October 19, 2017 – Resurrecting beauty

I took this photo on the side of Highway 12 in Sonoma. It just happens that I’m painting it now.

We’ve been living with wildfires in California for as long as I can remember.  The house my family lived in from the time I was a toddler was across the street from Marin County Fire’s 2-acre headquarters in Woodacre.  On a regular basis we heard the big red trucks headed out the long drive towards Railroad Avenue, their sirens winding up.  But this past week and a half the risk of catastrophic fire has been more real and frightening than I can ever remember.  We knew it was the intense winds that made these fires so devastating, but this morning it was revealed the winds were hurricane-force – weather stations in the area recorded 73 mph winds.  The early hours of the fire came on so fiercely people had precious little time to get out with just their lives.  We read stories of people being picked up out of the streets by first responders wearing nightgowns and with blisters on their bare feet.  Tragically, many were not able to get out – there are still dozens unaccounted for.  As the days went on and as the fire progressed there were evacuation orders that came to new areas.  These people had more time to consider what to pack in their cars – what to save from the oncoming inferno.  People started talking about packing a “go-bag” with important documents, medications, photos and other irreplaceable belongings.  When I think about what I’d grab, I can’t help but think about my paintings.

Sue lives in a beautiful spot up on the side of the Alexander Valley about 100 miles north of us and she comes to paint with us on our Special Saturdays in Larkspur.  Her home and vineyard were threatened last week by the Pocket Fire east of Cloverdale and Geyserville.  She and her husband have been on the island of Kauai, unable to do anything to protect their home.  Their neighbors have kept them posted on the progress of the fire and what was being done to keep it at bay.

Besides the threat to their home, they have family and friends who live in Santa Rosa.  Sue told me she knows at least 20 people who lost everything.  Being so far away as all this was going on added to their stress.  Since a week-ago Monday just about everyone in this area has been hurting.  Even if we’ve not been directly impacted, we feel the pain of those who have lost homes, business, livelihoods, schools – and their loved ones.  It reminds me of how I felt just after 9/11.  In the midst of all of this, Sue was sheepish when she told me that she was worried about her art – including original paintings – on display in a café in Calistoga.  Oh, no!  So, all week we kept tabs on Calistoga as much as we did the area near her home.

With people losing so much, are we off-base to worry about our paintings?  We could paint them again, after all. I so get it though.  I’d feel exactly the same if my paintings were threatened by fire.  We weren’t the only one’s thinking about the loss of art in all this.  Amongst the stories that were selected to print in the paper were those of lost artwork: a photographer in Napa lost all her prints, equipment and studio, a widower lost all his late wife’s watercolors, which made him feel closer to her – for him they were her.  I heard conversations in our art groups concerned about the fate of large art collections, like the De Rosa Preserve, that are up in the area of the fires.

We spend hours and hours on these paintings.  What we do is called artwork for a reason.  But it’s not just our effort.  Making art requires that we carve out time and energy, pushing aside all that would deter us.  In these hours spent apart from ordinary time we bring new life into being.  Yes, not everything we make ends up a shining reflection of our souls, but much does.  The vision in my head of flames turning the results all of this precious time and attention to ash feels crushing.

Losing something, or even having it threatened brings its value into sharp focus.  Beauty being destroyed is an affront to our sensibilities.  The part of the world that has burned just north of us is treasured by many.  The natural landscape plus the vineyards and structures that humans have created there draw people from all over the world to come experience its beauty and sense of the good life.  I have to believe this adds to our collective pain.  I have to believe that we’d feel differently if what burned was more than 300,000 acres of industrial park.

Right after the horror of the thought of having all my art burn up is the knowing, the faith, that if this happened, I would recover.  I also know there would be gifts in the experience that can’t see from here. If I were to venture a guess, I’d imagine that I’d be fueled to make art like crazy!  This week I’ve been heads down in Photoshop making the 2018 calendar, between that and how hard it has been to focus through all this, I’ve not been painting much.  It’s time for me to get back to making art!

Wendell Berry ends his challenging “Manifesto:  Mad Farmer Liberation Front” with this line:  Practice resurrection.  This may sound insensitive while the devastation is still so fresh – especially to those who’ve lost the most.  The fires are still burning in some areas as I write this and there will continue to be people in great need for a long time – years in some cases.  And yet, rain is in the forecast for today, the fire officials predict full containment this week and the process of re-building lives has already started.

I believe that real transformation comes out of both grieving our losses and doing what is in front of us to do.  For me today, this means continuing to hold space in my heart and mind for all that has happened and working on my painting.  Humans often malign each other for the damage we cause, but today, I’m inspired by how automatically we respond by resurrecting beauty.

With my love,

Cara

October 11, 2017 – Riding the currents

The trail streaked with orange light – sun shining through smoke in the air.

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I woke at 4:30am on Monday morning and whispered to Joe that I smelled smoke.  He asked me:  inside or outside?  Outside, I smell wildfire.  A bit later I got up to go to the bathroom and check Marin County Fire’s Twitter feed.  No fires in Marin County, the smoke and ash were from the fires in Sonoma and Napa.  Poking around online I read the news – and two devastating days later it’s not getting better, more acres burned, more structures gone, more fatalities, hundreds more people determined to be missing.  We live about 30-40 miles from the fires and there was ash falling on our patio on Monday morning.  The winds brought the ash all the way to us and beyond – and they made these fires deadly. Another week, more death and destruction, and this time very close to home.  So, where does a return to beauty come in with all this going on?

I had to work in Joe’s office on Monday but the last two days I’ve had a hard time focusing.  I want to do something practical – I want to cook for people or give them a safe, soft place to express their emotions. I’m hearing there are already too many people showing up at the shelters wanting to help.  So I made a donation to the organization closest to my heart – Ceres Community Project – who are cooking for evacuated people in the shelters.  And I’m doing my best to just hold space for all that is happening – all the hard work, all the worry, all the grief, all the relief.  The best parts of me know holding space – being present to all that is going on is valuable, is needed, but it’s so much more satisfying to help in a material way.  It’s actually a privilege to do so – to make that kind of difference in people’s lives.

After preaching last week to turn away from the endless news of how people are suffering, I’ve been feeling sheepish about doing just that this week.  Even with that voice in my head, telling me to turn it off and go paint – or write, I couldn’t.  One of us in our community has a ranch that is close to one of the fires and I’ve been so distracted with following that fire’s progress; it’s not one of the big fires, so information has been hard to get.  Plus she has some art in a café in the Napa Valley that is under threat – these paintings are our babies and to think of them being incinerated is heartbreaking.  Another of us has a sister-in-law in the Valley of the Moon in Sonoma whose home and stables were in the path of the fire – I’ve been keeping tabs on that area too.  Last night I said to my mom, this could have been us – we live in an area prime for wild land fire like this.  We just never know.

This morning Bo and I went up the hill for the first time since Sunday.  It’s been just too smoky and not good for our lungs.  As we were heading up through a section of small live oaks I noticed the sun streaks on the ground were orange.  The sunrises and sunsets this week have had the sun a glowing ball of orange near the horizon.  But this was later – though the sky was hazy from smoke, the sun was white. How curious that streaks of light coming through the trees were October orange?

