Decorate like you did when you were a kid

Remember when you were a kid and what fascinating beauty you could make out of simple pieces of paper?

I am happy to say that I am now into week three of Walking in This World. I am so excited!  I have so far managed to write every morning, sometimes half asleep, but I always feel more energetic and inspired by the time I am done, even if my flow-of-consciousness morning download is just “the cat is trying to get the pen out of my hand”.

One of the exercises in the first week was to make a list of 20 small creative actions you could do, to get you unstuck from the idea that all creativity must be symphonies and masterpieces or not worth doing.  These small actions could be anything from re-potting a plant to making a pot of soup.

After looking at the list I had made, I thought it would be a waste to write all of that down and not do anything. One of the first things I listed was “make paper snowflakes”.  I couldn’t remember how to do it correctly – (Are you supposed to use a square piece of paper? I just had rectangular) – but it made me smile and as proud of myself as a kindergartner.  I decided to put my symmetrical, but not very elegant snowflakes up in my music room to remind me that little seemingly random cuts turn into patterns and beauty.  Also, to celebrate the arctic cold we are having.  Actually that last part is a lie..snowflakes2

My creative experiment felt a bit “silly” but helped me reflect on how each little twist and turn, is part of the distinctive image, just like the little patterns in the chaos of our lives make us unique people. It also reminded me of how excited I was as a kid, when mom let us decorate the big picture window in the living room for all the different holidays.  We had a few store bought pumpkins, Santas, Easter bunnies, etc., but there were just as many decorations that we proudly brought home from school to display our burgeoning talent as multimedia artists. I will gladly take smiles with my philosophizing!

So far, I’ve done seven things on the “small creative action” list.  However, that was only week one and each week has different tasks – the one that I need to do for this week is write down 50 things that make you angry (even petty complaints) and then see if ideas for resolving those issues come to mind and write those down.  This one is going to take awhile, but I don’t think it will be as challenging as the task to “Do nothing for 15 minutes and do it thoroughly”.  Hmmm, not so good at the not doing anything…snowflakes 1

So right now it looks like this 12 week course is going to take longer if I really try to do all of the tasks, but I feel I have a really good start.  I am feeling much more positive and awake than I have in months!  Not to mention, but these exercises are really helping me amuse myself better than TV ever does!



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Try a self-directed, self-help book course of action

(Use books like “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron, “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin, books by Wayne Dyer, etc.)

January 2014, time to make resolutions!  I usually keep a few, but somehow fall behind on most of them.  Every year I look at the previous year’s list in my journal and write if I kept them, then make a new list of at least 10 things. Some are stated tasks (get passport), some are ongoing projects (eat healthier). So once again, I have “post on Whistling by Candlelight” on my list. Let’s see how consistent I am in 2014!

Since the first month of the year is a good time to try new things, and I have been feeling stuck in a rut creatively, I decided to try one of Julia Cameron’s self-help books on building and strengthening creativity.  Her work is aimed at artists, but anyone who wants to build up their creativity could use this course.  Instead of the more well-known The Artist’s Way, I decided to try Walking in This World – the Practical Art of Creativity. It’s a 12 week course, so I figured this is a good place to keep myself accountable and share the process with the rest of you.  12 weeks, anyone can stick with something for 3 months, right? There are quite a few writing and creative exercises involved, so I will just give you the highlights and if you are inspired, you can to get the book yourself for the full deal. :-)

IMG_1430To start, there is a set of exercises that Julia asks people to do throughout the 12 week process:
1) Daily – Morning Pages. Do three pages of longhand stream of consciousness writing first thing in the morning when you wake up.  Write about anything and everything that comes to mind whether it is inspired or insipid.  Do not reread or allow anyone else to read them – just write and move on with your day. Bring your subconscious to the front and clear your head for the day!

2) Weekly – Artist’s Date. Take yourself on an hour long date once a week to do something fun and creative.  It could be anything from going to a drawing class, wandering through an arts and crafts store and looking at everything, or walking around taking photos sunrises and sunsets.  You can spend money, but the idea is more to feed your creativity, your inner curious child, your playfulness, so it doesn’t have to cost much of anything.

