Stay the Course

Stay the Course

13254423_10154870366549689_3502177076192464171_nI created this mandala a few months ago. But I want to talk about it now, because it represents an ongoing, recurring theme in drawing and life.

This mandala started out with really fierce looking eyes that looked almost sinister. I almost abandoned it completely because it intimidated me. I wondered where it was coming from. But I liked the concept in general, so I decided to go back in and soften the eyes a little bit.

Originally, I wanted the eyes to align perfectly with some of the other lines in the drawing. But sometimes you have to bend the rules to get what you want, I guess. Or treat them more like guidelines.

Besides, they say it’s hard to tell the difference between a mad dog and a scared dog. So maybe this is just a cowardly lion that needed to be drawn out.

My high school art teacher, Mr. Buchy, would always tell us not to judge our work, but to keep creating because we don’t know where we/it is going. And this is such an excellent way to approach life and relationships, too.

One of the things I have learned through drawing mandalas over the past year is that the end product is often wildly different than the original sketch. And that is part of the fun. Realizing that it isn’t about you, and let images and fragments emerge at their will.

I just finished watching a Chelsea Handler special that talked about this. One of her guests was saying both of her parents warned her not to be possessive of her new child. But instead to see herself as a guide in their lives.

It’s natural, I think, for parents to feel both a sense of power or pride over this other life they have created. But the real power, of course, is not in controlling this other being, but in subtly shaping them and allowing them to become their own person.  Although it’s easy to see how the lines can become blurred between what we are and what we make. This is something I think about a lot because I was named after my mother.

As a childfree woman, I am keenly aware that women create and give birth to many other meaningful things in their lives aside from and in addition to children. And this idea of stewardship as opposed to ownership really resonates with me.

So many times I have started a new drawing or post and I judge it too soon, or don’t like it. But there is this layering that occurs that reminds me of the aging process. It’s like you keep building on the blueprint and just have to trust your instincts. Some layers are superficial, like jewelry or titles. And others layer up with life experiences, that emerge as wrinkles or scars.

Whatever it ends up being, it’s very okay. And it isn’t written in stone. It can be shaped and altered, lovingly. Some of the most brutal scars have been converted into beautiful tattoos. Look to this person – there is a story there.

They say first impressions are everything, and I cringe every time I hear this. Even though I subscribe to it sometimes, too. It’s so important not to get locked into an original thought about something. I’d be totally screwed if people judged me this way. It’s just the beginning of a conversation.

This can be true of fiction, too. When Brad first started watching Breaking Bad, it was just background noise in the living room. I was kind of half watching it. But slowly it drew me in and I became completely engrossed in the story line. Now I can say that it is one of my favorite shows. And that’s just one recent example that comes to mind.

So let’s be kind to each other, and our many creations and iterations. We aren’t perfect, but most of us are good. And worth knowing.  jt

Inner Compass

Inner Compass

inner_compass_mandalaOne of the great things about going on road trips is that they can be so refreshing and inspiring – so much so that they can give us a renewed sense of direction in our lives. The stirrings can be so great that we may even feel compelled to stay in this new place we’ve explored. But this may not be necessary, as long as we can take the feeling and memory with us.

That’s the bird’s eye view, or the more philosophical side of road travel. Then there is, of course, the more practical matter of actually getting to the proposed destination. Which can also tell us a lot about ourselves.

For those of us who lack inate, inner directional instincts, the GPS is nothing short of a Godsend. It has become a staple in almost all smart phones now, and even comes with voice instructions. Sweet. This amazing invention has done a lot for our marriage, I can tell you. Brad is thrilled that he no longer has to field panicked phone calls from me. But when we get into the car together,  it’s very clear that we are using the technology differently.

Co-navigating this Thanksgiving roadtrip with my husband (he would laugh at this characterization, by the way) reminded me that Brad is definitely in the visual map camp. Perhaps this skill has been hard-coded into the male DNA from years of reading maps at the wheel while women were tending to other matters. They also say men are more visual when it comes to finding a mate. Although I’m not completely convinced this is a gender thing, though, because there is also the issue of visual, audio and other learning styles.