As we were cresting the hill I noticed a hawk floating above the ridgeline, just hanging there in the air facing into the cool wind, looking for breakfast on the ground.  I’m fascinated watching birds ride air currents like this – no wings flapping, not moving over the ground, still and aloft.  The hawk gave me my instructions for the day: ride the currents.  There’s no stopping the wind so find a way to ride it.  I have no idea what it is like to be in the situation that so many have found themselves in.  Life was normal on Sunday and just like that it’s not.  And it won’t be anything close to normal for a very long time.  All I can do is be with what is – my distractedness, my worry, my sorrow for the bad news and my appreciation for good news.  I just got a text that the sister-in-law’s place in Sonoma is fine as are her two horses and cat she had to leave behind in the middle of the night.

Beauty is here now, it is always here.  I found it in strange orange light this morning.  But in times like this beauty seems to show up especially vibrantly in how people care for each other and band together – the beauty in human spirit.  I’m going to end here today. And spend some time with my painting – really, I will.

With my love –

Cara

October 4, 2017 – Brave for beauty

Life has pulled me away from my art a lot these past few months. It is so good to be in my newly beautified “room-of-my-own” working on a painting!

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Weeks like this one are a challenge for me as a writer – when the world is particularly stirred up – fears, anger, uncertainty in all of us flare after events like the one that just happened in Las Vegas.  What do I do?  Do I chime in with my own reflections and thoughts?  If I do am I adding to the consuming nature of it all?  But to say nothing seems tone-deaf.  I’ve been resisting sitting down to write this week because of this conundrum.  What I’ve come to this morning is that I will write what I was going to write about with the intention that it be exactly what is needed today.

I’ve been immersed in the illuminations that came through the human treasure who was John O’Donohue, an Irish poet, theologian and philosopher who died unexpectedly in his sleep, a few days after his 52nd birthday at the start of 2008.  Before he left the world, he gave us writings and recordings of his ideas and teachings that are a wealth of inspiration to me today, almost 10 years after he died.  I’ve been listening to an audio book called “Beauty – the Invisible Embrace.”  The book was first published in 2004 after a two-year investigation into what is exactly the nature of beauty, which he defines as anything in the presence of which we feel more alive.

He starts with these thoughts:

The human soul is always hungry for beauty, we seek it everywhere:  in landscape, music, art, clothes, furniture, gardening, companionship, love, religion and in ourselves.  No one would desire not to be beautiful, because the experience of beauty is like a homecoming.  When we feel and know and touch the beautiful we feel that we are at one with ourselves, because in some subtle and secret way, beauty meets the needs of the soul.  Our times are riven with anxiety.  The natural innocence and trust that we had in our sensibilities in the Western world have been broken.  The innocence is lost.  And we know now that anything can happen from one minute to the next.  We live in very uncertain times.  Politics cannot help us because it has become synonymous with economics.  Religion has gotten in to the mathematics of morality and economics itself as the presiding world ideology has become radically uncertain.

I believe that now is the time to invoke and awaken beauty, because in a sense there is nowhere else left to go.  And because the situation in which we are in has been caused substantially by our denial of beauty.  In a way all the contemporary crises can be reduced to a crisis about the nature of beauty itself.  When you look at post-modern society it’s absolutely astounding how much ugliness we are willing to endure.  When you look at media, the way in its talk shows which have tapestries of smothered language and standards of mediocracy and dullness that seem to be the norm, you realize how this dulls and deadens the human spirit.  And when this false standard manages to present itself as normal, it seems to make real beauty an exception and to be something naïve.  And this is a huge falsification.

I suppose innocence for our generation was lost on 9/11/2001, but it seems even just 10 years ago we weren’t nearly as on edge as we are now.  We hadn’t yet elected Barack Obama president – with the backlash this unleased, the financial world melt down and mortgage crisis hadn’t yet happened, there was no ISIS, no home-grown terrorists, the mass shootings in our country hadn’t included an elementary school, a black church, a gay nightclub or a country music concert.  And we hadn’t yet seen the disintegration of the political and social structures of our society as we have in the past year – we certainly weren’t conscious of how deep and biting are the divisions between large swaths of our fellow country people.  Given this, I’m stunned by the way that these words he spoke, more than a decade ago, feel even more relevant and urgent today.

The way we’ve shunned beauty and how we’ve narrowed it, making it synonymous with glamor and physical appearance, has reduced its place in our lives.  Along with innocence, we’ve lost the potency of beauty.  In this very moment just thinking about asserting we need a return to beauty – how beauty will save the world – has a part of me rise up in fear to the reaction I’d receive.  The fear says this idea will be shot down –that believing a return to beauty is the answer to all the darkness in the world is completely naïve.  We need to fight, we need to rise up, we need to counter the ugliness – with what?  More ugliness?  Let us resist ugliness – for the sake of all that is beautiful.  And let’s do it with beauty.

I take great encouragement – literally – en-courage-ment from what John O’Donohue is saying.  I make art that is in some circles too obvious to be interesting.  What I make isn’t edgy, doesn’t have much of a message – I’m not pushing some envelope of social change.  There’s no protest, I’m not in your face.  But I do hear allthetime… that what I make is beautiful.  I have had people – including one man – walk through my booth at an art festival and have tears come to them.  They seem embarrassed by their tears. But their tears tell me I’m on the right track.  Who doesn’t want to witness that the creative work coming through them touches hearts – moves them to tears?

I’ve been writing about the power of creativity and beauty and giving ourselves the permission to love – and paint – what we love for over a year.  Today my conviction that we must stay this course as we watch the cracks in the structures that have held our world together appear to grow ever wider and deeper.  I’m recalling another book that has crawled in and taken root inside the deepest parts of me.  I read and listened to it earlier this year and wrote this about it in a post in February:

On vacation I started reading a book called “The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible” by Charles Eisenstein.  I told someone that I was reading this book and the response I got was “that sounds like a book you would read.”  I get it.  The title containing the word “beautiful” does seem to make it right up my alley.  But what Charles Eisenstein means when he uses the word “beautiful” is beyond what people associate with me and what I do.  He’s talking about living inside an entirely new story that holds every part of modern life differently.  A beautiful world is not simply one with physical beauty for our eyes to take in, but is filled with generosity, forgiveness, kindness and humor – which we see with our hearts rather than our eyes.  It is also a world that is in harmony with the planet and with each other – beyond scarcity, starvation and war.

I got the same “that sounds like you” reaction from more than one person.  Today I feel a fierceness, an irritation about this reaction.  The question I ask is why don’t you want to run out and read that book this second?  What kind of world do you want to be living in?  But what I really want is for everyone I know to get on board the beauty bandwagon.  Join me; make it a practice, a focus, an intention.  Make it your religion – this is what the Dalai Lama means when he says that kindness is his religion.  Kindness is a form of beauty.  Our souls are aching for us to do this.

Instead of taking in endless details about the ways in which people are suffering in the hurricanes, earthquakes and acts of horrific violence, or how scandalous what the politicians in charge are saying is, fill yourself with the ideas that a more beautiful world is possible.  In case it’s helpful – here are some places to start:

You might read or re-read some of my posts:
• May, 31, 2016 – Love what you love
• June 21, 2016 – Modern Art, Is it love?
• August 16, 2017 – Just make beauty
• November 8, 2016 – What the world needs now (on reverence)
• November 15, 2016 – Dancing in the Dark
• December 6, 2017 – All the light we can and cannot see
• January 10, 2017 – Beauty is everywhere
• February 15, 2017 – Beauty will save the world
• February 22, 2017 – Making beauty a practice
• April 12, 2017 – When love leads

If you are short on time and space to take in yet more information (I so get it), scan to the bottom few paragraphs of my posts, where I generally come to the nut of the message I’m sharing.