California Blue Line Station sunset

California Blue Line Station sunset

3) At least weekly – Weekly Walk. Go for at least one 20 minute walk a week and walk until you feel your mind and body “unkink”.  Kind of a walking meditation.  (I have done this before and it does help me think about difficult things without getting too emotional.  This exercise and idea is actually what made me choose this book rather than The Artist’s Way.)

The first week is called “Discovering a Sense of Origin” and per Julia, the purpose is “The readings and tasks in week one all aim at pinpointing the ‘you’ you have been evading.  When we avoid our creativity, we avoid ourselves.  When we meet our creativity, we meet ourselves, and that encounter happens in the moment.”

The first exercise was to write a list of 20 small creative actions you could take, whether it was sharing something with someone close to you (recipes, photos, a trip to a museum) or something as simple as buying and wearing an unusual pair of socks.  I thought this would be an easy task – I consider myself a fairly creative person – but it was more challenging than I thought, especially when I got down to the last five items.  I found myself thinking about things that were more about organizing (go through my file cabinet) than creative (get some fun pots and re-pot my plants).  This helped me realize that I have been putting a much higher priority on “shoulds” than on fun.  This also made me realize how often when I am inspired that I tell myself “do the dishes first and then you can sit down and write that song”.  Then I end up being grumpy while I am cleaning and by the time I am done, I forget my inspiration.

Instead, what if I sat down and wrote in my moment of inspiration? I would have new energy and be happier doing the dishes with my new creation in place!  Of course some things, like having to be at work at a certain time can’t be helped, but if I make more room for what I want to do in the non-time dependent spaces, it will help my creativity not be so stifled.  For example, I think about writing on this blog all the time, but come up with many excuses as to why “I can’t write/ right now” until my inspiration is gone.

So stop it, self!  Embrace the little spots of creativity now, until they spread and it is more like little dots of non-creativity against a day-glow, paisley print, symphonic background!

I will keep you posted on my progress, friends!

Navy Pier sunrise

Navy Pier sunrise

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Write journal entries about who you are

I will continually chip away at the block of fear that imprisons my feet so I can dance a funky little jig.. (A)

I have been an intermittent journal writer since grade school, mostly when I am overwhelmed with things I feel I can’t say aloud for whatever reason. Of course this means that I usually write more when something is bothering me than when everything is fine. There are exceptions – I try to write about my experiences when I travel and also do a yearly review/ goal setting entry for New Year’s.  But sometimes I am feeling inspired and want to write declarative mini-manifestos about who I think I am in the moment, or maybe just the person I could see myself being in my mind’s eye.  And these are the entries that I re-read when I am feeling lost and confused.  When I am trying to find my feet again after being knocked down by a particularly large wave that is washing away my sandcastles, my images of where I think I am, and threatening to drag me out to the endless sea.  I read these entries and sometimes I laugh, sometimes I shake my head, and sometimes I just stand back up.  Here are a couple of my favorites:New Melleray Monastery 04-09 055

I am part laugh, part tear, part fist, part fear. Part sorrow, part joy, a sexy woman, a tomboy. Part curiosity, part disgrace, part redemption, part saving grace. Part insane, part whole, part mind, part soul. Part bone, part skin, part without, part within. Part musician, part reader, part destructive, part bleeder.  Part carbon based life form, part future food for worms. Part electromagnetic fields, part secrets as yet to be revealed. Part walking in the woods, part wanting to do good. Part tripping over my own feet, part squirming in my seat.  Part sigh, part moan, part friendly, part alone.  Part wanting to be free, part wanting to be at peace.  Part wanting someone by my side, part content to go along for the ride.  Part wanderer, part scholar, part shrinking away, part trying to stand taller.  Part taste and smell and touch, part not enjoying life enough.  Part brown-grey-red-purple-blond-black-no hair, part insecure, part beautiful, part self-assured.  Part tired of being poor, part rich enough – yes, these things and more…

