Thursday, April 29, 2010

No small blessings

Venturing into the studio this morning, I was hunting brushes; specifically a set I thought I had seen while burrowing for paint the other day. If one had patience and infinite humor about everything, the puzzle which is the studio could possibly seem amusing. I moved the Christmas tree into the only quadrant of open floor, then rolled a set of drawers into its space, then rearranged objects only slightly smaller to, at last, scoot myself into a spot from which my hands could reach bookshelves and the counter where I KNEW the pastels had once rested.

The brushes were where I expected to find them, so I declared the morning a success. Oh, but there was so much more to come and, in the way of pulling on a sweater against a draft, I was immediately warmed by the not forgotten but unremembered - and vastly useful - material I encountered.

Being human, I have moments during which I fail to count ALL my blessings. I grow amnesiac about the wealth of reference volumes in our books-in-almost-every-room world. Starting in the early 70s, I built a collection of Dover Pictorial Archive titles - copyright-free illustrations collated into volumes by category, such as "Borders, Frames and Decorative Motifs from the 1862 Derriey Typographic Catalog" or "Victorian Fashion." I have used them in my work, in my volunteer newsletter editing, in projects for fun. Several years ago, I was one of a group of artists asked to donate a copy of a favorite, art-inspiring book for a fund-raising drawing. My offerings were from Dover's clip-art series.

All this studio exploration is in preparation for being half of a team, scheduled to do a demonstration on journal pages. I have been revisiting experts (real experts) who give examples and advice on their methods, as it has been a while since I produced any work that fits this description. And on the Dover shelves I found copyable words and buildings, borders and animals, faces and hands and automobiles to include as collage elements on the pages. I realized I had truly lost track of the breadth of subjects in my possession.

The unearthing of each new title added to my sense of uncalculated abundance. While I have been known to do a mental scan of supplies and see the gaps rather than the plenty, there was no way I could escape admitting it today: I am rich in resources.

It is a day of jubilee when we can look at all that surrounds us and see with new eyes. While I knew that useful bits would appear as I foraged, I was unprepared for the gratitude I felt for stumbling into my own life and discovering that, not only was the cupboard not bare, it was brimming. I felt wise that I had built such a useful collection, getting value from it many times over in the past yet having an enhanced awareness of its meaning today. I felt glad that a veil of forgetfulness had kept these treasures from consciousness, so that I also had the pleasure of happy surprise. In addition to the Pictorial Archive library, I found vintage ledgers sent to me by my sister, a keen-eyed antique picker, and a collection of Victorian scrap which had been a friend's gift.

There was a day, during some especially lean times, when I found $20 in a seldom-used purse and felt we had won the lottery; I knew it symbolized the prosperity which surrounds us. If I gave all my moments the attention they deserve, I would likely find that I always have the numbers lined up for a Bingo prize. Today I had the sense that another length of the curtain had been drawn back, a reminder that what I, what we, seek is there, within reach. Waiting for good times turns our gaze in the wrong direction. Yes, things can always get better - and they do - yet right now is clamoring for our attention. My own Oz, a magical place where dreams manifest, hiding behind the Christmas tree, and all I had to do was look.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Within a few months of my son's birth, the two of us had a part-time job that involved typing at home, then doing errands all over Hollywood. Our employer was a non-profit organization, funded to develop programs that would improve the employment rate among unions in the entertainment industry.

"The Institute," part of its actual name, had its public office in a Hollywood Boulevard building, rumored to be the same location in which L.A.'s greatest hard-boiled private eye, Philip Marlowe, was based. How could you not love it? The Institute director actually worked from home, first on Cahuenga near the Hollywood Bowl, then in a Beachwood Canyon house with the standard show business pedigree - as in, "This house used to belong to...(fill in the blanks)." I never met a dwelling in that town that didn't have a history.

With my baby in his stroller, we walked the boulevards and avenues - from the photocopy shop on Highland, owned and run by a family from India who greeted my boy like a prince each time we visited, to the elevator at Marlowe's location, frequently sharing the ride with clients of various agencies at that address, many of whom were in states of loud and raging delusion. In the early 80s, as it may still today, that simply went with the territory.

From his much-closer-to-the-ground seat, my son - with his early verbal skills - greeted the locals as they gleaned cigarette butts from the gutter. Because he saw them at eye level, he engaged them all with a smiling "Hi!" and opened the door to conversations that I might have preferred to sidestep. I don't remember seeing many other children, let alone babies, in that part of town; had I been the one bent over the curb, I know I couldn't have resisted him. Had I been looking to make new friends along The Walk of Fame, I had my little rolling ice-breaker.

During my year in the job, it was such a gift to be able to have his company while I did paper work at home or acted as delivery girl in the shadow of the Chinese Theater or Musso and Frank Restaurant. In that year of my administrative assistant duties, the Institute held two benefit concerts, one for the striking Screen Actors' Guild, later for the Musicians' Local when they struck. There was a touch of show business glamor to balance the more real-life aspects of providing services to under-employed creatives.

I think these memories were sparked by the news story yesterday that Hugh Hefner had donated the final $900,000 needed to keep the land around the Hollywood sign from development. With his sum added to the gifts already received, the sign will be protected and its surrounding terrain will belong to the people.

