Details details

I love the change in the seasons. I’ve never been much of a fan of summer, so while others are mourning the summer’s demise I am looking forward to the fall. I love autumn and always have although it’s not nearly as marvelous here in Seattle as it was when I lived in New York–we got crisper air and therefore nicer leaves. It was more of a transition, although here it will cool down a bit and the rains will start coming back. This is still a win.

As a writer and a Zen girl, I try to be observant. One of the ways I hone my abilities to notice and stay in the present is through various forms of art. I love to draw. If you get very quiet and just observe a thing and draw what you see you’ll notice things you might never have noticed before. In order to draw something well you need to really look at it. The skill in your fingers will come with practice, but it all starts with the eye. Once you start drawing on a regular basis you’ll start studying things with a casual glance. Beware, as you may start to get distracted by the lovely curvature of your next teacup or the patterns on the light sconce in the hallway. You are starting to see, and it is good.

I also write haiku. In order to write about a brief moment you must first see that moment in all its detail. The more detail you have, the more choices you have as a writer when crafting your haiku. Writing is also a way to take a tour of your own brain. Writing exercises require you to use details you have stored up in your memory. I particularly like writing exercises that use random words because they allow me to create something that I might not have imagined otherwise. I wander around noticing things, and it is this reality that infuses the poem or story even if that poem or story is about outer space. All writing is grounded in some sort of truth, no matter how fantastical it might be. If it isn’t, it generally fails because people do not believe it. You may not believe in hobbits, but everyone knows someone who would rather sit and eat cakes than go on an adventure. We know someone like Bilbo Baggins, and therefore we accept a lot that doesn’t make sense within our own experience.

As the season changes I’m going to be noticing how those changes manifest in Seattle. I want to fully experience whatever the fall has in store for me, and I can’t wait for the rain to start.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:
257. How does the change in seasons manifest where you are? Are you noticing as much as you could? Try drawing something or writing about it and see if you notice more than you normally would.


Make a mess

I’m a writer and a poet, and I used to give a lot of poetry readings with other friends of mine who are also poets. Invariably, someone would come up and say they liked my poetry (I’m sure the ones who didn’t just didn’t bother to come up.) I remember one woman in particular who approached me and my friend Laurie. She’d seen us read before, and she told us she thought all of our poetry was brilliant. She said she wished she could be like that. She said something about how nothing we wrote was bad.

That was where we had to stop her. It’s nice when people like your poetry, of course. We told her we appreciated her kind words, but we had lots of bad poetry–we just didn’t read it in front of an audience. We’d written plenty of it. Laurie and I have often done writing exercises together, and we always read what we’ve come up with out loud to each other right away. Some of it is wretched. Painfully bad. Simply horrifying. You have to read that stuff out loud sometimes simply to exorcise it from your brain. You have to write that stuff because making a mess is part of the process of creativity–you can’t create magic on the page without experimenting and being willing to throw ideas and words out there and see what works. You have to get down in the muck with the words and wrestle a poem out of them–sometimes you’re lucky and one just leaps at you, but more often you have to play with things until the poem is just right.

It’s also important to get feedback. I write and post at least one haiku a day on my haiku blog, and I don’t have time to let anyone see it first. I know what I’m trying to say but somehow things don’t always come out as I intend, and recently my readers let me know that they were interpreting one of my haiku to say something I don’t believe in. I was grateful for that, and explained what I had meant. I often show writing to trusted friends to get their impressions before sending things off for publication. It helps me to avoid such errors. Writer friends also point out when I’m being lazy or simply just in love with the latest dreck I’ve foisted upon the page. Kind critique has saved many of my readers from work that wasn’t ready to be shared. Blogging doesn’t often allow that luxury, but it’s good practice when time allows.

Play with your words, experiment with your art, make a mess, and then let your creations out into the world and start making something else. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:
244. Write something in a different style than usual or using words given to you by a friend. Experiment with new art materials–go outside your comfort zone and get messy–when you’re satisfied with what you’ve done, start over and make another mess. How did that feel?

Ready, set, play!

This week has been so full of writing and random goodness that I didn’t even realize the week had ended until I looked up and it was Monday. Temporal shifts like this can sometimes happen like this when you’re doing freelance work. I’m going to create another one right here and add Monday on to the end of last week so you get your weekly blog installment.

It’s important to appreciate all the random moments that come about. Collage them into your memory. Write about them on Facebook. Make yourself a journal. Tell a few blog readers. Whatever you do, appreciate the heck out of them and the universe is likely to send more your way.

