I Am Not A Wind Up Toy!

IMG_0070 (1)For the past month or so I’ve felt like a wind-up toy. I’ve gone from one thing to another just trying to keep up with everything that needed doing. Part of the problem is that in early January, my husband had knee surgery. I spent a good deal of time taking care of him, making sure that his ice machine was at the ready to keep the swollen surgical site comfortable, and preparing meals for someone who normally cooks half of them. I also had deadlines to meet with my publisher and a blog and newsletter to maintain.

Taking care of some one else is not always an easy task, and can result in exhaustion and speeding around like a tiny wind up car. If you’ve ever played with one, you know they move fast. They don’t see what’s ahead of them and crash head-on into walls and furniture. They don’t really cause any damage, but if they were much bigger, say the size of a human, they could. I want to stop crashing into things and causing havoc.

My studio has stacks of old receipts and brochures taking up residence on my work table. I can’t work on my visual journal if I can’t spread out. I need my paints, rubber stamps, hand-made papers and magazine clippings where I can see them, so that I can go to work the moment inspiration strikes. I need to clean it up!

The same thing goes for my head. If I don’t let go of the clutter taking up so much space in my brain, I won’t be able to think clearly and make room for any artistic notions that my muse slings my way. I’ve been spinning my wheels trying to get some traction so that I can move forward, but I haven’t had much luck. And just like my work table, my head needs to be cleared out.

The patient is almost completely healed now. He’s cooking dinner again, doesn’t need to be checked-up on constantly, and in just over a week, he’ll be able to drive himself around again, leaving me with more time. We’re both very tired of it all and will be happy to see the end of this little adventure.

IMG_0049I’m starting to take more time for myself. I went to yoga last week and because I had dental surgery yesterday, Pilates will have to wait until next week. I’m taking afternoon naps and moments to simply stare into space. I’m planning on cleaning up my studio this week so that I can get back to work without feeling squeezed out of my space. But most important of all I will begin honoring the word I chose to guide me this new year … MINDFUL. In my overwhelm over the past month or so, it never had a chance. My mind did not stop to notice what was happening around me. Someone just kept winding me up and kept me going, crashing in to things. Mostly myself.

Today I’m throwing the key away and switching gears.  I’m starting my year over and I’m already noticing how much better I feel.

Have you ever felt like a wind up toy?

Wishes For A Mindful New Year!

IMG_0009Once more the year has rolled into its final week. Like everyone else, I anticipate what’s to come as the New Year begins? Who will be our next President? Will the wars in the Middle East spread further and further? And what will our country’s role be in trying to find peace? Will cold weather finally arrive and bring with it snow or freezing rain destroying these tiny gems I photographed on the day after Christmas?

There are also very personal wonderings. How will Bill’s knee replacement surgery go? Will my daughter’s fight with lyme disease finally be over and will she return to perfect health? Will I sell tons of books when my retitled memoir, SCATTERING ASHES, A Memoir of Letting Go, is published on September 20th? Yes, you heard that right, a new title which I think works oh so much better. And yes, it will be available on September 20, 2016.

Every December I choose a word to carry me through the next year, as a reminder of what is most important as I travel down the path I’ve chosen. As this past year has slipped by, I’ve found myself falling back into an old pattern that makes me extremely uncomfortable when I allow it to take over my thoughts.

Its name is Worry. I’m afraid that my predisposition for getting worked up over things has taken over my thought process and kicked mindfulness out the door. As a result, I spend too much time imagining what might happen to me, my family, or the world. I’ve also found myself kicking myself in the butt for mistakes I’ve made in the past and my sometimes pissy behavior.

Worry and Regret are not things I want to  carry around with me. So I’m going back to a word that has never been on my list of New Year Words, but is most important in that it has helped me in the past and will help ease my way through the coming months with a bit of sanity.

If I can bring back being MINDFUL during the next 365 days, I will be very pleased with myself.

I think it will take some work to be present in each and every moment, so it won’t be particularly easy or happen over night. And perhaps it shouldn’t be a New Years Word at all. Maybe it’s a Rest Of My Life Word. But I think all New Year Words do that eventually anyway. Or so I hope.

In the last week, I’ve started rereading, When Things Fall Apart, by Pema Chodron. It’s one of her greatest, though all of her books are. It certainly is apt as I observe the state of our world right now. This particular book has helped me through some of the worst years of my life. Her encouraging words reach into my heart, helping to release my unease.

I want to be more appreciative of all of the good things, like those beautiful, little daffodils in the photo at the top of this page that don’t usually bloom here in December. Or these funny Halloween pumpkins that turned intoIMG_0006 something otherworldly by the end of November. They seem fossilized. Very out of season, they make me smile when I pass by them on my walks.

