Monday, December 7, 2009

Lessons from the Bathroom Window

The primary bathroom in our house is what one might euphemistically call diminutive, or perhaps, petite. It is also very very dirty much of the time--gross, bordering on disgusting. I can think of only one or two of our friends who might even dare to step into our shower in its everyday state. I like to think that we in our family are all very daring because we do so on a regular basis. This might even be our family's favorite version of flirting with danger. Perhaps we could call it "Extreme Showering" and make a name for ourselves.

But our bathroom has its positive features, too. Chief among them is the window in the shower.

It's quite probable that our house, having been built in 1918 as a summer cottage, did not start out with indoor plumbing, at least not the kind we think of today--the flush toilet, sink, and bathtub hitched to water pipes kind of plumbing. According to at least one internet source for the history of plumbing, "even in 1921, only one percent of US homes had indoor plumbing," that despite the boom in bathroom technology following World War I. Whose to say whether our now-bathroom was even a bathroom in its first incarnation? Maybe our our diminutive bathroom was once a baby baby's room, or a linen closet (we could use one of those).

Still, this is all beside the point, which is: the window in our shower. The tub that hosts our shower runs across the entire back wall of the bathroom, and the length of that entire wall  (the narrowest dimension of the bathroom's petite rectangle) is not even as long as a standard sized bathtub.

Several years ago when we looked into replacing the tub with a modern one-piece tub-shower invention, we discovered that we have a three-quarter-sized tub, and those basically don't exist any more. There certainly are not any ready made three-quarter-sized tub-shower "surrounds" at Home Depot. So we had some nice tile put around the shower walls, and a vinyl window replaced the wooden-framed one that, quite understandably, wasn't faring all that well being drenched by water mingled with soap and shampoo scum at least twice a day.

The new window has a frosted pane on the bottom for modesty, even though in all honesty none of our neighbors really has a view of the bathroom. The top panel is clear, or as clear as can be when it doesn't get cleaned very often. It also gets pretty well steamed up when the shower is running.

Still, even at its most steamy, the upper portion of the window lets in lots of light and color. On a clear day a hint of dazzling blue sky will catch my attention mid-shower, and I love wiping off the steam to have a look outside (usually while the water is still warming me up or rinsing me off). Sky, clouds, patterns of tree trunks, branches, leaves, snow--the window offers up visual delights that add to the pleasures of my morning routine.

Then there's the window sill--a replacement sill that was added along with the vinyl window. It's maybe three inches deep, and it is lined with shampoo and conditioner bottles. (My daughters look at me really strangely when I try to call conditioner "creme rinse," but . . . hey, that's what they called it back when my mother put it in my long hair that tangled way too easily.)

This morning I took an informal inventory of bottles, reminding myself for the umpteenth time to ask Anna to throw away (that is, rinse and recycle) the ones that are truly empty, of a flavor now out of favor, or for whatever other reason no longer wanted.

Here's the current census of bottles on our bathroom window sill, from left to right: two semi-translucent red with dark liquid; two translucent pink--one with magenta liquid, one with purple; three opaque purple; one clear and colorless with pale green liquid; one oddball thing of body wash; and one opaque blue. This census doesn't include the five random bottles and tubes that occupy the wider corner ledges of the tub itself.

When I looked at the window sill during my shower this morning, the first seven neon-colored bottles reminded me of a row of exclamation points that a young adolescent girl might put in a note to her best friend, or in her journal, happy to be using a new set of bright markers!!!!!!!

Especially because of the clever way they make such bottles these days, with wide flat caps on their bottoms, so that the liquid contents collect where you need it. I still think of these bottles as able to stand on their heads, even though their tops are actually their bottoms (if you get what I mean). They really do, I maintain, look like wide exclamation points, outlined and colored in.

And the lessons in this? Something about trusting delight, of course.

It started simply with enjoying the colorful row of shampoo and conditioner containers (even though I know it takes only one slight miscalculation of movement to knock one bottle off balance and instigate a domino effect, startling to the nerves and painful to bare feet).

Then I found myself thinking that I'd like to draw them in one of my favorite playful ways of drawing, where I follow the lines and shapes with my eyes and move my pen or pencil without looking at the paper, often creating intriguing quirky results! (Sometimes I "cheat" and look at the paper a little; sometimes I later choose to add color or a detail here or there, or darken some of the shapes or spaces, just to see how it changes the image.)

So after I was dressed and had walked the dog, I pulled back the shower curtain, put down the toilet seat cover and sat on it, and made 5 quick drawings of our bathroom window. One I colored in with colored pencils (don't really like the result, but no big deal). The others I'm saving for other possibilities, or just to keep plain. One is included in this post.

Other lessons? Keep it simple. Go with what delights you. Just have some fun.

One thing about drawing the bottles on the window sill is that I found myself really, really noticing just how truly revolting the state of that window sill is, especially where it meets the window, glimpsed in the spaces between the bottles like bits of horizon visible between buildings.

And presto, I had something low-key and low-pressure to blog about, which I've been hoping would happen. I've been needing a restart, some way back into my blogging that didn't feel too heavy, or too overburdened with trying to write the next great American blog.

And another lesson: just how capable I am of seeing things in desperate need of cleaning, even staring them full in the face, and then ignoring them yet again for another day. I'm trying to do better--honest. It's just that some days, most days, I have so many things I'd rather do.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Getting Clearer: A New Artist's Statement

While preparing to deliver a few small paintings for an exhibit at the Dodwell Gallery on Long Island in Casco Bay, I decided it was time to update and upgrade my "artist's statement". After a few false starts, it finally started to click and I worked at it happily until I happened to glance at the clock. It was time to go meet Maggie Carle, the curator of the gallery.

I threw on some proper outdoor clothes and got to Portland in perfect time! But not before printing out my new statement, which is here:

Curiosity, amazement, joy and wonder--these are essential elements that I bring to making art that celebrates being alive in this world of "things". I find the natural world an endlessly fascinating source of inspiration and rejuvenation, so it makes good sense that I choose to paint landscapes as well as interiors featuring flowers, fruits, and vegetables. I paint whatever captures my attention and curiosity and quickens my pulse. These are usually not scenes of staggering beauty or grandeur but of more ordinary loveliness--a certain slant of light, the curious shapes and lines of bare tree branches, or the complexities of color in a single piece of fruit. Sometimes I paint from direct observation and impression; other times from a quick drawing or series of drawings that help me to simplify my response to what I am seeing and feeling, perhaps even to the point of abstraction.