I’m more of a written instructions kind of girl. Which makes sense, given that I’m a technical writer. East and West means nothing to me, but left and right is something I can understand. Brad says I’m a migratory bird. So you can imagine this made for some interesting moments in the car as we drove from Charlotte to Nashville together.

I would hold his cell and he’d ask, aggressively, “what do I do next?” And I’d say something like, “I don’t know? You like to live on the edge, and I can’t see the next couple of steps.” This is my issue with the map GPS view. It always seems to give the next signal when you are already in the middle of an intersection.

This was so distressing to both of us. The feeling of being lost, even if only for a moment, and not sure where we were going.

Road trips are tough. It’s like you are locked in an airtight capsule together and have to find a way to get out. It’s the stuff team building sessions are made of.  And I hate that kind of thing.

I also envisioned we’d be listening to an endless mix of specially selected tunes from my iPod. That was going to be my contribution to the trip. But Brad preferred to enjoy the quiet while driving. So I created my own little soundtrack to accent the beautiful scenery. We settled in and agreed this worked for us. That’s marriage – the friction, the resolution and the comfortable settling in. But always settling as little as possible in the compromise.

There’s no such thing as absolute quiet in nature anyway. Just as we rarely ever see pure white in the natural world. We just need to look and listen more closely.

Brad reminded me not to forget to look up. When driving in the mountains, this means tree gazing. It’s this constant struggle for balance – how much do we let in, and let out. I’m wired to get my energy from within. And I wanted to get some writing and drawing in on this trip. Even though I packed at the absolute last minute, I remembered to stash my compass in the bag so I could create some mandalas, but forgot my hairbrush. What can I say? I have priorities. Score one for the inner experience –  who cares what it looks like, as long as it feels good inside?

When I was flagged at the security gate in the Fort Lauderdale airport, I could feel Brad rolling his eyes at me. All at once it hit me – the security guard spotted my compass! I explained that I had a compass with a sharp edge in my bag, adding that it was an “expensive one.” He seemed relieved, because he said he thought it was a knife, and let me keep it. Just like a woman to arm herself with an instrument that creates a perfect circle. We are crazy like that.

But getting back to the trees – they are so much more gentle, and a lot less intrusive than people. They are kind to introverts. I didn’t realize how much I had missed them, and the way they make the air cleaner and crisper. Breathing the air in the mountains is like drinking a glass of ice cold water. Really exceptional. Now if you can drink a cold glass of spring water while you are in the mountains, then you really have something.

I had been walking around in a fog since the election, having trouble concentrating and sleeping. And was counting on this trip to pull me out of my funk. But wasn’t sure which technique to employ. Was it possible to smoke out a brain fog by pumping music into the space? Or was it best to just air my head out completely? Inhale or exhale?

The mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee had just undergone their own smokeout. By the time we arrived, the forest fires that threatened to interfere with our travels had mostly subsided. The smoke was subdued, and no more potent than the smell of burning leaves or a campfire. A woodsy smell I have always found comforting.

In an effort to capture the feeling of the road stretched out in front of us, I took a few unsuccessful photos through the dashboard. It occurred to me that I was shooting through at least two windows, if you counted my phone camera. So essentially taking a picture of a picture. This reminded me of the movie The Graduate, which was shot through mostly windows or glass for effect.

Not surprisingly, there were tons of lookout points along the way, conspicuously marked by signs resembling the Instagram logo. And we stopped, often, to enjoy the air, the view and take some photos. I was breathing better than I had in weeks. We couldn’t stop marveling at the cool air. Brad and I compared our pix, and he noted that we were looking at the same exact thing, but framing it differently. Fascinating.

If our different approaches and views are gender-based, it’s worth noting that women have an inner compass, knowing or wisdom we can call upon, for direction, known as our intuition. It may not come in the form of coordinates on a map, but it guides us just the same. And it’s very real. I have taken a lot of flak over the years for “getting lost,” but it has led me to many happy accidents. For every person who inexplicably knows they must go west, there is an intuitive who frequently arrives in the right place at the right time.

