THE LENS OF GRATITUDE

WE all wonder how authors find their material, their voice, and the insight to turn meaningful concepts and words into books. So it’s a real pleasure to have Heidi Barr as my Studio Guest in SunnyRoomStudio this week. Heidi’s guest post tackles author inspiration and sustaining a career of words when it’s also completely normal to worry about “ideas,” and where the next one will come from. If at all, right? Regardless of your creative focus, I think you will enjoy Heidi’s perspective on this. She also poses some great questions at the close of her piece. We all need a meaningful prompt now and then, don’t we?

Heidi Barr lives near the St. Croix River Valley in Minnesota with her husband and daughter where they tend a large organic vegetable garden, explore nature and do their best to live simply. She authored Prairie Grown: Stories and Recipes from a South Dakota Hillside and will soon release Woodland Manitou: To Be on Earth. Heidi’s book is forthcoming (September 19, 2017), so I’ve shared the pre-order link in case you prefer a head start.

I think you’ll really enjoy getting to know Heidi. I love the quote she posted with this picture on her Facebook author page. “Everyone must believe in something. I believe I’ll go canoeing.” ―Thoreau

I asked her about this picture, how it came to be … because I thought it captured something important about her and her work as an author in today’s frenzied world. She replied that the picture was taken “out on the little lake we live on” … she was with a friend (in another canoe, hence the photo), and that it was “one of those days to just paddle around slowly, taking in the energy of the afternoon.”

The importance of time like this can’t be stressed enough. And reading a book by someone who “gets this” … could change your life perspective, or confirm it. Either way, I’m happy to share Heidi’s guest post here in SunnyRoomStudio. Welcome, Heidi!

Heidi is a mother, spouse, gardener, and writer; she is committed to cultivating ways of being that are life-giving and sustainable for people, communities and the planet. She loves putting words together to paint pictures of ideas, as well as walking with others as they explore what it means to live well on a finite planet. Hiking through forests and across prairies, wading in streams, digging in the soil and surrounding herself with natural wonder help her stay grounded in reality.

“Trust that in your head, in your heart, in your skill, there are more ideas, hundreds, thousands of them.
Some of them are half-finished on the page; some of them are hiding under the weight of that
thing you feel obligated to finish. Let it go.” ~ Allison K Williams

THE LENS OF GRATITUDE
by Heidi C. Barr

On good days, I call myself a writer. I wake up feeling like I have something to say, and I figure out a way to put words together in a way that makes sense to other people. I enjoy the work, and if it’s hard, it’s hard in a way that makes me want to keep at it. On less good days, I wake up feeling like I have run out of ideas, that my well of words has run dry, and that calling myself a writer just isn’t accurate anymore. I wonder how I ever thought of all of those sentences and ideas and posts and books, and I imagine what life will be like now that I no longer have anything to say.

Fortunately, those little negative voices on the less good days always get overshadowed by a new idea, even if it’s writing about how I can’t think of anything else to write about. Life has a way of providing material, whether I like it or not. As Annie Dillard writes, “Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water.”

I see my work as a writer to be that of giving voice to the beauty that can be found in the ordinary, and that of telling the truth as I see it unfolding in my own life. Many of the other writers I know have said something along the lines of “I write because I can’t not write.” I can claim the same sentiment: I write because it’s a way of wrestling with what’s going on in my own head, in my community, and on the planet. It’s a way of figuring out how I truly feel about something and putting my introverted and often soft-spoken voice out into the world.

Part of my story is writing about what I notice and sharing it.

The unexamined life is not worth living. ― Socrates

We are all on a journey – a journey of present moments that really has no end point – to figure out what it means to exist in our fullest version of truth. We all have a unique way of being that is life-giving for ourselves, our communities, and this planet that we all call home. We all have the capacity to live in a way that feels right, even though we are born into a life situation over which we have little control. Some of us have a much easier time of it than others — privilege is a very real phenomenon in our world and one that must be considered constantly. But maybe we all, somewhere inside when everything external is stripped away, have the capacity to look at the world through a lens of abundance and beauty, rather than one of scarcity and lack. Those who have little and can find the joy in what they have are some of our greatest teachers. Gratitude has saved more than one life on this earth.

Turning to Annie Dillard’s wisdom again, “We can live any way we want. People take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience—even of silence—by choice. The thing is to stalk your calling in a certain skilled and supple way, to locate the most tender and live spot and plug into that pulse. This is yielding, not fighting.”

