My rural hometown had an incredible art program, but my family moved when I was a junior and, at my new school, visual arts were grossly under-appreciated. Art class was where uninspired and underachieving students were sent to make up their humanities credit - much to the chagrin of my long-suffering art teacher, Mr. Britton…which is probably why he granted me the senior art award. It came as a total surprise. I had taken all the available art classes by the end of my first year there, and with so many other interests, had filled my class schedule with other electives. But he knew I wanted to be an artist as well as a writer, and hoped to encourage me.
Graduation season is upon us once again, with all of it's pomp and circumstance, and I am pleased to pay homage to Mr. Britton by passing his encouragement along. Having given public art lectures and numerous book talks and readings as an author, for the first time was invited to speak at a high school National Art Honor Society induction ceremony honoring talented young artists. These are some of the words I shared with them:
My first public speaking gig was at my own high school graduation… and I totally blew it. For some odd reason, though I wasn’t valedictorian or even salutatorian, I was nominated to be our class speaker. It may have been that I had a reputation for being outgoing and well spoken. I had rocked my pre-college English courses - today’s equivalent of AP English – and was just coming off a successful run as the lead in our spring musical, The Sound of Music. I oozed confidence. Whatever the reason - and really, it does baffle me now as to how anyone could have thought it was a good idea - I decided I would speak off the cuff. Extemporaneously. In front of almost a thousand people.
Trust me; it wasn’t pretty.
I had written a short poem, a motto, which I’d committed to memory and thought would be the perfect launching pad -
Let me live now and never regret losing a second
For let no second go by that I am idle,
No thoughtless moment mar a day filled with the opportunity to do,
Or to be.
...pretty ambitious, isn’t it? And naive.
From there, I expected inspiration to blaze like a lightning bolt out of the sky, and hit me with sage words that would electrify my listeners. When that didn’t happen, I almost resorted to belting out Edelweiss, but instead, meekly asked my fellow classmates to remember that their parents and educators also deserved a round of applause for their heroic efforts on getting them to this point, and - very humbled, as the confused audience twittered and clapped anemically - I sat down.
You don’t get off that easy today. Neither do I.
These days I am obsessed with getting it right.
Whether I’m at the computer or easel, attention to detail is my own personal superpower. I love to layer the aesthetic with functionality, to make the ordinary extraordinary. Taking a simple idea and developing it into an alternate universe complete with its own language is my idea of fun. Spending hundreds of hours working on a single illustration thrills my heart.
The act of creating is one the most meaningful and joyful aspects of life. I believe it is what we are made for. Art makes a difference, in fact, it makes all the difference. It is what elevates life from the mundane to the sublime. As a lifelong avid reader and now author & illustrator, I don’t just get to exist in one world, I live in thousands; some of my own creation, others that I visit only sporadically. Art and literature make these worlds possible, and I am eternally grateful to the creative contributions of so many throughout the ages. They are my heroes.
You who are sitting here being honored for artistic excellence today have been given the gift of art. Will you develop and nurture that gift to enrich your own life or share with the world… or squander it, lock it away in some secret cupboard out of fear that it isn’t good enough?
Most people stop drawing about the time they realize that what they are putting down on the paper looks nothing like the real thing – at around the age of eleven. That is when drawing becomes work. You are the lucky ones who pushed past that stage and can now enjoy it again. You are the ones who can bring art into a world that craves beauty. Yet not all of you are destined to be artists. Some of you have other, stronger loves and interests, skills I can only dream of having. You will spend your creativity in other ways. But that doesn’t mean art won’t play an important role in your lives.
Living artistically doesn’t have a set look. It might mean designing architecture, teaching a classroom of music students, running a restaurant or corporation, making furniture. A creative life doesn’t always wear a face you can recognize. Sometimes it goes incognito. Sometimes it means wearing sweatpants and driving a mini-van. But it is still a superpower.
Consider, if you would, the movie The Incredibles.
