Thursday, December 29, 2016

2016 – A Year of Growing Positiveness

I entered 2016 with lots of hope after the rollercoaster emotional ride of 2015. The selling of one home and the buying and moving into a new, smaller home left me drained and I wanted 2016 to be the exciting new chapters of a new book in my life.

Renovations in the new house continued with a custom-designed and built kitchen and a choice of unusual colors. I felt a driving need to surround myself with color. However, the work on the house continued to drain most of my energy even when I wasn’t doing the physical work. I didn’t have anything left to put much effort into writing, photography, or drawing. I felt the floundering of 2015 was ongoing. Where was I going in my art career?

But there was also a part of me that understood I had to patient because sometimes “… hope would be hope for the wrong thing.” I felt a change coming. I knew the inspirations and drives would return. 

The photography got a spark when, beginning February 1, a couple of us started a photo-a-day challenge for 100 days. I was unsure if I would keep up with it, but we were having so much fun, we kept going and are still doing it. Making time to take photographs led me into looking at things differently. It also makes me pay attention to the interesting beauty that’s all around me.

Spring came and I caught the gardening spark. Melissa, at Agway, said that plants they have early are OK to plant early, so I filled the back of my car with pansies, violas, English daisies, and Johnny jump-ups. I filled flower boxes and lined the back porch railing. Then as the weather warmed, I cleaned out the front gardens. I wasn’t sure of all the plants there, but I wanted more and subsequent trips to Agway had me filling those gardens and making more garden areas. 

The garage was the next big project and that led to creating more gardens as I strived to “Sasha-fy” my house. I bought lilies from The Lily Lady in Sutton and created a lily garden. The drought almost put an end to the outside garden projects, but a “water angel” offered to fill my rain barrels. She also gave me more lilies and I extended the lily garden. With her help, I continued to water the plants throughout the summer. 

In the meantime, I was reading books by Brene Brown and one by Doreen Virtue. Brown writes a lot about the same issues I like to talk about (and she’s done years of research). I wanted to “change how I think by changing what I think about.” I am highly bothered by commercialism and mistruths, false advertising, and all the depressing news we are bombarded with on a daily basis. Even though I don’t listen to the news or read about it, it still seeps in. And with the ugliest presidential campaigning ever, I had to do something for my own sanity. 

I began to redo the affirmation cards I made years ago using colored index card (still all about color). I post these around the house to provide constant positive messaging. I read some of them daily, often changing them around, and still occasionally making new ones. This has made a huge change in my demeanor.

Late summer had a new farmer’s porch built on the front of the house and the end of August into September had me driving to Wichita, Kansas, for my oldest grandson’s wedding. That turned into quite the 16-day adventure! The funny thing is I whined and complained throughout the whole trip, but once I got home, I realized how amazing it really was and how brave I was. I would do it again in a heartbeat! That realization and the commitment to experience more positiveness in life is transferring to the current book and I’m reliving the adventure as I write the story and edit the photos. 

I was inspired to get a Fitbit to motivate me into exercise. I am not so good at motivating myself and this is getting me up out of the chair and moving. I also joined in which I developed a list of daily goals. I am actually doing more every day. I’m back to meditating, doing Tai Chi, I added leg lifts to my exercise routine, and because I have the online check-off list, I push myself to accomplish everything. I also cut back my caffeine intake to one mug a day (I like coffee too much to totally give it up). 

I wanted to share my new found positivity and desire to live a whole-hearted life and I came up with the idea to do these short “Dear Divine Presence” letters which I post daily on Facebook. One, this is my attempt to post positive messages in the face of all the negativity that bombards us on a daily level. Two, this is my way of giving back for all the wonderful things and messages I receive.

So, 2016 had a renewal in photography, writing, and mental well-being, but what about drawing? The desire to draw never went away for the two years I put the charcoal aside. I thought about it all the time, but never found the ambition to go to the easel. I had a number of unfinished drawings taped to various easel boards.

