So in the class I’m taking, we’re talking about happiness and kindness this week.

Basically, the Buddhist belief is that the key to true happiness is kindness.

Kindness is not indulgence, though. Kindness is compassion and wisdom and love and generosity. It’s figuring out what’s needed and providing that. It’s not “here, I’ll give you whatever you want.” It’s not being a pushover.

This whole kindness = happiness thing didn’t completely resonate with me at first. Because I still wonder if there isn’t some internal emotion of happiness that isn’t caused by external events and interactions. But the more I think about it, the more it makes sense.

If you believe in the “everything is connected” thing, or the “we’re all part of the same world” thing (interdependence, which I have always believed in), then any act of kindness that improves the world, even in the tiniest way, will ultimately result in a more pleasant place in which to live. Which will ultimately make us happier as individuals. If more people are truly happy, that’s a good thing.

We’re not in this world alone, and our existence and the choices we make impact others. Maybe not in a huge way, but little things add up. So kindness makes a difference.

It’s also super important to be kind to yourself, though. You’re a living thing. You’re also part of the world, part of this life. You entire existence has basically been entrusted to you. Pretty much the sole true responsibility you have in this world is to take care of yourself (Again, not indulgence, but compassion and wisdom and love and generosity.) You deserve your own care and consideration, too.

If you are miserable, it affects how you function and interact in the world, and it does make a difference to others. I mean, we’ve all had the experience of someone in a crappy mood putting a dark cloud over an otherwise okay day, right? It does matter. If we’re in a shit mood, or tired, or overwhelmed, our families are affected. Then they go off into the world and their shit mood rubs off on other people. I know some people don’t believe in moods and people’s “energy” but I’m someone who really picks up on other people’s attitudes and it’s hard not to get impacted when someone is walking around with a giant storm cloud over their head, even if that person doesn’t mean anything to me.

It’s funny, because I’ve always been big on self-care and being in good health and blah blah blah because of my Spina Bifida, I found out early on that if I didn’t take care of my body then I’d end up in the hospital. So it was much easier just to be responsible and approach everything from a perspective of preventing things before they could pop up.

But my mind? That’s another story. I’m crazy cruel to myself in my mind. I’ve made a real effort to stop that the last ten years or so, but everything we learned this week sort of illustrated how much more work I have to do.

A lot of it comes down to comparison. “Comparison is the thief of joy” feels like the truest thing anyone has ever spoken (or written).

I thought that I had it mostly nipped in the bud because I’m 43, I’m beyond the age where things like being beautiful and micro-managing style and worrying about my social status matter in a significant way. I LOVE being an adult, to be honest. I love not being in my teens or 20’s. I love not having to worry about that crap anymore. It’s such a huge relief.

I’m more concerned with trying to make the world a tiny bit better (if not for grown-up humans, at least for animals and kids). I’m more concerned with being a good role model for Grace, because she does look to me to see how I react and respond to different things. I want to show her that she needs to honor who she is, and work hard at what makes her come alive, and be a kind and compassionate person (but not a sucker.)

But I’m lying to myself if I think I’ve gotten off the comparison train. I spend a significant amount of time anxious about the way I’m spending my life and what progress I’m making. I spend tremendous amounts of time agonizing over whether what I do is “valid” enough or “worthy” enough. I am constantly asking myself if the things I do, the words I write, the art I make are SIGNIFICANT enough. Are they MEANINGFUL? Do they have some sort of positive impact on the world, or at the very least make someone think?

If not, then it must mean I’m doing something wrong. I’m always aware that there are people who do it so much better than I can. And I think that unless I’m working to reach the level they are at, I’m not doing it right.

Which is ridiculous.

In an effort to explain what I am talking about: Think of your body as a whole. Now imagine if your two hands constantly compared themselves to each other and then felt bad when they found aspects of themselves “lacking” in comparison to the other hand. “My thumb is on the right side.” “My pinkie isn’t as long as the other pinkie is.” etc. If they sat there and compared themselves, every time they did it, they would find something wrong. So the misery would be never-ending.

But in the mechanics and design of the human body, each hand plays a role, right? If they were both exactly the same, there’d be significant problems with function.

That’s basically what we do as humans, every day, when we sit around and compare ourselves to other people. We all have different roles to play in this world, in this life. Some of us will have profound and public roles. Some of us will be the tiny little whisper of an idea way behind the scenes. That’s just the way it is. We all contribute in our own way. I know this. It makes total sense to me. I believe I am a quiet, behind-the-scenes person. I believe that my role is to raise a happy child, to be part of this little family of mine, to share my life with Tom, and to care for all the animals I have had the profound privilege of sharing my life with. My job is to make this little 1/5th of an acre we live on a peaceful, calm, and safe place for all who reside inside it.

So why do I still sit around and freak out on myself because I’m not producing the kind of art I love to look at? Or because I’m not really interested in home decor or cooking? Or worrying about myself because I have no interest in going to happy hour or parties?

I have given myself the “okay” on all these things a zillion times, I have even proven to myself that stuff like cooking and parties are not really things that add at all to my happiness level (they actually make me crazy), but some little part of me says “well, *they’re* all doing it and making a lifestyle out of it, so maybe you’re really wrong about this.”

The worst thing is agonizing over my art. I’m *so* sick of not letting myself make art because there’s not a good enough reason. I know that just being creative itself is a good enough reason, not to mention I enjoy it and it makes me so much less stressed and I love all the aspects of it and I lose myself in it and feel a lot of joy during the process…

BUT I can’t just let myself sit down and make art for any of those reasons, it has to be for a specific ACHIEVEMENT. An achievement that someone else has ultimately defined as “suitable.” I’m allowed to make art for a class. I give myself permission (sometimes) to make art as part of a larger series (but one that results in a completed project- something to show for all the time and effort.) I will sometimes feel okay about using my art supplies for investigative purposes (for instance, to compare one color to another). And I also allow myself to make art for the purpose of learning how a certain material works.

But making art just because I like it? Not allowed. Nope. Gotta be a good reason, and the reason can’t be just because it feels good. But I have no problem with other people making art because it makes them happy. In fact, I think that’s the most beautiful and noble and valid reason to do something (as long as it’s not hurting anyone). And I want Grace to understand that. Yet I can’t let myself do it.

What the heck? Seriously.

Clearly, I have some work to do in this area. And you know what? I want to figure this out once and for all. I may not be able to change my ingrained resistance to making art simply for me, but I know for a fact I can work on changing my habits surrounding it. And I’m going to try really hard to do this. So when the resistance comes up every single day, and all the doubts arise and try to prevent me from sitting down and pulling out my paints, I’ll have a solid way of saying “sorry, we’re not discussing this” to the guilt police in my head and then I can go make some art.

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… just, no.

22 Jun 2017

We watched The Lego Batman Movie last night.

This part had me rolling on the floor- this is pretty much what goes on inside my head whenever I don’t want to do anything.

Or when I have to do anything that involves a lot of interaction with people.

Or when I have to sit in waiting rooms at doctor’s offices.

Or when it’s time to get up in the morning and I’ve slept less than five hours.

Or when it’s time to put away laundry.

Or when I have to leave the house before I swim.

Or when I have to wait in the car while someone runs into the grocery store.

Or when I have to call and schedule and appointment for anything.


(You get the picture…)

There’s also this brilliance from Billy on the Street:


(I wrote this entry about kindness and compassion and it disappeared when I tried to preview it, so I felt this was an apt replacement. Hope you are having a good week.)

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Hi there.

How are you?

It’s been a busy few months.

(Okay, I wasn’t going to do a “around here” kind of update, but it’s going to turn into one, so I might as well give in and let it happen.)

Gracie stuff. 

The big news is that Grace “graduated” fifth grade – she moves into the middle school program at her school in August. We had the typical May-early June crush of school stuff. Now we’re transitioning into summer- she’s got a few weeks of art camp lined up plus three weeks of sailing camp. Right now we’re just enjoying having her around during the day, and enjoying the fact that there’s no early bedtimes.

As for Grace, she’s enjoying being able to sleep in every day (Grace is one of those kids who would sleep until 2pm if we let her- she’s always been that way) but she is not enjoying being away from her friends every day. Thank goodness for technology. Now we just have to figure out the time limits.

Summer stuff.

I cannot believe it’s already the middle of June. What?! This year is flying by.

If you have been reading this blog/journal for a while and/or if you know me at all, you know that summer is *not* my favorite season, weather-wise. We live on a little island off the Southwest coast of Florida – so summers are brutally hot, humid, and very stormy. I like to spend time outside, so I get cranky when the weather prevents me from doing that. And I also get in a funk when there’s not much sunshine.

So far, the weather has been more stormy than usual thanks to some storm front that developed in the Gulf of Mexico in late May.

I live in Southwest Florida- the red circle on the map.

The red circle on the map is where we live. Way down South.

What’s new this year is a tremendous mosquito infestation. Because we’re a tourist destination, pest control is sort of crazy down here (people like paradise, but they don’t like the bugs and rodents that come with it.) And they’ve done such a *good* job at pest control that they managed to kill off all the things that eat mosquitos, as well.

So the only thing left for them to do is large-scale aerial spraying of pesticide. So every few nights we hear the low-flying plane lapping back and forth over the island, spraying chemicals.  :/ (I have loads to say about this, but I won’t. You can fill in the blanks.)

The plus side to the bad weather and mosquitos is that the island emptied out a few weeks ago- all the snowbirds and tourists disappeared in late May. Despite the weather and bugs and chemicals, I think I actually enjoy summer more than I do spring, which is a little blasphemous because in early spring, the weather is beautiful. But in spring the island is packed with people and it feels like the island is one giant swarm of activity and frenetic energy. It’s always a relief when we (the handful of people who live here year-round) get the island “back” at the end of season. I read somewhere there’s an 80% population drop during summer, which seems accurate. I know summer tourism is way down this year because of the mosquito issue.

Right now, it’s like the island is an entirely different place than it was just six weeks ago. I love love love love how quiet it is right now. It’s like the island is asleep- it’s very peaceful and chilled out. Very few cars on the road or people around and half the houses around us are boarded up for summer.

When I meditate outside every afternoon I can literally hear across the entire island. It’s almost as if I’m hearing the island, itself. I can hear the palm trees rustling in the breeze, the water lapping in the bay (on some days I can hear the Gulf of Mexico from our backyard), and listen to the birds calling to each other from all over the island. It’s really lovely to sit out there and shut my eyes and just spend some time *listening* to everything around me, even if it’s just for ten minutes or so.


School (and meditation) stuff.

Speaking of meditation… yes, I’m still doing it. I’m up to about 40 minutes a day now.

About eight weeks ago I started my online studies at Sravasti Abbey and the program is WONDERFUL. It’s exactly what I needed, in terms of both learning about Buddhism and putting it all into practice. There’s a significant amount of reading and online teachings to complete each week, as well as a good deal of writing and reflection due every week. There’s a class facilitator who reads over our stuff and gives us feedback and answers any questions we have on the material or meditation.

I’m really glad I chose the program at Sravasti. Back in January I was positive that I was going to be studying Buddhism academically, but the more I learned about it, the more I realized I wanted to do more than just memorize the history. Sravasti’s program is as much about practice as it is about information.

I’ve been working a lot on two particular issues in my own life: attachment and expectation. I’ve always known about the problems both of those issues can cause (attachment causes us to kind of dig in to the past, as well as try and plan for the future, and expectation is basically us setting ourselves up for disappointment. I mean, what goes exactly according to plan in life? Not a single thing) but the stuff we’re doing in the class made me realize what a HUGE influence both attachment and expectation have had on my life.  Just becoming more aware of both those things has created tremendous changes for me.

The other big “wow” life-changer has been meditation. The meditation that Sravasti teaches is slightly different than the meditation I was familiar with- it’s not just about sitting quietly and trying to keep your mind still, it’s also about contemplation. There’s still quite a bit of “observing” your thoughts, but you’re allowed to engage with your mind and not just have to sit there and try and get yourself to stop thinking.

It’s funny, because I wrote all those posts a few months ago about my meditation experiences and now I look at them all and realize that what was happening was me basically fighting my mind as hard as possible. I can see it now, but back then I felt like I was making progress. It took weeks before I wore myself out an decided to just let my mind go crazy while I was meditating. And that’s when I finally relaxed enough to let meditation actually happen.

But there’s no way around that-  if you have a busy mind, those first few months of meditation will be rough. You just have to keep coming back and then one day you get tired of fighting and let the thoughts flow and *then* you start meditating.

The thing is that meditation is basically a lot of trying- trying to distract yourself from your thoughts with your breath or a sound (or whatever works for you). You can’t completely disconnect yourself from your thoughts or turn them off.  So you just try and direct your attention to something else. When your mind pops up with something (which it always will, over and over) you acknowledge it, and then go back to trying to focus on the breath/sound.

Oddly enough, it’s all that trying that changes the way your brain works. Every time you pick up on the fact that you are thinking, you are training yourself to create a tiny little pause between thinking something and acting on it. You are training yourself to get better at recognizing thoughts and impulses as they come up. If you can catch them before they evolve into a feeling or action, you can evaluate them and decide whether they are worth acting on before anything happens.

Evolution-wise, humans are designed to take EVERYTHING personally, and evaluate everything as a threat, and if necessary, take action. So the world becomes scary and you’re constantly on patrol for bad things. If you’re someone like me, who has a lot of anxiety, this is exhausting. The little pause from meditation is literally just microsecond after something happens that you can pull your mind back from assuming the worst and see things for what they really are. So in a way, that pause gives you back your life because your assumptions aren’t running the show.

And all the good benefits people attribute to meditation? Happiness, well-being, relaxation, better relationships with people, less reactivity? They come down to that tiny pause. I wish I could explain it better, but I can’t.

Honestly, while you are doing it, meditation can feels like a total waste of time, but when you see the effect it has when you’re not meditating, it becomes a priority.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I’m suddenly Miss Merry Sunshine. I’m still easily irritated and exhausted and often distracted and I still have issues with self-doubt, etc. I’m still waking up every day wanting 10 more hours of sleep. Politics still make me crazy (although not nearly as much- I’m working hard on trying to cultivate compassion.) But I feel like I’m finally getting a foothold on the psychology mountain of Chel, and I’m starting the climb. It’s kind of a big deal when you realize you have a little more control over your life than you previously believed. At least it is for me.


ANYWAY, my class at Sravasti is actually why I am writing again. As of this week, part of our regular daily practice is to take a little quiet time every day (in addition to meditation) to reflect and review and work things out, if necessary. Just a way to clear our mind and get ready for the next day.

One of my classmates mentioned that she was going to do this in her journal, and I was, like, “oh, what a good idea!” because I thought that the ritual of sitting down and writing a little bit every night after dinner would be a great opportunity for mindfulness and contemplative practice, and also a good way to end the day.

Then I thought about finding a place to do it online, and I realized – DUH- I already have an online journal.

The thing is, I likely will not be posting everything I write. I no longer feel the need to share as much as I used to. I truly think it’s because of the expectation thing- as I work on it, it’s getting easier for me to just do things without attaching an expectation to how they will be received or how they will turn out. I’m not fully there yet, but it’s coming along. I guess that will be one of the things I talk about. Who knows, It’s likely going to be random, which kind of makes me happy, because this agonizing and editing entries over a span of days is not my idea of a great time. I’d rather just write something and push “post” and leave it be, as unedited and random as it may be.

*shrugs* Oh, well, whatever. I’ve been writing in this thing for TWENTY YEARS (!!!!!! I started in 1997, my first year of grad school. Holy crap!) and I’m still here, even though it’s fairly irregular. But still. I reserve the right to take breaks as often as necessary to attend to life. And to be a random writer and crummy editor.


Anyway, now I am going to end this abruptly and go to bed.

Hope you are happy, safe, and well.



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my own "fandex" (paint swatch book) of acrylic paint

my own “fandex” (paint swatch book) of acrylic paint

I spent a good part of this week making my own “fandex” (swatch book) of all my heavy body acrylic paints. I took some blank ATC cards, punched some holes in the corners, and painted a few stripes on them for each paint I have. I just painted the top stripe as color straight out of the tube, and diluted it with a bit of white for three more levels of color.

I used a giant binder/book ring to hold it all together.

I have to say, it was a tedious project, but it’s already been **incredibly** useful. I discovered so much about pigments while I was doing it. I a was also able to get rid of half my paints since they were either duplicates or student-quality from college, so Grace happily added those to her collection of paints. Win win.

(and of course, now I want all the colors I don’t yet have.)

Sometime in the future I’ll do my fluid acrylics, but for now I’m pretty good with making swatches 😉


my own "fandex" (paint swatch book) of acrylic paint

my own “fandex” (paint swatch book) of acrylic paint

In case you are interested in my thoughts on acrylic paint:

I’ve tried a lot of paints in the last 20+ years, and I resisted artist-quality for a long time because of the price. If I could get a giant tube student grade paint at the craft store for a couple of bucks, why would I pay $6-13 for a smaller tube of the same color just because it said “artist grade” on it?

The truth is, the paint quality makes a HUGE difference. Seriously.

If you are interested in painting more than just a few pieces or noodling in an art journal, go ahead and splurge on the best you can afford. The student paints (most of them which the exception of Amsterdam and sometimes Blick) are basically tinted acrylic gels, and the artist grade paints are actually genuine pigments mixed with a higher quality acrylic binder, so the artist grade are rich and creamy and SO vivid. Just dreamy. The student grade paints are like painting with thick hair gel with a little color mixed in- they are kind of slippery and thin. The artist grade color dries brighter, the paint coats in one pass with a fairly minimal amount of paint, and it’s just so much easier to work with. You actually get more for the money as far as how far the paint goes with the artist grade. I wish I hadn’t wasted so much money over the years on the cheap brands, but you live and learn.

And yes, the student bodies are okay for early layers of a painting, but because they are translucent and thin, you can’t “work up” to something interesting because the color just gets muddy as it is layered, no matter how opaque the paint is. And for some reason, that weird muddy cast will figure in to everything you paint on top of it, no matter how opaque and high-quality the paints are in your final layers.  I would recommend using decent paints (thinned down with a clear acrylic gel medium or glazing fluid) for the under layers on canvas. I can see dramatic differences in paintings made with student body under layers vs. professional paint under layers, even though those layers are covered in layers and layers of paint. It’s kind of like the princess and the pea- no matter how many soft mattresses they put over that pea, she still felt it.

