Thursday, February 26, 2009

Creating a life of integrity and meaning without gods.
Or how to be a meaning maker instead of a meaning seeker.

Book review:
The Atheist’s Way by Eric Maisel

I’ve read many books by author, Eric Maisel. I’ve found his thoughts on creativity and mindfulness in “Fearless Creating” and “Ten Zen Seconds” to be helpful and practical. As an artist, working in the solitude of my studio, his wise words served to anchor me during the art-making process. So when he asked me to review his new book about Atheism, I said, yes. Now, I’m not so sure.

I grew up with a god in my life. But pretty soon, I began to wonder, ask questions and get into trouble for being a little too curious. I was supposed to just ‘believe’. I wanted to be a good little girl and keep the nuns from smacking me, so I acted like a believer. But that’s all it was, acting. I saw through it all. Later, I got angry about all the ‘stuff’ and just quit going to church. Whew. What a relief that was, but I didn’t stop seeking. I studied other religions and philosophies finally thinking I was settling closer to eastern ideas, which Maisel calls ‘river religions’. The more I looked at it, I saw it still had many of the dogmas that western religions and gods do, just different names. Even though Tarot, I Ching and other supernatural beliefs attracted me next, I saw that again, there was the same problem here just a different name. After reading this book, I see that Eric Maisel agrees with me.

He says, “The god religions, the river religions, and the world of the supernatural enthusiasms do not serve you. They force you to rein in your intelligence, make claims that you do not honestly believe, and hurt your chances of taking a fearless inventory of your beliefs and charting a course that will make you proud.”

My question then, is, where do I go from here? Eric Maisel would suggest atheism. I’m not sure I want any ‘ism’, if you don’t mind. But one idea in his book that I do embrace is meaning. Specifically, meaning making.

He describes it this way, “You let go of wondering what the universe wants of you, you let go of the fear that nothing matters, and you announce that you will make life mean exactly what you intend it to mean.”

Sounds easy, but exactly how do I go about doing that? Eric explains, “We look forthrightly at the next hour, week, month, year and decade and we try to make conscious decisions about what actions are congruent with our heroic effort to live passionately and well.”

What does that mean on a day to day basis? That depends on our needs on each and every day. According to Maisel, when we need to act, we act. When we need to change our attitude, we can change it. We don’t give in or give up.

In other words, I do what I can do. If I’m not pleased with where I am or what I’m doing, I can change it. Making meaning does literally mean that I make it, every day. And since every day is different, mean making one day might be different that another day. At first I thought that sounded a bit like a license to be flaky, but that’s not the idea. The idea is to be grounded in the real world and respond to it in real time with what’s really meaningful. And being willing to respond to change by changing what needs to changed and doing what needs to be done.

I like that idea with or without the ‘ism’ attached.

For more reviews and information about Eric Maisel’s book, The Atheist’s Way,
Or his website at

Monday, February 23, 2009

An old kiln with a new life:
A gift from one artist to another passing the creative flame.

When I had my open studio in October 2008, I had many wonderful visitors. One special visit came on a Sunday morning, from Ed and Dorothy Wilbur, a lovely couple who not only admire, respect and collect art from artists but over the years have created many of their own masterpieces.

Their home is filled with art inside and out, included in this amazing space are many pieces they created as well. There are masks, paintings, sculptures, garden art, artfully painted walls, stencils, a miniature house with art, quilts, and much, much more. Including several workshops where they’ve created their artwork over the decades.

The day Ed and Dorothy came to my open studio, they noticed my clay sculptures around my home. And they wondered why they’d never seen them in the gallery. I explained that I’ve never shown these sculptures, because I never had enough of them to make a ‘body’ of work. Why? Because I never had consistent kiln access that would allow me to build a body of work. Ed offered me his kiln and I accepted.

A truck had to be rented. The kiln was moved. An electrician had to be found and scheduled to come out and put in a 220 Volt line in the garage. This took months. Then, a kiln expert was called to come out, inspect, repair and set the kiln up for firing.

Now, at last, the kiln is ready to fire my clay sculptures. During this time, I’ve been working on new clay pieces and five are in process. I bought a kiln manual, so I’ll have some idea how to fire up my kiln without blowing up my pieces. Soon, I’ll be loading my own kiln, with my own pieces and bisque firing them. I’ll let you know how it goes, until then, here are some pictures of my new/old kiln and new sculptures in process.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Coming full circle:
From rejection to acceptance into the local visual arts showcase.

Showcase Sculpture: "Winter/Imbolc"

When my son started pre-school, I started painting again. I hadn’t painted since a horrible humiliating experience in a college watercolor class. Don’t misunderstand me, the prof was right. I had a lot to learn and I knew it. I didn’t let his intimidation force me out of the class of art majors. I stuck it out to the end. I could tell he respected me for it. But the experience took its toll on my soul and after the class, I quit painting.

After my daughter was born, I vowed to teach myself to draw, something I knew I needed to learn. So when my little baby went to sleep, I took out my pencils and drawing pad. I made a little progress, I think. But as a full-time mom of a daughter and then a son, I didn’t have a lot of energy left over for my own creativity.

