November 15, 2017 – Human Beauty in NYC

This is a *mosaic* in a New York City subway station.

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My Mama and I have just returned from four days in Brooklyn, New York City and New Jersey.  The catalyst was the opportunity to see Joseph Raffael’s art in- person at an exhibition in a gallery in Chelsea.  But the real heart of the visit was the chance to spend time with loved ones.  We spent the weekend with my niece Leigh and her partner Lena.  Then on Monday I went to Midtown to meet up with Randi, my former roommate from college – ours is my longest standing friendship.  After an evening in the City I stayed overnight at her place deep in the countryside of New Jersey.  (Yes there are parts of New Jersey that are very beautiful!)  It was a good trip.  And what is sticking with me is not anything we saw or did, but all the ways that I witnessed and participated in people being good to each other.

We saw the apartment Leigh and Lena share with two others in Brooklyn, we got to meet Lena’s mom, Lynn, over so-good butternut squash and kale pizza – every single thing we ate all weekend was delicious; we rode the subway every day and we walked in Central Park and Prospect Park near their place in Brooklyn.  We saw Joseph’s beautiful watercolors of flowers and some absolutely incredible mosaics in two new subway stations.  We watched skaters at two different rinks and wandered through a holiday market.  New York does itself up for the holidays like nowhere else.  It’s early in the season, so we got just a taste.  I went to the New York City Public Library for the first time.  The Rose Reading Room and its paintings of clouds on the ceiling are so beautiful!  There are certainly no libraries anything like it on the West Coast! Our time together was rich and full.

New York City and the surrounding area is a lot.  It’s busy, noisy, active, incredibly stimulating.  Most of what there is to see has been created by humans – buildings, bridges, vehicles – much of it devoid of color.  I said to my mom that there is no way I could find myself happy living there.  It overwhelms me.  All big cities are this way to a certain extent, but New York, with Times Square and Broadway and all the flashing lights and honking taxis seems even more big-city than any other I’ve been to.  Amidst all this big-city-ness I noticed something else for the first time this trip: the vast majority of people there deal with all the inconveniences and struggles and they treat each other pretty well.  I witnessed people helping a mother with a baby in a stroller navigating the stairs of a subway station.  I was offered assistance myself when I was trying to negotiate the turn-styles with my suitcase in the subway.  Leigh helped a woman who was flummoxed about trains not running because of repair work.  The reputation New Yorkers have for being brusque and un-caring wasn’t on display for me.

We took several Lyft rides and my mom asked each of them where they were from – some had accents, or wore head wraps, prompting the question.  The driver who picked us up early Saturday morning (we had taken the red-eye) from the AirTrain station was from the Ivory Coast.  I got to speak French with him and we discovered that we have the same birthday, one year apart!  This big black guy called me his sista!  One head-wrapped driver actually was born in Brooklyn, but his family was from Yemen.  Mama asked him if he experiences any anti-Muslim sentiment there.  He said New York is so diverse that people are used to people who look like him, so no, not really.  New York is diverse – there are twice as many people of color there than there are whites.  Forced by circumstance to live and make their way in the world with people who look nothing like them seems to be a good thing.  New York has not always been this way, I know.  But there seems to be something to learn from them as it is today.

My Beloved Brooklyn People – I love how dear they are with each other.

Part of this observation of mine stems from the fact that we see what we expect to see.  If we believe that we have to be on guard out in the world, then we see everyone as a threat.  These days I am making a conscious effort to see beauty everywhere I can.  And though I don’t find cities all that beautiful, I feel more at home surrounded by more nature, I found beauty in the people in New York.  I learned from Alison Armstrong that when I hear a voice inside complaining about the lack of something, to ask myself the question:  How is what I’m finding lacking actually there?  For example:  if I find New York lacking beauty, I ask myself the question:  How is New York beautiful?  It turns out it was there – in art and food and in my Beloved Brooklyn People – and in the way that people are good to each other.

With my love and in beauty,

Cara

November 8, 2017 – One place at a time

I may never paint this rose, but I was drawn to its strange beauty and the way it was lit by the last-of-the-day sunlight. Seconds after I took this, the sun sunk behind the trees for the night.

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I wasn’t raised with poetry.  Though, we did have Mother Goose and I remember reading Robert Louis Stevenson’s “A Child’s Garden of Verses” at a friend’s house.  But apart from that, Mom read us story books.  I had two friends from middle childhood through high school who loved poetry.  Whenever they would read or write poems I knew I didn’t belong.  My family was into science, knowledge of the natural world and making stuff.  It wasn’t until I was going to the Fairfax Community Church in my late 30’s that I discovered poets and their poetry:  Rumi, Hafiz, Mary Oliver, David Whyte among others.  I still cannot imagine ever attempting to write any poetry, but I have come to appreciate the insight, richness and just the simple pleasure it brings.

On Being’s Poetry Radio Project page starts with this:

Poetry, David Whyte says, is language against which we have no defense.
We inhabit a moment in which defended language is practically all we know, and so we are re-learning our basic human need of poetry to flourish.

This feels like my life.  Defended language was practically all I knew as long as I was certain that my rational mind could get me through anything.  As my path showed me otherwise and took me deeper into the undefended parts of me, the gift in poetry was a welcome discovery.

My own words aren’t flowing in great measure today, so I thought I’d share with you some of my favorites.  These poems are loved by many – so they are likely to be very familiar to some of you.  For me they are worth reading over and over, so take them as you wish.  Here goes…

For those of us who feel compelled to go around being “good” all the dang time, permission to simply love what the “soft animal of our bodies” love is nothing less than amazing.  Thank you, Mary Oliver, for this and SO many other poems that accompany our souls through life.

Wild Geese – by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

I’m so taken by the fact that this next one was written by a man.  This poem had me take as my very own the word “loveliness.”  And, though I never nursed any children, I can still viscerally relate to the experience of lying in the muck, having those around me feed off of me – a state that feels so far from anything close to loveliness.  This poem is a benediction, a blessing, to those of us living in a body that is designed to nurture others first.  As you read it, imagine being that sow.

Saint Francis and the Sow – by Galway Kinnell

The bud
stands for all things,
even for those things that don’t flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on the brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;
as Saint Francis
put his hand on the creased forehead
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch
blessings of the earth on the sow, and the sow
began remembering all down her thick length,
from the earthen snout all the way
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail,
from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine
down through the great broken heart
to the blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering
from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking
and blowing beneath them:
the long, perfect loveliness of sow.

This last one has come to me more recently.  When I discovered it, I related it to my friend Vicki and her courage to go to Africa and help women survivors of sexual violence.  I’ve decided that one doesn’t have to go that far to be brave.  I’m claiming this poem for what I’m up to as well.  I’ll have more to say about how this is very soon.

Mameen – by David Whyte

Be infinitesimal under that sky,
a creature even the sailing hawk misses,
a wraith among the rocks where the mist parts slowly.
Recall the way mere mortals are overwhelmed by circumstance,
how great reputations dissolve with infirmity
and how you, in particular,
live a hairsbreadth from losing everyone you hold dear.

Then, look back down the path as if seeing your past
and then south over the hazy blue coast
as if present to a wide future,
recall the way you are all possibilities you can see
and how you live best as an appreciator of horizons
whether you reach them or not,
admit that once you have got up from your chair
and opened the door,
once you have walked out into the clean air
toward that edge
and taken the path up high
beyond the ordinary
you have become the privileged and the pilgrim
the one who will tell the story and the one,
coming back from the mountain,
who helped to make it.

Every other Wednesday morning at 7am I am part of a conference call with women from my coaching group.  I love these calls; they are less structured than our official coaching calls, but every bit as supportive.  We are changed by being seen and gotten in the way we do for each other.  But today, so that I could make an appointment at 8am, I needed to get exercise with Bo at the same time as our call.  I’ve called in with my cellphone and ear buds while I’m out with Bo plenty of times before.  But today a voice in me said:  do one thing at a time, be one place at a time.  I, like most women, am an accomplished multitasker, but I still cannot offer the kind of attention to Bo, to the patch of Earth I’m walking through, even to the sensations of my own body, if I’m listening and conversing with people who are thousands of miles away.

This voice may have been spawned from having read several poems before going to bed last night.  Reading poetry has me see how poets must pay attention – how they must be in a particular state of receptivity in order to perceive with such sensitivity.  It’s the same with painting.  And I’ve not been honoring this.  I’ve been splitting my attention with my painting time for a long while.  It used to be that all I did was listen to music while I painted. But I’ve been listening to talking – radio programs, audiobooks, people on the phone – as I’ve been making my art.  I’ve claimed that painting is my meditation, it’s my spiritual practice.  But the way I’ve been doing it, it hasn’t been feeling like spiritual nourishment.

Doesn’t it seem like time and the pace of life is accelerating?  And that there is ever more clamoring for our attention?  In the face of this, I’m wondering what difference it would make if I went back to only listening to music as I painted – for a while at least.  Just writing that has one part of me rise up in protest (when else will I ingest the contents of the books I never have time read???), and another is feeling so… very… relieved.  I also see there are so many other ways I might re-think the multi-tasking I do on a regular basis:  eating and driving, eating and reading the paper, reading email on the fly… it goes on.

I’m not promising that this will turn me into a poet – but – I’m a big believer in listening to – and heeding – the voices inside us that rise up out of the blue with a request or a new direction to take.  These voices are our souls speaking to us.  As Donna has told me over and over again:  to not hear them is one thing, but to hear them and ignore them is to live three rungs below hell.  I’m all for attending to my soul before finding myself there – as much as I possibly can.  You too?

With my love,
Cara

November 1, 2017 – Making friends with challenge

The view of Bon Tempe Lake I was rewarded with this past Sunday morning after huffing and puffing up a steep grade near where I live.

My hope and intention when I decided to hike 60 miles up and back to the summit of Mount Whitney this summer was to give myself a physical test.  I wanted to know the strength in my body.  Though it did take stamina and I ran out of energy on day 5 because I didn’t sleep well at the high elevation, the time spent hiking was pretty do-able.  I’d trained enough and the relatively slow pace our guides set for us meant that I never found myself reaching the point where I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do it.  That test came when I was in my early 20’s.

In the late 70’s, early 80’s my parents were quite involved with EST.  They did the Training and The 6-Day which inspired my mom to offer to pay for any of her four kids who wanted to do these programs.  It was September 1984 and I had just finished college.  I still had my suntan from spending the summer with my boyfriend travelling with a backpack around Europe when I drove up to the 6-Day retreat center off of Mark West Springs Road in north Santa Rosa.  (I wonder if it’s still there after the fires that just raged through that canyon?)

I remember very little about the time spent in the seminar room; what has stuck with me are the memories of the physical activities.  Every morning we had to run a mile up and around a fairly steep road that circled the camp.  Whether or not we were in physical condition to run, we had to pick up our feet, no walking, even on the steep part!  There were people lining the sides of the road yelling at us not to stop.  This was EST – so it was pretty intense!  One day of the six was spent on a three-event ropes course: a zip line, a short rappel down a rock face and a Tyrolean traverse.  I felt jitters standing on the platform before jumping off the zip line, but flying down to the field below was a completely thrilling experience.  And I loved the rappel – I found it super fun and freeing bouncing back off the rocks.  But the Tyrolean traverse pushed me in a way I’ve not been pushed – before or since.

Crossing a river via Tyrolean traverse. (Image from Flickr).

A Tyrolean traverse is, according to Wikipedia, a method of crossing through free space between two high points on a rope.  Hanging from the center of your body from the rope, you kick off across the canyon, head first, pulling yourself hand over hand on the rope above your head, feet and legs dangling. The first part was fun – an easy glide down. Across the middle it got a bit harder, but I did fine.  The challenge came in getting myself back up the other side, using just the strength of my arms.  This was so incredibly hard! I was convinced that I did not have the strength to do it.

Again there was the cheering/yelling section telling me to keep going – and to stop trying to use my feet to propel me along the rope – and to stop telling myself I couldn’t do this.  I was pulling with all my might and I was going nowhere.  Though I was not quite 23 years old and had just carried a backpack for three months, my arms just weren’t up to the task; my natural strength has always been in my lower body.  Ultimately, I did do it; I remember sort of coming-to on the other side, amid the cheering of my group.  But the act of actually pulling my body up that damned rope happened in a complete memory black-out.  I ended up being very thankful that this was our group’s first event and it was all downhill from there (actually the other two events literally were all downhill!).

Reflecting on this experience more than 30 years later, I don’t feel a great sense of accomplishment.  I do appreciate knowing that when pushed, I did do more than I thought I could, but I still find it sort of disturbing that it was so hard for me that I have zero memory of actually doing it.  Possibly because I don’t remember feeling any sense of triumph, it wasn’t enough to have satisfied me that I am strong.  I still felt the need for the Mount Whitney experience.

I stayed with my friend Stephanie before and after the Whitney hike.  I got back to her place late in the afternoon on Saturday, the last day of the hike.  All I wanted was to take a shower, to wash my filthy clothes and to rest.  She worked part of the day on Sunday, so I spent some time writing about the experience to share with you.  When Steff came home, she wanted to take me to where she and her puppy dog, Chumley hike.  A short, steep drive back up to the eastern flank of the Sierra Nevada mountains near her house in Big Pine and I was hiking – again!  With my hiking boots and poles, heading up a steep, switchback trail… I had just done 60 miles and 11,700 feet of elevation gain (and loss) and here I was the next day, hiking!

The trail and the view that was the reward – the day after my big hike.

I remember saying to Steff that I felt differently about hiking uphill than before I started my training in the spring.  I used to dread hills – voices in my head telling me: stop here, this is far enough, you’ve done enough – before I was at the top.  These voices were constant!  But after getting through many steep ascents, one step at a time, this shifted.  I realized I had a new relationship with challenging myself.

Looking at all of this today, I see the contrast between these two experiences.  With the Tyrolean traverse there was no reward other than having gotten to the other side.  Whereas hiking hills nearly always ends in taking in a spectacular view – beauty is motivating!  I was elated taking in the 360-degree view from the top of Mount Whitney.  There was also a difference in the spirit of the support I was given.  I didn’t find the cheering very helpful; I remember feeling like I was wrong for my wanting to give up – no understanding or even acknowledgement of it.

I wonder what would have happened if instead of yelling at me, the leader or someone I trusted had quietly spoken to me, honoring my struggle and then asked me to go deep inside myself and find the place where more strength than I knew I had was to be found.  I bet I’d have remembered getting to the other side.  I didn’t end up needing this kind of support from our Whitney guides – I chose to get myself through my exhausted hours on my own, but I witnessed them supporting others through hard spots – and the quality of the interaction – the kindness and connection with my fellow hikers – was loving and lovely.

Doing what’s hard is… hard.  It’s a lot easier to not take on our challenges.  And I’m convinced that doing so is what it means to be really alive.  What I’ve learned from these physical tests applies to doing other things – like learning to paint and pushing ourselves to take on greater challenge with our art.  The support and the environment so matters.  It helps enormously to have the struggle normalized.  We fantasize about our time painting that it will be pure bliss, immersed in the colors, watching the art take shape.  There is some of that, but it comes with a lot of challenge mixed in.   And this is ok.  It’s good, actually.  Otherwise you never scale a mountain or have the equal thrill of making art that astonishes you.

The idea, I’ve learned, is to become friends with challenge.  This doesn’t mean that it’s ok for challenge to knock us on our ass – which isn’t very friend-like.  Having compassionate support that keeps you in the game is key here.  But we also can’t be friends with challenge if we avoid it at all costs – which is where being brave comes in.  The nature of our friendship with challenge is quite individual.  We each have unique needs from our friendships.  It’s up to you to decide how much to take on and what kind of support you need.  Drill-sergeant may be what does it for you!

Looking at challenge as a friend – or as a potential friend can shift everything.  So, what challenge is before you?  What challenge can you shake hands with and get to know better?  I promise you (and myself) what we really want is found on the other side.

With my love and my brave – and in beauty,

Cara

October 25, 2017 – A story of two bears

Annie and Eric’s two bears.

Last weekend poking around online, I came upon a New York Times interview of Tom Hanks.  It’s entertaining and charming – like he is.  He’s just written a book of short stories – Nora Ephron was his writing coach; she admonished:  “voice, voice, voice!”  The part that has stayed with me isn’t so much about his book or his take on Harvey Weinstein and Donald Trump.  He said something about himself that has given me a new piece in support of my commitment to a return to beauty in our world.

His interviewer asked him if it’s hard when everyone expects him to be nice.  He responded:

“I think I am! I’m sorry!” he says, laughing.  “I think I give everybody a fair shake.  But I will tell you this, and there’s plenty of people who can attest to it, don’t take advantage of my good nature, because the moment that you do, you’re gone, you’re history.  I mean, look, I’m not a sap.  I’m not naïve.  At least I don’t think I am.  I understand that part of it is my nature, part of it is my DNA, part of it is the sum total of everything I went through, and it came out O.K.  But part of it is a choice that just says, How do I want to spend my day?  How do I want to spend these hours, pissed off at something or you just kind of let it roll off you.  But don’t take advantage of my good nature because if you do, it will come back to haunt you and you will hear from me in no uncertain terms.  I’ve yelled at people.”  Even used vulgarities.