I paint primarily for the joy of it. I love playing with paint--mixing colors, pushing the paint around with my brush, palette knife, or fingers--see what happens in a process of discovery, intuition, and a bit of trial and error. At times the creative process flows through me, and my goal is to hold myself open to collaborate with a living energy rather than to "think my way through" in a any methodical way. Other days I am more deliberate and considered. Nearly always I start a new painting with a mixture of excitement and fear, summoning courage (since there are no guarantees) and a commitment to show up and do my best with what evolves, with hopes that some measure of my own joy and quirky delight will be received by the eyes and spirits of my viewers. I consider myself hugely fortunate and richly blessed to be a painter.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Interlude and Return

Without really meaning to, I seem to have had a break from blogging for the last two weeks, and now I'm returning. I can say that, not surprisingly, the longer one doesn't blog the harder it seems to be to pick it back up again. So I'll start slowly.

Some gorgeous late fall weather this week made being outside a real treat. Yesterday I took David's camera out with me, and I caught these backlit oak leaves looking stunning.

Again and again I realize just how essential spending time outside is-- to my spirit, my well being, and my artwork. Noticing things, savoring and celebrating.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Inspiring Art Mentors

Recently I've found great inspiration and encouragement from visiting two local art galleries that highlight the art of adults with disabilities. The two galleries are Spindleworks in Brunswick and YES Art Works at Creative Work Systems in Portland.

I step into these galleries (or stop to look in the windows of Yes Art Works on Congress Street as I walk from my car to the Farmers' Market on Wednesday mornings), and my heart soars! I smile, I feel liberated and affirmed and pump my fists to return  some affirmation; I cheer, I bow in gratitude, and sometimes I cry, too.

I want to paint and draw as these artists do--without pretense, boldly expressing themselves in the style that emerges from them with paint, pen, paper, wood, cloth, yarn, whatever the material may be. I consider them my mentors and a source of inspiration, and I am deeply grateful that they choose to share their work with the world.

Matter of fact, I am going to stop right now and write a note to thank one of these artists at Spindleworks, Caroline Boylston, one of whose works is hanging on my wall. (Click on her name here and the link will take you to a list of Spindleworks artists; click on her name there and you will see her and some of her work. Then you can sample others' work as well!) Maybe some day soon I will ask her if she'd like to join me for a cup of tea or coffee. I think I'd like that very much.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Happy Making Art

I believe that Robert Motherwell once wrote that he wished he could be living and painting in an earlier era, like way way earlier, like in the age of the cave paintings of Lascaux. Back in a time before there was any such concept as "Art" (note the capital A). Back in a time when creative, artistic self-expression was present despite so called "primitive" life circumstances, thus affirming that art is something essential and intrinsic to being human. One can imagine that in such a time there wasn't a whole lot of froo-frah about what is or isn't Art, or what makes real art, good art, great art, bad art, childish art, etc. (I could be wrong of course; perhaps there was a selection process for getting the best space in the cave.)

When there were no museums or galleries (just cave walls!) and no gatekeepers of the art world to say, "Yes, you're in", or "No, you're not". (Actually, I'm glad there are museums and galleries most of the time, but I trust you know what I mean.)

Of course in my experience, the gatekeepers are not just potentially out there but are also quite actively "in here"--meaning, in  my head! The jury is interminably in: "No, you can't paint that way. People will think (or know) you're just an amateur." "That's not art or (depending on the day) not good art, real art, or just plain art)."  "You're just playing with paint.""You can't do that; that's not real painting." Blah blah blah. Ad nauseam.

And when I'm in my right mind (which is somewhat  but not altogether different from being attuned to my right brain), I reply:

"You know what? Who cares? All I know is that I'm happy making art (at least when I get out of my own way). And if sometimes my art is also happy-making for someone else, all the better! So for now, I'm not going to think about great art, about museums and galleries. I'm just going to make art that makes me happy and dare to share it and trust that it may help someone else to feel happy, too. Not everybody, mind you; just somebody. And that will be plenty."

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Sometimes It's Like This

Well, I flunked out of church today. Maybe that's the best way to say it.

Maybe I just don't go to church often enough to do so easily and simply, without a lot of "reactivity" (an insightful word that David supplied as I tried to debrief on the way home). I wish it were simpler for me to be there--like, couldn't I just go and enjoy the parts I enjoy and let the rest roll off my back and come home reasonably content, instead of leaving in tears and either wanting to break something or to bash my own head against a wall? (Don't worry--breaking something appealed to me a whole lot more that the head against a wall thing!)

But it seems in order for going to church to be simpler, I have to REALLY WANT it to be so, and then to follow up that wanting with showing up with a bit more frequency than once every--hmmm, how long since I last went to church?

OMG, as they say, have I actually not been to church since . . . Easter? I'm really not sure. Let's see: for the record, I have been to three memorial services and an Evensong in these intervening months.
(Oh, and believe me, I can feel the total shock and horror of some of my clergy friends and former parishioners.)

Good thing I don't believe in being banished to hell for skipping church, because in terms of "the due celebration of Sundays" I am without doubt an infidel.

Perhaps I need to say a little more about my flunking out of church this morning, the tears, the complexity.

I actually thought I was doing pretty well, remembering to call myself back to a centered place when I felt a lot of rebellious stuff brewing internally. (Maybe that is part of the problem; maybe I ended up kidding myself that I was letting things go when in fact I was stuffing them in and building up a battle within.)

The internal stuff isn't all bad; at least it lets me know I'm alive. For me, with today being All Saints' Day, the internal brew was a mixture of this day when remembering people who have died is in the air. I was remembering not only my father, and David's father, and my cousin Lola, but also a bunch of others, too, including my friend Sarah's father, whose memorial service was just last week, and my friend Anne's mother, who died just before Easter. That's a lot of remembering for one small part of the morning.

And then there was the un-ordination thing, which crept up on me in an unguarded moment when I was receiving communion, and I looked at the hands of the person giving out the "bread" (if you can call those stupid, lifeless communion wafers bread), and I remembered in a flash that I used to do that, that it was part of who I was, and it is no longer something that I do.

And I actually really enjoyed that part of being a priest--not so much saying the Eucharistic prayer in which the priest invokes God's blessing on the bread and wine--but the giving out the bread part. That part is so refreshingly, thankfully tangible and concrete (all the more so when the bread that you have to put into the hands of those receiving it is actually some form of bread, with substance and nourishment, flavor, texture and scent--something you can actually sink your teeth into!).

So in a flash I remembered all of that and experienced a fleeting pang of maybe missing it, of maybe something akin to grief, and then the subsequent challenge a feeling the grief and letting the grief be grief without turning it into evidence that I made a big mistake renouncing my vows and giving up being ordained. To stay with the pang of grief, to breathe into it and ride the wave of it--that's probably all I needed to do but wasn't quite able to manage, although I did pretty well for a while.

