never tastes as good as these first few sips. I adjust the pillows and grab my Bible, inhaling deeply. My thoughts are flying around my head like fluttering moths. I close my eyes, trying to settle down. I formulate a brief prayer, knowing that if I linger, the prayer will inevitably end in me mentally taking out the trash or defending my opinions, such is my undisciplined mind. I look out the window at the bare branches of the red maple, then through the twiggy tips to the sky. It's still cold and severe. I wish the simplicity of winter would continue, not yet ready for the complications of spring. Now, in this stillness, I search the Book for words that will encompass and infuse me with enormity. Grasping the universal, pleading with God to make it internal. How puny are my thoughts, so inadequate, trivial. Cooing, gooing baby sounds. Then, for a few moments I am able to transcend the ink and paper words to the Word that spoke the world into being. I am dizzy at these heights and a little fearful. I descend too quickly into the living room, sitting on the sofa with my coffee, thinking about the trash or the argument in my head. Yet, I did look down on my life from a lofty place. I did look up into the bright clear heavens and see a brief glimpse of glory. Now, it's time for the day. Maybe it will be a day of grace and truth, not just baby sounds.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Political Anorexia

I was wondering how former Illinois governor Rob Blegoyevich could say he had done nothing wrong while the Illinois senate was listening to the actual recordings of him wheeling and dealing favors from his office. And now his appointee to the US Senate, Senator Burris, is doing the exact same thing. He claims he has done absolutely nothing wrong and that he's sure he will be vindicated.

It makes me wonder if there isn't a mental condition called, for lack of a better word, Political Anorexia. I do not mean any disrespect to people who suffer from the awful, wasting disease of anorexia. If I offend, please-please forgive me. But one of the puzzling symptoms of that disease is a distorted body image. People with this disorder actually view themselves as overweight when they may be extremely emaciated. Do these big city politicians suffer from a similar delusion? Do they look at their lifestyle and see virtue? Do they look at their political shenanigans and see service? Do they really and honestly think of themselves as being faithful servants to their constituents? Don't they see the greed and corruption, self service and aggrandizement that is so plain for everyone else?

Those of us who have never had political power have never experienced the heady exhilaration of controlling other people, dictating and manipulating them. It must be just like a disease or a disorder, in that it infects the mind and perverts the thought processes. Does that make me feel sorry for the people afflicted? To a degree, it does. But not to excuse their behavior. Not to permit them to continue. I fear submitting to people with mental disorders.

That explains a lot of what comes out of Washington, DC.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Eyes to See

Remember how, in the movie The Village, the elders let the blind girl go outside the village to get the medicine for the boy she loved. It was allowed not because she was the most devoted, the most insistent, persistent, or courageous; it was permitted because she WAS blind... blind to any seduction of the outside world. The villagers, at least the founders, were so hurt by the outside world that they were willing to construct a lie, albeit a "harmless" one, to keep their children from daring to venture forth. And they felt that she, being the blind one, would be unable to see what was beyond the woods.

I can think about this for days, this twisted logic that says a well-intentioned lie is better than the truth of the "real" world, that lying to protect someone is not really wrong, that the only recourse we have against the hurt and ugliness of the world is to withdraw from it. Like I said, I can meditate on this endlessly.

But the poignancy is that they allowed the blind girl to stumble through the forbidden woods to seek help from outside the village because she couldn't see the "truth" and bring it back. As we know from the story, things got out of hand and the system broke down under the weight of it's own deceit.

I belong to a group of believers that think that the only recourse we have against the pain and ugliness of this world is to be more involved in it, not less. This is accomplished by not separating or isolating but by embracing our culture and society, redeeming not rejecting it. That is a tough calling that requires constant vigilance: to be workers, not watchers of culture. Watchers are the ones who sit in the towers calling out when the evil thing is approaching. Workers are the ones that are in the woods doing things to make it healthier and safer for themselves and others to follow.

I hope I'm a worker, not a watcher.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Various Likenessess

Someone once said that the only perfect painting is the one that hasn't been started yet. With every stroke of paint the possibilities become increasingly limited by one's level of skill and vision. Painting portraits runs an even greater risk for failure. For me, nothing else comes close to the feeling I get when I finish a portrait and it still looks like the person it started out to be. But if it doesn't capture the likeness of my subject, my incompetence is exposed for any and all to see. Who would choose such a path? Who would want to expose themselves in such a vulnerable way? "Here's my belly! Plunge your knives of criticism right here!"

However, there is something blissful that happens when I step back and observe that one correct stroke of paint. I walk away, turning to see the painting from another vantage point. A bubble rises, like hope, all the way from my toes to the top of my head. Then, with joy shooting out of me like sunbeams, I reel around the studio, dancing with the dogs, laughing out loud and crying prayers of thankfulness.

