Knocking on the door

Julio has gone from being a dishwasher to an artist in residence, our residence, and I could not be happier. He takes self-doubt and desire for expression to an outside canvas, opens paint jars and steps into his private piece of heaven. He is a beginner, unseasoned and open, living in Ojai where masters reside. His passage will not be simple but is fully his, a door opening, a passion, a path.

He is being mentored by Gino Hollander, an international treasure and 87 year old legend. Gino writes: “This beginning time for Julio is hugely exciting and equally insecure, something each starter of anything worthwhile for the soul has to deal with. The more he is involved with painting and himself and working things out by himself, the better. For me, I want no one around when I work nor any comments. Painting is a very personal thing. What maintains the work is the aloneness with it. I won’t be commenting in the hope that he works and works and works. As he applies himself with time and effort and sincerity something incredible will happen.”

Greek mythology gives the ‘credit’ in incredible to the muse, their source of inspiration for the arts. Here is what I imagine:

Each time we make the effort to create anything we are knocking on the door to another realm, which is opened or not – by the spirit or spirits who oversee mastery. When you begin knocking you are not taken seriously. You’re a first time visitor and nothing more. You knock. A spirit peers through the window – says, “I don’t know you,” and turns away.

If you come the next day, the next week or the next month, the spirit will begin to identify your face, but still the door will not open. These are the days when the less serious give up, going on to something other. “That wasn’t for me,” they’ll say. “I just wasn’t feeling it.”

It’s only when you forge a path by coming day after day and week after week, when you wear the soles of your shoes thin with travel and your thirst is deep enough, that the bolt on the door begins to unlock. And still, it does not open wide, only a crack, allowing crumbs of inspiration to fall into eager outstretched hands.

Then finally, after months or years of traveling the same path, on a day when you least expect it, something changes. The door is thrown open and you are warmly greeted by spirits anticipating your arrival, perhaps having discussed which gifts to endow over morning toast and tea. You are expected. You’re family now and they want you to succeed. This is no longer a strangers place, but part of breathing in and out. You have tapped omnipotent mind and become a vehicle for earthy expression.

Some folks call this discipline, a word I’ve never liked, because it engenders sister words like restraint, control and obedience, expressions that don’t fit my idea of creativity. I prefer words like perseverance, heart-connection or even crazed. But whatever you name it, stepping out of the ordinary into worlds of imagination and vision brings you closer to the sacred pulse of the universe.

And so I wait, watching from the calm of my sitting room as Julio begins his journey. He is a determined walker and his thirst profound, leaving no doubt that the doors of mastery will eventually swing open and he will be embraced by all that is.

Meditation and the Muse

buddha crystal

Recently a friend sent me a photo of a crystal skull. It was beautiful beyond words and inspired me to use it in meditation. Here’s how I do it:

 I imagine my skull is crystal and my spine as well. As I bring light into my body through the top of my head, it hits the crystal skull, travels down my crystal spine and stops at its base. The light then radiates through my being, moving without effort into the world. This puts me in a clear, reception place for writing, the events of the day, speaking what I want to attract and elevating my consciousness. 

Give it a try; I think you’ll be pleased. 

The Muse lives just out of sight. I write for her, not knowing which ‘her’ I mean. The Greeks say there are nine sisters, all daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, who exist to see beauty created in the world. If I sit down day after day and do my work a mysterious process is set in motion which enlists their help and reinforces purpose.

 Another reality does exist, just out of view, where genius sleeps and treasures wait to be downloaded by dedication and effort. The work we do each day makes our presence known in that unseen place. It allows the muse to become acquainted with our spirit and ultimately to relinquish her gifts. Ask any artist or healer. The real ones, the good ones are humble, because they understand that the information comes through them, and is not born of them. So, don’t be afraid to start your day or any creative project with a request. Fire up your crystal skull, radiate light and make yourself found.

The Little Ones

finger paintingThere are those who are meant to work with children and those who are not. Unfortunately, I am in the ‘not’ category.

My daughter, Kristen, has a child on her lap, longing to be adopted seconds after being introduced. She is the pied piper of little ones; they trail after her like baby ducks, because she sees into their soul and shows them their beauty. 

Amy is a slender woman with a long braid trailing down her back. She is in my writing group and teaches kindergarten in a Japanese immersion school. She comes to our group with stories of glue sticks, muddy boots, carp kites and little raincoats. There is a tender intimacy in the broadness of her love. 

My sister, Kristen, took her skills from the performing arts and shuttled them into a school library in upstate New York. She makes stories come alive with music, character voices and puppetry. The children think she lives in the library closet and owns every book. They have no idea how lucky they are. Her spirit is gentle, reverent and embracing.

I was not blessed with that gift. My need for quiet and aversion to chaos has limited my desire. But, before I knew that, I applied for and received two grants to work with children as an artist in residence. The first grant came from the city of Portland.

On my first day at school I met a little girl in the hallway and decided to get acquainted.

