Kiss the Joy

IMG_1787“He who binds to himself a Joy,

Does the winged life destroy;

He who kisses the Joy as it flies,

Lives in Eternity’s sunrise.

William Blake

November is a weighty month for me, full of gravity, a deep cold and marble like stillness of spirit. Death is in the air, in my lungs and before my eyes. I try to blot out the sadness by keeping busy and going numb, but this is a silliness of the silliest kind.

What feels right in my soul is to say how much my family meant to me and still means to me. How I can still burst into tears at the passing thought of an everyday kindness afforded to me by my gentle father and fragile mother. How I am still trying to soften the anger at my sister so it will give way to the underlying love we shared as sisters. The heart takes its time, it takes its own good time.

I have been reading The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying again, ironically, finding words to live by. Being mindful of my own mortality, not in a morbid way, but as a way to bring my “monkey mind” back to center and keep in front of my eyes the things that matter. From today’s reading:

“Do I remember at every moment that I am dying, and everyone and everything else is, and so treat all beings at all times with compassion?”

When dad was too weak to move, having visions, sips of water and sucking the juice from a small chunk of watermelon, we would discourse over spiritual matters. In our spare time. All dad had was spare time. His body slowly let go and quieted down, desires at the bare minimum, and his heart slowly let go of any regrets. He was so rich in those final months and seemed more and more content to just be with his thoughts, and more and more delighted to simply be with those who chose to be with him: his family, neighbors and the dear hospice team who visited him regularly.

What do you think happens after you die, dad?

Nothing, he replied, nonplussed.

How does that make you feel?

That every moment matters.

I swore I would keep the wisdom of the things I heard and saw sitting by the deathbeds of my mom, my dad, my sister. It can be tough. Especially when my dining room table looks like this: booksf

Chasing that degree, that diploma, that license, so that I can do this…sperm…express myself with coffee beans, feathers and beads alongside others who are processing grief, death, loss, finding healing and strength in the images that emerge from within.

Dad, is it worth it? I have to say that yes, it is. But only if I remember to make the moments count by stopping to eat ice cream with my daughter, actually make eye contact with my teenage son, or pick up the phone to connect to the one away at college. And to stop and shed a tear for those who have died. To remember that some day, so will I.

“Whatever we have done with our lives makes us what we are when we die. And everything, absolutely everything, counts. “

Sogyal Rinpoche, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying

post script to my fragonista friends: Today I am wearing a sample of  Sous le Vent (In the Wind) by Guerlain – the perfect atmospheric scent for these musings.

Image: my own, from Taos, NM strolling near the Mabel Luhan Dodge House

What I See: Three Foxes

photoOpen Studio Process – brief drawing with chalk pastels on black construction paper.

Intention: I savor the experience of drawing and relax into it.

Witness: Little foxes, there you are again!

I continue to explore the fox symbolism from my dream images , no longer in a snowy venue… Dad’s birthday was November 3rd, he would have been 94. It will be two years since my sister’s death this November 15th. One remembers these anniversaries and takes note of these milestone moments. Drawing helps me slow down and honor the feelings and the memories in the midst of this busy fall season.


