Enough is enough…finally

I recently finished reading a book entitled, “A Life of Being, Having, and Doing Enough” by Wayne Muller. Published eleven years ago in 2011, I bet I highlighted passages on half of the 256 pages.

Reading it now was perfect timing in the midst of having the flu for six weeks and thinking about my friend Scott’s song called “May They Be Blessed.” Our personal pendulums swing from too much to too little, and if we pass that place of “just enough” too swiftly, we miss out on how delightful it is.

Wayne Muller, the author, is a therapist, minister, and community advocate whose resume is impressive. While others in his age group were climbing the corporate ladder, Muller was dedicating his life to service to some of the most disenfranchised members of our society through community, healthcare, and educational work. I especially enjoyed the short video clips you can find here on his website.

One of the first quotes I highlighted in the book was, “So many good-hearted people I know are exhausted.” Phew, that certainly rang true. “However sweet or nourishing the fruits of their work may be for themselves or others, nothing they do ever feels like enough.” Muller goes on to explain how this feeling of “not enough” is embedded in our culture, that whether it’s earning more money, or buying a bigger home, or becoming more physically fit, or collecting graduate degrees like some competitive stamp collection, it’s simply not enough. And if you start to feel satisfied, then you have to wonder what’s wrong with you, because you might be at risk of becoming a slacker!

Even with perfectly healthy hobbies like gardening or sketching, meditation, or reading, do you ever really have enough seeds, paint brushes, quiet time, or books? “Enough books”, impossible! Would that mean I am no longer teachable, that I have run out of curiosity? No, perhaps just the opposite.

The state of Enough is rich and full of breathing room. It is that contented feeling in the belly that is not hungry or thirsty, nor is it the slightest bit overfull. As Muller states, “Beyond this point [of enough], anything more—whether real or imagined—simply creates suffering.”

Developing this in-the-moment awareness of when you have reached “enough” of whatever you are experiencing takes practice. You are fine-tuning a machine that has most likely spent decades being numbed to healthy limits because everything in our culture screams more, of anything, must be better. Even with a fever and what turned into a long-term case of the flu, my mind kept slipping into impatience to “get on with it already!” My loving friends would call and innocently say, “Aren’t you feeling better yet?” not knowing that I had been silently shouting the same thing most hours of every day that the illness lingered. But I was asking the wrong question.

What if instead I spent those same moments thinking how lucky I was to have a body that could fight such a long battle? What if instead of slandering my immune system with insults about its incompetence, I turned my thinking on its head and considered the magnitude of the challenge /infection it was fighting, and watched in awe, knowing I didn’t have to lift a finger for my body to continue to heal at a perfect, glacial pace.

What if nothing was wrong to begin with?

What if I was just having another life experience, one that actually forced me to redefine “enough”? What if this was the best gift the Universe had ever given me, the biggest “reset button” opportunity of them all?

I turned a wellness corner yesterday and can now take a deep breath without coughing afterward. That is enough for today.

Goldilocks was definitely on to something. I can recognize Too Much and I’m well aware of Too Little.

Time to befriend Just Right, otherwise known as Enough.

*****

As always, feel free to forward this post to anyone you think might enjoy it.

Questions? Comments? Public comments can be posted below.

Private questions or comments will reach me by using the Contact link here.

The Very Important Tip Jar is available here if you enjoyed this post. It helps greatly to defray some of this website’s expenses.

Finally, thanks so much for spending some “aloft” time with me.

Posted in Beauty, Books I Love, Musings on Life | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

“Yeah, what he said…”

Sometimes I read something and before I’m finished my whole brain is saying, “This has to be a blog post!”

I just read the weekly essay from my good pal Danny Gregory, and instantly wanted to share it with you. I asked his permission, and he generously said yes. Here it is:

Should you care what others think? Kinda.

“Let’s face it, one of the most important parts of making things lies beyond our ability to control: other people’s reactions to our work. Right?

— “Hey, mom, look what I made.”

— “That’s wonderful, you’re a genius, let’s hang it on the fridge.”

Or

— “Hey, mom, look what I made.”

— “What is it now? Can’t you see I’m on the phone?”

It’s one of the most difficult parts of being a creative person. Not the fun, satisfying, unfurling of an idea, but the cold crickets that confront it or the “yes, but” of the professional critic or the form rejection letter or worse, the anticipation of rejection that stops the egg from ever even popping into the nest.

We may not make it for others but a work is not fully realized until it bounces off another’s eyeballs, vibrates their eardrums, or rearranges some of the cells deep within their corpus callosum.

And praise can be as insufficient as a shrug. We don’t just want a pat on the head; we want connection, reaction, insight, something that makes us see what we made in a newer light or on a deeper plane.