 Hello Sweetheart, I said, how are you today?

She stopped walking, looked up at me, and kicked me as hard as she could.

I hate you, she said and walked away. That was pretty much how it went.

I got busy creating a theater piece on the stage. I expected the kids I was not working with to be still and watch, instead they began opening the windows and crawling out. I had no idea how to stop them. There were too many and I was stunned. I had to request help from one of the teachers. When I went to school in Vermont, students sat quietly, never moved an inch. It was formal; the boys wore shirts and ties, the young women wore dresses. This was very different.

The next grant was at the Waverly Home for Emotionally Disturbed Boys.

I know, I’m a slow learner, but reasoned it would be better since the children came with room counselors who were obviously trained to keep order. I’d brought large vats of paint in white plastic buckets and lined them along the edge of folding tables for days of creativity and puppet building.

Turns out it was not a painting day for Darren, who was one of the last to arrive, so he picked up a paint bucket and sent bright hues of liquid purple into the air, which landed on the walls, windows, across my favorite skirt and dripped over my apron. That was a moment of significant insight for me. 

In that moment, I knew with complete certainty that my place in the world was working with grown-ups. I wanted quiet people, people who did not climb out of windows while we were working together, people who did not leave my clothes dripping with purple paint, or kick me in the leg when they were having a bad day, and you know what? I’ve never really changed my mind.

Skill set

orange-shoeGib left this morning to play tennis, while I did the dishes. I was thinking it was kind of a lame trade-off, since he was getting fit and healthy, while I was getting tired and splashing soapsuds on my apron. I wanted him to stay home today and help me design another audio book cover. I already have the ideas; he would just be the middle man between my imagination and reality. He was supportive and interested, but in the end, out the door he went, smack dab into the middle of his own obligations.

I hate having to rely on other people to do what I can’t do, but part of my sanity has come from admitting that there is a whole lot I can’t master and never will.

My friend, Anthony taught me a phrase I can use whenever my eyes start to glaze over and feelings of inadequacy knock on the door. He taught me to say, that’s not my skill set. I love saying that! It gives me great permission to be who I am without beating myself up. Unfortunately, I seem to have part of me that believes I should be capable of all things.

You need a little brain surgery? Sit down.

Want help with a calculus problem? Bring it over.

Pile on the contracts with the fine print and the twenty minute on-hold calls to the insurance company. I’m your girl.

 Well, not really. The truth is I’m exceptionally good at what I can do and rather hopeless with the rest. It’s the real-world left-brain stuff I struggle with. That’s why it’s so hard when I have a new creative idea and the stand in for my left brain walks out the door to play tennis.

Today is an easy day. My schedule is light. I find myself wanting to write something good, something that will provoke conversation, a good laugh or a shift in consciousness, but none of that is coming, because mainly I just want to lie down and take a long guilt-free nap.

Writing Memoir

Do you promise to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?

writingThis is what happens each time I sit to write. I ask myself to look at life straight, without skipping over the shadow places, or pretending I don’t hear what I hear, or see what I see.

I ask my courage to dive deep into dark waters with eyes wide open when my tendency is to turn away, protect or avoid. Warning lights flash in my belly. Sometimes it’s hard to breathe. I tell myself it’s not too late to turn back. But I go there, because if I am successful, I won’t have to live above the swamp. I can drain it, release the power of the underworld and add sunshine.

To look again at what was, is to open my memory to sights and sounds and smells I have masterfully put aside. My mind tells me to cut off the past like a dead limb, because there is simply no point, no useful purpose. Look ahead, it tells me. Plan the future. My mind tries to be nice to me, to do me a favor and keep me out of trouble. I appreciate it, but I can’t move forward as long as there is unfinished business.

I pride myself on having created, against all odds, a body of water that is clear and calm. Why would I stir it up with memories of the past? Not just stir it up, but keep my eyes wide open. My mind directs me to sunny beaches in Mexico, while my emotions direct me to the business of truth telling.

I reach for Hershey’s kisses. Little pieces of chocolate wrapped in shiny golden paper with an almond hidden within. I’m allergic to chocolate, but the almond eases the guilt. If I listen to the language of the heart, it’s telling me that I need some kisses, whether or not I can digest them, and not only do I need them, I need them now. Not after the next paragraph. Kisses can’t wait.

Writing memoir brings up issues of privacy and loyalty. Do I want others to know my history? Will I lose power or gain it by revealing myself?  The past is not the present. Is it fair to portray what was frozen in my personal archives? Surely, everyone experienced our time together differently. Each person is a country in and of themselves. Is it fair in revealing my memories to expose, accurately or inaccurately, the personal landscape of others? Will I be seen as an alien invader? Most certainly, I will. I intend to see with honest eyes, but whose version of the truth is revealed? I commit to write, and ask for forgiveness if my version of the truth offends those living or those already in the spirit world.  Sometimes I hesitate to recall memories for fear it would pull on the spirit of another in a negative way, when what is called for is forgiveness. All these things are considered and felt when we open the door to deep diving.