I will eat when I am hungry and what I wish (within reason) with loud satisfied smacking noises if I so choose and not look into the mirror thinking of fat and ugliness.  I will not nibble tentatively at a salad nor order the most expensive thing on the menu on a date – I will eat good food and not apologize for the size of my backside (this is that the boys look at anyway).  I will sleep because I am tired and laugh out loud when I think something is funny.  I will wear the clothes in my closet and create my own sense of style.  I will not go out with people who are ashamed to be seen with me on a creative day, nor will I be ashamed to be seen with a friend having their own dress-up day.  I will know that I am beautiful and so are you.  I will continually chip away at the block of fear that imprisons my feet so I can dance a funky little jig all the way down the sidewalk.  Blessed be all you quirky little souls, firecrackers, giggling lunatics, and other people that put some sparkle into the world.  I would like to join your party and we will draw magnificent murals in crayon across the walls, down the halls, in bathroom stalls – little pieces of poetry and riotous flower petals to help us remember what we looked like when we were kids and all was hope, when no game was too serious to walk away from. 

New Orleans graffiti

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Give something up for Lent

2-13-13 lentRemember that you are dust and to dust you will return. (from Genesis 3:19)

I remember hearing these words every Ash Wednesday and as a child what it meant is that I would get ashes on my forehead and would be embarrassed in public.  Lent was the start of 40 days of giving up something that you really liked, not eating meat on Fridays, and going to church much more frequently, both at my Catholic school and from my Catholic home.

While I do believe in God, I am currently pretty ambivalent about the the Roman Catholic Church, although most of my family remains quite devout.  I respect their beliefs, even if I don’t share many of them, as they are the kind of people who practice what they preach – something I appreciate from a follower of any religion.  The Catholic Church has been a large force in social justice movements and has helped many people in spite of more than a few historical moments (including some today) where power has been abused and unjust liberties taken with person and property.

However, this post is not really about what I think about the Church I was raised in or what my family believes.  It is about my belief it is good to give up the things we like for periods of time.  Even if you are an atheist, self-denial helps build discipline and power of will. Giving up the things you like helps you think about what controls you.  If you have enough that you have the choice to give up something, you have more than many people in the world.  It is free will in action.  It is also good for spiritual reflection, to help clear distractions.

If you are a religious person, most different faiths have periods of “giving up” or fasting as a method of spiritual improvement. Followers of Islam have Ramadan, a month long fast that is a time of spiritual reflection and increased devotion and worship. Catholics and some other Christian denominations have Lent -the 40 day preparation of the believer—through prayer, penance, repentance, alms giving, and self-denial for the celebration of Jesus Christ’s resurrection on Easter.  The most important day of fasting for the Jewish is Yom Kippur, a time to seek forgiveness for wrongs done against God and against other human beings.

And when your fast or period of self denial ends, it is time for celebration!  It is time for gratitude for how much you have and maybe the start of some better habits, if you are giving up something that is not good for you. If you are the cynical type, you could use this time as a diet backed by spiritual reinforcement, which may be easier to keep because it is for a set period of time, not “the rest of your life”.  :-)

What am I giving up for Lent? I don’t wish to say on this blog, but I know it will definitely take some discipline on my part. And if I can do it, I will be the better for it, come Easter. And if I can continue to do it, well, I will be the better for it for even longer.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Walk barefoot in the snow

Picture 009

This will certainly wake you up!  How long will you sleepwalk through life?  Maybe a little discomfort is what you need. (A)

If if you are feeling numb, whether it’s body, mind, or heart, maybe you need a little invigoration.  Step outside with your naked feet in the snow,  just for a minute – not long enough to get frostbite –  then come back in (or put your shoes back on).  Are you awake now?  I bet you are!

Sometimes we need something to shock us out of our routine, to help us realize how much choice we have.  You fall into patterns and keep doing the same things, even if it’s not what you really want, because it’s comfortable.  You let little injustices go occasionally, whether at work or home because it’s easier than making waves.  I do it too sometimes – we all do.  But when it becomes a habit, that is when discomfort can be your friend – to make you change your patterns.  If you can choose a minor discomfort, you can start to be able to deal with larger ones.