Knowing we moved someone else, revealed truth to them, reminded them of something we didn’t even know corresponded, that makes us love our work all the more.

Love it and wonder at it, at the fact that we were the conduit for it, that something passed through us and then passed through another heart. It dissolves the loneliness of existence.

Ideally, our art is the truest manifestation of our conclusions about the nature of things and, when someone else sees it and validates it and shares it, the power of that truth is reflected back on itself like an endlessly repeating mirror.

That’s why rejection hurts, because, yes, we feel our efforts are wasted, and, yes, we don’t matter and, yes, we didn’t make a ripple on the surface of the earth — all true.

But mainly because we wonder whether the magic we found is really magic, whether the revelation we thought so profound was just a single-serving glimmer of something too puny and insufficient to be shared, a whistle in the dark, not a full-blown hallelujah chorus with kindred spirits chiming in.

The true value of acknowledgment isn’t registered in the ego; it’s the opposite, a breaking down of the barriers between creator and audience so that we can unite in a shared appreciation of something that lends beauty and meaning to the grinding metronome of the day. We see a glimpse of the heavens together, a view that appeared to one of us first but is now a canopy over us all.

It’s even true of a joke, a shared laugh, the quick bark of recognition that our minds thought alike. We saw the other’s insight, and we were able to escape together from the hard, ivory prison of our skulls for a moment.

When I hear from people who like my work, or more importantly found something in my work that made their day a little brighter, I like my work more too. And when a reader has an insight or can tell me of a particular sentence that strummed their strings, I have insight into where to go next, into what matters in what I’ve done.

And conversely, of course, if my work pulls up lame and doesn’t find much of an audience, I wonder where I went wrong or why I thought something was worth my time but proved not to be worth anyone else’s.

Finally, I believe there’s a time and a place for everything in the creative process. Feedback, response, and critiques have a valuable part to play but only after the making is done. Don’t allow your worries about what people might say to overshadow the actual process of creation.

Begin by making freely, unconcerned by where you might ultimately get to. Keep your head down and keep playing. Don’t indulge in an inner conversation about whether it’s original or good. If that voice pops up, tell it you’ll be glad to discuss and assess it later, once the cake is out of the oven. Opening the door repeatedly to poke and prod is unlikely to make things better.

Okay, I’m done with this essay. So, now — what’d ya think? Huh, huh? Isn’t it great?

I jest. But I am always interested to hear what you think about what I think.

Your pal, Danny”

… and here is a link for you to follow, so you too can get a little nugget of creative inspiration in your inbox each Friday.

Enjoy! https://dannysessays.com/

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

A cliffside life on a windy day…

Some folks seem to have bumpier roads to travel than other folks, for no obvious reason. It would be so nice to believe there is a relationship between Effort and Outcome– that it is linear, clear, understandable, even controllable. That has not been my experience though.

For many weeks now I’ve been trudging through yet another health struggle, flu followed by severe respiratory difficulty and exhaustion. At times I have lost heart, and have been so frustrated; I wanted to chuck a crystal wine glass into the fireplace. If only I had a crystal wine glass. Or a fireplace.

Then this song drifted into my heart. Unbidden, and fully welcome.

My dear friend Scott Alarik wrote a song many years ago called May They Be Blessed. At the time he wrote it we were intimate friends, and he said I was the first to hear it as he played it for me in the living room.

I remember the long silence between us when he finished.

“What do you think?” he said.

“I’m stunned,” I replied.

“By what, what part?”

“The surprise ending.”

It was Scott’s turn to look confused.

“What do you mean, what surprise?”

His life had been so tumultuous in those years of the late 1970s and early 1980s, as a struggling singer-songwriter who had worked endless hours, traveled thousands of miles each year, had done gigs on stages as big as Prairie Home Companion, followed by playing in a noisy smoky bar for tips the next night. Rarely feeling like he was making any progress, yet utterly unwilling to give up. He was so good at persevering, so determined, even when battle-weary.

It never dawned on me that he could allow himself to dream of a life any different than that. The first half of the song describes The Way Life Is: winds blowing mercilessly, hearts torn asunder, the only choice being between lurching steps or none at all.

But toward the end of the song, I heard him speak from a quieter place, outside the storm, looking back at it. That is what surprised me. His viewpoint.

I explained all that to him at the time, and he smiled. “Oh sweets,” he said, “You have been with me through some rough times, haven’t you?” Yes, I had.

That song still brings me to tears because of its relentless faith, all the while knowing that Life Can Be Very, Very Hard.

I had started another blog post, about our need to define “Enough,” especially in times of illness and stress and scarcity. Then this song came to me, out of nowhere. Maybe a telegram from Scott, who passed away suddenly last December first. His death shook the folk music community across America and beyond. Scott’s niche as a troubadour took the back seat years ago to his starring role as a writer, historian, journalist, and activist. His life most certainly blessed us all.

