Gratitude

The day is nearly done but my mind isn’t slowing down. Wearing a sweatshirt I borrowed from my son, I’m planted in front of the fireplace enjoying the softness of the fleece against my skin and the way the flames both warm and brighten the room.

Surrounded by comfort, I’m acutely aware of just how close any of us might be to losing our comfortable lifestyle and being forced to alter the way we live in unimaginable ways. There is a very fine line between security and desperation, between confidence and defeat.

We’ve all experienced times in our life when it feels like everything is going in the wrong direction and you can’t turn around without facing another obstacle that seems impossible to overcome. Then, when you least expect it all of the pieces fall into place and both the present and the future are bright and beautiful.

2014 will go down in history as being one of the more challenging years of my life. Things got off to a rough start. I can’t say it was much fun to experience the major winter storms, a terrifying blow out on the interstate, three separate power outages, multiple nights without power, more than a few unexpected (and expensive car repairs), and last but not least a pair of broken eye glasses.

It would be an understatement to say I was less than positive after the long winter, I was downright depressed. I’m affected by seasonal depression and this year the state of sadness lingered well into the spring and even the summer sunshine wasn’t enough to lift my spirits completely.

I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that most everyone who has started their own business has encountered at least one if not more really rough patch. A stretch of time that challenges you to the core and makes you wonder if you’ve made the right decisions. This summer was the season that tested my mettle.

It was a season of “hurry up and wait.” Just when I thought something big was going to break loose, it didn’t. Just when I thought nothing else could go wrong, it did. There was nothing easy about it, but I knew there was no choice but to continue putting one foot in front of the other and have faith that if I continued to do the right things ultimately my prayers would be answered.

In addition to having a wonderful support system of family and friends who allowed me to be vulnerable and offered me support without question, my art and writing kept me focused on positive thoughts. I believe my creative outlets provided me a way to overcome doubts and fears and to welcome new ideas and opportunities.

I’ve learned a lot about myself and life through art. It’s not about where you start or even where you finish. It’s how we handle the collection of steps along the way that sometimes feel all wrong but end up leading us to exactly the right outcome.

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I wrote this a few weeks ago and for some reason neglected to share it on my blog. The message is still relevant and my feelings of gratitude have deepened even further.

Also sharing artwork from my journal. I had writer’s block the night before I wrote this – and my entry turned into another flower. (either that or I couldn’t wait to try out my newest set of pens).

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happy flower_new ink pens

You’re a Poet and You Didn’t Even Know It

Lately I’ve been thinking about the importance of being “present.” Some people call it mindfulness others call it being aware; in either case I think it means making the most out of what we have and being open to the possibility that there are gifts inside of us that have yet to be discovered.

This fall has been one of adjustments. After a year of being an empty-nester, my youngest son has returned to Pennsylvania and is living at home. He switched colleges and is living the life of a commuter student for the next year.

We share a car, the train station is two miles from our house, and although we’re still trying to nail down the timing of buying a monthly train pass we’ve adapted to our new schedule fairly well.

Every once in a while the opportunity for a walk to or from the train station presents itself. I frequently stop and take pictures along the way; it’s amazing how many hidden treasures we overlook as we hurry through life.

IMG_0822

This has been a glorious autumn in Pennsylvania. It may be Mother Nature or it may be recent changes in my life that have caused me to pay more attention to the vibrant reds in this year’s fall foliage. Whatever the case may be, this brilliant tree definitely caught my eye.

Japanese Maple

The picture isn’t that great – truth to be told, the road from the train station to my house is fairly busy and it’s a not the best place to stop and take pictures. My kids would be worried about me if they knew I was stopping along the road to snap pics with my smartphone so let’s keep this our secret. 😉

The snapshot was good enough to serve as inspiration for an ink drawing.

inktober_10_29_2014

The leaves were much more challenging than I expected. It took more than a bit of experimenting and a few pieces of drawing paper filled with failed experiments found their way into the fireplace.

I guess in reality they weren’t really failed experiments – just exploration. As soon as I realized that I was trying too hard and took a step back from trying to “please” to just creating things began to take shape.

The answer turned out to be a combination of fine point ink pens and brush tip markers.