Blam! October slammed me new inspiration. I don’t even know where it came from (maybe from the Divine Presence prayers or just being more open to The Muse or…). I found myself at the drawing board and not only was I back to drawing, but my style has taken on a new persona, and once more, it’s all about color. The charcoal with just a hint of color pastel has turned into background layers of charcoal and lots of bright pastel color. 

Suddenly, after not doing any drawing since … well, I finished one I’d started in 2014 in January 2016, I did two drawings in a couple of weeks and a third by Christmas. The funny thing is, the four scenes are spring, summer, autumn, and winter, in that order. I hadn’t planned that. Now I can’t wait to see what 2017 has in store!

In closing, I would like to add that one of the most positive experiences of this year is the community support I’ve received. I was so hesitant to move to Hillsborough, but the people in this community have been so nice. People have graciously assisted me in whatever help I’ve needed. I am so grateful. 

Plus my very good friend lives across the brook and we get together once a week for Weekly Wednesday Winefest where we might work on a project (she’s been instrumental in helping me downsize and organize) or we just sit with our glass of wine and enjoy the most amazing conversations. 
It seems in today’s society there is less and less community. People don’t have time any more. We are human beings and humans need connection to others. We can’t save the world, but we can do our part to help each other. This is my goal for the coming year. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Daring Greatly

I recently finished a third book by Brene Brown. This one was called “Daring Greatly.” Brown got the inspiration for the title from part a speech made by Theodore Roosevelt in 1910:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done better.

“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face I marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming; 

“but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly…” 

Brown’s years of research and teachings give hope and understanding to our lives as human beings. Her books have come into my life at a time when I’ve been doing a lot of my own soul-searching and self-study. I am often amazed how she’ll make a point exactly along the lines of my own thinking. I feel her words have helped validate who I am and that I can BE proud of who I am (just like years ago when Julia Cameron of “The Artists’ Way” fame gave me permission to be an artist) – not that I really needed anyone’s permission, but it opened the door. 

One of Brown’s biggest teachings is that by talking we find we are not alone. This is a practice that I’ve been working on for a long time. As human beings, we are connected, and we need that connectedness to maintain humanity. I agree with Brown that in sharing our stories, we can help inspire each another. We share ideas and life stories and find connection. I’ve often felt alone in my feelings or a situation, but the moment I mention it, I find others, too, have similar experiences. This is how we belong and belonging is one of the most primordial desires in us.

Anyway, I highly recommend Brown’s books. Look her up on the web and you can even watch TED Talk videos of her. Or, go to and purchase her books. You won’t be sorry. She’s done work with women and men in all professions and she’s been a great help to our veterans struggling to return to civilian life.

I didn’t put the title of my writing in quotations because my point here just isn’t about Brown’s book, but in the act of daring greatly. Going back over Roosevelt’s speech, I feel I’ve been in the arena. My face is “marred by dust and sweat and blood.” I’ve stumbled and erred and come up short time and time again. There’s something comforting in knowing that when I fail, I, at least “fail while daring greatly.” 

I finished the reading and felt compelled to make a list of how I dare greatly. This is what I’ve come up with:

I dare greatly when:
  • I go on trips alone
  • I am the first to speak to others
  • I delve into my own feelings to better understand myself
  • I say with passion, “This is who I am!”
  • I go against the norm (in the past I’ve always felt like there was something wrong with me because I never wanted to do what everyone else was doing, wearing, watching, reading, etc.)
  • I choose to be different and like myself for it
  • I talk about myself, admit my fears
  • I say I don’t know … when I don’t know
  • I admit there are things I can’t do anymore 
  • I have to ask for help
  • I choose to be the authentic me
  • I leave the house and have to interact with others (believe it or not, that’s always been a struggle)
  • I put my work – writing, photography, drawings – out there for others to see
  • I admit my struggles and vulnerability

Think about how you dare greatly. What would be on your list?

Sunday, December 18, 2016

How Are You?

