The Thing About Artists

Paintbrushes by aidanmorgan, via FlickrThere’s this thing I envy about artists, but it might not be what you think.

Sure, I’m often jealous of their ability to create something beautiful and appealing to the senses, and the way the thing they picture in their mind somehow comes out through their fingers or eyes or mouths looking pretty much like the original.

There certainly have been times I wished I could pull off some of their wardrobe choices. And who wouldn’t want an excuse to browse brushes, paints, pens, instruments, fibers, papers, glazes and tools. Or to feel the medium under your hands or hear the music through your headset and know that the sculpture is emerging from the proverbial marble.

No, the thing that really gets me about artists–especially, I would imagine, those with some level of formal experience–is their ability to stand up in front of people and to articulate the abstract ideas, themes and emotions that went into their work, to explain their process and to own their decisions without the hemming and hawing and self-doubt that most of us exhibit when we’re accepting a compliment on our shoes.

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On Having All the Answers

"I didn't have all the answers; I didn't even know all the questions." - Karen Cushman, author | BetterThanMore.comKaren Cushman, author of the Newberry-winning young adult novel Catherine, Called Birdy, did not start writing until she was 49 years old. She just never thought of writing as a career opportunity, or at least did not picture herself in that role. In an author’s note from her book’s 20th anniversary edition, she writes, “Writers, I began to think, were people who had all the answers. I didn’t have all the answers; I didn’t even know all the questions.”

I read Cushman’s book for the first time a few months back, and her words struck me mostly because they spoke to a topic I have been considering quite a bit as of late: having all the answers. And not just having them, but also seeking them, craving them, doubting them, and why the heck we want them in the first place.

I’ve thought, “I should write a blog post about this,” more than once during the past several months, but something kept stopping me. I didn’t have all the answers, even the answers about the answers themselves. And like Cushman, most days I don’t even know all of the questions.

I know in my gut that searching for answers is a universal human experience, as is the phenomenon that I like to call “analysis paralysis.” That’s what happens when we spend so much time weighing the options, doing the homework and worrying over the outcomes that we never get started.

In her article “Do Whatever you F*cking Want,” blogger and anti-BS coach Nicole Antoinette has this advice for aspiring writers: “You don’t have to write a perfect first draft and you don’t have to wait until you’ve done more ‘research’ and you don’t have to worry about who’s going to publish it or what other people are going to think because none of that matters unless you just start writing.”

I love this! There is absolutely no point in concerning ourselves with the eventualities if we don’t take the first step.

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What I’m Reading: January 2015 + One Helpful Internet Tool

Before I share some of the words I have been enjoying lately, I want to tell you about one of my favorite reading tools. It’s called Pocket, and it saves interesting articles or blog posts that I find so that I can read them later. So simple, and yet it allows me to stay focused in my easily distracting social media job, and it also gives me a place to keep all the neat and inspiring things I encounter on the internet.

I’ve been using Pocket for a while, as well as the corresponding iPhone app and Chrome extension, which allows me to add articles to my reading list by right clicking on the link. And for those blogs whose posts I never want to miss, I set up an IFTTT recipe to pull new stories from the RSS feed into my list. Then when I have a few minutes, I can flip through the stories I’ve saved at my own pace. It’s a great tool.

Anyway, on to the things I’ve been reading, most of which came through Pocket at one time or another:

Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown TaylorLearning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor: Have you ever had an experience where everything in your life seems to be pointing you in the same direction and you just know that’s where you need to be? This book is the result of one such convergence. I’ve been hearing about Barbara Brown Taylor for years and meaning to pick up one of her books but never had. On one of my holiday drives, the local NPR station was rebroadcasting an interview with her about this particular book. When I looked it up online, the Kindle version was on sale for $2, and after I started reading it, some significant conversations pointed me in the very direction her writing was already taking me. Whoa. Continue reading

2015: Peace, Voice & Daring

2015 WordsThere’s this tradition at our church—one of several that really make it feel like home to me—that we celebrate on the Sunday closest to the liturgical holiday of Epiphany. On that day, following communion, everyone in the congregation is invited to choose a paper star out of a basket. On each of these bright yellow stars is a different word, your “star word” for the year.