Today, I’m trying to be present NOW. It’s all I’ve really got. Those mistakes and bad behaviors I mentioned earlier happened in the past. Why run them through the wringer one more time?

As for the future, it hasn’t happened yet. For right now, I’ll concentrate on typing these words while I listen to robins singing happily outside in leafless trees. Later, on my way to lunch, I’ll notice the fine mist that is falling and how it gently settles on my hair.

What are your reflections on the coming year and what is it you want most to happen?


I’ll be taking a break from posting here for the next few weeks
so that I can be present for Bill as he begins recovering from his surgery 
scheduled on January 4th. 
Please send along prayers and healing thoughts.
They are greatly appreciated.

My monthly Newsletter will be published as usual on January 1st,
and is the story of how I became a writer.  Subscribe to it at the top
right hand side of this page to have it delivered to your email address.

I’ll be back here on my blog on January 19th.

Happy New Year to All!

Getting Back On Track After A Long Hiatus

"Seeing," from my Artist's Journal

“Seeing,” an image from an old journal of mine

For the last three years, I’ve been working on a memoir that I knew, if nothing else, would be the basis of healing a life I sometimes thought was terribly broken. In doing so I left my visual work in painting and collage on the sidelines so that I could concentrate on the writing.

The journals that I’ve been keeping for years became an important part of the writing process that pulled up old memories. As I wrote about my relationship with my mother, and went back into those notebooks I was surprised by the visual journal entries I had made and had an itch to do more of these colorful entries.

But the words I needed for my book flew thick and fast and I had little time to pull out the paint, the glue sticks, and the stack of old magazines and other stuff I needed to work with. Some of those things were still packed away from our move in 2010. It seemed too complicated to go looking for them.

When my memoir went to my copy editor, I decided to start painting again. But the thought of smearing paint on a large canvas was daunting. I was so out of practice, I had no idea where to start.

With the thought of a small visual journal on my mind I began puttering around, looking for the perfect notebook, opening up old jars of acrylic paint that were mostly dried up, and saving bits of interesting pieces of paper.

I began cutting out words and images from worn out books, magazines and junk mail. I bought new paint, retrieved the old hand stamps I’d carved eons ago, with their dried up ink pads. I found a variety of sketch pads that I liked and added some new pens of various colors. I cleared off a good sized section of my work table that was covered with stacks of papers that needed filing and moved the boxes of encaustic paints I’d been working with prior to deciding to write a book, over to the side.

I put out the new paint, the sketchpads, the scissors, and glue sticks. For weeks I just stared at it all, wondering which sketch pad to use and where to start. Suddenly I didn’t like the paint colors I’d bought and whenever I was struck with an idea that got me excited, something came up that needed my attention. Of course those enticing images in my head were swept away in the tide of work I thought I had to attend to before I could allow myself to play.

Desperate and needing help to get started, I signed up for Lisa Sonora’s, on-line video workshop, Dreaming on Paper. Because I am an artist I felt shame for not being able to get going on my own. In my head a smart-ass voice kept asking, “What happened? Did you forget how to make art, dumbhead? That’ll teach you to go off and write a stupid book!”

Turning my practical, structured, and sometimes intolerant left brain switch to off, I watched Lisa’s first video, put on some classical guitar music, sat down at my work table and began. Oh how freeing it was to just smear paint around on the pages of a sketch pad … and get this, at Lisa’s suggestion, I started in the middle of the pad, rather than at the beginning. I began flipping through a few magazines lying around and tore out words that resonated with me. They seemed to come out of nowhere, and the first ones fell together by themselves: Where My Heart Is. From there it was a piece of cake without all the rich, fattening calories. I let it sit for a few days, went back to it and played around some more. I started using my hand stamps and writing whatever came to mind.

And guess what? There it was!

IMG_1548 (1)

It is not be the most beautiful or astonishing piece of art I’ve ever put together, but I’m getting back on track. Lisa Sonora’s video series is artful, helpful, and inspiring. Hopefully, I’ll turn this work into a practice giving words and images their due together in journal form.

Have you ever put work aside that you had difficulty getting back to later? What did you do to begin again?

Taking Time To Stand And Stare

Max asleep on my shoulder.

Max asleep on my shoulder.

On July 1st the developmental edit of my memoir was done. Now I’ll take time to reread it once again, make minor changes if necessary, and then send it off for a copyedit.