Try it.  See how you can challenge yourself to overcome inertia, to move in a new direction.  Wake up!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Take responsibility for the dumb things you do

A chief is a man who assumes responsibility. He says “I was beaten,” he does not say “My men were beaten”.  (Antoine de Saint-Exupery) 

I saw the quote above and thought it was perfect, although it breaks the pattern of quoting the thoughts of J or myself.  But there are many people more profound and poetic than we, so if the words fit the circumstances, the hell with tradition. :-)

I have been thinking about the things that happen to us as kids and end up affecting the path of our lives because of someone else’s malice, carelessness, or fear. Whether it’s direct bullying, ignorance, or someone getting into trouble for actions not theirs, it can have unseen repercussions on the victim.

When I was in elementary school, a friend of mine convinced me that it would be funny to put some wadded up Kleenex in the teacher’s podium as we were filing out to leave for the day.  The next day, when we were lining up for recess or lunch, she said it would be funny to do again, and I followed her lead. When we returned to the classroom, the teacher, who was known for being very laid back with a good sense of humor, was furious.  He sat everyone down and started yelling at the class,

1-30-13 pointing

“Who put these dirty Kleenex in my podium?  Someone did this last night and it’s not funny, it’s disgusting and disrespectful!  We are not going anywhere or doing anything until I find out who it was!”

My friend and I were stunned and scared, I don’t know what kind of reaction we thought it would get, but we weren’t expecting his fury. The class sat in silence while he ranted and raved.  I was thinking about confessing, when one of my classmates pointed to an innocent girl and said that he had seen her up by the teacher’s desk .  I was ashamed but relieved when he called her up to the front of the class to make her take the Kleenex out of the podium to throw them away.  Despite her protestations of innocence, he seemed convinced that she was the one who had done it and that was the end of it.  After her public humiliation, class continued and she went back to her desk and sat there silently crying.

Even though people I have mentioned it to say it was a small thing and she probably has forgotten it, I wonder. There are little slights that were done to me as a child that in retrospect weren’t that big of a deal, but bothered me for a long time growing up. It still bothers me that I let someone get in trouble for something I did that was so little and stupid.  If I would let someone take the fall for something small, would I do it for something bigger? I found her online and sent her an email apology.  I don’t know what she will think when she reads it, but I hope that it gives her some feeling of satisfaction.

1-30-13 empty swingset

And what about when it is something much larger?  A guy I know well,  (lets call him Ben) was blamed for a playground accident when he was in elementary school that ended up seriously injuring two kids. They told the authorities that Ben was responsible. He became an outcast at school and was sent to therapy for “troubled” kids.  The accident was highly publicized and Ben said when the school finally found out he wasn’t involved, it was pretty much an “Oh sorry about that” from the principal, but his innocence was not publicized as much as the accident had been.  He remained a pariah until he graduated.

This has played a large part in his bitterness towards the world, even as an adult today. He has a hard time trusting people, and who would blame him?  I am sure those other kids were just scared and didn’t have the cognizance to realize how much their lie would ruin an innocent kid’s childhood. Kids do stupid things.

But I am not a kid anymore and I can’t use that excuse. I hope that in the future, if I do something stupid that gets someone in trouble, that I will have the guts to stand up and say, “It was me”.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Change an “ing” to an “ed”

Overcome an addiction totally. Go from “recovering” to recovered!  Too often it seems we hold onto a debilitated state. (J)

J continues “We are recovering alcoholics, sex addicts.  We have scars from childhood, a failed marriage, a personal tragedy.  Do we want people to feel sorry for us? If this statement causes you anger, then the answer is yes.  Certainly these states will exist, but why should they persist?  When can the healing begin and when is it over?”

I had mixed feelings about J’s suggestion when I first read it – but I think it makes more sense to me now. It’s kind of like the difference between being a recovering victim of something and being someone who has survived. There are many terrible, unwarranted things that happen to people that take some time healing, and some of them are things that we do to ourselves without understanding the consequences. And when one sees the way that their behavior is holding them back and decides to change, there is certainly a process, that may take a very long time, maybe even years.