When I can stop fighting with myself and just let the words come when they come, I find myself living in a way that feels right because I am able to be fully in my life, instead of trying to force an outcome that I think I should want. Yielding to what wants to speak through me has allowed me to plug into that pulse and tell the stories that want to be told.

How about you?

Whatever your creative practice might be, from writing to sketching to gardening to caring for children, how do you stay present to what your life wants to speak through you? How do you ‘stalk your calling’ and yield to it? What helps you stay in the conversation (with yourself), while avoiding the fight? 

Here is the beautiful cover to Heidi’s forthcoming September release. When asked to read the manuscript for a possible cover quote, I was happy to do so. My first book, Always Returning: The Wisdom of Place, was written straight from the heart about the prairie landscape and lifestyle I’d grown up with. I sensed we were moving away from the wisdom of our hearts when I published the first edition of this book in 1999 (William Morrow, Eagle Brook imprint), and when I noticed that this trend was merely intensifying over time, I decided to publish a second edition in 2014. As a 15th Anniversary edition, the ideas still ring true, even more so with the passage of time. Long story short, Heidi’s new book immediately resonated with me.

Living deeply maybe isn’t for everyone … but those of us who value it and find a way to manifest it … can’t imagine living any other way. Thank you so much, Heidi, for being my guest here in SunnyRoomStudio.

Here, by the way, is the cover quote I had the opportunity to write, along with a brief excerpt from Heidi’s book.

“To the extent it is ever possible to make sense of the human condition, Heidi Barr has done an incredible job within the illuminating pages of Woodland Manitou. The search for life meaning is never simple but, in adopting a seasonal theme, Barr provides a context that will enliven your search. Her heartfelt perspective about the challenges of the human story bridges moments, days, and years in a beautiful and compelling way. With nature as her touchstone, the author sheds a timely light on issues and dilemmas we are destined to encounter. A dynamic and inspiring book for today’s world!” –D.A. Hickman, author of Always Returning: The Wisdom of Place

“Ah, summer. The time of the year when the days are long and life seems to somehow speed up and slow down at the same time. The work around the land and garden is demanding, but the days are long and support our efforts with the grace of lingering light and warmth. There is time to play and rest amidst the needs of caring for the garden and household. The cool rush of water over bare skin in the evening, the feel of the warm wind whistling the scent of hot pine down into the valley, the way a tomato tastes like a burst of sunlight straight off the vine…these details bring out the color of the days and remind me that the earth does indeed laugh in flowers, as Emerson wrote all those years ago. Summer is paddling and running through forests, sleeping outside and slapping at mosquitoes. It is finding ticks and going back outside anyway. It is the neighborhood buzzing with activity because everyone is outside more than any other time of the year. It is feeling bone weary at the end of a long hot day in the sun and collapsing in gratitude for the opportunity to be alive. It is thunderstorms and picnics, nurturing and sowing, and giving and taking in the dance of abundance.” –Heidi Barr, Woodland Manitou: To Be on Earth.

“Don’t be pushed around by the fears in your mind. Be led by the dreams in your heart.”
Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart

Thanks so much for stopping by this sunny space for kindred spirits.

I’ll be back soon with more about my summer poetry release: ANCIENTS OF THE EARTH — Poems of Time.

Until then, please check out Heidi’s blog and leave a comment for her … whatever comes to mind or offer your thoughts on the questions she posed. Thanks again, Heidi. Best of luck with your September release!

SPECIAL NOTE: Heidi’s guest post will always be easy to find … just visit the Studio Guest tab above.
She is my 46th guest in SunnyRoomSudio!

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THE SILENCE OF MORNING

“I cannot cause light; the most I can do is try to put myself in the path of its beam. It is possible, in deep space, to sail on solar wind.
Hone and spread your spirit till you yourself are a sail, whetted, translucent, broadside to the merest puff.”
Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

This is a book about the mystery of existence, a book that transports the reader into many dimensions. Here, there is much to explore about how we find our way when circumstances feel overwhelming, even impossible. We are all on the same journey; this deeply intentional memoir illuminates that very journey. Even if loss is not part of your life today, The Silence of Morning bridges moments and events that time carves out for all of us … one way or another. Just over the next hill, who knows what we will see or encounter. Who knows what we will experience. The unexpected always awaits. D.A. Hickman, author, poet, publisher, and founder of SunnyRoomStudio  

