Monday, May 31, 2010

On reading and riding

The photo above is a favorite -- taken in New Orleans -- post-Katrina, on a trip to JazzFest 2006. I love the picture for the rusted downspout, the cracked pavement, the moss on the door, the seatless bike and the promise of the musty old stacks of books beyond the windows.

Beckham’s Books. Never did pass through the doors. I grabbed the shot hastily following my husband down the street early on a Saturday morning. He was the one carrying the “real camera” -- the Canon EOS 10D with 28-135mm lens -- a lovely digital camera that I have since inherited with his latest upgrade, the EOS 40D. The camera is immaterial. It’s the viewpoint that interests me here

You see, the photo is a portrait of my husband Malcolm’s obsession with cycling, juxtaposed to mine: collecting books. I can’t fully explain how is it that we have reached a point in our “middle years” (whatever those may be) where we have amassed a collection of 7 bikes hanging like bats in the basement. And upstairs in almost every room in the house there are the glass-doored bookcases, filled to brimming with acetate-covered novels. I can’t speculate how many books exactly, more than 600, mostly modern fiction, many of which are signed first editions. (Catalogued on

As for the bikes, two were purchased for me, the first as a birthday gift, at my husband’s insistence that the old mountain bike in the basement needed replacement with a lighter “hybrid” and the second, with the assurance that a road bike would be so much faster and easier to handle. It is. Truth be told: I’m skittish pedaling on two wheels with a ton of glass and steel whizzing by on four. I find the noise, the cross-traffice, the light-changes and fumes of the road disquieting, even on an idyllic Sunday morning. While I dutifully ride a respectable 25 to 30 miles through the park, it’s only because it’s good, healthy exercise, effective in burning calories, and a means of at least “sharing” (albeit at an ever-increasing distance) what has become my husband’s passion. On a bike my husband leaves me in the dust, zooming down hills at speeds up to 30 mph on his shiny Italian Cervelo, dazzling in his latex riding habit, and perfectly calibrated and tuned to cadence and mileage with his new Garmin computer on board. I ride, slow and steady, dreadfully (that’s full of dread) like an old lady -- thankful to remain upright, and thrilled upon my return in one piece, with the prospect of refreshment, food and drink, and the pleasure of sitting down to a good book.

As for the book collection, a harmless obession -- no better or worse than cycling. But one certainly might ask: why? I confess that I buy books as objects of desire, aspirational purchases, knowing full well, deep down that I will never read them, that is, unless I seriously pick up the pace from 25 to 75 books a year. And really, how many years do I have to book? Do I believe that if I surround myself with books - hoarding words -- that I will live more fully, write better, or think better? Not consciously. But there must be something to that. Unintentionally, I have created that all too familiar nightmare-- the mortality dream -- that it’s the night before the exam, I haven’t been to class, and there are stacks of books I haven’t opened. Creative angst is what some might call it.

I think about this, as well as other “deep thoughts” exploring the “mysteries” of life -- curiously -- while riding a bicycle. (!) Ever mindful of the road, with its variant signs and hazards, I often find myself in a reflective, mind-spinning mode. Problem solving. Painting mental pictures. Taking note. Married to one obsession or another, here I find myself creating while recreating. . . on a bicycle. Oh, go figure.

It's back. It's here. It's NOW.

As the pirates say:  "Argh!"  It's back, mateys!   And if you've never seen one of these, here one is.

It's Week Four.  And Week Four is the dread No Readie Week.  And not just Reading Deprivation.  Read the instructions carefully (that's allowed reading; wallow in it) and disconnect your denial switch.  No television.  No movies.  No radio.  No music with words.  Barbaric, huh?  Nasty.  Scary. Even the parrot is alarmed.  See his face? 

Now, look.  You don't have to do this.  You don't have to do ANY of this.  It's for you.  It's a gift you can either open or send back.  As a matter of fact a mere couple of hours ago, I was all "Sherpa. Must. Read. Must. Protect. Climbers.  Must. Protect."  Which was what the initials B & S stand for.  I'm a slippery sucker, I am.

