A Mother’s Magic Shield

Photo © Anne Francey, Used with permission

Photo © Anne Francey, Used with permission

Artists tend to thrive on routine. Their work is often the result of doggedly showing up day after day, immersing themselves in their ideas and techniques. But what happens to their creative flow when they face a massive crisis? How do they cope?

For insight into the artistic process under fire, please read my new “Talking Art” column about painter and ceramicist, Anne Francey.

Talking Ibises and Art


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I am a reluctant traveler. Even as I long to break out of my routine, managing the details for leaving home is often like ripping a particularly sticky bandage from sensitive skin. But by the end of this past summer, I was ready go and that’s when a trip to Australia fell right in my lap.

The possibility of heading down under had been brewing on the back burner ever since our friends announced they would be spending their sabbatical there. The decision to go, however, wasn’t made until the last possible moment.

Yes, I have photos of kangaroos and emus and beautiful scenery, which I may eventually share here. But for now, I give you an ibis.


These beaky birds are as populous in Sydney’s public parks and gardens as pigeons are in New York.

And they show up in the work of artist and ceramicist Anne Francey. I have admired Francey for some time now — as much for her unshakeable grace as a person and a parent as for her art.

To learn more about her, please read my new “Talking Art” column, “A Mother’s Magic Shield.”


Having a Senior Moment? Blame Air Pollution


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For weeks now, I’ve been trying to recall the name of a landscape architect I worked with a few years ago. I’ve remembered her first name, but her last name continues to elude me, yet I’m sure it’s there — lurking somewhere within the deepest, tallest stacks of my brain’s library.

An aging brain sometimes takes longer to retrieve certain information than it once did. Like many people over the age of 55, my brain’s agility is often, well…on my mind. So when I saw this recent headline in the New York Times, “Pollution May Age the Brain,” I sat up and took notice.

(Read more ….)

Forest Bathing


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A friend recently sent me this link to an article about “forest bathing,” which says,

This Japanese concept revolves around a deceptively simple practice: quietly walking and exploring, with a mind deliberately intent on – and all senses keenly open to – every sound, scent, color and “feel” of the forest, in all its buzzing bio-diversity.

Of course, readers of my blog know that I have been doing this for years – but not so much recently. It has become so rare that I clearly remember the last time  I let the forest feed my soul.

Time when I am truly alone and surrounded by silence has become a precious commodity. Not just for me, I suspect, but for many of us. We all need time to just sit with our thoughts and our emotions. Time when we are truly “present.”

How often are our minds and bodies in the same place? For a dreamer like me, not often enough and over the past few weeks I have been especially distracted. Just the other afternoon, my body was sitting on the deck eating lunch with my husband, while my brain was back at my computer, parsing through an editing issue for work. When he interrupted my train of thought with a question, I snapped at him.

Forest bathing, opening ourselves to feel the gentle breezes, and fully take in the smells and sounds around us can also teach us to be more present in other parts of our lives. It’s a habit we all need to cultivate.

still life with flowers

Recently, my son urged us to listen to comedian Marc Maron’s podcast, WTF. In listening to Maron interview people such as NPR’s Terry Gross and President Obama, I noticed how “present” both he and his subjects were throughout the entire conversation. Being that focused enabled both parties to listen, hear what the other person was saying, and then respond thoughtfully—unearthing some never-heard-before information in the process.

Uncovering new information, finding insight where you don’t expect it, those all can result when we are fully present. For example, one of the things that the leader of the free world told Maron struck a chord deep within me — and it wasn’t a comment about foreign policy.

He said that because his father wasn’t around when he was growing up, being a good father to his daughters is one of his top priorities. Parental absence left a big hole in my life—particularly my adult life. When Obama said that, I realized that living with that void is why being the mother of two adult sons has been both wrenching and joyous. It is a relationship that I can never take for granted and, more significantly, one that I don’t have a blueprint for.

This summer I have several projects going on, but as I turn my attention to each I am going to keep the image of “forest bathing” in mind — even when I am not walking in the woods.

It’s time for a reset.


Building a Framework


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Mission Pool

View out the locker room door, Mission Community Pool, San Francisco.