My next post will be a continued look at this notion of “Enough.” For now, here’s Scott’s recording, and the lyrics, so you can read along. Enjoy, especially if, for this moment, your house feels like a cliffside view on a windy day.

Here is the song’s recording: May They Be Blessed – Scott Alarik

Some people’s houses are on good firm ground
Where tall and sheltering trees stand
They are safe in their homes — their roots are well known
They can welcome the winds as they blow.

But some people go to the edge of those woods
Where the dark and the wild things grow
And their lives blow like leaves — in more dangerous winds
For reasons they may never know.

May they be blessed who live in those winds
whether in them their lives rise or fall
For their danger teaches us much of love
And their fear graces us all.

Some people walk in small clean steps
every movement is carefully planned
They may never see all their heart longs to see
But they will always be sure where they stand.

Oh but some people move with a lurching step
Always reaching for much too much
They may never find what their heart needs to find
Always reaching beyond what they can touch.

May they be blessed who run through this life
When it would be so much wiser to crawl
For their passion teaches us much of love
And their fear graces us all.

Now some people love with a measuring heart
Always balancing chances with gains
They will love safely or love not at all
And they will have no time for their pain.

Oh but some people love with a reckless heart
Never bargaining pleasures or cost
And they often burn in the heat of their own flame
And when they lose it is much that they have lost.

May they be blessed whose hearts are this way
Who will love fiercely or love not at all
For their loneliness teaches us much of love
And their fear graces us all.

I hope that I live in a good strong house
That I walk down clear roads sure but slow
I hope those I love might be those who love me
That I’m not lost where the wild things grow.

But let me never forget those whose lives burn too brightly
for reasons they may never know
May I not stand too long in dangerous winds
But let me never forget how they can blow.

May they be blessed who live in those winds
whether in them their lives rise or fall
For their danger teaches us much of love
And their fear graces us all,

…and their fear graces us all.

© 1986 Scott Alarik

And here’s a bit about Scott: https://www.scottalarik.com/bio

*****

As always, feel free to forward this post to anyone you think might enjoy it.

Questions? Comments? Public comments can be posted below.

Private questions or comments will reach me by using the Contact link here.

The Very Important Tip Jar is available here if you enjoyed this post. It helps greatly to defray some of this website’s expenses.

Finally, thanks so much for spending some “aloft” time with me.

Posted in Musings on Life, My Story, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

99¢ is practically free!

This coming week, from November 7th through 13th, my first book, Look at That! will be available in eBook form for a mere 99 cents!

It’s a promotion that Amazon.com and Amazon.ca are doing, and at that price, of course, there’s no profit for me. Having said that though, I love the idea that people will be able to share this book with friends and family members whom they think just might benefit from it.

Did you know you can “gift” an eBook to someone? Who knew!

Here’s how:

Simply find my first book on Amazon by searching for “Look at That- Herron” (or click on that handy-dandy link above), then click on the Kindle version option, and look over on the right-hand side of the window for a spot that looks like this (it should say 99 cents, not $4.99!):

To buy Kindle books for others:

  1. Go to the Kindle eBook’s product detail page on Amazon.
  2. In the Buy for others box, select the quantity you want to purchase.
  3. Select the Buy for others button and then enter the details for your gift recipients.

You can specify recipient email addresses on the checkout page to send each recipient an email with the link to redeem the eBook. Any eBooks not sent are available, after completing your purchase, to be sent when you choose.

If you didn’t provide a recipient email address, instructions on how to manage your books are emailed to you after the order is complete. Go to Send Kindle Books to Individual Recipients for more information.

That’s it, simple, right? Buy as many copies as you like this week, at this price, and you can send some right away (because the weather is still great for sketching), or wait and send the links closer to your favorite holiday, the recipient’s birthday, etc.

How’s that? I know many people prefer the paperback version, but to get someone started, the eBook is just fine!

It’s funny, of all the illustrations in that book, this is the one I think of most often, the one that makes me smile. It reminds me of all the fun I had turning in-person classroom demonstrations into inanimate book illustrations— challenging at times!

“How wet is your watercolor brush?

That’s all for now. Starting Monday 7th November, you have a week to take advantage of this amazing sale!

Have fun, and as always, keep on a’sketching!

Bobbie

*****

As always, feel free to forward this post to anyone you think might enjoy it.

Questions? Comments? Public comments can be posted below.

Private questions or comments will reach me by using the Contact link here.

The Very Important Tip Jar is available here if you enjoyed this post. It helps greatly to defray some of this website’s expenses.

Finally, thanks so much for spending some “aloft” time with me.