You can do it or not.  And you can make rules about which parts you will and will not honor.  I have some concrete suggestions to help you through this and some lovely philosophizing about what it's good for.  So keep reading.


First of all:  Read the chapter for Week Four.  It's full of helpful hints.  Chock full.

Second of all, write your morning pages and really dig in to what's so horrible about this week. Dig down where the action is.   

Third, do the exercises and go on your Artist's Date.  Heck, go on six. 

Fourth, whatever your creative passion is, this is the week to indulge in it.  (Hint:  you're going to have some extra time.)

Fifth, come to the blog.  You may read anything that's here.  You may post.  You may lurk. You may comment.  Please do.  If your post or your comment doesn't work, send it to me.  (I have created a No Readie Week Folder in my gmail into which I will dump all my communications from Oprah and TED and the cool folks who send me funny stuff.)  I'll read that stuff next week, but ....

Sherpa Annie will read anything that comes from YOU.  And I will frequent the blog. 

Finally, have some fun.  Use the time like the gift it really is.  And let me tell you, there's more fun to be had not reading in summer than in winter.  Have yourself some of that.

As you think of cool ways to spend your non-reading time this week, post them.  Comment them at the Graffiti post.  Send me an email and I'll post your ideas.  I'll post mine.  This is your support center for the week of not reading.  Visit often.  Be supported.  And you can call me.


Now, just a moment for the value of this week.  The effect of using reading, tv, etc. etc. to divert yourself is to take you away from the here and NOW.  We humans all -- except for the saints and poets maybe -- use something.  Books.  Television.  Food.  Booze.  Drugs.  The unalloyed Here and Now is the most uncomfortable place in the Universe. 

Actually, that's not exactly true.  The unalloyed here and now is the very living room of transformation.  All insight.  All truth.  All reality.  It's where creativity comes from and if you haven't been accessing yours for awhile, the Here and Now, if you can get to it, is filled up and running over with Creativity that belongs wholly (and holy) to you. 

It's the dang doorway to the here and now that's so scary.  And not reading or watching TV (or playing Zuma's Revenge, mea culpa) deposits you in that doorway.  If you find yourself there this week, take a deep breath and look around.

What can you see where you are right now?

What do you smell?

What do you taste?

Feel the breeze on your skin.  Feel your clothes where they touch your skin.  Feel your feet, in your shoes, on the floor.  Feel the grass under your feet if your shoes are lost somewhere as mine always are.

Listen to the sound of what's there and the sounds that will rush in if you are quiet to hear them.

Follow your thoughts without judging them.

Note how hard it is not to judge your own thoughts.  Or to not veer away from them.  Do not beat yourself up about any of this.  Have fun.  Be here Now.

Then, write, draw, collage, dance, sing, garden, knit, sew, paint a room about it.  And if you have anything to share, blog about it, too.

Ciao, peeps.  Have a great week.  

Love, Annie

Sunday, May 30, 2010

An Artist's Date in a Small West Virginia Town

Hello to all,

Last week I drove down to our family home and the garden plots looked like an Amazon Rainforest and had spread in the back into a neighbor's territory.  Fortunately I had help in the corralling.  And fortunately we all have Julia and Annie to guide us on our journey. 

My Morning Pages have suffered a bit but the tasks have been great and as an artist date yesterday I went to a basketmaking class -- as the only student.  Instead of making a childlike basket with a wooden frame and holes and rainbow colors -- and a child would love that -- I took someone's 3/4-done project -- an eggbasket with a two inch vacancy in the middle.  Or it could perhaps be a made-in-China with the tag gone basket that fell apart in the middle.  

Anyway, it had "nice bones or ribs" and a start of round number 2 (I learned that!) reed in beige and grey.  The longtime basketmakers from Glenville a) enjoyed that I brought three of their older creations in to visit them and b) let me choose a soft green and a soft blue for the center round reed number 3 colors.  Between the reeds were a flat reed.  Actually the seasoned basketmaker finished the project -- did the repair and Tracy Westfall a local potter passed by and said, "Tuckie, you are doing really well on that basket." 