For the past month or so, I’ve been editing and critiquing a book manuscript for a couple of business consultants. The topic is ‘reinvention,’ as in how we can stay ahead of ongoing change in terms of our jobs and careers. There has been a flurry of articles recently about how technology is replacing human labor and about how the list of today’s top jobs will be transformed over the next decade. For a critique of how this impacts actual human beings, read Barbara Ehrenreich’s New York Times book review.

Reinvention as a more personal matter is also in the wind as my friend and fellow blogger, D.A. Wolfe notes in her Huffington Post piece, “The Age of Regret, The Age of Opportunity,” The theme of transforming regret into something positive is also picked up by writer/photographer, Heather Robinson in her post, “Heat Lightning.”  After recently celebrating my 60th birthday, regret, opportunity, and subsequent reinvention are on my mind as well.

While I have enjoyed the editing project, it has also left me a bit restless and frustrated with myself. After all this time, I still do not approach my own writing with the kind of purpose and drive that is present when I a) have a job that pays or b) have a publication deadline.

I am easily distracted and undisciplined, and all too ready to push my own creative work aside in favor of fulfilling other pressing and not-so-pressing tasks and commitments.

Hmmm, which comes first washing the dishes or doing some writing?

Hmmm, which comes first washing the dishes or doing some writing?

That’s the regret.

The opportunity and reinvention reside in my ability to change that. I need to commit to my writing with as much vigor as I have given my exercise regime. No one makes me go to the pool, yet for the past six years, even while commuting to a full-time job, I have been swimming at the local pool three times a week. This past winter, no matter how cold or snowy, unless the roads were impassable, or the gym was closed, I was in the pool every Monday, Wednesday and Friday between 1:30 and 2:15 pm without fail. It’s an addiction. I don’t feel right if I don’t go. If I pursued writing with the same discipline, it would become another healthy addiction.

A friend told me the other day, that with a few rare exceptions, she doesn’t follow people she doesn’t know on Instagram. As a busy person who spends plenty of time working in front of a computer screen, she has good reason for this. The Internet can be a huge distraction and time waster.

In her New York Times op-ed, “How to Find Your Place in the World After Graduation,”  Pamela Druckerman, advises that the creative process benefits from a little boredom,

You need to be blank, and even a little bit bored, for your brain to feed you ideas. … A lot of life consists in the dead time in between events. Don’t fill these interstitial moments with pornography and cat videos.

She is right about needing blank time as well as the pornography and cat videos — to which I can plead “Not Guilty!” with a clear conscience. Yet I do follow a lot of people I haven’t met on Instagram and in other places — Robinson and Wolfe among them. In fact, if I wasn’t such a busybody and cheerleader of other people’s work and ideas, I’d never have any subjects for my “Talking Art” column.

And, I would have missed out on this video, about Kirra Jamison, a Melbourne artist. It has reminded me of something I’ve known for a good long time and have heard from several other creative people, but have not done for myself.

As the video follows Jamison through her morning routine, which involves rising at six a.m., walking her dog in a nearby park, and then riding her bike to a yoga class — all before heading into her studio, she notes,

I’ve learned not to wait for inspiration, but to create a framework for it.

She says her routine grounds her for the rest of the day and gets her in the zone to start working, concluding that,

Having a routine and showing up day after day without fail is the most important thing.

Naturally this looks very appealing when done by an attractive 30-something who lives in a gorgeous live/work space and has no one else to negotiate her time with beyond her dog. But still, every writer and artist I’ve known or read about has this kind of discipline.

My close friend, Martha Nichols, who tops the masthead at Talking Writing, for example, has been an early riser for years, grabbing that quiet time to read and write before the family descends for breakfast. Another friend, the novelist Jane Ward is also an early riser for the same reason.

In her heart-wrenching 2010 memoir, Let’s Take the Long Way Home, former Boston Globe book critic Gail Caldwell describes her typical work day, which back then included a certain amount of desk time before a long afternoon dog walk with her (now deceased) friend and writer, Caroline Knapp. The book, by the way, is a beautiful testimonial to friendship and to dogs. I highly recommend it to anyone who cares about either.

In her new book, Hold Still, photographer Sally Mann describes a typical day in her studio, which has a specific sequence and involves long hours that often extend into the night.