For more, you can read and/or listen to what I am:
The More Beautiful World our Hearts Know is Possible by Charles Eisenstein (audio, e-book and paper book formats)
Charles Eisenstein interview with Oprah Winfrey on Super Soul Sunday (free)
• Beauty – The Invisible Embrace, by John O’Donohue – paper book, audio
John O’Donohue interview by Krista Tippett, OnBeing.org – Inner Landscape of Beauty (free)

Yesterday I heard John O’Donohue, in his gorgeous Irish brogue say that we have to have “courage for beauty.”  I’m sticking with my word – brave.

We must be brave for beauty.

I will always encourage everyone who has the call to create, in whatever way you do, to do so – it is life changing.  But this is more than making beautiful things.  It’s committing to living our lives so we create this more beautiful world – as much as we can – knowing that we are human, we are people of our times, that life has its own timing and imperfection has its own beauty.  I feel a lightness lying right next to my fierceness inside.  It is reminding me that a more beautiful world won’t come unless it shines through.

With my love, with my brave and with the beauty our souls ache for,

Cara

September 27, 2017 – Blessed Unrest

I am even happier to be painting in my newly freshened studio.

We started the project to refresh the inside of our house just after the fourth of July and as of Sunday, we are officially done.  Last week we had the hardwood floors refinished which meant that our furniture was stuffed into the other downstairs rooms and in the garage.  Last week I wrote about a room of one’s own while my own room-of-my-own was upside down – filled with boxes of books, houseplants, small tables and everything that lives on them.  There was barely a place for me to sit and open up my tiny laptop to write.  Sunday we put the house back together and it looked so beautiful – fresh, light and spacious.  But then, something had to be done about my room.

Though I had a list of things to tend to Monday, I woke up and dove in.  I spent half the day tearing through my studio, moving book cases (which mean emptying them first) putting my desk into my painting spot, replacing a folding table and cleaning everything – dead bugs out of the window track, wiping away cobwebs and dusting, dusting, dusting!  When I left for the office mid-day, my studio was just beautiful except for a stack of papers and notebooks 8” high that I told myself I would have to go through later.

Yesterday morning – before even getting dressed or brushing my teeth – I dove again – into that stack and the file drawer where much of it needed to go.  I weeded out stuff that I no longer have any need for – it felt so good!  There is now an equivalent to that 8” stack in the recycle bin and things look and feel even better.  I’ve been an artist on a mission!  My studio is fresh and spacious just like the rest of the house – and I love the new arrangement.

In going through papers and files I came across a whole lot of personal growth work and accompanying writing that I’ve done over the years.  In there was a list titled “What it means to be your wife” – the first draft of what became our wedding vows – a fun thing to find yesterday, the 19th anniversary of our first date.  I found pages and pages of notes from the PAX work, as I learned distinctions between women and men, and the masculine and the feminine and how we can be in powerful partnership.  There were notes, poems and readings from my sessions with Sister Mary, as my relationship with God has grown and expanded, and several iterations of business-oriented work, values, goals, customer profiles and visions for how I’m here to serve.  The work I’ve done with my business coach, Lissa Boles, is every bit as much personal growth as any of the rest of it.

What stands out for me in all of this is the part of me that has been positively driven to understand, to grow, to heal to “get better.”  As much as I wish that I had already known that no matter what I am beautiful and beloved, (in the words of Kelly Flanagan), I see that this same gritchy part of me has caused me to seek and discover a level of awareness, a level of consciousness, that I cannot imagine having come to had I not felt in some way lacking.  And now that I’m on the path, I cannot imagine my desire for more understanding ever waning.  The more I see the more I see that I’ve not yet seen.

I was talking last week with Donna – My Donna – about the love of her life, Allan Newman, who died two months ago.  She was telling me how he invited, encouraged, called out – to all of us to be ourselves – the selves no one else can be.  He contended that most people barely touch it.  Most of our authentic selves are hidden, shrouded in behaviors we adopted to be accepted such that we don’t even know ourselves. But when we do, an incomparable light shines from us – he was after that light in people.  Donna’s description of Allan made me think of the famous quote by Martha Graham:

There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique.  
And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. 
 The world will not have it.  
It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how valuable it is, nor how it compares with other expressions.  
It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.  
You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work.  
You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you.  Keep the channel open.

This “unique expression” must be what it is I’ve been compelled to discover within myself – my art, my writing and my philosophy about how best to support people on their creative paths.  This first part of the quote is very familiar to me – I’ve read it many times.  The version I found online last week, though, had a second part:

No artist is ever pleased.  There is no satisfaction whatever at any time.  There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction; a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.

(I feel the need to add one word to this last part:  There is no complete satisfaction whatever at any time. I can’t imagine a creative life without any satisfaction.  I refuse to believe I have to be tortured to be an artist.)

She is spot on.  It is absolutely my experience that dis-satisfaction with our work comes with the territory of being a creator.  But it is more than just what is to be expected – she says it’s purposeful… divine… blessed.  Her words “blessed unrest” have gone on to live a life far beyond what she said to Agnes de Mille.  Most notably, “Blessed Unrest” is the title of a book by Paul Hawken about the legions who have made their lives attending to the problems of life on Earth.  Blessed unrest shows up as hunger for what isn’t yet part of us.  It shows up as commitment to see things through and it shows up as desire to keep making progress.  It’s what has people come to me wishing to learn to paint and it’s what keeps them coming back every week.  It’s what had Sue create her studio; it’s what has me itchy to get back to my painting when I’m pulled away from it.

It’s not comfortable living with this “blessed unrest” – there is that dissatisfaction to contend with. Nevertheless, looking around at who is doing what with this one precious life we’re each given, I see that having this unrest is a blessing.  It’s the grit in the oyster, it’s what has us be brave in the face of obstacles.  Unless we are living with it we’d be happy enough just watching more TV.

It does appear as if some of us have it and others not, though.  Right after we graduated high school a friend and I went to the bridal shower of one of our classmates from junior high who had moved away. She was getting married right away because she said there wasn’t anything else to do.  We were going on to college and had a hard time imagining not doing so – we asked her didn’t she want to go to college too?  Her reply was “there’s nothing to learn.”

The question that comes to me is did she have it and just not know it – do we all have it?  Is there a blessed unrest in all of us by virtue of the fact that we breathe air?  Is it just lying dormant in those for whom it appears absent?  If so, is there any way to foster it, to spark it awake in each other?  As I ask myself this question I hear a voice inside that unequivocally says “yes.”  I am certain I will continue to live my life as if it is absolutely possible for every one of us to wake up to it.  Allan lived his 90 years this way.  We can choose to see the potential for awakening in everyone even in the face of what feels like an epidemic of cynicism in our world.  Besides, doing so doesn’t cost much – mostly we just need to be brave.  The payoff is, well, it’s everything.

To our bravery –

Cara

September 20, 2017 – A room of one’s own

Pastels on display in Sue’s studio.