However, student body paints are *better* for Gelli Printing and for art journaling because they are thinner and dry quickly and don’t “bulk up” with layers. So if you are doing more art journaling and printing and stenciling, get the student body. But if you want to paint on canvas, I would go with artist-grade.

Over the years, I gradually replaced tubes of my student bodies with an artist-grade heavy body. Most of my paints are Golden Heavy Body and M. Graham. I also have a few Old Holland, Sennelier Extra-Fine, Mameri, and Liquitex Heavy Body mixed in, for variation in color.

I have to give a HUGE recommendation for the Amsterdam line of paints (both their standard level student paints and their Expert line) because I didn’t get rid of barely ANY of those student-grade tubes. Their paints are rich, thick, and really high quality at an insanely affordable cost. And their color range is amazing. If you got a set of Amsterdams to start with, it will serve you well. I will continue to buy them if they introduced more colors.

And I kept a lot of Daler Rowney tubes, as well- both student and professional grade. Chroma A-Z is another good lower-cost range, but their higher-level line actually separated on me, which was interesting. I had to toss all those tubes out.

I don’t know if this is helpful or not, but thought I would share in case anyone out there is interested in acrylics and wanted to know whether it was worth it to get a few tubes of the good stuff or just get an entire set of the student range paints. I would go for the good stuff, and build your collection as you can. You’ll save a lot of time and frustration.

Have a great weekend. <3

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011- watercolor on paper - march 2017

011 – watercolor on paper – march 2017


002 - watercolor on paper - march 2017

002 – watercolor on paper – march 2017

“We can’t enchant the world, which makes its own magic; but we can enchant ourselves by paying deep attention.”
— Diane Ackerman

“This is not the sound of a new man
or of crispy realization.
It’s the sound of the unlocking
and the lift away…”
– Bon Iver

“You get your confidence and intuition back by trusting yourself, by being militantly on your own side.”
– Anne Lamott


Two more very simple watercolor sketches. Thanks for sticking with me 🙂

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soul of a rose - 1908 - john waterhouse

“The Soul of a Rose” – John Waterhouse – 1908

I have been thinking a lot about gratitude these past few days. If you’ve been reading this journal for a while, you probably remember I did a year-long series on gratitude in which I did weekly lists and lots and lots of posts related to the topic of gratitude. It was my effort to try and “clean up” my relationship with the concept of gratitude, because gratitude is one of the key factors of well-being but something I struggled with. I figured that if I started tuning in more to gratitude, and really FOCUSING on locking those moments in, I could change not only my relationship with the idea of gratitude, but also my level of happiness.

It worked, but it didn’t work.

And now the gratitude thing is coming up in teachings related to mindfulness and neuroscience and I find myself kind of banging up against it once again.

The other day I finished meditating and I was sort of floating around in the pool and watching the butterflies and and appreciating the warm water and the sunlight and I was really in a relaxed state of contentment and I found myself thinking “I should really be more grateful for all this.” Then I found myself cataloging all the things around me that could be considered good things, whether or not they pinged my radar, and trying to really force myself to focus on them and find some sort of feeling about them. I realized that trying so hard to cultivate gratitude was actually making me quite unhappy.  I also realized that I’ve been doing that for the last decade or so, since gratitude hit my radar- trying *really* hard to cultivate gratitude.

I am CONSTANTLY in awe of things, and very often I find myself in a state of gentle appreciation. I savor things. I am aware of things. I notice and embrace things. Even when things suck, I’m still, like, “oh, look at that butterfly!!” Every day when I make my cup of tea, that first sip is just blissful. I feel a sense of deep relief when I sink into bed at night. I am deeply appreciative of my family and my little art studio and my amazing pets. What I am describing can be considered states of gratitude. But for me, those feelings and reactions that I describe differ from gratitude because the “gratitude” thing is too steeped in something else entirely- a deep obligation. Meaning: if you don’t feel it, there’s something broken, something wrong with you.

I’ll be honest- I have never felt truly comfortable with the word “gratitude”.  I think it’s because when I was younger, the admonishment of “You should be grateful!!” was tossed around constantly by all the adults I came into contact with. I think it’s a cultural thing- I grew up in a second generation Italian-American family in New York in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Life advice was issued often and bluntly, and there was too much going on for anyone to sit and complain about anything, whether it was huge or small. If there was food on the table and a house to live in and a general sense of safety, that was more than enough. You just soldiered on and that was that.

But now that I’m a mom, I realize that telling someone, especially a kid, to be grateful for something is like telling someone a joke and ordering that person to genuinely laugh even if they don’t find any humor in it. The gratitude is either there or it isn’t. You can’t force someone to feel something they don’t. I understand sometimes a change in perspective can open a person’s eyes, but forcing gratitude for specific things just doesn’t work, and it sort of breeds contempt for the idea of gratitude. And I also understand that, like humor, gratitude arises more often for some people than others, and more naturally for some people than others.

For example, Grace needs to get weekly injections for her allergies and asthma. She goes to school, puts in a full day, then does sports, then is picked up and driven the 40 minutes to the doctor, sits in the crowded waiting room and waits for her turn, gets the shot (which can be painful, depending on the dose), sits there for another half hour so the doctor can make sure that she doesn’t have a reaction to the shot, gets back in the car, does the 40 minute drive home, and then has to tackle her homework and chores and everything else.

You know what? It sucks. It really does. For a lot of kids, getting a shot – any shot- is a nightmare. She has to do it every freakin’ week, and she’s done it since she was itty bitty.

I would never in a million years tell her to be grateful for any part of that process. It’s great that there is advanced allergy treatment available and it’s great that it allows her to do much more and live so much more comfortably, but there’s a big difference in asking her to understand why it’s necessary vs. telling her to be grateful for it. I openly acknowledge to her how much it sucks, and I allow her to acknowledge it and honor that. She never whines, rarely complains, but no one around here in under any sort of misconception that any part of the process is pleasant or something she has to view any differently than she does. She goes without complaining, and that, to me, is stellar. A+.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that I have more of an issue with the way the word “gratitude” has been used. It can be used very negatively, very critically, very hand-slappy. Or that gratitude is a shift in perspective on a particular thing that changes the way you see that thing forever and ever.

That’s not for me. To me, that “permanent” approach to gratitude is basically a form of attachment, which is something that can really negatively affect well-being. As much as I have spent my whole life resistant to change and desperate to find a way to circumvent it in any way possible (my goal was to find a good, stable way to live life and then SUPER GLUE it in place so that it wouldn’t go awry), in the last ten years I have come to appreciate change- especially the way I have changed. And will continue to change. And that includes my opinions of things, my perspective on life. For instance, I can feel a lot of gratitude for something when I’m 20 and then now at 42 it doesn’t resonate. A better example is the fact that there are a myriad of things that I’m grateful for now at 42 that didn’t even ping my radar when I was 20.

In neuroscience, there have been studies showing that there’s no FIXED self. Which is also the Buddhist philosophy. There’s no part of us that stays permanent and unchanging over time. We are basically giant organic oraganisms, and our brains are basically big vats of chemicals and firing neurons and connections that are changing *constantly*,  so we, too, change drastically over our lives. And in doing so, our perspectives and ideas and opinions and goals and priorities shift along with our brains. Some parts of us change rapidly, some parts of us slowly evolve, all based on the part of our brain that is running that part of our show. Human beings are like advanced ecosystems onto themselves. Some parts change moment to moment, and some other parts have a slow evolution over 80+ years.

For years and years and years I was hung up on the idea of being a curator. It was my childhood dream, I went to college and studied Art History, but then I kind of found out that I couldn’t have that career and take care of my health. Curators are constantly on their feet, and that’s not an option for me. And I could blow off the advice of doctors and do it anyway, but it would only be a matter of time before my health would push its way back to the front of the line.

After college, I sat around and regretted not becoming a curator, even though I did everything I was supposed to do and it just wasn’t possible. And then I held on to the dream some more. Even though I sort of became more interested in MAKING art and studying other things, I was always, like, “well, I should be a curator and I blew the chance. And if I were a curator I would be happier because I would have fulfilled my dram.”

Then I realized: it’s okay to NOT be the person who had that dream. It’s okay that the particular “dream” is no longer for me. I changed. I grew. I evolved. The truth is that if I had a chance to do college over again, the truth is I would choose art school over museum studies. I love all those things, but I am *passionate* about painting. When I was 18, i was *passionate* about working in a museum. Things have changed- not much (art is still my obsession, and I still adore museums and want to pretty much move into one), but there’s a subtle difference. My focus has changed. And I realize that in order to keep evolving and experiencing and living a full life, it means I need to honor those little subtle changes in focus and be open to them.

And that goes for “gratitude” as well. I’m kind of letting go of the idea of a fixed, deep sense gratitude and trying to remind myself over and over and over to focus on appreciating. On noticing. My style of gratitude is whatever lifts my spirits and makes me happy, even if just a moment. It doesn’t need to be something deep, or heavy, or life-changing. It doesn’t need to lock in. It isn’t about *grasping*. I don’t need to remember and record anything that pings a little bit of joy in me. I can just let it be what it is and then let it pass and know I experienced it.


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001 - watercolor on paper - march, 2017

001 – watercolor on paper – march, 2017

“There is a voice that doesn’t use words.
– Rumi

I know the 100 Day Project is going on now, but I’m not officially joining in. But I’m still inspired by all the creativity and momentum, so I thought this year what I would do would be to make a concerted effort to post more of my art on a regular basis, both on here and Instagram.

Like I said in another post, I create almost every day, but RARELY post any of it. For some reason writing and art journaling isn’t as big of a deal as sharing the work I do with paint, even if it’s just playing around (like the one above). So maybe now that everyone is else is posting away, it won’t seem quite as scary. Maybe if I start doing it often enough, it will become a habit.

One of the most amazing beautiful things about not being a “professional” artist is that I have no designated styles or deadlines, so I can mess around with whatever. For a long time I agonized over “my style” and how to find it and define it and make my mark, etc. blah blah blah, but now I’m more focused on turning on some music (lately it’s been Polica, Liz Phair, Tegan & Sara, and Sigur Ros), getting out my paints, and seeing what happens.

I think what I really want to do is post some art with a quote or some lyrics or something. We’ll see.


The story behind the watercolor above:
I have a huge stash of Strathmore watercolor postcards I purchased several years ago for a project and didn’t use all of them, and I often want to play with watercolor but feel really weird about “wasting” good watercolor paper (which I know, is ridiculous…) so I sort of realized “the cards have already been paid for, and they are sitting there- use them!”

So I have a stack of them by my desk, and pull one out whenever I want to paint a little wash or mix some colors or try out new paints, etc. And whenever I don’t have much time to create, or much energy, I just pull one out with my watercolors and smush some color around and call it a day.

This was the first one that I did a few weeks ago- just trying out some new colors from the Daniel Smith 2017 colors release.

[NOTE: Sometimes people ask me for details about the art I make and the truth is I just don’t have the “right” answers to those questions. Half the time I post art weeks or months after I finish it, when it’s not so precious and “fresh” to me, so I honestly don’t remember anything about the process besides the basics. I’m sorry about that.
There is this thing in the art world where it’s frowned on if you don’t openly share your techniques or specific supplies. But since I’m not a teacher or professional or an instructor, I literally grab my supplies and see what happens. The magic for me is the freedom of being able to try anything and everything and not knowing what might happen. That little “what if?” is where my desire to create stems from, and I want to embrace it. So I’m not being cagey, I just don’t really remember the specifics. I pick up my brush and my paint and put it on paper or canvas and see what happens. And then when I’m done making a mess, I put it all away and come back again tomorrow and try again.]


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"Peter Pan" screenshot

“Peter Pan” screenshot

“Think of all the joy you’ll find
When you leave the world behind
And bid your cares goodbye
You can fly, you can fly, you can fly!”
– Peter Pan

“I’ve been thinking ’bout catching a train,
Leave my phone machine by the radar range,
‘Hello it’s me, I’m not at home,
If you’d like to reach me, leave me alone…’ 
– Sheryl Crow

So, since my last post on mindfulness/meditation I have been thinking a LOT about intention.

Intention is basically your inner, true, bottom-line reason for doing everything. There is sort of “immediate” intention (your reasons for doing specific individual actions) and that changes depending on the action, but there is also sort of an over-riding, underlying intention that arises from your own personal experiences and wants and fears, etc. that doesn’t give a crap about what you think you want or what you think your intention should be.

The issue with this “bottom-line” intention is that even if you disregard it, or don’t both to identify it, it still drives your brain. It’s hard neuroscience- it’s called confirmation bias. Meaning, once you get a indication of something that might be true, your brain automatically preps your nervous system to be on the lookout for things that confirm that it’s true.

For example, they did a test with people who believe that they have some form of luck- good OR bad. They gave them these specially printed newspapers with five “you have won!” messages hidden in them. The people who believed they had good luck found the messages very quickly, EVERY time. However, the people who believed they didn’t have any luck rarely found the messages. The brain was running the show.

So no matter what you say your intention is,  your beliefs about life and the things you want from it run your brain, and your brain runs your behavior, so you’re sort of doomed to follow that intention whether it’s good or bad. It’s like a script that you wrote for yourself without even knowing it. And  bad-da-da-dahhhhh (my attempt at spelling what a drumroll might sound like) – meditation and mindfulness are one of the few things you can do to change the script. Because you are paying attention to how your brain is working and also training your brain to operate differently.

And the reason meditation and being regularly mindful is so freakin’ hard is because you are taking years and years of conditioning and habits and these thoroughly deep tendencies and basically forcing all those behaviors to STOP and rewire themselves.


Anyway, some people know their deep intention. For me, I couldn’t figure it out.

In addition to my Buddhist Studies program, I’ve also been taking the Awakening Joy course  once again (this is my eighth time, I think- it’s really a game-changer) and the first thing in that class is determining your intention. And every time I take the class, I get stuck on that.

I mean, generally, we all want to be happier. I think that drives a lot of is. So, in the past I have declared that my intention is joy or well-being. Pretty boilerplate stuff. It never sticks, though, because it’s not genuine. Don’t get me wrong- I really wanted it to be genuine. I just couldn’t figure out what the hell my genuine, deep-down intention was.

Honestly, I knew anxiety was part of what drives me, because for a long time anxiety has been part of my reaction to almost everything. But I’ve also been in a lot of situations where I couldn’t listen to anxiety and I’ve powered through, so there was that aspect of it, as well.

Last year I tried to really puzzle it out and I came across a prompt somewhere online that recommended thinking about the last time I felt “childlike wonder” and look deeper into that for a clue on intention.

For some reason I thought of the song “You Can Fly” from the Disney film “Peter Pan”. I’m not a big fan of Peter Pan or anything (I don’t even think I have ever seen the film, to be honest), but at Walt Disney World there’s a thing called “Philharmagic” which is a 4D attraction with a bunch of famous Disney songs in it, and every.single.time. they do the little tiny Peter Pan bit with them flying near Big Ben, and play a few lines of the song, I get goosebumps and melt a little bit. I’m not really a big joyful person, so to feel a sense of complete joy and awe at that tiny bit of animation and that snippet of vintage song… it’s so weird and random. Something about it hits me in some place I don’t normally have access to.

So, based on that experience, I picked “delight” as my intention for last year, because I felt like it delighted me. I even printed out a couple of copies of the image to put in my journal and on the wall behind my desk to remind me of the intention for delight. It was a nice word, and I still have the image up, but it’s definitely not my intention. (I will say that I *do* consider delighting in things – especially nature – up there on my list of “excellent experiences that make life worth living.”)

The sort of weird thing is that until I was writing this entry, I never realized that the lyrics of the song (“Think of all the joy you’ll find, when you leave the world behind…”) pointed DIRECTLY to my actual intention, I just didn’t pick up on it until now.

So, what exactly *is* my true intention? The thing that runs the show for me? The thing that pops up in all the choices I make and behaviors I exhibit etc. ad nauseum?


My intention is my desire for autonomy. Definition: freedom from external control or influence; independence.

In other words, I kinda wanna be left alone. I don’t mean alone alone. Just… I want to fly under the radar. I don’t want to attract any attention. I want to live my life autonomously without fuss. I don’t want to be picked apart or examined. I want to engage with other people – don’t get me wrong- but in a personal, genuine way. I’m not interested in being part of the Larger Conversation.

This intention most likely stems from my experiences as a child being poked and prodded by a myriad of doctors, answering questions, being brave, living with the unknown of having the health problems I did. Blah blah blah. I knew the doctors were ultimately there to help, but usually the poking and prodding would result in a surgery or a treatment that was pretty traumatic. Luckily, I had parents who took their job as my caregivers *very* seriously and so I know I could have had it a lot worse. Almost every one of my health situations was often misdiagnosed at first, and my world would be ALL suffering if not for second or third opinions. But, the flip side of that is a LOT of doctors and examinations and procedures and evaluations.

The problem is, when you are a kid in that situation, you can never ever say “LEAVE ME ALONE” to a doctor or nurse or adult or whatever because you know that they are ultimately trying to help you. Not even when they hurt you. I had my share of scared crying fits as a kid, but ultimately whatever it was that I was crying about had to go on, so as I got older I realized it was pretty useless.

God, there have been SO many times I have wanted to say “LEAVE ME ALONE”  and couldn’t.

And at that time, doctors didn’t coddle. For example, if you needed a cast removed, they came at you with that giant electric saw -the same kind your dad had in the garage for cutting wood or metal- and didn’t explain that it was designed NOT to cut your leg and skin off along with it. You’d think they would explain that to a tiny kid, but they didn’t, and it TERRIFIED me. And then the doctors got frustrated at me for pulling back my leg in fear and freaking out. Little things like that happen often enough, and then they begin to add up.

I finally did say “enough”, actually. After the foot reconstruction I had in college (the one in which they took my hip bone out and build a new foot with it), I was getting prepared to finally be discharged from the hospital and go home, but they had to remove the central IV line from my chest. I’d had the thing for about six months, but it was supposed to just slide out. Regardless, they were supposed to come early in the day in do it in case there were complications since I had a flight home to New York from Atlanta first thing the next morning.