Now, normally I would be bent out of shape for someone else "to do my project" but this was already someone else's project and the artist date was all about sitting on the sidewalk under a cool outside roof where it was cool and the world passed by: Tracy and her potter husband who had just returned from Europe and told me how I could find where a special WWII pilot was buried (Search US Military Cemeteries on foreign soil) and that resulted in finding which cemetery -- one near Rome -- and finding photos of it and even a video and deriving much comfort from that; two private detectives -- man and wife from Parkersburg traveling in her bright red two-day old Mercedes Kompressor and when I mused that might be a bit conspicuous for doing detective work, the husband assured me they had other cars; seeing the same roaring red pickup go by in the same direction multiple times; hearing the words "Author" shouted as a local attorney drove by in his pickup truck; and visiting with the basketmakers who came from New Hampshire in the 1970s; are now too old to manage their farm in Gilmer County; have it for sale; and plan to move to Portland, Oregon. 

All of that has made me think perhaps reading deprivation month (Freudian slip -- it is only a week that will seem like a month) will be beneficial.  Right now, I'm off to the basement to organize baskets! Yes! And appreciate each one more and peel last year's crop of Good Luck Plant (Honesty, Money Plant, Silver Dollar) for dried flower arrangments since this years crop looks to be gigantic, I'd better be caught up on previous harvests.  Also will shred Tansey for moth prevention cloth bags; and perhaps -- well, that may be more than I can accomplish in one afternoon.

But ... if not for the Artist Date requirement, I would have missed a lot -- didn't even mention the woman farmer who sold a crate and a half of red geraniums before I got there but had lovely white ones and would have missed the friend who came by and sympathized with me that the Memorial Day flowers -- peonies; rhododendron -- were already gone and she was taking a live begonia which inspired me to buy 8 little white geraniums to take to our local cemetery and put on both sides of our family monument: DeBerry  where my parents and grandfather are buried and Butcher where Jim and Bertha Butcher are buried.  They may survive the 90 degree weather and then, since the cemetery wants you to pick up the decorations, may put them in planters installed around a little deck in the Morgantown back yard.

Well -- no posting from me for a long time -- but how easy and how rewarding a lazy afternoon artist's date can be!  And how much we can get done without reading (although I have to leave a novel mid-way, in the lurch so to speak and that is difficult unless I finish it tonight) and -- if it's too tough, I bet even Julia and I know Annie would understand.


Friday, May 28, 2010

Watch this space.

My peeps!

I know you're out there.  I know you drop by the blog.  I know you're busy.  Or maybe bummed out by the uncertainties of your creative pursuits. (Uncertainty is Creative's middle name.  Bet you didn't know that.) And possibly you're shy about posting.  And possibly you have encountered bugs and bafflement while attempting posting.

Here's my request:  I'm making it easy for you to blog out loud.  Simply comment here.  I'm leaving lots of room.  You don't have to be registered or anything as far as I know, you can comment as Anonymous and just put your name at the end of whatever you have to say.  First name.  Initial, if you prefer.  We know who you are.

Our blog is intended to provide support and community.  We all need that.  We do. So, say Hi.  And if you want to do a regular post, please have at it.

One final word:  If you're having technical difficulties commenting, posting, finding a wholesome diet soda .... whatever,  email me and we'll sort it all out.

I shall be awaiting your comment.  Right here. 

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Creating a Sunday Afternoon

I wish all the wayfarers could have been here on Sunday to share the good times.  And the gummy bears and pies.

I take full credit for arranging a perfect sunny, mostly warm afternoon, fit for sitting around the table on the deck and making collages, but I only handled the weather.  The rest of y'all brought the creativity and the sharing.

Collaging was the perfect exercise.  1. It got rid of a lot of my magazines which no doubt liberated my creative soul. 2. It gave us an excuse to enjoy the dappled shade and the trash falling out of the sugar maple (which always has something to contribute.)   And 3. It unleashed The Magic.