Last week Sue, an artist in our community, texted to say she wouldn’t be coming to paint with us on Thursday.  She had a project to finish.  She was reclaiming her childhood bedroom as her studio.  Many years ago she and her husband moved into the house in Greenbrae she grew up in, and raised their three kids there.  The room that she shared with her sister, and then was hers alone when her sister went off to college, was her husband Paul’s home office.  A lightning bolt recently struck her:  she needed her room back!  Their kids are launched into their lives – either in or finished with college – and there are now rooms sitting empty.  And – this room has the best light and an amazing view giving it an inspiring sense of spaciousness – it needed a higher purpose.  After all, Paul mostly looks into a computer screen when he’s in that room.  No more painting at the kitchen counters – Sue was going to have a room of her own.

Sue’s reclaimed space to paint in. Annie-dog seems happy to be there at Sue’s feet.

She collected her things that were stored in spots all over the house:  her art supplies, personal books and teaching materials.  She re-arranged the closet to store it all.  She painted the room previously a rich chocolate brown a sunny pale yellow.  Some new furniture from Ikea to store things and work on and she was set.  I had the privilege of being her first visitor – it was a thrill to share in her excitement.  Sue is often a fountain of enthusiasm, but this seemed different – yes there was all the material work she’d done, but there was something else too.  She was making a statement to her family, to herself and to the world that her creative self must have its place, its own physical space.

Sue’s reclaimed space to paint in. Annie-dog seems happy to be there too.I had a moment like that.  Joe and I were remodeling the house.  We started with three bedrooms – we each had a sleeping room (we get much better sleep in our own beds) and he had a den.  The remodel was replacing one of the bedrooms with a large master suite on a new second story.  That upstairs room would primarily be his room and there would be – for the first time – a TV in the bedroom.  Before the remodel I was painting in a corner of the garage that I’d set up for myself as a studio.  But the new garage would have no windows and no nook for me to nestle into.

We had a talk in the middle of construction about how the rooms would be used in the new floorplan. The assumption was that we’d use the rooms as we did before to which I heard myself say, “so there will be three places (bedroom, den, living room) to watch TV and I still don’t have a place in the house to paint?”  I’m writing this post in that room right now – it’s been my work/paint/create space for the past 11 years.  Though I know that my sweetheart really misses having a den, I can’t imagine being without a space that my creativity calls home – a place that is my space – no one else to negotiate with about any part of it.

I saw my Sister Mary for spiritual direction last week – the first time since my big hike, so she wanted to hear all about it.  At the end of my tale, she said that I now have a “Mount Whitney room” inside me.  She talked of how Carl Jung said that complex people have many rooms inside them and that if we say vital and alive, we create new rooms inside us throughout life.  This was in the back of my mind as I visited Sue on Friday, the idea that we have an artist room – a watercolorist room, inside us.  I can feel it.  This room holds our knowledge and skills of the craft of watercolor, our sense of accomplishment from the paintings we’ve done and the relationships with the people with whom we share all of this.  We use the word “side” to describe aspects of a person – one could have a tomboy side, or a glamor side, but “room” is more alive to me.  Rooms are three dimensional and they have boundaries that contain distinct parts of us.

As I left Sue’s house I was making the connection between her inner and outer room and wondering about the relationship there must be between the two.  If we have no inner room the outer room is superfluous.  Who inside us would tell us to go into the room and make stuff?  But once the inner room is established to a degree, it seems the outer room becomes an imperative.  The occupant of the inner room insists upon it!

Without realizing it until now, the relationship between a person – an artist – and their creative space is something that I’ve been curious about for a while.  There is something magical about visiting a studio – this is where the magic happens!  One I visited was gorgeous, a huge room, freshly remodeled, built-in storage all over and an enormous work table – supplied to the hilt with things to create with.  Its occupant called it her “craft room.”  I told her that “this wasn’t her craft room – it was her studio!” People dream to have studios like those of some of the artists in our community:  one studio in an attic space with a window looking out on the neighbor’s roof tops – you have to climb up a ladder to it – the quintessential artist hideaway.  Another is also built in an attic space, but this one is bigger with little windows in dormers and a chaise longue for when the artist needs a little rest.

And when I was working at Light Rain I was invited into the studio of one of our clients.  She had a big, beautiful high-ceilinged store that sold art-oriented things for the home.  Next door was the biggest single-artist studio I’ve ever seen – as big as the whole store!  It was filled with cases of books, bones, shells, sponges, antique objects, paints and lots of in-progress work.  Oh, my.  What a space! I wonder about the enormity of this artist’s imagination – of her inner room – that it requires this much space to create from.  I honestly wouldn’t have any idea what to do with all that space for just my own creating.

I see the connection between these women, these artists and their spaces and see how one reflects and creates the other.  Virginia Woolfe gave us the phrase “A room of one’s own” from her essay about Judith Shakespeare, Will’s fictional sister.  It’s largely a feminist piece – women in her time did not enjoy the relative freedom and resources many of us have now.  Though we have more resources, education and freedom empowering us to create, and many of us have inner and outer rooms-of-our-own, there is the need to support women’s creative lives.  I discovered online an organization called “A Room of Her Own Foundation” whose purpose is just that.  AROHO provides women writers and artists a way to gather and connect to each other.  I found this line on their website:  Whenever and however we are in each other’s presence we are AROHO. (A Room of Her Own)

This past week marked six years that I’ve been at the center of such gatherings of women (and a few men) artists.  Thanks to my amazing Mama’s generosity, 537 Magnolia Avenue in Larkspur, California has become our collective room-of-our-own.  The building shelters us and our shared purpose as creators contains us as we make art, thereby forming and reinforcing each of our inner rooms.  The energy of the collective carries us until such time as our inner room grows so large that we need our own room-of-our-own, like Sue just has.

It’s a big step in a person’s life:  to claim resources for our self on behalf of our creativity.  It’s one form of brave.  It had to take courage for Sue to assert to her husband that she wanted his space, as it did for me, knowing it meant my hubby would no longer have his man-cave.  There’s always a cost.  This is what Virginia Woolfe wanted for herself and for us – to declare that there is something within us that is worthy of these resources, the time and space to create.  By doing so, we participate in the unfolding of ourselves as people and in the expansion of our society as a whole.

To your brave – and with my love,

Cara

September 13, 2017 – Brave

The most bold and brave painting I’ve done – yet!

The weekend before last I showed my art at the Sausalito Art Festival.  This was the 10th consecutive year and, mostly because of the weather, it was unlike any other.  An intense heat wave moved in two days before the festival; we had 100+ degree (F) weather Thursday, Friday and Saturday.  Sausalito is adjacent to the San Francisco Bay where the temperatures are tempered by the cool water of the bay and the Pacific Ocean nearby.  On Friday evenings when the festival opens to those who come to the fancy gala is most often very chilly with the fog coming in.  I’ve had to bundle up in a coat over my skimpier fancy clothes.  Not this year.

I left the gala at 9:45 completely comfortable in just my spaghetti strap cocktail dress. On Saturday everyone:  artists, volunteers and the courageous festival goers who did come out mostly just coped with the 106 degree heat.  It cooled off considerably on Sunday, but it was still hot in the sun.  By Monday the temperature was more normal, but a freaky wind came through in the early morning.  We arrived in the morning to see parts of booths and artwork toppled over.  I’ve heard stories of wind like this at festivals in other places in the state and country, but never here.  Especially on the heels of Saturday’s scorching heat, the wind brought an uneasy vibe to the last day of the weekend.