My Two Left Hands: A Mask for Mom

whitemask4233This mask was started in Open Studio Process with the intention of opening up my heart and awareness to the strength and beauty of my Mom. We began with plaster strips soaked in water, placed over a premade base, using other materials like foil to build up desired features. One interesting part of the process, was in fashioning the hands, which were aluminum foil cast offs that I found in the studio and then repositioned and stabilized by wrapping with masking tape. The mask’s right hand (to the viewer’s left) gave me a lot of trouble. I had to rework it more than several times; the more I tried to make it anatomically correct, the more this mask seemed to demand that I give it two left hands. So be it. Upon reflection, I like this double leftie set up. For me, it became a statement about trusting my intuiton, my right brained perceptions and conclusions. A definite gift from Mom.hand fragmentThe touch of a hand is a powerful memory. Gnarled and warm, Mom’s hands were gentle and practical in all things domestic. One hand holds jewels, there for the taking, the other a broken fragment of pottery, to embrace and include that which is less than perfect.mountaineyesAnother significant element is the theme of nature. My perhaps clumsy attempts to render the sacred mountain range of Taos where the eyes should be, and to have the red earth below, by the mouth, for sustenance, and the blue sky fading over the forehead into the starred night sky, was my means to include the universal mother archetype of nature in this mask. There was much that was hard to “see” when Mom was suffering. Somehow the mountains and their patient wisdom make it easier.featherFinally, the blue feather dripping from the mouth by a string. Inspired by dream catchers that we made that weekend in Evanston, the blue feather is about remembering to consider whether or not speaking my personal truth is a kindness, an agent of healing, or if it is more of a kindness to be silent. Truth is truth, spoken or not, and finds its way to awareness.maskNotes for my fragonista friends: Fragrances worn while working on this mask included Chanel no. 19, my soul scent of green and rose, Bois de Paradis, a fruity floral with a warm sandalwood base, and white florals like Fracas and Tuberose Criminelle, reminiscent of everyday beauty that surrounded Mom and her cohorts working their way through life in Chicago in the late 1940’s.

My Two Left Hands: Plaster, aluminum foil, masking tape, oil paint, thread, ceramic, beads, feather




Scented Interlude with Chanel No. 18

IMG_2727Call me 19. No. 19. Since the 70’s this has been my favorite Chanel. In 2006, 19 was my gateway fragrance to enter the world of first exploring, and then collecting fragrances. I traipsed through the House of Caron, traditional, white gloved and proper, was seduced by that scoundrel Serge Lutens, with his rich, indolent potions, and was captivated by the sometimes cerebral, sometimes not too serious Frederic Malle offerings. In eight years I have sampled literally hundreds of fragrances, from unique, boutique formulations of New Orleans’ Bourbon French Parfums to the creations of talented artisans like Ayala Moriel, Laurie Erickson of Sonoma Scent Studios and the underated Serena Ava Franco of Ava Luxe Parfums, to vintage incarnations of classics like Shalimar, Bandit and Opium. I’ve even had a number of one night stands with Angel. She’s so gorgeous on others; our encounters invariably end badly.

I keep returning home to the bitter and sweet juice of Chanel no. 19. That first bracing hit of green that pads softly, over long hours to a creamy sweet velvet mantle holds a subtle complexity that never bores and a solid familiarity that keeps me coming back for more. Often described as austere, aloof, cold or calculating, to me, 19 is none of these things: she just needs your time and patience to experience the unfolding of her beauty. If Angel slips into your lap, flinging her arms about your neck without introduction, 19 has a slower approach, she engages your brain and then your heart, in that order.

But this post was not meant to tout the praises of Chanel no. 19, but rather to nudge me out of the scent monogamy I find myself sinking into of late. I tend to enjoy the numbered Chanels: No. 5, especially in its parfum and eau de toilette versions, No. 22, which is sheer beauty in a bottle, No. 19, my decades spanning soulmate, and more recently, No. 18, the weird bird of the bunch.IMG_3180No. 18’s herbaceous top notes say “wood” , but not the dark ancient wood of a forest, nor the aged, aromatic wood of a spice casket. Instead, I get the impression of a vibrant bush with it’s branches reaching out into the sunlight. After about five minutes, a sweet, intense note emerges and I am reminded of white tea, lightly sweetened with honey. This contrast of dry herbs, foliage and sweet intensity relates No. 18 to the split personality of her cousin No. 19, but they are not otherwise similar. If No. 19 is green, No. 18 is a soft toasty gold, or the color of straw. The overall impression hearkens back to the days of the natural look, when girls went braless, wore lip gloss and straightened their hair with the household iron.

