Like Words Together Reflections from the deep end of Practice.


Rediscovering Creativity

The last several weeks have been strange, new territory for me. Sleeping. Creating. Learning how to be cared for. Letting go into rest.

I've had a few interviews and a lot of interest, but nothing solid yet. Perhaps as spring arrives new opportunities will as well career-wise.

There's quite a lot up in the air, awaiting decisions from other parties. My goal is to try not to think too much about the unknown. As always, the practice of just being present.

We've made quite of lot of changes around our home since November. We've hung up a few more things, moved furniture around, had a few more pieces of art framed. It feels more like a home now, safer and more comforting. All the companion animals feel it too. Obie particularly has come further out of his shell and plays much more than he ever has, sometimes even bringing me one of his favorite toy mice.

Perhaps one of the most significant signs of healing has been my return to making art. In December I devoted some time to emptying boxes and really making my desk in our shared, basement office usable. I have unpacked Igal's acrylic supplies and have now added several more paint colors and mediums to the mix. At times I'm really mindful of the grief I still feel for his death, how I wish I could share with him how he's influenced my art.

I first started out by making a mixed media collage ATC. Experimenting with how the underlying black or white gesso changed the look. I made a little piece with a bit of scrap cardboard as a base and a great octopus off of a business card I'd picked up somewhere along the way. I started on a shine to feature a bit from one of Mary Oliver's poems. I finally made a page to send to Seth Apter for a combined artists project he's been collecting pages for. I've also worked on two very personal pieces that have helped me process some of the emotions around my Mom.

The puzzle pieces really are inspiring me. Those along with finding phrases and words, either torn from old kids' books found at thrift stores, or specially printed off on laser printer so the words stand up the the acrylic mediums. I had several puzzled pieces that I'd grabbed from the "conference game" at OSCON this past summer. These quickly began to take on layers of collage and acrylic medium. It has been really healing to work a little at a time with these projects, going through materials, finding words, and creating each piece.

I've made small tin shrines in the past, but really focused on using paper to cover the tin almost entirely. Now using the acrylic medium I feel like I'm creating something that has a lot more depth.

A friend recently sparked an idea I had to make a cigar box that would be filled with reminders of what to do when I'm anxious or cannot sleep. It would also have things like a small plush toy, a nice rock to hold in my hand, maybe a couple of nice marbles. I discussed the idea with my therapists and brainstormed lists of things I can do. PB suggested that rather than just note cards I use my puzzle pieces, so that each suggestion was also something lovely and tactile to hold. I then observed what I needed even more was something "travel-sized" so I could have safe, soothing activity reminders that I could do anywhere and I could carry it with me.

I've made a couple of what I'm calling "self-soothing boxes", one for myself and one for CK to take when she travels. The trick is finding the right sized puzzle pieces to fit in them! In my search for them I've found some that I want to try making into brooches. I've also found some as big as my head and am having fun working on a larger piece using one. I finished the box with the Mary Oliver quote, "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" (from "A Summer's Day") and am really pleased with the outcome.



Ripple - Stonefield Beach, Yachats, OR, January 16, 2014

I'm not yet ready to write about the past few months. The high level summary is that Mom has not returned and is living at an assisted living facility not terribly far from here. On the advice of multiple healthcare providers, and even more importantly, my wife, I have asked my Mother not to contact me further. Thus far, she has respected my request.

I was asked today by one of those care providers if making this request and having Mom respect it made me feel happy. It doesn't, it doesn't at all, it makes me feel a great deal of sorrow. I fully accept that my Mom's view of reality cannot be challenged, ever. When that happens she either reacts to destroy or flee, or both really. I've stopped responding in the way I was trained to as a child and now threaten that view of reality. For the sake of my health and the health of my marriage, I am moving on with my life.

It is really hard. The holidays, particularly as compared with all the hope I'd been filled with last year, were painful. I'm still at the stage were animated movies with a princess in it can be triggering.