As part of this tradition, which apparently has its roots in the Orthodox Church, we are all invited to take this word home with us and to allow it to sit with us throughout the year, to reflect on it and to see what meaning it might hold for us.

I’m a big fan of the “star words,’ even though my words from the past two years have not been as exciting as I may have wished—my 2014 word was “work.” (Yippee.) As it turns out, I’m am not alone in my affinity for this sort of visioning.

Jessica Lawlor over at the Get Gutsy blog, which has really inspired me and some of my thinking during the past several weeks, has given up the standard New Year’s resolution in favor of choosing three powerful words to guide her year. What a cool idea!

As I considered the opportunities open to me in 2015, I decided that I would choose some words for myself, and that I would start with just two. My “star word” would then become my final word—and yes, I was a little concerned about this plan following last year’s results.

So in honor of Epiphany (that’s today), here are my three words for 2015:

1. Peace: As I mentioned in my post for Jessica’s #GetGutsy essay contest, my 2014 was a busy, noisy year. This year I’d like to find opportunities for peace, both in the form of physical quiet and stillness and in locating an inner calm, a mediator for the more dramatic and anxious parts of my nature. In 2015 I am hoping this will include a return to my yoga practice, perhaps developing a home practice or a habit of meditation. Continue reading

Getting Gutsy: Noise, Neurons & a New Year

Let’s get literal for a moment. Did you know that the part of the nervous system that lines the gut comprises more than 100 million neurons? That’s more than the spinal cord—so many, in fact, that some scientists refer to this network as the “second brain” because of its capacity to process so much information.

"stone zen" by emanuelemaria

Most of this data involves the day-to-day needs of digestion, but some of it appears to go deeper. In fact, scientists have found that about 90 percent of the neural pathways in one of the gut’s primary nerves lead from the gut to the brain, not the other way around. Whoa.¹

Scientists are still figuring out how all of this might work for our benefit (for example, there have been studies linking these nerves to treatments for depression, and others that connect the colonies of bacteria in our guts to autism), but the bottom line is, our gut is talking to our brain, all the time. That’s why the phrases “gut feeling” or “go with your gut” make sense. The question is: Are we listening? Am I listening?

Allow me to back up.

There’s this thing that people do—that I do—all the time that bugs me. It’s the overuse of the word “busy,” and I am so, so guilty of this. We use the word “busy” as a cop-out answer when someone asks us how we are. We measure our busyness against others’ as if busyness equates to importance or status. It’s everywhere.

Lately I’ve been wondering what would happen if I substituted the word “noisy” in place of “busy.” Continue reading

At Least 14 Awesome Things That Happened in 2014

I am terrible with Christmas cards. I mean, I love them—both giving and receiving—but in the busy-ness of the holidays, I never seem to get them out. The last year we sent out Christmas cards was 2010. So if you’re a friend and wondering why you haven’t gotten yours, please know that you weren’t crossed off the list, I promise.

A good friend of mine took to doing the newsy segment of her holiday letter on her blog. I love this idea so much that I am going to copy it, right now. But I also wanted to take a minute to look back at 2014 and offer up some gratitude for many of the wonderful moments that made up this year.

First up, January.

We really kicked this year off big. We bought our first home. If you have yet to embark on this particular adventure, know that it is both daunting and wonderful. I love our house and our neighborhood. It has already come with its fair share of un-fun, but it is also amazing to have a space of our own. Here’s a silly picture:

We Bought Our First Home

IMG_2289 Also in January, we celebrated the 30th birthday of a good friend. He and his wife found a vacation home to which he invited us and three other couples. It was a wonderful getaway to launch us on another year of fun travel. Also, all of our friends were good enough to listen to me yammer on about all of my concerns with the homebuying process, which really meant a lot to me. Pictured here, the full complement of bananas the group managed to bring on this two-day vacation. Continue reading