Monday, April 30, 2007

Forgiveness and Redemption

When I was in the eighth grade, there was a boy in our class who loved to do pen and ink drawings of battle scenes. He was smaller than the other boys, got good grades and kept to himself. I was new to the school that year, but I think it was a painful year for almost everyone in my class. There were two girls and two boys that the rest of us were all afraid of because it was only a matter of time before everyone was the target of their mockery. Most days it wasn’t too bad because we all shared the wealth pretty equally when it came to being teased. When it was your turn in the ring, if even for a few minutes, it was excruciating.

We were in art class one afternoon and the number of the boy who loved to draw, was up. Someone walked behind him and swiped a brush loaded with blue watercolor paint across the collar of his button down shirt. Someone else did the same. Another pulled the drawing from beneath his hands and tore it to pieces. He looked down at the detailed rendering, now destroyed and I heard him say, very quietly, that took me two weeks. By the time class was over, everyone had put paint on him or done something. I had done something.

We had a history class after art was over and as the humiliated boy climbed the worn wooden stairs to the third floor, I heard him say to himself, this was a brand new shirt. I imagined he had to go home and explain to his parents what happened to the shirt and I thought they would be angry and want to call the school. He, of course would have to beg them not to because it would only make things worse.

It’s been over 30 years since that day and I can still remember that boy’s name and his delicate features. I remember the white shirt with the blue pattern and his corduroy Levis. His 13 year old image comes into my mind every once in a while and I feel new shame at what I did. In my mind, I've told him how sorry I am a thousand times and I've hoped that by some miracle, he'd hear my thoughts. I wonder if he remembers what happened and if he’s angry when he thinks of it.

We inflict and receive a lot of pain over a lifetime. When we’re young, all the hurt is magnified and we remember every thoughtless, cruel thing that happens. If we’re lucky, the feelings fade over time and we realize it wasn’t so bad. Sometimes it is bad and if we can, we forgive the perpetrator. Sometimes we can’t forgive and we can never release the pain.

There are things that were said to me as a child or a teenager that I took great offense at and felt angry about for years. In a child’s mind, adults should be infallible and never make mistakes. My stepson, a wonderful young man of 26 has reminded me of things he now finds funny that were said in the heat of emotion when he was an adolescent. I am so grateful for his easy going nature because in the retelling, I recognize they were exactly the kind of heated words that I would have burned into memory and held a grudge over for years. I feel sorry for ever being mad at comments made by people who were just doing the best they could.

We’re all doing the best we can. It’s my mantra when things become emotional and people act irrationally. I’ve forgotten or forgiven all the real and perceived wrongs done to me. But I’ve collected memories over decades of things I wish I could take back. I don’t know how many people there are in the world who don’t forgive me.

I have a story idea that I like a lot, but I may have an insurmountable problem. My main character is flawed. She’s fundamentally a good person, but I'd have her make some pretty big mistakes. I love this character because she's fallible and I want her to have the chance to eventually get it right. Real people, interesting and likeable people, make mistakes and they hurt people and hopefully, they eventually find themselves and do the right thing. I've tried to think of books with flawed female characters and all that comes to mind is Madame Bovary and The House of Mirth -- look what happened to those two ladies!

When you read a story, can you forgive a flawed character her mistakes and allow her to seek redemption, or must she always come to a tragic end? Maybe we're more forgiving with real people than the ones we want to read about. I’d love to hear what you think.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Just Breathe

This afternoon I had one of those experiences that make all of us cringe when we hear about it happening to someone else. My hard drive crashed – hard. And no, I don’t back up.

Until fairly recently, this kind of disaster would have precipitated a meltdown and maybe even tears. It was my work laptop, but I kept a lot of personal files and emails on it. I had account data, old quotes, orders, proposals and emails going back to 2001. I had outlines, character sketches, some short stories and about 22,000 words of a draft novel. I knew I’d sent the draft and one short story to a writing partner to read, so it was pretty likely I could get them back. Losing the rest didn’t bother me nearly as much as I thought it would and that surprised me a little and then I understood why.

In the spring of 2004 Scott’s mother was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. She died three months later. Within two weeks, we moved from Colorado to New Hampshire because my father had been diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer and we wanted to spend what time we could with him. He died two months after Scott’s mother did.

In the weeks before our parents died, all of the petty day to day issues that had kept me in a driven, intense state for so long evaporated. The things that were important suddenly crystallized into a sharp, quiet focus and I was calm. There wasn’t much to think about anymore. My family and the people I love were the only things that mattered. The job I’d completely dedicated myself to wasn’t important, being available to answer emails immediately on my Blackberry and take cell phone calls 24/7 wasn’t important, the house I lived in and how it was decorated wasn’t important. There was very little that was.

That was an extraordinary time and our families pulled together into a tiny circle that sealed out all the noise. Eventually we all had to go back into the world and participate. But during that time, I felt the power of knowing that almost all of the things we worry about are completely insignificant in the bigger picture of our lives. I meditated on that thought one night in my father’s hospital room and willed myself to hold onto that feeling and remember what it felt like. I knew that as we put more distance between ourselves and those profound and immediate feelings, we’d slip back into the current of our normal lives and once again become annoyed, afraid, worried, and angry about things that didn’t really matter. It was inevitable. But I promised myself that I would try to remember often, how it felt to be in the moment and what that awareness was like.

Did I go back to my old way of thinking and feeling? Yes and no. I stopped putting my work in front of everything else in my life for good. Old habits are hard to break and I’ve gotten stressed out plenty of times over work and moving and all kinds of things that we have to deal with in the course of living. I’ve lost sight of that feeling I had in the fall of 2004 lots of times. But I’m getting better at remembering to just breathe and think about how I felt then and it works.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Art or the Artist?

I’ve always thought it a funny cultural quirk that people seem to want to like an artist (writer, movie star, athlete, director, or politician) in order to appreciate their art. This is probably in large part because we live in an age where it’s so easy to find out everything there is to know about a person. Our 15 minutes of fame is now and the odds are you can Google just about anybody and find them.

It’s always been prevalent with movie and TV personalities. There’s probably no better current example of this than the plunge Tom Cruise’s career has taken based on his horse’s ass personality and loony tunes philosophies. I sort of feel sorry for him. I’ve always been a Brad Pitt kind of gal though, and despite the tabloid coverage of his silly global antics I’ll still watch just about anything he stars in because I think he’s a genuinely talented actor.

I started thinking about this yesterday when I talked about Woody Allen. My post didn’t include anything about the scandal with Soon Yi Previn, but I’m well aware that there are a lot of people who found his behavior so deplorable that they won’t watch his movies. Maybe to some of us, it’s a matter of principle. Maybe some of us believe supporting the industry of someone we find morally reprehensible to be socially irresponsible. I’m not sure I think that’s it though.

This trend seems to have bled over into the other arts where who the creator is should be irrelevant to how we feel about the work and how they look should matter even less. I’m not especially interested in writers’ or artists’ personal lives so I don’t associate their work with what they do. If Annie Proulx hated puppies and kittens or Dave Eggers was in love with an orangutan or Michael Chabon was a necrophiliac, I can honestly say I wouldn’t care and wouldn’t even want to know.

I care even less whether the author of my favorite book looks like George Cloony or the elephant man. I read a list of 13 writing tips yesterday on Chuck Palahniuk’s website. Number 11 was: “Get author book jacket photos taken now, while you're young. And get the negatives and copyright on those photos.” I read a post on another Blog – just yesterday -- about the impact to sales that a youthful, attractive photo on a book jacket has versus one that – well -- probably really looks like the author. If that’s not a lot of pressure, I don’t know what is. There was a time when the stereotype of either an artist or a writer was that of an eccentric who probably wasn’t overly attractive (think Gertrude Stein or Truman Capote) and was maybe anti-social or reclusive (think Thomas Pynchon or J.D. Salinger). Now writers are thinking about glamour shots and image; as if writing well wasn’t hard enough.

It’s hard enough for me to figure out what to write and how to do it, so I’m planning ahead to save time. I’ll be auditioning body doubles to appear on my book jackets and attend book signings in my place. Once I’ve written a new classic for the 21st century and whatever pseudonym I've picked is a household name (obviously I can't use my own name and let the media find out all the dirt), you can be sure I’ll be hailed as the youngest, sexiest looking middle aged woman in America. Let me know if you have a candidate for my pseudo-face in mind.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

My Fascination With Woody Allen

He’s given me a completely romantic picture of New York. Between Woody Allen and Sex and the City, I’m a sucker for the Upper East Side. I’ve never been there, but that’s going to change soon. Scott and I are going to New York for a couple of days in May. We’ve built the trip around going to dinner at the legendary Café Carlyle on May 14th. We’ve got reservations and premium seating to see Woody Allen and the Eddy Davis New Orleans Jazz Band. This is a big thrill for me. I’ve seen the interior of the Café Carlyle and Bemelman’s Bar dozens of times on film. If Bobby Short were still alive, the fantasy would be complete. We’ll be staying at the Surrey Hotel on East 76th Street; just a short stroll from Central Park and yes, there will be a carriage ride involved. Despite the pronouncement in The Big Chill that Elaine’s is dead, the trip would not be complete if we didn’t have dinner there once. If I could be invited to a dinner party at the apartment used for Hannah and Her Sisters and spend an evening with those characters, I’d be in heaven. All my youthful ideas about a romantic New York City life have been built around interiors like the ones in every Woody Allen movie. They’re never anything fancy and they always have floor to ceiling bookshelves filled with interesting titles.

I have a fascination with Woody Allen movies. I won’t say every film is a classic, but I can say there’s something about all of them I love. He’s released a new movie almost every year since 1969 and there’s something about that kind of prolific creativity and work ethic I admire. I love that he remains a New York film maker, totally outside the Hollywood machine. Every movie has something a little different about it from the last. He’s made slapstick comedies, romantic comedies, black and white films, mockumentaries, dramas, an homage to Ingmar Bergman, a parody of a Greek tragedy and even a musical. The list of major actors who have been in Woody Allen films over the years, despite the legendary low pay for doing so is amazing.

More than anything else, he’s a master at dialogue. When I started to collect Woody Allen’s movies on DVD, I realized these really are movies I can watch over and over and it’s the dialogue that keeps my attention. It’s funny and it’s philosophical, which is why I tend to like his movies more with repeated viewings. But I guess it’s no surprise that someone who loves words as much as I do would love Woody Allen’s movies.

A small (and potentially disturbing) piece of personal information about me: I own all but two of these titles and those are on order so my collection will be complete. I’ve asterisked my absolute favorites.

Films Directed by Woody Allen

What's Up, Tiger Lily? (1966)

Take the Money and Run (1969)

Bananas (1971)

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask) (1972)

Sleeper (1973)

Love and Death (1975)

*Annie Hall (1977)

Interiors (1978)

*Manhattan (1979)

Stardust Memories (1980)

A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy (1982)

Zelig (1983)

Broadway Danny Rose (1984)

The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)

*Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)

*Radio Days (1987)

September (1987)

Another Woman (1988)

New York Stories (1989)

*Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)

Alice (1990)

*Shadows and Fog (1992)

*Husbands and Wives (1992)

*Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993)

Bullets Over Broadway (1994)

Don't Drink the Water (1994)

*Mighty Aphrodite (1995)

*Everyone Says I Love You (1996)

*Deconstructing Harry (1997)

Celebrity (1998)

Sweet and Lowdown (1999)

Small Time Crooks (2000)

The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001)

Hollywood Ending (2002)

*Anything Else (2003)

Melinda and Melinda (2004)

Match Point (2005)

Scoop (2006)

Cassandra's Dream (2007) - Not yet released

Woody Allen Spanish Project (2008) – Definitely not yet released

Monday, April 23, 2007

Paralysis by Analysis

There is a term called Paralysis by Analysis that refers to the phenomenon of gathering so much data and looking at a problem for so long that the resulting lack of progress or lack of a decision outweighs the benefit of performing the analysis.

I am most familiar with the term within the context of business, but it’s a problem for athletes, musicians, artists, writers and I’d venture a guess to anyone about to embark on a big decision or project.

I am there with my writing. Between reading Blogs and books on craft, I have started to write and then rejected at least six stories over the last month. The additional information I’m absorbing is all extremely valuable, but it’s intimidating and impossible to absorb entirely. Ignorance was bliss 21,000 pages into the draft novel I started several months ago and I won’t say there isn’t some salvageable material in there, but now that I’m starting to know what I don’t know, it’s almost overwhelming.

I have no sense of place! The theme is unclear! The characters don’t have enough depth! The stakes aren’t high enough! The tension isn’t high enough! I’m not saying anything new! Yikes!

Alright, that’s enough of a meltdown. I know what I need to do. I have enough information to go back to the drawing board and frame my ideas with the new insights I’ve gained. Better now than into the third or fourth revision of my first manuscript.

For the rest of the week, I’ll plot and diagram out my story, get a new draft started and I will not read anything new except good fiction so I can remember what it looks like.

It’s all about balance. Did I mention last week that’s a challenge for me?

Friday, April 20, 2007

Clearing the Clutter

I was still on a business call when the clutter in my office overcame me and I pulled all the books out of their shelves. There are three six foot bookshelves here; two in my office and one in the living room. When I unpacked in July, I crammed books onto the shelves as they came out of the boxes with no regard for the natural order of things. Before we moved to Colorado from New Hampshire I gave away all but the books I felt I had to keep and all the movies on VHS tapes. Books and movies are heavy and really, were they worth dragging across the country twice?

Where does all this stuff come from? It was chaos. Seymour Hirsch was next to Christopher Moore; Faulkner, Rushdie and the Fodor’s Guide to Northern California were side by side; Chuck Palahniuk was scattered between all three bookcases; and writing how-to books were cozied up with Updike, Robbins and Mastering the Complex Sale!

Clutter paralyzes me and I’ve fought my packrat instincts all my life. I’ve also been nomadic and left a lot of things behind.

Weeks ago when I bought Rightsizing Your Life, Simplifying Your Surroundings While Keeping What Matters Most I was ready to start right in on the spring cleaning, but until yesterday I didn’t know where the book was.

I can live without just about everything I own. I learned that a few years ago when I moved into a one bedroom apartment. I brought only my clothes, bought the things I really needed and I lived in that tiny apartment for a year. It was cozy and the truth is I didn’t need much and I always knew exactly where everything was. I had space to think.

Of all the things I’ve lost or given away over the years, I never missed any of them, except some old photos I lost in a divorce. Some years later I look back and realize losing those pictures taught me that material sentimental attachments aren’t important. What I keep in my head and in my heart is what matters.

My friend Laura’s parents moved from a large home to a condo several years ago. Her father offered the family heirlooms to his children and then carefully photographed and catalogued all the things he loved before he got rid of them. What a brilliant alternative to keeping a basement full of boxes that never get unpacked.

Part of the grand life transition plan Scott and I have is to downsize/rightsize (does anyone else find the proliferation of new non-words a little annoying?) so maybe the two of us can someday move into a dwelling smaller than one that could shelter a family of six.

It’s been six years and five moves since I lived in my tiny, organized apartment and despite draconian purges before each move; we still can’t park in the garage. Saturday, all that will change. I am on the warpath to clear out the excess.

Note: Books and my collection of every Woody Allen movie released since 1969 are exempt.

If you had to reduce your worldly possessions down to the bare bones, what couldn’t you bear to part with?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Fine Art Views

Because I live with a painter and we both talk about what we love to do (a lot), it’s been interesting to find that almost everything written about both painting and writing translates to the other very well. Whether we’re talking about inspiration, lack of inspiration, what makes some artists or writers successful while others struggle, or how a full time writer or artist is perceived by other people, there seem to be parallels. I received my first issue of a new e-newsletter this week and thought I’d share an interesting piece. I wonder if there is a literary equivalent to Stendhal Syndrome. There have been a great number of books I’ve read over the last forty years that have had a profound impact on me, although even Ken Kesey’s “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test” didn’t induce hallucinations. Great writing has brought me to tears, kept me from sleeping, invigorated me and caused me to annoy everyone I come into contact with because I won’t stop talking about the great book I just finished.


Do You Have Stendhal Syndrome? I Do!

By Clint Watson

In the July/August 2006 Issue of Art of the West Magazine, Tom Tierney and Allan Duerr wonder in their column "Straight Talk" why some people respond to art so strongly while others seem impervious to art's spiritual effects upon one's soul. As I pondered their questions, I remembered reading about an obscure psychosomatic "illness" regarding cases of people who exhibit extreme sensitivity to beautiful art. The phenomenon is called "Stendhal syndrome."

Stendhal syndrome is a psychosomatic "illness" that causes rapid heartbeat, dizziness, confusion and even hallucinations when an individual is exposed to art.

Marie-Henri Beyle, the French author known as Stendhal (his pen name), visited Florence in 1817. His book, Naples and Florence: A Journey from Milan to Reggio, describes his experience of the "illness." He actually became dizzy and confused by the majestic beauty of Florentine art. According to an Italian psychiatrist, Graziella Magherini, it happens all the time. Magherini observed and described more than 100 similar cases among tourists and visitors in Florence. Tourists visit the Uffizi, and fall to the ground while viewing paintings by Brunelleschi or Botticelli.

I've seen similar effects upon visitors to art exhibitions that I've attended. People stand in front of paintings gaping, weeping, or laughing. Stendhal syndrome illustrates the amazing power that artists wield when they concern themselves with creating beauty, rather than making ridiculous "statements."

Speaking of splashes and gimmicks, I have to wonder if anyone has ever fainted in front of an Andy Warhol or a Jackson Pollock? How many tourists have collapsed in tears in the MOMA? How many have been elated to spiritual highs by the geometric shapes of a Mondrian? Although to be fair, I have to admit that the apparent appeal and popularity of Warhol, Pollock, Mondrian, Picasso and other modernists does leave me in a state of confusion, but that's not quite the same thing as keeling over from the sheer beauty of their works....

As Allan and Tom point out in their column, those of us who are art lovers "...respond to art because it feeds our souls and, simply put, makes our world a better place." If being a person who responds strongly to art makes me ill, then I don't want to be well brother!

That’s my point, reply to email me yours at


Clint Watson
Software Craftsman and Art Fanatic

PS: "A work of art which did not begin in emotion is not art." (Paul Cezanne)

This article appears courtesy of by Clint Watson, a free email newsletter about art, marketing, inspiration and fine living for artists, collectors and galleries (and anyone else who loves art).

For a complimentary subscription, visit:

Do you have Stendhal Syndrome? Do you believe there’s a literary equivalent? What's the strongest reaction you've ever had to art or literature and what caused it?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Kindness of Strangers

Jane is gentle and soft spoken with deep sienna eyes and long chestnut hair she pulls up loosely away from her face. She speaks slowly, with a steady determination and she fights for what she believes is right and defends those who can’t defend themselves. She left her job teaching special needs children to stay at home with her newborn daughter six years ago. Once her baby started school, Jane wanted to do something meaningful with her extra time and became a volunteer for the Rocky Mountain Alley Cat Alliance. Her husband is kind, generous and supportive about what she does and her daughter is a bright, loving child with an amazing maturity and sweetness, no doubt learned through her mother’s work.

The RMACA estimates there are over 125,000 feral cats in Denver. Jane is one of the many volunteers who care for colonies of feral cats. Every two to three days, the volunteers visit the colonies to provide the cats with food and water. Feral cats are a breed somewhere between a domesticated cat and a wild animal. Unlike abused or abandoned house cats, feral cats haven’t had human contact so they can never become pets, but unlike truly wild animals, they are dependent on humans for survival. They live outdoors and find shelter where they can. They can usually be found in or near dumpsters foraging for food. Feral cats are frequently emaciated, infested with parasites and diseased. RMACA volunteers trap, spay or neuter and release feral cats year round. Upon capture, the cats are examined, treated for injuries and/or disease, vaccinated and spayed or neutered in mobile clinics by volunteer veterinarians. Cats with feline leukemia or HIV are euthanized to prevent further spread of disease. Fighting among feral and stray cats is common and the blood borne diseases spread through bites and scratches. Jane told me that of 20 cats she trapped one freezing week in January, seven were infected and had to be killed. Her voice quavers, just a little, when she talks about them. Before releasing the newly spayed and neutered cats, the volunteers clip the left ear of each to identify them as feral and neutered.

Some of the cats trapped are tame. They are domesticated cats that have been abandoned and these are often the saddest cases because they aren’t born with the survival skills feral cats have. The RMACA volunteers try to place those animals in foster homes. In Colorado cats don’t go into estrus in the winter months. That notwithstanding, a non-spayed cat will go into heat sometime around March and may have up to three litters of kittens by September.

Jane provides foster care for abandoned cats and finds homes for them. Sometimes, people call her about a stray or abandoned cat to see if she can help and she can rarely say no. She’s careful not to volunteer how many cats she’ll temporarily house because she doesn’t want to be stereotyped a “crazy cat lady”. Nothing could be further from the truth. Jane also works, often over long periods of time to get “cat hoarders” to voluntarily surrender animals for placement in more suitable homes. I asked Jane if all the catch and release work was having a noticeable impact on the feral population. Despite having spayed over 2,000 cats in 2006 she says some days it doesn’t appear to make a difference at all. The cats continue to breed and the colonies continue to grow. It’s hard physical work and it can be dangerous; some of the people Jane and the other RMACA volunteers run into aren’t happy to see them. It’s emotionally difficult. Each time she rescues a cat from a deplorable situation, has to euthanize an animal, or a sick or wounded rescue cat doesn’t make it, it’s painful. She speaks with such tenderness about the animals she rescues and with controlled anger about the humans who so often neglect or abuse them. The stories are hard to hear and it’s harder to comprehend how so many human beings can have so little regard for other living creatures in their care.

I asked Jane what keeps her going and if she ever feels like giving up. Jane told me that there are so many of these animals who need help and so few people to help them that she is certain this is what she was meant to do with her life.

When the snow starts to pile up outside and the temperature drops I think about the cats, and I try not to. And then I think about all the wonderful people like Jane who are out there making sure the homeless animals get food and shelter. I know they can’t save them all, but it gives me comfort to know someone tries. I feel lucky to know Jane and grateful to realize that there is a small, but dedicated army of guardian angels trying to care for these helpless creatures.

Finding Balance

People who know me well have always told me I never do anything halfway, and that’s true. Unfortunately, my tendency toward compulsive behavior is rarely mentioned as a positive trait and I can understand that. I’ve never been very good at maintaining balance in my life. Whether it’s been a job or a hobby or one of my many interests, I generally jump in with both feet to the detriment of everything else. I think everyone has something he or she is preoccupied with to a degree. Sometimes it’s self-destructive, like substance abuse or participating in unhealthy relationships. For others it’s pursuing a successful career, raising kids, keeping a gorgeous house, making money, saving money, having a baby, dieting, working out, bike riding, curing cancer or a million other things. This is probably a good thing. There are a lot of great books that never would have been written, art that never would have been made, science and technology that wouldn’t have been developed and social changes that wouldn’t have happened if not for the unrelenting drive behind most worthwhile creations.

I want to write and I want to do it well. Balancing my priorities and my obligations and learning to accept the limitation that I can’t just quit my job and focus all my energy on writing is the challenge. My job requires a lot of time, I have a husband and extended family, and the day to day chores we all have. As long as I stay with my current job, I can continue to buy more freedom by paying down our mortgage and saving, but it will continue to take a lot of focus and time from other areas of my life. I can do that. What I can’t be sure of is whether or not that leaves me enough time to dedicate to reading, writing and learning more about the writing craft to satisfy my desire to do it and to get a realistic sense for whether or not I can do it successfully. My idea of success as a writer is to be able to, at some point, work less than a forty hour week and still live a reasonably comfortable life. Am I procrastinating and trying to have my cake and eat it too if making major financial sacrifices isn’t part of my plan? Will consistently writing a couple of hours a night and on weekends be enough? Can a person really be disciplined enough to find a satisfying balance between family, job and writing? I haven’t even mentioned the elephant in the room. I know I can become technically proficient, do all I don’t have what it takes. It’s far too early to guess, but I can live with that. I don’t think I could live with it if I didn’t try.

I would love to hear from writers who’ve managed balance work, family and writing.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Navajo Rugs

Scott often hears from old friends, students, collectors and people who have seen his work through his web site. That’s how we met Wayne and Kerry. Wayne contacted Scott after seeing one of his paintings in a magazine and before long, they started a friendship. We lived in New Hampshire then and Scott and Wayne emailed pretty regularly. Last year after the western sunshine brought us back to Colorado, we had a chance to spend time with Wayne, Kerry and their daughter Katharine at their magical home and studio in Albuquerque.

Fifteen years ago Wayne and Kerry transformed their lives and established a business cleaning, restoring, appraising and buying Navajo Rugs. The restoration work is painstaking and involves intricate weaving to match pieces that are often more than a century old. The dyes must be reproduced and matched using a variety of natural substances. There are very few people in the country who do what Wayne and Kerry do and fewer still who do it as well.

They were relative newlyweds and Wayne was already about 45 when they began their adventure. They were in Indiana with traditional jobs but soon decided to pack their bags and head west where they’d both spent most of their lives. There were a few challenges. Kerry was pregnant, neither of them knew anyone in their destination city of Albuquerque and they had no money.

In Wayne’s words, “Not a whole lot can hold you back when you’re in love and ready to throw yourself to the mercy of fate. Passion, persistence, trust in ourselves and love is all we needed.”

They made the move on a credit card, paid twice the rent they planned to for a place with studio space and hit the road with Kerry pregnant and two dogs in tow. Three days later they arrived to find their new home not quite ready, so they slept on a damp carpet, unloaded the U-Haul and hit the town with their meager portfolio. They picked up a couple of jobs, but they laugh and say they’re sure it was because people took pity on them when they saw Kerry’s growing belly.

They brought their daughter Katharine into the world at home with a midwife a few months later. In those days they didn’t have insurance.

They put a down payment on the house across the street, began renovations and put in a studio. They juggled three mortgages and a handful of credit cards and paid the credit cards off with other credit cards.

Fifteen years later, they’ve got a wonderfully warm home and studio, clients in all fifty states and abroad and a backlog of more than a year’s work. Their clients don’t mind the wait. When Scott and I met Wayne and Kerry it was like spending time with friends we’d known for years. They are artists with generous, creative and loving souls. Their southwest home, originally part of a land grant generations ago, opens to a patio and garden with the scent of flowers in the air, twinkling lights and the occasional roadrunner overhead. They’ve provided safe haven to a miniature donkey, a goat, dogs, a cat and a couple of lop-eared rabbits. Katharine is a beautiful, intelligent and compassionate child and her parents are always there for her.

Was it a lot of risk and work to pursue the dream they created? I’d give that a resounding yes. Was it worth it?

Wayne explains it best. “I have a wife that is even more beautiful than when we met, and most importantly so very, very supportive and loving. We have a beautiful daughter who is compassionate, loving and opening her world as to what can be explored with fun. We still have a mortgage, but only a modest one. We’ve got health insurance, life insurance and have met so many wonderful and interesting people that have made our decision to do what we do the most rewarding choice. Kerry and I have often reflected on that aspect. Sure, what we do and where we do it with regard to our careers is definitely rewarding but the true wealth has been in the meeting of like minds and interests and talent. It has been amazing!! We look back in amazement at how, over the past fifteen years, our lives have been continually enriched by the choices we made. We would like to keep exploring without doubts or the fear of change. Age factors in, as does responsibility for others. But it works when you can put all of that aside. We did it then, we can do it now. Change and new quests are always good for the soul. There is nothing to lose except the hum drum of being in a rut. Dogs are good receptors to let you know if you’re making the right decision.”

I love a story with a happy ending, especially the ones that hint at a sequel.

Friday, April 13, 2007

How Green is That Grass?

The other day a friend asked me if Scott would continue to paint if he won the lotto tomorrow. Scott was having a particularly challenging week painting so the answer this week was a most definite, “I’d never touch a paintbrush again! The first couple of thousand paintings were pretty fun, but after that, not so much.”

Since Scott has been making a living as an artist for well over 20 years, his perspective about painting is quite a bit different than mine is about writing at the moment. While attending to the demands of the job that generates a paycheck, I squeeze in an hour or two here and there to write, and I imagine my fabulous future writing life. I sit down with my morning coffee and blissfully hammer away at my latest masterpiece, full of inspiration and incredible ideas. This vision, I realize is probably about as accurate as the fantasy I had about artists before I knew any personally. The artist of my imagination worked in a big loft, wore a French beret, held a palette in one hand, a brush in the other and had a long cigarette holder clenched in his creative teeth. He worked his emotional furor out on the blank canvas before him and was allowed fits of temper. How this turned into a paycheck never entered my mind.

While Scott has periods where he’s truly inspired, energized and doing the best work of his career, he also has periods where he’s painting commissions that don’t rock his boat or he’s painting a subject he’s no longer passionate about, but is selling and in demand by his galleries. He’s got packing and crating, ordering supplies, website changes, negotiations with galleries, advertising, cleaning brushes and a laundry list of the less glamorous tasks that are all part of making a living as an artist.

During the “up” periods, I’ve asked Scott the same question. Would he still have a desire to paint if he didn’t have to? Then his answer takes on a different slant. “If I didn’t have to depend on painting for my income, I’d probably like to set up an easel in my garden and paint what I see just for my personal enjoyment. I'd paint what I want to paint.”

What’s the difference between the fantasy and the reality? It’s pursuing your passion as a hobby versus having to pay the bills. With creative vocations, people frequently don’t understand the difference. Many times I’ve seen Scott smile and grit his teeth when someone says to him, “gosh I wish I could have your job”, and I imagine working writers might feel the same way.

Maybe that’s one of the benefits of making a career change at the ripe old age of 45 and understanding that it’s all hard work, but working at something you love beats the heck out of working at something you don’t.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Making Our Dreams Real

How many of us in our 40s and 50s don’t spend a large amount of time talking about what we plan to do once…and you can fill in the blank here. I believe we live in a time when we have more options and more possibilities open to us than ever before, but I’ve also noted that the more options we have, the more we agonize about what we want and how to get it.

I want to segue out of my day job and write more of the time than I have the freedom to now. I know a lot of people with clear ideas about what they want to do as soon as the time is right, but what is the event or the change in mindset that has to occur to move us from the somewhat unsatisfying, but secure known to the exciting, but scary unknown?

For every one of us who has dreams but can’t quite figure out how to take the steps to reach them, there are just as many who have managed to do it. Whether the dream is to start a business after taking time off to raise children, restore navajo rugs, paint, write, become a sommelier, start a catering company, run an animal shelter, make jewelry, sculpt, make films, become an environmental activist, live as an expatriate in a sunny locale, we all have dreams.

One theme I hear pretty frequently is that you have to quit planning the path and just do it. If it’s something you truly want, the specifics about how to get there become apparent as you march toward the goal. I’m told that visualization is a powerful tool to help realize what may seem a long and difficult struggle. See yourself doing what it is that you want frequently and make commitments. I try this often and decided to visualize myself at a book signing. I figured I'd keep it modest, so there isn't a long line, but I'm there. I'm scattered with this and have a hard time really focusing on the vision. I frequently get caught up in the details of what I would be wearing, or where the fantasy book store is or what color the cover of the book is and then I'll remember I was supposed to email a quote to a customer yesterday and I'm pulled out of the vision. I wonder how many people use visualization and find it helpful.

Already, as I’ve (quite accidentally) started Eudaemonia, committed to writing a certain number of words each week and found a writing buddy I feel an internal change. I’m more energized, but also more aware that I want to do more writing and the time I spend working my current job is limiting me. I can see that the next huge leap I’ll have to make if I’m going to give this passion the dedication it needs is to leave my job and find something that requires less time and focus, but will reduce my income dramatically.

If you are living your dream, what was the turning point for you to reset your course? How big was the change in lifestyle and income and how did your passion impact your relationships? How long did you plot out the transition and how much time did it take to completely move out of your old life and into the new one?

If you have a dream and you’re not quite there yet, what’s standing in your way? Are there things you need to do to take your dream to the next level, what’s holding you back?

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Finders, Keepers, Givers and Seekers

Nicole Hyde is a full time artist, sometimes poet, one time music producer and a fantastic cook. She’s launched an experiment called the “Finders! Keepers? Art Project. Random Acts of Art in a Big, Big World”. You can see the Finders! Keepers? blog at

Very small, original oil paintings are dropped off in public with a note enclosed. The finder can choose to either keep the painting or pass it along.

Scott and I were charged with dropping off one of these beautiful pieces in December when we went to Kauai. It was a tiny landscape, about 4”x4”, wrapped in cellophane and tied with a white satin ribbon. Inside the package was a card with the question, “What happens to a pocket-sized piece of art when it’s left in a public place for anyone curious enough to pick it up?”

For a week, I carried the tiny landscape with me everywhere. I thought about leaving it in restaurants, on beaches, and at scenic overlooks but there wasn’t a spot that seemed just right. I didn’t want it to be rained on or overlooked. On the last day I left it at a bar by the beach on a table shaded by an umbrella. I was sorry to let the piece go into the world by itself and wondered who would find it. Would they be confused? Would they understand it? Would they love it as much as I did?

Since the project started in late December of 2006, Nicole’s paintings have been dropped in coffee shops, libraries, public parks and outside art centers. The finders who have responded have posted charming comments, reflecting delight at making such an unexpected discovery. I wonder about the rest of the pieces, who their finders are and where they ended up.

What a felicitous surprise to find a gift from a stranger and what a wonderful way for an artist to give back to an unsuspecting public. How exciting to imagine that a finder may develop a passion for collecting art so that maybe Nicole’s gift eventually brings a karmic repayment to another artist.

In the short time that I've been surfing writing Blogs and author websites, I have a similar sense of being the recipient of an unexpected gift. I've learned so much from the generous writers and literary agents and artists who take the time to post and share their insights and experiences that I continue to revise and refine my approach to writing and learning to manage my time. I'm always surprised at the kindness of those who have found a way to live their dream, but I'm starting to understand I shouldn't be. Maybe that generosity is a fundamental part of the equation.

From the Alpha...

I always believed we have some notion of who or what we're meant to be from the time we're eight or nine. A few people stay the course and they become that person. Most of us stray from the path, sometimes due to bad choices but most often because of fear and the need for security. Every once in a great while, we find the path again.

My husband, the person I admire more than anyone I know is a fine artist, but he didn't start painting until he was 29. He struggled for many years while he learned his craft, worked more jobs than I could ever imagine possible and did without for many years until he could support himself with his art. He never gave up.

We have some friends who are artists and until a few years ago had "normal" jobs, but gave the steady income up to live the modest life they now have. She told me recently they are the proverbial starving artists, but she wouldn't give up the life she has now for anything in the world.

Another friend works with a rescue organization that catches, spays and releases feral cats in Denver. They find homes for the domestic cats they find abandoned and abused and she goes out and feeds and cares for these animals. She told me it's what she was meant to do.

Another couple we know had day jobs, but she's a painter and a writer so they started a fine art framing business on the side. After more than a year of hard work, he left his job to frame full time and she's cut back her hours and will soon be able to quit and do the things she's passionate about.

People do it and they do it all the time. I wanted to write and did, for as long as I can remember; me and a million other people. It wasn't until a few months ago that I thought maybe I could get back on my path. I started stealing time here and there to supplement my journaling with short stories and story ideas. I have a good job and make a good living, but I've watched Scott paint and create day after day, and he works very hard at it. I want what he has and what all of the people I've mentioned have. The yearning to do something I feel passionate about has overcome my fear of failure and financial insecurity (OK that's a lie. I'll never get over my fear of living in poverty again). We talk often now about my transition from the corporate life to that of a writer. How much should we have saved? How far can we pay the mortgage down? Should we get rid of HBO? I'll still have to work, but maybe part-time doing something that doesn't follow me home. I'm a realist and I know it's a longshot I'll be successful and we'll have to "downsize" and make sacrifices, but it's worth it. It's what I love and giving it my best shot and failing is preferable to never trying at all. I've made commitments to get our lives in order and to allow more time to write and this blog is part of that.

I'm hoping to connect with others who are daring to dream of pursuing whatever it is they are meant to be. I'd like to share thoughts and ideas with people who want to make a major life change and to find inspiration from people who've done it. I have a lot of challenges ahead of me, but I have a whole new level of energy and optimism now that I've gone from "I wish" to "I will".

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Literary Quote

It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything.

Virginia Woolf