I adore animation. I appreciate the time it takes, even now with improved technology and CGI - computer generated images. I love the attention to detail, the little things the audience doesn’t notice consciously, but that would seem off if they weren’t just so. The backdrops, the mannerisms, all of that. It takes years and millions of dollars to make a film like The Incredibles. The Incredibles #2 is soon to be released, and I can hardly wait! But what I love most about The Incredibles isn’t the animation; it’s how real the characters are. They are flawed. They are normal despite their amazing super powers. They are human and make mistakes, just like all of us. They also want to be their best selves. That is their main motivation. It isn’t showing off, or making the world sit up and take notice that drives them, even though they might enjoy the limelight. Craving the limelight for its own sake is the trait of super villains. Heroes just want to do what they are good at, to live honorably and make the world a better place. That can be done – and is – everyday by countless individuals just going about their lives.
I love the scenes where Mr. Incredible - aka Bob Parr - is sitting at his desk, shoulders hunched, endlessly bored and overly capable, nearly broken. It’s not that he can’t help people in that capacity – he proves he can with his sympathy toward a weepy, older lady who he assists with an insurance claim. But he is unhappy because he isn’t being all that he can be in that job. We see that he doesn’t fully come to life until he is back to doing what he loves: hero work. And even then, while he’s sneaking around, doing it on the sly so that his wife, Helen - aka ElastaGirl - won’t know what he’s up to, he is unfulfilled because he isn’t being fully honorable. She, on the other hand, has been doing hero work all along – spoiler alert – as we’ll find out in the sequel when Bob has his turn staying home being the full-time parent.
I am a parent myself – to five wonderful & talented children. For much of their lives, I was their hero, and maybe for some I still am. Along with writing and making art, they are my passion. For years they were my top priority – and still are, though it is a little less time consuming with only our bonus baby left at home. But remember that little poem I wrote about not being idle? Well, with five kids there isn’t much time for being idle… or anything else for that matter. So, I haven’t always been what you would call a “producing artist”.
At times, I admit, I chafed at not having enough time to pursue my art while raising children, not fully recognizing the opportunity they gave me to share it in new and creative ways. You see - living an honorable life isn’t dependent on circumstances; it is what you do despite them. It wasn’t Mr. Incredible that was a hero to that old woman, it was Bob Parr. And in my case, in passing my love for the arts along to my children my gift has been multiplied many times over, and in a variety of ways that wouldn’t have been possible had I just kept it for myself. Two of my kids went on to be theater majors; our son intends to pursue voice and stage acting, while our eldest turned her love of language into a career in marketing consultation, and is developing a book of her comic strips. Another daughter graduates this weekend a full-fledged pastry chef. Our fourth child let her fascination with neuroscience take precedence – much to her scientist father’s delight – yet writes some of the deepest, most eloquent poetry I’ve ever read. Our youngest is still an unknown quantity, but I am confident that art has, and will continue to enrich her life.
As time allowed, I returned to making art and writing, and in retrospect realized that living an authentic, honorable life doesn’t always mean it turns out exactly as we envision it. It might be smaller. It might appear unnoticeable, but it is in the everyday details - the work that is involved - that the most important part of life plays out. We can become Super Uses when we live honorable lives. We can endow the everyday with greatness and make it sublime when we give it our best, regardless of our circumstances, with or without accolades or recognition. We can be incredible. You can be incredible. It’s a decision.
Today you are being honored not only for your outstanding abilities in art, but for your efforts to attain the highest standards in art scholarship, character, and service. Such honor may be bestowed, thrown over your shoulders like a mantle - a varsity jacket, a medal, a certificate of accomplishment, a grade, an induction into the National Art Honor Society, even an election to be class speaker – but can only become part of your character with your consent and participation. Honor takes effort. To live honorably is to live without worrying about how you are perceived, to not dwell on mistakes and imperfections, but to strive to give your best. When we give our best, it speaks volumes.
I hope that you will always give your best. The world needs your best. The world needs heroes. Heroes like Mr. Britton... and your teachers, parents and supporting adults.
So let’s give all of them a round of applause.
