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Creativity

One way of living abundantly is expressing your creativity.

When I was in college, I majored in Fine Art. They didn’t offer commercial art as a field of study, which is too bad, because I think I might have actually been able to make a living that way – either in the graphic arts or interior design – but that was considered a “less than” field of study. It was art for art’s sake, or not at all. I chose art for art’s own sake, but I ended up working in finance, because I needed to earn a living. A good example of where snobbery leads – to a dead-end, artistically!

After I retired from the business world to be a full-time, stay-at-home wife, mother and community volunteer, I reveled in the opportunity to do crafts with my children and teach them to make things. We made candles in seashells, made soap, painted, drew pictures, used stamps, crayons, markers, pencils…the list goes on and on.

I began teaching Katie to sew. She and I made a pair of adorable, red flannel pajama bottoms from “Blondie” cartoon fabric for her; she ran out of interest before we made the top. I dreamed of sewing with her, maybe even getting proficient enough to make a prom dress with her (or for her). I never got that good at sewing.

This is the only photo I have of the pajamas that we sewed: Katie is holding our new kitten, Latte.

Before Katie got sick, I had a rich creative life, expressed mostly through making crafts. I used to knit, make beaded jewelry, make cards, take photographs, scrapbook, and very occasionally, paint. Painting was the hardest thing for me to do, as my expectations were the highest due to my education, and I got very tense about it. I wanted to paint, but I didn’t like the outcome, and the process was not relaxing or joyous.

After Katie died, I started to write my way through my grief. Writing helped to keep me from feeling stuck, frozen or suffocated by my powerful emotions, and has turned out to be the most natural form of creative expression for me. And something interesting has happened: after writing for nearly five years, I have started to want to make art and crafts again.

I helped at Camp Goodtimes West in the Arts and Crafts department this summer, and things have started to percolate creatively, since then. When working with quilts or gathering fabric for Katie’s Comforters Guild, I have started to get that creative urge to work with color and forms again.

For my parents’ 60th wedding anniversary party in August, I made the table centerpieces.

The creative process was therapeutic and FUN. It got me back into my seaglass and shell collection, using the hot glue gun, working intuitively with my hands.

Since then, I’ve finished a thrift-store table which has been sitting in the garage for a few years. It was an old, dark (mahogany?) coffee table that I envisioned as a beach glass-topped accent piece. I started by spray-painting it. I had never used spray paint before; it was fun!

Then I glued the beach glass to the top.

After that, I worked the grout into it, cleaned the excess off and sealed it. Finished product:

Close-up detail:

I am thrilled. The cheerful, bright colors of the table and the glass which I found on beach walks make me happy. It is going to be useful, as well!

Each step of the process felt good, especially since I didn’t push myself to do too much at one time. This kind of project has to be allowed to dry in between steps, and it is beneficial to take a break and review it in between stages.

It is wonderful to feel creativity blooming, and healthy to give expression to that urge, whether through art, crafts, music, drama, photography, dance, writing – whatever is your favorite medium.

What is your latest creative passion?

What if you aren’t feeling creative inspiration? Well, there are several ways to look at that situation. Here are two examples:

1) Feel nothing, but practice anyway. To put that in writing terms, Sit down with pen and paper (or at the computer) and write whatever comes – even if it’s “I don’t feel like writing,” “Blahblahblah,” “My cat is driving me crazy,”  etc. WHATEVER comes, put it down.

2) “To everything there is a season, and a time for every matter or purpose under heaven.”
Ecclesiastes 3:1 So maybe today is not your day to do art. You can clean the shower, work in the garden, write a letter, volunteer, do the grocery shopping – and you can still bring your artistic eye to the most ordinary activities, if you wish. How are the items displayed in the store? Are the leaves on the trees changing color? Can you use a different colored pen to write that letter?

Or not. You might give yourself permission to be dormant, if that’s where you are. There are four seasons, after all, and one of them is winter…when things are very much alive, but a great deal of the creative activity is out of sight.

Eagle Harbor Books & “Because of Katie”

“Because of Katie”

Eagle Harbor Book Company (located at 157 Winslow Way East on Bainbridge Island, WA; telephone number 206.842.5332) is hosting an event which includes my book, “Because of Katie” on Sunday, September 23 at 3:00 in the afternoon.

I hope you’ll join us!

The event will last for an hour, during which time I will read from my book (and sign a copy for you, if you’d like one). I’ll also show a brief video from the Ben Towne Foundation about Dr. Michael Jensen (a Bainbridge Islander) and his work as the Director of the Ben Towne Center for Childhood Cancer Research at Seattle Children’s Hospital. We’ll hear about the exciting research he is doing with the immune-system, harnessing its power to kill cancer cells!

We’ll also have a display showing and telling a bit about Katie’s Comforters Guild at Seattle Children’s Hospital, the guild which I founded after Katie passed away – which was inspired by her attachment to her own home-made quilt.

This is in honor of the fact that September is National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month – did you know that? The President of the United States even signed a proclamation to that effect (if you’re interested, you can read more from Curesearch here).

Thank you, Eagle Harbor Books for providing a community space in which to spotlight this important issue!

The Ripple Effect

Jonathan Evison and me at his book-signing for Liberty Bay Books

Last night, I had an experience of abundant living after catastrophe, and its positive, ripple-effect in a community. Liberty Bay Books hosted New York Times best-selling author Jonathan Evison (you can also read about him here) at The Loft at Latitude 47.7 reading from his new book, “The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving,” and I had the privilege of attending.

