There are 364 days left in 2010, counting this one, which is half gone. That tallies to 8724  hours. Think of what we can accomplish, if we decide to make it happen. Starting today, I will use this blog to do more than occasionally share my musings. I will explore daily with you tenets of creativity as they benefit us individually and together.

On New Year’s Day 2009, I wrote lists of regrets and aspirations and copied them onto slips of paper. My husband wrote his, too. We carried the scraps out to the garden, where we burned the old in a tin can and planted the new in the earth. Yesterday, reading journal entries to rally resolutions for the coming year, I decided that, with a few updates, the 2009 list would suffice for 2010. While I’ve made progress toward my goals, so much remains to do. Perhaps you feel the same. It was a rough year. Everyone at the New Year’s Eve party I attended cheered the end of 2009. Our felt pain was relative: losing a parent or losing a job, piling on debt or plundering savings, feeling that life as we know it isn’t what we thought it would be.

I believe in doing what you love so you can do more of what you love. If the money follows, all the better. But the real payoff comes from creating opportunity and ability to engage in fulfilling work, love and care for others, enjoy life, and make the world a better place. If I’d had my way in 2009, I would have accomplished more (books, paintings, income, home repair) and healed family ills. I would have contributed more to causes and been a more active citizen. I would have kissed joy more often as it flew.

The first resolution listed for 2009 that I’ll keep for the new year is “waiting for something to happen.” It’s easy to fall into despair and creative impotence while waiting—whether for the economy to turn, an agent to respond, a child to mature, a congress to legislate. January of 2009 held great promise—Obama’s election buoyed my spirits and hopes for a changed world. But in my personal life, I was barely keeping my head above water. I lost work in my design business, fielded agent rejections of manuscripts, worried about family issues—aging parents, young adult son, and couldn’t focus on a book project about joy because I was too depressed.

Several decisions changed the course of events. Each one required action, time, and a leap of faith. A few of the most significant were:

Attended a retreat with NextNow focused on Global Coherence

Committed to a 3-person art exhibition at Falkirk Cultural Center for summer 2010

Helped move my parents into retirement living

Joined Make Mine a Million, a feisty group of women entrepreneurs

Attended an economic summit in Sebastopol sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce

Proposed teaching “Read to Write,” a 9-month fiction craft course at Copperfield’s Books—in support of the independent book store, writers and readers

Repurposed our brand “Earth in Concert” to encompass the many creative projects and services that Dennis Hysom and I offer individually and in collaboration

All of these decisions and experiences have brought new friendships, expanded thinking, greater sense of purpose, and hope for improving the world through our individual and collective small, persistent efforts.

This year, I will examine in this blog space those daily efforts, along with the occasional large, coherent bursts of accomplishment. Please join me in a discussion of cultivating the creative life and using what we discover to create positive change in 2010 and beyond.

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August Friends

My friend Carla calls from Hawaii. She’s the kind of friend who says, “I’ve been thinking of you,” and I know it’s true because I’ve been thinking of her, though we haven’t spoken in two years. A few days ago I ran into a mutual friend in the grocery store. That sparked my thoughts, but even before I’d had Carla on my mind. It’s August, the month when we used to walk St. Elmo Creek in Cazadero together to celebrate our close birth dates. I would lug stones up the bank and down the dirt road to the car to take home for the garden. They still line my paths and pile near the pond; a small stack marks my dog’s grave.

The friendship that Carla and I enjoy was woven together as were her willow chairs—those works of art that drew me to her the first day of our meeting on an Art Trails studio visit. I dropped by and stayed for hours. I returned time and again to walk the creek and paint log jams of fallen redwoods, pine and brush. Settled on Maui now, she’s surrounded by eucalyptus. She and her husband had the trees on their property cut down to prevent damage to their home during storms, but their neighbor’s towering ones could still collapse Carla’s greenhouse. It’s possible to prepare oneself for misfortune, but not to escape it. Stuff happens.

Much has happened to each of us in the fifteen years that we’ve known one another, but the conversation strips the stuff away. She has dealt with life’s sorrows and difficulties and is learning to draw with one- and two-point perspective. I weave my dramas in with hers—since we last spoke I confronted sadness that I never would have imagined. I tell her about the happiness pie—the 10% situational, 40% intentional, 50% genetic. Picture it, I say. It can be cherry, blackberry. She misses the berries. They’re abundant in Sonoma County this August. We would pick them on our creek walks, the juice purpling our fingers, the warm, sweet berries satisfying our hunger until, back in her kitchen, she prepared a lunch—salad, whatever—always a delicious mix of flavors. I love much about Carla and perhaps most that she cares so well for herself and others in an unhurried way. Even her voice is like a slow walk along the creek bank, her laugh now splashing across the ocean.


 "Split," oil on canvas, 42" x 36"

"Split," oil on canvas, 42" x 36"

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A joyful day, a new President

7:15 Pacific Time. In less than two hours, America will have a new President. My email inbox this morning brings a message from Laurence, a  friend in France: “Hello Chris! How do you feel today, Obama’s day: full of hope for this new year? What a long way your country did, in such a small time: this is simply fantastic. This shows the rest of the world how lively, reactive, young and attractive America is. This is a great lesson for everybody.” 

Yesterday I took my turn in a round robin email to my husband’s sisters. I realized I couldn’t chatter on about the details of my life without putting them in context of the powerfully hopeful change that is happening. I share part of the letter from yesterday, Martin Luther King day…

“It’s a beautiful sunny day in California. Dennis and I watched Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech on television this morning. It’s was moving to see it and anticipate Obama’s inauguration tomorrow. How far this country has come since 1963! Yes, we still have far to go — many problems to solve, crises to avert– but for today and tomorrow, I’m celebrating with the nation in a spirit of hope & unity, one nation, freedom and justice for all. Our extended families are like this nation– of diverse opinions, varying incomes, from every region. We are bonded by love, even when we disagree on issues. Each of us touches other lives beyond our families. We toss pebbles of thought, prayers and intentions into the reflecting pool and hope ripples out. My good wishes go out to all of you — wishing you strength in facing misfortune and loss, comfort in caring for family and friends, and joy in embracing your talents, dreams and the people with whom you share your daily lives.

I was in downtown Oakland on Friday: hope & pride abounded (here in a community rocked by anger over the police shooting of an unarmed young man in a Bart station on New Year’s day.) The parking attendant who took my money said he was going to bring a TV in to his booth on Tuesday to watch the inauguration. People in the bookstore at a display of election-related books shared excitement and tears with me over the astonishing photos of a nation coming together. A homeless man on the street, who coveted my cream soda, smiled and talked about the inauguration. Of course, I gave him my soda.” 

The hope is palpable. Last evening, I was in the garden. Neighbors walking their dog stop to bask in a shared optimism. Later, at my computer, a work associate and friend emails a message from her Blackberry: “In DC. The city is electric!” I reply that some friends are gathering for our own “inaugural ball” on Tuesday. We’re dressing up. Brenda replies: “Wear pearls in honor of our new First Lady.” 

I will deck my self with all that glitters and shines, for today we have a new President and First Lady, and I am filled with joy.


oil on canvas, 42" x 36"

Glint, oil on canvas, 42" x 36"


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Pen Pals: Gratitude & Obama

In my first writing group years ago, eight of us sat circled on couches and chairs, pens in hand, filling our notebooks with free writes. Now keypad clicking replaces ballpoint scratching and there are three in the group—Ann, Gillian and I. We check in with life’s anticipations, new chapters of our big stories and small. We write, read aloud, and check out, confirming our next date. We’ve written through joys and sorrows, births, deaths, teething, teen angst, breakups, heartbreaks, breakdowns and breakthroughs. It goes without saying that we appreciate one another, but I want them to know how much those few hours every other week matter to me.

From across the country and through cyberspace, other pen pals check in. Yesterday, my friend Jordan Rosenfeld emails about her new blog, book tours, interviewing, editing. She’s a wonderful writer, inspiration to others, and a new mother. I also want baby news. Her check in won’t be complete without the details. In her blog she says, “I’m grateful to all those people who’ve contributed to my journey as a writer.” As I am grateful to her.

I heard from a woman who bought a copy of A Painter’s Garden a decade ago. On November 4, she took it from her shelf and read it to comfort her through the anxious hours before she knew for sure that Obama had won the election. Sylvia tracked me down to order a book for a friend in Canada. The two have been best pals since age five; they are now seventy. She told me that, coincidentally, her sister had just received a copy of my book from a woman who said that it had changed her life. A “your book changed my life” email had landed in my inbox a few weeks previously from Diane, whom I’ve never met in person, though we’ve shared many phone calls and emails on projects related to my design business. Yes. As it turns out, she is the one who gave the book to Sylvia’s sister.

Today is brisk and sunny in Northern California. Over a lunch of warmed-up leftover tomatillo chili, I click on the television, looking for breaking news. I’m not normally a daytime TV watcher, and am trying to disengage from the habit formed during the Presidential campaign. I couldn’t get enough of Barack Obama then or now. I crave the optimism and intelligence after the past eight years of the current administration, which set a dangerously low bar for a dumbed-down, fearful political agenda. I want to write to my President-elect and tell him that that he and Michelle are changing our lives for the better. In spite of all the bad economic news, there is hope when they check in. I’m eager for details, but still basking in the joys of anticipation. They have a handle on what needs doing, but they can’t accomplish it alone. I’m going to tell them that I’m grateful for the journey we’re about to begin as a nation. I’m going to thank them for re-inspiring those of us old enough to remember Kennedys and young enough, as is my 20-year-old son, to become inspired for the first time by a man and woman who honor the office of President and role of First Lady, a man and woman whose gratitude is heartfelt and contagious.

The website lists a snail mail address: Obama for America, P.O. Box 8102, Chicago, Il 60680.

Pick up your pens.


Dialog, oil on canvas

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Architects of Our Lives: Making Sandcastles

This past week I witnessed the birth of a woman who, at 60-something, has glimpsed her lost desire to build sandcastles. Her awareness of self had been buried deeply by life’s difficulties: she said she didn’t know she had a self, and now she does. It was a miracle spoken softly in a small room. It was a shout to the heart and mind. “Ah-ha!”

We are architects from the get-go. Plop a child on a beach with a bucket, she soon will be carving her space—digging, scooping, and smoothing—building sandcastles, unconcerned that the tide will wash away her creation. What, then, prevents us from being designers of our lives at any age? What suppresses that natural instinct to carve a place where we desire to be in the world? What blinds us to that childish abandon—the belief that we can and deserve to see our visions and dreams fulfilled—if only fleetingly, impermanently. The impermanence being the rule of the game, enjoyed by children stomping on their own sculpted turrets, helping the tide at day’s end.

The sandcastle metaphor is useful at any age, at any stage of creativity. Artists continually discover self and manifest it in their work. This is not to say “selfish.” It is a continual spiritual exploration, a digging into a deeper place, a cracking open onto the world. 

In life, we go from sandcastles to dollhouses, treehouses, dorms, apartments, homes. In the interior realm of self and spirit, we remain the child with shovel and bucket, digging and carrying, heaping and shaping, untangling pearly shells and damp feathers from driftwood and seaweed. We labor in the sun, unaware how our tender shoulders and cheeks are reddening. The tide ebbs and now rises. We race against time, carving a moat, fashioning drawbridges from flotsam. The foamy water rushes in, encircling the castle, undermining the foundation. We shore it up, all seriousness and squealing with delight at our failure. The bridges collapse, doors fill with sand, turrets disintegrate. Someone calls our name—oh yes, there’s dinner to be eaten, chores, sleeping—so we leave it. The next morning, we begin again, down the beach or at our same spot, refashioning the sodden heaps of sand into a place where we can live fully for the time being.

This is the creative life. Every “ah-ha!” a miracle, a privilege and a gratitude.

Oil on canvas, 20 x 20 in.

Alright No. 3 from Island Songs, Oil on canvas, 20 x 20 in.

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Island in time

The San Francisco Airport Museums has an exhibition space in SFO’s United terminal that you pass through on your way to the gates. You can walk the wide carpeted concourse with Plexigas display booths on either side, or you can be conveyed on a moving belt past the displays. The exhibit this past weekend was painted pottery from Santa Catalina, an island off the Southern California coast. I walked the concourse.

On any given day, our senses are bombarded with more than we can take in. Those United passengers on the people-mover probably didn’t see my favorite tile nestled in its display with a panoply of others. The tile was exactly like the one that I had sketched in watercolor while visiting Catalina twenty-three years ago. In the main town of Avalon, colorful tiles wrap the quaint public square, which was built in the early 1900s. The small sketches I made there inspired a large group of oil paintings called Island Songs, which I worked on for two years following that Catalina trip. They were exhibited at the Plaza Gallery in the Bank of America headquarters building in San Francisco—124 paintings wrapping a contemporary public square. There’s much I could say about those paintings and may in future posts, but this post is a contemplation on a six-inch square piece of glazed clay. 

The tile triggered a rush of memories: a bright sunny day; white-washed, decorated stucco; a romantic island getaway with my husband. (I called him on my cell phone to reminisce.) I thought about how artistic inclination—seeing the tile, selecting it from all else in my vision, choosing to paint it—leads the artist to deeper exploration. In this instance, that first glance led to a series of 157 oil paintings, 20 x 20 inches square.

On the plane, I wrote a bit about the tile in my journal, then forgot about it during the weekend in Vail with my sister. Returning to San Francisco, I walked from the gate, thinking the thoughts of a disembarking passenger—baggage, shuttle bus. I came around the corner and whop! There it was.

The art that had transported me back more than twenty years did it again. The little tile beckoned, “You are older now, are even stepping into your own new decade, but you are timeless with me.” I had traveled 2600 miles to Colorado and back, but I felt as if the bigger journey was taking place in the concourse, standing in front of a display case, gazing at a fragment of clay made by an unknown person’s hands, long ago and faraway.

Watercolor of Catalina tile

Watercolor of Catalina tile

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Women Impressionists

In San Francisco’s Palace of the Legion of Honor, the lower level galleries were filled with paintings by four women Impressionists: Berthe Morisot, Mary Cassatt, Eva Gonzales, and Marie Bracquemond. I toured the exhibit with my long-time friend Sally. The biggest surprise for me was the brushwork in some of the Morisot paintings — so lively, fresh. A hat in the grass, the flower pattern on a dress, or the draping and ruffles of a white dress were like small expressionistic paintings— holding their own as a collection of strokes, color, highlights, and shadow. 

When leaving the museum, walking toward pedestrians crossing from the parking lot which has a large, circular pool, I was reminded of “There’s Your Trio,” a painting I made years ago with a view from the same vantage point. I had the benefit of a polaroid camera, which the four women Impressionists did not have. They were limited mostly to interiors, parks, and gardens or other places. A reputable woman of the late 1800s couldn’t depict street life, as could the men painters.

There's Your Trio, 96" x 72" oil

There's Your Trio, 96" x 72" oil

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Inventing characters

When writing a novel, you want to know your characters. To help with imagining them and propelling the story, make scrapbooks for each fictional person. From magazines, catalogs, newspapers and other photo sources, snip visual detail to cut and paste onto pages dedicated to each character. What did your adult characters look like when they were children? Where do your characters live? Who are their friends, relatives, pets? What foods, fashions, and fetishes do they enjoy? How might color palettes convey their personalities? Does your protagonist wear an old t-shirt or negligee to bed? Is her lover a man of mismatched socks? Most of what you discover won’t end up in the prose, but it will deepen your characters and their story. Books on the craft of writing  suggest making lists of character attributes, but I find the visual prompts to be richer. In the example below, I knew enough about a minor character in the story to recognize him at eight years old painting a watercolor at his living room coffee table. I knew he had protruding ears, so I recognized him in a photo as a baby. I was surprised to see him as a teenager with his recording equipment, yet his look of focused attention was familiar and right. All of this was used, not only for his character development and scenes, but also for that of his mother, who was a main character, his father, and his friends, who are prominent in the story.   

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At aqua aerobics this morning, the instructor Sandy Sakwa reminds us, “Turn your smiles up.” She puts forefingers to her mouth and pushes the corners toward her cheeks. “It’s easy to do,” she says. “You’ll feel better. It will lift your spirits.” Everyone laughs and smiles. Music pulses from Sandy’s portable blaster; the sun shines; the water sparkles and laps at our torsos as we frog-jog across the pool floor, knees bent, arms flapping. Later in the deep end, we stretch out on the water’s surface and roll like otters. I feel lighter, happier. I want to remember Sandy’s words during the week and be buoyant on land.  😦 Turn your smile up. 🙂

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Beauty becomes us

My husband, Dennis Hysom, and I post a reminder in our studios: 

Let the beauty we love be what we do.

I think it’s true. Our beautiful thoughts and actions become us. As do the ugly and unkind. “Let the beauty you love be what you do.” Rumi.

Prelude 7, Monotype

Prelude 7, Monotype




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