This question continues my quest to pay closer attention to those with whom I encounter. I’m not saying this is the same in every situation, but it does seem to be more common than not. I intend to change my attitude and expectations around it. When I ask, I really want to know.

“How are you?” is one greeting that has become so automatic that no one really pays attention to what is being said. And heaven forbid we try to answer with anything but “Good” or “Fine.” Many people will say, “How are you,” but we can tell they don’t really care. It’s just a greeting, something to say. People are too busy with their own selves to fully listen to a response and if we try to say something more, their eyes will glaze over and they’ll start inching away. (This is not the truth in every case, but most). 

Think about it. Think about the tone in the voice asking, “How are you?” Is it meaningful or does it just blurt out as an automatic greeting? And what are our own responses like? Does “Fine” roll off our tongues without us even thinking of a different reply? (I have a friend who says F.I.N.E. means f-ed up, insecure, neurotic, and emotional.) 

When you say, “How are you,” would you be ready to listen to the truth? I suppose it depends on the person and the situation. There are circumstances, like in stores or workplaces, where we couldn’t go into details. That said, there things we can do to let the other person know we care; that we care for them as another human being. 

I’m thinking about how I can make “How are you” sound like I really care. And I do care and I’m curious about others. I want to know what they think, what’s going on in their lives. I don’t want my question or my responses sound automatic or sound the same every time. I want to be able to respond with feeling, empathy, and understanding.

I also want to change my response of “Fine” or “Good” to be more meaningful to the moment. If I am in one of my not-so-good places I want to be courageous enough to say so. However, I want to follow it up with something like, “But I will be better!” or “I will get through this.” 

The bottom line is I want to be there with the person I’m encountering even if it’s for a couple of seconds. I want to look at them and have a kind word, a smile, a nod. I want my tone of voice and body language show I care. Kindness and courtesy are contagious. I want to bring this back and counteract the current norm that seems determined to instill fear in us telling us to avoid talking to strangers. Yes, we still need to be careful, but we don’t have to let caution take away our humanity and kindness.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

More on Acknowledging Others

Again I am on a subject that can go off in many directions. There are ifs, ands, and buts. There’s cause and effect. After all, nothing is truly just black and white. But I believe this is an important subject to discuss as I consider my attitude towards others. (And I can be as guilty as the next guy for not always being nice to others.) I am trying to understand within myself as I strive to be a better person, and I hope by talking about these subjects, it might help all of us be more aware of our actions.

One of my visions of good customer service is an old Texaco (I think) sign with a smiling service attendant waving his hand in greeting. Remember when someone would come fill your gas tank and wash your windows?  I picture helpful store clerks; people who remember their customers’ names and sometimes what they previously bought. And customers would know the clerks’ names and ask about their families.

I occasionally see that still, at Aubuchon, Edmunds, and Agway. Last year I had thanked the tellers at the bank for being friendly. They greet me by name and ask how the home renovations are going. Kate said the corporate office is trying to get them to be less friendly with their customers. How sad is that!

I asked Bob and Jane at breakfast how they have seen change in store clerks’ service since the 1950s and ‘60s. Bob said those good customer service traits were inherent in most people, taught at an early age at home and in schools. 

I remember my first jobs where I was instructed on what to wear to put on a better appearance for customers, and how to greet and interact with them. Back then we’d get in trouble if we didn’t follow protocol. We had to greet customers with a smile and act eager to help them. And in my always wanting to do a good job, I followed those dictates.

This led to more discussion on what kids are being taught today about life after school. What careers are they pursuing and is the goal for higher education herding too many into careers for which the job market is limited or the personality or ability of the students are not right for those goals? Is so much emphasis placed on marketing strategies for big business or high-tech careers, and, those include the professions of doctor, lawyer, teacher, and nurse, that other much-needed, lower-paying jobs are seen as less-than?