Posted in Cartoons, Look at That! book, Pen & Ink, Urban Sketching (On-Site Creativity), Watercolor | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Dowshifting to autumn tempo

The only thing that beats my love of words and watercolor is having people to share both with. I’m sitting in my favorite cafe, Bean & Bakery in Concord NH, indulging in the most amazing pumpkin raisin muffin I’ve ever tasted. I think it has random bits of ginger in it too, little surprises to delight the senses. That’s what my life is about now– celebration of all the senses.

This last month has been full of surprises, the biggest one being a bit of a health scare only a few hours after my big birthday. This was not the “Welcome to the 70s” I expected! 

The good news is that after lots of tests for blood clots, etc., I’ve happily arrived at the land of “Love what’s left of your body, or lose it!” I’ve been exercise-averse my entire life for no special reason, but I see now that a sedentary life is a luxury I can no longer afford. Happily, I have enticements to help me do the next right thing. It started with a birthday splurge— a chair, ironically!

I finally indulged in buying a very high-quality sketching stool that I’ve had on a wish list for over a year. It is the Walkstool Comfort 45, 18″ seat height, and it folds to easily fit inside my backpack.

 I stopped driving about four years ago, and now when I go for a walk for pleasure or errands, I know I can confidently stop anywhere for a little rest, pull out the Walkstool and my minimal art kit, and turn exercise into a very comfortable sketch outing as well.

For those of you who struggle to travel light when sketching, here’s the kit I’ve used for years.

 I keep thinking I can improve on it by eliminating or adding something, but always come back to this. It’s pretty close to the Bare Bones Kit at the beginning of “Look at That!”

When I stopped having a car whose trunk was a “traveling art supply studio/chair storage area,” I had to get seriously streamlined. And like it says in “Look at That!,” the fewer supplies to choose from, the fewer minutes wasted in decision-making. 

Weekly Sketchers’ Meet-Up Resurrected!

As some of my Facebook friends know, I restarted a sketchers’ meet-up group here in Concord a few weeks ago, a throw-back to the group I started in 2014 (see page 42 of “Double Take.”) We meet weekly for now at a spacious, well-ventilated café a block from where I live. We’ll meet through the end of November, and I hope we get some warm, sunny days so we can use their beautiful patio dining area as well. 

Here at the cafe now, I’m smiling because the midday music they’re playing is Rod Stewart, Cat Stevens, Jim Croce, Elton John…wow, they have us Boomers pegged. The café is very busy early in the morning, so I picked the midday lull (11-1) to have our Drawing Attention Sketchers’ Group meet on Tuesdays. My goal is two-fold: first, to meet with other sketchers, and second, to support this privately-owned local business.

The Covid Quarantine Months made me aware that loyalty choices are powerful. You might want to ask yourself:

Which local small businesses (the ones that have been here through thick and thin, recessions and blizzards) do you want to support right now, to let them know verbally and financially that you honor their hard work? I didn’t need that delicious pumpkin raisin ginger muffin, but for today, I made a deposit not only in my happy tummy, but also in a good business in a wonderful city. My sphere of influence is smaller than a ping pong ball, but nevertheless, I persist.

How are you doing as we enter a new season of the year? Is your art practice playful?

Are you moving those rusty joints just enough to keep everything flexible and strong? (I’ve recently discovered rope flow, the most unlikely of activities for this elder lady, and have fallen madly in love with it.  For us non-jocks, it is shockingly enjoyable!) 

Are your head and heart and hands in alignment with your deepest values and dreams?

If not, can you take a breather and gently ask yourself what might need a shift, or a little clear-out? 

As those of us north of the equator snuggle in for the coming externally fallow, internally rich, season of the year, I hope you take time each day to uncover, recall, and live your very best autumn dreams.

Down by the Merrimack River on a gorgeous day, with the best of friends.

*****

As always, feel free to forward this post to anyone you think might enjoy it.

Questions? Comments? Public comments can be posted below.

Private questions or comments will reach me by using the Contact link here.

The Very Important Tip Jar is available here if you enjoyed this post. It helps greatly to defray some of this website’s expenses.

Finally, thanks so much for spending some “aloft” time with me.

Posted in 2- Bolts: Sketching Tools, Book #2: Double Take, Look at That! book, Musings on Life, Sketchbooks, Sketching tools | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Learning to Enjoy Ambiguity

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s birthday is Saturday, September 24th, and so is mine, so what better time to write about my very favorite quote in the world.

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless yet be determined to make them otherwise.”

F. Scott Fitgerald, 1896-1940

I heard the first sentence of that quote long ago. I was pleasantly surprised recently to discover the second sentence.

“One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless yet be determined to make them otherwise.”

