Friday, December 18, 2009

Friday, December 4, 2009

Mindfulness when Life Sucks


I’m averse to it when life sucks. I can’t help but ask myself, “why should I pay more attention to THIS?” So here’s my thinking. Turn it upside down. Look at it (whatever “it” is) in another way; from a different angle. I recently rediscovered the upside down drawing technique when working across the table from some of my clients. When drawing from another image, I’ve found it easier to create a better rendition of the target image if I do it upside down. No, I don’t stand on my head. I spin the original picture upside down.

When I look at a portrait right side up, my mind categorizes “hand, eyes, nose, shadow, chin, hair,” and as I proceed to draw these parts the schemas of these ideas take over. What I already "know" interferes with what I am trying to learn. I find the images I draw turn out to be REPRESENTATIONS of these pre-learned concepts rather than true renderings of what my eyes reveal before me.

I learned this upside down technique years ago from the books Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain and Drawing on the Artist Within by Dr. Betty Edwards.

I don’t know for sure how to translate this drawing method of turning the book upside down to the broader concept of “looking at life from a different angle.” But I’m working on it.

In the meantime I suspect there is some psychic crossover that aids me, a spiritual gain perhaps, from the tangible, physical act of art making from objects turned on their heads.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Why I Don't Give to Salvation Army

Sometimes I just say no to something without explanation. That’s an assertive stance. You don’t have to explain or defend your choices. You can decline and be polite at the same time. Today I am explaining a decision to say no. I don’t donate to Salvation Army. I see those bell ringers and I pass right by. I don’t let anybody with me drop a coin in their drums, either. I don’t shop at Salvation Army stores, and I tell my friends not to donate or shop there. Here’s why.

A zillion years ago when I was a very young child, we’re talking in the late 50s or early 60s, my family needed financial help. Serious financial help. We needed food, clothes and money to pay for heat. One day my mother worked up her courage and beat down her shame and despair enough to ask for assistance. She dressed in her best clothes, walked to the bus stop (in my memory I can still see and hear her clomping down the street in those high heels). Some hours later she returned, defeated, and with an angry, frantic, trapped look in her eyes.

My mother had gone to Salvation Army to ask for help and was refused. I don’t know the specifics of her encounter because I wasn’t there and I was just a child. I do know that she cried when she got home. She blamed racism “Why should they help a well-dressed white woman?” and she blamed her own “stupidity” for getting dressed up to make her case for need. But she was trying to make a good impression and appear worthy of help. She wore her best holiday dress and, as always, she “put on her face.” Later she understood her attempts to impress were misguided. She might have garnered more sympathy / support had she arrived without makeup and combed hair. She "didn’t look poor enough," she surmised afterward. I wonder whether she also provided the supporting documentation that was likely required. She would have needed evidence of food stamps or unemployment checks, I suppose, even then. We had those things, but whether she brought them along I don’t know.

In any event, we didn’t get help from Salvation Army. My mother carried a grudge against them for the rest of her long life. In her honor (and in mine) I continue to do so. I don’t give to and I don’t patronize Salvation Army because they didn’t help my family when we really needed it. Not once. Not with food, clothing, holiday gifts, nothing.

I won’t even go into how sick I got eating spoiled trayfe baloney. My mother fed it to her youngest two children as a cost saving measure. I was so hungry I ate it (fast!) even though it was rank. It all came back up, “return to sender.”

We never did that again, either.

I suggest you find other places to donate generously to those in need. In memory of my mother.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Doing of Art

I still am not happy about the colder weather and now that we are back on standard time, the dark comes so early. It can be quite disheartening. I miss the sunshine and long days terribly. All I can do is keep doing what I’m doing. I work, I make art, I write, talk with friends, and try to get through the dark cold time of the year as best I can (I know, we are only just beginning).

Realizing the importance of visual expression for creative and mental health, I make time to produce and enjoy personal art despite the short days, my busy schedule and uncertain mood. I recommend the same for all my readers. Art doesn’t have to be complicated (something I tend to forget). The important thing is the doing of it.