We did what people do when faced with a common challenge, we banded together.  On the hot days some artists set up fans in their booths, we had spray bottles to mist ourselves and each other.  Everyone was sweaty – and no one seemed to apologize for it.  None of us could escape being in a human body responding to the heat.  Then on Monday people helped their neighbors secure their booths and put things back together from the windstorm.  Every year a temporary community forms – the artists, their spouses and other helpers become neighbors for the three days, and because of all we dealt this year we were even more closely knit.  Someone said we should get t-shirts that said “I survived SAF 2017.”

There is a power in art.  This power, even in the face of the freaky weather, drew people out to come to see and appreciate our creations.  An original painting and many prints found their ways into people’s homes and lives – the weekend was good in that sense.  And, as I always do whenever I’m showing my art in the world, I had many conversations with those wanting to learn to paint watercolor.  There was one particular conversation that won’t leave me.  A woman told me that she’d taken one class and felt like she didn’t have much success.  I could feel her self-doubt as she joked a bit about it.  It’s hard – we have this desire to learn how to express ourselves in this way – to bring forth the art that is in us.  And before we have any evidence that we can, we have no answer to the voices telling us that there’s no way we could ever do this.  Sort of offhandedly, she asked me “so, what comes before beginner?”  I have no idea where my response came from, but it did come – I said one word:  “brave.”

This is it, isn’t it?  We just have to find the courage to act in the face of our fears.  There’s no way around it.  There’s no way to skip the being-vulnerable part.  And this is not just the case for the beginner-beginners.  If we are to stay alive as creators, to keep growing, we have to leave our comfy-ness and risk.

At the festival I had a conversation with another artist I’ve seen over the years – he paints in watercolor in a style that is very different from mine, landscapes in subdued colors on board, framed without glass.  Lovely work. He told me he wants to do something completely different with his art.  But he’s stuck in the cycle of applying for art shows so far in advance that he can’t seem to find a way to make new work and still have enough art to do shows in the short term.  When you make your entire living off of your art, as he does, there is the reality that your art is how you survive in the world, adding enormously to the risk.

The chat I had with him has me seeing how I’ve been holding myself safe in what I’ve been painting. Over the past couple of years I’ve talked about painting things that are outside what I’m known for – the world of colorful flowers and fruit and other “edibles.”  There’s a self-portrait, the big pond from Giverny (another 60”x40” painting), and a cathedral rose window painting – something to follow “Eternal.”  But, I find myself painting what’s expected of me instead of risking.  As a teacher, I’ve been avoiding risking too.  It’s been years since I’ve known that the frontier is some kind of online offering – there’s a whole world of people who cannot drive to Larkspur!

Our world is stirred up right now on many levels and the turmoil seems to be accelerating.  Beyond our country’s political and social upheavals and the catastrophic weather that is burning us and crashing onto our shores, closer to home there seems that a lot of people around me who are going through life-shaking emotional stuff too.  It can feel like the swirl is everywhere and like everything is falling apart. In the face of all of this, the idea of learning to paint, risking putting ourselves out on paper or canvas pales in comparison.  It’s not life-threatening after all.

And yet, they are real fears – ones that are useful to face.  I’ve seen my own life as well as others transform by finding the courage to express ourselves.  For me it was not just painting but writing and public speaking that has let the parts of me that were hiding inside to be revealed.  Along the way a certain solidness develops at our center that didn’t exist before, making us more resilient and better able to handle bigger challenges, bigger fears.

I had a discussion this morning with Maralyn and Lyn, two of my coaching sisters, about the words “brave” and “courageous.”  Though the definitions are similar, the roots of the two words reveal quite a difference.  Courage has as its root the word “heart” – to act from one’s heart.  Brave on the other hand, has the same root as “bravo” which in Italian and Spanish means “bold.”  Its meaning gets even grittier with its link to “savage” and “untamed.”  There is an impetuousness implied in “brave” that can be very close to being foolhardy.  Though they are both useful words, in our discussion there seemed to emerge a preference for “courageous.”  But I’m still making a case for “brave.”  At some deep level, I resonate with brave’s “bold”-ness.

Whichever word works for you, I invite you to find yours.  It feels to me like this is what our times are calling for from us.  See if there is a fear you’re ready to face – a fear that may be between you and your doing something you’ve wanted or needed to do.  It may be painting, it may be speaking a truth, it may be something else completely.  Once you do, those who are really in your corner will say to you:  “bravo!” – or if you prefer “brava!”  Now, I’ve got some risking to do myself.  Stay tuned…

Here’s to our bravery –

Cara

August 23, 2017 – Facing Fears

One of the nights during my Mount Whitney hike, as I was lying awake in the dark in my sleeping bag – not sleeping, certain thoughts came up – thoughts about my relationship with fear.  We all have fears – they are part of being human.  I’m not alone in that I have been plagued by some big scary, will-I survive-this?-fears.  Given the conscious choice, I’ve always been the kind of person who would rather stay safe than face them.  But it’s almost as if something else, some other force, is living through me. Because that night I saw that the motivation to test myself physically by doing this hike was part of a theme that has woven through my life to face these fears.  I reflected on some big fears – whose purpose was to keep me safe – but actually kept me from living my life fully.

The first one I thought of was my fear of being alone.  When I was in high school and college I wanted to do a year abroad.  I wanted to go to France and become proficient speaking French.  But this fear stopped me from ever even looking into it.  The thought of being so far away from everyone I knew and loved was terrifying!  And I stayed in my first marriage for a long time (by some people’s estimation) given how difficult life was then.  It lasted fourteen years partly because I had an existential fear that I would die if I left.  My body helped me take the steps to do so – by having panic attacks; it literally shook me to get my attention.  My body protested so fiercely that I knew I had no choice but to leave.  Once I did, just ten days later I wrote in my journal that if I were to get divorced, I wanted to live and work in Paris for six months.  Well, I did get divorced and the universe set it up so I spent six months in Paris starting the following spring.

While in Paris my fears of being alone were front and center.  “I have no idea when my next hug will come” was a thought that I had just after arriving.  (A thought I unkindly judged as pathetic at the time.) I was introduced to an American woman who was also spending some time in Paris; we went to lunch the next Saturday and there was my hug.  Three months into my trip I had one of the most powerful experiences of my life.  One night driving alone in the dark in the Loire Valley I had this feeling come over me; I felt safe and whole and perfect and not needing anyone in that moment.  In fact, if any of my loved ones had been with me, what I felt would not have been possible – and I’ve never been the same. It’s not that I don’t ever fear being alone, but I now have the experience that happened when I was driving along in my little rental car to draw from when I do.