No. 18 imparts a feel of easy intimacy when, after about 30 minutes, I get an imaginary whiff of baked bread dressed in creamy butter with a dash of salt. I think that No. 18 is wonderful for both casual, everyday wear or out to a classical music performance. This fragrance offers you a sunlit golden ambiance without intrusive sillage. Why don’t I have a bottle in my collection? (yet) It seems, after all these years, that I find myself married, and nearly ( or currently?) monogamous to Chanel no. 19.

Images: my own from Asheville Botanical Gardens and High Line Park in NYC


Book List for Marga T.

shelfMy West Coast Wild Librarian friend has put together a booklet of first lines from 36 of her favorite books. A delightful guide, you can find it here, along with volumes of her beautiful, life affirming poetry.

When I returned from Evanstan in May, bursting with enthusiasm to share my experiences with intentional art making, Marga T. asked for a list of books that might serve as inspirational resources for this practice. As I blatantly borrow Wild Librarian’s way of offering a tantalizing taste of her beloved books, here is a short list of dog eared volumes that I reach for often. Following the directly quoted first lines of the books, are my own brief impressions.

Art is a Way of Knowing, by Pat B. Allen.Images take me apart; images put me back together again, new, enlarged, with breathing room. For twenty years I have kept a record of my inner life in images, paintings, drawings and words- sometimes haphazardly, sometimes more diligently, but continuously throughout my days as an art student, art therapist, teacher, wife, mother and artist.”           This book is a surprisingly practical guide with tips on how to approach various visual art media such as drawing, painting, sculpture and collage. The emphasis is on exploring the sensuality of the materials, and the resulting intuitive process unique to each of them. The writer frees the reader from pre conceived notions and places the authority for creative license firmly into the reader’s hands, releasing the tendency to judge results. This book has become an artistic bible of sorts for me and emphasizes one’s unique art making as a way to self knowledge. What is my own authentic personal imagery, and what can it tell me? As Carl Jung stated, “Understand yourself and you will be sufficiently understood.”

Concerning the Spiritual in Art by Wassily Kandinsky.Every work of art is the child of its age and, in many cases, the mother of our emotions. It follows that each period of culture produces an art of its own which can never be repeated.”  This book is tiny and dense, filled with the artist’s philosophical reflections on the meaning of image, color, shape and design. This is a somewhat heady book that read like nectar to me. Following a trail to Kandinsky via my interest in Georgia O’Keefe, this book came into my hands at time when I could make space for inner exploration of symbols that were rich with personal meaning. Kandinsky gave me a vivid insight to the concept of abstraction, which had previously eluded me. What does it take to strip down my notions that are fed by society, media, and even art history, and to express something that is an essential and unique creation? Here is one of my resulting images from my In Reverence of Water series:IMG_3405 copyWisdom of the Psyche, Depth Pscyhology after Neuroscience by Ginette Paris.Only once are we born and once do we die. Psychologically, howeer, we die a thousand deaths and are reborn at least that many times.” This book was written by a clinical psychologist who suffered from a traumatic brain injury and discovered that her near death experience opened up new discoveries for her in a way that psychotherapy could not. Her book explores the death principle or destructive forces that individuals may encounter over a lifespan and the impulses that can lead to depression, or broken relationships, anxiety or despair. She then reminds us that death is a part of a circle: As winter is followed by spring in the natural world, the psychological blights we may suffer can be followed by one’s own psychological spring, or period of reinvention, if we allows the process to unfold. My take away was about the value of being in life without resistance, through its ups and downs, and with appreciation for even the dark cycles. More fodder for the creative life!