What about people in trades like electricians, plumbers, builders, construction workers, etc.? I know some schools have programs like building trades, but is any real emphasis placed on this or are these programs just geared for kids “not smart enough” to go to a real college? Are kids who are smart enough or can afford it who go to universities looked at with more respect than those who go to a trade school or who don’t go on to higher education?

Yet, how could a community run without the trades? Where would we be without store clerks and post office, police, fire, and highway department personnel? What about town clerks and even the tax collector? Does the amount of salary a person earns determine how they should be treated?

That’s an astounding no for most people, and yet, how do we look at people who make lower salaries? Is what we say how we act? After all, we’ve had it drilled into us for years how important it is for higher education and how those with degrees and such are so much better off.

What about those people out there working two or three jobs to make ends meet? And if we are seeing these people as less-than, how does that make them feel? We go into a store and get what we need in a hurry to get out and go on with our life. Do we ever LOOK at the person at the cash register or the one bagging? Do we ever compliment a bank teller on how nice she looks today? Do we personally thank a policeman or fireman for the jobs they do?

I could go on and on and go off on little side tangents, but what I’m trying to do is to bring more awareness to individuals, to PEOPLE, a person; not the company, department, or corporation, not the “team” --- (I hate that term unless it’s a sports team). Yes, team-work is important to make any business a success, but it’s still about the individuals.

We may not be able to change the “corporate” atmospheres, especially when many headquarters aren’t even in this state, let alone area. CEOs seldom know their employees. What we can do, is work on a community level to let those people in our restaurants, stores, offices, town departments, etc. know it’s not their salaries that matter to us; we appreciate them for the service they provide to the community. 

Anyway, I am determined to change how I’m treating people. I want to treat each person as an individual. I want to know them so that the next time I’m in the store or wherever, I’ll remember (probably not their name, ha ha, as I’m at that age where I forget names). I want them to know that I appreciate the help they give me.

I will do my best, but it’s also a two-way street. I know for the most part, that if I’m friendly to others, they will be friendly to me. That’s not a guarantee. There are some people who … well, they are who they are. As I person trying to live an authentic, whole-hearted life, I do care about people and I’m interested in knowing why people are the way they are. I often wish I could sit down with each one to find out why they aren’t happy. But that’s another story for another day.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Acknowledgment and Being Seen

I’ve been working hard at being friendlier and more outgoing to people. These days I often take the initiative to be the one to speak first. I chat at the cashiers and baggers at stores and other customers in lines. I say lots of thank you and please. I’m trying to come out of my shyness and offer kindness and friendliness to others. Most of the time, people are friendly right back.

I’m not perfect. I can easily be turned off by a negative comment or even if I feel someone looks at me with judgment. I get peeved when cashiers and baggers carry on a conversation with each other and ignore the customers. I can be in a bit of a bad mood or in a hurry and forget the importance of being friendly. I can be so wrapped up in my own stuff that my world becomes narrow. I understand that others have their own stories and issues in life, too. 

I’m working on this for myself and to help others.  I know how I feel when someone gives me a smile or offers a kind word. I am happy when others take the time to talk to me. Yes, when someone is working, I can’t carry on a full conversation, but the few seconds it takes to exchange a little camaraderie can mean a lot to someone.

The other day I was in a store where the cashier, a guy probably a good two feet taller than I, just stared over my head or off to the side. He didn’t smile. He had to call someone over to handle a problem with my gift card and, after the transaction was complete (with him never once looking at me), he never even offered a bag for my items until I started to pick them up, then he grunted, “Wanna bag?” I snapped back, “Not now and thank you for being friendly and smiling.”

I think I was in shock because usually the people there are so friendly and helpful. A woman helped me find what I needed and made suggestions. She asked what I did for art work and acted as if she knew me. That’s the kind of service that is enjoyable and makes you want to go back to that store.

But I ended up walking out of the store feeling angry at the cashier. He made me feel invisible, like I didn’t matter. I was grumbling to myself about why people get jobs working with people when they are not people-friendly and why management hires these kinds of people to work with their customers. Yes, I realize he was probably very unhappy about something in his life.