I posted the tree on FB as well and one of my aunts made this comment:

I really(!) like this Beth-I immediately thought the tree had one giant leaf on it with fall colors and the ground(swirls) were the fall wind ready to send the leaves into the air.

It inspired some swirling art that creates the image of fall winds and leaves swirling to the ground.

inktober_10_30_2014

So you may be asking what any of this has to do with “You’re a Poet and You Even Didn’t Know It.”

Until a few years ago I had no idea I was a writer and even less of a clue that I am an artist. Those gifts were hidden inside of me, overlooked and suppressed due to life’s circumstances. There’s no blame to be laid and there are no regrets, I’m simply happy to have discovered that it’s never too late to learn and grow.

inktober_10_31_2014

My guess is that there are more than a few artists, writers, musicians, poets, and creators of beauty and inspiration that do so without even knowing what they do.

We are all more than we give ourselves credit for.

Two Steps Forward & One Step Back = A Giant Leap Forward

We’ve all experienced times in our life when it feels like everything is going in the wrong direction and you can’t turn around without facing another obstacle that seems impossible to overcome. Then, when you least expect it all of the pieces fall into place and both the present and the future are bright and beautiful.

Things got off to a rough start in 2014. I can’t say it was much fun to experience the major winter storms, a terrifying blow out on the interstate, three separate power outages, multiple nights without power, more than a few unexpected (and expensive car repairs), and last but not least a pair of broken eye glasses.

It  would be an understatement to say I was less than positive after the long winter, I was downright depressed. I’m affected by seasonal depression and this year the state of sadness lingered well into the spring. Thankfully I learned about the teachings of Louise Hay just when I needed it most.

If you’re not familiar with Louise Hay, she’s a metaphysical lecturer and teacher who believes we all have the power to heal what’s broken in our lives and attract positive outcomes by changing our mental patterns. Positive affirmations are an integral part of her teachings and work.

Her book inspired me to find a positive way to cope with my feelings of depression and hopelessness. It started as a personal challenge to create one small piece of artwork and focus on a positive thought for each day. It somehow morphed into an online journal and 125 consecutive days of writing.

My early entries into the art journal were direct quotes from Louise Hay, author of “You can Heal Your Life.” In fact the original plan was to use one of her direct quotes as the message for the day. After about five or six entries into the project I changed direction and began using her affirmations as inspiration and wrote a positive saying of my own. Each piece of art also has an accompanying journal entry that ties into the saying.

I am Perfectly Imperfect

In addition to changing my approach to the actual words of inspiration, the process for creating the individual pieces of art started one way and ended up being completely different. It didn’t take long for me to realize that it wasn’t very practical to paint the card and create the artwork one at a time, so I changed my approach and started to paint anywhere from 10 to two dozen at a time.

water color backgrounds

For the most part I used every piece I created without trying to make each one “perfect.” I used my mistakes as opportunities to create “happy accidents.”

I accept a helping hand

I was able to correct a fair number of misspellings by turning the letter into a flower or butterfly, however there ended up being more than a few that couldn’t be used. In some cases the background was too dark and in other cases I just didn’t like my choice of words.

Initially I ripped up the pieces that didn’t work and tossed them into the trash because I didn’t want to be reminded of the mistake and the lack of forward progress. Then one night it occurred to me that there might be some value in them and I began to store the tiny pieces of colored paper in a plastic sandwich bag.

Trees were a recurring theme throughout the project so it seemed appropriate to find a way to create one final tree out of the scraps. My original idea was to draw the tree trunk in ink and create the leaves out of the paper fragments.

Tree of Dreams Sketch
As tends to happen in art (and in life) the plan changed with new information and experiences. As I experimented it became obvious that the entire tree was meant to be created in the form of a collage.

Tree of Dreams and

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The next step included glue – not for the feint of heart. The process took several nights of gluing, patience, and guts. I was happy with the outcome but it didn’t feel quite finished.Tree of dreams without background
At the risk of ruining several hours worth of work, I decided to add a background.

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After the first installment I was certain I’d made a critical error and my choice would result in ruining the beautiful tree. The orange was “too orange” and nothing felt like it was blending together in a way that made sense. After all of the forward progress I was back to wondering whether or not the collage would turn out well.