The on-call doctor sashayed in after 6pm with an all-male gaggle of medical students. I was an 18 year old who had gone through about eight months of pretty significant health stuff, starting with a bone infection that precipitated all of this, so by this time I felt like a GIANT walking pincushion.

And of course, the line did not slide out- my body decided to just integrate it into the tissue of my chest and grew around it.

Anyway, the doctor, went ahead and cut my chest open without sedation, in an effort to try and dig the line out from under my breasts without having to scrub in for surgery. He decided to just go ahead and open me up right in my hospital room right in front of all those med students. I thought I was going to just go along with it as usual, even though I knew it was way wrong (he should have brought me in for surgery, or at least into a procedure room) but when I felt the scalpel hit my skin, something in me snapped. There was absolutely pain, but what I really felt was pure rage. I was just SO angry. And he kept digging at the line, in my chest. Cutting at my skin, tugging on the tube.

All the sudden, I heard a very loud scream. Not pain screaming, but “get the f*ck away from me” kind of screaming. And it was coming from *me*.  It shocked everyone, including me. I’m NOT a screamer, and I knew the last thing you want to do when someone has a sharp medical instrument near your body is make a sudden loud noise. But it was like the Big Girl Chel finally came out and took over the show.

My orthopedic doctor heard me from another floor and came down to rescue me, throwing the other doctor out of the room, and swept me back into surgery to have the IV line properly removed and my chest sutured up. Very simple, in and out, and I was awake for most of it and it was so much better than the hospital-room pseudo surgery.  I went home the next morning, as planned, with two extra sets of stitches to heal.

But I also went home with a new knowledge- I could, and SHOULD, say “no”.  To doctors, to “adults”, to whomever. If it wasn’t right, then I was allowed to protest it.

That was pretty profound, and that little seed of “ENOUGH” had taken root and has been growing steadily ever since.

It’s funny, because a lot of positive psychology emphasizes the whole “Yes!” approach to life. Being open to the world and embracing new adventures and venturing forth and being welcoming, etc. But for some of us, learning how to say “no” is where true happiness lies. Peace comes in figuring out our boundaries and honoring them, no matter what other people think. And a lot of people don’t understand it, because the word “no” seems generally constrictive. But it’s not. Learning how to say “no” has freed me. The space in which “no” exists is peaceful and not-chaotic and still contains all the wonder and contentment (and cats) of the “yes” world.

There’s a Sheryl Crow lyric I have loved since the minute I heard it in college. I mean, it *really* resonated with me.

“I’ve been thinking ’bout catching a train,
Leave my phone machine by the radar range,
Hello it’s me, I’m not at home,
If you’d like to reach me, leave me alone.’

I know it plays off as her sort of saying “buzz off” but what I always took it to mean was that she was saying “if you truly want to reach me deep inside and actually make an impression,  you’ll give me room to be myself.” (and you won’t require tremendous phone interaction, because all introverts hate that with a passion.) Or like a shy cat- you can’t chase it around because you will scare the crap out of it. But if you sit and blink your eyes at it, eventually it will become your best friend.

So, I actually embrace this intention, as unpleasant as it may seem, because it’s authentic and I truly understand it. It makes so much sense to me and I can *feel* it deep down. And I can see how my behaviors and choices ultimately come from a place of “what would be the least fuss?”

My thing is this: because I allow myself to say “no” so often, if I do say “yes” to something, it means I love it. I embrace it. It’s the Real Deal for me.

Art. Cats. Family. Friends. Certain books. Music. Swimming. Gardening. Science Fiction movies that aren’t cheesy. Buddhism. The color blue. Being a vegetarian. Whatever. If there’s a “yes” inside me for those things, then I know it’s something worth investing my time in. If you are part of my “yes”, then never ever wonder if I actually like you or am invested in you, because I am.

I don’t know what it means as far as my personal and spiritual path, but I do think coming clean on the fact that I feel this way isn’t a bad thing. There’s something about being my age (42) and understanding myself and how I tick that creates an ease of being for myself, and in a lot of ways being so comfortable with my quirks and shyness makes it easier to be open to different ideas and teachings and see more clearly how I can apply them to life and actually make a difference.

“When you put yourself out there in a way in which you aren’t really functional, then that is not going to most benefit the universe.” – Adam Yauch (MCA from the Beastie Boys, who was a Tibetan Buddhist.)

I think this “lay low” is the reason why I have always had such a hard time posting my art online. Someone I know encouraged me to give Instagram another try this week, since it has a good reputation for being a positive place for artists without the political thing that has taken over most social media at the moment, and which I am avoiding like the plague.

I tried posting a snapshot of my studio to my Instagram and it was *so* hard.  Posting my art has always made me cringe, no matter where it is. (My cats? YES. my art? not so much.) I only post about 1% of the art I make, if that. I just don’t want to draw attention, in a way. That’s why I know I could probably never be a successful commercial artist because those folks *hustle*. They work for it. They work their asses off on social media.They are willing to put on their big girl (and boy) pants and put themselves out there. I never understood why I had such a reluctance to post my art, but now I do. It’s because my instinct is to lay low, not go in the opposite direction.

So I have an issue with posting my paintings or sketches or watercolor experiments, yet here I am, writing these LONG-WINDED posts about all the junk going on in my mind. [And losing readers. I’m *fairly* at peace with that because I kind of feel like I’m getting more out of this experience by being genuine and using this as a place to truly express what’s going on in my head at the moment. I’ve used this place as everything from an art blog to an adoption log and a whole bunch of stuff in between so it’s like me- it evolves. I’m trying to honor that.]

It think it’s because my art comes from a completely different place than these thoughts do. The art is kind of a vulnerable, extremely private thing. It comes from a different part of me. And lately I have been creating with the emphasis ON the process of creating and not finished project, so my work sort of reflects that gesture rather than a very definitive end-point. It’s about the flow and the experiments and the mess rather than a finished product.

Yet another LONG and winding entry. Why am I writing these? To answer my own question- because I will be curious. I wish I had written more about mindfulness and meditation when I first found out about it- if I had written more, maybe I could look back and see any progress I made instead of sitting here and wondering if I’m just treading water.

I hope you are having a wonderful week.

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"Rooms By the Sea" - Edward Hopper - 1951

“Rooms By the Sea” – Edward Hopper – 1951

Again, I hesitate to post this. It’s funny… from my years of posting on Facebook I’ve gotten so into the habit of sanitizing and editing everything I write that it’s *really* really really weird to just sit and write something – all of something- and hit “post”. It feels like I’m almost *imposing* on people in some way by writing these mammoth posts and expecting anyone will read them.

I was thinking “why do I bother? Does it matter if I actually post these entries or is it good enough to just write them so I can get the stuff out of my head and know it’s there if I want to go back to it later?” But on the other hand, I am actually so grateful to have this space back. I forgot how good it feels to have a space to work stuff out, to take note of things that I’ve got rattling around in my brain so that I can clear that space out. There is something about hitting “post” that feels good.

A few days age I wrote about how I hit a difficult patch in meditation, where I was getting jumbled whenever I tried to clear my mind and get back into the present.

The day after I wrote about hitting a hard patch, I went back to basics with meditation.  What I mean by that is I kind of reset my practice and did a bit of research.

The first thing I realized is that I have been meditating for a much longer time than I give myself credit for. For years and years (and years… 25 of them to be exact) I have had at least an hour of every single day where I did nothing but observe my mind.


Swimming was pretty much the first and only thing I was allowed to do that was active and sporty. Kids with Spina Bifida in *my* day were encouraged to just “take it easy”. “Stay off those feet”. “Don’t hurt your back”. Etc. We didn’t do gym at school. We were never in organized sports (there were no participation trophies back then- the only kids who played were the kids who were picked for the team. As a kid who grew up before the era of participation trophies, I actually think they are a good idea). We stayed in the library instead of going out for recess. I dabbled in tennis and basketball in high school (fencing was a favorite, although without much balance it was mostly me advancing and waving my foil wildly) but I was lousy at all of it, because I had serious medical stuff that affected my reflexes and general balance, etc.

Swimming was medically approved when I was a kid, but not encouraged. If you swim a lot, especially in chlorinated pools, you get skin issues. Dry skin. Irritated skin. Moist skin. I was too young to be aware and responsible for taking care of the issues that swimming might cause. And because I had only a little feeling in my feet, I could easily scrape my toes against the wall of the pool and cut myself and not even know it, which I did a lot when I was around my family’s back yard pool. So a) it’s kind or irresponsible to send your kid into a public pool knowing they could bleed into it, and b) it’s not so great for your kid, either. (Or vice versa).

I did take lots of swimming lessons and stuff when aqua shoes were invented (YAY for aqua shoes! They protect my feet so well! And so many other people wear them!) but since I couldn’t kick very well, there wasn’t much I could do besides swim freestyle up and down the pool. Which, don’t get me wrong, I loved doing, since I was moving quickly, which I can’t really do on land. But I wasn’t fast enough to race the kickers. So I just swam in my family’s pool in the summers and did a lot of nothing from the months of September – May.

In 1992, I got my foot reconstructed *again*, but it was a much more involved process (including rebuilding a foot out of my hip bone) and when I was finally out of the cast the only , I was sent into the pool to learn how to walk again. I did that, but I also started swimming, simply because it felt REALLY GOOD to move around and get my heart beating and be outside in the sunshine. Oh my God, did it feel good to zip back and forth in that pool after months in bed. It was blissful and fun and I discovered I could work out everything in the water.

After 18 years of not being active or athletic, I loved what swimming gave me. I felt free and fast and light. I felt healthy and “normal”. I loved working up to longer and longer distances and time I could spend in the pool. I loved having a passion that involved moving around. I loved the changes in my physical body. Swimming basically gave me my life back- in the pool, I was not Spina Bifida girl, I was myself.

I was old enough to be responsible for my feet and skincare, and also old enough not to give a shit about wearing pool shoes in public places, so I was determined to figure out how to swim no matter where I was, and no matter what season it was. Emory University’s pool had open swim hours, so as soon as I went back to college from my medical leave, I was at the pool at 6:30am every stinkin’ morning to swim.

At this point, I also realized that having a body like mine meant increased responsibility and self-care, and I finally honored that. It was like this big turning point for me- I had this new passion felt so dedicated to it that I chose a radically different lifestyle for myself in which I made self-care a priority and not an afterthought. Swimming was essential to my physical and mental health, and I was determined to honor that. And I have. For 25 years.

That’s why I swim. And that’s why I never skip a day or put it off for anything else. Not for vacations, not for social stuff, not for anything, honestly. (So now you know.)

Okay- all that is well and good, but let’s talk about the reality of swimming laps for hours on end in the same pool every single day:

It’s really boring.

SO so so boring. So boring.

After a few weeks of swimming laps every day in the same pool, and not working on improving speeds or technique (as people do on swim teams), it becomes muscle memory. You get in the water and you go. Nothing to think about or focus on. I guess it’s like walking on a treadmill, just underwater.

And the exhilaration of going into the water, of feeling it hold you up, of gliding through it and splashing around and just being floaty, disappears, too. I totally forget just how lovely it is to be in the water until I’m forced to skip a day (like, for a hurricane or for the flu or for a day trip to Disney or whatever) and then I go back the next day and it feels like MAGIC.

This past summer, when I had my foot surgery, I had to take two weeks off from swimming to allow the incision to hear, and it was agony to be out of the pool for that long. I could literally feel my skeleton just collapsing and my muscles tightening from not being able to stretch out and swim. It was the longest I have been out of the pool since college. The day I got back in the water, the pool felt like liquid bliss. I was only allowed in the water for 20 minutes that first day back, and I felt like a little kid who hasn’t been in a pool for years- it was a daze of pure happiness and sensory heaven. It felt amazing, I felt free. I felt completely cool and refreshed and renewed. That was literally the BEST sensory experience I have had in a long time (let’s face it, 2016 was stressful- I’ll take whatever I can get.) I tried to hold on to that feeling for weeks after but it didn’t last long. I do remember it, though. It reminded me that I *am* still capable of experiencing pure, unbridled joy from time to time.

Anyway, if you swim every single day, you do lose that sense of “ahhh, floating, tumbling, refreshing…” Water just feels like a wet air. You get in, you swim, you get out. You stop going in the pool or the ocean for “fun” because when you get in water, you swim. Even if you just want to relax. You wind up swimming because that’s what you do. Water loses its magic.

When you’re in a dimly lit space, emerged in water, and there’s no sound and nothing to look at but a white tile wall,  and you’re just swimming back and forth and back and forth, the only thing you can really do to distract yourself is to tune into your mind. So I did that for years. My mind became my ultimate form of distraction. I followed it as it jumped from thing to thing, saw the way it literally strung loosely associated things together to form complex ideas. I saw the way reactions came up, the way anger or stress or hope might sort of start as just a seed of a thing and then fully bloom when I fed it a little bit of attention. I started writing these complex fictional stories in my mind day by day, chapter by chapter. I’d go over them in detail, tweak them, and continue working on them for years and years. (Eventually I started putting them down on paper, but it was decades later.)

Of course, I had no idea that what I was doing to similar to meditation. I was spending prolonged periods of time just watching my mind and noticing how it worked.

Eventually someone amazing invented waterproof music players to rescue all of us lap swimmer, and swimming got a lot less boring. Listening to music while you swim is *super* cool.  My mind is still center stage, though. I just get music to soundtrack it. And when I meditate at the end of my swims, I turn the music off, so it’s back to me and my mind and the white tile wall. The difference is that now I know that instead of letting the thoughts take seed and billow out, it’s good practice to come back from them and press “reset”.

I think the reason meditation got hard was because I’ve been trying way, way too hard these past few weeks. Trying to go beyond just watching the mind. Convincing myself that just doing that simple practice couldn’t be right and I had to make it more complicated. So, the other day, I literally had to remind myself it’s JUST watching the mind. It’s JUST coming back to something present. That’s all. It’s not trying to force a blank, equinamous state on my mood or find a little portal into magical realms and instant calmness. It’s just taking a back seat and seeing what comes up when I don’t drive the car of the mind.

I did the thing that a lot of meditation teachers tell beginner meditators to try- find something to focus on. I have to admit- this is the part that I stumble over. When I’m focused on something, I’m sort of thinking about it. At least, it’s doing causing some sort of processing in my brain- maybe not “thinking” but I know that my brain is absolutely part of the whole experiencing part of thing. So I’m always asking the question “am I thinking about the tingle in my foot or experiencing it?” I don’t know at what point a mind goes from thinking to one-pointed concentration because a lot of the time, they seem like the same thing to me. My mind doesn’t jump around a lot. I can focus on one thing for a long time. So I’m always concerned that my focus *is* being lost in thought.

My response to this, until now, was to attempt to “zero out” altogether. EMPTY my mind. NO focus on ANYTHING. Eyes wide open, ears primed to hear every splash, my skin on full alert, my arms and legs moving very m-i-n-d-f-u-l-l-y. Be open to every sense, every feeling, everything I was experiencing as it was coming at me. Hyper-awareness in a long blue pool with lots of reflections and bright light probably made me dizzy and disoriented, which explains all my weird little “moving backwards” sensations while I was swimming. And the “grumbling” I experienced, which was likely anxiety from me trying to empty my mind (which is actually impossible to do.) It’s fairly easy to trick your own brain and physically disorient yourself if you try hard enough, you know? It’s like that weird little “falling” feeling you get sometimes when you are about to fall asleep.

Anyway, I finally realized that by having nothing concrete to “come back to” when my mind would distract me, I was basically spending half an hour in this weird alarmed state. When you are in sitting meditation, you can come back to your breath or something you feel in your body or just the feeling of gravity holding you in your seated position. You don’t have that in the pool.

Usually meditation teachers advise you to focus on the breath, but if you do that in the pool, you’re screwed. So when i start meditating, I try and instantly find whatever sensation is the most prominent, and sort of lock into that. When my mind goes off, I just came back to whatever it is I “locked in”.  After a while, my mind started battering me with things, so I just said in my head “swimming, swimming” over and over. That helped a lot.

By the end of my swim, I was surprise to realize that the words had evolved into something else, a different phrase- almost like I was playing “telephone” with myself and didn’t even notice it.

This part of the experience relates to the idea of intention. I’m talking about the neuroscientific  (and Buddhist) concept of intention, not the whole “manifestation-magic-intention”  Secret-style stuff. Just the simple idea of “what’s your true motivation for doing all this?”  Every class I have taken in psychology or neuroscience or well-being or Buddhism has always posed that question: what’s your intention? And I could never really answer that question, even though I tried. I always made it too complicated.

Yesterday the three words I was left with at the end of my meditation served up a clue to a possible intention. I won’t share the, but I wound up liking them so much I kept repeating them in my head after I got out of the pool and as I went on with the rest of my day. I started to look at the things I was doing and the choices I was making through the lens of the three words I had chosen.

DUH. BIG DUH. After ten years of studying neuroscience and psychology and mindfulness, I started to connect intention with mindfulness. I FINALLY understood how the two connected in real life. That was a pretty huge a-ha moment for me.

You know, the more I do all this I realize that you can take 100000000000 classes and listen to 1000000000 talks and read 10000000000 books on pyschology and neuroscience and well-being and mindfulness and whatever else, but until you put it into practice, it doesn’t make sense. It’s like trying to teach a baby to walk before the baby is ready, I guess. You can explain the mechanics of walking to a baby, put them around other babies that walk, even move their legs in the motion of walking, but until it’s time for them to start walking, it doesn’t happen. And when they do start walking, it’s in their own style based on their own bodies and growth and mechanics. And it takes however long for them to go from lurching from point A to point B unsteadily to actually walking.

It’s the same with all of this-  there’s no official timetable. People can give you clues and information and tell you what to expect. But until you are ready and actually begin engaging in the process, kind of lurching around in it, just trying to get from point A to point B, it doesn’t truly set in. I think LIFE is like that. I mean, I’m 42 and I’m just starting to get the hang of stuff. At least it feels that way sometimes. But it’s also a good thing, because when you get to your 40’s (at least in my case), a lot of stuff falls away and you can actually settle into life. I like that a lot.

So I guess that’s what I am doing right now- lurching towards this goal of being more mindful, more at peace. Trying to make myself a little less of a messy human so maybe I can be of service in some way.


