One of us lives on the east coast. One of us lives on the west.

One of us lives in a rural community. One of us lives in a city.

Both of us wander. Both of us witness. Both of us write.

This is a record of what we find.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Mapping Uncertainty

Asking questions can be enlightening and dangerous. The small questions—what should I do today? (Which is of course only meaningful if you actually have a choice and as such is a privileged question to ask…) What should I—make, draw, paint, write—next? hinge on the larger questions why and how? For me, especially after completing a big project and before starting the next as yet intangible and at times seemingly impossible thing, this demanding and unsettling question of why always arises like a gate at a castle door. (Once I’m fully engaged in a project and the project takes on a driving life force of it’s own, the question fades away to a faint echo…but in between, it becomes a grinding dissonant shriek that demands attention.)

Why make another drawing? Why paint another painting? Why write another story? Aren’t there enough drawings, paintings, stories in the world? Just walk into any bookstore and ask yourself if there’s a shortage of books on their shelves…

Now our current culture seems to think the motivation to “express yourself” is a valid and just answer to the question of why, but to me, there’s always been a hollow ring to it. It’s works on the assumption that people really care about what you have to say. Which isn’t really true. And then there’s the justification given that the purpose of making art is to change the world, to help improve the lives of others. And I’m sorry, but I have to say that rings equally false (to me) in its suggestion of grand self-importance.

Which leaves the conundrum, if not to “express myself” or save the world, why spend the vast amount of time, this large proportion of my days, doing it? This writing stories, incessantly trying to make something out of nothing? And if it actually doesn’t matter, if there’s actually no good reason, then why is it so bloody hard, excruciatingly hard, not to? (John Barth hit this pretty much on the nose saying, “It’s Scheherazade’s terror: the terror that comes from the literal or metaphorical equating of telling stories with living, with life itself. I understand that metaphor to the marrow of my bones.”)

I have talked about this quite a bit in the past and found some pretty good answers given in a blog post from November 2013, The Landscape of Questioning and yet these questions continue to come up for me. Per my usual method of waiting out the storm of questions, I‘ve been busying myself weaving brightly colored sari ribbon, reading poems and spending time journaling—a combination of writing, sketching, doodling, making lists. And spending time with a couple of “study guides”…

A couple weeks ago, after touring the Keith Haring show at the DeYoung Museum (who in his short life did make art to both express himself and to change the world and was highly and prolifically successful at both…) I stopped in the bookstore and a small book on one of the tables all but jumped into my hand. ART AND FEAR Observations On The Perils (and Rewards) of ARTMAKING by David Bayles and Ted Orland. I opened it up, started reading and was astounded to the point of tears at how uncannily it spoke to the questions and issues that I’ve been struggling with. I bought it, brought it home and it’s since become a kind of map, a guide on some ways to forge new paths in the landscape of making. They start out talking about the nature of the problem~

And as much as your family and friends are kind and supportive, as much as they love you, it still remains as true for them as for the rest of the world: learning to make your work is not their problem.

Yes, it’s this uncertainty that niggles at me. But maybe that’s part of the reason, the answer, too? Then there’s this:

Making art provides uncomfortably accurate feedback about the gap between what you intended to do, and what you did. In fact, if artmaking did not tell you (the maker) so enormously much about yourself, then making art that matters to you would be impossible. To all viewers but yourself, what matters is the product: the finished artwork. To you, and you alone, what matters is the process: the experience of shaping that artwork…Your job is to learn to work on your work…you learn how to make you work by making your work…

So it seems perhaps the answer to why and how lives somewhere in the work itself? And accepting the uncertainty, learning to straddle it and get on with doing the work, writing the stories, drawing the drawings, painting that canvas is at least part of the remedy to the malaise.

 I like Kurt Vonnegut's advice~

More answers/solutions/remedies are presented with humor, whimsy and wit in another map/guide I’ve been using—Lynda Barry’s Syllabus, the best get-over-your-self and-your-stupid-inhabitations-and-hang-ups guide I’ve ever come across. But enough on the topic for this week. Maybe I’ll delve into the weird and wonderful world of Lynda Barry next time…

Until then,

Take Good Care,


Friday, January 23, 2015

Repost of The Growth Mindset

Erin Murphy posted a link to this blog post a year ago! (Thank you Erin and thank you Brain Pickings.) It spoke to me then and it speaks to me now.

Boy, it speaks to me.

Our mindsets make a huge difference in the quality of our lives. The moment to moment quality, as well as the long term, visionary quality.  I know this. I have known this. What we thinkof ourselvesis a sort of guiding light in the darkness, right? If we think negatively, that is the path we see before us. If we think positively…well then that is the path we see illuminated.

But Carol Dweck's work is an even more intense examination of how our thoughts can profoundly impact our lives. I won't go into her work here in detail, because you can go to the blog post and read it for yourself (and I urge you to, if you have time) but basically she found, in her research, that one of the most basic beliefs we have about ourselves stems from how we view—and live within—our personalities. And she found two distinct categories here: a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. 

A fixed mindset says:

I am who I am, and I need to prove it over and over again. I have to show everyone that I am smart and any indication that I am not smart (making a mistake, for example) will not be tolerated.

A growth mindset, on the other hand, says:

Who I am right now is simply who I am right now. I can learn and grow and improve over time, if I put in the hard work and keep an open mind along the way. I am curious and flexible and have room inside for improvement.