Here's the secret of big C Creativity: It's always right here, right now.  Close as your shadow.  On the tip of your tongue.  At the ballpoint of your pen.  In the click of your knitting needles. In the tune that plays in your silence.  It's spread thick on the world and all we need to do is scoop up whatever calls to us and begin.  

Creativity doesn't have to be hard or rigorous. It doesn't have to send you off to some lonely garret, drive you to drink, or break your heart. It doesn't demand that you bleed. Creativity calls you out to play.  That other stuff, the hard, lonely, tragic stuff?  We bring that and we can chose to leave it behind.  At least for an afternoon.  

One of the first things I learned in the Artist's Way was the rediscovered delight of picking colors.  Crayons.  Day Glo writing paper.  Making the choices with insouciant freedom, the way we used to when we could say, without reflection, "Mmmm. I love green.  I don't want purple today.  This orange is way too orange."  It's easy when you're five and don't have to paint the whole kitchen with it.

Good news.  We truly can go back there if we just allow ourselves the freedom to play.

On Sunday afternoon, I gave only casual attention to what I was tearing from the magazines. I "followed directions" in the way that you can when directions aren't rules.  I glanced through the pages for things that "called to me."  Like dowsing for water, trying to feel the tug of "I like that." or "I want that but not this."

The conversation floating easily around the table was wonderful.  Scraps of sharing.  Dollops of gossip.  Showers of encouragement.  I grabbed pictures at random and tore off the images I didn't want.  Glued it all down until lots of something covered up a little bit of everything.  When it was done.  It was done.  I admired the other collages: especially the one with all guys.  The one with layers of "pop-up" images.  The one with the big word, "GO."  The one with the bright shiny idea in the middle.

But I didn't actually look at mine until this morning.  

I took a course about ten years ago that used collaging as an exploration.  When you finished your collage you'd look at it and see if you could draw some conclusion.  No wrong answers, no pressure,  just whatever came to mind as you looked.  And then you'd say (to the best of my recollection/It was ten years ago), "It seems like ----------" And fill in the blank.  "It seems I like pictures of fruit."  "It seems like the world is a dangerous place." "It seems like I'll never have enough money."  Whatever.  A gentle inquiry. 

So, this morning I sat in what I believe I must now call Bill's fabulous garden and looked at my collage and said to myself, "It seems like -------------"  And what I heard was, "It seems like it's full of longing."  And it is.  I am.  For trees and boats and worried looking fish and lipstick, lost cats and leaping and the barns of my childhood.

This is how I know it's true:  It touched my heart and made me cry.  Not in a bad way, but as Allie in my novel says about the verse Tom quotes to her, "Bam.  Just like that, it pierced my heart, the way truth and poetry does."

Creativity is small and easy, always accessible. You can do it because you can't not do it.  And you'll recognize it if you sit with it and open your heart to it, because it feels like truth.  Like grace.

You may or may not want to share your creations with the world. The world may or may not embrace them.  But the truth you make for yourself is whole and pure, absolutely self-defining and self-assured.  Creativity is your birthright.  It comes standard on your humanity, and it is it's own reward.

I wish you the joy of it.


Monday, May 24, 2010

Going Our Way

We came. We celebrated. We wrote. Each to her own, adding a page in the journal.

Thanks to Anne. A glorious touch-down afternoon at the Lake House. Our voices filled the garden with chatter, laughter, and curiosity, the natural wisdom of women as they gather and converge and make music in their own way. And like birds, we flew off again. With a promise to keep one another posted. Well, perhaps. We'll see.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


Thanks Annie for having the wayfarers at your home today. You created a wonderful afternoon and I had a great time meeting everyone. Also, thanks to everyone who donated to the non-attachment sale. I look forward to our next get-together.