I loved working with my editor, Annie Tucker, and will miss our phone conversations every other week. I’ve learned a lot from her, but life moves on and we will be in touch again during the final edit. If I ever write another book, it’ll be Annie I’ll look to for the editing. I remember how overwhelmed I felt last summer as I kept revising without the help of an editor. It was not fun and I spent more time being stressed out and worrying that I’d never be done.

As a reward for moving to the next level, I’m going to give myself a little summer break. But I won’t be lying around on the beach doing nothing. While slowing my pace, I’ll still be at work. Tomorrow my new computer will arrive and I’ll take some time to get to know her. To be honest with you, computers scare the heck out of me. I’m not good at technology and feel I need more time to figure things out than others. But I have a great teacher who’ll be helping me out whenever I run into trouble.

I also hope to get some blog posts written ahead of time and to work on a surprise that I’m planning to launch in the fall. I’ll do some reading, rest, and watch the hummingbirds flit through my garden.

This will be my last post until July 28th.

I hope you are all having a wonderful summer. Don’t forget to take some time out to relax.

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have not time to stand and stare.
William Henry Davies

Insight Dialogue And What Is Most Important To Us

 Lotus © Joan Z. Rough

Lotus © Joan Z. Rough

This past Saturday I returned to the annual, Insight Dialogue Retreat, that one of my favorite people and teachers, Sharon Beckman-Brindley, teaches here in Charlottesville, as an offering of the Insight Meditation Community of Charlottesville.

These retreats have been scheduled every January for the past several years, and it’s a magical way to start the New Year. By the end of the day, one participant wanted to know, why we all had to go home. “Couldn’t we just keep going?” My feelings exactly, except I really did need a break to go home, eat dinner, and have a good night’s sleep. But had the retreat been scheduled to continue on Sunday, I would have been there in a heart beat.

Insight Dialogue, is the practice of working with a partner to whom we speak and listen to, as we contemplate a series of questions on a given theme. This year’s theme was about intentions and what is important to us as we navigate through our lives. As we slowly walked around the room, we were stopped by the instructor and told to engage a partner for the first contemplation, find seats across from each other, and decide who would be the first speaker.

Our first contemplation was, “What are the intentions you wish to carry with you throughout your life?” We were all encouraged to relax and pause if the speaker needed time to pull his or her thoughts together, or the listener needed time to banish intrusive thoughts. Each pause provided stillness in which new thoughts and insights arose and could be added to the conversation.

The speakers were then directed to talk about a difficulty in their lives and how they might use their intentions to make the situation less difficult. Other questions followed, with the speaker addressing what was true for them, always pausing to reflect on new insights.  The listener then had a chance to respond to the speaker and  talk about how the speaker’s words affected them.

Exchanging roles from speaker to listener and listener to speaker, the process began again, with the new speaker answering the same or similar questions. We were continuously reminded to relax, pause, close our eyes, and take a deep breath when necessary.

Except for the time that dialogue was taking place, we spent the rest of our time in silence, even during breaks and while having lunch, allowing more time for us to continue our own contemplations of our intentions.

Continuing on into the afternoon, additional questions with new partners were contemplated, each taking a turn at addressing the questions being asked. By the end of the afternoon we had each shared contemplations with three other people.

It’s always an amazing and cleansing activity for me, as I dig deep to find my truth, and practice being an intent listener. It becomes very clear that insights arise during our brief pauses, when we are in the moment.

The first time I went to one of these retreats, I had no idea what to expect and was very nervous about speaking so openly and intimately about myself and my inner world. But it’s become a yearly ritual for me and each time I come away with new insights about myself and inspiration from those I sit and speak with.  Often long lasting friendships are forged.

This time around I discovered that I’ve always kept the good things I feel about myself under wraps. Saturday afternoon, while discussing the good things that we do as we move through our lives, I realized, I’d been taught as a young girl that it was incorrect to talk about my goodness. Good little girls were not supposed to speak about how nice we were. It was a form of bragging and always seemed to bring on the same response to the silly questions I often asked … silence.

As a result, I was led to believe that the good things I did were unimportant. Only the bad things, like doing something stupid, talking back to my parents, or disobeying them, counted in any description of who I was at the time, both in my mother and father’s minds, as well as my own.

I also learned that I’d already used one of my intentions for this new year. I DARED to post a somewhat controversial, political essay last week here on my blog. I don’t normally like to do that. I like to be positive at all times, and dislike confrontation and disagreement. I’d learned early on to keep my mouth shut about things like that. Although no one needs to agree with what I wrote, I’m rather proud of myself for standing up and speaking out about an issue that was of great concern to me.

Setting intentions for a day, a year, or a lifetime are always good things to do.  If you have intentions for the next ten minutes, this coming year, or for the rest of your life, what are they and how do see yourself manifesting them?