I’ve had all sorts of work and fun in the last few weeks, but one of my most entertaining afternoons was spent creating collages with a close friend. We’ve been visiting art museums as a way to take the day off every week but it was time to get hands on. We grabbed some of the free magazines that are distributed around town and set to work with scissors and glue sticks.

There was no plan–we clipped images that appealed to us and eventually started arranging them on background pieces of paper until we finally started gluing things down. I gave a giraffe the space needle for a hat, and after that I could not resist finding some other fabulous headpieces for the animals I had cut out of the magazines. Everything developed from there. My friend ended up with a woman emerging from an egg and all sorts of movement of creatures throughout colorful space. Both creations were lovely and we didn’t need special training or expensive materials. Free magazines, glue sticks, scissors–I know we’ll have to do it again. We were even able to use some of the magazines we had ready for recycling. Good for the environment, great for the soul.

What other opportunities are lurking about for some creative play? I know I mean to find out, and I’ll have fun doing it. There is nothing to lose, and now I have some new artwork to decorate my fridge or office space. My inner child appreciates me hanging her creation up where I can see it as I work. I’m very glad to have her around.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:
242. Have an art date with your inner child and a few friends. This is about fun, so don’t worry about making something perfect. Play with the materials and display what you’ve made.

Lather, rinse, repeat

I’m thinking today about how powerful we all are, about how much we can do for each other with so little effort. I had a nice surprise this evening, and I’d like to share it here.

I had gone with a friend to see the unveiling of “Mirror”, a new permanent art exhibit on the side of the Seattle Art Museum. The artwork consists of video screens and some other elements, and is supposed to react to the environment and display images. Unfortunately, the opening showed the artwork in relation to a musical concert, so it’s hard to tell what it’s going to look like the rest of the time. I won’t decide what I think about it until I see it on an average day.

The musical composition was jarring and discordant. As far as I could tell, this was intentional. The music featured a lot of random high-pitched sounds and loud frightful noises—many in the crowd appeared to be agitated, although we also wanted to be a witness to the art we had come to see. It was cold and we’d been standing a long time. Everyone was a little on edge. As I was standing with my friend, wondering when the unsettling noise would stop, a woman came up to me and handed me a folded slip of paper. I was surprised, but she asked my name and said it was for me. It turned out to be a note from a former landlady who had been very unkind to me. She said that she knew that a note didn’t make it right, but that she was sorry for the way she had behaved years ago.

There, in the middle of discordant upsetting noise, I found a bit of peace. I had moved on from my relationship with this person, and of course the note didn’t rewrite history, but it did matter. I tried to see her in the crowd, but I couldn’t. I really appreciate her gesture. It only takes a moment to do the kind thing—to make an apology, to give a supportive comment, to tell someone that they look really great. You may never know the impact of your actions, but every little bit of positive (or negative) energy we put into the universe becomes larger. We all have immense powers to change the universe around us with even our smallest actions, and “with great power comes great responsibility.” Shouldn’t we use our powers for good?

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:
234. Set aside a few moments today to add something positive to the universe. Is there an apology you need to make, a compliment you can give, or a small kindness you can do for someone? Once you’ve done it, how do you feel about it? Feel free to keep spreading kindness throughout the day.


I work from home, and it’s tempting to work all the time. We’ve all been told that more effort leads to more results—your nose should be to the grindstone at all times if you want to succeed. Recent studies have challenged this notion, and I’ve found that if I take time to recharge my batteries I can get more done in less time. My creativity is better, my mood is better, and I get more done with less effort.

Friday I recharged by going to museums. I went to the Henry art museum. The main gallery was closed for installation, but I was able to see some smaller exhibits. It was the usual mixture—some of it I really liked, but other things seemed a bit too ethereal to grasp. I look forward to going back and seeing the main gallery—the upcoming show looks incredible. I also really enjoyed the architecture—the building has some lovely vaulting.

My friend and I had time, so next we toured the Burke Museum which focuses on Natural History. I really liked it. I’m not that excited by dinosaurs, and we passed those quickly, but they’ve got a lot of incredible exhibits of cultural artifacts from the local Native American tribes and Polynesia. I want to go back with a sketchbook one of these days.

Our final stop was at the Suzzallo Library on the University of Washington campus. This was my favorite part of the day—the library reminded me of the New York Public Library. We went to the reading room which is a cathedral of books. It looks like a church and has long lighted tables and a discernible silence. You don’t have to be a student to go, and I plan to make more pilgrimages there to sit and work in the gorgeous quiet.

