What's Your Word?

 This winter, I've been taking a watercolor class.


I've never done watercolor before . . . and watercolor is hard.  

Most of my early attempts were water-paint-blob-bombs.

So much . . . expensive watercolor paper in the trash.

I was so frustrated -- and disheartened.

Tom encouraged me to just keep trying.  

(I can't.  It's too hard.)

(What's your word?)  

(RISK, damnit.)


I kept at it.  

Lots of practice.

Lots of paper.

(I can't show anybody, though.  I don't want to.)

(What's your word?)

(RISK, damnit.


A couple of my pieces were selected to be in the Student Exhibit.

All I had to do . . . was have them framed.

(I can't.  It's freaking me out too much.)

(What's your word?)

(RISK, damnit.)


I can't quite explain how . . . exposed . . . this all made me feel.

Sharing my paintings?

Framing them?

Hanging them in an exhibit?

(. . . as if I were an artist????)

(What's your word?)

(RISK, damnit.)



THIS . . . was not something I ever expected to do.

And there was quite a lot of courage required.

(There's a ton required to even post this.)

(What's your word?)

(RISK, damnit.)

(Hell, yes.)






Rambling in the Face of It

I'm sure many of you are aware that Kalamazoo is the latest (in a way too long line-up*) of cities-in-the-news because Senseless Gun Violence.  

Today, as I write this post . . . well.  Let's just say I'm rambling, and not really sure where it's going to go.  Because This Is My Town, Damnit.  And I'm still processing.

But I'm going to start here.  With a BB.

FullSizeRender 52

One day last spring, I was out walking my dogs -- and I got shot in the leg with a BB.  (That very BB.  I saved it.)  It hurt like hell.  But, mostly, I was shocked.  It could have been just kids playing around, an errant BB ricocheting off a tree.  But I couldn't quite get over the feeling of . . . being shot AT.  Like . . . on purpose.  Someone with pretty good aim . . . considered me (or maybe my dogs) a target.  I limped home that day, and called the police.  They were nice -- but it was already too late for them to do anything.  (And apparently they don't run ballistics on BB pellets.)

I was really angy about my BB incident.  I mean . . . I was just out walking.  In my neighborhood.  Where I feel safe.  And where I should never be shot at.  

Because, you see, the Social Contract is in place.  Organized society depends on - and is invested with - the right to secure mutual protection and welfare.  In other words, I can walk the streets . . . and you won't shoot me.

I'm not trying to compare the my own silly little BB incident to the carnage here in my city on Saturday night.  Not even close.  But I am saying that random shootings - like we've had FAR TOO MANY OF - are a disruption of the Social Contract.

People should be able to load their children into the van . . . 

Or shop for cars in a dealer's lot . . . 

Or go out for dinner after seeing a show . . . 

(Or go to school.  Or to a movie.  Or a Christmas party.  I'm sure you get my drift.)


Because these are NORMAL, every day activities.

Things we all do.

Every day.

And we should be able to do them . . . without thought.  Without pause.  Without fear.

Because that's the Social Contract.


(I so thank all of you who contacted me via text, email, and Facebook yesterday.  It meant so much.  XO.)


*  According to the Washington Post, the Kalamazoo shootings on Saturday night represented the 42nd "mass shooting" this year.  It's only February, folks.  That means . . . mass shootings have happened in the US in 2016 (so far) at pretty close to . . . well . . . once per day.  This. Is. Appalling.


Stepping Way Out

Last Friday, I stepped way, WAY outside my comfort zone and went to an all-day, outside "sketching" workshop . . . 

in an unfamiliar location

with not one person I knew

sketching (publicly)

I'm still not sure what possessed me to sign up and go, exactly.  (Although I've always wanted to be able to sit and sketch a landscape.)  

(And . . . because journey.)  

So I went.

I got a little bit lost on my way there.  I almost just bailed and turned back for home.  

(But I didn't.)

The location turned out to be a fabulous private garden property (way out in the country on a totally unmarked road, which led to the getting lost part) that made me gasp at every turn.


I delighted in exploring the grounds with my gardener's eye.

And I was so very glad I had my camera with me (because sketching alone, for me, would never have done the place justice).


It really was a perfect day -- comfortable weather, not too much sun, bird song in the air, and lovely vignettes and vistas . . . 










Most of the other workshoppers just plopped down in front of some incredibly picturesque view, got out their easels and their watercolors, and sketched/painted the day away.


I was a bit more restless (and a lot less accomplished).  I moved around from place to place . . . and mostly sketched various leaves.


(Because . . . just beginning.)