As always, it is easier to talk the talk than walk the walk. F. Scott Fitzgerald enjoyed, struggled with, and was eventually destroyed by alcoholism. He died at the very young age of 44 from a heart attack, exacerbated by his relentless love of gin and lime, which gives me pause because one of my favorite treats is tonic and lime, without the gin. Maybe that taste for tangy elegance is also a September 24th inheritance. Luckily, I got off the party train when there was still time to spare a few brain cells.

But I digress… as usual…

Here’s my point: to hold two opposing thoughts in the mind at the same time, while still being able to function, seems like it’s asking enough, right? But let’s add Keeping Hope Alive to the mix? How does that feel? Too much? I think not.

To see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise: what a delicious challenge. It sounds like the meaning of life itself. For me it’s a 2-part process:

1- Is the situation hopeless, or am I just feeling hopeless? Big difference. It’s so easy to confuse the two.

There is a lovely “Mood-Triage” acronym used by many people:  H.A,L.T. It stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. Any of these four states will distort, magnify, and confuse our judgement. So first, check those areas, and be sure you’re in your right mind, more or less.

2- Second, if you’re okay on all four of those counts, ask yourself, “Does it look hopeless because I am myopic at the moment?” No, I don’t mean that I am near-sighted and wear glasses You can be myopic with 20/20 vision.

That other kind of myopia is when you’re so close to a situation, or a person, that you can’t really see the whole picture. If you sit too close to the screen in a movie theatre, especially during a high-speed chase or a violent attack scene, you’re going to suffer needlessly, right? You won’t even be able to comprehend the entire screen area because you’re simply too close.

When we’re sitting too close, we can also fabricate a sense of urgency for decision-making, because our discomfort is so great. This is the worst time to make a decision!

If your life is not in immediate danger, it’s wiser to push your chair back a bit, or step back to a row in the middle of the theatre and not in the front, take a couple deep breaths and pause.

“Is the situation truly hopeless, or have I been holding my breath? Yes, that’s why this feels urgent, I need to breathe!”

In recent months, running, crawling, stumbling up to publishing my latest book Double Take on September 10th, I learned a life lesson:

If I want to get more done, I must slow down. Counter-intuitive, right? But it’s true.

That’s enough crumbs of food-for-thought for now

How are you feeling lately, with all the loud, conflicting opinions and verifiably dangerous situations floating through the airwaves? Do you “make anything” of your hopeless feelings, or do you just tip your head, say, “Huh…” and carry on, continuing to listen and inform yourself, and also taking a breather from it all once in a while? Can you recognize the difference between discomfort and urgency?

I wish you well during this turning-of-the-seasons time of year. I am planning on a 48-hour party for my big birthday Saturday, deeply indulging in the love of family and friends. Hope abounds.

*****

As always, feel free to forward this post to anyone you think might enjoy it.

Questions? Comments? Public comments can be posted below.

Private questions or comments will reach me by using the Contact link here.

The Very Important Tip Jar is available here if you enjoyed this post. It helps greatly to defray some of this website’s expenses.

Finally, thanks so much for spending some “aloft” time with me.

Posted in Beauty, Musings on Life, My Story | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

A Slammed Door and an Unexpected New Confidante

On September 10th, 55 years ago, at 6:30am, the phone rang.

It was Dr. Boschenstein calling to tell Mom that my sixty-one-year-old father had a stroke at 5am. My father was dead.

It was a bright, sunny Sunday morning, the first day without rain in over a week.

The funeral was Wednesday.

On Friday, the same week, my mother drove me to a boarding school in another state, 147 miles away. I had never been there before and was not allowed any contact with my remaining family members for three weeks. Official School Policy: Three weeks of Family-Free Quarantine minimized homesickness for all boarding students. No exceptions.

Unfortunately, my birthday was two weeks later. No visitors were allowed. A birthday cake was delivered to my dormitory. Atop the cake were the words, “Happy Sweet Sixteen.”

It was my fifteenth birthday.

Thus began my love affair with my journal, the only confidante I could trust.

September 10, 1967 was the biggest ending of my life, because it was the end of innocence.

When I arrived at the boarding school, I began writing to save my life. Not the usual teenage stuff I’d written earlier in my little white-leather diary, you know, things about school, and boys I had crushes on, and insecurity about being a girl.

In September 1967, writing instead became a lifeline. I had no one to talk to, no one to help me understand what had just happened, no one to grieve with me. For several months I wrote to my dad in my journal, convinced that he was still alive, and had needed to leave town quickly, secretly for some reason. I knew he could still hear me if I prayed in writing and told no one.

I lived in a dorm with thirty girls I’d never met before, and they were wrapped up in their own teenage lives. At times it felt like they steered clear of me because I was “that girl,” you know, the one whose dad had just died and her family had sent her here anyway. For fear of saying the wrong thing, most girls said nothing. Just like adults often do,

So, by necessity, I found a lover who would never, ever betray me. It was my journal, literally hidden under my pillow. I’ve been writing ever since.