And then, after the organ postlude, bless his tolerant heart (I mean that--he has lived with me for twenty-two years after all!), David mentioned to me that I had bad breath, and instead of riding the wave, the wave came crashing down on me. And in kinda junior high-ish fashion, I blubbed something like, "Sometimes it's hard just being here, and I guess I'd better just leave" and I fled the scene as tears brimmed again, barely speaking to the usher in the doorway on my way out, and not stopping to shake the Dean's hand, either.

So here's the thing, or a thing anyway: you know back up there a few paragraphs ago when I said, about giving out communion, that "I remembered in a flash that I used to do that, that it was part of who I was and is no longer what I do"? Here's what I noticed as I wrote that; here's a truth worth remembering for the next time this happens, since there probably will be a next time.

Yes, I used to do that handing out of communion; yes, I used to enjoy that, too. It was part of who I was, not only as a priest but also as a human being, and it is still part of who I am. It will always be a part of me.

Yes, I have taken off the shirt and collar* (and that reminds me, what do I do with the vestments?), and I have chosen living free over death in holy orders. And yet those years of being a priest, those moments of connecting with people's eyes and with their outstretched hands as I gave them bread, all of that is woven into the fabric of who I am now. I can be grateful for those years even as I know that I was often not sure I belonged in that role, even if I often wondered what it might be like to be free.

*About the shirt and collar: I've been savoring a comment that my friend Sarah shared with me not long ago. (I believe it was shortly after her father died, and she and I were talking about the fact that if I were still ordained, I could participate in her father's memorial service in "priestly" ways. I was feeling a touch of regret that I couldn't be there for her mother in that way, and Sarah's response was unequivocal: "Thank God you're not still ordained!") Sarah was for many years and is no longer a church organist. She told me that when someone says to her, "You could always brush off your organ shoes and play again," she replies: "No, you don't understand. Those shoes aren't even in my closet; they went out in the trash."

Done. Finito. Fare well.  Gone but not forgotten. Amen (which means, so be it.)

Friday, October 30, 2009

Another Maira Kalman blog, again

A brief interlude to note that here's another last Friday of the month, and that means another Maira Kalman blog post from the New York Times, always worth checking out. This one especially so in light of the agonizingly slow (or so it seems) process of getting some form of health care reform passed. And there's the climate bill too. Both important.

Monday, October 26, 2009

About Trusting Delight

c. 2008, Sukie Curtis, Backyard in Summer, oil on gessoed paper, 6.5"x6.5"

I never did get around to explaining how I came by the title of this blog, Trusting Delight. And I think it's time to do so.

In a strange way this topic also belongs over my newer blog, Freedom Diaries,  because the practice of trusting delight is a significant part of my road to freedom. Perhaps it's one of the strongest, clearest links between the two and why I sometimes get mixed up about what belongs where.

(Which of course causes me to wonder if they are, or should be, one and the same blog. But I recently read that it's a great idea for artists to blog about their work, and I thought: "Aha!! Trusting Delight could become the blog about my painting and other visual art, while Freedom Diaries remains the story about my journey, present as well as past.)

Anyway, back to trusting delight.

It happened this way: I'd been given a small piece of gessoed paper to use for a homework assignment for the plein air (that's fancy French art talk for painting outside) landscape painting class that I took last summer. I don't remember the precise assignment, but I believe we were simply encouraged to play around freely (my favorite kind of assignment!) with our paint and the paper, since gessoed paper was a new surface for most of us.

I took my paints, the paper, and my trusty folding French easel out to the backyard, which is where I did a lot of painting last summer (hence the large number of paintings featuring trees and a wooden fence). I was about to discover that gessoed paper is a rather slippery, skiddy surface compared to gessoed canvas, for instance. A paint-laden brush really slides around a lot, which some find disconcerting, and it can feel pretty out of control and messy for a while.

It was a gorgeous early summer day with plenty of sunshine and a pleasant breeze. There was stuff growing in the garden, the trees were in full leaf by then, casting intriguing shadows across the lawn, onto the fence, and through my neighbor's grove of trees.

The wind stirred the branches and caused the light to flicker and dance, and I was ecstatic. I worked pretty fast, mixing colors and swiping my brush across the paper, moving so quickly in fact that I couldn't really say how I decided to paint what I did. I was simply painting by the seat of my pants (ha ha! I actually typed "by the seat of my paints"!!).

I was trusting my novice painter's intuitive sense, though if I'd had any such thoughts of doing any such thing, I can assure you I would have gotten tied in knots. "I don't know how to trust my intuition," I can almost hear myself whine. But thankfully, I didn't go down that road that day!

Because the paper was small, around 6 by 6 inches, I finished in a matter of minutes (really can't say how many, since I was blissfully oblivious of time). And I looked at what I had done, and I loved it!

And almost immediately the thought came to me that I was simply "chasing the light" around the backyard with my paints and brushes.

Now it just so happens that in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that.... oops. Wrong story. Let me try that again.

It just so happens that in those days I was actively wracking my brain to come up with a name for my soon to be launched blog. And when that phrase "chasing the light" arose in my mind, I said, "That's it! I'll call my blog 'Chasing Delight'!"

But when I thought more about it, "Chasing Delight" felt a bit too manic for what I had in mind, and possibly even too suggestive that I could be chasing delight yet never actually finding it or catching up to it. And that was definitely not what I wanted to convey.

I tweaked some more, emailed my friend Sarah some more, and settled on "Trusting Delight" instead of "Chasing Delight".

Just when in this process I remembered St. Augustine I can't now recall. Believe me, I wasn't expecting to find inspiration for my blog title from any of the so called "church fathers", and particularly not that one, whom I credit, rightly or wrongly, with developing the lovely concept of original sin. He wasn't big on sex, either.

But long ago I read and took to heart a beautiful line that Augustine (354 - 430) once wrote in an essay about music. I like to imagine that he wrote this before he spent his energy cooking up original sin. For that matter, maybe he even wrote this before he converted to Christianity!

In any case, here's Augustine's line that lies behind my blog's title: "Delight is as it were the weight of the soul; for delight orders the soul."

Delight orders the soul. And I am, dare I say it?, delight's willing practitioner, doing my best to order my life and my soul by trusting delight.

(To be continued, for sure. Because that word "orders" has an interestingly familiar ring to it, especially when traveling with its ecclesiastical companion, "holy".)

Monday, October 12, 2009

Really Starting Over

Here's my latest post from over in Freedom Diaries:

"The story I am writing is about starting over to live my life without God." I declared this to my partner in an exercise at a writing workshop on an island off the coast of Washington.

It was June of 2006, only a month or two after writing my two poems about feeling shackled to God and burdened by God. I was trying to be faithful to what I thought those poems were telling me.

And I was far enough from home, from people who knew me as an Episcopal priest, many as their former priest, to feel a bit more free to be honest. Since I was in the Pacific Northwest, north of Seattle, I had imagined (in other words, I had assumed) that most of my workshop mates would applaud and embrace a kind of loosey-goosey, unconventional approach to religion and spirituality and that my talk of living my life without God wouldn't raise eyebrows or upset anyone and might even find a ready and sympathetic embrace. I guess you could say I was kind of hoping for that, maybe even counting on that.