Look who's featured this week on a sister author's blogsite! lifeuntapped.com/2018/05/09/one-mothers-journey-pacing-vs-racing-taking-time-to-be-kind-to-yourself/
While you're at it, make sure to check out Stacy Hawkins Adams work, too: www.amazon.com/Stacy-Hawkins-Adams/e/B001JSA12E I will be featuring her in a guest post here soon!
Finally! I woke up today to temps that begged for opened windows and coffee on the deck - huzzah!
Spring has been a long time coming; now that it is here my goal is to revel in it. For most of the winter I have been trapped inside, both the house and my own head. Ideas churned in such confined space, becoming a muddy jumble unworthy to be spilled upon an unsuspecting page. But, with new walking shoes and sunlit disposition, I am seeking the great outdoors today, where my thoughts can stretch into something worthy of the time it takes to type them.
There is nothing that inspires like a walk in nature. I am fortunate enough to live on a rural mountainside that makes up for it's punishing uphill climb home with an abundance of wildlife and breathtaking views. Sitting inside, or, more likely, actively engaged in some less than inspiring activity, it's easy to forget that an Eden awaits just outside my door. Sure, in winter I get out on snowshoes with the hubby once in a while, and daily to visit my egg-laying beauties, but it isn't the same as a solitary trek where the mind is free to wander as aimlessly as a lost nomad. This is where the best thoughts are found. Not that I am seeking them today - no! I will let them come and go as they may, like the breeze that is warming my cheek right now, and calling me to stop typing, to start living again.
Enjoy this beautiful day. I shall.
It's been awhile...
Are you wondering what I've been up to? Yeah, me too.
The last time I posted anything about my work in progress I told you that I was about 12 chapters into it, and guess what? Still there. I could come up with all sorts of excuses, but they don't hold water. What does is the truth: Everyone needs a vacation occasionally. As much as I love my invented world of Emrysia, I have been living there too long without a break - far longer than you, dear reader - and other projects have been calling to me. I've been trying to ignore them, but find I don't really want to anymore. In fact, I never wanted writing to be a job at all, which is what is was becoming. I like it far better when it's my passion.
To keep it that way I'm doing a little scribbling just for fun, following wherever inspiration leads. Right now that means into lines of poetry, down the dark alleys of a short mystery, and maybe even onto the scaffolding of my own life story. There is a children's book or two (or twenty) that I would like to finish illustrations for, but I don't want that to be an "in my spare time" struggle. I'm giving myself permission to just create, and it feels good.
So, all you Emrysia fans, enjoy a little time off with me, won't you? Visit other worlds, explore new hobbies, take chances and get messy. Life is more fun that way. And don't worry; the prequel and sequel are still whispering their secrets, begging me to listen. I'm not a gossip, but I do love sharing a good story.
What about you? Where have you been, and what are you up to now? Inquiring minds want to know...
Once upon a time not so very long ago, in a land even further north than the magical Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, a wizard was born... and promptly abandoned by his parents. The wizard was adopted into the loving home of an evangelical preacher who, five years later, moved the family light-years away to a place where Munchkins dwelt in relative peace and harmony. A place named for James, the Saint, just down the coast from the City of Angels. The wizard matured and as he did, he went by the name of - Art Linkletter. Those with a juvenile sense of humor may have sometimes warped that proud moniker into something less than illustrious (Fart Bedwetter?), but whether or not the wizard was ever actually bullied or teased by his peers, he developed a deep love and appreciation for childhood wit and sensibility. He grew up and became a famed radio host, and eventually went on to appear in living rooms throughout the land by way of a magic box called “the boob tube”. His program was called Art Linkletter’s House Party, and aired five times a week for nearly twenty years. Enjoyed far and wide and across the generations by lovers of all things innocent and good, one particularly popular segment of the program (and subsequent book) was called “Kids Say the Darndest Things”...
I remember howling with laughter as a child (right along with the studio audience) as Art Linkletter peered out of our humongous, 19” black and white television screen - deadpan, or as near to non-snickering as anyone could humanly manage in the face of such hilarious, half-pint interviewees - over 20,000 of them over the years! The show was totally unscripted, so you never knew what you were going to get. From the mouth of babes came some of the funniest moments in television history... and some of the most insightful.