What I have been allowing myself to be fine with enjoying is the feeling of rest. Not having to time my entire life around blood glucose checks and insulin adjustments for a person who was hostile to both CK and I. My relief & gratitude and my grief can be part of me concurrently, within the same space.

Since then? I've been making art again. It had quite honestly been over a year since I'd really created anything, aside from what I'd made in a workshop last May. While I still need to get back to that large project, I've made a handful of new things. I am continuing to enjoy connecting with other artists, mostly all women, once a month.

At the meet-up at the start of this month, we had all brought supplies to share at a common table. Kind of the collage artist equivalent of a party where everyone brings clothes they're no longer wearing and you pick through all the other clothes, taking home something awesome to you. I'd brought a bunch of traditional scrapbooking paper, since I've been really moving toward using mostly things I've created, and stickers. Upon overhearing how I love finding ways to use real stamps in my work, several other women started looking through the pile on the table to help find all of the stamps (quite a bundle) that someone else had put there. Likewise for to giant puzzle pieces, from another women who'd noticed the smaller, altered puzzle piece I'd brought to share. I left with my heart full at how giving, including, and supportive this group is and how grateful I am that I've made space fr it.

I've been continuing to practice my photography. Last week I was fortunate enough to get a few days in Yachats with Dora while CK was away on a business trip. A good friend joined me for 2 of the 3 nights I stayed. It was the perfect time to practice what I'd learned in November.

CK and I have been working on projects around the house and are having some more art professionally framed. It feels like bit by bit we're reclaiming the energy of the house. I've been napping a lot, which I've been advised to find time to continue to do. The same group of care providers have noted that I've been dangerously exhausted. Physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually exhausted and it may take more than a few weeks to recover.

While I don't feel it is possible to be happy about making the decision to separate my life from my Mom, I do feel some wonder and enjoyment at starting to feel like it will be a year of changes to improve my life.

CK pointed me to Henry Miller's 11 Commandments of Writing & Daily Creative Routine. I am particularly taken with his third commandment:

"Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand."

Not bad advice as a new year begins.


Seeing Anew

Everything kind of blew up in November with Mom in a spectacular fashion.

The summary: as of November 6th Mom hasn't been at our home and has transitioned to an assisted living facility. She's fine, physically. The full flood of the drama in November is lessening, leaving the shock waves of her actions. It isn't something I really want to write about here, but if you know me you can reach out via email, phone, or ask if I'm up for tea if you're in Portland.

Actually, there's an awful lot going on with a lot of things that I"m not going write about here.

Instead I'm going to write about the photography class CK and I took together. We've been wanting to find something to do together. Given how unrelentingly stressful the past couple of years have been we've needed something to connect over that wasn't Mom or community events.

Steel Bridge - November 17, 2013 - Portland, OR

CK found the class at Newspace Center for Photography and had picked the one being taught by Zeb Andrews. It met for 5 Tuesday evenings and included a Saturday "field trip" photography walk. As a class we decided on a walk in downtown Portland, starting down by the Steel Bridge.

It has been really great sharing this experience with CK and I've learned so much about my camera! Aside from the auto-focus, I've been setting the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO manually; learning to use the meter.

I've also been experimenting a lot more with black & white pictures, light balance, setting focus priority. CK and I've taken a few walks together too, taking cameras along and experimenting. Looking at things in a new way. I've posted my favorites of the photo experiments I've taken.

Cinderella Squash - November 28, 2013 - Portland, OR

We had 9 friends, family-of-choice, over for a big Thanksgiving feast. It was lovely to have everyone here. Given how exhausting November had been, and that the Mama-Drama-Rama really had just barely wrapped mostly up in time to do the shopping, it was a tiring day.

I've also finally started making some artwork again. I'm still making it to the first Saturday meet-ups of the Collage Artists' Guild. The December meeting was a "blind bag" gift exchange. You were to have made something, bring it in a plain, brown paper bag, all bags numbered and numbers drawn. My gift turned out to be a stenciled wooden box.