I seem to be wired to keep going even when it feels like there’s no hope in sight and so I kept gluing. The final outcome couldn’t be further from my original vision and I also couldn’t be happier with how it turned out.

Tree of dreams final

I’ve learned a lot about myself and life through art. It’s not about where you start or even where you finish. It’s how we handle the collection of steps along the way that sometimes feel all wrong but end up leading us to exactly the right outcome.

From “Doodles” to “Drawings” and more…

Mixed Media Tree

More and more often I find myself doodling in my journals in addition to writing. My mind starts to wander and all of the sudden my pen lands on the page opposite of my words and a form that must have been hiding in my sub-conscious starts to emerge.

sunflower emerging on journal page

Sometimes the entries turn out to be very detailed and take a couple of sessions to finish.

Sunflower Journal Entry

Other times they happen in one sitting.

Tulip Journal Entry

Don’t ask me how long they take, because when I start to write or draw I lose track of time. I doodle until I can’t draw any more and if it’s not finished, I return to it the next time I feel like it.

I never would have guessed that drawing would become such an important part of my life, let a lone a way to unwind. It seems like just yesterday that I mustered up the courage to attend a drawing class and spent months completing my first sunflower.

sunflower_first drawing in over 20 years

It’s a little deceiving to post these images together because the drawings are completely different in scale. The sunflower from my class is easily 9 times larger than the individual journal entries. It’s also in pencil, not ink and was inspired by a picture in a lesson book not solely from my imagination.

I also never would have guessed an online “doodle and lettering” class would help me gain confidence in my abilities and get in touch with my second-grade art girl.

i am me - Doodle Art Dress

The thing that’s interesting to me is that I clearly have a “style.” I know that probably sounds strange to say, but it’s not something I ever would have imagined myself saying out loud.

Sometimes I wonder if I should challenge myself more and move beyond sunflowers, trees and butterflies. They seem to dominate my art, but maybe that’s ok.

There are Always Options

I’m enjoying the casual and non-stressful exploration of my creativity and some really interesting pieces of art are emerging. My recent affirmation art journaling project has resulted in two additional pieces of work that are completely different from anything I’ve done before (other than the fact that trees are the main subject 😉 ).

This “affirmation Forrest” grew organically as a result of the project. It began as a sheet of paper that I used to try the lettering of a phrase on for size and as a place to clean off the extra ink from a gel pen and doodle tree trunks.

Forest drawn in Ink

My latest project is a “rainbow tree,” for lack of a better description.

Mixed Media Tree

The tree is made up of tiny pieces of paper. They are actually “rejects” from backgrounds I created while working on the affirmation journal.

Initially if something didn’t work, I tossed it – then one night as I was tearing one into little pieces it occurred to me that there might be a creation hiding in them, so I started saving them, and voila! It’s still a work in progress and I can’t wait to see how it turns out.

Occasionally I wonder if I’d be “further along” with my art if I’d continued taking more formal classes on the other hand I can’t help but think that some of my more recent efforts never would have happened if I had. It seems my definition of being an artist is evolving and I’m learning what it means to me.

Some day I may return to the classroom setting, but for now I’m going to explore my creative side in my own way and in my own time.

I Am Perfectly Imperfect

I am Perfectly Imperfect

A couple of summers ago, I received an email that may have changed my life. It was from an artist friend of mine and it started out like this,

“Hi,

Due to a surplus of various kinds of pulp, I am holding a couple of papermaking open studio sessions and papermaking classes at my studio.  I have Japanese pulp, casting pulp, high shrink flax, abaca and pigmented pulp for painting.

I had no idea what was involved, but the opportunity was clearly too awesome to pass up. I learned all how to make paper and I fell in love with the process. Something about it appeals to my tactile senses, which is odd because I normally don’t like doing anything the least bit messy.

In first stage, the pulp feels wet and sort of mushy but strong. After suspending it in water, the fibers become soft and feathery. You use a frame lined with a screen to scoop up the fibers and create the foundation for a piece of paper. I like to imagine that it’s like panning for gold to pick up the tiny wet fibers and drain off the excess water. Once the fibers settle, you carefully peel the wet sheet off of the screen and layer it between pieces of a special fabric until the entire stack dries.