I realized after I read the blog post that I had heard of Carol Dweck before. I read an article in New York Magazine a while ago about children and praise, and her work was in it, front and center: “Emphasizing effort gives a child a variable that they can control,” Dweck explained in the article. “They come to see themselves as in control of their success. Emphasizing natural intelligence takes it out of the child’s control, and it provides no good recipe for responding to a failure.”

This is powerful, deeply satisfying stuff. 

The Ugly Duckling by Roberta Wilson
It speaks to me as a parent, for sure. I can remember when my son decided to go to an ice hockey camp and when we got there it was clear that he was the only kid who had never played before. He couldn't do it on that first day. Any of it. And every other kid could. He tripped, he fell, he missed the puck, he fell again. I remember feeling so sad for him—you know that feeling in the center of your belly when your kid is suffering in the moment…when success is so not available in that very second—and wanting to scoop him up and take him home.  But I didn't. (Not because I got wise and knew this could be a powerful moment, but because Derek, my husband, was already wise and urged me to wait it out.)  You can guess what happened. We (and the camp counselors, thank goodness) praised my son for his incredible effort, for small improvements, for hard work. He got better at ice hockey each day of that week. Not good, not good by a long shot, but better. And most profoundly for me…he felt so content within himself, both throughout the process and, of course, after it was over.

What better lesson can we hope to teach our kids?  I would venture to say that there isn't a better one. 

(Except to be empathetic and kind to self and others, perhaps. But…and this is oh so cool, in my opinion…I am going to guess that living with a growth mindset nurtures empathy and kindness. If you know how to work hard, and know you can change, then you can imagine that in other people too.)

What better lesson can we hope to learn for ourselves too?

I used to think that desiring something for more than a minute was a sign that I wasn't meant to do the thing, or have the thing…because it meant that I had tried to do it, or have it, and had failed. Failure the first time meant that the desire was off the table. Quite a fixed mindset, eh?

But now…

From The Curious Garden by Peter Brown
My New Year's post, the one about last year being a cocoon year for me, is about exactly this. In all ways, but especially in terms of my writing. I have never worked so hard and so long at anything. I have never made effort and perseverance as much of a ritual as I have with the process of writing. This is key, I believe. The ritual of effort and perseverance. 

And I would add to that, now that I sit for a moment and think about it. The ritual of effort and perseverance and longing.

Work hard, keep at it, and always, always honor the longing.

With gratitude,


Thursday, January 15, 2015

Craving Alizarin Crimson

The Holidays are over. The decorations have been taken down and stored away until next year. Shopping frenzies are (hopefully) done with. For the most part, New Year’s resolutions have been made and many already broken. (Daily meditation practice? It was a good thought at the time. Same with sticking to one glass of wine with dinner…)

Now it’s just winter and much of the Northern hemisphere is cold—very cold. Freezingly icily cold.

But not here in the Bay Area where we had some rain last month (hooray!) and a coldish spell—a week of lows in the high forties and high’s in the mid-fifties, but then it cleared up and warmed up. It’s been nearly seventy degrees some days. That’s warmer than the average day here in June and July when you often don’t see the sun for weeks!

While robins, finches and nuthatches remain in residence and Angel’s Trumpet, jasmine and bougainvillea continue to bloom, many of us here is the Bay Area still try to perform some kind of ritual that reminds us it’s winter. We like being different, but not left out—who wants to be left out of a whole season? So we build fires (if we’re lucky enough to have a fireplace and it’s not a spare-the-air day.) At my house, we put our flannel sheets on the bed and keep them on until April despite often being too warm in our unheated bedroom. Our dinner menu is made up of soups and stews—hearty winter fare. I would no more think of making a salad nicoise in January than I would think of making Irish stew in July. It just wouldn’t be right.

But still, there is something else that tells us San Franciscans that it’s Winter—the short days (getting longer now) and low angle of the sun (moving slightly higher every day) speak to a natural rhythmic cycle all living things have—it seems to be the same whispering that sends some creatures into hibernation. I feel the nudging to be quieter, more introspective, more interior, don’t you?

The other thing I always feel this time of year is a craving for color—deep, rich, muted color—alizarin crimson, inky Prussian blue, silky golden ochre, dark saturated plum, velvety moss green. Every January I dream about these colors. It’s not as if the world outside my window is drab and barren—aside from a few leafless trees in solidarity with the rest of the frozen country, it’s more of an unseen impression. Maybe it’s a reaction to all the garishly bright reds and greens of Christmas or maybe it’s some kind of archetypal echo from the royal robes of the three kings, but I think it has more to do with the sense that January is a blank page just waiting to be filled in—with words, with images, with color. This blank page of January is an invitation to begin. Something new.

So I’m getting ready to start filling that blank page. Last week I went out and bought some new Prismacolor colored pencils, ordered a rich rainbow of recycled sari silk ribbon and signed up for a poetry class. I’ll be drawing, writing poems and stringing glass beads onto silk ribbon for the next few months.

John Ruskin said, “The purest and most thoughtful minds are those which love color most.” Do you suppose he included himself in that mindset? I don’t know—it’s a lot to claim and live up to…

It’s easier to lay claim to Paul Klee’s quote, that, “Color is the place where our brain and the universe meet.”

How will you meet the universe? What will you do with your blank page?

Happy New Year!

Take Good Care,


Thursday, January 8, 2015

Landscape and Light: A Repost

With gratitude for the light coming back and for you all.


Early morning ski

Before the world awakens

When everything is quiet

And everything is new

And all things are possible.