I made a Metta Shrine out of a small stationery box and did mixed-media collage on it using a page from a book, acrylic paints, tissue papers, metallic pigment inks, and all kinds of paper. CK then helped me fold several paper cranes that I put into the box before wrapping and bagging it up.

Metta Shrine 2013 - December 7, 2013 - Portland, OR

Given that it was the first piece of art I've finished since... well, in way too many months, I was so pleased at how excited the recipient was; she particularly loved the vivid colors. Another member of the group commented on what a meaningful piece it was. I'm working on a small ATC right now.

*Click on picture to see set of more photos of the shrine.

It has been a tough year. Really, for newlyweds, we've had a ridiculously tough start to things. I'm profoundly grateful that CK is in my life, encouraging and reminding me that it is safe to trust and love her.


Adventures in Altered Art

Back in January I finally decided to sign up for a workshop with Seth Apter at one of my favorite little, local art shops, Collage. Today was the day.

It has been hard this past several weeks. Igal's death has been a dark pall over the bright flowers of spring. I was really quietly pleased that despite the grief, anxiety, PTSD triggers, illness, exhaustion and busyness of April, I still managed to put together 30 poems in 30 days.

In the cleaning, sorting, distributing, and dealing with Igal's apartments, which his closest friends took on, some of his things were sent to, or set aside for people. I helped in the initial days, the apartment was easier to deal with than the meetings to plan his memorial. In the final days our friends decided some things should be brought to us.

Japanese ceramics, a collection that seems to have no theme beyond being pleasing to Igal at some time has been brought to CK and I. I look forward to serving festive dishes, particularly Japanese ones, on these beautiful dishes. At future Thanksgiving dinners it will give me a way of continuing to include Igal, despite his being gone from this life.

Igal's Lovely Japanese Dishes

In January, when I'd decided to attend the workshop, I had so looked forward to discussing my ideas about it with Igal. He had encouraged me to explore using acrylic medium for my artwork. At one of our infrequent, but wonderful Art at Koehler Haus days, Igal sat with me and shared his acrylics to help me learn how to use them.

Another gift of our friends was a decision to bring Igal's art supplies to us. Today I had Igal with me; I brought his paint box with me to class and used many of his acrylic paints and glaze in the start of my project today. I am so humbled that our friends thought these things should come to me.

Beginning the Workshop, with Igal's paint box.

I was so nervous this morning before heading to the workshop. All the usual feelings of inadequacy, of "pretending" at art.  CK gave me a kiss before leaving, encouraging me.

Our instructor, Seth Apter, was great. He immediately assured us that we would most likely not finish! Such a relied to be assured that 54 small collage pieces was a tall order indeed!

We quickly got to work on applying black gesso to all 52 playing cards and a piece for the front, another for the back.

Gesso Down!

He reminded us right away to not forget to work on the cover and back pieces, on book board, pieces in addition to the 52 playing cards. The black and the beauty of metallic, gold acrylic inspired me to create a small Enso. I will admit that it felt really very good when Seth complimented it, showing it to the other workshop participants, and recognizing it as an Enso.

Cover with Enso

Next we were encourage to apply some layers, at least one, of acrylic paint. My colors were all fairly rich and dark, against the black gesso they mostly implied a suggestion of color, which was pretty lovely.

Layers of Acrylic Paint Over Gesso

Then we were to set aside one side for adding text. Eventually my book will have poems by Hafiz and Rumi appearing on these pages. To the other side we received instruction on how to mix the acrylic paint with glaze to make sheer, translucent layers of color over the black gesso.

Layers and Layers of Acrylic Glaze

Next  came time to apply collage layers. Here's where I felt a little lost. I'd thought I'd seen the boxes of paper and emphera I've collected these past handful of years, but I only found the small box of the smallest scraps. Given that we're altering playing cards, it was really just fine, but I still wish I'd found my awesome paper stash!

Next Step, Collage!

All too soon the workshop was over! I am only a quarter or a third of the way done! I really can't wait to get my office fully together, my chair out the box, so I can create!

Just Barely Begun!

Today is all "wrapped up" and I'm already thinking about making a book of Mary Oliver poetry in this form. I'm also really intrigued by Seth's inspiration for this workshop; making one card a week for an entire year. Seems like a great way to combine collage, altered art and haiku into a project.

Hafiz / Rumi Altered Playing Card Book - Day One


Planning Art

The house is coming along. Yes, there's still areas with boxes filling them, but CK reminds me that it is a Towers of Hanoi game. The boxes are shifting and changing. We managed to have people over for Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and a few folks for New Year's Eve where I made Japanese food until I was asked to please stop and play a game.

I've been thinking about this year and wanting to get back to a couple of things. I'm considering a week in San Francisco for some training in restorative yoga this July. It conflicts with OSCON and just today a friend sent a couple of very interesting ideas for OSCON talks my way, one they asked me if I'd be interested in co-presenting on. It is very different and I'm honestly quite interested.

CK asked me a few days ago if I was to pursue things this year in considering how they impacted what I wanted to do 20 years from now. Yeah, a long view. However, I'm not sure in 20 years if I'll be at all concerned about my presence at technical events. That's when I'll want to be doing yoga, particularly in a therapeutic application. I've even checked and one of my dearest friends has already said I'd be joyfully welcomed in their guestroom in the Mission District.

We'll see. There's a real possibility that I could work on OSCON proposals and if they don't get picked up do more training as a yoga teacher.

Sometime soon I want to write about Mom and about my observations about how people fall through the cracks. I spent over 90 minutes today trying to get a prescription correctly refilled. It was maddening and I cannot imagine her being able to get it sorted out without help. That's about all I can say, the thoughts are too fragmented yet.

I did do something else today. I registered for an art workshop at a shop I've taken some other classes at. Seth Apter, a mixed-media artist, is doing a few workshops in town. I decided I should pick the Saturday one, what with 2-3 weeks of my time off already planned out for the year, but spent a few days dithering over the class.

The goal of the class is to take an entire deck of cards and alter them along a theme. That's a lot of cards from 10AM to 5PM!

I was struck with an idea, a theme I could plan for and carry through the workshop, which put that voice of the inner critic to rest. In that space I made my reservation for the class this afternoon. I know that even if things aren't perfect I'll learn a lot of techniques to apply to my artwork.

I'm going to use the 52 cards to visualize bits and pieces from some of my favorite Sufi poets. I already have a few pieces in mind, but please feel free to suggest your favorites in my comments. I'll be posting the whole set online when it is done.

I've spent so much time spinning on what I call "trying to clean the dirty cup", maybe this year is the year I explore the side of the Rumi that's about asking and about stepping off proudly into sunlight and not looking back. Or lacking sunlight, stepping off proudly into big puddles without a backward glance!

Between the Roots Below - 2012


Joy and Creativity

It has been a long several weeks. CK and I have met with two members of our Sangha Harmony Committee about the feelings around our vegan practice not being recognized or included. For me these meetings have highlighted just how terribly uncomfortable group dynamics can be for me. I feel utterly at a loss around them at times. Having moved over and over again throughout my childhood, really up until the time I moved out in my early 20s, I really never learned the knack of groups. Whenever I started to fit in at all, we moved, as it was I didn't fit in well with a lot of peers to begin with.

The 17th I got to play host to a day of creativity for our Sangha. A spring community day celebrating Earth Day and the Earthstore Bodhisattva. It was small, intimate, joyful, silly, and simple. I put myself in charge of the food, carefully labeling things with known allergens for one of the participants and items that weren't vegan (only one thing that had dairy). Friends came with a box filled with vegan cupcakes, which was really touching. I had time to sit down, enjoy making a Jizo shrine, sharing lunch, and listening to stories.

Although I was tired at the end of the day I felt contented and connected by it. This was just the kind of sangha activity I needed! It was especially sweet when a Dharma sister, who has been part of the Harmony meetings, later emailed me to say that in the evening it had occurred to her the mindful attention I'd paid to her dietary needs. How having all the food labeled so she knew what to take was something that could be felt as an expression of being loved and cared for. It helped her to understand why this is so important to me.

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Art Stretch

I made a couple of artist trading cards this evening featuring some of the brushwork I was learning at Great Vow earlier this month. I'd been quite taken with the cursive writing of the character for "Ink". Something about it reminded me of the twisty, circuitous route we take on the path of awakening, a "meandering lifeline" as poet David Wagoner writes in his poem "Getting There".

This evening, in a total break from everything else I'd been doing this weekend with the thinking/planning brain, I got out the box of water colors and the cheap brushes. I practiced once on some scrap paper to get the feel of the making the much smaller paper and carefully painted two cards of watercolor paper with the cursive character for "Ink". Since these are for a trade I included some lyrics from a song by the Indigo Girls about crooked lines.

I feel very anxious about these two little pieces. They are so unlike anything I've created yet. To me they seem quite flat compared to the layers and levels I use in my paper collage pieces. CK really liked them and I'm ignoring my Inner Critic who says that CK only likes them because she's biased.

Even though I feel great anxiety about creating, I deeply appreciate the opportunity and support to explore art.

Here's the whole poem by David Wagoner I referenced earlier.

Getting There

You take a final step and, look, suddenly
You're there. You've arrived
At the one place all your drudgery was aimed for:
This common ground
Where you stretch out, pressing your cheek to sandstone.
What did you want
To be? You'll remember soon. You feel like tinder
Under a burning glass,
A luminous point of change. The sky is pulsing
Against the cracked horizon,
Holding it firm till the arrival of stars
In time with your heartbeats.
Like wind etching rock, you've made a lasting impression
On the self you were
By having come all this way through all this welter
Under your own power,
Though your traces on a map would make an unpromising
Meandering lifeline.
What have you learned so far? You'll find out later,
Telling it haltingly
Like a dream, that lost traveler's dream
Under the last hill
Where through the night you'll take your time out of mind
To unburden yourself
Of elements along elementary paths
By the break of morning.
You've earned this worn-down, hard, incredible sight
Called Here and Now.
Now, what you make of it means everything,
Means starting over:
The life in your hands is neither here nor there
But getting there,
So you're standing again and breathing, beginning another
Journey without regret
Forever, being your own unpeaceable kingdom,
The end of endings.

And while I'm at it, the song I used the lyrics of is 'Closer to Fine'

Closer To Fine

I'm trying to tell you something about my life
Maybe give me insight between black and white
The best thing you've ever done for me
Is to help me take my life less seriously, it's only life after all
Well darkness has a hunger that's insatiable
And lightness has a call that's hard to hear
I wrap my fear around me like a blanket
I sailed my ship of safety till I sank it, I'm crawling on your shore.

I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountain
There's more than one answer to these questions
pointing me in crooked line
The less I seek my source for some definitive
The closer I am to fine.

I went to see the doctor of philosophy
With a poster of Rasputin and a beard down to his knee
He never did marry or see a B-grade movie
He graded my performance, he said he could see through me
I spent four years prostrate to the higher mind, got my paper
And I was free.

I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountain
There's more than one answer to these questions
pointing me in crooked line
The less I seek my source for some definitive
The closer I am to fine.

I stopped by the bar at 3 a.m.
To seek solace in a bottle or possibly a friend
I woke up with a headache like my head against a board
Twice as cloudy as I'd been the night before
I went in seeking clarity.

I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountain
There's more than one answer to these questions
pointing me in crooked line
The less I seek my source for some definitive
The closer I am to fine.

I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountain
There's more than one answer to these questions
pointing me in crooked line
The less I seek my source for some definitive
The closer I am to fine.

We go to the bible, we go through the workout
We read up on revival and we stand up for the lookout
There's more than one answer to these questions
pointing me in a crooked line
The less I seek my source for some definitive
The closer I am to fine
The closer I am to fine
The closer I am to fine


Ango Appreciation Art

A friend from my Zen community has decided that for Ango he will collect stones, two per day picked up as he goes about his routine, and use them to make a small stupa in his meditation space. It coincides with an art project he's doing to create a piece that is built over 14 weeks and for his is a wonderful combination of his spiritual and creative practices.

I immediately was inspired to consider an Ango art project for myself. I went back to my vows and my teacher's direction to appreciate my life. How could I incorporate this into an art project? This thing that I get stuck on, spinning around the things like about my life and trying to ignore the things that hurt. The "I appreciate everything but THAT" rut.

Each day of Ango, starting with today, I will write or otherwise express something I appreciate about my life onto a piece of paper. It could be one word, it could be a collage. I am considering making a sort of assemblage mobile with them, FL even commented upon how interesting it would be to watch the piece move and shift. Maybe I can use them all assembled in one large collage.

Tonight I'm going with what I'm most appreciating right this moment - my warm, cozy, cheerful home I share with CK and the cats. She is typing on her computer, the cats are being goofy, the heat came on a moment ago. How can I not appreciate this life?

A haiku for tonight's piece of paper (a piece out a gift of paper from a Dharma sister):

Cozy, sacred home.
Alive with Love, cats, color.
I know gratitude.


Red Leaves

I've been enjoying the small red maple leaves that blow into our yard from a neighbor's tree. Some are still speckled yellow, while others are already turning brown. I found myself with a small clutch of them in my hand, trying to press & dry them. A few have found their way onto very small art pieces.

I believe one of those art pieces will incorporate this haiku about them.

In the air, red leaves.
Impermanent gifts, wind-brought.
Brief gems of autumn.

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Transition Practice

Stayed home and rested much of the weekend. I still feel like my energy just deserts me at times, but the head/ear pain has subsided. I'm feeling a bit gloomy that I have 5 more doses of the antibiotics. They're working but they make me feel a bit nauseated and leave my mouth tasting as though I have a handful of pennies in it.

I taught a class on Sunday that ended up with many adjustments, to such a degree that it was good practice to stay with compassion even while I felt frustration arise. When I finally gave space, silence to it I am able to see that frustration really arises out of the fear that my students will feel like I don't give individual attention fairly and that I worry some students may need assistance but I am often asked to help a very stiff, over-achieving student.

Today I took a big step in my teaching. I've started to contact friends who are also yoga teachers to see if any of them want to take over my classes at Dishman at the beginning of the year. Right now I have the luxury of working out details to offer a class at my Zen center. I see it more of a way to enrich my practice of teaching by letting it become even more deeply co-rooted to the Dharma. I'm also checking around at other studios to see about teaching a class somewhere else.

I think I am finally being able to let go of the "guaranteed money" of teaching at the community center. I have these two classes, I'm always on the schedule, and I get paid regularly. Not a lot, but for the past 4 years it has become something of my personal fund for books, a couple of my tattoos, and clothing. Once I could start to let go of that I could start to approach people I'd really like to take over my class.

I have a big soft spot in my heart for these classes. I've learned so much in teaching them and I want to leave them feeling as though I've done everything I can to support those classes continuation. I believe at least one student will follow me when I move to the Dharma center, so perhaps I'll get to experience that connection to my first teaching practice as I move into new waters of teaching.

And I've been having fun working on two "Artist Trading Cards". Autumn themed and I've been playing around with pressing leaves then decoupaging them down. On one I've drawn a very simple tree in pastels against a grey, about-to-rain sky. Another has three leaves on muted, smeared oranges and yellows.

The Autumn rain awoke me early this morning, before the alarm, and I snuggled down a bit with a cat while listening to it on the roof (I love that my bedroom is under the attic so I can hear the rain on the roof). The day that ended with an orange-y sunset peeking through dark grey clouds. All that in mind, a haiku for the rain.

Autumn Downpour

Dawn and hard rain sound,
Thrum of water on my roof.
Autumn serenade.