I share this next fear with millions of others – speaking in front of people.  I was a shy toddler; I’m told I hid behind my mama’s legs.  And I was born in a body that blushes easily.  If someone told me my shoelaces were untied my face turned red.  So when the time came for me to do some kind of oral report in school, I had the horrible experience of sweating, turning red, having my mind go blank and looking for the nearest hole to hide in.  I’d do anything I could to avoid this experience – behavior I carried with me into my 30’s.  I don’t remember what caused me to want to face this fear, but it started when I discovered Speaking Circles.  Speaking Circles’ founder, Lee Glickstein discovered a way to help people heal their stage fright without having to gut through it – a way that is very different from Toastmasters. Speaking Circles and participating in worship services at the Fairfax Community Church, where I had a very safe and loving audience, have been instrumental in bringing me fully to the other side of my fear of public speaking.  I can now be handed a microphone and, even without preparing, stay present and focused and even have my face retain its normal color!

I’ve never broken a bone, I’ve never even sprained anything.  I’ve always played it safe with my body for fear of not being able to withstand pain and injury.  And in menopause a certain level of hypochondria has crept in where every little thing that comes up, my mind has made up it is life threatening. Something coalesced this spring that inspired this summer’s hike up Whitney.  From the time I signed up until the morning we started out, these fears arose and attempted to stop me.  But they didn’t and I now have not only an entirely different relationship with my body’s capabilities, its strength and health, but I have a whole different concept of myself. It’s remarkable.

I see now there are other fears that I’ve faced:  I fell crazy in love with a remarkable man who was diagnosed with cancer six days after our first date.  In the face of all kinds of fears about how this might turn out I invited him to move in with me two weeks later to support him going through chemo.  I risked my family when I needed to back myself by taking a break from having contact with one member of my family.  Family is a huge part of my life and being without them was one of the hardest times I’ve been through.  When it turned out that I’d not have the children I so wanted, I faced the fears of my own significance to pursue work that would bring meaning to my childless life.

The outcome of facing all of these fears has been my freedom – my capacity to freely choose how to live. And I am altogether different because of it.  People who have only known me for a short time would hardly recognize the version of me I was in my 20’s – before facing these fears.  There is a voice in my head that has been chirping up throughout writing this whole post – it’s saying that all of this is rather boastful isn’t it?  Look at me and how brave I have been to have faced these fears!  Well, maybe, but my experience is that it’s not been me.  It’s not been bravery.  I truly feel like some other force has been at the helm of these shifts in my how I relate to my fears.  I’m not sure what the purpose is, but I’m grateful for the freedom that has come of it!

There is something else I’m noticing – how I faced them.  It seems I have been meant to face my fears in a way that is as kind to me as possible.  I’ve never thrown myself under the bus!  I didn’t just jump on a plane to France.  I asked for and was supported by having a structure – a job and a paycheck and nice people to keep company with.  I didn’t force myself into just getting up and speaking, wearing out my body’s reactions until they subsided.  I waited until I discovered a method of becoming comfortable being seen and heard that wouldn’t force me to go through that torture.  And I wasn’t called to do as Cheryl Strayed did and hike the Pacific Crest Trail all alone.  I found a group of women with knowledgeable guides and pack mules to support my stretching myself.

There is a lot of value put on doing things the hardest way possible in our culture.  But if this is the only way to face our fears or discover our strengths, it leaves a whole bunch of us out.  Making art can be just as fearful as anything for some people.  And when we have both the fear and desire to make art, it’s a challenge.

If this is you, find the kinder, supportive way for yourself.  Let me know if there’s something I can do or say to help.  Facing our fears, though never easy-peasy, can be done in ways that keeps us out from under the bus.

I’m here to report that doing so is worth everything.

With my love and appreciation –

Cara

August 16, 2017 – Force of Nature

Frost on the meadow around Rock Spring Lake on Saturday morning.

This is a continuation of a post I wrote on Sunday, the day after returning from a six-day hike to the summit of Mount Whitney.  Sunday’s post was the story.  Here’s how I’m holding it all – what made it hard, what made it worth it and what I’m taking with me.  It’s longer than usual, but it seems I’ve got lots to say!  Get a cup of something and join me…

I should have guessed from the equipment list that included a warm hat, gloves and long johns that we’d experience cold, but this was August and I naively thought that these were “just in case” things.  The nights and mornings were cold.  Saturday we woke to frost on the meadow – in the summer!  Several of the nights I never got really warm.  I needed a liner for the sleeping bag – something for next time.  My hands and feet were numb in the mornings – especially those when my boots were wet from stream crossings the previous day.  Putting on cold clothes in the cold air is just… well… burr.

As always in the backcountry, we were limited on what we could pack; we had minimal clothes and no way to clean them.  No soap, no deodorant meant that by the end of the week, everything was dirty and very, very stinky.  I did rinse out a few things in the lakes and creeks, which helped, but after the second day, my cleanliness sensibilities were gone.  Though we were all in the same smelly boat, it was still uncomfortable to have hair that hadn’t been washed in a week.  I don’t think that a shower has ever felt as wonderful as it did on Saturday!  And you should have seen the color of the water in the machine when I washed all my clothes!

Our commode-away-from-home and the view when seated.

As we venture out of civilization our bodily functions become a bigger deal.  It’s hard to write about this with any delicacy, so I won’t even try.  Peeing and pooping in the wilderness is inconvenient at best!  For starters having to pee in the middle of the night meant getting out of my warm sleeping bag and tent to head out into the cold to find a place to squat (you guys have it so much easier!).  Lauren and Barb set up a pit toilet for us when we were in camp – which was dubbed the “loo with a view.”  It’s quite an experience having a morning constitutional while looking out on an alpine meadow!  But when we weren’t in camp, having to go number two meant digging a six-inch deep hole with a hiking pole behind a tree or boulder.  Up in the Whitney zone we had to use something called a WAG bag – two plastic bags that contained our solid waste to pack out and dispose of.  And we each had a companion for the week – a plastic bag in which we collected all our used toilet paper.  I was so happy to toss that thing in the trash!

Though the actual hiking was done at a very gentle pace, there was basically no down-time all week.  We woke to take care of our basic needs:  eat, make our lunch, re-fill our water containers, pack our day-packs for the day, take down our tents and then set out at anywhere from 5:00 to 8:30 am.  We arrived at the next camp between 4:30 and 7:00 in the evening to do it all in reverse.  Though I had looked forward to seeing stars at night, between being tired and escaping the mosquitos that swarmed us in two camps, I was in my sleeping bag by 8:00 every evening – when it was still dusk.  On top of this there were the little pains:  blisters (though mine weren’t too bad), stiff and sore muscles (especially by the end of the week) and I had to nurse an inflamed Achilles tendon on my left foot which I so didn’t want to prevent me from hiking.

Water, water, everywhere!

Life in the backcountry is inconvenient and uncomfortable, but it’s also stunningly beautiful!  I looked at pictures of Mount Whitney before the trip and imagined that we’d be spending a week in a landscape that looked much like the moon – all rock and snow.  But that was just part of one day.  I was bowled over by the natural beauty we were immersed in:  there was water running everywhere, streams and creeks, crashing over boulders and meandering through the meadows.  Clean, cold snowmelt – there is nothing more invigorating than getting wet with mountain water.

This flower girl loved all these flowers!

Surrounding every stream were areas of vibrant green vegetation and so many wildflowers!  In fact the wildflowers were not just where it was moist, they were everywhere:  in the more arid flats and amongst the boulders – even way upon Mount Whitney!  Rising above the green were the granite mountains of the Sierra Nevada – breathtaking scenery was all around us, every day, scenery that you just don’t get to see unless you hike deep into the wilderness.