Trust the Process, An Artist’s Guide to Letting Go by Shaun McNiff.We are living in an era when people hunger for personal relationships with the creative spirit. …There is a pervasive sense in our culture that creative expression is restricted to an anointed group.” For me the take away of this wonderful book is distilled within its title. Every artist knows that art making is messy, sometimes chaotic and can be filled with uncertainty. There can be moments of not knowing what comes next that require settling into that void and finding your feet beneath you when you cannot see the ground. Life is much the same way. This is a key reason why I find that the more I engage in the art process, the more comfortable in life itself do I feel. Yes it’s a metaphor. But it’s also the same thing. Life and art. Trust the process can be applied to anything, and to everything.Wolf Angel 2014 RTFolzenlogenWomen Who Run With the Wolves, Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype by Clarissa Pinkola Estes.We are all filled with a longing for the wild. There are few culturally sanctioned antidotes for this yearning. We were taught to feel shame for such a desire.” This book is chock full of myths and legends that shine light on the inner complexities of the feminine experience. Tales like The Little Match Girl, Blue Beard and The Red Shoes discuss the need for nurturance and support, self awareness, self trust and self knowledge that serves a woman as she moves through stages of maturation. What are the unique and juicy gifts that a woman brings to this earth? How have these gifts been violated, exploited, chased into near extinction or had to go underground for sheer survivial? How has the contribution of women been tamed, diluted and controlled in cultures throughout the world? These are questions that arise for discussion here. Themes include embodied existence, sacred sexuality, finding your tribe, trusting oneself and living a creative life. I could say this is a must read for all women, but my husband read it with interest – his comment: I’m a Man Who Loves a Woman Who Runs With the Wolves – this book is for me, too.

Spirituality and Art Therapy, Living the Connection edited by Mimi Farrelly-Hansen.Compiling this anthology required a delicate balance between the eye of the eagle and the eye of the mouse. How to combine the broad panorama of truth or meaning with the reality of life on the ground, in the narrow passageweya of a thousand hospital corridors, mental health agencies, community art studios, nursing homes and prisons where art therapists seek to alleviate suffering throught the use of imagination and media? “ This was a textbook for a class on Spirtuality and Art Therapy that I registered for but was cancelled. I found the text so compelling that I read it for summer reading. The fact that it came into my hands not long after the deaths of my mother, father and sister, is, in my opinion, just one more example of serendipity. This book is a collection of writings presented from a variety of spiritual perspectives. Each essay asserts the belief that respectful awareness of spiritual life is an essential component when working with people, particularly in a counseling or therapeutic capacity. This book contains descriptions of actual sessions and art based interventions by practicing art therapists working in the aforementioned milieus.

Studio Art Therapy, Cultivating the Artist Identity in the Art Therapist by Catherine Hyland Moon.This is a time of the interdisciplinary. Boundaries of each of the sciences and arts have become permeable as it becomes clear there are fruitful insights that can come from working with two or more fields together.” This book fascinated me as it introduces a concept of aesthetics that is based on relationship or connection. Instead of merely focusing on formal elements within a piece of art, what about the piece enables me to connect with the other? Moon gives us a glimpse into her life with the dual identities of artist and art therapist, along with anectdotes from the field. One poignant story relates to how she was able to overlap her clinical view of a troubled boy she was working with a poetic understanding of his acting out behaviors. This shift in perspective led to a positive breakthrough in the therapeutic relationship. What difference would it make in my life and work if I can stop and consider how each person is like a living poem? A work of art? Can I have the eye of appreciation for the daily rituals of a coworker or family member? The point of view opens up a telescopic lens to life and relationships if you let it. Written for art therapists and those who seek to use art based techniques, this is a book that may be of interest and application for one’s own art making.

