quantum change.


The perspective in this photograph feels like a metaphor. It feels like it’s full of metaphors, actually, just like the asparagus was. Words don’t form for me about it, though. If I try putting it into words, I get lost. Not finding words is something new. Or maybe it’s something old that I’m finally accepting?

Painting lets me share without words, whether I’m viewing them or making them. When I visit van Gogh’s paintings I get as close as the staff will allow (that’s much closer than most “polite” museum-goers usually get). First, I stand back at the regular viewing position. I take in the whole picture; the shapes and layout, the lights and darks, the feelings it brings up in me. IMG_1832 Then, I get in close:

I look as close as I can so I can see the brush strokes. (I’ve seen his fingerprints, too!)IMG_1833Looking very, very closely is what I do. Aware of the larger picture, I get in close and take it apart. I see the pieces. The whole picture is still there and doesn’t exist without all of the close-in parts; the close-in parts are usually luscious and meaty even when the overall picture is delicate or light.

Writing, even just this train-of-thought casual stuff, maybe especially this stuff, feeds my soul (if I believed in souls). Considering and discussing ideas also nourishes me. I love words. I love dancing with them — “nourish” isn’t quite right back there — and appreciating them. But, while I enjoy writing, the movement of ideas or thoughts or concepts from inside my brain out into the world in a verbal way isn’t comfortable or satisfying for me. Writing allows me time to consider my thoughts before getting the words out. And then there’s the fact that my inner-world has many places with no words; that’s why I paint.

Lately, instead of considering painting a luxury I can’t afford, both in terms of finances and time, I’ve realized I can’t fight it anymore. I need to get it out. Nothing has really changed in my life, except that, in some respects, everything has.


that time we almost died

For the last few days I’ve been frazzled in a way not typical for me. Life is good. Work has been busy. A new painting has been swirling around in me and seems like it wants to come out. Last night I blogged about my medical freedom being stolen by the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries. I love writing stuff like that. Then, last night and today I was working at the computer all day. When I paused my billing clock and looked at Facebook or twitter—and I did that a lot—I felt anxiety-ridden and frenetic. Click! Click! Click!

On Monday morning this past week, I was hit by a truck. I was walking my three year old in her little stroller. As we entered the crosswalk, a pickup truck began turning (right on red) and drove into us. We weren’t physically hurt beyond a little stiffness in my thigh/hip/shoulder. The palm of my hand also burned all day from where I slammed it down on the hood of the truck as I screamed. I don’t remember much of it, really. My body bent with the impact, though I didn’t fall. My daughter’s stroller had mostly already passed the truck, so it didn’t make much contact (if any, again, my memory is fuzzy).

Mostly, I haven’t talked about it. Mostly, I found myself blurting out what happened at the most surprising times. In an email to a subcontractor. To the barista at Starbucks. Blurting is the right word. Moments after it happened, I used my phone to email several people and said “I just wanted to tell people who I knew would care.” The whole day was, in retrospect, hazy and confused. I kept thinking I was making too big a deal of it, though at the oddest moments I’d burst into tears.

One of my closest friends pointed out if I kept trying to convince myself it wasn’t a big deal, my body wouldn’t let that happen and it would keep coming back until I dealt with it. Thankfully, I had what I needed for support. I did spend some time crying that night as the horrifying “what if” scenarios played out with unstoppable force.

The moment when I knew there was nothing I could do to stop that truck from continuing on into me.

The moments after, walking away quickly, just wanting to get away away away when I only wanted to be away.

Not scooping my daughter up in my arms because to do that would be to face the what if of those what ifs that I can’t put into words because they are too horrible.

The anxious, confused, disconnected, insecure, self-doubting frenzy I felt in the last 24 hours or so, I now realize, was a reminder that what happened was “a big deal.” As I consider it, I begin to lose words.

This past summer I had some important experiences that helped me rediscover the richness of offline life. Those who haven’t experienced authentic depth and intimacy in their online life might not understand what it means to forget about how beautiful offline life can be. The last day or so caused in me an uncommon confusion, an absence of connection to myself. When I wrote about being a recovered alcoholic, I wrote about tapping into an infinite source of strength. When I connect with that strength I can live mindfully in the present moment. Making that connection is, most of the time, nearly second nature. It’s more than a habit; it’s where I mostly live.

Still, I feel rattled. This chunk of hours full of anxiety and disconnection from my center are leftovers. Remnants or echoes of how I felt when we were hit by that truck. Everything was called into question. I felt an obsessive need to focus on only what is really important and to let everything else slide. I connected with people who mean the world to me, even if it was just a brief “oh my god” shared moment. Now that I’ve identified the source of the last day’s puzzling spurts of staccato existence—I’m not finished feeling all that is there to be felt about the truck hitting us—I can do something about it.

Thanks to what I learned this summer, I know that what I need to do about it now can’t be done online. There are ways my online life supports me when my offline life can’t. It was one of my closest online friends who helped me through much of the adrenaline-induced traumatic fallout the evening after the truck hit me. And now, after getting the bulk of my computer-dependent work done, I’m going to go back to those peaceful places I rediscovered offline. I’m going to breathe. Thank you for reading this.



The assignment was to paint a still life and I did. I zoomed in so far, to an intersection of the tulip stems I found most interesting, the painting ended up looking “abstract.”