I chose September 10th this year as the day to press the “publish” button for my second book, in remembrance of my dad who met my mom when they both worked at Macmillan Publishers in Boston.

Double Take is an artist’s illustrated memoir, a tiny seven-year slice of this crazy life of mine. This month I also turn seventy. I’m stunned. Seems I’m the only one having trouble believing that fact.

This memoir is now available as an eBook and paperback on Amazon at this link https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0BDVKM5LV (Click on “see all formats” if you’d like to buy the eBook version for $9.99 without having to join Kindle Unlimited. FYI: that bit of Amazon unhelpfulness is just part of this circuitous publishing game…) The paperback, which is available now on Amazon, will also be available in bookstores in late September. I do hope you will read it, enjoy it, and will let me know what it inspires in you.

Now, I’m up for a bit of a rest. Publishing this book, all 230 pages, 155 illustrations, and in the end, with four different graphic designers (!) has been “character-building” (as an old friend of mine used to say). As it turned out, the writing was the easy part. If there is to be a Book #3, I may become a book-publishing graphic designer by then too.

Maybe it will be another memoir-style slice, of an earlier time in my life, when I was a child living on a six-acre farm in the suburbs, with two brothers, a flock of sheep, bantam chickens, domesticated pheasants, and a dog that chased airplanes. We shall see.

But for now, here’s me and my dad on Easter Sunday 1954. Thanks for being a writer, Dad, and thanks for unintentionally leaving me your Parker 51 fountain pen. It sketches beautifully.

My first true love, Daddy. I’m about 18 months old.

P.S.- I’m stunned. Two-and-a-half days after Double Take was released, this happened on Amazon. Reviews will begin to pour in soon. I am so gratified.

Look at That! and Double Take in the #1 and #2 Best Seller positions in this category. Don’t they look lovely together?

*****

As always, feel free to forward this post to anyone you think might enjoy it.

Questions? Comments? Public comments can be posted below.

Private questions or comments will reach me by using the Contact link here.

The Very Important Tip Jar is available here if you found this post or this website helpful, or if you would like to help support the production costs of my upcoming memoir, Double Take, the prequel to Look at That!

Finally, thanks so much for spending some “aloft” time with me.

Posted in Beauty, Book #2: Double Take, Musings on Life, My Story, Pen & Ink, Seeing and looking, Sketchbooks, Urban Sketching (On-Site Creativity), Watercolor | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

How heavy are your boulders?

My goodness, a whole month has passed since my last post … because I’ve been birthing this wonderful book, Double Take!

Both versions of the book (paperback and eBook) are finished, uploaded to Amazon, ready for me to press the “Publish ” button.

But wait! Not quite yet.

Not yet because both have also been delivered to “polishers”: two additional graphic designers who will fix the details the first designer was unable, or unwilling, to change.

I’m so pleased I will finally have stellar files that will reflect the seven years of writing, and ten months of editing, that went into creating the book, Double Take.

Why am I telling you all this? Because there’s a life-lesson hidden in this recent publishing experience of mine. Here it is:

“You don’t know how heavy a boulder is until you put it down.”

Story of my life.You too?

For several weeks now, since I began working with the first graphic designer, I’ve at times questioned my pickiness about the book’s layout. I’ve been picturing the final version daily for almost a year, so of course I had a vision of it. I think in pictures, that’s how my brain is wired, for better or worse.

I tried to be open-minded from the start, that’s why I hired a professional, right? But more than once I said to myself, “This is professional design??” I shrugged and tried to listen and learn. I wondered, “Hmm, am I being too fussy, too opinionated?”

Then a week ago I asked a dear friend if she would be willing to simply look at the eBook file and tell me her response to the overall design, as a reader. She looked, took a deep breath, and said, “Yes, parts of it are a bit cringe-worthy; not sure if it’s your taste or the designers, but yes, there are things I would change.” They were the same things that bugged me. Then she said, “I can easily fix all of it, if you like.” You see, she’s not just a good friend, she’s also brilliant with design software, something I had not known!

Next, I started thinking, “Hmm, too bad I can’t ask her to fix the paperback too, but that’s an entirely different software, and way too much to ask of a friend. Even if I pay her, it’s too much work to squeeze into the little time I have left before my intended book launch date.”

“But wait!” I said to myself at yes, 4am.

Why not simply ask a local designer if they can fix the paperback file I have? I know they don’t do book design, but they use the same software, and I’m asking for tweaks, not a whole brand-new layout with 154 new images embedded! Why not simply ask?

I made an appointment, walked over to the print shop, and showed her my marked-up proof copy of the paperback. She agreed it was a bit sloppy in places, was easy to fix, and she has time to get it all done before my deadline.