I have a membership that got me into the museums, so the whole outing was accomplished with nothing more than bus fare. This was the first time I had visited any of these places, and I left full of energy and ideas. I know it was worth the time it took me to take a break from my labors, and I look forward to my next outings. Now I just have to decide where to go.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:
230. Do you need to recharge your batteries? Where can you go in your town that you haven’t been? It’s time to make a date with yourself or a friend—find new places to explore or visit old favorites. You’ll be glad you did.

Coming out of exile

I recently saw the excellent movie “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” which is based on an amazing book by Stephen Chobsky. Like many creative types, I identified with the main characters, and like these characters I have long identified with the concept of the Island of Misfit Toys.

The American myth says that we are a nation of free spirits and independent thinkers, but join any workplace or school and you’ll see it’s often not how things really work. Most institutions run on the notion of conformity. Hives of workers in gray fabric boxes follow standard operating procedure documents in all aspects of their lives, and some of the workplace chitchat is no less formulaic. Some of these same workers do not like the situation, but they understand that they have to blend in to survive. Others fall through the cracks because they cannot blend no matter how hard they try.

In social situations, too, creative people are often seen as oddballs. Many people love to go to the theater, the art museum, the movies, and to read novels, but tell them you’re a writer or an artist and you may as well have declared that you want to be the Princess of Mars. Unless you’re someone like Stephen King or J.K. Rowling—once you have been declared successful, you are allowed a little latitude, as if you’re the strange relative who made good despite the odds.

Creative people long for each other’s company, and often self-segregate into isolated groupings where they can be themselves, however weird everyone else may deem them to be. Often this means they take less pay and short themselves on creature comforts so that they can be with others whom they feel will understand their impulses to create, to express themselves, to be silly. I’ve had many such jobs over the years, and although I struggled with the low pay I was grateful for the company of others with whom I felt simpatico.

I don’t regret the decisions I made, but I’ve also decided to get off the Island of Misfit Toys. As “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” also suggests, “we accept the love we think we deserve.” We’ve been given the message for years that we don’t fit in, and that if we want to be happy we need to find community amongst others of our own kind, often in marginalized low-paid positions. Sometimes we even suppress our personalities and try to fit in. I think we need to come out of the creativity closet and be ourselves wherever we are. We deserve to be paid well, and we shouldn’t have to pretend to be people that we’re not. Let’s be the independent people we’re rumored to be. Let’s brighten up the universe around us and allow everyone to express their creativity without fear of mockery. Let’s come out of exile.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:
227. Examine your interactions with others. Do you marginalize yourself? Do you accept less love from the universe than you think you deserve? What can you do to change things?


Places you’ve got to go

I’ve been thinking about bathrooms lately. My friend celebrated his thirty-first birthday last week, and we celebrated at a place in the Pike Place Market. The ladies’ room had been converted from past use, and there was an ornate and rather large chandelier almost touching the top of the stall doors. I was assured that the men’s room was not nearly as decorative. From what I’ve been told, it rarely is.

Today I’m going to share a few other memorable bathrooms with you. There is a Thai restaurant in Greenlake that has vases with real roses on each table. When the roses fade, they are bundled with string and placed in upside-down bunches along the bathroom walls. There are hundreds and hundreds of bunches in there, and a slight rose fragrance lingers, along with a tinge of decay. It’s meant to be charming, but I find it more than a little bit creepy.

Another Thai noodle place on Capitol Hill has a bright green bathroom. Plastic flowers and greenery are stapled to the walls. There is also a fake aquarium, a fake waterfall, and lots of pictures of fish. This would be enough of an overload, but one of the moving pictures also has a soundtrack of chirping birds. It’s like a demented aviary in there, and I could barely manage not to duck my head to avoid the imaginary birds. Quite festive, but again, a little odd.

My favorite odd bathroom of all times is in a bar in Long Island. The name and location is lost to memory, but the bar is elegant. Dark wood on the walls, light opera in the background—a classy place if every you saw one. In the ladies’ room, there is an enormous fresco of a nearly-naked Roman god, complete with a three-dimensional hinged fig leaf. I was luckily among friends when I used that bathroom—if you lift the fig leaf an alarm goes off in the bar and everyone knows you’ve done it. My friend stayed in there for half an hour when she’d made the mistake.

I love these little treasures. They are the dessert to my meal, the appetizer to my imagination. I hope you enjoy this taste.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:

207. Next time you are out at a restaurant or bar, check out the bathroom. If you find something cool, share it with your friends. If you are out with a companion of the opposite gender, find out if their bathroom is similarly nifty.