Friday, July 31, 2009

Ben Franklin: first American life coach

I noticed the other day in my blog's list of "Blogs I enjoy" that it had been four weeks since Maira Kalman's last blog, which quickened my pulse and my delight-meter since that meant there would be another one soon! But then I forgot (something about being in an aircast with a stress fracture has distracted me).

So this morning, doing my quick check of the New York Times in my email, there it was! And my heart leapt! I'm not exaggerating.

This month's installment in her series "And the Pursuit of Happiness" is called, "Can Do." And it does not disappoint.

It starts and spends lots of intriguing time with Ben Franklin, then hops into the wider world of inventiveness--Thomas Edison, Daguerre, and then to a jello-mold competition! How Maira Kalman gets around! And thinks to combine so many things in one episode.

One of the things that really struck me, in addition to all the delightful and playful surprises, was the description of Ben Franklin's outlook and daily practice, which, in addition to his "Poor Richard's Almanac" with its sage wisdom and advice, leads me to name him the first American life coach, a couple of centuries before the term ever existed.

Kalman writes: "He believed in doing good. Every day. He made charts and had daily goals."

Check out the printed chart (no doubt set and printed by him or at least by his printing company) of his daily practice. It includes: "The morning question: What good shall I do this day?"

And the morning schedule, beginning at 5 a.m.: "Rise, wash, and address Powerful Goodness."

Stop right there! Did you catch that? "Address Powerful Goodness." Does that sound rather new age-y, or what? Franklin, one of our founding father non-theists (I do believe he was not alone), each morning addressed Powerful Goodness.

And his morning practice goes on from there: "contrive day's business and take the resolution of the day; prosecute the present study [whatever that means! I'd love to know what he studied in the mornings, before breakfast]; and breakfast."

Or in today's coaching lingo--he set his intention for the day and clarified his goals and priorities.

And then there's the end of the day. "Put things in their places, supper, music, or diversion, or conversation; examination of the day." Sounds quite lovely. No TV. Music, or conversation, or...diversion!

And the evening question: "What good have I done today?"

And then, at 10 p. m., sleep.

Enjoy her blog. I know you will. I've barely scratched the surface. And of course, I've said nothing about her delightful illustrations, so you get to enjoy those on your own.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Another Scapescape

Just for fun, another sketch of garlic scapes highlighting negative spaces.

There's something about freely "scribbling" with a thick stick of graphite that I really enjoy. Permission to be messy. And the pure joy of "making marks."

The phrase "mark making" is often used in contemporary art education and art criticism, and sometimes it seems just so pretentious.

But I have to say there are times when it's just the thing! After all, don't we all yearn to leave our own unique mark in the world? To know that somehow the world isn't quite the same and is in fact better off for our being here?

Besides, you can create some interesting textures by scribbling!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Scapes of the Day

A little over two years ago, on June 1, 2007 to be exact, I was inspired by Elizabeth Perry's blog called "Woolgathering" (visit it and you will see why) to start a daily drawing practice. I started with a very small sketchbook, so there wouldn't be any BIG expectations. Just that I would do my best to draw at least one thing every day.

Unlike Liz Perry, I didn't choose to start a blog and post a drawing every day. Her faithfulness to that truly amazes and delights me. She's been doing this for more than four years, I believe. And I don't think she has missed a day!

I knew that I didn't want to worry about my drawings being seen right away. No concerns about an "audience" or who likes what or doesn't like what. Every now and then I have shown certain drawings and occasionally a whole sketchbook to a few people.

Again and again since June 1, 2007 I've realized what a truly revolutionary and regenerative thing it is for me to draw on a regular basis. Especially when I do it so frequently--it's best when I do it every day, though I confess to there being stretches when I forget or take a break--that it's just something I do. And something I do primarily for myself and my own enjoyment, only secondarily for public viewing.

Drawing regularly, with little pressure to impress anyone or to produce anything in particular, helps me to be more playful and more creative in other areas. And some days I look at what I've just drawn and I am totally enraptured by it! Like a mother whose young child has just brought her a drawing, even if a mere scribble, and she (the mother) is filled with love and joy and gratitude for this creative offering. As corny as it may sound, I guess I'd have to say that in those moments drawing allows me to be both the child and the mother!

For a whole bunch of reasons I now feel more ready to post more drawings more frequently. Not every day, mind you! But when I feel like it, have managed to get a good photo (that is often the step that bogs me down), and then just do it.

This drawing of garlic scapes was done last year. More to come!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


I'm totally smitten with scapes. By which I don't mean landscapes or seascapes (although I do love those, too) but garlic scapes! That's what they call the tops of garlic plants--the last several inches of stem with the buds of would-be garlic flowers--available at farmers' markets this time of year.

Garlic scapes are sold as food, and they are edible (and tasty), but I buy them mostly as art. Because the stems do all kinds of crazy twists and turns and curlicues and loop-de-loops in those last several inches, a bunch of garlic scapes stuck in a vase is a playful bit (or shall I say, bite?) of edible sculpture.

I draw them over and over and over--sometimes focusing on the graceful curving lines, sometimes on the spaces in between, sometimes just on the joy they give me when viewing them. I find them endlessly fascinating.

I swear some mornings the scapes that I've left in a vase of water have grown an inch or two overnight! I really don't know if it's true (I keep forgetting to measure them in order to keep track), but it sure feels as if they get longer and taller.

If you keep them long enough, they may start to smell a bit too strong--not your ordinary floral bouquet kind of scent!--and the papery wrapping around the buds begins to open and there are new details to draw if you feel so inclined.

And when you feel like eating them, you can chop them into a stir fry or simply brush the whole things with olive oil and grill them. The stem when grilled takes on the consistency of asparagus with a very mild garlic flavor, and the buds get slightly crispy! Quite tasty!

Today's two photos are of two different bunches of garlic scapes in our house at the moment. Stay tuned for some sketchbook scape art coming up!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Reflections from Bo Obama

You've got to read this piece by Ben Greenman called "The First Hundred (Dog) Days" from today's New York Times. It offers a light-hearted touch to this (very foggy where I am) Friday morning.

Of course there's no mention that any of these White House dogs, past and present, share one of Digory's least appealing traits. Let's just say it's a variation on eating garbage, and leave it at that!

Enjoy! Or perhaps I should say, Wag more, bark less. You could even try rolling over and getting your belly scratched.

Images: two more drawings of Digory poses from August, 2007.

Top: what we call "half-Corgi position" (kind of like a "half-lotus" in yoga). Full Corgi position is more squarely on his belly with both back feet showing.

In case you're wondering what the script says, it's this: "He heard Dave from the study and lifted his head but luckily for me did not shift his hind end."

Bottom: Digory's best belly up pose, suggesting complete and blissful relaxation.

Text: "wish granted," which in this case was actually my wish, not his. On the page before, I had started to draw him when he moved. And I wrote: "How I wish he'd roll back again."

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Word from Walt

Yesterday I ran across a favorite set of lines from Walt Whitman, part of his "Song of Myself". So here they are, without adornment or commentary from me:

I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self-contain'd,
I stand and look at them long and long.

They do not sweat and whine about their condition,
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,
Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things,
Not one kneels to another nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago,
Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth.

Image: a sketch of Digory snoozing, August 2007.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

A Heretic contemplates "most this amazing day"

Some days this is just the poem that fits. Especially on a perfect summer day in Maine like this day.

(Isn't it interesting that having had three spectacular days in a row, all that cold, rainy weather feels like a really long time ago?! I know it happened, but I can hardly remember it in a vivid way.)

Now you may find it a bit odd that having made the point, more than once, that I am happy not to use the word "God" any more, here I am about to use it, or at least to quote someone else using it.

All I can say is that there's something about declaring my theological and vocational independence that makes it seem like not such a big deal. I'm mostly happy to avoid the g-word; and then there are occasions when it's what I choose to do.

I suppose it's that seemingly small but very significant word, choose, that makes the difference. Now I get to choose if, when, how, from what source, and in what context to speak, write, or quote the g-word. Believe me, this was not the case when I was a professional religious person.