And I realize I had an attitude about the situation, too. I didn’t try to be friendly to him – course it’s hard to be friendly to a stone-face staring over your head. Still, I didn’t try. It’s hard, too, when other people are in line waiting. I think of things I could have said in hindsight.

Last night I was reading “Greatly Daring” by Brene Brown. Brown said in many of her interviews, people who are in service-related jobs often feel invisible, taken for granted. They often feel they are treated as a thing, not a human-being. 

How ironic this comes up after I had that incident in the store. It’s funny because Annette and I have been talking about giving and receiving. She always makes cookies during the Christmas season and will take some to the post office workers, fire and police department personnel, and others who perform a service for the public.

The lesson here is to remember that we are all human beings and human beings need connectedness – connection to other people. Yet we get so wrapped up in our own issues, we forget how important it is to acknowledge everyone around us. A simple smile or a nod is sometimes enough. A kind word will often elicit kindness in return. Something so simple can make someone’s day.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

End of the Art Hiatus, Part 1

I lost my passion for drawing. Even my photography floundered. My heart wasn’t in it. I’d think about it; see scenes I’d like to photograph or draw, but I couldn’t seem to get my act together. My website needed updating. How could I make changes when I didn’t know where I was as an artist? My writing, too, suffered. I didn’t have definition for myself-as-artist. Do I give up and try to focus on one thing?

I can’t remember when it started. After my mum passed? Did it stop all at once or did it just wane away?

The drawing went first. The multiple drawing boards and easels with half-finished drawings sat untouched. I lost my passion for photography. All the things I used to love to photograph: old dilapidated buildings, trains, rusted things, flowers, critters, birds … I didn’t care anymore. I lost heart in my art, in myself as an artist.

While I could never give up writing, I struggled with what kind of writer I am. Just as with being an artist and not in one medium, my writing, too, covers multiple genres. I can never fit into one category (and society loves boxes no matter how “open” people try to be). 

I am not a one-medium artist! I AM writing. I AM photography. I AM drawing. (I know, most people think I’m crazy.) 

2015 became the year of selling one house and finding and buying a smaller one. It happened fast in one aspect, but it took so much energy to pack, to get rid of excess, to take care of everything that goes into the whole process. I had no room in myself for art. 

Once the physical move was completed, there were all the renovations. I had planned on revamping my art career in 2016, but the renovations went on and not only drained the bank account, they drained my energy. I did accept a challenge of doing a photo a day with a couple of others, and, of course, I journal every day. 

Then came the trip to a wedding in Wichita to which I drove all by myself; very stressful, very emotional. It wasn’t until I returned that something new began awakening in me. I made time to start reading again and, like many years ago, what saved me was reading about creativity.

I first began getting new insights into my writing with the after-the-fact lessons regarding the trip. The photo-a-day project was certainly instilling a new passion for taking pictures, especially as there was the opportunity to share the photos. I realized how important it was for me to share my work. And, I sold a couple of photos; one that had been printed in the newspaper and one that was posted on Facebook.

I’d been thinking about getting back to drawing for a long time. I started by making light sketches of my kitty, Pele. I filled pages in a small drawing book – most not very good. I decided to get back to the easel, but those drawings I’d started a couple years ago and never finished, drawings taped to the boards and other places, were not “talking” to me. I didn’t feel them anymore. 

I took down the one on the stand-up easel and taped on a blank paper. I went through photographs and chose one I’d considered awhile back and already had printed. Suddenly it wasn’t just about charcoal, and just as with this house, it’s all about color. I need color! I had been putting “hints of color” with pastel in my other charcoal drawings, but these new drawings were going to be more colorful with brighter shades.

Outside of adding those hints of color to the other drawings, I’d never really worked with pastels. I assumed, because they were kind of chalky like charcoal, they’d behave like charcoal with smudging and erasing. I assumed wrong. 

Pastels are very different. They don’t blend like charcoal, and oil pastels are different from soft pastels and do not erase at all and don’t smudge/blend well. Once a line is down with the oil pastel, it’s there! Colored charcoal pencils do not show up on pastels.

I struggled with this first-back drawing as I learned to work the charcoal and pastels together. The brighter colors, though, are exciting. Pastels are more similar to painting, in a way, than drawing. I layer, I erase for light, add more layers sometimes with color sometimes with charcoal. The drawing came together.

Then I had a revelation: My style of drawing is along the style of impressionism – and I’m not a fan of impressionism. How can I like what I’m drawing if I don’t like the style? (which I wrote about in the last blog)

Thursday, December 1, 2016

An Artists Revelation

Liking My Drawings When my Technique Isn’t the Style of Art I Like
A Revelation in Who I Am As an Artist

This morning as I was journaling about my drawing (the one finished and the new one started) I had a revelation: My drawings are similar to me! My technique is loose, using charcoal and pastel, with lines that are not well-defined. I create an illusion of detail.

I have blurred lines myself. I am not elegant or fine-detailed. I don’t have sharp angles. I am more spread out. I do not focus solely on one project at a time and, at any moment, get distracted into doing something else. I never fit into one category. I am soft and squishy; rub me the wrong way and I smudge. 

And yet, there are moments when I can be well-defined. I do hold strong beliefs on particular subjects and, at times, I can be quite stubborn. For the most part, though, it is easier for me to fade to the background than stand up against stronger-willed personas.

What does all this mean? Nothing, really, it’s just amusing to me and it’s helping me to understand who I am as an artist.

The bigger revelation is the style in which I draw (more of impressionism) is not a style of painting I particularly care for. Yes, I like it from a distance, but up close, I see flaws and blurriness (and I don’t like blurry). The art that is pleasing to me is more of the realistic style with clearly defined lines and true-to-life color. 

I’ve never understood Impressionism; the blurred image paintings or photographs. Impressionism is basically capturing images without detail using bold colors while portraying changing light with shadows often boldly painted under bright blue sky.

So, how is it my style of drawing is using technique that is not pleasing to my eye?  And why am I only realizing this now after working in charcoal for years? Maybe I was even fooling myself with the “illusion of detail. 

Part of it, too, could be my own fear of inadequacy because I never had proper art training. It’s not that I couldn’t learn, but at this age, I wouldn’t want to take the time learning techniques and practicing. And sometimes I don’t think I “see” like other people.

At least I now have more understanding why I struggle with my drawings. Somehow I have learned to be more of an impressionist without realizing I was doing so. And now that I have this new awakening, am I OK with it?

Yes! I have to be. It’s who I am. It’s who I am because ever since getting into charcoal drawing, there’s been a part of me that, once I get the initial background layer in place, I kind of let the drawing draw itself. I’m just the tool, at that point, and the photograph is only a guideline. I am not trying to recreate the exact image. Something else takes over my arms (I work both right and left handed). Sometimes I don’t even know why I do what I’m doing to that drawing, but I go with the feeling, and it’s only for a few moments at a time. 

Because then, the logical part of my brain kicks in and I start questioning what I’ve put on the paper. I have to overcome the self-critic talk and continue. The drawing knows what it wants to do.

It’s funny, but now that I can say I am in/near some kind of stylistic category, I feel better about what I’m doing. Now I can be OK when I get that “Done!” message, I can walk away and not keep trying to tweak it. (The tweaking never seems to make it better). I am not into fine detail. My drawings will always be slightly blurred. Maybe I have to stop seeing it as blurred.

Did Edouard Manet, Edgar Degas, or Claude Monet see at their paintings as blurred? Do other artists who paint in this style or photographers who purposely blur their images? It’s all about art; the art that is inside us. It is who we are as artists and that driving force that compels us to stand before the easels or get out the camera.

Today I am eager to get to the easel and see how I view the current drawing with this new insight.