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

July 12, 2017 – When it’s hard to focus

Some of the light and color that caught my eye on our trip.

Joe and I have been back a week and a half from a rich and full trip to Paris and several places in Italy with my family.  Since coming home life has been full – working with Carla, our bookkeeper, Fourth of July activities, getting everything out of the kitchen for the start of a remodel, dealing with a front yard that is infested with fleas (!) and preparing for and teaching a color workshop last weekend – on top of my regular groups.  Plus – there has been the jet lag.  I usually have no problem coming west, but I’ve been just done every evening since we flew home – though it’s been just 7pm, it may as well have been midnight for as tired as I am.  This has meant that I’ve barely painted since a few days before we left on June 22.  I’ve not gone three weeks without painting in so long I can’t remember – I know it has been years.

Spending time in my studio making art has become part of what makes me feel like me.  And even though this is the case, it’s still easy for me to be pulled away from it.  I look at my studio – which has become a dumping ground for everything that I don’t know what to do with – as we’ve made the dining room into a temporary kitchen/pantry – and I wistfully imagine myself sitting at my painting table, listening to music and working the colors on the paper to make something come through.  Why can’t I get myself to get in there and paint?

Yesterday morning I read last Friday’s Painter’s Keys post.  Sara told a story about Warren Buffett and Bill Gates.  They were asked independently if there was one single word that described what helped them the most in their lives.  They both came up with the same word: focus.  Focus.  Yes, I can see how letting all distractions fall away, or ignoring them, or operating in the face of them towards a singular aim would contribute to mastery, to one’s success.  As I then hiked up the hill with Bo, I pondered what focusing is for me – it is necessary that I focus in the process of painting, but I also need to focus in order to organize and commit to the act of painting.  If I am to paint, I must look away from email, clear the clutter in my space, get out my palette and put clean water in my container – brushes, paint, image. Go.

Yet, things clamor for my attention and it’s so easy for that focus to evaporate.  A few more paces up the hill, I remind myself I am a feminine-oriented being – and we don’t have the natural ability to focus as much as masculine-oriented beings do.  Biologically we are still the gatherers.  Hunters are wired to keep their attention trained on the deer.  They aren’t just ignoring – it goes further – they have the capacity to not even take in what is occurring peripherally – as if it weren’t even happening.

Gatherers, on the other hand, have brains that are made to mind the little ones, dig roots, collect the ripe berries all the while keeping an ear out for predators.  I had the thought that if indeed what it takes to become a Bill Gates or a Warren Buffett is focus, then it’s no accident they are both males – both hunters.  It’s no wonder then that feminine people don’t wield nearly as much influence in the material world.  A part of me doesn’t know whether to feel relieved – as it is so hard because I’m not made to easily focus – or if I should be depressed that gatherers may never have their influence, unless how we are wired changes.

(I feel compelled to remind you that I don’t mean all men and all women in what I’m saying here. Everyone knows men who have a hard time focusing and women who seem to quite easily – I was born to one.  Still, the majority of women are innately feminine and most men operate from the masculine. On top of this how we see and express gender is exploding which blurs the differences.  Nevertheless, regardless of biological gender, these ways of operating are real and I find it helpful to see their distinctions.)

It is my deep belief that the theme for the life I’m living this go round is to seek balance and harmony between the masculine and the feminine – both within myself and in my relationships with others.  Until fairly recently, I’ve lived my adult life in a way that was more masculine (active, goal-oriented, practical, efficient), than meets with my innate rhythms.  In the last seven years I’ve learned about what it means to be and live from the feminine.  I have experienced a shift in both what it feels like to be me, and in how I operate.  I do focus less readily on tasks, but I also intuit a whole lot more and see patterns and connections.  And I feel people and situations more deeply. And what is most visible to my outer world is that my tuner has been reset – to pick up light, color and beauty.

Sara Genn’s post revealed something else about Warren Buffett.  She quotes him as saying:  “I can’t tell you the color of the walls in my bedroom or my living room, I don’t have a mind that relates to the physical universe well.”  We cannot be everything.  Warren Buffett is Warren Buffet because he’s not distracted from his pursuits – from his focus – by his physical surroundings.