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in the art studio...

in the art studio…

Right now I’m struggling a bit with the shift from Daylight Savings Time. I don’t get into my art studio until late afternoon, and the truth is, I like it to be dark outside as I work. Even though natural light is much better to work with, if there’s daylight, a little part of me feels like I should be outside. I get antsy.

I am super productive in the winter, so as soon as the time change happens, there’s a noticeable shift. In the fall and winter, I LOVE coming into my studio as the sun starts to get low in the sky and it’s easy to get out my supplies and work until dinner. I get really focused and I really like peeking out the window from time to time and seeing all the houses with their lights shining. It’s like we’re all tucked in together.

Now the sun doesn’t really set until after 8pm and it’s been *so* hard to shift into habits that were strong just a little over a week ago. I’m sort of forcing myself to keep going, and hoping I find my groove again. Or a different groove. (Or maybe some dark shades, but the idea of that makes me a little ugh-y.)

I’ve been painting this winter- lots of acrylic and collage and mixed media. There’s been a shift into watercolor the last few weeks (I’ll post those soon) but I’m still doing the acrylics and collage, and I’d like to continue all of it instead of doing this cyclical thing I tend to do where I change my medium based on seasons (for some reason, getting all set up for acrylic – which isn’t that big of a deal – seems like this tremendous task in spring/summer whereas just getting out my watercolors seems much less arduous. But I like painting with acrylics just as much, so I’d like to do both.)

mixed media experiment

mixed media experiment on diffusion paper

I got a pack of diffusion paper from Amazon. It’s a novelty fabric-like paper that basically sucks and spreads water in unexpected ways. I’ve wanted to try it for a while because I wondered if it might be like painting on silk without all the dyes, boiling, etc. (Spoiler: it’s not.)

I tried to do an Arabic-inspired pattern using it with some resist and watercolor. I was going for a stained glass window effect, thinking I could use resist to create different areas, and then “drop” watercolor into each area and let the color travel and move on its own and then come up to the resist and stop. Sort of like silk painting, only on paper.

Nope. Because the paper is so absorbent and resist sits on the surface, the paint actually will swim *under* the resist and bleed into other sections. I even tried really soaking through the resist lines with white acrylic mixed with all sorts of fabric mediums (which are designed to soak through materials) and it wouldn’t create enough of a resist to hold back the paint from bleeding.

The paper doesn’t like traditional watercolors at all- all my Daniel Smiths just sort of turned diffuse and dull. In the end, I wound up just testing which colors and their pigments would spread on the paper and which didn’t work so well. The diffusion paper is difficult to work with (but fun and unpredictable) so I wound up just using the most intense colors I had on my palette just to test how they spread on the paper.

I stretched the painted paper on a collaged canvas panel and glazed it a few times to see if I could get a mosaic, layered effect with the patterns on the canvas sort of “shining through” the individual panels of color. It didn’t really work.  Because the paper is SO absorbent, glazing for a thick, shiny surface is almost impossible- it just sucks everything into it. It smoothed out nicely with no bubbles, but no shiny surface.

I do think the paper might be good for pigment powders (like Brusho and Infusions, etc.) because of the way it spreads pigments around. And for kids who like to just PAINT with color and not have any specific outcome in mind. I think it also may be good if you want to watercolor paper for collage- it’s very thin, glazes flat and fiarly translucent, and doesn’t seem to let the watercolor go after it dries, so if you are doing collage work, it’s really great for that.

But for straight watercolor paint, no. (I haven’t tested any markers or liquid watercolors on it yet, maybe that works better.)

In the end, I finally got it sort of sealed, painted some white dots on it, distressed it with white paint, and called it a day. I’m a little bummed by it, but it gave me a few ideas for other things to try. I did REALLY enjoy researching and creating the patterns, though, and doing the dots, so I want to do more of those things. Just not on this paper.

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David Hockney "Garrowby Hill" 1998

David Hockney “Garrowby Hill” 1998

I was all set to put a little note up here apologizing for the repetition in content and insanely long posts. And maybe even the cussing. And in the past few weeks I have found myself brooding over topics for the blog (how much is too much talk about Buddhism and my classes? Can I post little snippets of art I’m working on without discussing it and explaining it? How often should I post? Does anyone care? etc.), length of time I should let a post “marinate” before putting another post up, how I probably should alternate rambling posts with art-focused posts to keep the artsy lovelies from running in fear…

But then I realized- NO. These little ruminations are exactly why I always stop writing and need to take breaks from this site. The minute this online journal (and that’s what it is- I’m not cut out for the brevity that is implied by the term “blog”) became more about statistics and readers (remember those old NedStat counters, if that’s what they were even called?) and less about me writing into the void, I kind of lost the intense interest I had in doing an online journal in the first place. I lose my sense of self in the effort to make this other than what it is- a brain dump. A place for me to document life, work some ideas out.

In 1997, when I started this online journal, there was NO software for blogging, no templates, and no comment forms. There was just HTML and publishing stuff on your web page.  There were only a handful of people doing it, and everyone one of us varied greatly in length, subject matter, humor, lifestyle, etc. There was no right or wrong. So I had no idea who was reading, why they were reading, what they liked and didn’t like. I just wrote and posted and let it go. And I really want to do that again. But doing that requires me to let go of thinking too much about who is receiving this. (Thus, why the comments are not turned on.)

And that means writing whenever I feel like, about whatever I feel like.

Unfortunately, for you, that means this is another post on mindfulness and meditation. Because that’s what’s on my mind today.


Almost directly after I wrote my last post, I remembered why it is I keep taking breaks from meditation.

It’s because it gets really frustrating and hard.

Every. Single. Time.

It all came back to me a few days ago- I go through these flings with meditation and mindfulness where I do it and it’s amazing and sort of blissful and I get a little skilled at it and I see the influence it has on my life. Then it gets even better and turns into a little honeymoon kind of thing and I feel like I’ve found this profound habit that will change everything and I get all the fuss and want everyone to have some of that bliss.

But then all of the sudden meditation stops being good. It turns into this weird half-hour wrestling match with my mind that I can’t make heads or tails of. And because I’ve always used meditation as a way to achieve calm, the minute the whole “wrestling” phase starts, I have always stopped seeing the point in sitting in a chair and riling myself up.

This time, I’m meditating for different reasons, so I’m more determined to ride out this next stage, even though right now it feels like listening to a TV station tuned to static.

Basically what happens is that I’m able to focus and get my head quiet of the BIG THOUGHTS, but then I become away aware of this low, underlying jumble of stuff going on way way below, and any time I try and clear my head and get into the present, I can’t do it. It’s like this little weird broadcast of brain dump that I only tune into when I’m meditating.  I don’t know what those “grumblings” are, and they aren’t loud, but they distract the hell out of me. It’s like those factories in old-timey cartoons that keep chugging out square clouds of smoke from an animated smokestack.

You know that thing when you talk on your phone and sometimes you get an echo of your own voice and you cannot have a conversation because all you hear is yourself? And the harder you try to ignore it, the more you notice it? I suppose this is very similar to that. (And I’m sure there’s a lesson right there <—- that I’ll ponder and figure out later.)

The upside to this experience is that I have heard experienced meditators and monks talk time and time again about the “meditation gets hard” stage a lot. So there’s a precedent for this.

In my Foundations of Buddhism class, we just finished studying a bit about the Abhidharma, which is basically the collection of writings that created the foundation for Buddhist ontology (the nature of being). After Buddha passed away and left his years and years of teachings in the hands of his followers, the monks began to organize the huge breadth of the Buddha’s teaching a little bit to make it easier to access as far as their own teaching of it. It was a completely oral tradition for several hundreds of years after the Buddha passed, so kind of had to process it a little so it would remain correctly preserved. In the process, they also began to speculate on the very nature of life because some of the followers were beginning to ask new questions due to changes in society and culture.

The Buddhist monks decided that life- both the physical things that exist and happen and the mental states we experience-  is basically combinations of small bits called “dharmas” (little “d”. Dharma – big “D”- is defined as the culmination of everything the Buddha taught). These itty bitty dharmas basically combine and re-combine to form everything we can see or feel or experience.

Since everything is always changing, the dharmas keep mixing it up, too. They form combinations that pop in and out of reality for various stretches of time. Some combinations last longer than others, or some combinations repeat – that’s how we get a sense of continuity in life.

When I heard this, I was totally shocked. And so incredibly impressed. Because while it’s not *exactly* how the physical (and mental) world exists, it’s pretty frickin’ close. Especially since it came from a bunch of people who lived 2000 years ago and had no modern scientific equipment or any sort of way of examining the world on a microscopic level. In addition, these people came from ancient traditions that emphasized a solid and unchanging world created and orchestrated by a divine figure. So for these Buddhist monks to come out and say “you know what, we think the world is actually composed of little bits of things that come together to form larger things, and the human mind is similar…” is pretty jaw-dropping to me.

And as far as the human brain, science has shown that it’s basically is a vat of chemicals and neurons that change from millisecond to millisecond as circumstances change.

So the whole idea of “dharmas” is not really that outlandish at all. I quite like it, to be honest. It’s a lovely way to make sense of life. It sort of means that nothing is truly personal -it’s all a lot of cause and effect and changing conditions that influence other conditions.

ANYWAY, those little dharmas are sort of bubbling up in response to whatever is happening and then reconfiguring as soon as anything changes. I’m wondering if the little “grumblings” that some people encounter when they are meditating are actually those dharmas (or functions of the brain) at work, collecting information, identifying it, and reacting to it. Over and over and over and over. And as you practice meditation more and more and more, and shut down the BIG LOUD THOUGHTS that mask everything in the mind, maybe you can begin to identify those smaller bits of data that are creating the BIG THOUGHTS

For instance, you see something that annoys the crap out of you and the “annoyance” combination comes up. There’s actually a bunch of different little brain functions (and smaller base emotions, like anger and frustration, etc.) that form that particular emotion. And just as soon as “I’m so annoyed by that noise!!” comes up, your attention goes to something else and there’s another set of brain functions going. It may be a repeat of the “I’m so annoyed by that noise!!” or it might evolve into “Oh my God, can’t he turn that car alarm off?” or even “Oh, it’s just a car alarm. Not something cataclysmic.”

So when you meditate, you get more and more adept at recognizing the whole “I’m so annoyed by that noise!!” thought as soon as it pops up. And the more you meditate, you more skilled you get at recognizing what’s behind it: the “I’m annoyed because I can’t understand what’s happening, I’m scared of what might happen, I don’t like not having control over this, and I can’t concentrate.”  So I’m wondering if what I’m experiencing is yet another level of that stuff underneath- the “dharmas” at work.

I have no freaking idea. This is why a huge part of meditation is finding a teacher to have a personal relationship with- because when this happens, they can tell you “yes, it’s normal” or “no, you had really better go talk to a doctor…” And as they get to personally know you, they can say “you’re the kind of person who obsesses, so I bet that’s what’s happening, Try and focus on ____ instead while you meditate.” And you don’t spend years trying to figure out if you are doing it right.

So yeah, I need a teacher. There are a few options – I’ve signed up for education with Sravasti Abbey which starts in April, and part of the class is doing a lot of checking in and response writing, so I’m hopeful that I’ll get some feedback. There are also several online teacherswho are available to assist students. So that’s an option if my classes don’t provide what I need.

It’s funny, this all sounds extrememly complicated and a part of me is, just, “go back to the guided meditations and call it a day,” but a much bigger part of me is thinking, “yes.” And I rarely think a simple “yes” about much of anything, besides loving cats, swimming, tea, my family, and those sorts of things. So if a “yes” pops up, I try to embrace it.

Have a wonderful weekend, if you’re still out there reading 😉

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photo of the pool

photo of the pool…

So… meditation.

This was another topic I wasn’t going to discuss here but then I got this quote in my email from Martha Beck:

There are words waiting for you to write them, and they are alive. Let them push you past your self-doubt. Let them speak to people you may never meet.” – Martha Beck. 

So I figured I would go ahead and talk a little bit about meditation, just in case there’s someone else out there working with it. I know I struggle with it.

I’ve meditated before. And I’ve talked a lot about mindfulness and meditation and… blah blah blah. But to be completely honest, meditation has always been super tricky for me. I have done a lot of it, but it always felt like I was trying so hard, and that even when I did it extensively, it never really set in as a natural state for me. Unlike swimming and gardening and painting or whatever, I never felt like I got the “knack” for it.

I knew via neuroscience that it can have a TREMENDOUS benefit on a person’s overall sense of contentment. I felt it calming me, changing the way I reacted to things, helping settle me down a little bit, but it wasn’t enough to make it essential, like swimming or making art or having cats, etc. is for me. I respected it, and sort of believed it worked for other people. But I didn’t think that I had what it took to make it work for me. I just couldn’t make it “click”.

Anyway, I signed up for the first of a four-year (!!!) round of Buddhism courses at Srarvasti Abbey and part of the prerequisites were sitting in meditation for at least twenty minutes a day. And I think a part of the course work is writing reaction papers on insight experienced during meditation.


So I started meditating. Again. Both because I knew it was good form practice-wise as a Buddhist, and I wanted to be able to genuinely tell my teachers at the Abbey that I did indeed meditate.

I did a lot of research on meditation before I started, both as part of the Foundations of Buddhism class I’m taking and because I wanted to understand what the proper practice is. Listening to guided meditations is all well and good, but the traditional way to do it is without assistance. So, no buffer, no hand-holding.

I read a lot about walking meditation as an alternative to those who had issues with sitting for long periods, and that sort of appealed to me, but since I have the whole Spina Bifida thing, walking is something I *have* to think about. I don’t have a tremendous amount of physical balance so I have to literally think about every step I take or I basically go off the rails. I start shuffling sideways (even backwards) if I don’t pay attention. This dismayed me when I was younger, but the older I get, the more humorous I find it. Another thing is that if my family (and even most of the cats) see me walking across the floor, they know it is imperative NOT to step in front of me because I cannot physically stop walking. It takes a few seconds for my brain to get the message to my legs to stop moving. It’s like I set a course for myself in my brain and I go for it, and there’s no “split second” stopping or turning or evading anything. It’s a joke around here, but, anyway, the walking issue is very real. No walking meditation for me.

I decided to meditate in the pool, instead. I have been swimming laps and distances for so long now (every day for the last 25 years- more than half my life) that swimming is literally muscle memory now. I get in the pool, I swim. I don’t think about breathing or moving my arms or legs or even keeping in the lane, I just go. I pretty much feel more at tease in the pool than I do anywhere else, so I felt like that would probably be the perfect place to meditate.

So I started meditating for 10 minutes at the end of my swims. No music, no guided meditations, no stopping for breath. Just straight swimming for the time I’m meditating.

The first few times I did it, I was BORED and restless. I usually spend my hours swimming by thinking of things and entertaining myself and listening to music on my waterproof iPod shuffle. I fill my mind with whatever is interesting at the moment and sustains it: art, music, movies, fiction I’m writing, random patterns, weird science-y ideas. Always with music in the background. Always always. I have swam without music before, but only in dire straits- like, waiting for the battery to recharge on my music device. And it’s been grueling. I give mad props to anyone who can swim hours without music, because I can’t do it.

The one thing I have always noticed about swimming is that if anything is bothering me, it always comes up. And comes up over and over again until I work on it.  There’s nowhere to hide from your thoughts when you are swimming. Since I’m stuck in the pool with nothing to really look at or focus on, the issues work themselves out. I have had a lot of amazing insights about myself and the world in the pool, and I don’t think I would have had those same insights if I hadn’t been swimming- I also work out on a recumbent elliptical machine and when I’m on there, it’s NOT the same as when I’m on the pool. The pool is like mind soup. So I guess, in a way, I have been practicing a lower level of insight meditation for years in the pool, but I always had an out- if a better thought came around, I’d go ahead and ride it away from my emotions. With meditation, you can’t do that.

When you meditate, you’re not supposed to shut your thoughts off because that’s completely impossible. Instead, you are supposed to just be AWARE of your thoughts as they come up, and then try and not linger on them. Just try and focus back on something immediate (like your breath or a bodily sensation or a mantra or something else) to sort of “zero out” your mind- as James Baraz says, it’s like pushing the “clear” button on a calculator. All the while, you get an opportunity to observe what sort of thoughts arise and how they make you feel, and you learn something about yourself in the process- that’s the “insight” part of meditation.

And that’s freaking hard. Seriously. Anyone who says it’s easy is either a master meditator or a liar. For me, at least, if my mind was actually a calculator, the “C” button would be worn out and broken because of all the times I have had to clear my mind during meditation.

From the first few days meditation, I realized that my mind is very much like an over-eager hostess. When she sees my “brain plate” is empty, she immediately offers me something she’ll know I’ll love or take an interest in. “Here’s some art I know you love. How about this beautiful wash of colors? You know you are a sucker for a cute cat! Remember this funny story from your childhood that you forgot? Hey, here’s Tom Hiddleston! Is there any position in the universe that’s actually FIXED since everything in space is always in motion?”

I have learned through various neuroscience classes that shutting down my mind in a rude way is a disservice, because I will adapt that behavior as a way of handling myself. So I am trying to be gracious. That system has worked much better than the “WILL YOU KNOCK IT THE F*CK OFF BECAUSE I’M TRYING TO MEDITATE HERE’ attitude I had at first. Which is bad because it makes your brain associate meditation and mindfulness as negative, aggressive things. I am trying to work out a deal with my sweet, well-meaning “hostess mind” that if I need something I will come to her first. And every time she offers me something I tell her “no, thank you”.

The biggest issue that I have is that I think a lot about meditation and mindfulness and Buddhism WHILE I am meditating, which feels like a trap. It’s all “I’m swimming, I’m paying attention, swim swim swim, I’m being mindful…” and then 30 seconds later I realize I’ve started thinking about the Buddhist qualities of mindfulness and a dharma talk I heard about it and that’s *still* getting lost in thought.

And, always always always always “AM I DOING THIS RIGHT?” which is a constant thought. 100000x times a minute, that question pops up. Any time anything shifts, any time I feel anything, it’s always “WHAT IS THAT? IS THAT A MEDITATIVE STATE OR IS IT A DISTRACTION? OKAY, LET’S GO THROUGH EVERYTHING I HAVE EVER LEARNED OR HEARD ABOUT MEDITATION AND MINDFULNESS AND FIGURE OUT IF THIS EXPERIENCE IS LISTED.” And then *that’s* a whole train of thought.