As I started to leave, I mentioned that I knew a bit about the design process because, in the late 1990s, I’d worked for an offset printer business about twenty miles away. She gasped. “I worked there too!”

She had started working there a year after I left, and we knew all the same characters of course. Turns out, we had worked at not one, but two of the same businesses, and yet had never crossed paths. We had worked with so many of the same wonderful artists and designers and magical customer service people. 

The Life Lesson: I had no idea how much that boulder of self-doubt, of “Am I being too picky?” weighed until I put it down.

The relief I felt was immense when not one, but two designers spotted the same problems I did, before I pointed them out.

This is not just about graphic design of course. It’s about learning to honor our gut instincts. The boulder I was carrying was that vintage voice saying, “It’s good enough, stop being so picky,” and “How important is it?”

The bonus was when two experienced designers said, “… and that’s easy to fix.” That was the real surprise. That’s when I felt a huge boulder-burden leave my metaphorical backpack.

How often do you hear your heart’s desire whisper, but then immediately tell it to be quiet? How often do you silence it because you think your idea might be unreasonable, or new, or will be met with a simple “who-do-you-think-you-are” frown?

How often would your crazy ideas turn out to be pure delight for people who desperately need a dash of pure delight?

Ya never know.

That’s my current favorite epitaph. Not that I’m planning to leave the planet soon, but honestly, ya never know.

Onward through the fog, as my big brother used to say.

Onward with a bit of a dance sashay is even better.

*****

As always, feel free to forward this post to anyone you think might enjoy it.

Questions? Comments? Public comments can be posted below. Private questions or comments will reach me by using the Contact link here.

The Tip Jar is available here if you found this post or this website helpful, or if you would like to help support the production costs of my upcoming book, Double Take, the prequel to Look at That!

Finally, thanks so much for spending some “aloft” time with me.

Posted in 3- Magic: Art Epiphanies, Beauty, Book #2: Double Take, Musings on Life, Writing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Beauty Matters, Now More Than Ever

“Art once made a cult of beauty; now we have a cult of ugliness instead.” Sir Roger Scruton, Why Beauty Matters, BBC 2, 2009

I just spent a delightful afternoon watching a film made by an unexpected ally: the conservative British philosopher, Sir Roger Scruton.

(Disclaimer: After watching this film and writing this article, I decided to do a little research into this man Roger Scruton. I discovered, much to my dismay, that he held many beliefs I find abhorrent. As a result, I thought long and hard about whether to ditch this post. In the end, as you see, I’ve decided to go ahead and publish it. Perhaps in the future I’ll write more on this topic: about how people continue in relationships with folks who have beliefs and values far different than their own. It’s a topic I find fascinating. For now, on with this blog post!)

This one-hour film, Why Beauty Matters, validates my deepest heartfelt secret: that yes, beauty does matter, in much the same way that kindness matters. Over thirty years ago, when I was going through a difficult time, I designed a postcard to help me remember this essential life message. It looked something like this:

“Maybe people have lost their faith in beauty because they have lost their belief in ideals. All there is (they are tempted to think) is the world of appetite. There are no values other than utilitarian ones. Something has a value if it has a use. And what’s the use of beauty?” – Scruton

This hour-long program was spellbinding. I paused it often and replayed sections so I could enjoy them a second time. I even cheered. Of course, my mind had its own collection of “yeah-buts,” disputing bits here and there. And yet, at its core, I agree.

Beauty is an essential human need; ignore it at your own peril.

This film includes brilliant observations from the likes of poet / playwright Oscar Wilde, Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury, Immanuel Kant, and other luminaries.

Alexander Stoddart, a sculptor whose work is included in exhibitions around the world as well as in Buckingham Palace, eloquently speaks to my heart. At 48 minutes, I’m almost in tears, wishing I’d heard messages like these before I dropped out of art college.

“Through the pursuit of beauty, we shape the world as a home, and in doing so, we both amplify our joys and find consolation for our sorrows. Art and music shine a light of meaning on ordinary life…the Sacred and the Beautiful stand side by side, two doors that open onto a single space, and in that space, we find our home.” – Scruton

This is why I sketch. This very message is what I tried to distill and tuck into my book Look at That! without the reader noticing. Let them think it’s just a little art instruction book.

Give yourself the gift of a cup of tea while watching this bold film. Perhaps you too will find yourself nodding in agreement.

*****

As always, feel free to forward this post to anyone you think might enjoy it.

Questions? Comments? Public comments can be posted below. Private questions or comments will reach me by using the Contact link here.

The Tip Jar is available here if you found this post or this website helpful, or if you would like to help support the production costs of my upcoming book, Double Take, the prequel to Look at That!