I have my own hilarious wise-cracker sitting across from me at the dinner table every night. Sometimes, while she is ostensibly finishing up whatever offensive item remains on her plate, my husband will pull out his guitar, and serenade us. Often she’ll join in, adding her sweet, budding alto to his mellow baritone. Their latest duet of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” melted my heart - and then had me in stitches as, with eyes closed in an effort to appear wistful, she warbled out the following line:
“…where troubles smell like lemon drops…”
(Oh, how precious! I’ll probably never correct her.)
Later though, as so often happens, I thought about what she sang in a totally different way and found myself growing wistful for a simpler time. Blame it on being tired, a little too much introspection, or maybe even heartburn, I suddenly equated this incredibly sweet misperception of hers with a disconcerting symptom of our current culture.
Somewhere along the line between the House Party heyday and today, we've hardened. We've lost our love of purity and truth - of innocence - preferring instead to tell ourselves comfortable lies. We no longer know what is good for us, no longer recognize trouble for what it is. No longer live in a time where it “melts like lemon drops” – inevitably, often despite unnecessary worry, with sweetness and tang inexorably blended until nothing but memory remains.
Nowadays, instead of melting away, trouble lingers at our invitation, its scent clinging to the very fabric of our lives. It has been redefined, turned on its ear. Like children who misunderstand that which is meant to make them stronger as they pass through it, we now perceive trouble as something to be savored, an indulgent treat. What used to be a burden to bear for whatever time it took to divest ourselves of it has become our favorite candy, and darn it! - we want more! We intentionally create more, without stopping to consider the long term effects.
Why? Because we no longer value discipline and self-control. Conflict and vice are relished in our day-to-day lives instead, even more so in our entertainment... and entertainment passes for news. Shaming our neighbors, spewing opinions and flinging insults, we vie to impress friends and followers undeterred by compassion or reason. Not recognizing and regretting our personal failings, we seek –no, we demand! – approval. Conflict was once universally acknowledged as detrimental to our well-being, and that of society. It was something to overcome. But now our personal media feeds filter down to us supporting opinion and little else, distracting us with cat memes and crude humor until the mind-numbing gulf is unbridgeable, and our narcissistic selves can no longer distinguish right from wrong, beauty from the repulsive, truth from lies. We see it on our screens, so it must be so.
Compassion is dead. Innocence is lost, and with it - our consciences.
But... innocence is optimism, it is hope...
We’ve opted to throw hope away, carelessly discarding what we most need for healing. Instead, hopeless, we cling to this new, self-righteous reality somehow thinking more of it will make things better. More personal freedom (as long as it is PC), more ranting, more claiming offence at every little thing – more, More, MORE! More everything except humility, and listening to that still, small voice that convicts us.
We’ve convinced ourselves that trouble only smells like lemon drops, and isn’t that just wonderful? Aren’t we all just so happy here in our little, intolerant bubbles?
Just listen to me rant... I'm sorry.
Do I want to be a child again? No, but I would like a return to child-like innocence. As an adult, that means making a conscious effort, recognizing that I am part of the problem, and working to overcome my own prejudices. Unlike innocent children, I know more about the world; that doesn’t always mean I know better. Listening to viewpoints other than my own might just help me understand where someone else is coming from. It may not change how I view the world, but it might help me appreciate the fact that my viewpoint is not the only valid one.
We all come from a place of brokenness. It will take all of us to fix it.
Throughout his 97 years of life the wizard knew joy, and he knew trials. He married the girl of his dreams and raised a family. The year I reached the age of reason, his 20 year old daughter fell to her death from a sixth story window during a flashback from LSD, motivating him to speak out against drug use. The year I graduated high school, one of his sons died in a car accident; years later he buried another who died from lymphoma. The wizard persevered. He spent his life spreading joy throughout the land, becoming a philanthropist, founding a dance school, and earning his own star on Hollywood and Vine. He was fined once for claiming false citizenship, but paid his dues, and became one. He was accused (and cleared) of an unsavory scheme, then served on the Presidential Council on Service and Civic Participation. He was quoted as saying - "I believe none of us should ever stop growing, learning, changing, and being curious about what's going to happen next. None of us is perfect, so we should be eager to learn more and try to be more effective persons in every part of our lives."