We have this gift, but we have to stay connected to it. Sometimes life events can distract us from what we know to be true. But getting back on track can be as simple as asking ourselves how we feel, and why? I don’t feel good – am I hungry, tired or is it something else?

I was all of these things when we set off on our vacation. I was exhausted, dragging myself to the airport after pulling an all-nighter with Brad, who had a release that went until 4 a.m., leaving us with just two hours to sleep. I was hungry for inspiration. And I needed something beautiful to shake the mournful feeling I had been carrying around like an albatross since November 8.

One of the most comforting things I got out of this trip is the knowing that there will always be trees. No matter how many uninformed climate change deniers are among us, trees are stubborn. They have deep roots, and will prevail. In a world where humans are lucky to reach 100 years, and trees can exist for several thousand, I’m banking on trees. Think about it – even the wooden byproducts of trees, like antique furniture, for example, live longer than humans. If we want to lean a little closer to the eternal, we need to spend more time with trees. With all of this said, this intuitive woman needed a tangible reminder to serve as a guidepost to stay on course.

When my directionally-correct husband was ambivalent about visiting the Pretentious Beer & Glass Company, I proceeded with him in tow. How often do you happen upon someone blowing glass? It wasn’t on our guide map or route, but it sounded interesting. And I not only scored a really cool glass paperweight, but also got a tip about visiting the Appalachian Center for  Craft, where they sell local art students’ creations. I knew we needed to go to exit 273, although I couldn’t tell you how to get there.

A fortuitous regional time change occurred somewhere between Knoxville and Smithville, TN, which landed us at the Appalachian Center for Craft with an hour to spare. As expected, it contained the pottery and woodworking the area is known for, along with jewelry, homemade quilts, fabrics and prints. I was immediately drawn to a circle torquoise pendant. But held it in the back of my mind while I perused the rest of the art in the store. When I came back around, it still felt right. It carries enough weight to get my attention, but not enough to bring me down. All of the gifts in the store were one of a kind. But this piece, I felt, was definitely created for me. Some things you just know.

Because we are living in such a raw period of change and uncertainty, it may be even more important to stay focused and continuously reaffirm on who we are, and where we are going. I plan to keep this circular object close to my chest, to remind me of how my breathe felt when I was surrounded by the trees. To echo back that all of life is cyclical, and will always return to its center. And to recall that our clearest directions come from within. jt

Shattered

Shattered

img_0081I don’t need a mandala to get centered this time. As Michele Obama said of the Access Hollywood tapes, this really shook me to my core. And the feeling burning in my belly this week tells me something is very, very wrong. I know exactly how I feel. And it’s our country I fear has lost its center.

I need to write about this because my body won’t cooperate and let me vomit up what I witnessed on Tuesday night.

We never did shatter that glass ceiling. This election has always been so much bigger than that. But we are shattered just the same. All of us. Even the ones who think they got what they wanted. The splintering has begun. And who knows how long it may take to put all of the pieces back together again.

A coworker calmly reassured me that our country has lived through worse. Which is of course true. But I don’t think we’ve ever elected a leader like this before. Although we’ve seen them wreak havoc in our own and plenty of other countries.

I kept thinking of the famous quotation highlighted at the Holocaust Museum, over and over again on Tuesday. This was before the unthinkable happened. I looked it up on Instagram and felt compelled to post it. But I didn’t, because I didn’t want to offend or alienate anyone. But I’m not going to worry about that anymore.

I wore my navy pantsuit as a subtle, small measure of support for our first female presidential candidate, who seems to have one in every color. I didn’t vote for her because she was a woman, as her detractors love to say. I’m not blind to Hillary’s faults, and she wouldn’t be my first choice.

No, I voted for her because she was the only adult in the room with the proverbial elephant. Because she has dedicated her life to public service, works very hard and knows how to make things happen. And because she was, and still is, the only qualified candidate for the job. I naively assumed others would do the same.