So I have no idea if what I am doing is “right” or not. But I have had some interesting experiences that I haven’t had before, so I keep coming back, every day, and trying again.

The key thing to remember is that meditation is JUST practice. It’s not the *actual* event. Real life out of the meditation is the actual event. You are training your mind to function differently in everyday life- you are training your brain to function differently when you’re NOT meditating. So what happens during meditation doesn’t matter very much, push comes to shove. I mean, it does in higher levels of Buddhist practice, but right now my focus in Buddhism is not on cosmology or accessing a higher realm via my meditation, it’s the here and now.


As far as things and feelings I have noticed:

–  After a few days of the swimming meditation, my thinking mind slowed down a little. When the thoughts came, which they did, I was able to recognize them and then pull my focus back to the movement of my arms, the feel of the water on my skin, the reflections of light on the bottom of the pool.

– Then a bit later I started noticing little tiny moments of time in between everything in which there was no thought arising, no reaction to things- just open clear space. And it was quiet and calm. But these moments are flashes, and not a constant. And as soon as you notice them, they disappear, because you start an active process in your brain because you start cataloging and analyzing them and you miss the next moments.

– I started noticing that I could go several laps with my focus on one specific thing- the sound of my arms cutting through the water, the feel of my body balanced right on the edge of the water, the feel of the cool air on my back. I could hear the thoughts sort of rumbling away in the background, but I was so focused on the one specific part of my body or sensation that my thoughts didn’t articulate or pop up.

– Then I started noticing I was able to focus on weird things *inside* my body- a weird “float-y” space in the center of my chest that moved along with my arms and my heart (it reminded me of that floating thing in the Magic 8 Ball or a floating compass), A spot in my lower back that shifted a bit with every movement of my legs. One day, I had cramps and spent a bunch of time just feeling them- not really having a judgement on them.

I started wondering if these physical sensations and “focus” was not me actually being mindful but completely zoning out, and what the difference between the two is. I mean, I know that even though you’re calming the mind, you can’t zone out- you have to stay alert. It’s a very weird paradox, and there’s sort of this super thin line between alert consciousness and a still mind. But it’s a little like riding a bike- you have to get going a little bit and then you just sort of hit the sweet spot of balance and you *know* it when it happens. But with meditation, once you lose the sweet spot, it’s not quite as easy to find it again. At least not at the level I am at.

– A few days ago, I had a the weird sensation that my body was standing still, but the water was moving around me. It was *intense*. I told Tom about it later that day and he said it sounded like what happens when you drive through a car wash- where you get that feeling that the car is moving when it’s not. That’s *exactly* what it was like, but I’d never experienced it from meditating or swimming. I actually got goosebumps and got dizzy, so I shifted to paying attention to the reflection of light on the bottom of the pool. A few seconds later, I got the feeling like I was swimming *into* the reflections, not above them. Plus the dizziness and goosebumps again. It was *not* unpleasant, just sort of otherworldly. I was dizzy the rest of the day.

I have not been able to recreate those circumstances, but I also know I’m not supposed to because that’s a form of grasping and it’s the biggest issue with meditation (and even life)- you experience something cool, even super briefly, and you grasp on to it and are desperate to find that feeling or clarity or insight again. And as you start grasping and craving, your intentions shift from wholesome to unwholesome and the process sort of disintegrates.


So, what I am finding is that meditation is a constant process of accepting the moment, recognizing and seeing all that’s in it, and then letting it go RIGHT AWAY so you don’t miss the next moment.  It goes by incredibly fast, and the moments are broken down into little bits of stuff that happens and changes constantly, so it’s very hard to find the way to observe that without grasping to it or trying to categorize it or catalog it or react to it.

One thing I have come to realize is that we, as humans, miss a TREMENDOUS amount simply by all the activities our brains do judging and categorizing everything. I mean, that’s a function of our bodies and brains, we can’t shut it down. But we can notice it and slow it down. Recognize those tiny tiny pauses with stillness and just experience them as they pass. Life in those moments is so … different. I’ve only experienced a brief tiny bit of that, but I sort of understand why people who are experienced in meditation and skillful at reaching those states would commit themselves to this practice.

I *get* it now. But it’s still freaking hard. It’s 30 minutes (or whatever) of concentration and 30 minutes of trying to walk a tightrope between attention and scrutiny, and even finding that tightrope is extremely difficult, not to mention trying to stay on it.

But I’m going to keep trying for ONE reason- it has made my life outside the pool richer. A few days after I started meditating, I started finding humorous things *much* funnier than I did before. Like, I started noticing myself cracking up again, which I don’t think I have done in a long time. That was really odd. Really odd. I felt myself laughing so much more easily, like I was just letting myself enjoy the humor and not scrutinize it.

I also noticed myself noticing little moments more- the other morning I was pouring myself some tea and all the sudden I started thinking “that’s beautiful! It looks like liquid amber flowing!” and being REALLY in awe of it. Then I rolled my eyes at myself (which is not a great reaction) because I have poured myself tea in the morning for the last 20 years. What was the big deal? I just realized a quality of it  that hasn’t affected me before.Or maybe I wasn’t in a place where I could appreciate something like that. Or even catch it as it happened. I don’t know.

I just notice a lot more, and those little things affect me in a good way. It’s like the volume and saturation has been turned up a bit in life.

My mood is a little more forceful, to be honest. I feel more rooted in who I am and what feels right. I don’t dither as much. I am aware of when I’m feeling good and feeling crummy and unproductive and avoiding that stuff a little more. Indecision is the worst feeling ever, and I get stuck in it a lot, especially with making art, and I suddenly recognize it when it comes up and immediate understand how much I hate feeling it, so I am able to shut it down more easily. Even with making art, I’m feeling “so what if it’s good? Just make art.” That’s a BIG shift for me.

I guess the point of all this is I feel like I *recognize* more things for what they are. I don’t know if it’s meditation or just where I am in life, but I’m not going to lie and say that I don’t think the mindfulness practice isn’t shifting things, at least a little bit.

Who knows? In a few weeks I may decide it’s not working. I may not stick with it. But right now, I’m going to keep going with it.

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Edward Hopper "Cape Cod Morning"

Edward Hopper “Cape Cod Morning”

This started as an “around here: outside my window” post but it evolved into a brain dump about weather, and the seasons, and mindfulness,  and social media (yes, again. Now that I’m off chatty social media, I really can’t help notice all the little ways it influenced me and the way I move through life.)

I think it’s pretty obvious by now I MISS THE SEASONS. Big time. I really thought I would get used to the lack of seasons here in south Florida, but the truth is, I haven’t. Especially in spring and summer.

I never realized how much I depended on the seasons and the corresponding weather to sort of guide me through the year, to function as a foundation for things, until I moved here and lost them. Don’t get me wrong- I love the fact I can swim year round and it doesn’t get freezing cold (cold + bone, joints, neurological, spinal stuff = PAIN) but I’d love some cooler months, no threat of hurricanes, plus a real sunshine-y blue sky summer. Just a little bit more seasonal stuff.

Right now, it’s spring. Well, sort of. I’m not really sure we have what could be called “spring”. This time of year, here in Florida, it just gets hotter, and then you can’t keep the doors and windows open anymore because there’s no more breeze and the humidity is up to 100%, so that’s how we know it’s spring. Our real spring is more in the fall, when the trees bounce back from the summer heat and flowers start blooming again and it feels like everything is waking up.

So this is just kind of pre-summer. It reminds me of mid-July in New York, where I grew up. Just more humid. We have a few more months of this, then we get hurricane season, which is another term for “summer in Florida”. Hurricane season is a bit of a bear, not just because we have to keep an eye on long term weather, but because it’s stormy all the time.

Normally, I’m a fan of a good storm (feels cozy) but because I am a swimmer, lightning is a BIG deal. I have to keep a constant eye on the radar and the sky, especially when I’m in the pool. I have gotten really good at reading radars hours in advance, and determining what’s going to happen by the color of the clouds and the movement of the air and by watching any living things that live outside. I remember I once commented on Facebook that I could always tell when it was going to rain if there were no lizards around- Marco Island is literally crawling with them, but they disappear and take cover before a storm. Someone scoffed at it, but if you spend any time outside you realize that nature’s often a better predictor of severe weather than any weatherman.

Anyway, lightning is freaky and scary. I’ve seen it come out of of nowhere- a single little cloud, and all the sudden the blue sky turns the color of charcoal and it sounds like a bomb went off. If you want to spend time near the water in summer, you just have to be on guard for it. That’s just the bottom line rule of living in Florida.

But I’ll admit- after 18 years of it, I’ve become more than a little phobic of lightning. I don’t enjoy that feeling of being on high alert all the time. That’s one of the reasons why I’m always so happy when summer is over- I can literally feel myself unwinding and uncoiling as September ends and October begins. We suddenly get a cooler period of weather- we’ll wake up one day and thermometer reads 79. And then 75. And then 72. It’s *so* refreshing.

And the sun suddenly goes from being a blinding hot ball directly above to being a golden glow behind the leaves of the trees, leaving dappling shadows all over and setting before 9pm.

All of these things are like magic little gifts, at least to me. Just when it seems summer has gone on forever, then comes autumn. It’s pretty much the thing that keeps me going all summer- at the end of it is this little magic period of just a few weeks, when the world comes back to life in this golden, sparkling way. I feel this quickening inside every.single.year that I don’t feel any other time of year. One day I will notice the shadows changing and I’ll just feel it inside and get instantly happy. Like I said- magic.

I think the way I have learned to cope with having no real seasons is by paying big attention to any little shifts in the weather. I’ll take anything I can get. Anytime the weather does anything unusual, especially in the cooler months, I get a little excited. If it’s something that leans towards cool and less humid, I *savor* it. Foggy morning? 68 degrees at noon? Sun moving a little bit away from directly above us? All reasons for excitement and reaction. Maybe not to someone in, say, New York, but to someone in the sub-tropics, all of that is BIG STUFF.

I gotta admit, one of the little side perks of being off social media is weather-related: I no longer feel like an asshole for my honest reactions to the seasons (or lack thereof). Because the seasons down here don’t match with anyone else’s, I don’t have to feel like a Debbie Downer for complaining about Florida’s version of summer while everyone is enjoying their 80 degree blue sky sunshine. Or feel like a big jerk for celebrating the beautiful mild winter mornings while everyone is slogging through dark and ice and snow.

I can feel however I want about our wonky weather any time of the year and not have to feel “is this a reasonable reaction?” about it. I get to notice all the tiny shifts in the weather and really savor and enjoy and celebrate them and make a big deal about them without the instant “ha! You think 40 degrees is cold, try -37546593 and snow! That’s cold!” hand-slappy responses that seemed to be a certainty on Facebook.

It got to the point where it felt like I needed to add a post-script to every weather-related post saying something along the lines of: I LIVE IN SOUTHWEST FLORIDA. NO MATTER HOW SEVERE THE SEASONS GET WHERE YOU LIVE, THIS IS UNUSUAL FOR WHERE *I* LIVE AND I WANT TO TAKE NOTE OF IT.

It was kind of a small thing, but it always bothered me.

Another thing I don’t miss on social media: storm trackers. Those are the people who, for some reason, are desperate for a hurricane to hit. These people analyze and post constantly about anything that looks like it might turn into a hurricane, and in doing so they scare the living shit out of everyone else. There are two responses to the “a hurricane is forming!” posts: sensible people Google the storm to see if it’s a real threat (99.9% of the time, it’s not), but the non-sensible people just hit “share” and suddenly the whole island is in a panic about Hurricane Joey which is really just Tropical Depression 618 off the coast of Iceland and has no real chance of even developing into a storm, much less one that will make it across the Atlantic to Florida. But every time the hurricane tracker posts a new update (hourly), with “drastic new information”, the Google search has to be done again, just to make sure nothing has really changed. And the information gets shared again… Two weeks later, the storm fizzles out in the Atlantic and everyone feels absolutely exhausted.

But then there’s a post about a NEW storm…

I won’t miss that this summer. In fact, I’m kind of breathing a giant sigh of relief to be away from that aspect of things.

One thing that IS different this year, and that relates to the weather, is the butterflies. I have to admit that last summer was very, very different because all the sudden we were caring for a bunch of butterflies and that suddenly took precedence over fretting over dormant plants and soggy containers in the garden from all the rain. We were too busy caring for the butterflies that were suddenly living in the garden to notice all the gardening we couldn’t do. The summer really kind of flew by, to be honest- we measured it in cycles of eggs, caterpillars, chrysalis, and butterflies. Each cycle for each breed. It adds up to weeks and months without even noticing how much time has flown by.

And the butterfly related stuff got us outside despite the rain and humidity. In fact, towards the end of summer, we started spending every evening out on the lanai together before dinner, just hanging out while Tom closed up for the evening and Grace and I read.

The summer wasn’t about the weather as it was about all the butterflies. It was something to look forward to every day. It’s nice to have that now- a real reason to be here for the summer. Something meaningful and beautiful to look forward to. Swallowtails and monarchs and buckeyes and sulfurs. We were too late for the Swallowtails last year, so we’re hoping that we can find some eggs this spring and bring them into the garden. We have the host plants ready to go for the caterpillars to eat, and a garden full of nectar plants for the butterflies to drink- we just need the caterpillars to move in…

Since a lot of the species of butterflies disappear during the winter months, and re-appear in spring and early summer, we’re actually just looking at a few weeks until butterfly season. So in a time of year I’m usually fretting about there’s now something really cool on the horizon.

Before I stop yammering on about seasons and social media, there’s one last thing:

One big unexpected perk of being off social media emerged during the holidays (all of them, but especially Christmas…): the stress of celebrating went way way WAY down because I wasn’t seeing all those holiday-related posts. Without social media, there weren’t any time tables and hallmarks for the holidays anymore. We could get the tree up when we had time (mid-December, and we only did two small trees this year), get the gifts wrapped when we had a moment and everything we ordered arrived (a few days before Christmas), do our usual little family celebration (went to see Star Wars and had dinner at our favorite restaurant a few days before Christmas, opened gifts here on Christmas Day, but no big home cooked meal) and it was all lovely and perfect for us.

I’m not much of a holiday person (I do like Thanksgiving a lot, but the December holidays…) and for years seeing all the social media posts of people prepping their houses and doing wonderful crafts and decorating their multiple trees and baking amazing treats and getting ready for huge family gatherings really was very very very difficult. When I was a kid, the holidays were magic and busy and amazing and cozy, but since finishing school and moving to Florida, it’s a whole different story- my parents are nearby but none of my extended family, and I’m an only child so it’s much more quiet. For years I felt like I should do so much more for the holidays, to fill in all those gaps left by the lack of extended family and gatherings and winter weather and cozy feeling, etc. and I tried for a while, but it just created a lot of unnecessary stress and fuss and left me depleted.

I finally realized that the holidays ARE different now- I was in grad school until I was 25, and when I was a student, holidays meant winter break which was four weeks of completely unscheduled time with no responsibilities, and doing things like shopping and wrapping gifts and decorating and baking were wonderful ways to spend that time- those things were so much fun. Now that life is life, and there is no four week holiday break in December in which all responsibilities fall to the wind, the holidays are different. So I started embracing a simpler way of approaching it, and it helped so much, but I still felt kind of horrible about it all because the media is all DECORATE ENTERTAIN HOST ENCHANT CELEBRATE COOK EAT GATHER and I have been being pulled in an “enjoy, relax, rest” direction. Now that I’m less exposed to that, it’s so much more peaceful. We all enjoyed it so much more.

It’s kind of like I got my own sense of the seasons and the cycles of life back, in a way, by disconnecting and being more mindful. I kind of wish I had done it years ago, but it’s kind of like how I feel with the whole Buddhism thing- I wasn’t ready until I was ready.

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I mentioned in my last post (or the one before it, whatever) that I had kept an art journal back in summer/fall but then sort of let it go when I got back into painting. Also, let’s be honest- the weeks leading up to the election (and the weeks after) were extremely anxiety-ridden and the idea of working through that in this particular journal (which was something that was a place of reflection, mindfulness, and peace) was too much for me.

The journal wasn’t a scrapbook, per se, because besides some Instax prints, I wasn’t recording life as much as recording my emotions and feelings. I just wanted a space where I could cut and glue and curate. For a long time I thought an art journal had to include some art making ON the pages, but then I realized it can be whatever it is. Since I was doing so much watercolor last summer, I started including scraps of paper that I watercolored on along with collaged bits of ephemera and magazine images and other things I have collected.

I haven’t gotten back to it- yet- but I still am very interested in it and passionate about it. I think now that I am finally getting my painting process integrated (meaning: I figured out a way to explore all my passions- watercolor, acrylic, collage, mixed media, stamping, print making, etc.- and include them into ONE finished project) I will have the head space for going back to art journaling. But I feel no pressure- when it’s time, it will be time.

I thought I’d share some of the pages from the current art journal.

This was as I was recovering from my surgery. The lyrics “Some winters are harder than others” are from an Innocence Mission song (one of my favorite bands – *swoon*) and they sort of followed me all winter as I struggled with my health. So I included them along with the hospital wristband and a photo of the screw that pushed through the side of my foot.


More recovering- lyrics from a Rickie Lee Jones song (“she has been driven beyond all towns and all systems by now, and though it is long past too, far she keep going” – sort of my personal mantra) and a wonderful quote from Rachel Naomi Remen.

(As I look through this now I see a definite theme of healing, and also a lot of hints of me moving towards Buddhism… interesting.)


art journal from 2016

Trying to figure out what was next- I wanted to use the surgery and recovery as a way to really make a fresh start. I had been depressed for literally years (since Delilah passed) and wanted to finally figure it out and break free of that little fog that I couldn’t seem to shake.


The quote grabbed me and now it speaks volumes.


These pages definitely reflect the summer weather- rainy and stormy. I also included some bits from some snail mail, an old stamped image (the Japanese pattern), some labels from washi tape, and a test swatch of my Daniel Smith watercolor palette.


More personal stuff (India.Arie lyrics… from the song “Slow Down”)


Talking about the butterflies that came inside the garden with a vintage scientific illustration.  The flip side of the journal card is:

A collage of little postcard snapshots and a Merri Artist packing slip (watercolors- getting watercolors was a huge part of my summer. So much joy in little tubes of paint.)