When all was said and done, none of the edges of my pieces of paper were straight, the thickness varied from sheet to sheet, and many were lined with interesting creases and unintended patterns – but they were all beautiful to me. I wasn’t sure what I would do with them, but after the assorted sheets of paper dried I sealed them in a gallon sized baggie to protect them from the humidity.

I’ll never be sure what prompted me to pick up a pen and use it to make a mark on one of my pristine pieces of hand-made paper. I’m very tentative when I draw in pencil, I draw lines so light you can barely see them and I’m fairly certain that in the beginning of each drawing I spend more time erasing than drawing.  There’s something inside of me that “needs” for it to be “perfect.”

Ink is permanent and each piece of my handmade paper was one of a kind. The thought of using ink on them was completely counter – intuitive.  I’m a perfectionist, if there’s a chance that it won’t turn out right; I’m more inclined to not even start than to make a mistake.  So ink, particularly on my handmade paper seemed like an unlikely creative outlet. In reality, it’s taught me a valuable life lesson.

Drawing on these imperfect pieces of paper was difficult because the texture wasn’t smooth, the creases presented both a challenge and as it turns out an opportunity.

Trees are my default doodle so I guess it’s no wonder that’s where I started. I took advantage of the texture in the paper to create depth in the trunk and branches.

ink tree on handmade flax paper

The strokes of my pen grew bolder and my designs became more elaborate, detailed, and colorful with each tiny work of art. The addition of watercolor pencils and brightly colored ink transformed the imperfections in the paper into something beautiful and completely unexpected.

Colorful Ink Drawing on handmade flax paper

When you draw in ink, if the pen slips and goes in an unintended direction there are two choices. You can crumple up the drawing and give up, or you can find a way to make it work. More often than not, there’s a way turn the mishap into a part of the drawing; my dear Google+ friend Jennifer Broderick refers to this as“knowing how to resolve the lines.”

I still find it strange, but I no longer dread making mistakes because I know they often-times turn out even better than the original idea after I take a step back and think about how to make the “oops” work in my favor.

It doesn’t work every time, and that’s ok too, it’s all about recognizing the difference between an opportunity that might be different from what we planned and also knowing when to cut our losses short and move on.

I am Perfectly Imperfect

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If you want to check out the series of drawings, you can see them here

-> http://bit.ly/1zPdb7P

I Speak for Myself

I Speak for Myself

It’s hard to believe that this art and journaling project is winding down and will be concluding within the next few weeks. Unless something gets in the way, I will end up writing the final entry on my birthday.

It started as a personal challenge to create one small piece of artwork and focus on a positive thought for each day; it has somehow morphed into a journey of personal growth.

My early entries into the art journal were direct quotes from Louise Hay, author of “You can Heal Your Life.” In fact the original plan was to use one of her direct quotes as the message for the day. After about five or six entries into the project I changed direction and began using her affirmations as inspiration and wrote positive thoughts of my own.

water color backgroundsIn addition to changing my approach to the actual words of inspiration, the process for creating the individual pieces of art started one way and ended up being completely different. It didn’t take long for me to realize that it wasn’t very practical to paint the card and create the artwork one at a time, so I modified the process and started to paint anywhere from 10 to two dozen at a time.

I take things quite literally, and when I first started creating the actual entries ahead of the next day felt like I was cheating the process and the goal to “focus on one positive thought” for the day.

What happened in reality is that it freed me up to focus on my writing. Writing a journal entry for the saying on each piece of artwork was also not part of the original plan.

The only thing that was actually part of the plan was to share the thought for the day along with the inspiration and maybe say a few words about it.

Over the course of the past 113 days and 108 entries, my writing has grown and changed from high level observations and interpretations. It’s become much more personal and “real.” I’ve found great joy in expressing myself freely and honestly. My creative confidence has increased and I believe it is reflected by the difference between my first entry

I release the pattern in me that created this. I am at peace with the world. Louise Hay

and my most recent ones.

There are Always Options

I Speak for Myself

The project and the process has kept my head in a positive place during some difficult times and has been a great reminder that we can use negative energies such as fear, anger, and doubt to create something wonderful and worth sharing.