When my son entered pre-school, I had two hours, two days a week to do art. I set up a studio in the corner of my bedroom. My studio was a drafting table, stool, watercolors, my old brushes and a few sheets of good paper. Out of the reach of little hands, I was able to enjoy the pleasure of alizarin crimson washed skies and Payne’s grey mountains. In a few months, I had a piece that I thought came out well. I had gone to the local art show, so when I saw the call for art, I hung my watercolor on my dining room wall, took pictures and submitted it.

It was rejected. I felt embarrassed and disappointed and humbled like I was by that long ago college professor. But this time, I didn’t stop making art. Instead, I started taking classes. First, it was beading classes where I created mini-landscapes couching tiny seed beads into mountains. I took pieced imagery creating a two-sided quilt with an abstract painting on one side and a machine embroidered portrait of Katherine Hepburn on the other. Drawing and painting classes came next leading to a love of pastels and the beginning of a fascination with faces. My first sculpture class required me to make a clay bust. It was not love at first sight.

At home, I was still painting with pastels and paint on my small drafting table in the corner of the den. But I was trying to get my fabric painting to have more of a sculptural form. I tried different glues, fiber and battings when that didn’t work, I bought some screening at the local hardware store. When I couldn’t get the fabric to stick, I gave up on the fabric and started painting the screen.

Ah…aha! It worked. It did exactly what I wanted it to do. But, it was a little weird, I mean how many people do you know who make art out of window screening. But it let me do all the things I liked, fiber, paint, faces and sculpting.

I didn’t know it then, but I do now. I’m a sculptor. Once I started sculpting screening, clay and metal, my paintings improved. My drawings became more skilled. After all those years of feeling like a failure in art class, I found out I was able to draw and paint. I just needed to do it in 3 dimensions instead of 2.

This year, butterflies fluttering in my stomach, I filled out the entry for the same local art competition I had entered my watercolor in almost 17 years ago. Only this time, I entered my Season’s sculptures. A few days before Christmas, I got a present from the past, my Season’s sculpture entitled, “Winter/Imbolc” was accepted into the 27th Annual Visual Arts Showcase.

On Saturday, I went to the opening. It was packed with people. Artists, art lovers young and old wound around an amazing array of photography, watercolors, oil paintings, fiber art, and sculpture. Coming around to the end of the room on a white pedestal, was my sculpture “Winter/Imbolc”.

Sometimes it is worth the wait. It felt like I’d come full circle and it felt good.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

(Ball masque-Sun)

Don’t worry.
Be happy.
Right. How come it’s so hard to do?

Today is a busy day and that’s a good thing. I’m a little nervous, excited as well as happy. Yes. I said it, happy. Why is it so hard for me to say that I’m happy? I want to be happy- doesn’t everyone? Ok, maybe there are some people out there who don’t, but I do. I really do. So what’s the problem?

Fear. Oh, that old feeling back – again. It sounds ridiculous but it’s the truth. I’m afraid of being happy. Why?

Here’s what came up. What if it gets taken away? What if it’s a mirage that looks good from a distance but never materializes. What if it’s just a pretty frosting that covers up a bad situation. What if something goes wrong? What if I’m not worthy. Why should I be happy when others are not?

I wonder why I distrust happiness? Because in the past, it wasn’t what it seemed? It was a mask worn by someone who really felt differently? It was a rug that was pulled out from under me? Could be. We’ve all had good situations that turned bad. Or days that started out good and ended differently. But I know, I’ve also had the opposite happen, so have you, I’m sure. Bad situations, people, days that turn out to be good in the end.

So, what’s the problem?

When I look back at my life, I see times when I was truly happy. Enjoying a romantic picnic by the river with my husband. Holding my newborn daughter and son for the first time. Strolling the beach at sunset. Nothing bad happened.

Writing this now, I’m feeling less nervous and more relaxed. I’m looking forward to today. I have a sculpture piece to deliver to an art show. I have a mask making class to teach to fun-loving children at a local elementary school. I’ve got a party to go to at a jazz club.

I can be happy. I can enjoy my artistic accomplishments. I can have fun teaching the art of mask making. I can enjoy the party. There that wasn’t so hard, after all.

In the spirit of happiness, here’s my contribution to the happiness meme that’s going around the blog world right now. With all that’s going on in the real world right now, I know I need all the happy thoughts I can find. I hope it helps you find some of yours, too.

The meme is simple: You list six things that make you happy, not necessarily in any order, just the first six that come to mind. Ok, maybe that might be hard but try not to worry about it. (I’m smiling at you, see?) Then you "tag" another blogger or two with the meme, to pass it on.

1. The sun shining down on me as I walk my dog around the lake. I feel the luscious warmth on my back while my nose feels the frosty, winter air. I see the heron feeding, hear the redwing blackbird singing and lean against the powerful cedar trees and sigh.
2. Going over and kissing my husband and asking him if he’s happy and he says, “Yes.” I ask, “Why?” And he says, because right now, everything’s good…home, him, me, the kids, his work, my work. I kiss him again for reminding me once again, that life is good.
3. Playing with clay, pushing on smooth copper, painting with a rainbow of paints and writing the stories that the pictures want to tell me.
4. The first sniff and sip of fresh morning coffee.
5. The sound of my daughter singing. The sight of my son digging into a home cooked meal with gusto.
6. The support of friends and family. I don’t take that for granted…thank you all!

Ok, so now it’s time to tag someone else…Brenda Boylan, a pastel artist, and Patrick Gracewood, sculptor,

Have fun with your happy thoughts!