Existential Art Therapy, The Canvas Mirrror by Bruce L. Moon. “ According to Highwater (1994): Art doesn’t want to be familiar. It wants to astonish us. It wants to move us. To touch us. Not accommodate us, not make us comfortable.” (p.9). The title of this book is an expression of my desire to link the practice of art therapy to the ultimate concerns of life, as expressed in existential philosophy and therapy.” If I were to identify with a particular theoretical framework as an art therapist, it would be Existential Therapy. Finding meaning in one’s life is a central concern to one’s existence, and on a very personal note, art has been a life long companion for me as a way of navigating through the journey. Art has served me long before I had any conscious awareness of its ability to nurture me. Bruce Moon’s book enlightens the reader to his life work of bearing witness to the suffering of others and how he provides sacred space in the art studio for individuals to process through the challenges of life. Integral to this practice is Moon’s own life as an artist and I love how he has found a way to make art alongside his clients in a safe, respectful and collegial manner. The Golden Rule put to practice amidst the paint and canvas. The art therapist is not an authority, but rather, a helpful fellow traveler, who has walked a similar path.IMG_3509Images, my own. Pastel, multi media.

Sketchbook Meditation: Conch Shell

IMG_4082A recent Saturday morning at the beach was cloudy interspersed with intermittent drizzling rain. Hoping for the promise of the sun breaking through, I waded into the waves, enjoying the gooseflesh sensation of  gentle chilly breezes coming off of the Atlantic. Looking down, I saw this beauty of a conch, free floating in the shallow tides. Assuming she was meant for me, I scooped her up and brought her home.

IMG_4108Influenced by Carl Jung and his respect for symbols and their cultural context, I did a bit of research into the meaning and uses of conch shells across various cultures. I learned that the conch is one of the 8 Auspicious Symbols in Buddhism. Among other things, its spirals represent infinity and the journey of life from birth to death and beyond. For me this is a relevant reminder, since I am about to embark on a new journey, working with a hospice program as an art therapy intern this fall. I love how the universe offers support in simple everyday occurrences, like finding a seashell or catching sight of a dove, when you pay attention and make it yours.

I’m engaging in a sketchbook meditation of sorts, based on guidance from Pat B Allen’s books that hold top spots on the list of indispensable books in my library.  From  one chapter entitled: Knowing Drawing, ” If you discover that you really like drawing objects, consider getting a sketchbook and drawing the same object until every page is filled. Choose something simple and let ourself see it as deeply as you can. Drawing in this way is a meditation.” 1



3 I began with chalk pastels, since I love the color and the way they can be blended for softness or applied with clear, defined strokes. I like the flexibility of this medium and the way the vivid pigment lays on the paper. Unless you use a blending tool, fingers work best, and simply blowing on the paper works well to remove miscellaneous dust. Chalk pastels need a fixative if you wish to keep the image for a long period of time without alteration. For my purposes, I’m fine with allowing for the inevitable smudging which may occur as I continuously handle the sketchbook.  I’m interested in the process, what the images bring to mind and how it expresses my feelings in a particular moment. I like noticing how looking at the resulting marks makes me feel.

Yesterday I tried graphite pencil, colored pencil and marker, alone and separately. I also tried different approaches to the image:

1. Looking at the shell and attempting to draw it exactly as I saw it, in a photographic manner.

2. Looking at the shell for some minutes, then looking away and drawing the general impression that was left for me, expressed in abstract swirls and spiraling marks.

3. Looking only at the object, placing my pencil on the paper and never lifting the pencil from the page and never looking down at my drawing until I felt finished. This technique is known as blind contour drawing.

This last approach was the most interesting by far. When  I finished and glanced down at the result, I immediately saw a bird and embellished it with colored pencil, pastel, and finally a black Sharpie marker for definition. angry birdWhat emerged was Shellby, the Hellacious Hen or my version of Angry Bird. This may have something to do with the fact that world news was playing in the background as I drew, easily getting me in touch with sad and angry emotions. I’m sure this bird has more to say to me!

When feelings that I see as “negative” come up in a drawing, often my first reaction is resistance or an impulse to smooth things over, literally, with a pleasing color or shape. More and more, I have come to simply accept the feeling or state of mind with neutrality and without judgment. After all, feelings are there for a reason, and if I look and listen to them, usually are there to help me along in this journey.