Robinson, whose blog, Lost in Arles, has hundreds of loyal followers and garners a couple dozen comments for each post, recently told me in a comment that she pushes herself to post every Tuesday and Friday. Even if an idea isn’t readily available, that framework helps her make it happen.

In addition to a set routine, all of these people are self-driven and committed to their “own” work in a way that I am not.  Not yet, anyway. The concept of creating a framework for inspiration has captured my attention as something that I really could do. And now that I’ve entered my seventh decade, feels more important than ever.

Without changing my existing routine one iota, the first step is to set a period of time every day —no matter what else is going on — when both my phone and my Web browser are switched off. Step two is making that time my designated “frame” for letting my mind go blank before thinking, reflecting, and writing.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

What about you? How do you get yourself into the right headspace for creative work?

Signs of Spring


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signs of spring

It is an April evening sometime in the past, and I am standing outside on my back deck. The air is chilly, but it has lost much of winter’s cutting edge. As the light slowly fades, I am suddenly awash in waves of sound. It is the high-pitched trilling of the spring peepers.

Hallelujah, spring is here!

I’m a spring baby. My March 21st birthday falls either on or adjacent to the official first day of spring. But living in New England, I scoff at those who believe in Punxsutawney Phil’s February prediction, or even the date on the calendar. Spring’s arrival is much later and more nuanced than all of that.

In fact, long, hard experience tells me that waking up on my birthday means I’ll be facing another 4-6 weeks of winter. It often isn’t until late April or even early May that I can bear to shed the layers of wool, fleece, and cashmere that protect my neck, hands, and ankles from cold, outdoor air.

When spring finally does arrive, the first buds appear slowly, almost reluctantly, until they gradually gain momentum and then, like the peepers’ loud and insistent declaration, the season asserts itself all at once in a flush of cheery, Easter egg colors.

The earliest signs of spring have gained a more personal meaning over the twenty odd years I’ve lived in my house just west of Boston. Their yearly return has become a reminder of my own resilience.

It begins with the daffodils. When we first moved here, they were far from my favorite flower. Yet I’d dutifully buy several bunches of the straight, yellow-tipped stalks when they arrived at the office each spring during the American Cancer Society’s annual campaign.

I’d plunge them into a vase of water, set them on my desk, and pretty soon the buds would open into daffy yellow schnozzes that reminded me of mole snouts, or some exotic creature from Down Under.

Then, one September I bought some narcissus bulbs — their more restrained colors and less prominent proboscises made them seem more sophisticated than the lowly daffodil. I planted them alongside a patch of day lilies and promptly forgot about them.

That winter, I had a health scare that required an unexpected medical intervention in late March. A few weeks later, I noticed the dark green stalks of narcissus pushing up through the frosty soil. “Welcome to the other side,” they seemed to say. My shoulders relaxed and for the first time in many weeks, I believed that I’d be okay.

Six years later, there was another medical procedure — this time a surgery in early December, scheduled months in advance. Remembering how much the last batch of bulbs had meant to me, I bought an even bigger bag that fall, and planted them under a willow tree in full view of the kitchen window. The act was a promise to myself. I would make it through the tough winter to come and when the plants emerged from the ground, I’d be here to welcome them.

Eight years later, it is April again. A few weeks ago, I celebrated my 60th birthday, and right now I am standing outside on my back deck. Until just recently, the yard was knee-deep in snow. Today, however, I can see clumps of green shoots around the base of the old willow tree, and I strain my ears, eagerly listening for the opening notes of the peepers’ joyful chorus.

When I hear it, I’ll know. Spring is here.


This post was written in response to An April Invitation at Women’s Voices for Change.

“Talking Art” with Photographer Reuben Radding

One bright spot in what has been a rather long and isolating winter was interviewing and writing about Reuben Radding — a photographer and musician who I met through my older son.

Reuben and I not only discussed his photographs, he also shared some hard-won wisdom about his goals for making art. He notes that the road to bitterness is paved with expectations that one’s work must follow a specific trajectory, and that failing to develop an audience beyond one’s fellow practitioners is a trap. With that understanding, his goals are clear-cut and simple,

“The core of my ambition is to make good work. To find an audience for it that feels genuine. I don’t care about fitting into a pre-established path.”