“Daisy’s book is a comfort to a shattered soul…. Only mothers are able to understand the all encompassing love they feel for their child. No poet, no writer yet has been able to articulate the dynamic of how it feels in the seconds that a mother’s love is intruded upon by unbearable agony. Mothers are supposed to be able to handle everything right up until the second they cannot. We expect that of ourselves. The loss of a child is not just hard, it’s impossible. Our losses take many forms: death, mental illness, addiction, abandonment. The darkest of hours come and go, and comfort can be elusive. Waves of second guessing and unbearable grief wash over a bereaved mother at unexpected moments. The Silence of the Morning is a wonderful companion in those most unmanageable of moments. Thanks, Daisy, I love your book. Peace.” ~ Deborah Twiss Ervin

Since this is Mother’s Day weekend, I wanted to share a few of the incredible reader comments from Amazon regarding my memoir about the loss of my son: THE SILENCE OF MORNING: A Memoir of Time Undone. The absence of a son or a daughter is more noticeable on days that focus on parent-child relationships. Yet, curiously, everyone feels that absence differently. I try to do something positive with calendar dates, because, after all, nearly everyone out there is coping with “something.” It may be unspoken, it may not be conscious, it may not feel quite as devastating as loss, but in the end, suffering is suffering. And being there for others is one of the best ways to contend with personal pain. It may take time to find that kind of energy again after we lose someone we love; it may take longer than we can even imagine. But … when we are patient, the urge to share hard-earned wisdom and comfort returns.

I am the mother of a 19-year-old son whom I lost to an alcohol and pill overdose (possible suicide) in 2014. After the tragedy of Michael’s death, I read several books about the loss of a child but I couldn’t really find one which captured what I was feeling … until I read Daisy Hickman’s book! To quote a phrase from this remarkable book: ‘The searing pain of debilitating sorrow.’ There were so many feelings put into words that I felt she was speaking things I couldn’t describe. This is definitely the most heartfelt, honest, and inspiring book which I have ever read. One does not need to be a bereaved parent to benefit from reading The Silence of Morning. Truly amazing. ~ Kathy Conway Rath

When Matthew’s life came to a close, he was 27. It is 10 years later; and yes, he would be 37 now. Difficult for me to imagine, as the passage of time is so ghost-like. Saying I miss him, is true, but saying we “get over” grief or loss, or “move on” isn’t true. These are popular phrases that sound cold and out of context; they are words we say when we don’t know the deeper story of life and loss. What actually happens after loss is that we learn how to bring the person along with us.  Through our work, our creative energies, our gifts to others, and through our stories. THE SILENCE OF MORNING was written over a 7-year period; it was exhausting … it was joyful … it was incredibly meaningful and moving. 

“D.A. Hickman’s book, THE SILENCE OF MORNING: A MEMOIR OF TIME UNDONE, is beyond revealing. An exquisite account of a young life that ended all too soon, the story includes the events leading up to, including, and the aftermath of her son Matthew’s death by suicide. In the unfolding narrative, the reader steps as close as possible to surviving tragic personal loss and ensuing anguish, without having to possess firsthand awareness or experiential footing.

When the unthinkable happens—a phone call delivers the news of her son’s death—a detonator pin is pulled, causing an emotional implosion that sends shock waves slamming through the author. The aftermath is much like learning to live again without a vital organ, only it’s much more devastating—it’s learning to live again without a son.

Not succumbing to social norms—pat remedies, mind-based attempts at closure, and getting on with one’s life—it’s in the hollowed out spaces that Hickman is able to find solace, strength to process, and slowly and quietly nurtures, curates, and finds herself again.

Though we bloom briefly, then fade, the universe always returning to itself, when we allow life to touch us deeply, even in sorrow, somehow, it extends our mortal view, and our glory. —D.A. Hickman

A timeless journey, THE SILENCE OF MORNING: A MEMOIR OF TIME UNDONE offers light where there’s dark, courage where there’s fear, peace where there’s distress, and hope where there’s none.” ~ Laurie Buchanan, PhD

We are more than our losses; we are resilient. And loss, when understood at the level of soul, transforms us. If we allow it; if we dedicate ourselves to understanding the path of life; and if we find the courage to explore the deepest life mysteries that inevitably become more compelling during times of profound grief. The invitation to explore anew the aspects of life we have always shied away from is part of the grief-experience. But it is only an invitation. Noticing it, accepting it, and growing with it … those things are up to us as individuals. I hope if you are feeling the pull of the universe to better understand the deeper aspects of existence that you decide to explore those feelings. Your intuition will guide you. The love for those you have lost will also guide you. 

“How does one deal with the death of a child? Author and mother, Daisy Hickman, explores addiction and the deep, inner entanglement she found herself in when at 27 years of age, her son Matt, took his own life. Through intense grief we follow her on a journey of looking honestly at addiction and suicide, asking difficult questions, and looking for answers that only a quest for spiritual connection can bring her. A must read for those dealing with children who are crossing the line into drug and alcohol use.” ~ Joan Z. Rough

As I was working on this book, I was also working on a book of poetry. Slowly but surely. Feeling drawn to a genre that allowed me to explore everything I was learning and experiencing along the way was a gift, I’m sure. Creativity opens many doors to the things we are thinking about or feeling on a variety of levels. Poetry, with its brevity, gave me yet another way to dig more deeply into time — its power and allure, its firm, halting nature, its constant chiming in the background. Like a train moving in our direction ever-so-slowly … we can always sense our own end days on some level, can’t we? My book of poetry will be released in late June. Soon I will share the title and the cover. I have a feeling you will find both intriguing and, hopefully, beautiful.

“As a memoirist, I’ve read my share of memoirs. The Silence of Morning accomplishes what every writer tries to, but not always successfully. D.A. Hickman’s story is brutally honest. She takes us to the bone of her personal tragedy and the journey to not only live through it, but to learn to thrive again. We’ve all suffered losses, some bigger than others. When we’re told by well-meaning people that time heals all wounds, yet, we know they are wrong and hope they never have to endure the same. Time and depth of character might provide us with insights and tools to get up every morning and live the life we’ve been given. We may never know why we were chosen to endure the worst, but in Hickman’s case, it may have been to rise above her personal and private pain and share her hard-earned insights with others who may not have made it to shore. I recommend this book to everyone.” ~ Camille Cole

So, Matthew, know that you are always in my thoughts … not just on special days, or holidays stipulated by the calendar. You have been with me since the end … and since the beginning … if that makes sense. You inspire me to write and to share your story with love and concern for the human condition and all that that implies. My book of poetry has several poems written about you or about the experience of your loss. Though you aren’t here to read them, our lives are forever intertwined, and I’m quite sure these poems would not surprise you or puzzle you. You were never a “big reader,” but you had a gentle heart and an old soul. You also had trouble fitting those qualities into today’s world. The same thing happens to so many other people. We are all born into the confusion and angst of the human condition; finding our way can be extremely challenging when external circumstances don’t fit our perceptions.

“I highly recommend Daisy A. Hickman ‘s book, The Silence of Morning. Daisy shares with us the excruciating loss of her amazing son (a suicide) and weaves in the raw truth of the influence and complicity of our addictive society. Addiction in its many forms touches far too many families. The wake of addiction’s destruction calls us all to come together for transformational change. I hope you will purchase Daisy’s book, read it and then reflect as I am on what is possible.” — Audrey Denecke

As I wrote in the book: “So what, after all, is left to be said after a sudden death–when everyone departs and you are frightened and alone like never before? Only this. ‘Your voice, my friend, wanders in my heart like the muffled sound of the sea among the listening pines’ (Stray Birds, Tagore). A spiritual voice that seamlessly finds expression within mine–not only in this book, but during each moment. A voice that, one day, will merge with eternity, providing the elegant continuity nature seeks and displays, as if perpetually eager for the next second, the next ray of sunshine, the next apple blossom. And I am comforted by this miracle of life, overwhelmed by its exquisite beauty, soothed by the bright and brilliant love a young mother once knew (and still knows) for her newborn son named Matthew. An indestructible force that, yes, is nature’s secret.”

Wishing everyone a lovely weekend filled with meaning and the eagerness to explore the deepest life mysteries … no matter where the search takes you. It certainly took me to places unknown.  

“Through our mortality we all share the burden of grief, along with its inevitable light. Thus, to speak of healing is to speak of something that impacts humanity as a whole, and despite the seemingly haphazard nature of everything, I sense we are all growing toward something ineffable. Even my awareness feels sacred, undeserved. Letting go of notions of ‘personal healing’ is to embrace a much bigger idea by looking within for a boundless essence that, containing everything, needs no healing at all.” ~ The Silence of Morning (from the Afterword)

AUTHOR INTERVIEW : “We Need Memoir” (posted by author Richard Gilbert on his wonderful blog: Draft No. 4)

FIND the book on Amazon (print or Kindle): The Silence of Morning: A Memoir of Time Undone

“I cannot cause light; the most I can do is try to put myself in the path of its beam. It is possible, in deep space, to sail on solar wind. Hone and spread your spirit till you yourself are a sail, whetted, translucent, broadside to the merest puff.”
Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Thanks for stopping by this sunny space for kindred spirits.
See you again in a few weeks.

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WRITING WITH PURPOSE

WHEN a poem, a chapter, a book begin to take shape … it can feel like a revelation. “Something” is there … but what? We wait. And wait. And most of all, we listen. To the wind. To the silent clouds. To the birds or the voices in a dream. To whatever seems suddenly … there. Where were those insights before? What is it about time that causes the wind to shift … internally? Or … do we imagine the entire process in the first place? Questions of time and awareness may not be on the minds of too many people, but, perhaps, they should be … perhaps.

“If, then, I were asked for the most important advice I could give, that which I considered to be the most useful to the men of our century, I should simply say: in the name of God, stop a moment, cease your work, look around you.”
Leo Tolstoy, Essays, Letters and Miscellanies

Maybe, however, those of us called to the writing table are simply more persistently drawn to the mysteries of life.

The existential. The vague, the fleeting, the profound. The intuitive nudge. Nascent, yet, compelling ideas that seem to defy expression on the page.

The motivation to explore the poignant depths of the human experience flow, for me, from a desire to escape the trite, repetitive nature of generic information that seems to be everywhere. Surface analysis. Superficial analysis. Nothing that actually manages to penetrate the darkness of existence. The interminable suffering. Or human nature and how it never seems to evolve, not much … anyway. Layers of unspoken observations no one dares to “see.” Ideas of “polite” conversation bordering on ridiculous, boring, artificial and compliant, even nonsensical.

“Meditation is the dissolution of thoughts in Eternal awareness or Pure consciousness without objectification, knowing without thinking, merging finitude in infinity.” ― Voltaire

Writers are gardeners.

Always tending to a sentence, carefully choosing words, lest confusion or misunderstanding flow from the page. An urge that seems to beckon from somewhere beyond time itself, the need to write can feel like being trapped in a funny dream that won’t let me wake up until the story (nonfiction, fiction, memoir, poetry, essay) is told.

What to make of all of this?

“What makes you think human beings are sentient and aware? There’s no evidence for it. Human beings never think for themselves, they find it too uncomfortable. For the most part, members of our species simply repeat what they are told-and become upset if they are exposed to any different view. The characteristic human trait is not awareness but conformity … .” ― Michael Crichton, The Lost World

Yes, conformity is clearly something most writers shun.

While formula fiction exists and certain themes are grossly overworked (just walk through any bookstore or browse online), when I set out to write it’s because I want to find the creative edge. The place I haven’t gone before in the creative sense. It’s an adventure, a challenge, an opportunity to explore the depths of the soul.

“Rather than being your thoughts and emotions, be the awareness behind them.”
Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose

What questions motivate you to dig deeper, to move beyond the repetitive dictates of your mind? How might you explore them anew? While this kind of thing may not be at the top of your to-do list, why not put it there … why not?

Maybe that is the secret to life. We’ll never know, for certain, but I can’t help but believe that our true purpose is something other than we think it is. So each time I encounter the blank page, I write with this in mind. Try to push myself to find the kernel of truth in an experience, an encounter, a feeling that comes and goes so quickly, I can’t quite catch it. When I write poetry, for example, the last line often comes to me just when I think the poem will never fully reveal itself. To me, to readers. A fascinating process I could never tire of or take for granted. One that begs for patience and persistence. One that honors the mysterious layers of intelligence that surround us.

The funny thing is that seeking awareness doesn’t require a great deal of “seeking.” It simply requires an openness to encountering whatever is unknown, and that is nearly everything. ~ dh

“All it takes for generosity to flow is awareness. By actively pursuing awareness and knowledge, we can make choices that cause less harm and greater good to others in the global community of our shared earth.”
Zoe Weil, Most Good, Least Harm: A Simple Principle for a Better World and Meaningful Life

Thanks for stopping by this sunny space for kindred spirits.
See you again in a few weeks.

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NEW VISION

“It is of the nature of desire not to be satisfied, and most men live only for the gratification of it.”
Aristotle, Politics

Why do so many people seem to be looking for a new and inspiring personal vision?

Is it the endless trauma we witness on television, or simply a nameless feeling of constant frustration about the state of the world?

What is your world view? Does it seem feasible, within reach, or largely a pipe dream?

We all answer such questions in our own way. More important, perhaps, is how we pose the questions or grapple with their complexities within a context that can never be fully known or understood. The degree of uncertainty built into such questions can be intimidating, right? So maybe we simply avoid them in the first place. After all, don’t the “experts” handle stuff like this? Can’t we just rely on what we read or watch or hear to get by … complaining as we go?

Recently, I read a 2016 memoir by J.D. Vance called Hillbilly Elegy: A Family and a Culture in Crisis. Vance grew up in the Rust Belt city of Middletown, Ohio, and the Appalachian town of Jackson, Kentucky. He spent four years in the Marine Corps after high school and served in Iraq. A graduate of the Ohio State University and Yale Law School, he has contributed to the National Review and The New York Times and has appeared on Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, and CNBC. Currently, Vance works as a principal at a leading Silicon Valley investment firm and lives in San Francisco with his wife and two dogs, Casper and Pippin.

“The statistics tell you that kids like me face a grim future—that if they’re lucky, they’ll manage to avoid welfare; and if they’re unlucky, they’ll die of a heroin overdose, as happened to dozens in my small hometown just last year.”
J.D. Vance, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis

I read this book for a variety of reasons, but since I tend to look at life through a sociological and spiritual lens, I was curious as to the author’s “world view.” As he relayed his childhood experiences as a “hillbilly,” I could see how his perspective on life was being formed, and how it evolved over time. Clearly, he grew up with a variety of influences, but along the way he learned to question those ideals and seemed unusually persistent about generating his own opinion. That took courage and a belief in his intuition instead of simply absorbing the dynamics around him. Had Vance been a conformist, I’m guessing his life would have turned out in largely predictable ways.

Of course,”world view” in this case implies something other than the world, per se.

Generally speaking, our formative years are the bridge to an actual world view. So we all have an opportunity to look back and within to see how our opinions were formed in the first place. With that knowledge–the personal dimension–in hand, many of us forge ahead through continual study to develop new ideas about how things work or should work. Evolution. Growth. Development. Expansion. Inquiry. Whatever you want to call it, the key is to relentlessly challenge what you think you know. See if this stands up to the new books you read, the people you meet and talk to, the headlines you notice, and so on. If it doesn’t … commit to continually challenging your old beliefs and the voices that made it all sound so real. So true. The illusion of certainty in an uncertain world can be a strong temptation, can’t it? Yet, in the end, all illusions readily crumble when looked at critically or from a more objective viewpoint. Context is something to watch out for, as well. What is true in one instance … probably isn’t grounds for a heavily generalized, “global” opinion.

“We felt trapped in two seemingly unwinnable wars, in which a disproportionate share of the fighters came from our neighborhood, and in an economy that failed to deliver the most basic promise of the American Dream—a steady wage.”
J.D. Vance, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis

And, yes, a world view developed in childhood may stand up to honest and genuine scrutiny but, perhaps not. We can’t know what we don’t want to know; we can’t understand what we are unwilling to learn more about. Clearly, we can’t evolve as human beings if we fail to see our childhood conditioning for what it was. Becoming a responsible adult requires us to look, really look, at our personal beliefs and assumptions with a deeper awareness for the world around us. As I wrote in my memoir, The Silence of Morning: A Memoir of Time Undone, “We don’t know what we need to know until we know it; we don’t know what is missing until we find it. And we think we are fully here (not in the past, not in the future) when we aren’t even nearby.”

Admittedly, there does seem to be an inordinate amount of strife and angst in the world these days, but realistically, this can’t change until we change. Stories of old must be challenged for their veracity and suitability given the context called “today.” If your world view hasn’t been updated in a long long time, why not take another look? Perhaps, a deeper look, in fact. Surface perceptions are often stale, fickle, and useless. See what you can discover by staying open to what you don’t know; find the courage to dig deeper for understanding, solace, and wisdom. It’s convenient to spew out the same-old, same-old day after day. Somewhere within though we know when we are using the past as a crutch and not allowing our inner vision to grow and expand. Questioning what we always thought was “true” can open many doors; it can help to usher in a “new vision.” One more in keeping with the person you’ve become along the way.

There isn’t too much we can do about the world stage, after all. But there is plenty we can do within our own “worlds” to create a more harmonious country and planet. The effort required is real, however. Clinging to what we “know” or to what everyone else seems to know is the path of least resistance, no doubt. I was never happy with that orientation though. I wanted my own answers. The kind I had to work for, struggle to see and understand. It seemed like my obligation as a human being with the audacity to even think about the world and its many troubling issues. If we can’t find the heart to challenge our own opinions, how can we ever hope to “see” what is merely invisible to us? This process can be very rewarding. It might feel like an “awakening” or personal liberation; from a practical stance, this kind of meaningful update in our own line of thinking can also help to create the kind of world you think we should be able to experience and depend on. After all, we are “this moment” … and we are capable of so much more. Don’t you agree? ~         

“It is sadder to find the past again and find it inadequate to the present than it is to have it elude you and remain forever a harmonious conception of memory.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald 

Thanks for stopping by this sunny space for kindred spirits.
See you again in a few weeks.

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SPEAKING OF INSPIRATION

“The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious.
It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science.”
Albert Einstein, The World As I See It

I’ve always been drawn to visual images. Photographs. Paintings. Sketches. Even doodles that take on a life of their own. The collaboration of images and words … well, it’s pure magic, of course. And since we all could use a dose of inspiration in January, why not focus on this very combination? Here’s a photograph by Mary T. Hercher, for instance. I love the color contrast, the “electric blue,” as she put it, against the steadfast evergreen. The picture points to many things: the bounty of nature, the insistence of creation itself, the importance of protecting and appreciating the environment, awareness of the natural beauty that readily flows from something organic and lasting.

What do you see in Hercher’s photograph?      

“Feeling a little blue in January is normal.”
~ Marilu Henner
MANY great poets have written about the poetry of nature. Trees, in particular. Personally, I can’t imagine a yard without plenty of trees. I grew up seeing plenty of cottonwood trees along the Missouri River, and scattered elsewhere on the prairie like afterthoughts. But the evergreen, it’s year-round beauty, is especially rewarding to gaze upon. Most, tall and stately, seem oblivious to everything going on around them, as they insistently stretch skyward … with a touch of inspiration for anyone who cares to notice.

 I thank you God for this most amazing day, for the leaping greenly spirits of trees,
and for the blue dream of sky and for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes.
~ e. e. cummings
THEN there is the phenomenal artist, Paul C. Jackson. I couldn’t mention inspiration without mentioning Jackson (AWS, NWS American Watercolorist) in the same breath. A prolific artist and ambitious world traveler, he is one of today’s most versatile and visible contemporary watercolorists. Whether his subject is landscape, cityscape, portrait, architecture, still life or abstract, Jackson captivates his audience with genuine emotion, intensity and finesse that energize each of his creations.

Music is often the focus of Paul’s art. Here, for instance, is “Lovesong” (20 x 26 watercolor), a new painting from Jackson.
Inspired by a series of Adele performances that Paul and friends enjoyed at Madison Square Garden in New York in September 2016,
this painting was selected for inclusion in the American Watercolor Society’s 150th Annual International Exhibition (Salmagundi Club,
New York City April 3-22, 2017). Paul notes that “this is the most prestigious exhibition for a watercolorist.”

PAUL was also the artist behind my recent book cover for The Silence of Morning: A Memoir of Time Undone. I needed artwork that depicted a depth of emotion for my memoir that studies the dynamics of sudden loss while seriously venturing into the spiritual realm of life’s deepest mysteries. After looking at several of Jackson’s paintings, I knew the one he also decided to name “Silence of Morning” was a perfect choice. The words, the overall sentiment of the book, truly could be “seen” in Paul’s painting. Not only was the artwork beautiful, but Jackson has always valued collaboration with other artists and can find a viable creative edge for nearly any project no matter how far afield it may seem from the world of watercolors. When words and images come together … the possibilities are endless.

I must mention, however, that Paul may come by his tremendous creative spirit somewhat naturally. Nancy Jackson, his mother, recently completed a handmade quilt that features the names of authors she’s followed or admired or read. Included: William Least Heat-Moon (of Blue Highways fame), Paul Jackson (as he is also an author), and my name, as well. Nancy gathered the individual quilt blocks over a span of years; each author personally signing his or her name on each block for inclusion in her project. I was honored to be asked. The end result is outstanding! Amazing! Following the work of Jennie Doan, the quilt pattern author, Nancy has created a true work of art. I hope it is displayed in a  prominent place one day soon. Here then is the Nancy Jackson piece that beautifully illustrates that expansive and magical merger of words and images.

“Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.” ― Leonardo da Vinci

INSPIRATION is also important to another artist I admire a great deal. Canadian contemporary artist, Terrill Welch, is an impressionist painter and photographer who seems to find tremendous joy in her work. A lovely commonality among all of my featured artists, actually. There must be something intrinsic to the artistic soul that moves universe itself. 

“It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is well done.” ― Vincent Van Gogh

WHEN you visit Terrill’s website, you’ll find this: British Columbia artist and photographer Terrill Welch’s quick sure painting strokes, and photographic images capture forest, sandstone, sea and sky.  They remind us that there is only one moment – this one. Since 2010, more than 80 of Terrill Welch’s paintings of various sizes and significantly more of her photography prints have found their way into private collections. Many of these paintings have sold while still work-in-progress or resting wet on the easel.

I have been following her work for at least seven years now. Though unsure how I first spotted her artistic hand and upbeat presence, once you gaze at a Welch landscape, it’s not easy to stop thinking about where you would hang a piece of her artwork if you were lucky enough to have such a worry. Artistic work that hangs in our memory like a an endurable feeling, like a source of lasting inspiration, is a sure sign of something authentic and true.

  Catching Waves at Georgina Point Mayne Island BC 
Oil on Canvas 30 x 40 x 1.5

SINCE I was specifically looking for the magic of words and images, I thought this description from the artist was interesting. “There is a brisk northwesterly wind stirring up the Salish Sea in the bright autumn sun. I step carefully down the sandstone trail to the shore below the lighthouse at Georgina Point. Looking out across the Strait of Georgia, it seems that the best thing to do is to catch a few waves. Mayne Island, British Columbia, Canada.”

SOMETIMES when I spot a new piece of work from Welch, I have fun playing with words to see what title the image provokes. Inspiration. It’s always there if we are open to it; if we seek it out. I can’t imagine a world without art … can you? But the individuals behind the work are usually equally fascinating. What brought them to the world of art in the first place? How do they sustain their energetic enthusiasm for their work? What do they want to communicate to the world? To you, to me?

If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I, an artist, will answer you:
I am here to live out loud.
Émile Zola

Born in the village of Vanderhoof in north-central British Columbia, Terrill’s art training came at an early age and continued more in the European style of mentoring and tutoring. Terrill Welch’s work, in water mixable or walnut oil paints and photographic canvas prints, showcases the beautiful, mysterious and rugged southwest coast of Canada. Though locally appreciated, Terrill Welch is internationally recognized.  Her paintings and photographs are sold to art collectors throughout Canada and the United States as well as in Australia, England, Norway and Switzerland.

AND NOW I’d like to return to Mary Hercher, the photographer I began this blog post with … here again is her wonderful red bench that I featured in SunnyRoomStudio last year. It’s an invitation to stop for a moment to gaze out at the world anew. Look at something with the eyes of an artist … how does this vantage point change your overall perception? Can you describe this dynamic or paint it? How do you feel when looking through an artistic lens instead of through the dull eyes of routine and conformity? A whole new world is born in this way, in this context. SO make the shift! Regardless of what you do each day in your life, try opening your eyes to the beauty of whatever is right in front of you. Study the colors, the texture, the expression, the eyes. This alone, I would wager, could change our world.

Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.
Edgar Degas

  “I have one image of myself that I like, but it is a ‘soft’ image, one full of joy.”
Mary T. Hercher @ Wind Spirit Photography
Rapid City, South Dakota

I have a feeling this is going to become one of my favorite blog posts for 2017. Certainly, it’s one way to express my profound gratitude to those who are such bright lights in the universe. As an author, I could never find the words for an entire book without the incredible work of others around me to provoke and guide and inspire. I wish all of these individuals an abundance of creative energy and joy in the upcoming year, and thank them again for their profound contribution to creating a world that looks beyond the surface of things for the deeper meaning. As Mary is doing above, keep looking up and out and around! Do this as often as possible. Seek the unknown, seek to finally see what is just beyond your awareness and grasp. THAT is where the true magic of life can be found. Best wishes to all for January and beyond. ~ dh

Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.
Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island

See you again in a few weeks!
Thanks so much for stopping by this creative sunny space for kindred spirits.
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