Random collage page: watercolor playing, watercolor swatch sheets, some ephemera, a card a friend sent that I wanted to hold on to, a clipping from a magazine, some packaging from a Japanese notebook.


Going into fall and thinking about change and passion… and the idea of rest.


Getting so excited for fall and winter. Packaging materials and my first Instax prints.


VERY happy it was fall. Less journaling and just some collage.


Moving towards more mindfulness.


Celebrating the autumnal equinox. It was still pretty warm here, but ANY change in weather and the cessation of daily rain and storm made me so very very very happy.


The last page I worked on.

So not a lot of “around here” kind of documenting at all. But I kind of needed to turn inward a bit, especially as I recovered from surgery and was trying to figure out what was next for me.

As I look at this, I realize that this kind of journal might be really useful as I work my way through my classes. I have SO much spinning around my head- so many ideas and insights and discoveries and questions- and maybe expressing it in images and bits of words and quotes might help me feel like I’m working through it. Sometimes when I record something in my head, it allows me to let go of it because I know it’s somewhere for me to go and find it, if I need to.

Thank you so much for looking at all this and I hope you are having a lovely, peaceful day. <3

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 The peace we need in our lives is not a rock, it’s a river. It isn’t rigid, it flows. The “right thing to do” may look different in different situations.

What’s going on around here:

In my head…
It’s been so long since I wrote one of these I don’t even know where to begin.

I guess a (not-so) quick update?


Me: back in school for Buddhism, still swimming every day, making art almost every afternoon.

I’m actually making more art now than I think I ever have – I don’t know why the big shift, but I feel more invested in the process of making art and less invested in the outcome, so it’s taken the stress out of it. I have been trying to get to this stage for years- just feeling like art in any form is worth doing, no matter the outcome, so I’m working very hard on maintaining the momentum by creating something every day.

Right now my focus is almost exclusively painting. Watercolors on paper and canvas, acrylic on canvas, and collages of painted bits of paper. I haven’t art journaled or scrapbooked in months, and although I am still really interested in art journaling, I have no desire to do it at the moment. I am actually not documenting life in any way- not even taking photos- and it feels okay. It feels more important to just focus on painting for the moment.

As far as the Buddhism thing, I do my classes and reading at night after dinner. I find that it’s the best time to focus, and although I often go to bed with a million ideas and “what if?”s in my head, I tend to remember more.

During the day when I’m in my studio, I listen to Dharma talks, which are little talks on Buddhism and philosophy and psychology and meditation and things like that. A few people asked me what Dharma talks are: they are basically like TED talks or really interesting podcasts, with a bit of Buddhism thrown in. Because Buddhism emphasizes education (the tradition is still considered oral, even though there’s a ton of written information) and it’s considered really excellent karma to pass on the tradition, there are a TON of Dharma talks available online. Thousands. It’s pretty amazing what’s out there if you look.

As far as my daily schedule, it’s this: I get the random stuff done around here in the mornings, swim in the early afternoons, and then paint after lunch until dinner, and after dinner do school stuff.

I’d REALLY like to get my mornings under control- I waste a lot of time in mornings trying to wake up and focus and get stuff done. I will openly admit to spending a lot of time in mornings looking at art-related stuff (mostly art supplies) online. I think there’s a time for that, but not at the expense of other things I’d rather be doing but can’t stir up the energy or focus to do. It’s kind of like I spend the mornings gearing up to get my butt in the pool. I’m hoping to shift into doing some coursework in the morning, too.

I’m strongly considering signing up with Sravasti Abbey (a super cool Buddhist abbey here in the US- the minute I saw their website I knew I had found something amazing) for their four year (!!!) series of education focused more on the practice and path of Buddhism instead of being an academic overview. I’m wanting to do something like that and I love the Abbey and their Dharma talks, but of course I’m a tiny bit hesitant because I feel a bit stretched for time as it is.

Also, there are a few minor idealogical differences (if they are even that? I’m too much of a newbie to know.) I am really, really open to all views of Buddhism as I enter in to this and I definitely defer to those who have studied this path longer. And I’m not remotely interested in debating the ins and outs of my (possibly incorrect) beliefs with this amazing group who have literally dedicated their lives to it. I’m not interested in being the person who always raises their hand or has some sort of “But…!!!” reaction to everything.

But I don’t want to either “fake” my way through the courses (writing what is “right” and “correct” vs. what I actually think in the personal refections), nor do I want to bend my own process in the quest to be a “good” student of Buddhism. Does that make sense?

There are just some beliefs and perspectives I have that have arisen from personal experience (things I’ve come to know independent of Buddhism- my *own* form of enlightment and awareness) and I strongly believe that it’s important to honor those things. I mean, if the animal compassion thing were not such a big part of Buddism, I still would believe with my whole heart that humane treatment of animals was the right thing, just becaase it’s something fundamental to me. You know what I mean?

For example, the nuns at the Abbey refer to reincarnation quite a bit, which is part and parcel for Buddhism, but I’m still wishy washy on how to translate it into my own life.

I mean, I believe in karma. And I love the idea of the Five Aggregates, which is the Buddhist response to the pre-Buddhist belief that there is an unchanging, fixed self that resides deep inside us and calls the shots and controls our body and is apart from suffering. I’m actually ideologically open to the idea of reincarnation (I absolutely love the Buddha’s view of the Cosmos, and I love studying it, and reincarnation is an essential part of that…) but I feel like right now my whole view of reincarnation is better served by thinking of every *day* as a new cycle of life, rather than thinking in a scale of thousand of literal lifetimes. I believe in Samsara (cycle of birth and death) but I like to engage in it as an every day thing rather as thinking of it as a cycle of lifetimes.

Also, the nuns at the Abbey are pretty firmly in the “the human body is impermanent (and quite vile if you really look at it close enough), so don’t get attached to it or upset when it changes and ages” camp which is absolutely the truth and it resonates with me- the impermanence of things is something I struggled with for years (I hate change!) but something that ultimately proved itself to be true time and time again. And the body is pretty much the BEST example of that you can find- it changes every single minute! One day it feels great, later that day its tired and run down, then its energized again.  All change, all the time.

But after 42 years of Spina Bifida and taking care of this particular body (and trust me, spending my fair share of not appreciating it and being angry with it), I’ve come to have respect for it. I do find something beautiful about the way the human body works every moment of every day. The way the body grows, and then grows old. The way it heals and the way it sometimes doesn’t. As I’ve gotten older, and gone from not understanding my body at all to sort of knowing it inside and out, I actually started to wonder if I was “matched” to this body because I actually have the disposition to care for it the way it requires. And that’s perhaps a wonky approach, Buddhism-wise. But it’s important to me.

On the other hand, I certainly don’t think the human form is something to glorify and worship and even covet. I mean out of everything in nature, the human body is not one of my top favorite forms or processes. I do think the human body and the systems inside it are pretty damn cool, just as I would feel about any organic thing in the universe. I don’t disavow my human body because it’s getting older and can be pretty gross at times. All living things are gross, but they are also beautiful. My personal approach is to respect and admire all things (like human bodies) without turning it into worship or reverence. I think there is a “middle path” (which is the Buddhist approach to everything- finding that middle sweet spot- not too much, not too little- which changes every moment) regarding the opinion of the human body.

So I have a few “quirky” ideas about things, but I don’t want to grandstand about them. I’m not interested in creating a fuss or disrespecting these teachers who know this stuff in and out- I just want a place to learn and maybe find a little bit of community. I’m probably thinking *way* too much into this and just need to go ahead and sign up and see how it goes. I’m sure I’m not the first student who has her own little view of certain aspects of Buddhism.

My main concern actually isn’t the ideology, but the sincere time commitment. I don’t want to half-ass it. It isn’t a lot- several hours a week, and a lot of the coursework is watching their Dharma talks (which I already do…) so it seems like exactly what I am looking for: a way to really immerse myself in the practice and see how it goes. I just want to go into it willing and ready to give it whatever it requires.


Tom is recovering from a fairly serious back injury – he is scheduled for his third round of injections in his back and is hoping these will finally get him over the worst parts of the pain.  After the second round of injections (two weeks ago…) he was able to get back to the gym and is ready to start physical therapy. He had to put off testing for his black belt in karate In December because of the back problems, which was a little devastating, but he’s eager to get back.

The back thing was one of those things were you think you just pulled a muscle and then a week later you wake up and realize “this isn’t going away, and in fact it’s getting worse” so you have to really be assertive about it. Tom turned 50 a few weeks ago which he’s not pleased about (especially since this is the short window in the year when I am EIGHT years younger than him  in May when I turn 43 it goes back to being seven years.) And as you get older, you have to be a lot more aggressive with health and well-being if you want some quality of life- you really do have to take everything seriously and make sure it’s not something more than it is. Like, one day you are healthy, and the next you have a heart problem or blood sugar issues that came out of nowhere.

It’s kind of scary- I have always been vigilant about my health (I really had no choice) but a few years ago a lot of the non-issue stuff (like dry skin) became this HUGE important thing that required a lot of attention and care. And the shift takes a while to get used to. It’s almost like at this stage in life you go through a second growth spurt- when you were in your teens, you had to change the way you took care of yourself. It’s the same now.

In some ways it’s not all terrible because you can develop this appreciation for your body and all its systems as you get older and learn how to really pay attention to it. I am finally settling into my own skin, and it’s an amazing feeling for me. I mean, my body has been carrying me around for 42 years now, and I am learning to really appreciate it. I spent a lot of time in my teens and early 20’s in a battle with it, and not remotely grateful for it (I sometimes joke that my main job in life is as the owner/operator of a franchise of Spina Bifida) and then it started to shift for me in my 30’s. Now that I’m 42 and I’ve swam all these years… I found the thing that sustains me. Karate is Tom’s swimming, and I know he wants to get back. Hopefully soon.


Grace is in 5th grade- she still LOVES writing and reading, she does art and sports for fun, she thinks nerd/geek culture is super cool, she’s developed an interest in science (especially making weird chemical concoctions which lead to putty/slime- there is SO much slime and putty around this house.) She’s developed an interest in sci-fi, including Dr. Who (?!!?!?!) and Tom watches it with her. It’s kind of ironic since I knew someone in college who was an obsessive Dr. Who fan and I really couldn’t get into it (in fact, I will admit that his dedication likely made me averse to it), so now that Grace and Tom watch it it’s sort of an interesting full-circle moment for me. Now when I study at night, I hear “EXTERMINATE EXTERMINATE” from the other room. Daleks and Dharma, *strange* match.

(They were both THRILLED when a Dalek showed up in the new Lego Batman movie.)

The new thing is the socialization- now that Grace and her friends all have phones and chat/interact online outside of school, there’s a lot of coming over here and going over there with her friends and sleepovers and all of that. Its kind of awesome because she organizes her own hangouts and we just have to clarify with other parents and get her there/get ready for kids to come here. I know some people love love love tiny babies and toddlers and things (I liked toddlerhood, to be honest…) but there’s also a LOT of wonderful things about having an older child. I really like that she’s a participating member of the family, and we can talk about all sorts of things. I really think as a parent there are a lot of amazing and wonderful things about every age she’s been. If you’re a parent of a young child who worries about what might be lost as they get older (like I was, so many people told me “enjoy every moment and don’t take it for granted because it goes by so fast and you will always miss it”, etc.), take heart- for every little “cute” habit they lose, they gain *so* much. As much as I miss the little short-haired toddler sort of lumbering around, babbling, dismantling things, and doing insanely adorable things all the time, I genuinely enjoy the young adult that I share my life with just as much. In my opinion and experience, a child has something to fiercely love and admire at all ages.


The cats and the birds and the gecko and the butterflies are all doing their thing. It’s a little community they have going, fascinating to observe and think about and be part of. I know I say this a lot, but the ability to live with animals (especially the cats because they are so strong-willed and have their own habits and routines around here) is one of the most amazing parts of my life. It feels like such a privilege. They are completely different, but we all connect and interact and live together under one roof. I mean, how cool is that, to co-exist?


Okay, this is long. As usual. I am going to continue a few more of the “Around Here” topics in another post.

Hope you have an amazing, restful (or exciting) and joyful weekend.

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you should dwell with the door to your senses well-guarded

“… you should
with the doors to
your senses
– Buddha

That’s what I have been doing the last few months- dwelling with the doors to my senses well-guarded. That’s the reason I haven’t updated- I’ve just been keeping quiet and busy with art and with school (more on that later) and with life on a sort of immediate level.

After the election, I went into a bit of a frenzy. For a week after the election, I believed that if I really tried hard enough, I could lend my voice to the literally millions and someone might actually *listen*.  Then I sort of shut down. Not in a terrible way, just in a “no one is going to jump in and fix this” kind of way.

It wasn’t actually the election that shifted everything for me, though- it was something I saw a few days later, on Facebook. It was animal-abuse related (a post hoping to raise awareness and find and prosecute someone) and something that will haunt me forever. I cried for days over it. That was the thing that changed everything for me.

After I saw the story on my feed, I immediately logged off Facebook and blocked Facebook from my computer, deleted it from my phone. I also shut down a bunch of my email accounts and blocked all other social media sites. I took a huge step back from my computer (I was never much of a phone person to begin with, so the phone wasn’t a challenge…) I just felt like I had to take control, once and for all, to what I was ingesting, news and media-wise.  I spent a lot of 2016 in a constant panic about the election and I was just DONE. I’m all for being informed, but the glut of shit that is floating around on social media sites and news sites is toxic and repetitive. It’s not necessary.

And I realized that I didn’t have to participate, and the thought of shutting off some of that flow of information felt like a relief. I logged off those sites and haven’t logged back on since that day, except to deactivate my Facebook account.

You know that meme that goes around after any sort of crisis, the Mr. Rogers quote about “look for the helpers”?

In November, I realized there weren’t enough helpers. Not for the election, not for all the people affected by it (on both sides). Not for abused and neglected animals, or citizens in countries where elections like this happen constantly, etc. Not for the environment or the people feeling lost and alone. Etc.

I immediately realized that I had to stop screwing around, and do what I could to be a helper.

I’m not talking about becoming superwoman, or an activist, or anything. I did a few days of activism after the election and it just left me depleted. Getting angry just made me angrier. I was tired of spinning out. Everyone was spinning out, and in more articulate ways than I was, so my voice was not adding anything to the mix.

I was thinking a lot about personal ethics and philosophy, especially with the state of the world and US politics. And it kept leading me back to Buddhism. And not in a “hey, I should check that out a little more…” kind of way, but a “hey, it’s time to take this seriously” kind of way.

About ten years ago I got interested in neuroscience and psychology, and it kept leading me to Buddhism. Over and over again. The biggest coincidences was when I would ponder something in my mind and form an idea or ethical stand on something, and I’d google it and it would turn out to be part of the Buddhist philosophy. It just kept happening. I wasn’t looking for Buddhism, but it kept finding *me*.

I did look into Buddhism on a more serious level a few times, but some of the more rigorous parts of the religion and philosophy scared me. Suffering and impermanence are BIG “reality checks” of Buddhism. There is suffering. Everything changes, all the time. Every time I read about those specific “truths” of Buddhism, I backed away. I was looking for a religion that would be the magical antidote to suffering and impermanence, a faith that would comfort me and then lock that bliss in. Peace on earth. Only good things. I was not interested in a religion/philosophy that has “there is suffering” as its first noble truth.

It was when Cecil the Lion got killed a few years ago (by a man who has a house here on Marco Island, no less…) that I found myself really face to face with Buddhism. That event really upset me, on a very deep level. The ONLY thing that was able to comfort me after that situation was one thought: “There is suffering.” For some reason, the idea of an entire faith acknowledging the terrible fact that life on Earth could often hurt was tremendously comforting to me. It let me know that there was nothing I could have done to personally prevent Cecil’s death, and nothing I could do to make it better for him. It was just tragic. And there were other people who were feeling just as broken over it, and as helpless.

If you know me at all, you know I’m a big softie when it comes to animals. Probably the most profound decision I ever made was when I chose to become a vegetarian in my early teens. I wasn’t told to do it, or inspired by someone to do it, and it certainly wasn’t a trend. The suffering of animals was just something that I became aware of on my own, and it was like something inside my shifted and I knew I could NEVER eat meat again. And I haven’t. In thirty years, I haven’t been tempted to eat a single piece of meat or chicken or fish or anything that ever roamed the earth. It was the one little thing I could do to help prevent the suffering of animals. It was just something that clicked inside me and I was at peace with that decision and haven’t questioned it since.

Since then, my devotion to animals has only grown. And it’s a hard thing to feel so incredibly strongly about, especially when 90% of the world doesn’t really give a crap. I just feel very strongly that if we are going to consume animals or use them for their skin or fur, the least we can do is provide them with a decent life while they are alive and give them a painless passing. People go to a pro-life rally and then directly to a pig roast in a friend’s yard, they hunt animals for fun, they kill animals for ritual sacrifice, they fight dogs for sport, they do so much worse. And factory farming… *sigh* Every single day. I’m not accepting of this, but it’s just a part of life. It’s not okay in any way, shape or form, but it all exists. There is suffering. It’s just a part of life on earth.

But, I believe it’s wrong. I’ll go so far as to say that I know it’s wrong. Keep in mind that I write this, and my own child is NOT a vegetarian. We keep a vegetarian house, but she does eat meat and chicken when she’s at her grandparents’ house or at school or with friends. That’s her decision to make.  I know it’s a personal thing. It’s just something I personally don’t have wiggle room for in my own life. It’s a certainty for me, one that came to at a very young age, and one that has not wavered. It’s one of the only things I know for certain in this life.

For a while in the 90’s and the early 2000’s, humane issues were part of the vocabulary of the government, even in a very fringe way. It was an issue connected to the environment, so it got a little ground. But then a bunch of people decided trying to build a time machine to the 1950’s out of the White House was more important than anything else (including the planet) and once again the issue got lost in the mix. Which I understand- like I said, it’s not on everyone’s list of concerns.

But it happens to be the first precept (rule) of Buddhism. No harming living things. Period, end of story. Just because you are human doesn’t mean you are entitled to make any living being suffer for your own sense of gratification. (Which is what I realized and felt so strongly about when I was 13. duh.)

And then this year, with the health problems I had- I kept remembering Buddha’s teaching of the impermanence of things – including negative emotions and tough situations. Meaning, THINGS GET BETTER.