Feed Yourself Beauty

weaving-rugRobin was a fellow performer from Storefront Theater who taught me to use a loom.  Her weavings, like many of her paintings, looked like she had reached into the sunrise and convinced every shimmering hue to come to life through her hands. Threads sparkled, wools blended, and fuzzy threads adhered to make a radiant representation. Anyone fortunate enough to own one of her winter scarves could plan on being stopped several times on the street, so strangers could touch and admire her work. There has never been an artist who could touch my heart and sense of wonder like Robin.

When I first started lessons, I wanted to purchase inexpensive threads because I was a beginner. I reasoned that no one, including myself, would want my products for some time, so why waste money? But Robin stopped me immediately. ‘No,” she counseled, “buy yourself the most beautiful threads you can find, no matter the cost, because part of weaving is nurturing your senses with what you see and what you touch. Feed yourself beauty. You will handle each thread several times, beginning with the warping board, then while dressing the loom, and finally passing the shuttle back and forth to completion. Everything you feel and think goes into your work. Your products radiate your touch and energy, so it’s important to understand the unique power of each weaving.”

A friend knew of a loom stored in a studio space and after several phone calls the owner agreed to let me use it. Things were looking up. I had a studio and loom without cost. I’d tune in Oregon Public Radio and fill the space and my spirit with classical music. It was an uplifting time with Mozart drifting back and forth among the fibers, gently encouraging both inner peace and inspiration.

Weaving was one of the few places that invited my voice into song. I was comforted by sitting alone and filling the room with the years of music I’d learned but rarely sang. It was in one of these precious moods that I reached for a letter I’d stuffed in my pocket. It was from my mother. She had enclosed an article about brain tumors and strongly suggested that I have a physician look at me. “It would explain your behavior,” she wrote. “You’ve never been quite right.”

Tears fell on the threads of my weaving for days from the innocence and malevolence of such a letter. I couldn’t look at it when I cut it from the loom, and didn’t want anyone else to touch such sadness, so I walked outside and dumped it in the trash.

Although never approaching the majesty of Robin’s work, my skill became marketable. I fashioned purses, scarves, table runners and wall hangings. Robin had a tailor’s skill, so her fibers became jackets and dresses displayed in Portland and Seattle galleries, while I used my work to trade for health care and fire wood.

One winter, I took a weaving class at the Oregon School of Arts and Crafts, a very expensive class, but didn’t finish. The faculty made weaving business-like, mathematical and unpleasant. I realized that if I had begun with formal instruction, instead of Robin’s loving hand, I would never have been a weaver. I could not follow directions. I could create a free flowing design in my head, but following a pattern laid out on graph paper in tiny blue colored boxes was hopeless.

I stopped weaving when my allergy to wool became unbearable. Tiny flecks of fibers floated in the air whenever I worked, and wearing a mask felt wrong, so I changed to cottons threads, but felt too limited. It was a sad day when I sold the loom I had finally managed to buy, but Robin’s lessons remained. Feed yourself beauty at any cost.

Back to me


We were hiking to the top of a long steep forest trail when my husband stopped by a stream, got down on one knee and asked me to marry him.

“What? Now? Like this, sweaty and out of breath in the middle of the woods? Ask me again on the way down, I have to get used to the idea.”

He did.  I said yes, and then he pulled the biggest diamond ring I’d ever seen from his jacket. My heart sank. ” Oh honey, I’m just not that kind of girl. What am I going to do with something like that?” We settled on matching silver bands with a Celtic weave.

Our first Valentines Day he gave me a box that had real gold ear-rings shimmering against purple velvet. Oh my, I thought, he is going to have ‘Ingrate’ inscribed on my tombstone. “Take these back to the store, dear, and buy yourself a pint for your trouble. I’m just not that kind of girl. I don’t want gold and diamonds. If you want to give me gifts of enduring affection, buy software and learn to use it. What turns me on is having a business partner, someone who can bring my artistic visions into reality, someone who believes in me and can remain steadfast when I lose faith in myself.”

The engineer in him rose to the occasion, learned to do sound editing, film clips and placement of art work; the husband in him became the business partner I always wanted. But paradise was short lived when his cousin died and left a pallet company to be managed, and when the high school needed a tennis coach who would labor afternoons and evenings as an act of love.

I found other people to help me, so my work continued but the whole affair left me grumpy and disappointed. Now tennis season is winding down. There is talk of giving the pallet company to his kids and I can see a light at the end of the tunnel. We can imagine more time for us, more travel, adventure and creative projects.

Last week-end his schedule lifted and he came back to me. We spent hours editing, designing and creating, then topped it off with a hike in The Gorge. I’m telling you, having my husband as a creative partner brings me closer than diamonds and hot sex ever could. Well, maybe not the hot sex part.