Thursday, May 20, 2010

Out of sight, out of my mind

Missing keys. Happens all the time, right? You’re ready to walk out the door, pumped and primed for the day. Your keys? Apparently they’ve wandered off on their own. Gone. AWOL! Coulda swore they were right. . .here, where you always keep them on the kitchen counter. Or could they be there? Next to the cookbooks? Under the newspaper? Mixed up with the mail, hiding in plain sight?
Darn, the brain is a tricky thing. Just when you think you’re in control, you lose it.
In desperate search, and already late for work, you dash from room to room, retracing your steps, recalling the last time you had your keys in hand. Yes, just yesterday, you found your way home, and yes, you were driving. And yes, you were in full possession of your wits as you opened the door, walked into the kitchen, and parked your keys. . . if not here on the counter where they “belong,” then where?
What follows is an assaut on all the “other” usual places: bedroom dresser, bathroom vanity, desk top. Mystified! How do keys just vanish? As the adrenaline kicks in to a new level of energy, you dump your handbag, overturn drawers, throw pillows off the couch, check pockets, ransack places you absolutely KNOW can’t be right. Wastebaskets, garbage cans?
Last resort -- and not a pretty one -- you call your husband at work, sheepishly confess that you’re grounded at home like a 15-year old, until you find the keys to your automobile, and by the way, could he please tell you where he keeps his spare key - because sure-as-hell you don’t remember where you keep yours? Calmly he tells you a.) that your keys are somewhere in the house (duh) and b.) there’s a spare set of keys stowed safely in his closet -- look in the right shoe of his Tommy Bahama topsiders-- wow, who’d ever guess.
Days pass. Still missing keys, you find yourself cycling through the stages of loss: (why me, why my keys). Denial, anger and bargaining have turned to rumaging, trashing and cleaning. Tearing through closets and cupboards. “Be the keys,” you tell yourself. “Now think! Where would you be if you were metal and plastic and attached to a $200 Infiniti fob with a battery and why can’t you just ring like my cell phone?”
Then comes zenlike acceptance of all things possible. Your keys are somewhere buried in a landfill, having been collected with the garbage on Wednesday. Your keys have been stolen. Call a locksmith. You live with a gremlin. Look in the refrigerator.
The week goes by. Beyond lost, beyond displaced, beyond all plausible means of mental detection, the keys actually do show up.  In the refrigerator.  Of all places, beneath a sodden plastic bag of browning lettuce in the crisper drawer.  

So this is how it starts, you think:  a first sign of dementia.  You know you're in trouble,  when you find your keys in the fridge.  But then, mercifully you recall, there is a logical explanation for this bizarre turn. The keys were where you thought you left them in the first place - sitting in their usual spot on the kitchen counter, minding their own business, when inadvertently they were covered up as you took items out of the fridge to make a salad. Then among the leafy plastic bags of spinach and romaine, cucumber and tomato, the keys were gathered up and tossed into the refrigerator . . . randomly displaced, in much the same way socks get lost in a dryer.
So! As brains go, mine isn’t quite the sieve -- but something of a colander where lettuce can be rinsed and drained. According to scientists, the downsized “middle aged” brain goes into overload, teeming with everything we know and experience in our rich lives. And once we hit 60? Studies show that we get distracted at remarkable speed - within 200 milliseconds. In other words, our interior selves live in a perpetually juiced state of incoming impressions and detours. The good news? We compensate by absorbing more facts than people in their teens and 20’s. And when put to the test, we’re 30% better at using the info later to solve problems, make decisions, and deploy our natural creativity.
Lessons learned: Simplify. Keep fewer items on your kitchen counter. Avoid making salad where you keep your car keys. Check bags before stowing into fridge. And chill.
More food for a thoughtful brain: nuts! (of course), fish (rich in omega-3 fatty acids) soybeans, tomatoes (a source of antioxidants in lycopene, good for the immune system), olive oil, flaxseed and avocados, (all heart-healthy fats) and best brain-candy of all - real dark chocolate (a dopamine-releaser and good for the soul, too).

Monday, May 17, 2010


So easy to fall off-track. Lost in the details. Blocked in the writing.

You are looking at the state of my desk, not far from the state of my electronic desktop, just keystrokes and neurons away from the state of my unipolar disordered brain.

Pooling resources. Cramming for an open book quiz? In the midst of writing a grant proposal to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (the short version, and a long-shot at that) seeking six figures for a program entitled Positive Play:Laughing Matters. Gotta LOL, right?