We canvassed for Barack Obama during the last two election cycles. So the Clinton campaign literally had our number and kept hitting us up to volunteer. It’s grueling work. And I resented the thought of defending Hillary’s “damn emails.” The last time they called me, I asked them if they know if the dated tactic even works. They didn’t really have an answer. Still, I thanked the volunteers for working on the campaign.

We got the vote out early this year. It felt good, and we were in and out in less than ten minutes. Maybe that should have been our first clue? But, no, they said Florida had overwhelmingly participated in early voting. Hillary’s camp was confident this was good news for them. No worries. We could just sit back and wait for the fireworks.

By the time election day finally rolled around, I was in a nervous state of excitement. Chris Hayes with MSNBC captured the feeling of the day so well that I laughed out loud when I read his tweet:  “Feels like a combination of Christmas Eve and the day before major, possibly life-threatening surgery.”

Several posts on the 538 blog offered encouraging forecasts. And I couldn’t wait to get home to watch the election coverage. I wanted Hillary to hand his arrogant ass to him on Tuesday. I will admit that – especially because he’s so demeaning to women. What could be more righteous?

Now I’m angry at the democrats for insisting upon such a controversial candidate. Everyone said Bernie was too far to the left. I should have listened to my tummy on that, too, when I voted during the primaries. You can say it isn’t personal, but it is very personal. It impacts all of us, and every single vote counts. So we are all to blame. And I resent every person who didn’t vote in the general election. Truly. And I am livid and disappointed by the people who voted for this wildly repugnant man.

Her concession speech shattered me. I saw a woman completely gutted and broken by a broken man. Hurt people hurt people, that’s what they say. I know she’s no saint, and can be really harsh and cold. But she has also done a wealth of good, and, at times, worked for very little money. She’s admittedly not a people person, and clearly no match for a billionaire reality television star. I guess things like experience, policy and competence don’t matter in the age of celebrity and social media. Whatever.

I will leave all of this to the analysts to figure out. But I doubt I will ever listen to them again. I trusted them and their damn blue wall. Now we have a bunch of other walls to contend with.

We let ourselves down. We should have stopped him before he got this far. We didn’t take him seriously, but obviously plenty of other people did.

How could we? It’s still hard to believe his own hateful words didn’t take him down. If you missed his latest offensive comments and rants on Muslims, Mexicans or women the first time around, you could catch them on endlessly looped commercials or his ridiculous Twitter account. I heard the commercials so many times I started imitating them. And laughed at his outrageous behavior, assuming it completely disqualified him. How could people vote for him?

No one else could get away with it – he said so much himself. So he continued his bizarre behavior at the debates, talking about the size of his package, jailing his opponent and staging a tawdry press conference to “give voice to” Bill Clinton’s accusers.

His Trumped-up attitudes are already trickling down to the kids, giving them a permission slip to bully in school. And kids don’t need an excuse to be mean. They need direction, guidance and leadership. That’s what we all crave. So much for the law and order president.

That’s why I keep calling my parents. I’ve lost count of how many times I have called them this week. I want them to reassure me that everything is going to be okay. It has been almost impossible to concentrate at work. I can’t stop myself from feverishly googling every article I can find on my phone to make sense of this colossal loss. It really feels like a death has occurred.

There’s a part of me that never wants to watch CNN again. But I know it’s even more important now to be hyper vigilant and informed.

I’ve spent the last couple of elections with CNN, and been captivated by John King’s Magic wall. But he was cooking up some dark magic on Tuesday night. I was panicking right along with Wolf Blitzer who kept begging him to pull up some counties where there might be hidden votes. He couldn’t conceal his concern. And seeing him like this really did something to me. But the well was coming up dry in one of the most humid states in the union.

Wolf already did the math on what a Trump presidency means for someone like him. He saw the danger in the anti-media sentiment at the rallies, and even implored Kellyanne Conway to speak to Trump about it. Talk about the second amendment always drew a healthy roar from his crowds. Other rights like Freedom of the press, speech and religion, not so much.

Things started falling apart pretty early in the night, and continued well into the morning. He was carrying a lead in most states, barring the true blue ones, when I went to bed. I knew he was winning, and I couldn’t watch anymore. I woke up around 1:30 to see if things had improved. At some point I got a notification on my phone that the presidency was called. I still can’t wrap my brain around this fact. How can this be possible in America? He’s the antithesis of everything this country stands for.

If she could have cracked a little sooner and shown some emotion maybe she could have pulled it off. Why couldn’t she put herself out there a little bit more? We know she’s competent and cares, but we needed to see a little more passion.

We didn’t protest when Obama was elected, some Trump supporters say. They still don’t get it. Obama campaigned on a positive message of hope, which obviously didn’t resonate with all of “the people.” But he never threatened anyone.

We only have to look to the president elect’s own words to understand why people are frightened and protesting. And to see the stark contrast in style and leadership.

There’s a cool wind blowing through the crack in the blue wall. We better cover up. Winter will be upon us soon. And we’ve got work to do.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
-Martin Niemoller

Stolen Stars

Stolen Stars

stolen-stars-mandayla.comIt’s not uncommon to have some regrets in life. And as a night person, I definitely feel like I am missing out on prime time. I would love to stay up all night if I didn’t have to get up in the morning.

I was blessed to have a few periods in my life when I could indulge my inner night owl, my true self. I did some of  my very best writing at Penn State in the middle of the night. My thoughts and ideas are so much more vivid and clear during this quiet and special time. I can feel things more deeply too, and tap into a level of creativity that I don’t often have access to during the day.

Maybe it’s because people feel cloaked in the dark, but I’ve found that many people talk about more abstract, intimate and interesting topics later at night that they wouldn’t feel comfortable discussing during the day. Sadly, I rarely stay up late even on the weekends anymore because it’s too difficult to get back on track on Monday. It’s a trade off to survive in the 9-5 work world.

I understand the practical origins of the day schedule. Prior to the advent of electricity, people had a very specific window of daylight time to get things done. I guess it’s just another hangover from the past that we haven’t worked through yet as a society. We celebrate so many differences now. But I can attest that people who don’t get up early, look tired or aren’t at their best in the morning still get labeled as lazy.

When morning people see me going for my third cup of coffee, they will typically say something like “wow, you really like coffee.” Not so much. I probably wouldn’t drink coffee at all if I was a morning person. Mornings are such a painful and jarring interruption to my natural rhythms, which tell me I should be sleeping. I guzzle caffeine until I can get into a vaguely functional place.

I have gotten a lot better and am able to wake up much earlier now than ever before. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older. I’ve always joked that elderly people get up really early to to make sure they are still alive. They are so excited that they get another day to play that they just stay up, no matter what time they originally awoke.

I started my mandala with a star in the middle tonight because it’s one of my favorite night time symbols. It ended up looking more like a flower with a ring of stars around it. I also worked in a few crescent moon shapes, a family of zzzz’s to denote sleep and a drawn shade that retreated as the drawing progressed. A ring of eyes that were all sleeping, except for one, were also part of the original layer.

The eyes ended up morphing into shapes that resembled hammocks which makes sense. More sleep and relaxation references. I put palm trees on either side of these shapes to anchor them and grass underneath. A magic wand emerged from what was a shooting star. To me, this speaks to the magic that occurs in the middle of the night. And there are a bunch of little circles and dots to represent what the same stars look like from far away. It’s all about perspective.

It’s just after 9 p.m. and I’m getting ready to go to sleep. I wish I could stay up later to continue writing and drawing but it’s a school night, as they say. Goodnight moon. And the rest of the world. jt

Catch and Release

Catch and Release

Catch-and-Release-mandayla.comI have been wanting to do something with two fish interwined. The interplay between the dark and light fish reminded me of the yin yang, so I brought that into the center of the drawing, too.

The expression “catch and release” kept coming to mind. And I realized the concept is just as much about the fish as it is the fisherman. The wise fisherman is happy to hold the fish or enjoy the catch. Or he takes only what he absolutely needs and leaves the rest for others. Or tomorrow.