I am Strong, Powerful, and Wise

I am Strong Powerful and Wise

Although my original plan was to post an affirmation or positive thought daily throughout my spring and summer project, I’ve ended up missing a few days here and there. As it turns out, that’s a good thing.

It’s meant that I’ve taken a break when needed, and I haven’t been so caught up in following my original and completely arbitrary deadlines and rules of creation. This may sound silly to some, but it’s no small thing for me to have “missed the goal” without quitting, apologizing, or thinking less of myself.

The quitting part may puzzle some people. In my past I’ve tended to place too much emphasis on achieving perfection and when I found myself unable to quickly excel or compete, I moved on to something new. At the time I told myself it wasn’t quitting; it was recognizing my limitations, another way of describing a fear of failing.

I’m finally smart enough to know that this weekend it was far less important for me to meet a made-up target than it was for me to rest and recover from my ear infection and take time to evaluate options and think about the future.

A couple of days ago I received an email about an opportunity that is tempting because it has the potential to improve my cash flow quickly, but not without a price. The price would include committing to an unpleasant and long commute along I95 twice a day, losing the momentum I’ve gained in building my own business, and I’d have to put my dreams on hold for at least another few months.

Some deadlines are real and can’t be pushed off. The recruiter needs an answer so she can move on; I need to make my choice so I can move on. There is no guarantee that I would be the one selected for the temporary engagement, but it’s still important to consider the possibility that I might be; and if so, is that what I want?

Many factors have been considered, not the least of which was the quality time I got to spend with my youngest son and his girlfriend over the past few days. A close second was the time I’ve spent on my beautiful porch, enjoying the summer weather and opportunities to create and recharge.

Last but not least is the realization that I either have to believe in myself and the direction I’m going or not.

I’ve spent a lot of time listening to my inner voice, tempered with logic and the input of trusted mentors and friends, and have made my decision. I won’t be pursuing the opportunity for short term financial gain; my choice is to continue to have faith that I’m pursuing the right dreams.

In many ways we never know for sure whether or not we took the right fork in the road. The only thing we can do is make the best decision we can, based on the information we have, and hold it as our own.

I am Strong Powerful and Wise

I Choose to Excel

I choose to Excel

One of the first personal essays I remember writing was about the definition of success. As many idealistic teenagers do, I challenged traditional ways success is measured and questioned whether or not money and material things equal happiness. I’m sure it wasn’t, but at the time I thought the writing was brilliant and wise beyond my years.

I’ve waged a quiet and strange rebellion against the notion of personal achievement for a very long time.

Our society expects us to make life choices at a very young age. We also live in a world that encourages young people to put their hobbies and interests on hold so they can buckle down and focus on “what’s important in life.” Don’t get me wrong, earning a living and providing for yourself and your family is important. I just sometimes wonder if we do so at the expense of excelling at who we truly are as human beings.

In some ways I regret that I didn’t discover my inner writer and artist until later in life, in other ways it’s probably a blessing. I’m fortunate enough to have had the option to pursue and do well in a business career. It’s been a wild and very strange ride. Looking back, I can’t help but think that I worked too many hours and had my eye on the wrong goal.

Actually, I’m not even sure if I had a goal in mind other than to advance to the next rung on the corporate ladder. Truth to be told, I climbed each rung with hesitation. I’ve come to realize that my qualms about taking that next step were twofold.

I secretly knew that I could do the job, but was afraid that becoming “bigger” would change the way people viewed me. In my mind, there was a risk of being seen as either conceited or foolish, two traits no one wants in a friend. There was also a fear that that I would be forever trapped living a lie instead of following my dream.

I have to admit that there was a fundamental problem; I didn’t know what my dream was. You can’t expect to be able to follow your dreams if you don’t know what they are and can’t articulate them.

It’s also difficult at best to excel at something you’re not passionate about.

There are more than a few things in my business world that honestly excite, amaze, and motivate me; but the time I spend on my creative writing and art brings me far more joy and satisfaction.

The harsh reality is that the left side of my brain (the logical business minded side) is in a much better position to pay the rent and buy groceries than the artistic side of my brain is. And we all know that it can be difficult at best to achieve financial security, let alone prosperity through a career in art.