Finally, thanks so much for spending some “aloft” time with me.

Posted in Beauty, Book #2: Double Take, Look at That! book, Musings on Life, Tip Jar | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

From Indignation to Grateful Resolve

You’ve been there too, right?

You know, those times when you’ve asked someone for a second opinion, they politely tell you the truth, and your response is to flinch, even bristle.

“Harumph” is not the exact word I used.

On June 30th I sent my draft of the manuscript to the editor, then settled back to wait for his reply.

Twelve days later (a reasonable turnaround time), I received the reply. He’d sprinkled a few red marks here and there on the manuscript, fewer than I expected. I was puzzled; I knew the draft was far from perfect and needed an outsider’s educated response.

Then I read his cover letter, which included this:

Those who bought your first book will love it as well as people who didn’t buy it but love art. But those who look for excitement and drama in memoirs will probably not finish it.”

What my brain heard was this:

“The readers of “Look at That” will love it.

Art lovers will enjoy it.

Anyone else probably won’t finish it.”

He continued:

… the pace is kind of repetitive and slow…. I think you can reduce the slow pace by deleting some of the words that aren’t really necessary to carry the story or give a message. You would be the best to judge where to cut.”

What?? Okay, I see what you mean, to a degree. But where exactly is it slow and repetitive? You were supposed to highlight that part, right?

Then it hit me: He couldn’t possibly highlight the slow parts because the repetitiveness and lagging tempos were embedded throughout the entire 37,979-word manuscript.

Ouch, I needed that.

Deep breath, another pot of tea, then I said to myself,

“You call that editing. I’LL SHOW YOU EDITING.”

I donned my green editor’s visor, pulled out my metaphorical red pencil, and chopped away over the next seven days. Full Bob Cratchit posture.

It took no time to integrate his suggestions for punctuation changes. That was the simple part.

Then I started the meticulous three-step process of rereading, and at times rewriting, the entire manuscript, one chapter at a time. I knew where each of the 158 illustrations would eventually be inserted, but decided, “This has to work as a text-only book, with no images at all. Then we’ll strategically add the illustrations at the last minute, before publication, and the book will really shine.”

I’d been away from the manuscript for a full two weeks (after having worked on it day and night for six months), so happily I had fresh eyes. I paced myself, no rushing allowed.

Step One: Upload just one chapter to ProWritingAid, a paid grammar-and-style-checking app that’s well worth the price for anyone who wants to clean up their writing. After PWA finishes reviewing, you go through each of their suggestions and decide to either accept or reject them. Then you export the results back to a new and improved document.

Step Two: In your new MS Word document, under the Review tab, go to the “Read Aloud” option, and listen to your chapter as if it were an audio book. Stunning experience! Typos missed now jump out. Awkward rhythms become obvious. Redundancy shows itself to be thinly-disguised cleverness. Delete. Distill. Repeat.

Step Three: Do a second “Read Aloud” with no changes, no touching that mouse even once. Delete the original defective chapter from the master manuscript, and copy-and-paste this new chapter in its place. That’s the final blessing of that one chapter.

Check off that step on the massive to-do list.

Then repeat with each of the other chapters.

After seven days (while also developing my first mild case of carpal tunnel numbness), I proudly discover I’ve axed 3,884 words as well as the links to four illustrations. 11% of the original manuscript gladly gone.

The final “Hit Save” then “Save As” steps of the newly polished, final manuscript were intoxicating.

I haven’t opened that file since.

It’s now in the hands of the graphic designer, along with the 154 illustration scans (here’s your preview!)

8 folders, all 205MB, of carefully chosen sketches! No peeking yet. 🙂

The same designer is creating the cover as well as the book’s interior, and despite her lovely examples of possible cover designs, I find I’m hopelessly married to my original concept that you’ve seen here before (it’s on the Tip Jar page too.)

I doodled the Double Take book cover idea back in January, during a brainstorming session with myself. At the time I used colored pencils which were fine but alas, now I crave the look of real watercolor. It needs to be done over. Luckily, I have those skills!

Here we go again, this time with real watercolor!

That’s my next step in this ongoing self-publishing saga. The publication target date of the end of September is still on track. Thanks again to my patrons for their generous donations to the Tip Jar. It will help defray some of the many up-front expenses of self-publishing. I have the best patrons ever!

*****

As always, feel free to forward this post to anyone you think might enjoy it.

Questions? Comments?

Public comments can be posted below.

Private questions, comments, etc. will reach me by using the Contact link here.

The Tip Jar is available here if you found this post or this website helpful, or if you would like to help support the production costs of my upcoming book, Double Take, the prequel to Look at That!

Finally, thanks so much for spending some “aloft” time with me.

Posted in Book #2: Double Take, Musings on Life, My Story, Tip Jar, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments