Monthly Archives: December 2016

Ten Steps To A Kinder 2017

tomorrow

I have vowed to stay away from politics in my blog, but let me just say that recent events have created an atmosphere of fear and anxiety as we enter 2017.  Fear makes us forget that we are, at heart, compassionate human beings and creates an “us” versus “them” view of the world. In reality, there is only “us.”

The Dali Lama recently stated that fear makes us act as if we are drunk. We do and say things we would not normally do. However, I am seeing some hopeful signs that we are sobering up. I was particularly moved by a recent speech by Canadian Prime minister, Justin Trudeau, to the UN General Assembly. In it, he advised us to choose hope over fear, diversity over division. “Fear has never created a single job or fed a single family.”

The only thing that neutralizes fear is love. Every spiritual tradition has told us so, and I believe it. Yes, there are haters out there, but most of us want to be kind. Sometimes fear gets in the way, and we become anxious. For me, the best way to counteract anxiety is to do something nice for someone else. Give it a try. You might be surprised by the effect a simple smile or compliment has on someone else, and how good you feel afterward.

The choices I make, and the things I say and do (or don’t say and do) have an impact on my life and the lives of others, and so do yours. For myself, I’ve made a resolution to be kinder and more compassionate in 2017. I knew I needed something to keep me on track. So, after careful consideration, I came up with the following  to-do list. There’s nothing new here, just gentle reminders of things I know but sometimes forget. Maybe you forget sometimes, too. If these suggestions strike a chord, use them and share with others. Together, we can make the world a kinder, more hopeful place.

  1. Do no harm—Remember the golden rule; treat others as you would like to be treated. No exceptions, including planet earth and ALL the creatures living on it.
  2. Practice kindness—An act of kindness has the ability to shift someone’s bad day into a better one. Why not be that change? Research tells us that we become happier by making other people happier.
  3. Remember, you can’t tell a book by its cover—It’s hard to look past appearances and our own prejudices. Make the effort. The book you almost rejected just might be a real page turner. I was so intent on hanging out with the “right people” in college that I almost missed a girl who became my lifelong friend.
  4. Support organizations that do good work—You can’t support every organization. Support the ones that speak to you. The homeless? Global warming? Human Rights? No one can do it all, but everyone can do something.
  5. Be a helper, volunteer—This is a natural follow-up to number four. “One of the greatest ironies of life is this: he or she who serves almost always benefits more than he who is served.” (Gordon Hinkle) Discover five surprising benefits of volunteering.
  6. Don’t be against anything; be for something—When asked why she never participated in anti-war demonstrations, Mother Teresa replied, “I will never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I’ll be there.”
  7. Always do your best—”Your best is going to change from moment to moment…it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstances, simply do your best and you will avoid self-judgement, self-abuse and regret.” (Don Miguel Ruiz)
  8. Be an active listener—Listening is different from hearing. Active listening requires that the listener keep an open mind, refrain from judgement and be attentive. The ability to listen to what another person is saying is essential to working through conflict. If I am formulating my  response before the other person has finished, I am not actively listening.
  9. Don’t make assumptions—We’ve all done it. When we wrongly assume another person’s motivation, problems ensue. Wars have been started by assumptions that were not factual. Number nine can often be avoided by following number eight—are you listening?
  10. If you can’t say nothing nice, don’t say nothing at all—Arguably the most famous line from Disney’s Bambi, Thumper’s mother was right. The negative things we say about others are like boomerangs bringing negativity back into our own lives. It’s my job to keep my words positive. A good rule is to ask is, “Will my words hurt someone?” Are they beneficial? Once spoken, a word can never be taken back. This refers to social media as well as the spoken word. Refraining from negative comments is one way to practice rule #2—be kind. Maybe that’s all we really need to remember.

Wishing EVERYONE a kind and happy 2017!

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The Poem That Defined Santa and Christmas Present

I’ve known Santa for some time and he hasn’t changed a bit…

At four I knew just what I wanted, and I still do!2pamsanta

2grppamsanta

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everyone knows that Santa is a plump, jolly fellow with a long white beard. It’s common knowledge that he circles the globe every Christmas Eve in a sleigh pulled by eight flying reindeer. You get bonus points at Christmas trivia contests if you can name them all. Stomping on your roof and the jiggling of bells indicates that Santa has arrived. Hopefully you have a chimney for him to climb down—there are various explanations of how he enters homes that are lacking in that department. Of course, his suit is red. Hasn’t that always been the case? Well, actually, no. Father Christmas, one of his predecessors, usually wore green. The historical Saint Nicholas, most likely the inspiration for Santa Claus, probably wore a Grecian toga.  That good saint went through periods of favor and disfavor, taking a major hit during the English Reformation, and later in Puritan America. However, Colonial Germans in Pennsylvania kept the feast of St. Nicholas, and several later accounts have St. Nicholas visiting New York Dutch on New Year’s Eve. New Year gift giving had become the English custom in 1558 and this English custom lasted in New York until 1847). “

Washington Irving published the satirical Knickerbocker’s History of New York in 1809 in which he made numerous references to a jolly St. Nicholas character who smoked a clay pipe. Then, in 1821, The Children’s Friend, was published. The first lithographed book printed in America, it contained an anonymous poem in which “Sante Claus” arrived from the North Pole in a sleigh pulled by one flying reindeer. This Sante Claus rewarded good behavior with books and safe toys (no toy guns or sabers), and left a birchen rod with which parents were instructed to punish the naughty. It was S. Claus’ first appearance on Christmas Eve, rather that December 6th. The seeds of Christmas present were planted, and sprouted into full bloom with the publication of A Visit From St. Nicholas in 1823. The poem is now better known as The Night Before Christmas.

Who Actually Wrote the Night Before Christmas? moore-livingston

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                Clement Clark Moore                                                        Henry Livingston, Jr.

The poem was first published anonymously and later claimed by Clement Clark Moore, a professor of biblical languages at New York’s Episcopal General Theological Seminary. However, in 1859, 36 years after the poem first appeared in print, the children of Henry Livingston, Jr. came forward and asserted that the poem was actually written by their father around 1807. They claimed to remember him reading the poem to them as children. There has been extensive literary research on both claims and opinions are divided. However, opinion seems to be tipping toward Livingston.

Regardless of who wrote the poem, the effect is the same. The Night Before Christmas has solidified the secular image of St. Nicholas, (AKA Santa Claus) as a jolly old elf who flies through the air every Christmas Eve dispensing gifts to good little children all over the world. The image was reinforced by political cartoonist, Thomas Nast, in 1881 and continues to be celebrated today through song, television, children’s books, movies, and advertising (think Coca Cola). Santa still makes my heart swell when he makes his first magical appearance of the Christmas season at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus and he’s looking good!

Still the Inner Critic: Read Away Debilitating Self-Doubt

I am an artist. I am also a writer. Self-doubt arises in both arenas. Today’s blog focuses on my journey as a visual artist. The fear that I was only pretending to be an artist haunted me for years. It slowed the creative flow, and prevented me from showing my art in public. What if they felt sorry for me? (“Honestly…does she really think she can paint?”)

Despite my doubts, I never completely stopped creating art. Through failed romances, a divorce, physically and emotionally draining jobs, and the demands of raising two exceptional sons, I continued to create in dribs and drabs. I painted, wrote, took classes, learned new skills and hid my work away in case someone discovered that I was not a “real” artist.

I am past that now (mostly). Every artist has moments of self-doubt. I may never have an exhibit at a prestigious museum, earn accolades from the art establishment, or become a household name. Nevertheless, I am an artist. Whether or not you (whomever you may be) like my work or not, I am still an artist.

Kenny Minear recognized that fact in kindergarten. Every drawing and sculpture of mine that he could get his hands on, he mutilated. I still remember how proud I was of my clay elephant before Kenny turned it into a pancake. Jealousy is destructive, but I knew Kenny thought I was a great artist.

My mother believed I was an artist. Every Saturday morning, through sun and rain and snow, she drove me to the Wyomissing Institute of Fine Art. I was ten when I started; twelve when we moved to the Midwest. But I still kept studying—at several universities and with various artists on the East Coast and here in the Bay Area. Why I chose not to get a degree in art is a personal matter. Degree or not, I am still an artist. Yet my self-doubt kept me from enjoying art for many years. A blank canvas gave me panic attacks. I couldn’t even take pleasure in visiting an art gallery. Comparing my art (unfavorably) to everything I saw, I told myself, “You suck,” and only produced two or three paintings a year. If I actually submitted a piece in a show and it was rejected, it was further proof that I had no talent.

self-doubtSo how did I heal my debilitating self-doubt? Enter Julia Cameron and The Artist’s Way. I started an artists’ support group. We immersed ourselves in Julia’s books. I faithfully did my morning pages, went on my weekly artist’s date, and completed the chapter assignments. It may sound simplistic, but it worked. The support of my fellow artists in the group helped as well. I get juried into shows now, and sometimes I don’t. But these days, I don’t take rejection so personally. I’m more likely to say, “That was one person’s opinion,” or “That just wasn’t what they were looking for.” I no longer buy into the elitist theory that only a gifted few are “real” artists—“them” versus the rest of us. I am an artist.

Today, I’m a resident artist at the Cloverdale Arts Alliance Gallery, have been juried into  American Art Collector for the past six years, sell some pieces here and there, and am producing art in greater quantities than ever before. More importantly, I’m enjoying myself. When I have moments of self-doubt—and who doesn’t—I pick up one of the following books. All are designed to minimize self-sabotage, jealousy, guilt, procrastination and other inhibiting forces. The next time you fell compelled to do the laundry instead of picking up a paintbrush, brush up on your reading…

Pamela’s Picks for Unblocking Creativity:

 The Artist’s Way, A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron

“The Artist’s Way is the seminal book on the subject of creativity. An international bestseller, millions of readers have found it to be an invaluable guide to living the artist’s life. This book links creativity to spirituality by showing how to connect with the creative energies of the universe.” – Goodreads

If her New Age approach doesn’t resonate with you, I urge you to still consider using her tools. There’s a reason this book has been a best seller for 25 years. The tools work. She expands her ideas in the following three books. Each is a 12-week program designed to enhance your creativity. I recommend a support group to keep you on track.

Walking In This World, The Practical Art of Creativity, Julia Cameron

Finding Water, the Art of Perseverance, Julia Cameron

The Vein of Gold, a Journey to Your Creative Heart, Julia Cameron

••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

 Art & Fear, David Bayles and Ted Orland

“Art & Fear explores the way art gets made, the reasons it often doesn’t get made, and the nature of the difficulties that cause so many artists to give up along the way. This is a book about what it feels like to sit in your studio or classroom, at your wheel or keyboard, easel or camera, trying to do the work you need to do. It is about committing your future to your own hands, placing free will above predestination, choice above chance. It is about finding your own work.” ©1993 David Bayles and Ted Orland

 Steal Like An Artist, Austin Kleon

“Engaging, inspiring and practical advice on becoming a successful artist, advice that applies well beyond artistic pursuits… This is a quick, easily digestible read that is particularly relevant in today’s digital world.”—School Library Journal

 

The Story of the Humble Blackberry Poem

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In my last blog I complained that poets who rhyme are a lot like the late Rodney Dangerfield. They don’t get much respect. There are a few notable exceptions like Kay Ryan and Richard Wilber, but for the most part, poets who rhyme are expected to feel a little apologetic.

I tend to send my non-rhyming poems out into the world in hopes of landing in poetry reviews and anthologies. I have had some success. But poems that rhyme are often kept hidden in a folder on my computer. I entered one of them in the County Fair this year. It won a blue ribbon. It wasn’t an accolade from the Midwestern Poetry Review. Still, someone liked it.

Recently I read a few of my poems to my writer’s critique group. I planned on entering a few in an upcoming contest and wanted the opinion of my fellow writers as to which poems were submission worthy. When I finished reading my “serious” poems, I had an afterthought.

“You know,” I said, “I have another little poem I wrote last fall. I was walking along a trail with my little dog, Peanut. Blackberry bushes lined the path, most covered with shriveled fruit—seasons end. Then, a spot of white caught my eye. It was a blackberry blossom struggling to produce against tremendous odds. I went home and wrote the following little poem. I’m not going to send this one out, but I’d Iike to read it to you.”

The Lesson

blackberryblossomLast blackberry blossom of fall,

most optimistic flower of all.

It’s a brave show, but tinged with regret—

there isn’t time for your fruit to set.

Nature’s lesson shows those who wait

that good intentions can start too late.

When destiny calls, don’t tarry;

be a bloom that becomes a berry.

Our group meets at a local coffee shop. People tend to come and go around us. So, I didn’t pay particular attention to the man at the next table when he rose to leave. I was surprised, however, when he headed in my direction, leaned over, and whispered into my ear, “I liked the one about the blackberry.” He’d been listening.

Suddenly, my simple, little poem felt more important. A stranger’s comment emboldened me to say, “Damn it, I honestly like this poem!” And you know what? I do. No apologies for the rhyme.

stolen-light

Gift the gift of Poetry For Christmas…                                              Stolen Light: Redwood Writers 2016 Poetry Anthology

Beautifully crafted poems by some of the finest poets from Sonoma County, California. A lovely gift for anyone who enjoys poetry in all its forms.