The very-patient-and-incredibly-supportive instructor kept phrasing all of her feedback to me with the following statement, "for those returning to the visual arts after a very long pause."  (Cracked me up every time!)


It was a lovely day, all the way around.  I'm glad I didn't head home when I got a little lost, because the overall experience was worth a little personal "thrashing about."  (Journeys are just like that.)

JOURNEY . . . Lessons So Far

I've done One Little Word five times now.  Five words.  Five very different experiences.

At first, when I start out with my word each year, there is a flurry of inspiration.  I'm always excited to "invite my word into my life" (as OLW leader, Ali Edwards, says over and over again).  I find quotes and poems.  I set intentions.  I find visual reminders for myself.  (And I usually buy some jewelry.)

Early on, my word doesn't usually . . . gel . . . for me right away.  It kind of . . . just sits there.  I do a lot of wheel-spinning.  It always seems like maybe I picked the wrong word.  

But then, around now, things start coming together for me and my word.  By the end of May, there's been enough time and distance that I can start to see how my word is connecting in my life.  Sure, I'm bound to be disappointed by mis-steps and whole chunks of inaction around my initial intentions.  But.  By now, I'm usually beginning to understand how seemingly disparate things . . . urges . . . inclinations . . . awakenings . . . actually connect in some way.  Unexpected themes and patterns begin to emerge.  My word . . . begins to act as a pivot point in my life.


When I set out on my JOURNEY this year, I knew I wanted to head off in a new direction.  But I wasn't quite sure what that meant, exactly.  I set some goals for myself; some intentions and action steps for the year.  I've come to think about those intentions and action steps as . . . DESTINATIONS on my JOURNEY; places I hope to end up, eventually.  As in . . . I want to go . . . THERE!   That's kind of the easy part.

Choose a destination.
Set off.

Now that I'm actually moving along, you know what I'm figuring out?

Sometimes the JOURNEY is quick, uneventful, and direct.  But sometimes . . . not so much.  Sometimes there are unplanned side trips you just can't resist.  Sometimes you decide to take the scenic route (because why not?).  Sometimes you get re-routed, or stuck in a detour. Sometimes you have some kind of breakdown and need assistance.  There are even times when you decide to turn back.  Because that wasn't actually where you wanted to go at all.  And sometimes . . . you get lost.


Usually, I'm not so comfortable with getting lost.  I like to know where I'm heading, and how I'm going to get there.  I like maps and compasses and GPS.  I like setting goals and having specific things I'm working toward.  

But, I'm starting to think that I might need to allow myself a little time and space . . . to get lost.

It feels right, somehow.  
Even though I have no idea what that means.

(And that's the power . . . of one little word.) 


On Breathing

"Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?"
                                                               --- Mary Oliver


Today, February 4, marks a Very Important Day that I celebrate each year:  the anniversary of my final chemo treatment.

Six years.

This year . . . (for the first time) . . . this day kind of snuck up on me.  (Because, you see, I'm not Thinking About It all the time anymore.) (Like I did for the first four years.)  Although I knew my anniversary was coming up, I wasn't really thinking that I needed to mark it in any special way.

Until . . . 

Ted died last week.  

When I was going through chemo, I formed a "posse" -- with two other kindred chemo spirits.  Ted and Joel, people I already knew, were diagnosed with similar kinds of cancer right at the same time I was diagnosed. Together with our spouses, we socialized while we were in treatment.  Later, when our remissions set in and we were all back to Living Our Lives, the "posse" didn't ride together anymore.  But that bond was still there.  Y'know?  

But Ted's lymphoma came back.  And now . . . he's gone.

I only saw Ted once during this past year, but I do know that Ted filled his last year with living.  He did all the things he loved best.  He didn't waste any time.  He didn't just "breathe a little" -- he took big gulps of air.

So, against that backdrop, I'm celebrating my sixth anniversary.  I'll admit, Ted's dying has me a little freaked out.  It brings it all a little too close.  But it also adds perspective.  Now, it just seems a little more important to me that I mark this day . . . by thinking about how I might be able to take bigger breaths.  

Here's what I'm going to do today . . . to mark this occasion:

  • I'm going to FILL MY LUNGS . . . by going outside . . . where the air is cold and clear . . . and I'm just going to breathe.
  • I'm going to BREATHE HARD . . . by working out and working up a sweat and going into oxygen debt.
  • I'm going to TAKE A DEEP BREATH . . . by challenging myself to commit to a couple of things I've been thinking about trying.  
  • I'm going to EXHALE . . . and just keep purging all this . . . stuff . . . I really don't need anymore.
  • I'm going to STOP HOLDING MY BREATH . . . and just start something lovely . . . by ordering some Loft and casting on for this sweater.

And then, I'm going to celebrate with Tom at dinner tonight by making a toast . . .

To taking big gulps of air.  
And calling it a life!



On Hunkering Down

It's Friday . . . and we've got a blizzard-ish thing going on here in my neck of the woods.  And it's rather frigid.  Brrrrr.  

Good time for some hunkering down.


Which is no problem for me.  I have nowhere to particularly go today, plenty of books, plenty of yarn, leftover soup, pots of tea, and a good store of wine (for tonight).  

(I love hunkering down when it's snowing!)  (Best part of winter.)

I woke up this morning thinking of this Robert Frost poem, and thought I'd share it . . . 

Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.


Happy Friday, y'all.  (Stay warm.)


Sundays . . . Are for Poetry


The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice --
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old rug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations --
though their melancholy 
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice,
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do 
the only thing you could do --
determined to save
the only life you could save.

--- Mary Oliver, Dream Work

Somewhat Nuts

If someone were to ask me . . . 

On a scale of 1 to 10 ... just how nuts are you? 

I'd probably have to give myself a 7.  I'd call that . . . Somewhat Nuts.

Which is why I've committed to blogging every day in November.  (Along with several other partners in crime.)  It's kind of an overwhelming challenge -- coming up with something to say every day.  So we came up with a few "theme" ideas to get us through the overwhelming parts.

Margene is going to look up on Saturdays.

Carole is going to "show and tell" by sharing stories about things in her home on Saturdays.

Patty is going to talk about her dog, Boone, on Saturdays.

(I'm not sure, exactly, what Vicki will be doing on Saturdays quite yet.)

As for me?  I'm leaving it wide open.  

It's a beautiful (but cold) day here.  When I look up, this is what I see. . .


And I'll "show and tell" you about this . . . 


It's one of my pottery roses that I "collect" each year from a Michigan artist.  I have 4 of them, scattered around my bookshelves.  They are beautiful and make me smile -- and especially during the Bleak Months when there are no real blooms to be found in my garden.

And, of course, I can always highlight these two!


They love to play together -- especially when they can work at destroying one of their new "indestructible" toys.  (Ha!)  (In human language, they have "ripped" and "shredded" and "made a mess."  In dog language, they have "killed" and "disemboweled" and "brought glory to the pack.")

So.  Somewhat nuts.  Sure.

But always open to a challenge!



The ArtPrize Experience

On Saturday, I drove up to Grand Rapids to take in ArtPrize (and a bit more, besides!)

I know I won't be able to describe the ArtPrize concept and experience adequately. . . but I'll try to, at least, whet your appetite.  ArtPrize is a huge international art competition held each fall in Grand Rapids.  This year (the 6th) included over 1500 artists -- all competing for significant cash prizes awarded after a public vote and juror selection.

ArtPrize, though, is so much more than that!  ArtPrize invites artists to try out new ideas on a large and diverse population of people.  It seeks to broaden the critical dialogue around contemporary art.  It gets people out -- experiencing art and talking about art.  Basically, ArtPrize makes the visual arts accessible to everyone!

(Read more about ArtPrize here.  And, while you're at it, check out this year's winning entries.)

ArtPrize is really . . . all about pushing boundaries . . . through art.

I saw color and texture everywhere . . . in gorgeous textile pieces . . .


and with unusual and surprising materials . . . like whole crayons!


Some installations I saw made a point about social issues . . .


While others . . . stopped me in my tracks and made me gasp!  (These seemingly random, hanging guns formed this familiar shape at a particular viewing angle. . . )


Some, like the Great Wall of Bees, challenged the notion of what constitutes "art" . . .


And some helped us all see the "art" in the ordinary, everyday-ness . . . of hair styles.
(This installation was one of the winning entries. It was awesome - and my photos just can't do it justice.)


Some pieces resonated with their simplicity . . . 


And others by reaching my soul.


But, I'll admit.  There was one collection I was most interested in seeing.  Up close.  In person.


You may recognize the work of Lee (Rusty) Mothes from Vicki's blog.  It is incredible!  Truly.*  (These amazing waves are beautifully rendered in pencil.  So. Cool.)

Yes, I was privileged to share my ArtPrize experience with Vicki, Rusty, and Kate.


It was great to be able to meet Vicki -- and even more special to be included in her family for the day!


My ArtPrize experience . . . was made all the richer by spending it with some very special people!


* Rusty was in the Top 25 in his category (2-dimensional) for the entire duration of ArtPrize!