He held several honorific degrees, and throughout his life promoted laughter as the best medicine. He invested in the hula-hoop, supported his friend Walt as Disneyland got up and running, and his image graces the $100,000 dollar bills in the board game called Life. In later years he suffered a stroke, and two years after that, just months shy of his 75th wedding anniversary, he died.
The wizard, Art Linkletter knew what troubles were, and that they melt like – not smell like – lemon drops. And he would have been amused at those who thought otherwise.
I have always been a foodie. even before it became a thing. As a child, I preferred blue cheese to American, spinach to watermelon, liver & onions to pizza, and I still do. Now my tastes have developed to include a wide variety of unusual and ethnic foods as well. What does food have to do with a writing blog? Bear with me and you'll see.
Among my many culinary discoveries are a few surprises that opened up a whole new area of obsession - food as medicine. This idea is nothing new. “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” ― Hippocrates certainly had it right. But there are some things even Hippocrates didn't know about.
For instance, my new favorite morning beverage is chaga tea. Brewed from chunks of a blackish fungus that grows only in certain birch trees, this powerful antioxidant stimulates and regulates the immune system, reduces inflammation, helps with ulcers and gastritis, normalizes cholesterol and blood pressure levels, slows aging, and improves skin. Since Chaga grows wild only in the birch forests of Russia, Korea, Eastern and Northern Europe, Northern areas of the United States and in Canada, it is doubtful the Father of Modern Medicine ever heard of it.
Chaga has been referred to as the King of Mushrooms, and for good reason. But lately, I've become even more fascinated with a flavorful, fermented beverage called kombucha. This healthy brew dates as far back as 2000 years ago in ancient China, where it was consumed regularly to combat inflammation and ward off cancers. Despite it's vinegary fizz, many today consider it a refreshing alternative to less healthy sugary or diet sodas, and drink it for taste as well as its probiotic qualities. I find kombucha (along with yogurt and home-cured sauerkraut) to be incredibly yummy, and excellent for promoting healthy gut flora. My first home brewed batch is fermenting on my kitchen counter as I write this, and I can hardly wait to try it!
We all know the world is a better place because of mold, at least, the penicillin and cheese producing varieties. (Just imagine if Dr. Alexander Flemming had come back from vacation and thrown out all of those moldy petri dishes he found in his lab!) Composting experts confirm that a little bit of rot works wonders for the garden. Bacteria and fungus are responsible for fine wines and gastronomic wonders, not to mention they are nature's clean-up crew. We would be lost without them. It only follows then that, as a writer, I have great appreciation for literary decomposition.
The simplest things make the most sense.
When I first sat down to write about the world I'd been mulling over for decades, I began with the most basic of elements; a name. My main character, named for a drawing I had done, was Aryelle - no matter how much I tried to think of her as someone else. Breaking that name down into syllables, I came up with a meaning for it. That led to a history, genealogy, and eventually an entire language, which included references to ancient wisdom revered by her race of empaths, as recorded in the Book of Illumination. Those adages became the basis for numerous side plots, bringing to life not only new characters, but entire races of people. What had started as the simplest of elements mushroomed into the rich soil of Emrysia, now three books strong, with a prequel and sequel well underway.
Decomposition, at its finest, always leads to growth.
The characters coming to life now in the prequel are Ladhonna, Leandra and Kayanna - The Daughters of Ka'Dharron. This trio's sibling relationship will determine who they become as adults, and the roles each of them will play in Aryelle's life. As author, it's fascinating to see these characters grow and develop; the why and how lies in the sum of experience. Since this book is all about construction through deconstruction, it is my kombucha moment - a little sweet, a little tart, and full of good, healing things. I hope you as a reader will enjoy it, too, but you have to want the healing to happen. You have to look for it. Otherwise, all you may taste is vinegar.
“The natural healing force within each of us is the greatest force in getting well.”