Lauren, Jackson and Barb – our guides and packer – they made it all work – and made it fun too.

Humans are amazing – nine of us started as strangers on Monday and over the course of the week we became intimates.  My six companion hikers were all interesting, fun and courageous women.  We shared tents just large enough for two sleeping bags, we worked together to make things go well, we cared for each other, we shared moments of hilarity and struggle.  And our guides – women in their early-mid-twenties were two of the most impressive people I’ve ever met.  Their self-possession and capacity for leadership was remarkable.  We worked hard all week – and they worked harder.  They set up camp and cooked for us each night, then made a hot breakfast and packed it all up the next day.  They paced our hiking days and attended to all our needs – they held us, providing the container for our experience just masterfully.  Plus, they hiked every mile and every foot of vertical ascent that we did – without breathing hard!  I’m in much better shape than when I started, but oh, to have their level of fitness!

Jackson and beloved mule, Mutt and our mules, loaded down with our stuff.

And what made it possible was Jackson, his mare and five mules.  Other than what was in our day-packs, all our gear, food and equipment were carried from camp to camp on the backs of pack mules.  We got to eat delicious, real (not freeze-dried) food all week and had “luxuries” such as the pit toilet.  It was really humbling to watch them pass us each day, loaded down with all our stuff on the way to the next night’s camp.  “Real” backpackers carry all their stuff in big, heavy packs themselves, I told myself. But Jackson assured us that mules want to work and that these animals have a great life.  They get to be in nature, some of it completely free.  One night he let them loose to graze in the meadow near our camp.  Someone heard them wandering amongst our tents in the middle of the night!  None of us would have done the trip if we’d had to carry a heavy backpack; our mules made it do-able.  And what a precious thing it was on Saturday morning to witness Jackson nuzzling Mutt, his favorite mule.

Journeys start when we commit to them.  I’ve grown and transformed so much from this trip – starting when I signed up just after Easter.  The insights are many.

Here are some:

  • People really want to show up and support you when you step out to do something big.  Thank you to everyone in my life – friends, family, even my Kaiser doctor – who have supported and cheered me on.  Sue D, you hiked with me and lent me some of the gear I needed.  Steff, you were my “base camp” in Big Pine before and after, I can’t imagine having done this without you.  But I am especially grateful for my Joseph.  He was in my corner the whole way and he told me to think “soar” when I was going uphill.  And, Baby, soar I did.
  • Life will attempt to barge in and pull you back when you are doing something out of your norm.  It takes awareness and internal fortitude to prioritize yourself and stay on track.  Ironically, my anxiety about being prepared enough served me – it kept me pushing myself to be hiking, hiking, hiking.
  • I have the tendency to want to get through things – to just have them be over with.  Our guides kept us at a pace that was much slower than I was used to – and we took many more breaks than I would have on my own.  I so want for this to carry into my life – to pace myself and to rest often – it makes much more possible.
  • Nature is tenacious.  Seeing wildflowers growing at the base of boulders at 14,000 feet showed me that life finds its way in even the harshest environments and beauty is everywhere.  The feminine is absolutely irrepressible.
  • Though solitude has its gifts, going it alone is not my way.  CTI leadership training taught me about co-creation but I’d never before experienced it as compellingly as on this trip.  It took us all – hikers, guides, packer and mules.  We feed and feed off of each other.
  • My stamina and capacity for enduring is so far beyond what I previously knew.  Yes, I’m half rugged Croatian and half Marine Sgt. James Brown, but the experience of my resurrection on Friday showed me I’ve been underestimating myself.

When I was shopping for my gear an REI associate – a woman – told me about an initiative they have called Force of Nature that is putting women front and center in their efforts to level the playing field to support more women in having outdoor adventures – another place where men are more represented. (She suggested posting on social media with the #forceofnature tag.)  When she said this, I had tears spring to my eyes.  The thought that I would be one of these women having an outdoor adventure struck a chord in me – that I, me, Cara Brown could be a force of nature was an amazing thought.

It seems I’ve always had strong, forceful people close to me – especially my mom and my husband.  They are what people would call a force of nature, not me.  After this experience I have a different sense of myself.  It’s hard to put words to, but it feels like my cells have been re-arranged and I’m now put together differently.  Though I don’t expect to become exactly like these remarkable people in my life – who make so much happen in this world – there is no question in my mind that I am a real force of nature.  And – my sense is that we all are – we just need to find our way to access it.  Might I suggest you go on a hike?

With my gratitude –

Cara

August 13, 2017 – My big hike

The view looking back as daylight was breaking on the morning we hiked to the top.

This morning I was looking out the kitchen window in my dear friend Steff’s house – gazing upon the mountains of the Eastern Sierra that are visible just west of where she lives in Big Pine, CA.  I spent the morning cooking:  eggplant, peppers and basil from her garden with tomatoes, garlic, onions and olive oil in a baked veggie thing. And I made a chicken Bolognese for dinner tonight.  Long simmered Bolognese on egg pasta is one of my favorite comfort foods.  I’m cooking because this is how I connect with myself and it helps sort things out, which I need to do today because I’ve just had a big week. A really big week.

Last Sunday Steff, her friend Valerie and I rode up to Horseshoe Meadows to camp out at 10,000 feet – so I could begin to acclimate for my trip to hike to the top of Mount Whitney – which at 14,508 feet above sea level is the highest point in the lower 48 states.  The inspiration to do this came at Easter when I realized that I’ve been living most of this life, in this body, uncertain of just how strong and safe I really was.  It may be because of how sick I was as an infant, but I’ve always functioned so as to maximize my safety because I feared that I’d not be strong enough – or that I’d even not survive.  I told myself that since I never experienced childbirth I didn’t have the opportunity for that quintessential test of my female body and mind, so I wanted to do something else that would stretch me and have me, as I said know my strength instead of fear my weakness.

I shared all this at the Easter breakfast table and said I was thinking about training to run a marathon.  My sister-in-law Vernona’s mom, Linda said, “oh, running is so hard on your joints, why don’t you hike Mount Whitney?”   My response was:  “I love to hike to the top of things – that’s a great idea.”  That afternoon I found the Sierra Mountain Center on the internet and the following Wednesday I signed up for their women-only trip to hike to Mount Whitney via Cottonwood in August.

I started hiking as much as I could at home, but had no clue if I was doing enough to be in shape for this trip. It involves a total of 60 miles and a total gain (and loss) in elevation of 11,700 feet – over six days.  Joe, Bo and I spent the week before last with his family in Tahoe where I hiked as much as I could. One day I went on my own up to the Squaw Valley resort and hiked from the valley floor up to the top of Squaw Peak – 2,663 feet – in only three hours.  This gave me enough confidence that I likely was in good enough shape to calm myself a little – but I still had no idea how I’d do at such high elevation –  we’d be above 10,000 feet nearly the whole time – nor how I’d hold up with sustained exertion over the six days.

I considered cancelling the trip several times in the last month, including on Monday morning just before heading out.  (Thank you Steff for not letting me!)  I was so anxious – as all the fears that had been inside me all these years were activated by just the idea of attempting something like this.  And these fears were at a fever pitch that morning.   Regardless, I went to meet the other six hikers and the two amazing women who were our guides and set out.  The first two days were relatively easy – five miles with a 1,500 foot ascent and then ten miles, almost all downhill.  We camped the five nights each in a different location: next to three different lakes, near a stream and by one of the lush mountain meadows we passed through.

Here I am, the morning we started, pretty freaked out – and 3 days later at the top of Mt. Whitney.

The days were full, requiring taking down tents, packing our gear and then setting tents back up and unpacking again, all on either end of long days hiking.  On day four we woke at 4am so we could begin the 3,000 foot climb.  We started not long after 5:00 – from Guitar Lake to the summit of Whitney – along the backside trail.  We made it to the top at 11:00, blown by a chilly wind and under a cloudless blue sky.  I was elated.  I was there – no place higher in 48 states – not only that but I felt fine.  No headaches, no nausea, no dizziness.  I was clear-headed and able to take it all in.  I signed the register and took photos and celebrated with my fellow hikers.

Standing next to one of the “windows” on the upper trail. Stunning views – I just couldn’t look straight down!

Hiking to the top was a challenge for sure – sourcing the energy to keep putting one foot in front of the other, as well as the freaky-steep drop offs in places were scary!  But the hardest part came the next day.  Despite all the exertion I didn’t sleep well all week.  It may have been the high elevation or that I wasn’t quite warm enough for the chilly nights, but for whatever reason it felt like I spent more hours awake than asleep inside my sleeping bag.  Though I focused on resting my body and mind as much as I could so I could keep going, there’s nothing that replaces actual sleep.

The lack sleep caught up with me on Friday.  On a break in the middle of the afternoon I had to go find a rock to sit on, turn away from the group and have a good cry.  There weren’t really words for what was behind my tears; they felt more like a release than a plea.  I was just so… incredibly… done.  I was running on fumes to get to the camp for our last night.

I’m so grateful for my tent-mate, Heidi – just after we arrived she encouraged me to join her, along with our guides Barb and Lauren for a plunge into Rock Creek Lake.  I told myself I was going to have the whole experience of this hike – so I stripped down to my jog-bra and undies and sloshed through the marsh in bare feet.  All it took was a suggestion from Lauren to just do it – without deliberating I dove in.   Holy cow! !t was freaking cold!  And I found it’s impossible to be tired in icy water! Everything tingled and I completely forgot my exhaustion.  All perked up, I helped cook our last dinner.

The journey that started at Eastertime and ended yesterday afternoon when we arrived back at the pack station has so challenged me.  It has been really, really hard.  But this is exactly what I signed up for.  I wanted to know my strength, which meant that my strength had to be tested.  There’s more I want to share about this, so my next post will include just what I found so hard about it, what made it worth it and what I’m taking with me as I’ve come down from the mountain.

‘Til then – with my love,

Cara

July 19, 2017 – Pressing Pause

This is me – in 1996 on the island of Brac in Croatia, where my grandparents came from.

I started these posts more than two and a half years ago because I was challenged to.  My coach Lissa Boles challenged me to act in the face of the fears that I’d quit.  A part of me was convinced that I would write for a few weeks or months and then the energy would peter out and I’d be left with an abandoned blog online – for all the world to see that I could not stick with it.  Until two weeks ago, I’d not missed a week.  Every single Tuesday or Wednesday since October 1, 2014 I wrote something brand new for you to read.  I just counted – I’ve written 145 – one hundred and forty five – pieces of writing between 800 and 1500 words long.  I’m reminding myself of this because I’ve come to a decision that wasn’t easy.  I didn’t sleep much last night; I’ve been awake since 2:20 am – wired.  All the thoughts swirling in my head brought me to the conclusion that what’s needed is for me to press pause on posting for a little while.  Here’s why…

It was two weeks ago when the signs first started showing themselves.  We were just back from a wonderfully rich time in Europe with my family and even though I was terribly jet lagged, I hit the ground running.  The week before last, when I first skipped a week writing, I spent the day clearing out the garage and emptying out all the kitchen cabinets.  A remodel of our kitchen was starting the following Monday.  During the weekend that I taught a color workshop, Joe and I finished setting up temporary kitchen facilities in the garage (pantry and sink), side yard, (barbeque, camping stove and pots and pans) and in the dining room (refrigerator, coffee maker, microwave, dishes, silverware and a few things we could use for food prep).  I’m a cook and the kitchen is the place where I re-find my center.  My motto is “when in doubt, cook” and my car happily displays a “Feed People, Cook them Tasty Food” bumper sticker from Penzey’s spices.  We are making do with our temporary setup; we’ve not eaten out yet in the week and a half since construction started.  But without my kitchen-home, I’m just not the same.

Then there are the fleas.  Yes, we have fleas.  We came home to a front yard completely infested with them – likely delivered by a wild critter that had been living in our tree.  Our big black lab Bo had no fleas – until he came home from doggy camp.  Though we made the effort to keep him away from the fleas, and though he has flea medicine in him, and though I’ve bathed him every few days – he has brought them in the house.  I’ve had two fleas crawling out from my hair onto my face in the last two weeks.  Joe is dumping everything he can on the front yard – everything that won’t kill honeybees – Borax, diatomaceous earth, orange oil, rosemary oil – and he has drastically reduced their population, but there are still a few here and there.  As we continue to vacuum and spray orange oil in the house, I still have every little tickle or itch giving me the willies that I have a flea crawling on me – or biting me. This may seem like not a huge deal, but has captivated quite a bit of my attention!

And then there is my hike.  Some of you know that just after Easter I signed up to go on a six day hike in August that will bring me to the summit of Mount Whitney – the highest mountain, not just in California, but in the lower 48 states.  The trip involves hiking a total of 60 miles with overall nearly 12,000 feet of elevation gain – all between 10,000 and 14,500 feet.  I started training this spring, but since recovering from jet lag, I’ve been really pushing my body.  Working on getting a 55 year old body in shape has me realizing how recovery and energy are so not the same as when I was 30.  I’m doing pretty well – I hiked 23 miles and 3300 feet of elevation this past weekend.  Yesterday Bo and I hiked three and a half miles up 1,679 feet in about an hour and a half – and then the same back home in less than an hour.  There will be a post about this experience – it’s been a whole lot more than just getting in physical shape – but that will come later.  For now, all this additional hiking and getting geared up is taking my attention too.

I continue to paint, but very little.  I love to paint, but none of us are painting machines.  It will have to wait too.  What I came to in the middle of the night is that I must take to heart what I’m up to in this life – my deep intention to live a more feminine path.  There is so much talk of bringing in the feminine while actually still operating in the masculine in the world of new age spirituality that I’ve been part of. It’s easy to do, we are steeped in a masculine culture – but it so misses the point.  We must remember that the feminine, like the Earth, has seasons.  The moon has phases, women’s bodies have cycles and there are periods of gestation in bringing in new life.  The feminine does not create every day, every week, every month, every year – without cessation.  It is not her way.

In the past 33 months I’ve shown you – and more importantly I’ve shown myself – that I have the capacity to be faithful in my work.  So now, I’m going to give myself a rest from creating – at least from writing – until my world and my body come back to a more settled state and rhythm.  In the meantime, there are 145 posts here for you to peruse.  I may be back after my hike in August.  We will see.  But I’m giving myself the option of waiting until after the Sausalito Art Festival on Labor Day Weekend.

I wish you summer – I wish you rest – I wish you color and light and life.  I send you my love,

Cara

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