I am pleased to announce my art is now available for purchase here:

Friday, October 9, 2009

Northern Michigan October 2009

Grand Traverse Bay

Jacques Torres, Traverse City

Tangled Roots, Upper Peninsula near Tahquamenon Falls

Tahquamenon Falls

Tahquamenon Falls, second in power to Niagara

Saturday, September 26, 2009

I’m trying not to be unhappy about summer being over. I’m not succeeding. With my resources feeling full and empty at the same time, I keep making art. It’s all I know how to do to fight the blues. My current best art fun is on and also on watercolor paper. I’m flinging color and pattern everywhere. Then I cut out portions that suit me as stand-alone pieces, or at the very least, for use as note cards…
Not that I ever write on actual-physical-touch-and-hold-note-cards much anymore.
I’m coming around to accepting the harsh reality of seasonal change. I suspect it’s more about existential angst than fall. The seasons of the year are a metaphor for my personal seasons. Or maybe it’s about technology supplanting touch-and-hold art products.
I don’t like it. Not one bit.
So I do not go softly. No. I go grumblingly, making sure everyone around me knows my feelings about it. Complaining about the weather is a time-honored tradition in Michigan. If not for complaining, well, what else can we do? I know, I know, I know. We can move. I’ve heard that before. I’ve DONE that before. I lived away from Michigan more than 36 years. Most of that time was in New Mexico. I will say this for Albuquerque – the weather is not so bad.
When I lived in Albuquerque, I went to New Moon drumming circles every month – for something like three years – at the studio of my friend and colleague Judith Roderick. She was a batik artist making silk scarves. She’d throw salt on the wet dye. I discovered I can do that with watercolor on paper, too. It adds layers of interest as the color pulls and pools on contact with the salt. Ahhh, chemistry. But I digress.
The New Moon in October this year is on the 18th. What’s special about this? I am offering a workshop at Crazy Wisdom Bookstore here in Ann Arbor on that day about the Mandala. We’re going to make art as a group. The only thing better than making art is making art in the company of others. It enriches the experience. Brings energy. Ideas. Comfort. Strength. Mystery. Support. Courage. It’s a wonderful thing.

I hope you will join us. 1-3 PM at Crazy Wisdom, 114 S. Main Street in Ann Arbor.
You can learn more about the workshop here: October Workshop

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Glorious Summer

It’s been a really long time since I wrote here. It’s a glorious summer in Ann Arbor – in every possible way. So that’s my best excuse. I’m having so much fun engaged in the summer world I have been away from the keyboard. Here are 9 reasons I love it here:
Number one – the students are gone. The streets are quieter. There are fewer dangerously inattentive texting pedestrians stepping off the curb in front of me as I drive through town en route to work. Less evidence of last night’s beer pong on the front porches. But I digress.
Number two – the weather is clear and bright and not too hot. It rains only at night, just like in Camelot.
Number three – the farmer’s market brings seasonal local produce that stuns the eyes, entertains the nose, treats the taste buds, and warms the heart and soul.
Number four – most of my private clients have moved away or are otherwise on hiatus and I have time for the hammock, a book, and the garden.
Number five – the kazoo band is tuning up in the lavender patch. The bees are so busy the bush itself is a-hummin.
Number six – our son from Hawaii is planning his visit to the mainland in a few weeks and just maybe we can get the other kids to coordinate a strategic assault on the ‘rents all at once. I would love to have the whole crew here even if it’s only for a few days.
Number seven - the butterfly bush has, um, butterflies in it.
Number eight – every possible heirloom tomato on the planet is producing pretty and unusual fruit in the garden plot shared between our neighbor, Anne, and ourselves.
Number nine – the bird feeder has so much activity it looks like a full-length Disney cartoon movie. One of the old ones, like Snow White or Cinderella. The birds are all decked out in bright colors, the cheeky chipmunks and bold squirrels and skittish rabbits scamper about, offset by the occasional skulking cat or lucky dog.

So there you have it. Life is a treat right now in high summer in Ann Arbor. I wouldn’t change a thing.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

new website look

Just a quick note to encourage you to visit my website. I worked with IT genius (and husband extraordinaire) Matt Cantillon today to change the look and feel of my website. Please go give it a visit. If you click here and get the old site, hit the "refresh" or "reload" at the top of your browser.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


I see patterns everywhere I look. It’s a metaphor, I’m sure, for the aging process. As I understand the aging brain, “wisdom” is really the improved function of pattern recognition. We seem wiser because we see patterns so quickly. We recognize patterns so quickly because we have seen them many times before. It comes from having been around the block, you might say, neurologically. Yes, the novelty has worn off, and wow, I got that fast, didn’t I?