Knowing that these moments will come make all the other times worth the struggle. That's why I paint.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Triumph of the Trivial

Have you recently surfed the television channels and gone round twice without finding anything worth watching? We have expanded basic at our house, which means we have a lot of channels but no premium channels. My husband, Tim, asked me if I could believe the wasteland of viewing and I said, "What do you expect?" We are besieged by the trivial, constantly bombarded by sex, strife, car chases, news tickers, weather alerts and reality shows. Almost all of it has little or no impact or effect on our lives, immediate or long term. Almost all of it is voyeuristic tittelation. Too much of everything.

I sound like I'm going to go stay on Walden Pond, don't I? Well, I may just do. But in the meantime, how do I carve out a quiet space to think and pray and just BE? Shall I go on a TV fast? Boycott all media ? Not likely. I like my Pandora too much.

Add to all of this noise and confusion: Facebook. I am so glad I joined recently because I found friends from all over the country. But I'm not going to be using it for daily dips into social interaction. It's the worst of the worst of what's wrong with our culture: people exchanging real social interaction for superficial texting, blogging, chatting, messaging... oh wait, did I say "blogging?" Well, we all have our inconsistencies.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Quiet

Decided to download John Michael Talbot's The Quiet. Just finished teaching a class; munching on crackers and peanut butter, trying to get my head and heart into the mode to create. It's really difficult to transition from one medium to another (clay to paint) as well as from the verbal (teaching) to the non-verbal (painting.)

One doesn't command creativity. It can sometimes be summoned by clearing your head of the trivial and dipping into the quiet. Diligently doing the hard work, the home work, sometimes precedes the flashes of inspiration, the muse, the divine.

Time to do the work.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Rilke said: "Things aren't all so tangible and sayable as people would usually have us believe; most experiences are unsayable, they happen in a space that no word has ever entered, and more unsayable than all other things are works of art, those mysterious existences, whose life endures beside our own small, transitory life." (http://www.sfgoth.com/~immanis/rilke/letter1.html)

L'Engle said that creating art is incarnational, that a work of art comes to us and we have the choice to be obedient to it and give it life or to be disobedient and refuse to deliver it. (Walking on Water, Reflections on Faith and Art, Madeline L'Engle http://www.madeleinelengle.com/books/walkingonwater.htm)

Both authors describe something that comes from within but takes on it's own existence.

It is a self-centered act to make art. You have to plunk away every day to keep your skills. You have to zealously carve out time to nourish your mental and spiritual health. Then you have to dig deeply inside to find what most matters to you and is worth getting out of you.

Hasn't someone already done it better or bigger than I ever could? What legitimate claim do I have for creating art? Does originality have as much importance as honesty and integrity? Integrity of materials, honesty of emotion? What's the good of my little pebble at the foot of the huge mountain of the world's art?

I just KNOW that I am compelled to paint and to not do so is dishonesty and deceit. To not do so is to not be fully me.

Leave all the notions of fame and fortune to others. To paint is to live. Live my work and love my life.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

A Funny Mirror

I have a mirror that used to be attached to the back of the closet door. I took it off and leaned it up against the wall. It droops, giving a slightly convex image. It makes me look taller and thinner. I like that image. I can chose to look in the dresser mirror which, I think, is the way I actually look: 30 lbs. overweight (okay, some might say 40 lbs.) Or I can chose to look in the slightly convex mirror. I like the way I look in that mirror. Maybe that's the way I really look and all the other mirrors are wrong. Perhaps it's up to me to chose the mirror that is "real."

I've been meditating on that for awhile. Can we chose our own truth? If I chose the mirror that reflects what I want it to, does that make it true? Is there such a thing as "truth?" If I mean that there is an absolute weight ascribed to an object with it's associated image of weightiness or weightlessness, than I think most people can assent to that. But if I mean the perception of a good or bad weightiness, than most of us will begin to squirm.

Many people deny that there is such a thing as absolute truth. But will anyone deny that the bent mirror is "wrong?" That some mirrors give more of a correct reflection than others?

I further reflected that the mirror is an excellent metaphor for one's "world view." I've always found the analogy of a "lens" helpful; that with which we view the world, that interprets culture, society, and even life itself. However, a lens is something that looks outward from ourselves, whereas a mirror reflects us as well as our surroundings, usually placing ourselves in the middle. How much more apt to use the mirror of our choosing? I choose the mirror that reflects what makes sense to me, that helps me to understand difficult issues that affect ME?

This blog is my funny, tilted, leaning-against-the-wall mirror.