As fevered a pitch as ever. Museumwork. Feels almost familiar, like the ad biz. On crack.

Another Sunday in the life . . .

Friday, May 14, 2010

The VooDoll is Back!

Not for imprecations or the casting of dark spells. Just 'cause I need a friend made of red yarn to give me the power of persistence. 

The agent, who is a nice guy from all appearances, said no.  

Very nicely.  But a no is a no is a no.  So. Okay.  I got right back on the horse that threw me and sent off two queries yesterday.  One was a no by bedtime.  Now, that is NOT FAIR.  

Also, the refrigerator -- which is not a nice guy refrigerator -- appears to be dying.  Slowly, which is good, but dang.  There is an expression we Americans like to use:  "I didn't need that right now."  I bet we're the only culture that goes around saying stupid stuff like that.  I bet the earthquake/tsunami, hunger, strife and malaria-ridden third world people don't go around saying "I didn't need that right now."  We're so spoiled.  

Anyway, this is a lesson in VooDoll persistence: if you write, your writing will be rejected.  No.  Really.  Rejected.  Not just gently cast aside and then embraced. Rejected.  Rejected.  Rejected. Rejected.  And then, on one marvelous sunny day?  Rejected again!  And your only, only hope is to be dogged like a dogged dog doggie dog dog.  Stick a pin in your VooDoll, chant the chant and wish for superhuman doggedness.  

And a refrigerator repairperson.

And remember, all we of the Artist's Way, that being creative with our own Universe-given creativity is its own reward.  I say yes to my work.  I do not reject the effort or the rejection.  I still dancing.  You dance, too.


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Clear skies

I could grumble about grey skies, rain in the forecast all day, and endless orange barrels along my route to work on Eight Mile (yes, that’s the famed 8 Mile in Detroit) but with the prospect of 83 more summer mornings on "The Way," why not spin along a more positive turn? It’s a good morning to start scribbling “morning pages.” Well sorta.

Monday, May 10, 2010

In a Rule-Driven World, a Place to Be Free

In your Morning Pages, Snow Globes ARE allowed!  

Being very boring?  Allowed.  Kvetching? Yes. Go for it.  Being ridiculous or outrageous?  Even better! 

For a long time on my journey of the Artist's Way, I had a concern about actually speaking my mind in my pages.  What if I get hit by a truck and someone reads my pages and gets the wrong (or worse, the right) idea about what's been on my mind?  Making me cranky.  Worrying me.  Disappointing me.  Hacking me off.  Whatever.
I've decided that if I get hit by a truck, that would be the least of my worries.   And you know what?  It's a lot more fun, and very liberating as well, to just haul off and write what's on your mind.

We tend to take the contents of our minds way too seriously.  We think our thoughts are organized.  We think they are unique.  We think they mean something.  Mostly not.  Mine sure aren't and don't.  It's mostly just blah, blah, blah.  But how freeing to go blah, blah, blah for three pages before you start your day and get some of that blah off your chest!  And not worry about artistic quality.  Or any quality. 

And, truly, if you want to write, "I don't want to write anything." Or "Snow globes, snow globes, snow globes" for three pages -- it's allowed!  Carry-on! 

And have fun!


Friday, May 7, 2010


Monday, May 10th is Opening Day for the new beginning of The Artist's Way.  And, interestingly enough, it marks the three-year anniversary of the start of my own travels on the free & open road that leads away from the World of Work.  

New highway.  New travelers.  New adventures.  If you're new to the Artist's Way, you can probably parse out some answers to some questions here. Early posts are at the bottom.  

Anyway.  Drive up the ramp and merge.  Looks like a promising day out ahead.  And here's a word of welcome from our old friend Bilbo Baggins.  Just to get us going:

Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains in the moon.
Sounds good to me! 

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Celebrate the Celebrate-able!

Got a request for a full manuscript from an agent!  Looked through my photos for a suitable illustration of the thrill.  Blurry shot of approximately 88,000 dancing and drumming Chinese people at the Summer Olympic Games seemed about adequate. 

Long road ahead.  Possible no road, as we know.  But right now! Who cares! 

I dancing!