After a winter of taking my own “pretty” pictures of snow-laden trees, and looking at visions of human, culinary, and architectural perfection on social media, examining his work took me to a truer, more essential place.

At first, his images ask you to look, and then, they make you look again.

“Controversial Beauty, A Street Photographer Exposes the Urban Wilds,” Talking Writing, Spring 2015: Nature Tech.

February Whites

Oh, hello!

Have you seen Judith?

Looking_colorShe must be somewhere in all this snow….

Thereshe is!

Wait, I think I hear her coming!

Ahh, yes. Here she is!

Thank you Karina for keeping me cheerful in this snowiest of winters. As I write this, our house sits in a sea of snow. Two major storms two weeks in a row have left us with at least three feet of the white stuff.

The snow is so deep, we wear snowshoes when we take Karina for her morning walk. There have been some mornings when the temperatures have dipped into the single digits or lower, and it’s unsafe for even the pup to spend much time outside.

It was snowing lightly as we set out this morning, every twig refreshed by another layer of fluffy white. As I began snapping photos, I found myself warming to winter’s chilly charms.


blancdeblancthe way in_red

Rules of Engagement


A few weeks ago, the dried blossoms on our smoke tree froze into spidery orbs of  ice. They hung from bare branches like fragile Christmas tree ornaments. And then, just like the real stuff, the iced smoke drifted away into the cold, steady, rain.

Life’s moments, whether they are filled with pure joy or something more complex and challenging, are just as precious and transitory as nature’s spontaneous beauty. Every one of them is worth noticing and savoring.

To notice, to savor, to argue, and, especially, to listen, are all acts of engagement. When we do those things through every kind of moment, even the ones that bruise our ego, or try our patience, they are also acts of love. I’ll do those things for my husband and sons every moment and for all time.

But, because I also love this world, there are moments I will no longer engage with. Those are ones taken up by voices that say we can’t or won’t make things better.

Instead, I’m turning up the volume on those who want to build, create, improve and are proud to turn their desire to save the world into action. That’s where my time is going in 2015.

When you think about all of time—past, present, and future—we each have only a few moments. And then, poof, they float away like an icy wisp of smoke in the rain.


Apologies for the multiple postings. WordPress is not my friend today :-)

Cruising the Willamette with Henry and Bob

ice circle

It is an icy Monday morning here on the East Coast. Bundle up as I might (right now Karina and I are both under a down comforter) fingers, toes, and everything in between are in a constant state of chill. The days are short and dark, with occasional glimpses of sun. I could have named this post Frozen, after the movie, but let’s not go there.

Instead, let’s take a boat down Oregon’s Willamette River with our friend Scott and his able crew members, Henry and Bob.

two sailors

Here they are, two boat-worthy swains who hop right up on the gunwales and walk around. Following their example, landlubber Karina had no choice but to be brave, though she stuck close to the humans. Just in case.

brave Karina

Henry has the warm, welcoming personality you would expect from a super-sized golden retriever. Don’t let the grey hairs fool you, he truly is forever young.


Happy to be with us. Happy wherever he is, whether it was hanging out with Karina on the kitchen floor or following her nimble, mountain goat feet as she danced her way through the lush Oregon forest.

rest time

Log walkers

Bob’s is a quiet, somewhat mysterious, behind-the-scenes presence. He’d wander in and out of view, prompting the oft-asked question, “Where’s Bob?”

Once we landed on the beach by the river, he seemed to have disappeared altogether. Scott pointed to a black dust mop moving swiftly through the water just off shore. Who knew that dachshunds were such prodigious swimmers? A dog after my own heart, who swims to his own drumbeat, and who possesses the most noble of profiles.

noble profile_bob

Karina and I feel warmer already.

Thank you Leslie and Scott for a September weekend that will warm us for months to come. And, oh yes, thank you to a certain someone, who brought us together from her far away perch in Arles.

The NW Portland pack.

The NW Portland pack.

And speaking of canine friendship, please cross your fingers and toes for a friend of mine. She has been looking for the right dog for months and months. This weekend, we are checking out a pup who we hope is THE ONE. I’ll keep you posted, and thank you!


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