I’m (slowly) learning that life goes better when we lean into who we are.  Which leads to something else she quoted Warren Buffett as saying:  Warren says he focuses on his “circle of competence.”  He says “I don’t worry about things that are outside that circle.”  We don’t think about it this way, but what if seeing beauty, feeling deeply, sensing the infinite – what if being feminine is a “competence?”  What if our future needs for more of us to focus on the feminine circle of competence – instead of just getting more done (which for me even includes making more paintings)?

Two people who are viewed as highly successful each identified focus as the quality that helped them amass gigantic financial wealth and power.  And we admire them because they use their wealth and power to care for those who suffer and are in need.  Most of us will never amass their billions.  But we can still do what is ours to do – we can live our own lives, using whatever capacity we have to focus on our sweet spots.  I see today this is my expanding feminine circle of competence.  I will continue to garner my limited capacity to focus, to pull myself away from the distractions that keep me from painting.  And, I remind myself that for me art-making happens in the context of a lifetime that is up to something else – one that is about endeavoring to bring beauty and understanding and love – to the extent that one person can.

With my love for you –

Cara

July 5, 2017 – 10,000 hours – sticking with it

Mama (Niz) and me with Kaleidoscope – it won second place at the fair!

This is a re-post from June 7, 2016 – 13 months ago.  It’s late again today – the holiday yesterday and a project that had to be done today kept me away from writing.  I’m still not quite on this time zone after a very wonder-ful trip to Italy.  So, I’ve decided to do something I’ve not yet done – repeat a post from the past, rather than attempt to write as a zombie.  Whether you remember it or not, I hope you find it useful.

It’s late.  I’ve not started a post this late on a Tuesday since I started writing every week.  I’m working against a deadline on this painting and last night I got the somewhat crazy idea that I might be able to finish it by late this afternoon- when I had an opportunity to have it captured for my reproductions.  I painted until about 10:45 – which may not be all that late for some, but I’m a morning person and when I noticed I was, as I call it, “stupid painting” I knew it was time to get to bed.  I was back at it at 6 this morning and painted until about 2:00 at which point I was able to make other arrangements for it to be scanned this weekend instead today.  Whew!

The good news is that I made serious progress on the painting and I watched myself focus in a way that I’m not sure I have on a painting before.  Not that I can remember anyway.  I did stop for some exercise with Bo and to feed my brain healthy food, but I stayed with my painting like it was a patient that needed my care.  I avoided putting away the dishes, I didn’t check email, I didn’t play spider solitaire like I do some evenings before painting (did I really write that!?).  I painted:  this petal, then one two over, then another layer on that one, soften edges on that one there.  More quinacridone rose on one I painted last night – darker on the nooks and crannies on those lower blue ones.  I just kept going.

After I realized I was given a reprieve on getting it done today, I picked up other balls I’d dropped (including getting to the polls to vote!).  I’ve just returned from the reception for a show of Paulette Engler’s beautiful watercolors.  (Check out her gorgeous website.)  Paulette is a steadfast member of our Thursday group and is a prolific and dedicated painter.  She calls herself addicted.  When I’m going to be away she makes sure to have plenty of work drawn and ready to paint, for fear of being without.  She paints just about daily at home in between Thursday sessions.  And it shows.  Paulette’s work has evolved markedly in the 4 ½ years she’s been painting with us.  There is no substitute for time in.  But, in addition to the time, she also is very intent on growing as an artist – in skill and expression.

Last night while I was painting I listened to an interesting interview – no, not more Krista Tippet – this time it was Jonathan Fields the host of the Good Life Project podcast.  Jonathan Fields is also a wonderful collector of amazing people.  This one was a conversation with Anders Ericsson, the researcher who is the source of the 10,000 hours to mastery that Malcolm Gladwell made into conventional thinking in his book “The Outliers.”  It turns out that it takes more than spending a whole lot of hours to get really good at something.  It matters how we spend those hours.

Anders Ericsson illuminated this by comparing playing tennis doubles for enjoyment and exercise vs. playing tennis and practicing to become a great tennis player with a coach.  If we hit or serve the ball unskillfully, a coach will take us through it and point out how to do it better.  But if we are playing for fun, we likely will not pay as close attention to what we did and won’t learn as quickly.  If we practice our 10,000 hours with this level attention and intention we progress much more rapidly.  I can’t help but think about this when looking at Paulette’s body of work, her dedication to Thursdays and the questions she asks – she doesn’t just want praise, she wants pointed feedback.