1-3-13 addictionIt is definitely a very human thing to want sympathy and support.  But I think what J means is that there is a point to let go of the things in our past that we have overcome.  There is a point at which it is time to stop saying “look at this terrible thing that happened to me”and stop letting it define who you are. Maybe it is something that you can use to help other people who have the same issue (an attitude of “I got past this and you can too!”), and maybe it is healthier for you to set down altogether and continue on your way.

I can’t quite explain it the way I see it in my head, but I think an example for me would be getting over a relationship that had long term negative consequences for me, some of which I helped cause. At first, it was very helpful and yes gratifying too, to share my story and get sympathy and support.  For awhile, I wanted people to feel sorry for this terrible thing that had happened to me, and I don’t think it is wrong to feel this way…for a little while.

But, eventually there came a time when I didn’t want to be known as the person who overcame this obstacle, but to put it down and stop talking about it because it was done and I’m not going back. I realized that by constantly rehashing it, it was keeping me from moving forward and living NOW. (And yet here I go again – however,  I will justify it by saying I need an example and leaving out the specifics.) :-)

This is what I think J means.  Recovery time is important and you should take the time you need, but until something is in “ed” in your past, instead of an “ing” in your present, you will still be carrying it around.

Here’s to healing and being healed so that you can start fresh from today!

1-3-13 done

* I would like to thank Ray Woodcock at “God, Spirituality, the Supernatural, and All That”  for his support.  Check out his blog!



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Clutter Bust to create some room to think

No clutter is labeled “CLUTTER”. Clutter is invisible.  It was put in its location subconsciously. That’s why you have to ask if each thing is truly helpful to you or if it’s clutter.  Sometimes the most cherished thing is clutter.  Count on it.  It it’s not useful to you now, toss it. (Brooks Palmer)

I still have to work on this one.  I used to move almost every year and every time I moved, I got rid of lots of stuff.  But every time I moved again, I always had more stuff to get rid of.  How did that always happen?  I didn’t remember buying this much, or receiving so much that I clearly did not need!  In my last move, I got rid of 2/3 of my furniture and about 1/2 of my other belongings and I still have lots of “stuff”.

12-28-12 beach trash

Sometimes I think about a few things I have gotten rid of and I miss them, but for the most part, I don’t remember them at all unless someone reminds me.

“Remember that stuffed donkey you loved so much as a child?”

“Remember that ugly green shirt you used to wear that was 3 sizes too large?”

“What happened to that ceramic Garfield statue I got you for your birthday five years ago?” (Those are the ones I hate the most, when someone wants to know what happened to something they gave you that you got rid of because it doesn’t fit who you are, or maybe ever were.  It just fits who they wanted you to be.)

I think the things I have the most problem letting go of are papers and music. There are still things I hold on to from school that I probably should let go – such as my notes from physiology – but some part of me keeps thinking things like “What if I need to remember how potassium is exchanged across the cellular membrane?  I should keep my notes so I can look back at them and see how I wrote it down to understand it.”  But why do I do this?  And I have probably 200 cassettes that I plan to transfer to a digital medium – someday.

I think the clutter we keep definitely is part of the identity we use to protect ourselves and our identity.  I always did well in school and like being thought of as smart – so I want to keep my school work to somehow subconsciously justify it to myself.  I am a musician and there might be some great, brilliant idea on one of those cassettes, but I don’t know which one, so I better keep them all, rather than risk losing it. Hmm…it’s very interesting when you try to step back from your clutter to figure out why you have it.

12-28-12 trash- edit

I think the book that has been one of the absolute best in helping me figure out why I have clutter and how to get rid of it is Brooks Palmer’s Clutter Busting – Letting Go of What’s Holding You Back. I like that it helps explain psychological, emotional, and spiritual reasons for clutter. I have several family members that are kind of hoarders – not to the point of the house needing to be condemned, but to the point where they cannot live comfortably, nor get around easily.  I have another person who is very close to me, who may very well have ADD, who lives in a very cluttered environment because they can’t focus long enough to get things in order – yet when they are able to get it somewhat under control, they are always able to relax more.