The election itself was a big lesson in how important it is NOT to get attached to certain outcomes. I was devastated by the results because I was very very very attached to a specific outcome. The idea of the election not happening the way I wanted it to was absolutely unthinkable. And yet…

And the reason the election happened the way it did was also because of attachment- millions of people are attached and grasping hard to a way of life that doesn’t exist anymore, and a man who promised that he might be able to bring it back for them (which is false speech, which is another “you shouldn’t do that…” thing in Buddhism…) And then there’s ignorance, which is a key issue in Buddhism. Factors of identity, power, etc.


As far as diving into Buddhism once and for all, the truth is that I was scared to finally let go of the ragged edges of the Christian faith I had tried so hard to make work for so long. But there wasn’t anything left for me there. It’s so ironic that I spent so many years of my life trying not to make God mad (I’m even scared to write and publish this), and in the end it was *me* who got really mad at God. The specific animal abuse thing I mentioned above was just too much for me. And no one was answering for it.

I know for some people things like the election and other tragedies are sort of personal opportunities to become even *more* faithful in God- I’m very familiar with Job and other similar stories in the Bible, and that just doesn’t resonate with me. It never has. I know lots of amazing Christians, it’s just that I couldn’t ever find my fit in it.

At first, I wanted to do study Buddhism academically, because that’s how I tend to approach things. I figured if I was going to seriously explore converting, and really embracing a faith and philosophy, I needed to be fully informed about it. Regardless of whether I might convert or not, it was something I was very interested in, and had been for years. So the idea of doing some sort of academic study of it appealed to me. (Plus, I’ve been flirting with the idea of going back to school since I finished grad school in 1999.)

I mentioned it to Tom one night and a few hours later he came to bed clutching a bunch of papers- he researched a bunch of online graduate programs in Buddhism for me and printed out a bunch of stuff. One of his co-workers actually went back to school for Buddhism, so he already knew a bit about it.

Two days later I registered for a graduate level Foundations of Buddhism course at Rangjung Yeshe Institute for Buddhist Studies, which is at the University of Nepal. It’s a six month long intensive course on Buddhism- the history, the geography, the ethics, the philosophy, the scriptures- everything. It’s not for credit, because their graduate degree requires residency in Nepal, and that’s not happening for me. But it was everything I wanted, and I knew it would be a good start.

It’s TONS of work. HOURS. TONS of reading and translating and lectures and research and figuring out what the heck the 37 Factors of Enlightment are (and what each of them mean and where they figure in to everything) and trying to puzzle out how there isn’t a self (!!! but this actually makes sense, I’ll maybe talk about that later) to watching three hour long sermons on conditions and causes to try and educate myself on all the things I wasn’t understanding from the class texts and lectures.

The flipside is that I love it. All of it. It’s like a giant puzzle and I love putting it together. Even the stuff I don’t agree with, I can still see how it could work.

There are some super sharp edges to Buddhism. Some “ummmm… wtf?!” moments. But even those don’t make me feel like I’m trying to convince myself of something I don’t deep down believe. I think that’s because Buddhism is fairly fluid- although there are some rigid fundamentalists, in general, the faith has adapted itself to advances in science and the world in general so that it still makes beautiful sense. There’s flexibility to it.

The bottom line: the Buddhist path is all about easing suffering. And learning how to do things via the “Middle Way”, which is not too much and not too little.

You do it not only for the world, but yourself, as well. It’s pretty amazing to have had someone come along and say “all living things deserve to be free from suffering. And that includes *you*” and then create a whole movement around that. I think that’s pretty great, especially for right now. I don’t know what will happen at the end of this academic course- whether I’ll continue on academically or switch my focus to spiritual studies. Maybe I’ll discover something along the path (Zen? Jainism?) that resonates more and follow that. It’s up in the air, but at least I’m planning on spending the next little bit of my life doing something that really feeds my soul as opposed to letting these next few years be solely defined by the state of our government. I don’t want to look back at these years and think of them as dark ages. If I can’t do anything else, at least I can take back my focus, my emotions, my attention, and my time.

So there’s where I’m at. I’m about six weeks into my studies and I’m enjoying it, even though it just took me about two weeks to make my way through just a small part of the material with the translating and research I had to do. It was worth it.

Note No. 1:
Honestly, I DIDN’T want to share any of this. I wanted to just leave it be and keep it to myself and quietly go forward. It feels very personal, and something that I want to keep to myself. It’s like when I first met Tom- I didn’t talk about it for a while, didn’t journal while we were just starting out. I wanted to keep it close and quiet while the roots were growing. I get like that with things that are extremely important or sort of fragile and new to me. This is one of those things.

But a few people asked me about the whole Buddhism thing, so…

There’s this tradition in Buddhism that there’s no proseltizing. But if someone asks you to share your experience, you do it. The history is that when Buddha (who was just a regular guy- no divine being, no God) realized his path, he wasn’t going to teach it. He was just going to live ethically and hope it rubbed off on others. But then someone asked him to please teach what he learned, because it might benefit others. So he decided to go ahead and do it, just in case someone *could* benefit. And it turned out it benefited a LOT of people. So there’s a tradition in Buddhism that if someone asks you about it, or shows interest, you share your experience. Just in case. And it’s tradition for students to find teachers and ask them for education and information, which they freely give. It’s kind of a nice thing.

Note No. 2:
A few people inquired about why I dropped off the face of Facebook and disappeared from online life, and this is why. I feel compelled to write again (which I say a lot, but this time it might be different because:

A) it’s been 20 years (!!!!!!) since I started keeping an online journal, and it still matters to me.

B) I feel a lot more free in what I’m saying because I realize that I might lose a few “sometimes reads” who will read this and think I lost my mind. I’m not too worried about that anymore. I used to be worried about appealing to everyone and keeping it light, but the more I think about what I was writing when I started this journal way back in 1997, the more I realized how much more valuable and useful it was to *me* to have that outlet. When I started writing, no one was reading.

C) Comments are turned off simply because I get too attached to them- I started letting the number of comments indicate to me what sort of posts people like and then found myself not publishing posts I thought might not appeal to people, etc. It’s not that I don’t want to hear from anyone, but I think my journal (and that’s what this is- not a brief blog, but an online journal/diary, hence the very long entries…) will only work if it goes back to being about writing it and expressing things rather than trying to keep people interested. I actually considered starting some anonymous journal elsewhere so I could write and just be free from worrying about how many readers I might offend or bore, but then I realized I can just do that here. I just have to be ready to let go of comments and tracking page visits and stuff, and after so much time away, I’m okay with that.

D) Also, I don’t tend to reply to comments or email (or even texts) because I am SO FREAKING LONG WINDED. I think the long-winded thing is very clear by now. I can’t NOT do that- after 25+ years online I am just coming to terms with the fact that when I write, no matter what the heck it is, it’s going to be long and take a lot of time. So I always think “it’s going to take more than a few minutes, so I will sit down and focus on it later today when I can really give it my attention…” and then I don’t. I have freakin’ emails in my inbox from two years ago that I *fully* intend on responding to.)

(This is all very ironic considering I’m VERY shy and tend to be very quiet in real life. Maybe I just save it all for the computer.)

Note No. 3:
I’m not turning this site into an online Buddha center or anything. I’ve been actually doing a ton more art stuff (mostly painting in acrylic and watercolor – like the little splash/wash thing up above-, and some collage) and I think the reason for that is because being offline so much has freed up some time, energy, and the whole “comparison” thing. I plan on doing a lot more art-related posts now that I feel like I don’t have to share completed works or do tutorials or share everything across every platform. And also those “around here” posts I used to do, because those are fun and also form as a sort of documentation of life. I’ve put scrapbooking and photography totally to the side, and that’s okay- I just want to focus on painting and studying at the moment. So I want to go back to documenting life on some level.

Okay, hope you are really really well. Seriously. And I thank you for reading this. Have an incredibly wonderful weekend.

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gardenia from the garden

gardenia from the garden

I know I haven’t posted in a while, but this summer was actually a lot busier than I assumed it was going to be!

Foot Surgery:
As far as my foot surgery/recovery, I’m right at the tail-end of that. My surgical incision *just* finished healing, and the welt I had on my ankle (reaction to some coarse gauze they used to wrap my foot after surgery) finally healed. It’s been about ten weeks since I had the surgery, and my surgeon said that the suture/scar will remain sort of sensitive and tender for the next few months. The reason it’s taking longer than usual is because she had to go in through a previous surgical scar, and scar tissues (especially opened twice) is a little harder to heal. So I’m still taking it easy.

Also, I had to do three rounds of fairly heavy duty anti-biotics and they really made me sick and I’m still dealing with the effects of that. I kind of knew it was coming when the warning label on one of the bottles said “may cause intestinal discomfort for several weeks and/or months after medication is finished”. So that’s kind of zonked me out, energy-wise.

I haven’t been “out” much all summer- I go outside and swim every day, spend a lot of time in the backyard just hanging out with Tom and Gracie and reading and writing, and I do stuff like go to the doctor’s office and go get haircuts and stuff like that, but I haven’t done anything that requires me to be on my feet for longer than an hour or so at a time.

Usually we spend every summer at the movie theater and/or going out to Naples to eat and shop a little bit because of the stormy weather, but this summer we haven’t seen a SINGLE movie at the theater or gone out at all. Part of me is all “holy smokes! All the amazing movies I missed! I’m crushed and I miss it so much! And Gracie didn’t get to see Ghostbusters or Captain America or Secret Life of Pets!” and another part of me couldn’t care less, and secretly thinks watching Stranger Things on Netflix was a better experience than watching most of the movies I have seen in the theater in the last year or so.

But I’m ready to get back into “life” again. I’m excited to go see the new fall movies, go to the Botanical Gardens, check out the new Michaels that they built just 20 minutes from my house (!!!!! maybe a Target/Trader Joe’s/Whole Foods/good movie theater is next?!) and Paper Source and B&N with Grace (who has become serious about planners and paper supplies and stationery and books), maybe even go to Disney for a few day trips as soon as the weather gets better (I have a little scooter-y thing I use in the theme parks because while I can easily swim five miles, I cannot *walk* five miles!)…

However, I have had sort of a big shift in perspective about being “busy” and what I spend my time on: having not been able to do much of ANYTHING this summer made me realize exactly what it is I really missed doing and what it is I really don’t give a crap about. And as I get back into regular activities, I just sort of want to do what I really want to do, instead of doing things I think I *should* do or think I should enjoy, if that makes any sense. So as I get back doing more stuff, I kind of want to be picky about what it is I do. Even though health problems aren’t fun, it’s sort of a luxury to be allowed to be super picky about how I spend my limited time on my feet. It’s gotta count.

The other thing that happened, out of nowhere, is that we started raising butterflies. This I’ll definitely have to write a longer post about, because it’s pretty much THE main focus of any free time around here.

Let me make it clear we had absolutely no intention of doing this- the butterflies kind of chose us. Long story short: I have a pretty huge container garden inside the screened in lanai (pool cage) of our house. Apparently, a Gulf Frittillary butterfly laid eggs on one of my plants THROUGH the screen and a few weeks later we had about 15 butterflies *inside* the lanai. A few weeks later, we now we have SIX species (Gulf Frits, Zebra Longwings, Monarchs, White Peacocks, Buckeyes, and Atalas), are actively trying to get a few more (Swallowtail, Sulphurs, etc.) by putting host plants outside our screen for butterflies to lay eggs on, and Tom renovated the lanai a bit so that there are parts dedicated to the butterflies. I will write more about this soon, because if we keep doing it, I’m likely to refer to the caterpillars/butterflies from time to time so you know what the heck I am talking about.

“Do What You Love”:
Besides being stuck around the house all summer, one thing that kept me really busy was taking an class called “Do What You Love.” I originally took it three years ago (I think?) and I saved all the materials from it, so it was just a matter of pulling the binder down from the shelf and queuing up the videos on my Mac.

I decided to re-take the class on a whim. Right after the surgery at the end of May, when my routine got thrown upside down and I was sort of shaken up by everything, I realized that the whole experience was an opportunity for a “fresh start”. That doesn’t happen often- when you get FORCED to change your routine and habits. I didn’t want to waste it. Because of the surgery, I suddenly had a bunch of downtime in my hands and was desperate for something that would keep me from going stir-crazy. Ialso wanted to get out of the funk I’ve been in for the last few months (let’s be honest…. years.) I remembered “Do What You Love” and decided to pull out all the class materials and just start from scratch and see what happened. It couldn’t hurt, right?

The good thing about taking the class this summer was that I felt like a complete blank slate. I’ve been so focused on my health that everything else has fallen off my radar. This was a chance to add things back into my life, but be very discerning about it. Like I said, you don’t get that opportunity very often. I mean, every day is a new chance to start fresh, but I am a HUGE creature of routine and habit, and no matter who you are it takes a whole lot of courage to step out of the box, and it’s REALLY uncomfortable to do it. But since the box was being taken away from me and I had nothing to say about it, I figured this was a chance to clean up shop.

I worked on every assignment in earnest, and spent hours and hours doing the writing and working through the questions and trying to dig around inside and really be honest. I can honestly say when I started this class around I literally had no idea what I loved (except maybe my family, being healthy, watercolor paints, and swimming) and felt like I was a true blank slate.

So I did all the writing and worksheets and charts and graphs and journaling, and I have to admit, as tedious as it was, it was illuminating. I realized that deep down I felt (and still feel) truly guilty about taking time away from being a “grown-up” to work on anything purely for my own enjoyment. So what I did to alleviate that guilt over the last two decades was take all the activities I loved and “modify” those things so that they felt like “valid” ways to spend time.

For instance, let’s talk about art journaling. I started out scrapbooking during Grace’s adoption ten years ago, but then I realized I liked to art journal more than scrapbooking. So I art journaled, and I loved it. But I started feeling guilty about not thoroughly documenting Grace’s life, and who the heck would care about books full of magazine pictures and quotes in 50 years, anyway? So I mixed the two, but it wasn’t as fun and it got a little confusing. I slowly stopped art journaling altogether because even though I liked art journaling better, scrapbooking served a purpose- it was a “legitimate” and “valid” way to play with papers and tapes and photos. It wasn’t as fun, but it was still a way to be creative and express myself, right? That’s what I told myself, at least.

Then I got obsessed with having to document every single thing that happened, which was overwhelming. Then, last spring, I decided I just didn’t want to document ANYTHING, anymore. I just put it all away and felt relieved. But I started missing art journaling… and sort of tried to convince myself that I could be interested in art journaling but not do it.

Doing the “Do What You Love” class made me realize that while I’m not interested in documenting, what I *am* very, very interested in going back to what I did in my very first art journal: collaging magazine pictures and quotes and bits of art and tape and ephemera together in a big bound book. So I tried doing that again. Some photos and stories from day to day make their way in there, but mostly it’s just a book about what I’m feeling. And I LOVE it. I can’t believe how much I missed doing it.

And even though I literally feel happiness as I work on it, and feel good after as I flip through the pages I have done, I still have a hard time giving myself permission to sit down and work on my art journal. There’s a little voice that says “you are wasting time!” It is just so hard to shut that voice down, but every day I get a little better at it. I think that little voice of disapproval is always going to be there, though- there’s a part of me that will not approve of doing things solely because they make me happy. But now there’s a bigger part of me that knows if I don’t do the things that make me happy, it will have a very big effect on my overall well-being. I’m tired of feeling unhappy. So being a little uncomfortable is worth it.

Another thing from the class that was extremely helpful was the concept of “finite personal resources” : time, energy, and money. One of the more tedious tasks in the class was tracking how I spend all three, but doing it really opened my eyes. Especially in regards to time.

I’ve always known that health and family came first for me, but I didn’t realize how much I shut down everything else on behalf of those things. Our family “thing” is meals- when we’re all home, we eat meals together. Since Tom works from home, we eat a lot of meals together. And because his schedule changes every day, and my morning/afternoon schedule is dictated by my health (how long I’m in the pool, when can get in the pool because of weather, etc, other health-related things that pop up), and Grace has sports and stuff after school, we never have meal times at the same time two days in a row. We never have, and we never will (oh, have we tried.) So it’s kind of a crapshoot.

And since I never know when we might eat, I sort of never start any projects within throwing distance of a possible meal time because I know I’ll be interrupted, and it throws me off my game.

So the whole time tracking thing came in handy, even though I rolled my eyes when I read the exercise. I had to break my day into chunks, and decide what activities could fit into what chunks. I literally made this giant list that says “if you have 15 minutes, you can…”, “if you have 30 minutes, you can…”, etc. Now whenever I have any time, I just pick an activity from the list that feels like it might be fun and do it. I know this sounds absolutely ridiculous and obvious, but I’m completely indecisive and often paralyzed by choice, and I get this weird feeling of obligation to certain projects, and I have the whole guilt thing going on, so it’s good to have the possibilities just spelled out for me. Just knowing I WON’T have time to finish the painting I have been working on but I WILL have time to write something or whatever, and just commit to doing that, makes life so much easier. I don’t have to weight the pros and cons of how I spent my creative time.

I also learned that just because I have a zillion different things I like to do and want to try (especially art-wise) doesn’t mean I have to do them all *now*. Or any time soon. I can still have ideas and sparks of inspiration but instead of trying to figure out how to make them fit into what’s currently going on, I can write file them away for later, and come back to them.

Since taking this approach, I’ve also realized a lot of creative ideas and inspiration actually evolve into something completely different and even better if they are just allowed to simmer for a while. That was a REAL eye-opener. Instead of jumping gung-ho into every new project or painting idea I’ve come up with, or try every tutorial I see online or in a book, I let it sit for a while. Some ideas go away, but some persist and they really solidify and start coming together on their own. Often, several ideas sort of mix up into something else that’s completely unique and cool. And by the time I sit down to work on them, it’s much, much easier. I wish I had known this 15 years ago ;-/. I’ve spent a lot of time jumping into stuff and not liking it and then just writing it off as a done deal. A lot of that stuff is actually coming back now, and being incorporated into new projects. It’s kinda spooky. But fascinating.

Anyway, I enjoyed taking the class and I’m *very* glad I did it. But I dearly missed all the other stuff that has gotten the short end of the straw while I was working on the class.