Anders Ericsson said something else that caught my ear:  he sees college students, in order to decide what path to take, seeking out what their gifts might be – as if we are born with all our abilities.  (I remind people I have a computer science degree and had no idea this art was in me until I started really painting.)  He went so far as to say the only qualities from birth we should concern ourselves with are our physical size and shape.  Regardless of how much focused practice, a short person wouldn’t make a good forward in the NBA, and a big person doesn’t make a good jockey in horse racing.  Instead, he suggested we look for what we are interested in, what we want to do – and I’d say what we love.  It is this desire that naturally springs from the center of us that gives us the fuel to keep going for all those hours of focused practice.

Jonathan Fields asked him what helps people keep going through what can be grueling work – all those hours of practice.  His answer was:  progress.  We are motivated by marking our improvements over time.  I so appreciate discovering information like this interview that supports what I see every week.  Some might think I gush a lot over my artists’ work.  But I firmly believe that every effort is worth celebrating.  I’ve seen enough budding artists arrive with nearly paralyzing fear at just putting paint onto paper.  And I’ve talked to others who haven’t yet made it through the door.

Intimidation is a serious hurdle.  We all have a hope, if not a fully-formed vision of how we want our artwork to come out.  My experience is that we are never further from that hope or vision than when we first start.  There are all levels of artist in our groups, so it’s easy for a brand new painter to compare her work to that of more experienced artists and note how far she has to go.  But when compared to someone who has never painted anything at all, making a whole painting, based upon an image she’s chosen, maybe even one she captured herself – of something she loves – is an enormous accomplishment.  It is big progress, right from the start.  And it’s also encouraging for new artists to see the early work of other artists (including me) and the progress that we’ve made in our work by putting in the time. We all start at the beginning.

This brings me to how much a supportive environment matters.  To grow we have to try new things, let ourselves have new experiences.  To let in what’s new we need to open ourselves – and we open much more readily when we feel safe.  Then, as time goes on, we keep growing when our achievements are celebrated and our progress is noted – at least by ourselves.  But, it’s my experience that the impact is considerably greater when we have a tribe to cheer us on.  There were eight other artists from our groups – plus a few husbands – who were there for Paulette this evening – appreciating her accomplishment, her beautiful work and cheering her on.  There is no way she’s going to stop painting anytime soon.

Whether or not any of us will spend our 10,000 hours or reach anything near mastery, all effort is worthy.  Progress builds upon itself.  We have paintings to show for it – our gift to the world.  Plus we end up changed along the way.

Here’s to all of our creative unfolding.  Now, go.  Paint your love.

Cara

June 28, 2017 – Stone Soup Art

“Kaleidoscope – the work of: Robin Bentel, Sondra Blake, Jean Brady, Cara Brown, Niz Brown, Shannon Brown, Karen Burkland, Maria Carlile, Sue Devinny, Velda Draper, Ann Eichhorn, Paulette Engler, Heather Hughes, Ann Jessen, Virginie Kortekaas, Suzie Lahr, Pam Marcucci, Madeleine Meyer, Win Normandi, Janice Pinkston, Sue Rink, Adrienne Rogers, Marielee Rogers, Susie Rosenberg, Valerie Showa, Lenore Stormes, Gwen Toso, Tania Walters and Pat Windom.”

The Magnolias – the artists who paint at 537 Magnolia Avenue in Larkspur – have made our first collaborative painting.  It started on the last day of March – a Friday.  Adrienne Rogers, (who has been coming over to Marin from Lafayette in the East Bay to paint with us most Fridays since the very first Friday in 2012) and I were chatting about what we might do – creatively, as a group.  We have been tossing about the idea that we might all make a painting from the same image.  This would be interesting – to see how each of us would make paintings that reflected our individual style and inclinations.  But then I’d be concerned about the tendency to compare – especially those who have not been painting as long.  We can be so hard on ourselves.  Then… another idea popped up.

I recalled a project I helped do with a friend’s son’s fifth grade class.  We drew an intricate drawing of a tree on a large piece of art paper.  It had lots of branches and roots, lots of shapes to play with.  Then we divided the drawing up into squares, giving each student one to paint.  Putting the squares back together made a really fun and exciting piece of art.  Adrienne is a retired school teacher and has an adventurous creative spirit – she loved this idea.  She got really enthusiastic about it which energized me.  So, right then, we went in search of an image.  We wanted it to have interesting shapes throughout – without large sections of background with nothing going on.  I gathered a few flower photos and showed them to the group that day, expanded on the wall with the projector.

The image we chose and the little photos sitting on their squares – ready to paint.

We landed upon this white dahlia whose photo I took in my friend Leslie’s amazing Pearl Street garden in Sausalito.  By the next Tuesday, I had drawn it and divided it into 36 5”x5” squares – numbered so that we’d know how it went back together.  I made a print on my giclee paper of the white dahlia and cut it into the corresponding squares.  I sent an email out to 36 artists – all who paint with some regularity in our space in Larkspur on either Thursdays, Fridays or Saturdays.  I invited each of them to participate and claim a particular square if they wanted one in particular.  I asked them to honor the whites, the lights and the darks within the shapes of the drawing; beyond that, I encouraged everyone to use color as they were so inspired.  The regulars on Thursday and Friday jumped right in, with a couple of artists painting their square that first week.  A few of them took a bit of cajoling to step up to paint one.  A couple of relatively new painters were afraid their square wouldn’t measure up.  But I wanted for everyone who was at all inclined to play.

It was so fun watching it grow!

It was so exciting to see it start to take shape.  Each individual square is quite abstract; many of them are not even recognizable as part of a flower.  So, in order to see the flower as a flower it took having a certain number of squares completed.  As more of them came in, I got more and more excited – and more impatient!  But, we had to wait for the monthly Saturday group to meet – and for a few who were away to return.  I sent two squares off in the mail – one to Valerie Showa (Thursday evening group) in San Francisco and another to the cattle ranch in Kansas, where Jan Pinkston (Friday group) spends part of her time.  And Velda Draper (Friday group) came back from wintering in Arizona just in time to paint a square.  Not all 36 of the artists on the original email signed on to the project so several of the regulars did two squares, and the end result was the work of 29 different artists including my mom, Niz, and me.

Once every square was in hand, it was time to have it framed in a way that really showed it off.  We played with different sized spaces dividing the squares.  At first I had them too far apart; it was amazing to see the difference bringing them closer made.  To float each square separately, I spent a lot of tedious time making slightly smaller squares out of foam core and attempting to adhere one to the back of each square.  The first type of tape I used didn’t work, so I had do re-do it all.  They still kept popping up – the squares are on thick, 300lb paper, which after getting wet when it is painted, doesn’t like to be flat again.  The painting spent the night under glass and then another under stacks of books, which helped a lot.  I stuck the squares in the correct order on to a large piece of foam core and took it in to be scanned and framed.

I tried flattening the paper under a sheet of glass. It was so great to see all the squares back together.

We – as a collective – entered it in the Marin County Fair Fine Art Exhibition – and it has been accepted! They have a special category called Kaleidoscope – in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love – for abstract and psychedelic art.  When I read the name of the category it seemed a fitting title for our creation.  I took it to the fairgrounds to be juried over the weekend of June 17th, and the people who run the fine art show were mightily impressed with it.  It will be so fun to see it during the fair!  (For those of you who plan to go, it should be in the Exhibit Hall where our flower show was – where they hang the special theme art – not where the main exhibit is.)

This piece of art has increased my already deep appreciation for this group of women, these artists who have constellated around me and our art home in Larkspur.  It’s a tangible representation of our connection – and even those who didn’t paint a square cheered the project on.  We had no idea how this project would turn out.  In fact a couple of people confessed they had doubts about it from the start.  The range of experience in the artists, with their differing styles and color choices was a wild card.  The thing is we don’t ever know if a piece of art will work or not.  We generally start with great hopes, but the creative process has its own life – and this one had even more variables.

I always loved the story of Stone Soup my mom read to us when we were little.  It took faith and a bit of audacity to say that delicious soup can be made of stones.  This painting feels like that – that these little pieces of art paper, each on its own is a bit interesting, but neither does it say a whole lot, but brought together, the group of them has such energy!  The bringing together the 29 minds, hearts, souls and hands that created and it has made magic.

Ann Jessen (Thursday evening group) suggested that we do one of these every year.  I love this idea!  I also thought that it would be really amazing to do another one including artists who aren’t local.  I mailed squares off for this one, so why not mail them all out?  If you would be interested in participating in something like this, let me know – and stay tuned!  If you are local and plan to go to the fair, stop by to see our creation!  And yes, it is for sale.  Let me know if you are interested!

Love to you all,

Cara

June 21, 2017 – When art must wait

“This painting will hold down the fort in my studio while I’m away.”

We are getting ready to go on vacation and I’m in full-on get-ready mode.  The list of things to do today is long and if I let myself think about it too much, I can get almost stopped in my tracks by the overwhelm.  I still don’t have a good carry-on bag.  My recent trips I’ve taken the one my dad almost never uses.  But he’s on this trip, so I need one of my own!  I’ve yet not packed one thing, and I still have a couple pairs of new shorts and a skirt to hem (they are always too long)  And we leave tomorrow! What makes it even more challenging is, as a feminine oriented being, my environment “talks to me” – big time!  The dishes tell me to put them away, the laundry to fold it, the piles in my studio to sort through.  Even if it’s not absolutely necessary to be done before going away, I’m still compelled to tend to it.  I just now stopped writing to dig through a box in the garage for my travel journal from 1984 to see if I could find the name of the restaurant my brother and I ate at with our boyfriend/girlfriend when we were in Dubrovnik 33 years ago – because he’s there and sent me a text message asking me if I remembered.  I’m hopeless at avoiding distractions!

Though I have still plenty to tend to, I have been actually really busy-efficient this past week – I have gotten so much done.  Yesterday as I was buzzing back and forth to the car, I was thinking about this mode, this pre-vacation mode and how efficiency experts revere it.  They say we should strive to always be as effective as we are right before we go away.  I found myself second guessing that wisdom.  Yes, stuff needs to get done too in life.  But do I really, really want to be as on-task, on-purpose as I am this past week – all the time?  It feels so good to be clear that I really, really don’t!  Here’s why.

I’m a different person in this mode.  In the PAX world, we call it being in “man-mode.”  Actively doing one thing after another prevents me from perceiving in a more nuanced, tuned in way.  I don’t notice beauty as I pass by, I can’t feel people’s feelings, I have less patience – my values even shift.  I find myself not caring about what goes in which recycle bin so much.  (Those of you who know how I am about trash know this is a big deal!)  And it’s almost impossible to think about sitting down to paint.  It’s nearly impossible to think about writing.  It’s been so hard to make myself sit down to write that I’m up against my deadline today.

There is a cost to being in this mode.  The capacities that feel the most precious to me fall by the wayside.  I suggest that if we never get out of this mode, our lives would lack beauty and wonder.  We’d have fewer paintings, songs and poems to inspire us.  No one would be holding the bigger picture or the deeper story.  And there would be a whole lot more grouchiness!

Last week I heard an interview of the members of the band Con Brio.  The lead singer Ziek McCarter said something that caught my ear and has stayed with me.  He said that when they write their songs they are focused on “getting the message out.”  The interviewer, Michael Krasney, asked him why the message is important.  He said:  “It’s what inspires, it’s what motivates, it’s what gives us hope, gives us a sense of purpose in what we are doing on this beautiful Earth.”  If these were my words, they would sound to me almost like platitudes, but spoken by a younger man, a passionate creative spirit who makes music that is intentionally enlivening and uplifting – music that nevertheless comes through difficult experiences, these words sound prophetic.  Creativity like this doesn’t happen in pre-vacation mode.

Teachers in my life have inspired me to adopt a philosophy of “yes, and” rather than “either or.”  I’m not saying that pre-vacation mode is a bad thing – it is actually fun to rock – to get stuff done.  Like everything under heaven there is a season.  So, in the spirit of this day, of my day, I’m going to sign off and get back to my list of to-do’s, knowing that I will be in on-vacation mode very soon.

That thought has me take a breath and find myself in a sweet state of expectancy.  Last week Sister Mary asked me what I most hope for in these 10 days.  What came to me is that I hope we have experiences that we could never have imagined – those travel surprises that feel like little miracles, along with special times with my loved ones in out-of-the-ordinary places, beauty that will jump out to greet me, because I (hopefully) will be ready for it!  My in-progress painting will be here to greet me when I come back home.

I wish for you (those of you in the northern half of our planet) to have the time and space to enjoy these long days of summer –

Love,

Cara

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