Creation and Destruction

Picasso said, “Every act of creation is an act of destruction.” I don’t think it works vice versa. A client I work with at OneCalifornia Bank in Oakland emailed me today to say that the bank had been vandalized and a front window broken. She wanted information about replacing the large decal of the logo that I had designed. I could easily direct her to that information, but I can’t easily understand the destructive action. The bank was founded by generous, good-hearted people to improve economic opportunity and benefit the Oakland community.

I like to round out these short entries, tie up loose ends, end with an “ah-ha,” but nothing rescues this one.


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Starting Small

A new acquaintance Dani Antman comes to visit my studio and take a walk. She’s wanting to set up a studio in her home and start painting again. I tell her about “starting small,” the way a teacher of mine at the Kansas City Art Institute, Michael Meyers, once suggested: “Do whatever you can finish in the amount of time you have, use whatever you have—your name in script, for instance.” In those days I was holding down several teaching jobs and came home tired every day. I began making one-inch square, colored pencil drawings from cursive shapes. They soon demanded more from me and I gave it; I drew, fueled by the work, while listening for hours to classical music every night. One-inch drawings became six-inch grids became two-feet layered plexiglas acrylic paintings that I exhibited in my first museum competition.  

This is what we can do for one another: inspire the starting small with the belief that deeper engagement will multiply our efforts many-fold.

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Filed under Creativity, Painting & Design

Mind Clutter: A Reason to Write

Lately, my mind has been as cluttered as my closet. I needed to sort it out. Keeping up a blog was just one more thing to think about and I was failing. I had too many ideas, too much to say, not enough time, not enough conviction. 

Often it helps to approach a problem directly, to sit with my journal and puzzle it out or take a walk and listen for answers to stumble forth from the rhythm. Sometimes it’s best to sleep on it.

This morning I woke with clarity: a way to use the blogsphere to focus thoughts. The point is not whether anyone is reading this right now or not; the point is the framing that published writing requires and the satisfaction that comes from shaping thought with words. I’d enjoyed making a few posts since opening this blog in August 2008, but I wasn’t compelled to write regularly.

Yesterday, I committed to write daily about creativity. That decision begged questions: What about fiction? What about painting? Gardening? Music? Design? Sustainability? Joy? I love the broad strokes of creative process, but I also love craft and technique, details and story. I didn’t want to give up those topics, but I couldn’t effectively contain them all in one space. So rather than write fewer blogs, I would write more, more often.

Read to Write Books focuses on writing craft and close reading.

A Painter’s Garden digs into painting and gardening.

Earth in Concert revolves around creative collaboration, music, design, sustainable practices.

Wooleycat scampers playfully into children’s media.

Dennis Hysom will also contribute to Earth in Concert and Wooleycat.

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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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Filed under Creativity, Gardening & Nature, Love & Joy

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"


Filed under Love & Joy

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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