I hope you had (or are still having) a great summer. Grace starts school tomorrow morning, and she is SO excited. I’m happy for her- she had a good summer because we finally figured out the camp thing, but she’s really in her element when she’s with her friends and doing her after school stuff and team sports and all that. This year she’s doing flute, as well, so she’s psyched for that. It should sound very interesting around here… 😉

If you made it this far, thanks for reading, and providing me a place where I can express myself. I know I am long-winded. It’s funny how much I write in these entries considering how little I talk in real life. If I have something interesting to say, I’ll talk up a storm, but un general I’m fairly quiet. You wouldn’t know it from these entries, right?

Have a great Monday 🙂

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sunflowers in the garden (taken in May)

sunflowers in the garden (taken in May)

After my last post I’ve been thinking a lot about happiness and looking for little ways to increase it whenever I have the opportunity.

There were two things this week that actually really made a big difference in my overall level of happiness, and I thought I might write them down. One thing I discovered with both of them is that sometimes little things you do to try and increase your happiness don’t have an effect immediately, but make you happier *after* you do them. Interesting. It makes me want to put in an effort to tweak all sorts of little things during my regular days, and see what effect they might have down the road.

Something worth exploring, I think.

Anyway, two things that made a profound difference on my level of happiness:

The first is swimming (still). But, more importantly, taking time to actually ENJOY being in the pool.

One day last week I swam for my hour, and then before I got out of the pool I decided to just float around on my back in the water and relax a bit. Since I have been swimming daily for almost 25 years (!) and consider it a form of fitness, I rarely relax in the pool. It’s kind of like getting on a treadmill just to take a leisurely stroll or something. The pool has become a giant gym to me- not a place of rest. In fact, I don’t think there’s ever been a time I just got into a pool to just relax and enjoy it. I get in a pool and swim. And I love that, but it’s not relaxing.

If I’m being completely honest, the reason I decided to spend a little time floating in the pool that day was because I was trying to get back in touch with some of the magic that I felt that very first day back in the pool after my surgery, which felt life-changing (literally). But I couldn’t get there and that’s okay. Floating wasn’t magical, but it was nice– I relaxed a bit and floated on my back and listened to a song on my waterproof iPod and watched the clouds move in the sky. Then I got out and got ready to go inside and take a shower.

The funny thing is that when I got out of the pool, I felt like a million bucks. I felt like I had a really great swim. It was like that little relaxed moment at the end changed my perspective of my entire swim, and that shift in perspective didn’t happen until after I got out of the water. So now I take a little time to float around every day after my swim- usually just a few minutes, a song or two on my iPod. But it feels really great.

The second thing is what I do after I swim and shower and get back to my desk everyday. My regular routine has been to make a cup of tea and drink it while I check my email and attend to different things that need doing and figure out what the plan for the day is.

Lately I’ve been bringing my tea into the studio and doing something different- I pull an art book down off the shelf, grab a stack of post-it page markers, and spend a while flipping through the art book, sipping my tea, and getting inspired.

I know this seems like a super simple thing but for some reason it’s become pretty much one of my FAVORITE times of the day. I’m all done with my workout, my swim, taking care of my foot, I’m relaxed, I’m (finally) having my cup of tea, and instead of spinning my wheels and trying to figure out what needs my attention, I just take a little bit of time to get inspired and learn something new and jot down some notes. All my art books are finally being used, and I’m getting so much out of it- just in the week I have been doing it I’ve picked up a bunch of new art techniques and information.

But one thing that has come out of this new little ritual that I was not expecting is that it’s made me realize a lot about making art in general and let go of some of the stuff that’s been preventing me from doing some of the art I want to do be doing.

For some reason the last five years I have gotten really really hung up on the idea of absolutely NOT copying anyone and having everything I create be absolutely original, even though there have been techniques and styles I lovelovelove and really want to try. I’m also really interested in color and pattern and geometry and minimalism (to a degree) and the fact is if you are going to use geometry in your work, especially as the main focus of your composition- someone else has done it. Period, end of story. If you want to use triangles, it’s been done. Same with grids, or lines, or dots.

And really good artists go ahead and do it ANYWAY. It’s classic design. I have tons of pattern books and there are a million different patterns with geometrics in them, but they all are different and unique and beautiful because they each have the hand of the artist who made them inside the art. I’m starting to realize design and composition and subject matter and style are all just tools in art- like the paint and the brushes. As long as you bring yourself and your own expression into the art, THAT’s what makes it unique.

This has been so freeing to me. I’m still a tiny bit hung up on complete authenticity, but it’s loosening. I’m getting super excited to try out some ideas I have been holding on to for a long time.

(A sidenote to this conversation- I have been catching up on Flora Bowley’s “Studio Diaries” art classes from the last few months and one thing I am getting out of all the chats she has with other artists and her Q&As is the realization that not all art has to be for public consumption. Meaning- you can make art solely for yourself.

There’s been this whole movement of “share your work” and “put it out into the universe no matter what” and sometimes it’s okay to just NOT do that. I often DON’T create because I think “oh, I’ll have to share this and my idea isn’t good enough/original/important/won’t be received well” OR “what’s the point of investing this time if it has no value to anyone?”

It’s okay to just sit down with a stack of paper or canvas and paint and just make 100 weird experiments or doodles or abstracts and just have that be it. No other reason other than you want to play with paint to practice how colors mix and when you’re done, they get cut up for a collage or used as scrap paper or even tossed out. Or, keep them if you want to because they are pretty and dreamy but never show them to anyone.

You made something- you put in the hours at your desk, you did the work. That’s what matters. That all counts, even if no one receives it. It counts because you learned and explored and in that period of time, you grew a little bit as an artist. Even if no one sees or knows about it, it count. It counts because within the process of creation, YOU change. You grow, you evolve. Your work might not get out to the world, but that little boost in your own self does. That’s enough.

It’s the same with writing or poetry or photography or dance or whatever- you can just create something, whether it’s big or small, and then never share it with the world. It’s all in the process of creating, and not in the creation- not in the finished product.

I have heard this and have agreed with it forever (and ever and ever and ever), but I never really got it. For some reason, it finally sunk in. And it excites me so much!)

Here’s to a summer of happiness, relaxation, and creative freedom. <3

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so what now?

17 Jun 2016
playing with watercolor and shape

playing with watercolor and shapes

So, I got my stitches out a week ago- Thursday. Awesomesauce.

I’ll be honest, I’m still terrified there might be an infection in there. I feel like I’m walking on eggshells. I wake up every morning feeling good, but by the end of the day I just feel scared and worn down.

But I did my week of antibiotics, and my doctor is pleased, so… I have to trust her. And trust this whole process. But it’s so hard. This pin has been lurking for several years, and I’ve felt on the literal edge of disaster for the good part of the last year. I guess I just can’t believe I might be on the other side of it. I know I keep saying that, but I think it’s affected me a lot more than maybe I realized. I just feel very vulnerable and scared.

The incision from the surgery is kind of big, and it’s still very much healing, so I’m still a ways off from being back to the regular grind. I also have a big welt on my ankle from the combination of the gauze that they used to wrap my foot and ankle plus the the surgical shoe, and so I have to keep my eye on that, as well. That was a weird thing- when my doctor unwrapped the bandages to remove my stitches, she was actually more concerned about my ankle than the surgical incision. I think we caught that just before it turned into something big.

So now it’s just letting the incision heal and letting my ankle heal and being patient. I can’t really go out and do anything yet because I can’t cram my foot into my sneakers and I can’t wear the surgical shoe. Plus, I need to stay off my foot as much as I can to let it heal (and because it does hurt a little). So it’s sort of a weird time. But I’m okay with it- I’ll miss our summer ritual of seeing pretty much every movie released, but if it means I can get my foot healed, we’re all okay with it. Tom’s busy with catching up on the work he missed while he was going to all the pre-ops and helping me after the surgery, and Grace has different camps every week this summer (this week is sailing, next week is digital photography- I think…) and school stars early in June, so we’re all busy.

The best news, besides getting the stitches out, was that I got to go back into the pool.

I have been swimming five miles a day (about two hours and 15 minutes), every day for most of my adult life, so getting back into the pool was huge for me. But I can’t overdo it- soaking a healing incision that needs to dry out for 140 minutes every day is not such a great idea. So I’m swimming for about an hour, and making up some of the other hour on the recumbent elliptical, with my leg propped up.

BUT, swimming = bliss. Seriously.

The first day I got back into the pool, it felt like magic. The sun was shining, the skies were blue, the water was cool and refreshing and all sparkly, and as soon as I got in it felt like I was floating on air. It was just so amazing. I forgot how good it felt to be in the water, to glide up and down the length of the pool, to move all the muscles in my body, and to stretch myself out. My back finally relaxed and stopped aching. My mind quieted down.

I was only in for 20 minutes, and it felt way too short, but it was one of the most intense moments of my life- I felt such relief. I could have swam all day. I got out of the pool feeling better than I have in years- I literally can’t remember feeling as good as I felt that day. I felt like a brand new person.

I know this sounds like hyperbole, but it’s not.

This whole experience has been a bit of a “reset” for me. The last few years have been hard, and emotionally a struggle for me. Losing Delilah was sort of when it all started, and then I developed anemia which made me feel like shit, and then this thing with the pin in my foot started… it’s just been a really sucky bunch of years, to be honest. Not terrible awful, but not necessarily good either. Just part of the ebb and flow of life.

So my focus every day was just being “okay”. Not fabulous, not awesome. I’ve mentioned numerous times about that philosophy- it all started when Robin Williams passed, and I realized that nothing mattered more (not success, not wealth, not fame, not being adored by millions, not even having had a positive impact on most of the world, etc.) than just being OKAY. Sometimes all you can do is get through the day, and that counts for everything. And okay is pretty damn good when you’re in crisis mode or feeling terrified about things.

This last year, I started wondering if the fact that I’m getting older meant that my body would just start failing or something… I know this sounds melodramatic, but life with Spina Bifida can be a bit of the great unknown, and I’d be naive if I didn’t consider what how the natural aging process might change my health. I was responsible, but scared. And really sad, too. I know that sounds silly, maybe, but it was a little heartbreaking to suddenly think “okay, I’m no longer healthy, what’s next?” when I’ve sort of based my whole existence with this disease as being an example of someone who can have Spina Bifida and be an athlete and be healthy and have a good life.

I kind of worried that my “healthy” phase of life might be over, and it was hard to process. So I stopped thinking about it as a whole and just focused on being OKAY every day. Just okay was plenty enough. That’s what it’s been like for a long time.

But then I got in the pool last week and felt something more- I felt bliss, and happiness. For those twenty minutes I was in the pool and under the blue skies and gliding through the water (and a few hours after), everything was TRULY okay. And I felt peace.

And maybe I’m selfish, but I want more of that. It’s scary to admit that- it’s almost like I’m asking for too much. But screw it, I want to feel better. I want to feel *good*. The last few years I have felt little flashes of “good”- not a lot of it, but these moments where things seemed to sparkle and I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. But I would sort of put it away because it scared me a little. But I held on to those moments, those feelings. It was like something inside me was reminding myself that there was more hidden way down deep, just waiting for when the coast might be clear to come out again.

And I really felt that part of me emerge in the pool last week. I wanted to hold it tight, but I allowed myself to savor it and enjoy it, and then be okay when it passed. I just reminded myself that feeling good in those moments was proof that I was still capable of experiencing true joy and peace, and that when the time is right, it’ll happen again.

I’m starting to see this whole surgery/recovery thing as an opportunity to re-evaluate things and figure out how to change what’s not working and spend more time on what is. It forced me to literally step out of my normal routine and emotions and anxieties and all the things I thought were important but really aren’t and hit “reset”. I think this is kind of a big deal, but I want to take advantage of it.

One thing I’ve been doing the last few months is taking the “Awakening Joy” class again. The last time I took it, I was about three months into the class when Delilah passed away unexpectedly, so “Awakening Joy” was kind of off the table. I decided to take the class again this year because I was feeling so crummy and because it’s a class based on Buddhist philosophy, and one thing I wanted to do this year was take a class on Buddhism, just to learn more about it.

Of course, when the whole foot surgery thing came up, I put it on hold for a little bit. I went back to using “okay” as my baseline for life. I did use a lot of the stuff that was taught during the “getting through tough times” chapter/lesson the last few weeks, however. The class is seriously useful, no matter what your life philosophy/beiefs are and what is going on in your life.

But one thing that is at the very beginning of class is this question: what do you really want from life? How do you really want to feel?

Back in February, my answer was:
I want to be okay. I want to feel okay and be okay. I just want to get through this. And that was more than enough for that moment in my life, because it felt like everything was on the verge of not being okay. So okay was pretty big.

Now maybe it’s changed a bit. I want to feel good.

One thing the class teaches is that by changing habits and, therefore, changing the neural pathways in our brains (there’s a lot of neuroscience in the class), you can actually create more opportunities for happiness to arise. That’s why the class is called “Awakening Joy”- it’s all about waking up the inherent joy that all humans are born with but that gets sort of mashed down with life experiences. For a long time I wondered if the joy got “mashed down” or if people just grow out of it. But then I swam last week, and it was a reminder that the ability to feel joy- to feel good- is not gone, just sort of buried.

So I want to really look at my habits and adjust things a bit, and see what happens. I thought I had been doing that the last six months, but now I really get a chance to do it. I hope I stick with it, and that I don’t just fade back into old habits and let this be a blip in my long list of health experiences rather than something that could have a profoundly positive effect on my well-being.

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social media hiatus

15 Jun 2016
parker hiding from the world

parker hiding from the world.

Hey, How are you?

I wanted to say I’m sorry that I haven’t responded to any comments or emails- I’ve been kind of “off the grid” when it comes to social media for the last several months and I’m not doing such a good job of hopping back on.

I’ll be honest- this election has driven me insane. They always do- but this once has been vicious. At the beginning of the year when my stress from my health went into overload, I decided to see if limiting my exposure to any mention of the news and/or current events would make a difference in my mood. I deleted all links to news sites and dropped off Facebook. I kind of took a giant step back from the internet, and when I was online, I basically spent all my time on art websites, painting videos on YouTube, and listening to talks on Dharma Seed.

The biggest change for me was my decision to drop off Facebook. I didn’t delete my account, but I went from checking Facebook several times a day to maybe checking it once a week, if that. When I did go on Facebook, I basically checked my feed out of the side of my vision, and the minute I saw anything about politics or any kind of debate about current events, I immediately shut the browser window or quit the app.

Needless to say, I missed most of what was posted on Facebook because you can’t go more than a few posts without seeing something related to the election or guns or animal abuse. It’s a current events hotspot.

I used to really love Facebook- it was this place where people would share little snippets of life, or a few personal photos, and you could really stay connected via the little statuses. If you checked in once or twice a day, you could catch up on what people were up to and leave a few comments and it was a meaningful exchange. It was personal and manageable. Now it’s become a weird mix of endless memes, links to news sites, debates about politics, and huge dumps from people’s smart phones. It’s almost like it’s a grown-up Tumblr. And then Facebook started changing the way they displayed people’s statuses, so I kept missing all the personal stuff and just seeing the news stuff and the memes. It became this whole process to find the stuff I actually wanted to see.

I can’t say I miss it that much. I do miss being connected to friends, especially since I despise the phone and am a rotten pen-pal. But being away from current events and political arguments has really been good for me. I’m finding that the things that are meaningful to me and important for me to know about eventually find their way to me. And once I find out about them, I can seek out the information I need to know. It feels good to be in control of what I’m exposed to, instead of being at the mercy of what’s on my timeline, if that makes any sense.

One unexpected bonus to getting off Facebook was the time it freed up.

And I discovered the app Snapchat, which I actually love. I avoided it for ages, because I thought you basically “snapped” (I don’t like taking selfies…) your “chat” (and I really don’t chat…), but the whole “chat” thing is the part of the service that no one really uses. It’s all very non-chatty, actually.

You just basically take little photos and short videos with your phone and post them to your Snapchat timeline, and whoever is on your friends list can see what you’ve posted. That’s *literally* all there is to Snapchat. There are no comments, no “likes”, no sharing posts, no memes. There’s no way of sharing or linking anything off the rest of the internet into Snapchat. You can’t even take photos off your camera roll and post them on your timeline. All you can do is take a photo or video from inside the Snapchat app and post it. It’s a closed system. It almost reminds me of what the internet was like before “comments” were even a thing- when you just accessed a webpage and all your could do was read it. It’s very old-school that way.

And after 24 hours, everything disappears, so there’s no backlog of stuff to catch up on.

And, unlike Instagram, there are very few filters (and the ones Snapchat have are funny or useful, like temperature or time), so it’s not a lot of people staging their life to make it appear glow-y and blissful. It is what it is, warts and all. It’s designed in a way to encourage people to post and feel at ease being on camera. As much as I hate pictures of myself, I don’t mind posting little videos on Snapchat at all. It’s kind of lovely, actually, seeing people’s real lives, hearing their voices, seeing their lives unedited. I’ve always been obsessed with documentaries, and Snapchat is sort of like this little network of documentaries.

So when I have a desire for social media, I pop on Snapchat for a bit. It’s a nice alternative to Facebook, although I wish more people were on it.

Okay, enough talk about social media. But hopefully now you know why I haven’t responded to your email, replied to your comment, or left a note on your very important and personal Facebook status. I’m just taking a little break from social media. Please forgive me. <3

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I’m Chel (pronounced “shell”, short for “Michele”).

I’m a visual artist, writer, gardener, art historian, long-distance swimmer, crochet-er, movie watcher, animal lover, and avid reader.

I’m also a (newly) practicing Buddhist, studying online at Sravasti Abbey.

Random facts:
– I have an eleven year old daughter named Grace and a husband named Tom.
– I grew up on Long Island, NY, went to college/grad school in Atlanta (Emory University) in the 1990’s, and now I live in Southwest Florida.
– I’m incredibly shy but I adore my friends and family.
– I’ve been a vegetarian for almost 30 years and I love animals of all kinds- we have four rescue cats, three parrots, and an elderly gecko and we raise butterflies.
– I swim five miles every day- rain, shine, storm, or travel.
– I was born with Spina Bifida, and swimming keeps me healthy and sane.
– When I’m not in the pool, I’m in my art studio, with a hot cup of tea.
– I am REALLY BAD at answering email, and I hate the telephone, so I apologize in advance for being hard to reach. (Told you I was shy…)

If you’d like to know more, click here

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