I went to New York last weekend. I don’t know why it takes me a whole year to get there for a weekend, but it sometimes does. In any case, I also have a new camera. Nice conjunction of events. Trip to New York AND a new camera to take along with me. I saw a lot of people while I was there, my son and his wife, whom I adore and can’t ever get enough of. And our niece and our nephew and their respective families and friends of our son, and neighbors, people on the subway and on the street. The characters are many and a delight for the eye. But all my camera (and I) could see were patterns. Patterns in the brickwork, in the manhole covers, on fences, the backs of chairs, tree trunks, flowers, the limbs of trees or people. Carved in stone, cast in bronze, the angles of people standing on line at the shake shack, a stack of moving dollies, the arches over windows, a line of water towers in Brooklyn, the shadows of a staircase, an ornate ceiling. Here are a few.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

How We Decide

I just finished yet another incredible neuroscience book, this one is How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer. It’s easily readable and I highly recommend it.
In case you think you make all your decisions logically and rationally, I’ve got news for you. Without input from your emotional circuitry you’d never make a single one. It turns out there’s a real need for the emotional parts of our mind to contribute valuable information when we have decisions to make, both big and small.
If you’ve ever wondered why you get confused when there is too much information (think new car purchase) this book will help you understand.
Let’s face it, there are some things you don’t have to think about. You have practiced certain activities a long time. If you’re a musician, airline pilot, or an athlete, certain decisions are made seamlessly and seemingly without any thought at all. In fact, when you start to think, really think about the performance of your specialty, it can go completely into the weeds.
Trust me, there are also times it is imperative that you apply rational thought to your choice-making. You need to know which occasions call for a cool rational response and when to blend your logic with information from your non-verbal mind. This book takes time to explain which decisions call for which type of input. And why they are both of critical importance.
I’m taking it a step further. As an art therapist, I think making art (as a non-verbal method of problem-solving) and reviewing it with a knowledgeable professional (adding words to help clarify your imagery) can help you make important decisions. What a supportive way to work through complex issues.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Healthy Dose of Gratitude Can Improve Quality of Life



McClatchy Newspapers

Research suggests that the regular cultivation of gratitude and appreciation has multiple psychological and physical benefits. Thankful people typically boast better overall health, fewer physical symptoms, higher income, more energy, larger social networks and stronger marriages. They also exercise more. They fall asleep more easily at night. They sleep longer and more soundly, and they wake up more refreshed.

The practice of gratitude may increase the levels of immunoglobulin A in your throat and nose, increasing your ability to resist viral infections. Gratitude practices seem to reduce stress hormone levels in the body. People who cultivate gratitude, optimism and happiness live longer than grumpy pessimists. Even curmudgeons can become beacons of optimism.

Research has shown that only about 50 percent of our mood is determined by our genetics. The rest is largely determined by what we choose to focus on and cultivate. This focus takes commitment and practice.

Dr. Robert Emmons, a psychology researcher at University of California-Davis and one of the leading gratitude researchers in the country, suggests a number of practices that, if done faithfully, will have you grateful in no time:

  • Keep a daily gratitude journal in which you make note of all the good things and the gifts that have come your way that day.
  • Promise yourself to practice gratitude regularly.
  • Focus on the good things that others have done for you. This makes us realize how interdependent we are and makes us realize that we are loved.
  • Learn to develop a language of gratitude rather than a language of complaint. Ask your friends and family to help you. It's often hard to see for ourselves how much we're complaining.
  • Use your senses to come into the present and appreciate the small gifts in the moment -the smile of a child, the smell of your first cup of coffee in the morning, the beauty of a sunset.
  • Take grateful actions. Smile, perform random acts of kindness, help a stranger.

We suspect that if most people engaged in these practices on a regular basis, the world would be a much happier and healthier place. And, people might need doctors like us a lot less frequently, and that's good medicine.