Especially for people in the public eye, it’s quite acceptable to be edgy, snarky and sarcastic.  We almost expect it.  I have to believe that this has contributed to the derision and division we are experiencing. There is a belief that if someone is kind and genuine, if they reveal themselves that they will be taken advantage of or ridiculed.  Given this, I really like what he said.  A lot.  He’s a really nice guy and isn’t ashamed of it.  But I also really appreciate that this isn’t all.  He has a gate keeper, a protector for his niceness.  We assume that if someone is nice they’re defenseless – and Tom Hanks is not.

Then another thing came across my radar.  Artists Eric Rewitzer and Annie Galvin, of 3 Fish Studios in San Francisco, are friends of my dear friend Pamela.  We all sat at the same table at Pamela and Gerry’s wedding years ago.  We reconnected through my artist friend Kathleen Lipinski, who happens to be Eric’s cousin (I love our small world) when Eric showed his art at the Sausalito Art Festival the past few years.  Last week I was on Facebook and learned they launched a fundraiser for relief efforts for those impacted by the fires here in Northern California.  In two days they sold $50,000 worth of Annie’s “I Love California” prints!  And with a friend’s matching funds are donating a total of $100,000!  One HUNDRED thousand dollars!  (Here’s the story from the SF Chronicle.)  They asked for volunteers to help print, trim, package and ship all these sweet bear prints.  Super inspired by them and wanting to play in all this goodness, I did a stint to help out in their studio on Monday afternoon – when I had the chance to ask Eric about his California Rising bear appearing in Time Magazine.

In response to the election of Donald Trump as president, Eric carved another bear – a roaring bear showing its teeth and claws.  Annie painted California poppies along the bottom and scripted the words published by the leaders of the California Legislature the day after the election:

“California was not part of this nation when its history began, but we are now clearly the keeper of its future.”

One thing led to another and Kevin de Léon, the leader of the California Senate spent a couple of hours in their studio, sleeves rolled up, as Eric pulled a print of the bear.  Sometime later, a Time Magazine reporter was in de Léon’s offices in Sacramento working on the story of California’s resistance to the national political sea change when they went to deliver Senator de Léon’s California Rising print.  The next visitor to 3 Fish Studios in the City, was that Time reporter.  The article begins:

Like many of the other nearly 9 million people in California who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, artist Eric Rewitzer reacted to Donald Trump’s victory as if a tornado had swept his house away.  “I just didn’t believe he was serious,” says the longtime San Francisco resident.  “And I didn’t see it coming.”  As disbelief gave way to sadness and then anger, the bespectacled printmaker found himself sitting at the table in the middle of his studio just blocks from the Pacific Ocean.  He and his wife are known for their prints of a sweet “California bear,” a version of the grizzly on the state’s flag that likes to give hugs and sells very well at airport souvenir shops.  But after he spent 40 hours carving and pressing a giant sheet of linoleum, a vastly changed animal appeared—roaring, teeth glaring, claws out.  “You’ve stirred a beast,” says the usually sweet and soft-spoken Rewitzer.  “Watch out.”

I believe that we – purposefully – have both of these bears in us.  The thing is, though, most of us are wired to express one or the other.  So, it’s inspiring, riveting even, when we reveal the parts of ourselves that we don’t ordinarily show.  If we go around roaring and clawing all the time, the world pays attention when we are kind and gentle.  And If we, like my heroes Tom Hanks and Eric and Annie, are genuinely nice people, the world pays attention when we step up – even when we show our teeth – when it truly matters to us.

California Rising keeping watch in my studio.

No reasonable person would say that the world needs less kindness, sweetness and genuineness.  3 Fish Studios is shipping thousands of huggy bears because of our nature to care for each other.  But earlier this year they shipped out a whole lot of the rising bear too.  It’s also our nature to be fierce – even if it’s not expected from some of us.  I had a college roommate call me “Corny Cara” because of the silly songs I’d sing all the time.  I’ve spent a lot of my life believing that I wasn’t powerful, or as powerful.  When I look at this postcard sitting here on my painting table of the rising bear, I feel that bear in me – the one who will stand up for life, for beauty in all the ways I experience it.

The power of art.

With my love – and my ferocity,

Cara

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.

Listen to this post:

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!

Listen to this post:

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

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