And I guess you could say I had been a tad unrealistic. Actually, I'd been really seriously off base.

My story idea went over like a bad joke, and I, already feeling very tentative about it, was hyper-vigilant for any signs telling me I should reconsider and turn back from the brink. I already wondered if perhaps I wasn't yet ready to write this story, that perhaps I didn't have the requisite perspective and "distance" that time could provide. After all, I hadn't actually embarked very far along this journey of living my life "without God," whatever that might mean. But I was seriously thinking about it, imagining it, planning it. (But in order to write about it, I was really going to have to live it. Damn! I hadn't fully considered that.)

My partners in this exercise, three different people in sequence, were invited to listen to my proposed story line, then respond with questions for me, and I was to do the same for them. My three compadres, more or less randomly selected in the course of milling about the room, all seemed to react to my story in similar ways. Each one in turn posed questions that felt strained to me, unenthusiastic, even slanted in such a way as to suggest that this idea of living my life without God was misguided, dangerous, a temporary delusional detour from which they hoped I would eventually recover.

They seemed to want to talk me back into God, to reassure me that this dark time would pass. Almost as if they were worried about me, as if this talk of going godless signaled depression and despair, maybe a sign of mental illness (that would be my mental illness), some kind of breakdown, as if next would come talk of suicide and wanting to end it all.

But nothing could have been farther from the truth! What my companions didn't seem able to comprehend or to guess was that my wanting to live my life without God was a jailbreak, a life-or-death bid for freedom! It was my best hunch of what I needed to do to shed an immense burden and to become--perhaps for the first time since childhood, perhaps for the first time ever!--simply and joyfully myself, a human being alive and awake on this amazing planet. I wanted liberation, and the best I could figure it, that meant letting go of God.

I suppose I can understand and even appreciate their response. It's not as if sane people usually speak of going godless every day, with strangers! It's not generally considered a casual endeavor, like, say, going topless or braless (and even speaking of going topless might raise eyebrows).

I could have told them, if I had wanted to pursue this line of thought, that of course I know that if there really is a God of whatever shape or form who or which is everywhere in the universe, then my intention to live my life without this God was preposterous, ludicrous, impossible even! That I could, in my limited, misguided ego kind of way, imagine myself cast adrift and free of such a being/force/entity, but that in fact my very life and my every breath would still be dependent on it/her/him. In which case the joke would be on me!

But I really wasn't interested in that kind of thinking, so so familiar to me from my twenty-something years of theologizing, preaching, and fitting life into a particular religious worldview to be packaged up and delivered for the hoped-for good of others.

Maybe that's just it: I no longer wanted to have to think and write and speak about God at all. God had become (or at least thinking, writing, and speaking about God had become)--how shall I say it?--boring to me!

I wasn't depressed; I was energized, hopeful, yet also fearful, and I was trying to be brave. I wasn't trying to be offensive; I was trying to tell the truth. And the truth was, I was sick to death of God--fed up with god, with talking about God, thinking about God, shoring up other people's faith in God or ideas about God , trying to make God (the Judeo-Christian God? any and every God?) make sense, tired of being a spokesperson for God in any way, shape, or form.

After being ordained for twenty-two years, I wanted out. I was barely able to acknowledge that truth, even to myself, but this workshop on the other side of the continent had seemed like a good place to start.

By the conclusion of this exercise I wasn't so sure. I got scared; I retreated. I decided I wasn't ready to write that story and that, at least for the purposes of this writing workshop, I'd have to find another one.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Long Road to Clarity

OK, so those two poems I published in two previous posts about stuff I was dragging around might feel kinda heavy to you. But I trust you can sense that they were very real to me and important to write.

Note I said: "were very real." I wrote them more than three years ago. I'm not lugging those burdensome feelings around with me any more. I've traveled quite a distance since then.

But they are important markers for me. Milestones along the road I was on, plodding along as best I could, rarely straight-forwardly, not always pleasantly, but moving one way or another (or, rather, one way and another).

I'm sure that those two poems were trying to tell me something I needed to learn about myself, something I needed to see and hear and know more clearly, something that some part of me way down deep already knew (and I hate to admit that it took me a long while to really let that knowledge sink in, or rise up to full consciousness, to the point of acting on it).

Shortly after writing them I read those poems to my friend Patty, a fellow poet, by way of also complaining about the inner turmoil I was experiencing (and no doubt blaming on my job). When she heard them, she said to me: "Well, at least this job is getting you to write poetry!"

I remember thinking that was scant consolation. I wanted relief from the turmoil, not poetry! I wanted to get out of the exhausting inner conflict I felt about what to do with my life, a conflict that the job seemed to perpetuate and even exacerbate.

I can see now that that job was on some level just where I needed to be, because it was doing me the favor of stirring the pot of inner conflict, provoking me toward inner clarity, eventually making my life unbearable enough to get me unstuck. But at the time I didn't want any more unbearable pot-stirring or inflamed conflict. I wanted out; I wanted to escape; I wanted a break.

Reading those poems from my present vantage point, it's so easy to imagine that they were telling me in the clearest possible terms that I was through with being an Episcopal priest, that renouncing my ordination was the obvious thing to do.

But at the time I wasn't that clear, at least my conscious mind wasn't that clear. I was trying to listen to my soul, that is on the days when I wasn't convinced that I had actually lost my soul forever somewhere in the business of being a priest.

But more often than not, I was probably only listening to my mind yammering on, flip-flopping endlessly, unsure of what to do.

Unsure because not really even ready or willing to entertain in any serious kind of way letting go of the the one adult identity I had had for longer than any other--being ordained, an Episcopal priest, a "professional God person".

Unsure also because I was so easily distracted by the more immediate quandary of whether to stay in my current job or not. This was not the first time in my life that I had imagined that my inner conflict was about "being in the wrong job" rather than about being in the wrong profession, even in the wrong calling.

And here it seems time to introduce the confusing, loaded, torturous, and (to me, for the longest time) debilitating idea of "vocation".

(To be continued . . . obviously.)

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Of Church-going and Music

As I said last week, I'm going to connect Trusting Delight with Freedom Diaries for a while, in hopes of bringing more eyes to my newer blog. So here's what I posted yesterday over on Freedom Diaries. And if you want to see what else I've posted there, you can follow this link: Freedom Diaries. The unfolding story of my journey from being good to being happy, from feeling caged to living free, from Episcopal priest to free-lance human being.

Of Church-going and Music

Sunday, October 4, 2009
Talk about having a foot in two camps, or straddling a fence. I am at this moment attempting to blog while also listening online to the Sunday morning Eucharist at Washington Cathedral, where, Bekah tells me via text, she is sitting in the fourth row. "And the altar is especially colorful."

"It's St. Francis' Day!" I text her back, half wishing I were there with her.

I'm not sure it will work, this listening and blogging at the same time. I'm not even sure it should work, since doing one thing at a time, fully present and single-minded, is usually the better way (despite the assertions of my children).


Monday, October 5
That was yesterday. It didn't work. The audio stream kept breaking up, so I gave up blogging and went downstairs to listen on a different computer and ended up helping Anna with something else. That was fine.

Not for the first time I admit to myself that I envy Bekah her occasional visits to the Cathedral, her still fairly new and fresh explorations of church-going on her own terms, as an individual, away from her parents. I especially envy her openness, her (somewhat) unjaded stance, apparently unencumbered by roles, responsibilities, or the expectations of others. Whatever encumbrance she carries i s made of stuff she has accumulated and not yet let go of from her growing up as a "P.K."--preacher's kid, which in her case was until recently preachers' kid. Double trouble. (Or as one honest teenaged member of my congregation said at the time that David and I got married, "Boy, do I feel sorry for their kids!")

My envy  of Bekah suggests an assumption on my part, largely unquestioned, that such freedom from expectations or personal agenda is lost to me, no longer an option. Maybe it's time to question that assumption. Maybe that's how freedom is found; it's claimed, not stumbled upon.

Last May when I went to D.C. to pick Bekah up from her first year of college, we squeezed in an afternoon Evensong at the Cathedral. Just walking into that glorious building and hearing the girls' choir warming up, their voices soaring into the vaulted ceiling high above, tears welled up in my eyes. I felt my heart both healed and torn apart at the same time.

"Ahhh, yes. I remember why I love this tradition." That and other such thoughts ran through my mind. Mostly I tried simply to allow myself to enjoy the sensory delights to ear and eye and soul as we wandered the building waiting for the choir seating to open for Evensong. I got to show Bekah some chapels she hadn't seen before, including the children's chapel, bordering on the too-precious with its miniature, child-sized everything: cathedral chairs, kneelers, altar, even a small pipe organ!

What really grabbed my heart this time was noticing how the hands of the bronze statue of Jesus-as-young-boy, who stands as a welcoming presence with arms outstretched in greeting, are shiny from the touch of many who just can't resist and reach out to make contact. I did the same. What was I hoping for? Some sort of magic gift of miracle, like the woman who reached out to touch the hem of Jesus' garment in the gospel story? Or just the tactile pleasure of smooth cold bronze and the knowledge that others before me have found this hand irresistible?

The Evensong itself was fine, lovely, not exceptionally so but certainly a peaceful close to the afternoon and the hours I had spent driving to get there. Afterwards Bekah and I wandered the Cathedral grounds, briefly meandered the rose garden with its statue of the Prodigal Son engulfed in the embrace of his father and the pungent smell of boxwood everywhere. And I showed Bekah the house within the cathedral close where I had lived by myself for nine months when I was a seminary intern at the near-by Episcopal parish. (I wrote about that house and how I experienced the sound of bells coming down the chimney here.)

On the bus back to her campus, I remarked: "If I could go to church just to enjoy the music, that would be perfect."

"That's why I go," she said. So simple.

Of course it's probably more than the music. There's some occasional delight in the cadences of the language of the liturgy (until my mind kicks in with theological arguments and counter-arguments and I have to find a way to hush it up or give it some happier occupation--drawing helps). And there's the joy of not just listening to music but participating in making it--singing! There's nothing quite like singing with a group of people, that co-mingling of breath, body, and voice.

(You won't catch me saying that singing hymns partakes of another dimension than singing "secular" songs, like old Beatles' tunes, or folk songs, or newer tunes, like Taylor Swift or the Jonas Brothers. Really, I'm not sure that the content of the song matters all that much, as long as it's within one's own subjective field of beauty, meaning, and enjoyment and the common ground of the singing community.)

"Maybe all you ever really wanted was simply to go to church and sing," a friend who has known me from before my church-going days says, implying but not saying, "...and getting ordained got in the way and made things really complicated."

"I've been thinking exactly that myself," I replied. Truly.

Maybe all I ever really wanted was to go to church and sing, to go to church and absorb the liturgy, to go and be a part of something bigger than myself, to feel accepted and connected. It was simply part of who I was at the time, a piece of my journey, more a temporary phase of my personal (spiritual) development than a genuine vocation to ordained ministry.

(And then, even farther from my conscious thoughts,  there lived and grew the desire, even the need, to feel important, visible, special--and ordination seemed to offer just that.)

Friday, October 2, 2009

Delight at Kidney Pond

What can I say? During our recent three day stay at Kidney Pond in Baxter State Park, I really got into clouds in a big way. Which was a good thing, since there were a lot of clouds around, and when they mingled with sunlight it was especially easy to enjoy their shapes, colors, and movements.

And as you can see from the photos above, I really got excited by what the pond (lake, really) waters did with the colors of the sky, the various shades of cloud color, its own transparency to the pebbly bottom, and the nearly constant motion of small waves toward the shore at my feet.

So I took several photos. Well, more than several. I even took my first ever videos using Anna's basic point and shoot digital camera. (If I've ever used a video camera before, I'm forgetting. We've never owned one, I know that much.) They may not be prizewinners, but I had a huge amount of fun taking them and just basically dancing with delight noticing the patterns!

Here are just a couple of my color-patterns-on-the-water photos. Just to get me back into the bloggerhood.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

It's a Blog Story: Baby, Just Say "YES!"

*[Note: the title of this post is an adaptation of the last line of the refrain of Taylor Swift's song "Love Story".]

On June 9, 2009, I started a new blog called Freedom Diaries. But I didn't tell anyone. In fact, I thought I had selected the blogging options that would keep it out of search engines and the like while I tested the idea and got a feel for it.

I began with a grand proclamation. (Is that an unfortunate hold-0ver from my clergy days--that I tend to make grand pronouncements from time to time? Probably. It was one of my default ways to end an otherwise weak sermon, I must confess--the grand rhetorical, homiletical closing flourish.)

Anyway, back to the story. My first post grandly proclaimed:

Earlier today I decided that sustaining two blogs was one blog too many. Now, at the risk of becoming the poster child for some sort of multiple blogging disorder, I'm starting another one a mere four hours later.

But this one's different. This one, in fact, has already been written. Just not published.

This blog already exists as entries in my various journals--most in spiral-bound notebooks, handwritten in Parker's washable blue fountain pen ink (most of the time); some in bits and pieces in my computer's memory. All that needs to happen is for me to choose and copy journal entries from one format into blog format, and presto! The Freedom Diaries will become a reality.

In the next post I tried to work out my approach, and then I promptly stopped. Totally bogged down in the muck of those old journals. No, that's not quite right. Totally bogged down in justthinking about wading through the muck of those old journals. I really and truly just stopped the blog.

In late July an email from someone I'd never met landed in my in-box. Someone who had somehow read my abandoned Freedom Diaries blog, the very blog that I thought was invisible to internet searchers and surfers. (It turns out I only thought I had chosen those options but never actually activated them!) The email let me know that at least one person out there in cyberspace wanted to hear more about this story. She had even left a comment on my first post: "Please keep writing...reveal more." Music to this blogger's ears and heart.

But for whatever reason I got scared, and went back into hiding. Like the proverbial groundhog, I had actually cast a shadow, had dared to stick my neck out into the light of day and had enough substance to be seen by someone, and back underground I went.

Fast forward several weeks to early September. On September 6, perhaps in the spirit of a new school year starting, I wrote: "I don't exactly know what's going on here, but I find myself wanting to resurrect this blog."

I even wrote two posts on the same day, and then another, then two more, and it seemed as if I was rolling. But I had deliberately once again kept the blog under wraps (or so I thought). I was enjoying just writing in blog form for my eyes only (or so I thought).

But it turns out that some things aren't what I think they are when it comes to Blogger's blogging platform (if that's the right term). It didn't occur to me that certain things that apply to one of my blogs would also apply to another one. And so while I thought I was writing and even "publishing" blogs for my eyes only, some of my followers of Trusting Delight were getting emailed versions of Freedom Diaries delivered to their in-boxes. Which I didn't know until after I had published several totally unguarded, supposedly "private" posts.

Again, I beat a hasty retreat and returned several of the posts to "draft" status, thereby removing them from the eyes of random internet surfers and friends alike. And I felt pretty stupid, really. I even wrote a post about being a "techno-ignoramus with techno-egg on my face." Though I also vowed not to beat myself up over it.

Slowly it dawned on me. There are at least two ways to look at this strange trail of events. One is to see this as a story of my hesitation and timidity and desire to hide, and, yes, my obvious incompetence with certain aspects of blogdom.

The other is to imagine that this is a story that wants to be told, a story whose time has come. Or, to take a more active ownership in all of this, to imagine that for all of my conscious desire to hide the story, to test it out and then retreat, twice, there's another part of me that must really want this story to be told and that really wants me to be the teller of it because I alone can be the teller of it and the creator of it.

Maybe it's kinda like old Jeremiah, who tried to refrain from speaking for and about God, and discovered that when he did so, "there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot." Maybe. Some kind of cyber-Jeremiah. (Hmmm....interesting idea, a blog written as if the blog of Jeremiah, or Jesus, or Mary... I'm sure someone's done that already. You think?)

Except in this case it's not a matter of speaking for God (I tried that for 22 years); it's about speaking for myself. To step out of the shadows and into light, out of hiding, to become visible, finally, as I tell the unfolding story of my journey from living by the rules and "being good" to living (more or less) free and being happy, from Episcopal priest to free-lance human being.

I am quite sure that this is not going to be a chronological account of my story. It will swing back and forth from present to past and back again. I don't plan to try to make this a smooth and seamless narrative, but to let it emerge as it will, blogpost by blogpost. As I've said before, I'll just have to give it a go and see what happens. And I always reserve the right to adapt and change as I go along.

To check out the Freedom Diaries click on the hyperlinked name (right back there, earlier in this sentence). For the next little while, I will probably keep linking from this blog to that to be sure you find me!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A Totally Endearing Inspiring Music Video for All Kinds of Artists

Some days how can you not love the internet? (Not every day, mind you, at least I can't!) Yesterday I discovered a comment from back in July on the blog I had but on hold a month before and never think to check.

But that comment included a recommendation of someone else's art blog, which I looked up, and from that blog I found the most delightful and (to me) endearing and inspiring music/art video of a song called "Art" by Tanya Davis. The artwork is by Andrea Dorfman.

If you enjoy even a fraction as much as I do, it's worth your 2 minutes and 50 seconds. Many of the comments I've read on it speak of it as being "cute," but I consider that too wimpy or too superficial an adjective for this video. It is, I suppose, visually cute because its style is playful, colorful, and almost childlike. But it packs a surprising punch.

In case you find yourself wanting to know Tanya Davis' lyrics, here they are:

I wondered what would be the worth of my words in the world
if i write them and then recite them are they worth being heard
just because i like them does that mean i should mic them
and see what might unfurl

i think of the significance of my opinions here
is it significant to be giving them does anybody care
just because i'm into this does that mean i should like like it
and really do i dare

art, art, i want you
art you make it pretty hard not to
and my heart is trying hard here to follow you
but i can't always tell if i ought to
so i pondered the point of my art in this life
if i make it will someone take it and think it's genuine
will they be glad that i did 'cause they got something good out of it
will they leave me and be any more inspired

i question the outcome of the outpouring of myself
if i tell everyone my stories will this keep me healthy and well
will it give me purpose, to this world some sort of service
is it worth it, how can i tell

art, art, i want you . . .

And the "Art Manifesto" in the midst of the video reads:

Great ideas come from great bike rides
Pass it on
Art will take you places
Plant seeds
A broken heart can make great art
Don't care too much

I might just have to watch and listen to it once a day.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Bit of Green Sanity from Thomas Friedman

I'm often a few days behind on what's going on. And would likely remain that way most of the time if it weren't for that handy "most popular emailed stories" list on the New York Times email that I get daily. Lo and behold, today's most popular is about "Portland Restaurants," and for once it means Portland, Maine not Portland, Oregon! It's great to read about Portland's food scene, and even to read about "my" farmer, Chris Cavendish of Fishbowl Farm, in the Times!

But I actually didn't read that story until I went back to check on Thomas L. Friedman's latest op-ed piece called "Have a Nice Day". And I wouldn't have looked at the list at all today if I hadn't been reading about the death (and life) of Mary Travers. Hearing about her death last night via a text message from Bekah caused a sad tug on the household. Not only did David and I grow up with the music and songs of Peter, Paul, and Mary (and David once fitted Mary's large feet into shoes when he worked at L. L. Bean long ago!), but Bekah and Anna also heard their share of their children's album.

I guess this is how it often goes, with both reading and writing and blogging and maybe with life! You start out one place and end up in another. Which brings me back to Friedman's "Have a Nice Day"--about visiting a thriving California factory that makes machines that make solar panels. A positive, hopeful, financially viable, good-for-the-planet enterprise with one sad note: of the 14 solar panel factories that this company has built around the world, not one of them is in the United States. Not one. Most are in Germany, and China is coming right along behind Germany.

Read Friedman's piece if you want to know the reasons why it hasn't yet made sense for someone to build one of those solar panel factories right here. If you don't want to read it yourself, I'll say simply that it has to do largely with government policies and regulations, or rather, the lack of the kinds of policies that have been put in place in Germany, and now China, supporting such factories, which (need I point out?) would created all kinds of real "green jobs".

As Friedman says: "So right now, our federal and state subsidies for installing solar systems are largely paying for the cost of importing solar panels made in China, by Chinese workers, using hi-tech manufacturing equipment invented in America."

Hmmm. Kinda makes me feel hopeful and like I want to break something all at the same time.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Julie/Julia Syndrome

First off, my apologies to those of you who receive my blog posts by email the minute I hit "publish"! For some reason I have developed a bad habit of hitting the return button rather than the tab button when I have done nothing more than enter a title for a new post. And off it goes! Suddenly I'm greeted by an exclamatory window telling me my latest post has been published--contentless! I promise I'll try to reform my wayward right pinkie.

Second, I guess this is kind of a confession (neither the first nor the last, I imagine): you know how there was a long gap a couple of weeks back when I didn't post anything? (It's OK if you didn't really notice.)

There was stuff going on in my life for sure, but really, I think there was what I'm calling the "Julie/Julia Syndrome" going on. Which means that in the afterwash of having seen and enjoyed the movie version of Julie and Julia I developed a case of excuses why I shouldn't blog.

They included things like, "Well, clearly I haven't got the right kind of blog to become a big hit and turn into a book and a popular movie starring Meryl Streep, so . . . why bother?" and "I keep reading and being told that no one reads blogs anymore, so . . . why bother?" and "Blogs are SO passe internet phenom, so . . . " You get the rather repetitive idea.

And the truth is those are just more ways of hiding and futzing around and . . . well, not blogging. Which I enjoy. So why not do it, for Pete's sake?

I do think there's something else brewing in me, which I'll explore in the next post or next after that. Really. I promise.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Exuberant: abandonedly joyous!

Today I'll be making one of my frequent visits to my ninety-year-old mother, who lives about an hour away. As I drive along I often find myself thinking of things to write, stories to tell, and sometimes I just find interesting words arising in my thoughts. (And I do talk to myself out loud as I drive, just so you know.)

A month or so ago on one of my drives the word "exuberant" came to mind, and of course I began to wonder about its origins, roots, and so on. So when I got home, I looked it up and learned some cool stuff that only makes it all the more rich a word.

First of all, the root word at its core is uber, which means "fertile" in Latin. So exuberance comes from fertility, one's own and that of the universe, I imagine. Tap into your creative powers of all sorts and you're likely to feel exuberant and to live more exuberantly.

As to definitions, here are a few (and I think they're all wonderfully rich and inspiring):

1. Full of unrestrained high spirits; abandonedly joyous. (The spell check doesn't like that word, abandonedly, but I do!)

2. Lavish; effusive; overflowing

3. Growing or producing abundantly; luxuriant

What's not to love about exuberant?! It just may be my current favorite word. I intend to let it call to me on a regular basis: "Over here! Over here! Come this way!"

Image: "Clouds over Mackworth Island", 2008, 8" x 12"

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Moonlight and Water

The just past full moon was lovely and cream-colored last night, and if I hadn't known it was officially full the day before, I would have thought it fully full last night.

Driving home with Anna last night, and with David and Anna the night before, I was treated to views of the moonlight in Casco Bay, from the bridge by Martin's Point, and elsewhere. These nights have been wonderfully clear for enjoying moonlight.

All of which has reminded me of a favorite poem by Seamus Heaney, which I've gone and looked up, because although I remember the first few lines, I can't quite remember the part where the full moon and water come in. I love this poem's loose conformity to sonnet form, the not quite rhyming "slant rhymes" and delightful linguistic rhythms. I have sometimes declared this to be my idea of a "perfect sonnet." As with most poetry, it's best savored if you read it aloud.

Here it is:

A Drink of Water

She came every morning to draw water
Like an old bat staggering up the field:
The pump's whooping cough, the bucket's clatter
And slow diminuendo as it filled,
Announced her. I recall
Her grey apron, the pocked white enamel
Of the brimming bucket, and the treble
Creak of her voice like the pump's handle.
Nights when a full moon lifted past her gable
It fell back through her window and would lie
Into the water set out on the table.
Where I have dipped to drink again, to be
Faithful to the admonishment on her cup,
Remember the Giver, fading off the lip.

from Opened Ground: Selected Poems 1966-1996, by Seamus Heaney

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Absentee Blogger

Wow, I guess I've been otherwise occupied for a while. What's been going on?

1. Getting Bekah back to college in Washington, DC for her second year, lots of driving down and back in three days. I can say that this drop off was SO MUCH EASIER than last year's! For which I am very grateful.

This time she has solid friends, one of whom she greeted on the sidewalk with hugs and squeals of delight at reconnecting face to face. This time, she knows the ropes, the city, the school (more or less)--it's not as if EVERYTHING is new.

This time, as Bekah herself put it, "I know I'm not going to die here."

2. Putting some of my attention to visiting assisted living facilities for my 90-year-old mother. Have seen two in the past two days. Good, decent places, but it's still sobering.

Even at the best of places, there are so many losses that go into giving up one's home, greater independence, easy access to one's own corner of the outdoors, a lot of possessions that just plain won't fit into a one bedroom apartment.

And, the price tag is sobering too! The woman who showed me around a facility yesterday said she imagines our parents' generation is the last one that is going to be able to afford such high quality facilities. In lots of cases, you kind of end up hoping that your loved one dies before their money runs down to the point where they have to be in a lesser facility.

I must say that pondering such things stirs some yearning for a culture and time in which elders were/are simply embraced within a family home, and that's just the way it works. No one left out. Though I suppose that, too, has its significant downsides.

3. Don't forget other things like: progress healing my broken foot! (I'm now allowed to walk gently and slowly without the air cast. I suspect that my new running/walking shoes are part of the problem, as they activate other discomfort in my foot.)

And Anna getting ready for school. And wanting to restart momentum of my artwork. And...

That's more than enough.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

More Color Play

Here's another one of the three pieces that I painted not too long ago and called, "Color Play I, II, and III". They were so much fun to paint!

They are small, about 8 inches by 6 inches, done in oil on cut pieces of pine board that I had painted with acrylic paints three or so years ago. I just painted freely with colors that spoke to me, mixing a little color on my palette, and letting some of the mixing happen as I pushed the brush around.

The first one (the one above) I didn't touch after my first round with oil paint. I added the blue splotch to the yellow-orange one (below) a few days later after the other colors had dried.

To see the third one of the trio, visit my post of August 15, "Taking on the 'Stay Small Brigade'". I love thinking of all three of them happily adding bright color to the kitchen of the person who bought them. It's one clear way I hope to contribute joy and color to the world.

Images: "Color Play I and III", each approx. 8" x 6", oil on board.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

"The Women's Crusade"

"The world is waking up to a powerful truth: women and girls aren't the problem; they're the solution," writes NY Times colunnist Nicholas Kristof and his wife (a former Times correspondent), Sheryl WuDunn. With women and girls lie the most direct and even cost-effective solutions to poverty, fundamentalism, and extremism around the world.

I'm just catching up with a story from last Sunday's Times, an excerpt from a book by WuDunn and Kristof to be published next month. The book is called Half the Sky, an allusion to a Chinese proverb: "Women hold up half the sky."

There's a brief but powerful, inspiring audio slide show available through the NY Times website. Here's a link to it. I promise you--though the subject matter is hard, these stories are success stories, full of hope, that remind me of the power of micro-loans to women (and a few good men, for sure) in developing countries. If you want to read the whole article, here's a link to that: "The Women's Crusade."

Friday, August 21, 2009

Water and Sky

The other day, one of the hot ones, I finally went swimming for the first time in weeks, maybe even months. First there were the cool, rainy weeks of June and July that made swimming in the ocean not so appealing. Then, just as the weather improved, came my broken foot.

I'm still nursing my stress fracture, but when the heat and humidity got to be too much, I asked Anna to drive me down to our neighborhood beach (I usually walk). I still had to cross a grassy stretch and descend the 44 steps to the beach.

But it was SOOO worth it. The tide was high in the evening that day, so we went down after an early dinner.

The water temperature was perfect. Warm enough to be inviting, with enough cool spots to really bring your body temperature down.

I'm not an ambitious swimmer; I don't do laps or distance or anything like that. I simply love to swim out far enough to feel I've "cleared the land"--to where when I roll over and loll on my back and paddle around "old lady-style" I feel like a small, human-shaped boat, cast off from shore.

I love the sensation of floating, held up by the water and staring at the sky. Just me, water, and sky--and of course, air, clouds, breezes, bugs, and other people around me. And back on shore, the rim of trees, sand, rocks.

We stayed until we felt sufficiently cooled off--as if the coolness had penetrated more than just skin deep. A true, refreshing cooling down. Nothing quite like it.

Perhaps because I've had so few swims this summer, it seemed all the more perfect and blissful.

Image: "September Sky toward Portland," oil on canvas, 2008. SOLD

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Taking on the "Stay Small Brigade"

Last week I was preparing for my first solo art show--an event I called an "art show, sale, celebration"--not in a gallery but at a friend's house. Even without the pressures of a "real gallery," getting ready for this show was a big deal for me. It was a huge opportunity to choose to show up as fully as possible. . . or not--since to speak of choosing implies there's another option!

On three prior occasions I've had a couple of small works included in large, eclectic, and wide open (as in, non-juried) group shows. But I've usually not even thought to tell my friends about them, let alone invite them to see for themselves.

This time was different. This time I invited a considerable group of friends and neighbors, and my host invited some of her friends, too. This time there would be no one else's art alongside mine (other than the art Sarah already has in her home). This time people who know me would be looking at my artwork and even deciding whether or not they might want to purchase some of it.

I did pretty well with looking through my surprisingly large collection of paintings, most of them painted in the past twelve or thirteen months. Even I was astonished at how many I have tucked away and how much selecting there was to do to arrive at a group of paintings I wanted to show.

Much of my work is in oil on either stretched canvas or wood panels, though a sizable minority are small works on gessoed paper. I took about ten of the latter to Art House Picture Frames in Portland to be matted.

What posed the biggest challenge to me--and where the "Stay Small Brigade" launched its fiercest fight--was the pricing! I was challenged not only by the multi-layered question of how to put a dollar figure on art, and a whole host of related issues: who gets to decide what's art and what isn't? who gets to decide what's valuable art and what isn't? how do you even begin to measure the monetary value of something so subjective and so unquantifiable as a piece of art?

Beyond these broad questions, I was really pushed to the wall by having to decide how to price my own art, which is of course related to valuing my own energy, time, vision, and work. And to trusting myself to arrive at prices that felt right or at least good enough.

An unexpected development raised the bar on all of this. When Graham Wilen of Art House Picture Frames called to tell me my matted pieces were ready and I asked him what I owed him, he said he was wondering if I'd be open to trading one of my pieces for his matting work. That was a big boost right off the bat--just to know that someone who handles a fair amount of art was interested in one of my pieces!

The next day when I picked up the work and learned what was the actual charge for the Graham's work, I couldn't imagine that he considered my small painting to be of equal value. I even had to ask him outright in very plain language to be sure I wasn't misunderstanding. He considered my piece to be worth more than twice what I was thinking I'd ask for it!

I arrived home from his shop with a whole new delightful dilemma! Would I accept this beautifully timed invitation to rethink the value of my own art, or would I stick with "staying small," in essence aiming for the lowest possible prices just a hair above giving my art away?

In many ways there really was only one choice--to take a leap forward, with gratitude for this well-placed nudge, and change all the prices I had been imagining. And that's when the Stay Small Brigade really showed up, too.

First I felt just plain frozen, a clear sense of conflict residing in my body. When I probed the conflict, it was rather basic: stay "safe" with the status quo (static and status kinda go together, don't they?) and keep the prices low, or dare to live a little bigger and bolder and raise them.

The Stay Small Brigade's arsenal consists almost entirely of thoughts: "Raise the prices, and no one will buy anything." "How could you possibly consider asking more in this economy?" "If you price your art higher, everyone will think you're full of yourself." "You're getting too big for your britches!" "Who do you think you are, daring to believe in yourself like this?!" and on and on.

Of course such thoughts bring with them physical manifestations--such a burden! So much tension! I knew I would raise my prices--after all, in order to be honest I had to label the one work to be traded as "SOLD" at the price that Graham was willing to pay, and it only made sense to adjust my other prices accordingly.

After a day of rumination laced with fear, I began to feel rather amused by the SSB's tactics, and by the essentially bottomless nature of its thought arsenal. Neutralize one thought, and three more would pop up! Amused curiosity and eventually laughter proved effective antidotes. Clearly this was just going to be part of the landscape, and I was just going to have to choose to keep going regardless. Which I did.

I totally enjoyed the evening. It was fun to see friends and neighbors, and to meet Sarah's friends. And whether our guests bought something or not, they were still seeing my work! I rarely worried about the prices (though I did tell the story of Graham's trade a few times), and I sold five pieces that night, and five more small ones the next morning!

Of course it didn't take long for the Stay Small Brigade to start launching its next assault: ("Don't you dare imagine this kind of success will ever happen again!" "This was probably just a fluke." etc. etc.). But I've learned a little about how to manage that crowd.

Image: "Color Play II", 8" x 6", oil on wood. SOLD!