Now that I ponder the significance of choosing, I am remembering that the word "heretic" is derived from a Greek word (via ecclesiastical Latin into Old French to Middle English), hairetikos, meaning, able to choose! How cool is that?! I guess that makes me officially a heretic! I've long suspected that might be the case.

OK, now this post has veered so far from its original track that it almost seems I should re-title it (which I did--it was originally simply "most this amazing day". That's one of the things I do love about writing--that it can take you places you don't expect, that you can discover things this way.

In any case, here's the poem I set out to share.

i thank You God for most this amazing

day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees

and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything

which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,

and this is the sun's birthday;this is the birth

day of life and of love and wings:and of the gay

great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing

breathing any--lifted from the no

of allnothing--human merely being

doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and

now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

e.e. cummings

PS. The image is of one of my painting from last summer, which seems to fit the "leaping greenly spirits of trees" idea.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The God Thing, part 2

Well, I did kinda suggest that I'd have more to say on this topic, didn't I, by putting that "part 1" next to my recent "God Thing" post?

And guess what? I have mixed feelings about continuing on. On the one hand, I said just about everything I want to say about the God Thing in the first post by saying that "I'm happier not using the word 'God'" and that "life just seems much simpler that way." Do I have to explain myself?

On the other hand, of course one short post doesn't begin to touch such a vast and convoluted topic--and by "topic" I don't mean God, but my feelings about God, my current "relationship with God" or understandings of God or beliefs about God, etc.

Maybe thinking about God is complicated for lots of people. For me, it's not just a semantic and theological matter; it's a personal, professional, and vocational matter.

Which reminds me of another piece to add to this exploration of the God Thing--for me the God Thing got inextricably bound up in the "Ordination Thing." And the Ordination Thing meant that for nearly twenty-five years the God Thing was more or less my professional specialty, responsibility, and area of "expertise," if one could ever be considered an expert in God! And over time this grew to feel much more like a burden than a joy or a privilege.

I know it might sound a bit harsh, especially to those who have known me as preacher, priest, and so forth, but here's the deal: The God Thing is just not really "my thing" any more. God was my thing (that is, God, and Jesus, and the Church, by which I mean the Episcopal Church) for more than two decades, although for many of those years I had a pretty strong desire to "try doing something else," though I had no idea just what I meant by when I said that.

That was then; now is now: You could say I'm just not that into God these days.

I'm into life and being alive, and I'm into curiosity, joy and wonder about this world we live in, especially the endlessly fascinating marvels and beauties of the natural world--the small things I see and hear and smell all around me, and the immense things (like solar systems, stars, and the universe) that I can partially see but not hear or smell and can barely understand!

I'm also into art (as you may have guessed--and may I remind you to visit my new website? and to do so often, and to tell your friends, too!), which I see quite frankly as one of the great options of the human species for responding to and celebrating life on this planet.

I credit the poet Gregory Orr for the suggestion that poetry, religion, and philosophy are three parallel strands of humanity's endeavor to make sense of life, survive its tragedies, and celebrate its joys. Of those three, Orr would argue, only lyric poetry puts the personal experience of the human being front and center, rather than bending human experience (or one's interpretation of it) to serve a particular religious or philosophical perspective.

Boy, did that make sense to me when I first read it a few years ago. In fact, that small nugget helped me to understand more fully one reason why I was chafing under the role and responsibilities of being ordained--that I wanted more freedom to use my creativity and self-expression simply to, well, express my self, rather than to be continually submitting myself and my experience and my creative, expressive endeavors to the lens and language and literature of Christianity and to the service of the Church.

A quick search of my bookshelves hasn't turned up my copy of Poetry as Survival in which Orr makes this observation about lyric poetry, religion, and philosophy. What he says there about the centrality of personal experience in lyric poetry seems to me equally true of all kinds of art forms, as long as the artist is not employed directly as a spokesperson or as an illustrator of a religious, philosophical, or political stance of some kind.

About a year and a half ago at an annual Christmas season gathering with old friends, I blurted out a strange and startling declaration: "I no longer wish to be responsible for the meaning of the words I say!" or something like that.

By which I think I was, without fully realizing it, signaling to myself and to others that I was coming to the end of my life as an ordained person. Less than a month later I found myself writing to the bishop to begin the process of renouncing my ordination.

(To be continued, I suppose...)

Saturday, July 4, 2009


Shadows have a somewhat checkered reputation in the human imagination. Think phrases like a "shadowy figure" or a "dark, shadowy corner" to suggest danger, threat, and general creepiness.

But shadows aren't all bad! Carl Jung was clear about that--that our "shadow" psychologically speaking consists of our unclaimed gifts, talents, and capacity for greatness every bit as much as our unwanted "bad traits," such as anger or narrow-mindedness or stinginess. We project both aspects of our "shadows" onto others if we're not careful and attentive to ourselves--the former onto heroes, public servants, "saints" and other figures whom we deem to be "extra good" (sometimes teachers, clergy, even celebrities!).

The latter we project onto those we identify as "bad guys" of whatever stripe fits the bill, including some of the same categories of people who receive our "positive shadows"! Psychological health and wisdom require us to wake up and withdraw our projections from others to be who we are, responsibly using our gifts and our greatness, while "owning," accepting, and managing our less admirable traits. (Easier said than done, but important nonetheless!)

But I didn't start this post to get into psychology. I was actually aiming to celebrate real shadows!

Yesterday after at least six very rainy days in a row, and many more in previous weeks, the sky brightened while I was out walking Digory. Even before the sun had broken through the fog and clouds, the sky grew bright enough to project very faint shadows. I was ecstatic!

Right now, at 1 pm on July 4, the sun is really and truly and fully shining, and the shadows are distinct and clean-edged and delightful!

Today I am grateful for shadows!

Mary Oliver's Landscape: A NY Times treat

If you visit this link to the New York Times you will find a lovely treat, a Fourth of July gift (though it doesn't really have anything to do with Independence Day traditionally understood).

There's an article from the Travel section (presumably in tomorrow's paper) about Mary Oliver's stomping grounds around Provincetown, and there's an audio slide show of images of places she frequents in her poems, accompanied by her reading of two such poems: "At Blackwater Pond" and "The Sun".

I haven't read the article yet. I went straight for the dessert of the audio slide show! Enjoy them both, in whatever sequence you take them in.

And Happy 4th of July!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

An Interlude: A Poem

After Midnight: Kidney Pond

After midnight I woke up,
shook off sleep and stumbled
out of the cabin into the darkness
that was—amazing!—full of light.

The whole sky was spread before me
twice: the white spool of the moon, a few
milky blue-grey clouds, and a thousand stars
drifted above the pond and in the pond

without distortion. Then some faint breath
of wind or gentle fish ripple
wobbled the moon, and two
glittering threads traveled across the dark

silk of the pond—two luminous strands unraveled
from the spool of the moon. The air was chill
and damp; the beckoning of sleep
a warm cocoon. Even so

I lingered in the clear air, alone
and happy, an accidental witness
of this dazzling secret, this
extravagant beauty opening in the dark

after midnight—unfolding one way or
another every night, for no one
in particular, even for
no one at all.

Up and Running

I believe it was some time in February or March when I first sat down with Ren Wilkinson of Ivy Lane Web Design to discuss creating a website. All I know for sure is that it was still winter, and there was still snow on the ground (any maybe it even started to snow again while I was there).

Ren was clear from the start that the process would be collaborative, that I was the artist and he the tech guy, and together we would create the kind of website I wanted. (Or, as his website puts it: "You are the artist. I am your tool. Use me.")

So here we are, a few months later, and I'm delighted to announce the launching of my very own, brand-spanking-new website, called--of all things--Sukie Curtis! It includes a gallery of some of my paintings, some of which are for sale, and a link to my blog (the one you are reading now), and a little bit about me, and ways of contacting me.

I hope you'll check it out and enjoy visiting it and that you'll spread the word (and the URL) to friends and family who might be interested.

So, thanks, Ren! And thanks, supportive friends, family, and visitors!