This balance exists in sea life, too. One part of the larger body gives itself to the fisherman, while the other, the taker, gets free take out, and escapes for another day.

As I started automatically drawing waves in the next layer, I was reminded how the waves follow the same natural rhythm with their ebb and flow. So I drew some of the waves going out while the others were coming back in. It also makes sense that all of this is occurring within a circle because our lives are so cyclical, with all of us obeying the ever-changing, great circle in the sky.

I also imagine the polar opposite fish are in a codependent relationship. It looks balanced from a distance. But when you get a little bit closer, you can see that one is sucking the life and color from the other. But it’s important not to feel too sorry for the giver, because they are getting something out of the relationship, too, or they wouldn’t be there. They are just happy to be needed.

If one of the two tries to flip the script, it upsets the false balance, and throws everything off. They will try to draw each other back into the circle without boundaries. If this doesn’t work, the taker will scramble to find another life source. And the giver or rescuer will likely attract another lost soul. It’s very difficult for either party to escape their role.

I started drawing clam shells in one of the rings that ended up looking more like loaves of bread. And this reminded me of the New Testament story about the loaves and the fishes. It’s a really positive story about an outpouring of abundance in the form of food. This makes sense, because the sea is a source of so many different kinds of nourishment. They say it has healing powers. And I believe it.

On a personal note, I’m really surprised that this is what I am seeing in my mandala drawing today. I guess you never know what you are going to find when you look beneath the deceptively smooth, tranquil surface of the sea. jt

Symmetry Is Overrated

Symmetry Is Overrated

rooster-mandala-6-4-16-mandayla.comI’m still a little stuck on the rooster after spending last weekend in Key West. It’s funny because in Pennsylvania, where I’m from, chickens and roosters are commonplace.

I can recall taking a class trip to a 4H club in grammar school. Our tour included learning about the chickens and the incubators. It was actually really interesting. The baby chicks were definitely a highlight of the trip, but in an educational kind of way.

But in Key West, the roosters are celebrated and doted over. You see them on t-shirts, hats and restaurant signs. I guess it’s just the novelty of seeing a farm animal walking the streets and literally stopping traffic.

Contrary to popular belief, the popular belief I held at least, was that roosters crow in the morning. Not so. One song bird was serenading us at 1 a.m., which would have been annoying if we weren’t on vacation with the option of sleeping in.

And it’s all about the roosters in Key West. Aside from the “Funky Chicken” shop, there were very few references to chickens aside from the ones highlighted as protein options on restaurant menus.

Brad and I talked about this, and he reasoned that it’s because they are the ones strutting their feathers, and making all the noise. Sigh. Sounds familiar.

Anyway, back to the mandala. When I first started drawing mandalas, I was attentive to maintaining symmetry across the circle. It wasn’t long before I became bored with this. I used to draw a lot, but one of the reasons I traded my pencils in for a laptop is that I find I can get my point across much more quickly, succinctly,  and exactly with words. It can take a long time to deliver a similar message with a drawing. And even then, it’s always subject to interpretation. And if you are going for that level of natural imitation, why not just take picture?

Roosters are wild animals, and shouldn’t be confined to a mold. Their feathers aren’t symmetrical, and their unique patterns and colors are what set them apart from each other. Kind of like fingerprints define people, in addition to their other obvious variations.

I let the rooster’s freak feathers fly outward in my mandala, and a bunch of Easter eggs found their way into the mandala. Just like they do in video games. 🙂  I love Easter and Easter Eggs, so this is not surprising. Eggs are  fascinating to me like mandalas. They have a smooth rounded outer shape with a whole world and life going on behind the scenes.

And it’s the chickens who keep this life alive until it’s ready to emerge. It may be one of the few occasions in life when a parent can literally sit on their child without hampering its growth.

Some fire shapes also entered the circle, perhaps representing the warmth inside the mandala, incubator chamber. And how we use fire to enjoy the food provided by the “incredible, edible egg.” jt