So the question is this – How do I follow my passion, become financially secure, and also have money and time left over to have fun and find a way to contribute to the community?

Through Julia Cameron’s teachings I have come to understand and appreciate that the world isn’t an “either/or” one. There are artists of all kinds who earn a living by working a day job and pursue their craft on the side. Some are eventually able to devote themselves to their passion full time, but most do not.

A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to work with a personal coach, I thought the sessions would help me define my business goals and map out a plan for success. When I wrote my “dream” statement, not a single word about my business came out of my head.

My Dream

I have a dream, and my dream is to become a published author with books in multiple genres. The most important one to me is entitled “A Leap of Faith, an Artist’s Journey into the Light.”

It is a story of discovery; it is my story of self-discovery and coming into my own. It will be inspiring to people who think it is too late for them and for people who have similar feelings about themselves as I do, but don’t have the words with which to express their thoughts.

I am driven to write because I want to be of service to others, I want to help young people make good choices and I want to help people at any stage of life realize that they can change, they can recover and soar. I particularly want to help women understand that they can be care-givers without giving up their identity, the importance of being in positive relationships, and we are all stronger than we know.

I want to teach and inspire, I want to help, I want to change the world and make it a better place. My dream is to do so through my writing, I will make people laugh, make them cry, help them feel, and make them think. I have experienced and survived things that should be shared in a way that will be helpful to others. I have the talent, I have the drive, and I now have the conviction to pursue my dreams and write my first book and many more.

A few months after defining my dream in words, I chose to put “A Leap of Faith” aside so I could focus on building a business. It was the practical and right thing to do.

Recent conversations with a new connection in my business world have made me realize that I’d lost sight of my dream have also been selling myself short career-wise. Over the past couple of weeks, my vision is beginning to take shape again and surprisingly it’s also growing bigger.

It’s time to do redraw the boundaries within which I’m living and release my fears about becoming bigger. The time has come to really define the dream and turn wishes into actions.

I choose to Excel

My Choices Shape My Future

My Choices Shape my Futuer

Last night I could not get past writers block. I did write for about an hour, but only managed to squeak out 2 ½ paragraphs that sounded forced. It’s easy to get carried away and strive to be profound when the art journal entry that corresponds with the written piece is “My Choices Shape My Future.”

This morning I deleted the words written last night and started over with a fresh heart.

Just as I was settling in, the steady low roar of the lawnmower stopped abruptly with the clank of the blade against a rock. I didn’t have to see what happened to know that my son felt the vibration from the impact, there were sparks involved, and the clatter was without a doubt the last noise the mower would make.

My writing direction changed once again. I was going to write about the fact that I’ve made some pretty bad choices and how they ultimately shaped my future in a good way. Thoughts about the power of positive, the importance of self-acceptance, and self-forgiveness raced through my brain.

The sound of the lawnmower brought me back to reality and to the smaller kind of choices we make every day. How we choose to handle life’s minor mishaps and whether or not we allow them to ruin the day.

This morning I had two choices, one was to be mad and ask my son rhetorical questions like, “why weren’t you paying more attention?” and then remind him that money doesn’t grow on trees and he really should be more careful. The other option was to take a deep breath before going outside, accept his apology calmly, and ask him to help me find a replacement.

For whatever reason, the first approach seems to be human nature but it really serves no purpose. My son already felt bad and knew he should have been paying closer attention, his face told me so. It wouldn’t have made either of us feel any better if I’d yelled at him. We’d both be feeling miserable, small, and angry.

Together we shopped online for a new mower. He selected an old-fashioned push mower for the following reasons: it was the most affordable, it’s environmentally friendly and quieter, and it will provide him with a little more exercise. I’m proud of the way he handled the situation. He also had choices, and he handled it maturely by owning what happened and remaining calm.

It wasn’t the way either of us wanted to start the day, but life happens and mishaps are part of the deal and we have no control over them. We only have control over how we react to them. I’m learning that facing problems calmly is far more effective and pleasant than hiding from them or living in a constant state of hysteria and discouragement.

I’ve come to believe the way we handle the little things life throws at us has a significant impact on shaping our future. It establishes a pattern of behavior and sets the stage for how we handle the big things.

My Choices Shape my Futuer