Though we live in a small town (population:  less than 10,000) and next to a town (well, an island) with a population under 24,000, each community is served by a superb bookstore: our friend Suzanne’s Liberty Bay Books here in Poulsbo, and Eagle Harbor Book Co. on Bainbridge Island. We also have the gift of the Field’s End writer’s community, co-founded by author David Guterson of “Snow Falling on Cedars” fame, which offers a variety of stimulating (mostly free) workshops for aspiring and experienced writers alike.

All of this put together amounts to regular stimulus for a bibliophiles, encouragement and enrichment in the writing, reading and intellectual life, and a blossoming, diverse dialogue within our community – for free!

I first heard of Jonathan Evison when I attended the Field’s End conference last spring (I wrote about that here). Mr. Evison led us in a writing prompt, and impressed me with his humor, quick wit and humility. The next time I heard news of him was on my friend Robin’s blog, Grief & Gratitude, when she reviewed this latest book; it’s worth taking time to read her beautifully-written piece.

The part that jumped out at me was when she quoted this:

“Listen to me: everything you think you know, every relationship you’ve ever taken for granted, every plan or possibility you’ve ever hatched, every conceit or endeavor you’ve ever concocted, can be stripped from you in an instant. Sooner or later, it will happen. So prepare yourself. Be ready not to be ready. Be ready to be brought to your knees and beaten to dust. Because no stable foundation, no act of will, no force of cautious habit will save you from this fact: nothing is indestructible.”

From “The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving:” A Novel by Jonathan Evison

To quote Robin, “this is a book that he’s been carrying around with him since his 16-year-old sister died in an automobile crash years ago. He spoke about the grief that tore into his family, and I, of course, leaned in even more. And while the story is not about his sister, it is about what that most unimaginable of losses–the loss of a child–does to a family.”

Now she had my full attention; Jonathan Evison the author has survived, and is living abundantly, after his own family’s catastrophe!

So last night, when he gave a reading in our town, I just had to go and hear him. It was such a privilege to hear the author read his own book, in his own voice. The book has deep themes, but it is also hilarious. It was encouraging to me to hear Mr. Evison talk about the numerous rejections of his first books, three which he buried (literally, in the ground), and the years of work which preceded his becoming a New York Times best-selling author.

I loved hearing him talk about the way in which writing calms the constant conversation which is always taking place in his mind, the fact that he reads voraciously – all kinds of material – and that he has no formal training beyond reading and writing-writing-writing. He told us that he writes because he can’t NOT write; he writes for his own pleasure, as well as to hone his craft. Hearing all of this affirmed the things in me which are similar to what he described. He was generous, open, funny, witty and thoughtful.

It was nice to have a brief chat with him as he signed two of his books for me. How blessed we are to live in a community which values and highlights good writing, supports authors, and which is open to all – readers, aspiring writers and experienced, best-selling authors!  This sharing is an abundant gift, enriching all of our lives from the inside out.

You can buy “The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving” by clicking on this picture of it (below), at your own local independent bookstore, or online. I am reading it now, and loving it.

“Fountain of Sorrow, Fountain of Light”

August was an intense month – a mixed bag,  for me. It is not a month (as Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II once said, referring to her Annus Horribilis) “on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure.” Don’t you love the way she put that?

We did have a good deal of pleasure in August. As I look through the photos, I reflect with gratitude that we enjoyed a beautiful vacation, hosted a party to celebrate an important family milestone, hosted friends from out of town, took time to savor the beauty of nature (particularly at the beach) and started some exciting projects. Yet there was, running underneath all of the fun, a “fountain of sorrow.” It made me think of Jackson Browne’s song of the same name.

“I’m just one or two years and a couple of changes behind you
In my lessons at love’s pain and heartache school
Where if you feel too free and you need something to remind you
There’s this loneliness springing up from your life
Like a fountain from a pool

“Fountain of sorrow, fountain of light
You’ve known that hollow sound of your own steps in flight…

“You’ve had to hide sometimes but now you’re all right…

“You’ve had to struggle, you’ve had to fight
To keep understanding and compassion in sight…” – Jackson Browne, Fountain of Sorrow

Gregg & I struggled “to keep understanding and compassion in sight” last month, with the anniversary of Katie’s passing and all of the emotions that come with it. We had some difficult – make that painful – conversations.

Those conversations and their aftermath left me thinking about Jackson Browne’s words describing a pool of sorrow, or an aquifer, running underneath the surface of our lives. This is how it seems, sometimes, since Katie’s passing; it certainly didn’t apply to us before that. We can go along just fine for quite a while (“now you’re all right”), and then, suddenly, “there’s this loneliness springing up from your life, like a fountain from a pool” – and it threatens to drown us, temporarily.

That is why the practice of gratitude is so vital to my survival now. Practicing gratitude helps me to reflect on my blessings, to become aware of them, to connect with God (the source of all goodness), and this lifts my heart. You could say that gratitude is a “fountain of light.” I have to practice it – it is not automatic; it is a pleasant discipline, but a discipline, nonetheless. The more I practice, the more natural (and easier) it becomes.

One of the tools that has helped me in my practice of gratitude is a website called www.gratefulness.org. I signed up for a daily devotional from them, and oh, how it helps! They have even created an application (which is free) for iPhone and Android to encourage the practice. If you would like to receive their devotional, or download the free app, please follow the links above.

May you be richly blessed, and may you be aware of it!