Walking quickly through the garden, it’s easy to not hear it. Walking slowly, taking time to notice, the chorus of the bees in the buckwheat pulsates and simmers and swells. So many individual insects doing their individual thing while flowing entirely together; parts of a near-entity created by the movement of their sounds. Sitting quietly here at my keyboard, more than an hour away from the garden, I can still hear their music.

Every few months, when I am “between audio books,” I re-listen to Thich Nhat Hanh’s Peace is Every Breath which brings Life back into my awareness. I’m also reminded each time I sit silently during meeting for worship: it takes practice to notice. When I make paintings, I move easily into noticing. There are other times where noticing (breathing) feels effortless (walking in the woods or on the beach, being in the garden, moments of awe with my daughters). But practice has shown me that anywhere is a place where I can notice (breathe).

At any time, I can stop.



kickstarter (funded!) project update

Periodically, I send updates to the folks who backed my kickstarter project. I’ve been feeling out of sorts when it comes to my social activities online lately. I’m wondering if writing some blog posts (instead of aimlessly refreshing twitter, reading blogs, or checking Facebook) might bring me back into a good groove. So, instead of posting this “for backers only” via kickstarter, here’s an update for anyone who visits this blog about how the “Three New Paintings” project is going.

I have three paintings actively in progress, though (as the backers know) it’s unlikely I’ll have three finished in time for July’s show — I was too ambitious and didn’t think through how long things take and how short June 1 to June 30 is.

One is, so far, exclusively oil pastels. It’s 10×10 which is smaller than I’ve used in a while. With this one, I’m finding the line between “a picture” and “a painting.” It’s a nice picture right now, but there are several sections (most of it) that are almost entirely uninteresting. I’ll work on that tonight to see about turning it into a painting (where each area feels complete).

The second is 20×24. I started this before the smaller one, but it is of a related image. This is the first time that I’m making paintings that are different views or portrayals of a similar image. With this, I’ve added some layers of very thin (lots of medium) paints over a large part of the painting but am still using only oil pastels on much of it.

The last is the largest (I forget the dimensions) and it’s one I started almost a month ago. I stumbled into the idea of what I thought of as making layers, but is apparently called “glazing.” An old friend of mine (I babysat for her children in the 90s) sent me a message describing her passionate position on glazing — using thin layers of paint, allowing the layers to dry in between, showing the luminescence and depth of the previous layers.

the painting where I stumbled into “layering”
my feet :-) and the mixing I did when I painted a bit this afternoon
just about finished (for this afternoon’s layers). also, the shade or sunlight (?) make this look much bluer than it actually is
finished (for today) — this shows the colors more accurately

I can already tell that blogging won’t be the solution to my dissonance about online life. I’ve already been simply “not online” a lot more than is usual for me (it didn’t seem to be helping) but I suppose I’ll go do more of that for a while. Thank you for visiting and reading my stuff here. :-)

too valuable for caution

$119 worth of paint (most of the $ paid for the 5 tubes on the left)

When I squeezed the first little bit out of my new Old Holland paint, I was careful. “Just a touch of this fancy new paint,” I thought, “It’ll probably go a lot farther than the paint I usually use.”

“Let me mix in a lot of the bloopy stuff (one of the mediums meant to mix with oil paints). That’ll make the paint last longer.”

My body felt tight. My hand and arm felt tentative as I moved the brush. My usual free and quick motions, so fluid and mindfully mindless, were caught up in the expense of buying the higher quality paints. The money I used came from the successful kickstarter project I ran in May (thank you, backers!), so it wasn’t money out of my bank account. But, also it was money out of my bank account, no matter the source. Money for groceries has been a concern in recent memory, so I’m pretty careful about every dollar I spend.

I squeezed out some more paint. I needed the blue to be greener. Then I needed it to be glossier. Then I needed it to be lighter. Now slicker. Now smoother and back into blue a little bit more. My brush started moving faster and with more flow and direction. I began feeling the painting.

Still, I felt caution. I took a tub that I had saved from an earlier painting and figured I could use that (white) instead of “wasting” new paint from the new tube. I did this for a bit until I discovered bits of the gummy film that forms on oil paint as it dries. This painting was meant to be smooth, clear, clean. The textures I have worked with in paintings before didn’t have a home in this one. I removed the scummy bits as much as I could and then I had to let go of a lot of wasted paint. The very expensive paint, the mediums, the large quantity of paint was all ruined. I considered saving it (again) for a painting where texture wouldn’t need to be smooth, but dried bits of old paint aren’t something I imagine myself wanting to incorporate to any painting in the future.

Finally, I decided I needed to use the paints. Really use the paints as I wanted to. Use the paint as the painting and the brushes and the wind and sun and REM’s music told me to. It was pretty messy. It was a little frustrating but in an exhilarating way (the painting would get *this* close to feeling as if the layer was finished, I’d see a section I wanted to tweak, and the whole thing would start shifting). At one point I added a color with a grey tone and the whole thing began turning muddy. Bringing it back to clear colors was tough, though it’s almost there. I had to stop because I was running out of time and I’m sure the best thing for the colors will be to take a break, clean everything, and start fresh with the clarity I need.

When I begin again in a couple days, I’ll start free. I’ll know that being paralyzed by the need for caution will block my painting. Something this worthwhile deserves all the wet and sloppy, error-laden, gooey, gloppy, bold and surprising messes I need to make.