For more on this fascinating subject, pick up Emmons' latest book, "Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier" (Houghton-Mifflin, $25, 256 pages).

Friday, March 20, 2009

Operators are Standing By Call Now!

I recently received a marketing newsletter that informed me the best way to get people to open my newsletter is to have a subject line that indicates a time-limited offer. I thought "One Week Only!" and then realized art therapy is not really time limited. Is there really such a rush to come in for art therapy as that?

In another informative "here's how you do it" article I read that the way to wealth is to offer something online that people coming to my site can immediately purchase and download. What a genius of an idea! Instant gratification!

Believe me, I am trying to come up with just the right thing. I'm thinking of parenting advice. After all, I am an expert, having brought three children safely to productive adulthood. But honestly, I am just like a million other mothers in that way. My children are brilliant and hard working mostly because of how they came into the world. They are a result of a million experiences of which I was not an integral part. I doubt my parenting advice and methods will teach anything new. Besides, I learned most of it after they were grown up and I returned to school. It's amazing I raised such successful kids prior to my expensive education.

No, I don't want to write a book. It's a lot of work. I don't even want to write a pamphlet or an article.

Oh, then I had a wonderful inspiration. I will publish a sketchbook. That you can purchase and download from my website! Yes, a book of blank pages is
just the thing! (And if you want a larger sketchbook, please load your printing tray with "14 x 11" paper.)

I wonder how much it should cost...

Thursday, March 12, 2009

"Art Time"

What is the difference between art education and art therapy? Where does one stop and the other begin? My own experience as a potter frequently gives me the experience of being out-of-time, especially while I work on the potter's wheel. In one of the art therapy discussion groups I belong to the following conversation thread has developed. One contributor to the conversation suggests that in regard to a figure drawing class:
As things progress, if the teacher has done her job, then you enter "art time" where time seems to disappear, the model is now an object of undulating curves, infinite shading, the meeting of light and dark contrasts all of which have to be translated into the restraints of charcoal on paper. It is hardly an all right brain thing, but more a collaboration of both hemispheres of the brain in conjunction with higher and lower brain functions.

I recognize that state of being~doing, which I find is very difficult for many to describe. In that state, where Jungian Dr. Marion Woodman says, "The painting paints the painter," we seem to leave "ordinary time" which the Greeks called "chronos" and enter the time state of "kairos" which is often called sacred time, by those same Greeks... It may be a time-less state, where transformation is possible, for the strictures of reality may be loosened, by the setting aside of the reality-based ego, which for some of our patients has been formed as a limited and restrictive critical ego function.

Now I ask my readers: what is your experience of "losing time" while engaged in art (or music) making?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Cabin Fever

What an interesting time of year. While still cold and snowy in much of the country with cloudy, gray skies, the days are growing longer and brighter. Among days of bitter wind and frigid temperatures, we can experience random days of sunlight and even warmth that remind us spring is just around the corner.
Either we accept and embrace this chilly time and wile away the hours sipping hot cocoa, reading or watching movies while enjoying a respite from outdoor responsibilities like mowing the grass and pulling weeds. Or...we grow anxious.
It is subtle at first. Then, the sensation of being confined leads to pacing and a lack of focus. Minutes seem like hours, and we spend more of them peering through slits in curtains drawn to keep the cold at bay. We hope for a glimpse of green grass or crocus buds peaking through the dingy snow.
Diagnosis? Cabin fever. Treatment? Friends and activities.
Occupy your head and hands with an exciting new project in a social setting. Make the most of this time "trapped" indoors by trying a new craft. Take a class, join a group or attend a social craft event at a store, cafĂ© or friend’s house.
Even a few hours spent creatively with loved ones can bring a little sunshine into your day and chase away winter blahs.
With thanks to all the inspirational art therapists out there.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Mini Saga

I learned a wonderful new art form from the book by Daniel Pink, "A Whole New Mind." It's called the “Mini Saga.” The mini saga consists of 50 words - no more, no less, - that tell a story from start to finish. Here’s one I wrote recently.

And Forever
By ones and twos they grow up and move away. That’s the way of children. They take your heart and run with it. We think there’s all the time in the world, but it isn’t so. From now on it’s only visits. Brief, poignant, and infrequent. I miss them terribly.