What I See: Duo

IMG_4104July has been sans blog posts; however, it was a month replete with gifts from the sea. Hubby and I found a duet of moon shells as we meandered in divergent paths at the water’s edge and then found one another again, each with a matching prize.

IMG_4102I‘ve also been re reading Art is a Way of Knowing by Pat B. Allen and engaging in the open studio practice during the breathing spaces in life. The following quote is from her chapter entitled: Knowing Sculpture:

“You have discovered sculpture if you have ever picked up a piece of driftwood or an oddly shaped stone. Something in your inner experience resonated with what you picked up with that particular stone. …Images that are necessary to us come in all sorts of ways, for the soul never tires of trying to make itself known.”

IMG_4093I enjoyed spending some time with the shells this morning, positioning them in various ways and distances from each other, noticing the light, the shadows, the ridges and the curves. The nuance of color is both subtle and dramatic on the surface of each shell. The same, but different. I like that there is not only an inside and an outside, but a channel or bridge that links the interior with the exterior, making me wonder what is enfolded within. Mysterious shells, invitations to contemplation and discovery. I like how you look resting on my husband’s drawing board, with the history of his energetic markings and smudges from past engagement with color that provides a backdrop for your beautiful, earthy tones. How funny, earth tones from the sea!IMG_4101I like how you feel in my hand, resting just so in the center of my palm, a round little house, fragile and strong, an oasis in time. Thank you for showing up.


Drawing Meditation

IMG_3896Tiny white baby star, bundled in pink innocence, far flung across the universe, it survives, it grows, it spreads,  on and on into the full moon with a passion flower center. IMG_3893An eyeball, an ovum, a cycle of moons waxing, waning, birthing, becoming, fulfilling, dying. Purple and gold and red and white and black like ink from an inkwell.

IMG_3897For a moment I imagine I can see my life’s entirety from start to finish.  Only God knows, as we may say. Tasty illusions, scary thoughts, mysteries for contemplation, what one life manifests. The potential of preconceived notions float in brilliant cosmic technicolor. Just one life. How marvelous is that?

Won’t you stop for a moment and just savor this?

Images: my open studio process drawing, May 2014. Evanston, Illinois. various pastel on paper



When I make art, I am a better person

swan1Today the thought came to me that I am a better person when I make art. What makes me better? When I put my hands on material to play, explore, create something, I enter a zone of permission, a micro country of unconditional positive self regard. I learn that there is no wrong mark, no bad color, no mistake in what my hands squeeze out, or in which color I choose.

swan2I learn to go with the flow in a relaxed way without pressure for the outcome. These are experiences that are a luxury in other parts of my day where I need to meet  a deadline, complete a project, facilitate a meeting or complete a report.

swan3Is my result childish? Unfinished? Hand wrought or even awkward. Sure, it may be, but when I think of all the years, the hours, the time I spent NOT making art, I truly am just a beginner, a child at play exploring something important. If it looks unfinished, I’m relaxed with that. I don’t want to be finished yet. It feels like love and I want it to keep on going on…and feeling this way makes me want to be extra kind to the people around me. If it looks like love, if it feels like love, well, it must be love. World peace through making art.

swan4Images: Swan sculpture in progress fashioned of aluminum foil, masking tape, electric tape, embroidery thread, gouache paint


The Mermaid and the Tortoise are Sweethearts

IMG_3899During a painting session at the Open Studio Project I was relaxing into the sensual feel of the paint and spontaneous color choices. Images that emerged included the Taos Sacred Mountain, laying at the beach in the sun and sand, and the red muddy earth of Taos Pueblo. But the next day, this fellow called out to me:IMG_3905Here we go, turtle, tortoise, long traveling creature with hearts on his toes, guiding his journey:IMG_3903Through the pink cosmic fluff of innocence, in concert with his companion along the way…she draws inspiration from the sacred mountains of Taos, heaven and earth meeting, the mermaid and tortoise are sweethearts:IMG_3902