Another problem is that sometimes when we get rid of the clutter, we enjoy the space for a few minutes, and then rush out to get more. STOP!  You don’t need to fill your life with stuff!  And the world cannot keep taking on more and more garbage of the things we thought we wanted or needed and then threw away.

Sometimes the clutter is memories that we are trying to hold on to, to protect us from making new ones.  Sometimes it is an excuse to not move forward,  or have guests, or grow, because “I have to take care of this”.  But I find that when I do get rid of clutter – I can think better, I can breathe easier, and my creativity flows more freely.  I just feel…better.

12-28-12 window-edit

So make that effort.  Clean one room at a time, or even one small space – the top of your dresser, the kitchen counter, under the bed – and open your life for new energy and new things.

I will leave you with a few more tips from Mr. Palmer’s book which have helped me examine my own clutter more carefully.

  • Remember that nothing is sacred except you.
  • If it doesn’t fit anymore, physically or psychologically, let it go.
  • Be ruthless. Clutter will try to trick you. Question everything.
  • Toss anything that makes you feel that the past is more special than right now, that gives you the feeling that life will never be as good as it once was.
  • Make your bedroom a peaceful sanctuary. Toss anything that agitates or distracts you.
  • Avoid the habit of hiding things that you don’t want to look at. Even if something is buried at the bottom of a box, underneath other clutter, it still affects you. Everything you own is attached to you in a subtle way.
  • Have fun!


Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Don’t get too buried in the numbers

Don’t get stuck in the numbers of  what society tells you you should have…your age, your waistline, your income – while waiting for life’s lottery, people die. (J)

That’s right.  Why waste your life wishing to be something or someone else? Face it, when life sucks, as it sometimes will, YOU should take responsibility for what you can and forget about the things you can’t change.  Now some of these numbers you do have a hand in (waistline, income), but it’s not an immediate change and sometimes you just have to deal with what you have.  But make the changes for YOU – not for society or those around you. Some things you can’t change (your age, for example) –  once again, you just have to deal with it.

It’s when your life becomes all numbers, unless you are a mathematician, that you have problems. When your day to day becomes a spreadsheet of the money you have, a clock of minutes and hours, a tally of what people owe you, a lottery ticket that will magically make your life better – then it’s time to take a step back and see what the numbers mean to you. Yes, we have bills to pay, places to be on time, debts to collect, and you might get lucky on Powerball – but there is more to life than those digits.

Money is a tool, time is a precious commodity, sometimes debts are better off forgotten, and if you spend all of your time waiting for your lucky numbers to strike – how are you changing your life for the better today?

Get organized, be on time, keep a close accounting of your affairs. Yes, but also have 1 on 1 time with people you care about. Don’t get 2 caught up in the numbers.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Put a galaxy on your ceiling

Create the cosmos above where you dream. (A)

Use the current constellations or create your own and contemplate the heavens. Make stories of gods and heroes to look up to at night.  Cast your eyes above into the dark to find the lights to navigate you through rough waters.

You can purchase night light domes with the constellations, or glue star maps to your ceiling.  But you can also find glow in the dark plastic stars, cut ones out of tin foil or some other reflective material, and stick them up yourself to create maps of the sky.

I have always been fascinated by the sparkling sky once the sun sets. In school, I took all of the astronomy classes that were available – I wanted to delve more deeply, but the math required eluded my understanding. The more I tried to contemplate the great beyond and the size of the universe, the more I felt my head would expand to a great balloon and float away. We learned the practical of red shift and the movement of stars, of analyzing light to find out its elements, of how the rotation and tilt of the earth showed different constellations in different seasons.  And yet, even with the knowledge of practical science, gazing at the stars is a metaphysical joy of reaching for the unknown and realizing that no matter the great size of your personal problems, or even of the world’s problems, that we are a speck in the cosmos and that while we are blessed by our brief time on this spinning bauble, the universe will go on without us.  It is both humbling and exhilarating to see how tiny we really are.  There is always more to reach for, always loftier goals and destinations to grasp.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment