Blame

It seems that every minute I overhear someone complaining, ever-louder, about something. Be it a coworker, the weather, our politicians, or even their own bodies…people just seem to be less satisfied and louder about expressing it.

It’s easy to blame. Harder to change. But blame is just a way of expressing that something is wrong, it doesn’t address or solve the problem.

When you blame your problems on something else, and then do nothing to investigate the cause and enact a change, you have given up your power.

While thumbing through “Boundaries”, I came across this, which I keep going back to:

“You only have the power to change yourself. You can’t change another person. You must see yourself as the problem, not the other person. To see another person as a problem to be fixed is to give that person power over you and your well-being. Because you cannot change another person, you are out of control. The real problem lies in how you are relating to the problem person. You are the one in pain, and only you have the power to fix it.

Many people have found immense relief in the thought that they have no control over another person and that they must focus on changing their reactions to the person. They must refuse to allow that person to affect them. This idea is life changing, the beginning of true self-control.”

A few weeks ago I realized that I was feeling down. The world seemed so chaotic. Every day brought more bad news. My friends and coworkers talked about how horrible these tragic events were. We even dwelled. These problems all seemed so big – what could I possibly do?

I became so overwhelmed that I decided to take a time-out from the news. I needed to censor out the bad stuff until I could get back to feeling like myself again…what good could I do for this troubled world if I was depressed?

After about a week I was feeling much better, refreshed even! Positive. But I got curious and tuned in to NPR…just in time to hear a new shocking story. I actually stopped and gasped; stood there with my mouth gaping open.

I turned the news off and put some music on.

And I’ve mostly kept away from the news since, with the exception of “The Daily Show”.

Of course I’m curious about the rest of the world. And I care about it. But if I’m struggling with taking care of myself (for any reason), how can I be expected to take care of others? Isn’t it actually a good thing that I have acknowledged my needs and am setting limits?

Maybe it’s time for a break from all the shocking stories…especially if you find yourself blaming the world for the way you feel. I’m going to cocoon as much as I need to, until I can see the world for its beauty. The beauty in, through, and despite the chaos.

Photo by http://www.foreverelsewhere.com/

Creeper Van

For a few months now I’ve been dreaming about life on the road and how to incorporate nomadic wanderings into a life firmly rooted in Austin. After reading this article online I have fallen in love with the idea of the “creeper van.”

Photo by http://thevanual.com/
Photo by http://thevanual.com/

Those long white vans are common and now that I’ve started looking for them…they really are everywhere. And they fit inside a normal parking space…which means that overnighting in a van would be a lot less hassle than in an RV or trailer. If necessary, I could park it in a lot or neighborhood without much risk of offending or alarming someone.

The van has a lot less space and likely wouldn’t include any kind of bathroom situation, but that seems like a small price to pay for the increased maneuverability and parkability. Dealing with black water in the RV was no picnic anyway, and showers were usually taken in campground facilities.

Another factor: unlike the RV, I don’t expect to live full-time in the van. Austin has firmly (and wonderfully) tied me down and I’m seeing any potential time on the road in the frame of “long trips,” with Austin as my home.

This idea is quite a project which would take months to complete. I’d want to build the interior myself and get a basic understanding of how to care for the engine and body of the vehicle. I’m still in the dreaming phase of the project and, who knows, I may change my mind…but the open road is calling.

Photo by buff.ly/29eFk4s
Photo by buff.ly/29eFk4s
Photo by http://www.foreverelsewhere.com/
Photo by http://www.foreverelsewhere.com/
Photo by http://imgur.com/gallery/rqNm3
Photo by http://imgur.com/gallery/rqNm3
Photo by http://www.foreverelsewhere.com/
Photo by http://www.foreverelsewhere.com/

Reasons To Come Back

This year is going to be full of big changes, all already in progress. I’m entering a new chapter and am at a point where I am examining different options and asking myself, once again, “what do I want?”

Art is going to play a bigger role in my life. Opportunities to create and make a living off of my work are beginning to present themselves. It helps that I live in Austin and happen to know some pretty badass, independent ladies who also happen to be artists. But that’s for another post.

I’ve been questioning how to live, where to live, what to do. The process of grieving opened me up to question everything…but especially such concerns as “what is a good life?” and “how should I spend my lifetime?” I joke that everyday I have a new five-year plan.

I’m feeling much more settled and restored now than I did a month or so ago. My natural interests and rhythms have returned, signaling an end to the depression. And when I ask these deep, philosophical questions, my answers are more fun.

The possibility of changing my home has sparked fond memories of life on the road. Nostalgic and intriguing conversations with friends who currently live on wheels have only stoked the fire. Recently, I eagerly read along as my favorite blogger took her RV to Joshua Tree National Park (a place I have wanted to visit for years). Then, during the SXSW music festival, Austin was inundated with nomads of all types. I’ve been daydreaming about the possibility of getting my very own rig and driving into new adventures.

Though it doesn’t jive with my art plans and I really just don’t want to leave my people, it is fun to think about. Maybe one day…but not now. So, for the time being, I am content to chart out spots I might want to visit later.

I saw a lot of amazing places on my travels out west but, despite my energetic adventuring, I missed out on a lot of great stuff (mostly transportation-related as driving an RV twenty miles down a dirt road isn’t usually a good idea). So I kept a running list of reasons to come back:

Antelope Canyon
On Navajo land near Page, Arizona. One of the most photographed slot canyons, only accessible via private tours (reservations required and should be made ahead of time).

Antelope Canyon
Antelope Canyon

 

Rainbow Bridge National Monument
In southern Utah, also near Page, Arizona. A 290 foot-tall land bridge accessible by a 2 hour boat ride or a 2+ day hike. Permits are required from the Navajo Nation and should be applied for in advance.

Rainbow Bridge National Monument
Rainbow Bridge National Monument

 

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Slot Canyons
Deep, narrow, secret folds in the earth you can hike into and through (if you can find your way there). Requires a 4WD/high-clearance vehicle and long hikes, sometimes climbing.

Slot Canyon
Slot Canyon

 

Waterfalls In The Grand Canyon
There are a number of waterfalls at the bottom of the canyon and along the way down. I’d love to visit one I could swim in.

Falls along the Havasu Creek
Falls along the Havasu Creek

 

Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Guided and self-guided tours. Reservations recommended.

Carlsbad Caverns
Carlsbad Caverns


The Wave Rock Formation
Sandstone rock formation in Northern Arizona. A permit is required to hike in the area and permits are limited to ten a day, rewarded with a lottery system.

The Wave
The Wave

 


And then of course there is the coast of Northern California, Joshua Tree, and Saguaro National Park to see…

The Richest Man in Babylon

I was recently given a wonderful little book about finance that was written in 1926. It is an easy read and I recommend it to any and everyone.

The Richest Man In Babylon has much to offer but the most important lessons can be condensed to:

Seven Cures for a Lean Purse

1. Save one-tenth of your income.

2. Budget your expenses so that you have money to pay for necessities, enjoyments, and desires without spending more than nine-tenths of your income.

3. Put your savings to work so that they multiply. Invest.

4. Invest wisely. Invest only when the principal is safe, where it may be reclaimed if desired, and where you will make a fair rental. Seek council from wise men who are experienced in the handling of money.

5. Own your home and improve it so that it can be a profitable investment.

6. Insure a future income. Provide in advance for the needs of your family and yourself in old age.

7. Increase your ability to earn. Pay your debts as soon as possible. Do not purchase what you cannot afford. Take care of your family. Make a will. Have compassion for those who are injured and who are smitten with misfortune and aid them within reasonable limits. Do deeds of thoughtfulness to those who are dear to you. Cultivate your own powers, study to become wiser, to be more skillful, to so act as to respect yourself.

Self-respect, compassion, wisdom…these are tools that could benefit anyone.

 

Pigeon Portrait

In the midst of all of this Autumn’s trials, I was still making art. My latest creation is called, simply, “Pigeon Portrait.” It’s a 24″x36″ acrylic painting on an Ampersand art board. Larger than it sounds, and very bright, this pigeon lights up a room.

It is the second large, graphic, acrylic painting I’ve done and I plan to continue the trend. I already have my next painting in mind.

Original sketch.
Original sketch.
The underpainting.
The underpainting.
Finished!
Finished!
Detail.
Detail.
Detail.
Detail.

 

Even after the longest nights, the sun still shines.

A Season Of Loss

Like falling dominoes, I have witnessed parts of my life tumbling down. This Autumn has been a cruel one. This year, in fact, has been hard. And not just for me.

After a spring of heavy, destructive rains and flooding, the biggest loses began in late summer.

My mother’s company joined up with another and she found herself in an increasingly toxic work environment. Her stress levels rose as she watched coworkers get fired, get sick, and leave. Her job, which she loved, was falling apart.

I suffered a major loss in my own job. I was in line for an interview for the graphic artist position I had been working toward when suddenly: a hiring freeze, layoffs, restructuring, and my position eliminated. For two days I waited, horrified, to find out if I was getting axed. When I found out I was safe, but that my job would be changing, I didn’t feel much better. My work environment was now vibrating with tension. There were threats, there was crying, all of our jobs became harder.

My mom and I talked about going to France to relax but decided it would be best to wait until things at work calmed down.

Then, my mother’s situation became scary when she developed an ulcer from the stress. It became shocking when she felt she had to quit for her health’s sake. Her ulcer was really bad. I remember her saying “I didn’t know ulcers were like this.” I felt uneasy. The medicine wasn’t working.

My life seemed to fall to pieces when she called me to tell me that she had cancer. My Uncle Bill brought her to Dallas so that she wouldn’t be alone; so that she would have better doctors; so that we could help her.

My family gathered together. We supported each other. We gave her everything we could think of to make her better. We believed that she was going to get better quickly. We followed the path laid out by the doctors. She was so tired. But she was optimistic. We were all optimistic.

We celebrated her and my Uncle Paul’s birthdays together. She was satisfied that she finally got us all together for her birthday.

I went back to work in Austin and she began chemotherapy in Dallas. I woke up one morning and just knew that she was in the hospital. My phone rang. She was in the ICU. I started packing my clothes and getting ready to drive up there. My boyfriend Sean came to see me and the phone rang again.

There was this horrible moment, when I was told that she was gone, that will be forever etched into my mind. I felt like I was pulled up and away from everything. Everything became unreal. I became like a robot and my environment a dream. I wandered around in circles and zigzags, trying to get away from the truth.

Sean helped get my stuff together and got us to Dallas.

It started raining again. Lightbulbs burst in the house, leaving broken glass. There was more flooding.

I cried so much and for so long that when I stopped it was because I physically just couldn’t anymore. Everything hurt. My shoulders were constantly clenched. My jaw clenched. My stomach in knots. Sleeping and eating were things I had to make myself do. There was a pain in my heart. Each day when I woke up I wanted to go right back to sleep because when I slept I didn’t remember that she was gone.

It all felt so unreal. She was the one I went to the most for guidance. And I would catch myself, when working through the puzzle of practical problems left by her absence, going down my default line of thinking: “I’ll call mom.”

She encouraged me and she helped me learn to trust my instincts and follow my heart. She showed me the importance of creativity, service, physical and mental health, and constant growth through education and exploration.

I am going to miss her. I am learning to call upon her in times of need. Gratitude will overtake sadness. I will keep creating, exploring, and being, in her honor.

-

Much thanks to everyone who helped me during this time. I am grateful for my friends and family who shared this experience with me, who allowed our connections to deepen, and who were not afraid to face the shadows so that we can more fully (with more presentness and gratitude) live in the light.

.

Prickly Pear + Gin

Since I started working at Whole Foods I’ve been in the habit of wandering around the produce department. It is usually so well-stocked and beautifully organized and they often have unusual fruit that I’ve never tried before. Lately I’ve been tasking myself to take a chance on these strange beauties.

The latest adventure is one I’ve contemplated before. Prickly pear cacti are common in Austin and I see the fruit every year. It appears as an ingredient on menus and I’ve wondered what the fruit is like in its raw form.

So, I grabbed a fruit, immediately got some tiny thorns lodge in my palm, and took it home where I learned how to carefully handle it.

Using tongs to grasp the fruit, I cut the ends off and then a slit down the length of it. From there, I could easily slide the outer skin off of the softer inner meat. I pried off a small piece and tossed it in my mouth – CRUNCH! The fruit is filled with lots of tiny, hard seeds similar to a pomegranate.

I declared the seeds inedible and decided to chuck the whole thing into my blender. Maybe they were soft enough to become pulverized by the blades? WRONG. But the fruit liquified beautifully and I was able to strain it out from the seeds.

Now, what to do with this tasty, hot pink, sweet juice?

I had about two ounces from one fruit and decided to add a little gin, lime juice, and ice to make a lovely cocktail. The sweetness in the juice mellowed the gin wonderfully (although I think a more floral gin would have complemented the flavors better) and the lime added a hint of tartness that brought the whole thing together.

A fruit experiment that resulted in a new cocktail! A nice way to spend a rainy afternoon.

Prickly Pear fruit.
Prickly Pear fruit.
The meat of the fruit before blending.
The meat of the fruit before blending.
...and after blending. You can see the small, black seeds sliding down the sides.
…and after blending. You can see the small, black seeds sliding down the sides.
A beautifully colored and very tasty concoction.
A beautifully colored and very tasty concoction.

 

 

 

Welcoming Fall

The temperatures are finally dropping, the sun is slanting, and the colors are changing. Time for some hiking!

Accidental Bridge
Accidental Bridge
Dried Up Swimming Hole
Dried Up Swimming Hole
Unexpected Friend
Unexpected Friend
A Delicate Gift
Swinging Seeds
Swinging Seeds
Mossy Live Oak
Crumbling Grass
A Roadrunner
A Roadrunner
Beautiful Yellows
Colorful Veins
Colorful Veins
Bobbing Seedpods
Adorned Trail Marker
Adorned Trail Marker
Ancient Live Oak
Ancient Live Oak
Painted Rocks
Painted Rocks
Zombie Tree
Zombie Tree…Happy Halloween!

 

Self-Care & Chaos

On and off since March I’ve been writing “morning pages” – a few pages written stream-of-consciousness, first thing in the morning. It has been a very therapeutic and informative practice but, more recently, it also had the effect of killing my drive to write for this blog.

I’ve been pondering my blog and blogs in general, questioning what purpose they might serve. I think that they have the potential to be a powerful source of connection, the kind of connection that can really help people (even if you don’t know them).

In the interest of connection and potentially helping others I’m sharing one of my morning pages from a while back. As soon as I finished it I could feel that it had some power.

I was studying Zen Buddhism at the time and those teachings are present throughout.

-

MORNING PAGES:

I woke up recognizing that I need to forgive myself.

I need to forgive myself for loving people who didn’t love me back; for trying to make relationships work. I did that with the best intentions. I am not perfect. Sometimes I was wrong. But that’s okay. It is normal to try and fail. It is normal to regret. But it is not healthy to blame myself for things I could not control – outcomes between two people.

It is vital for our sense of security and safety that we feel in control of our lives and environments. But we live in a world of constant, unpredictable change. Sometimes the control we cling to becomes a delusion. We trick ourselves into feeling good.

But these tricks and delusions only separate us from what we want most – peace, a oneness, not feeling alone.

I’ve attempted to feel in control by blaming myself for the actions of others – “if only I’d done something differently, our relationship would have worked.”

But it was never just “me,” it was “us.” Relationships, like anything else in life, are built with inherent instability. It is more likely to last if the builders work together and stay vigilant for cracks in the foundation or other errors that could cause the whole thing to fall apart.

Releasing myself from blame is strange in that it allows me to feel anger I never felt for my partner and for the injustice and chaos in the world.

I have to find a place for these feelings – recognizing that they are valid. Struggle is part of life. We are not happy all the time. Difficult feelings are natural and we should allow ourselves to have and express them.

Being mad at someone doesn’t mean you don’t love them. Feeling hurt doesn’t mean you aren’t worthy of love.

We must try to wear our bad days, not as a badge, but as a patch, one of many on our multi-colored coats. We must honor all facets of life and try to exist within, as a part of the horrible, beautiful chaos that surrounds us; that is us.

.

Modeling

Since my life drawing classes in college I have always wondered what it would be like to be a model. Baring it all seemed like a powerful way to affirm one’s self. And, as a life-long artist, I have pondered what it is like on the other side…to be the art itself. Back then, I even inquired with one of my professors who immediately talked me out of it by reminding me that I would, effectively, be modeling for my classmates…which could be a little awkward (especially in the small-town, conservative culture my university existed within).

But that curiosity never stopped. And Austin is full of creative-types so I’ve heard about opportunities for figure-drawing session and photography pretty regularly. But I never really pursued anything.

Then, few weeks ago, one of my friends told me about a photographer she modeled for and showed me that photos. They looked great and she had a wonderful experience…so, I contacted the photographer and we started talking.

He had a great portfolio and a specific vision in mind, so I was onboard. We met near a creek on the day of the shoot. I was anxious about meeting him but once he arrived his honest, calm, professional nature instantly relaxed me. We walked down to the water and talked the vision over. We were going to try to recreate the torture/shooting of St Sebastian using suction-cup arrows (a playful take on a dramatic scene). We’d also do some looser shoots in the water. It all sounded great.

Then came the moment when I needed to go bare. At once I felt the fear of being vulnerable to judgement. Let’s make no apologies, this person was going to objectify me – view me as a piece of art (or a tool with which he could make art). Judgment is integral. I think being an artist myself allowed me to see that. The majority of my experience has been on the artist’s side: carefully taking in every part, every angle, every texture, and judging it, and using the judgement to decide upon the most pleasing composition…what is it that I like and want to highlight? What do I dislike and want to hide?

In a flash, that moment was over. I removed my clothes and made a gesture that released all that nervous energy and at once said “this is my body, judge it how you will, this is it.” And that was it.

We immediately set to work attaching three suction-cup arrows to my torso with spirit gum and a lot of patience.

The shoot was a few hours long, in hot weather, and I got pretty messy (covered in dirt and leaves and spirit gum) but I left feeling totally energized and inspired. The whole experience was fun and empowering and I’m surprised at how quickly and easily I was able to get over my anxiety. I’m really happy with the resulting photos and want to do another shoot sometime soon.

I love being an artist but I’m discovering that being a performer can be just as challenging and fun.

Photos by Andrew Stevens.

.

Artist, Designer, Adventurer