As a native daughter, I have never minded that aspects of Hollywood are only glittering in our imagination, for the truth is powerful beyond illusion. The dream that lured the writers and actors and immigrant entrepreneurs west has not diminished; we are captivated and transformed by images on film. I choose to believe that, should I need to hire him to buy back incriminating photos or locate my missing chauffeur, Raymond Chandler's hero still keeps office hours on Hollywood Boulevard, no appointment necessary.

Monday, April 26, 2010

In the middle of the night you call my name

How much I prefer being awakened at 2 or 3 a.m. by a Filene's Basement "running of the brides" rush of ideas for journal pages, rather than by The Fretter. Begone, she/he who needs to know NOW what might be done about something that is usually at least a month down the road, and over which I have no control no matter when it may happen. And it always involves money.

Waking briefly many nights, my preferred state is that of blank mind; no scrolling list of thoughts, helpful or distressing. Wake up, blink, go back to sleep. It is not always an option. Over the past several nights, my interrupted slumber has been a source of inspiration, not angst. In preparation for a journal demo - a tandem booking with artist friend Lisa Hoffman at Stamp Your Heart Out in Claremont - I have been mentally thrashing through supplies, techniques, revisiting books on journal pages, trying to plan an approach that doesn't have me lurching in more than one direction at a time.

Voila - pre-dawn suggestions, and not in an overwhelming way but more a casual flipping through the catalog of options. Stencil ideas, prepping the paper ideas, layers, themes - I began to write them down that first night. In nights since, I have begun to build some of the elements of pages before I return to sleep. This morning my hands smelled like crayons.

The studio in our home is not a monument to delightful order; the room is designated as a den, meant as a sitting room, place to watch tv, or install an office. Ours currently houses the Christmas tree, rolling storage drawer units of many sizes, a drawing board and 8-foot work table - and all the stuff that is tucked around those items. The room is a grab-bag of materials for paper crafting, currently without a flat surfaces to work on those crafts, and what I am able to find there is as much a surprise to me as it would be to a stranger.

Which is to say that, until the perfect storm of energy, time and inclination blows in, art happens in any available place. And, it would seem, any available time, planned for or not. The ability to remain flexible - or philosophical - is a gift, practiced by me in bumpy spurts, for notions of how I wish to see things go can be painful to release. However, the muse who beckons and instructs is not to be turned away for appearing at an inconvenient hour. So welcome, guiding light of stencils cut from junk mail printed on heavy, glossy stock; welcome sprinkler of Crayola-colored dreams. Welcome illuminator of faint ideas, champion of pen-wielders and pencil scribblers, voice of direction for the inky-fingered. Welcome, you are always welcome.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Call me Doctor Obvious

In the year of too much, 1968, I lived for a time in Washington, D.C. Some of my compatriots/housemates/co-workers (I was a volunteer) were part of what we then called The New Left. In feeling again how much happened in such a short time, I wonder that we kept our bearings at all.

After Dr. King was assassinated, after the riots (there must be something else to call them that addresses rage and betrayal), my roommate would park near Capital Hill for her job in the Library of Congress and I'd walk across town to my job in Northwest. This April morning has some of the look of those days, with greening trees and fast-moving clouds in air not-yet-humid, winter not entirely packed up and moved on. It speaks of the degree of disconnection within me that I could pass through neighborhoods in ruin, noticing briefly without interpretation or emotion. My response would be different today.

Beside the season and the sky, what brings that time to mind is a "Coming-Going-Staying" party held by friends for those who were...coming or going or staying; D.C. in the late sixties was a transitional place and state of mind. Today a friend and art sister from Colorado will cross our border and be here, in the same time zone, at sea level, not in the thin mountain air. Tomorrow the life-long friend who hosted that memorable gathering will fly to Mexico to spend time with her musician son, coincidentally going from an island to the mile-high capital. In Australia, my brother is recovering from a surgery which demands that he not laugh for weeks and, in aid of that, I will try not to call until he is well enough, for we have never in our adult lifetime spoken without laughing. Coming, going, staying put.

As people fold in and out of my life, I am aware that because of once-resisted electronic methods, I am allowed to widen my circle every day; more who come and stay, fewer who go. A blog and Facebook and e-mail encourage me to make or maintain connections simply because I wish to and the world is so vast, information and ideas so overwhelmingly accessible. That sentence would earn the Doctor Obvious tag from my son, as did the morning segment on local news, reporting that people enjoy eating soybeans. Obvious and unsurprising to him, yet to some of us still a wonder of cosmic proportion. And I don't even have a cell phone that does anything other than voice and text communication. Imagine...

The predictions that face-to-face socializing will become extinct seem absurd. I may see this too simply but is day-long texting any different than passing notes in class? Considering all the innovations that have taken the blame for civilization's looming end, how remarkable that we are still here, many of us still reading books, magazines and newspapers, grappling with abstract thought and nurturing friendships with those we have not met by means of complete sentences and something as close to correct grammar and spelling as we can get.

I am uplifted by the chance to put ideas into words and send them on journeys of seconds, rather than days. E-mails and Facebook messages have pushed me to be more clear in my correspondence, to work at saying what I mean. I would not have been one of the dedicated who took pen in hand to send copious snail mail, yet I am called to write every day and I take it as a chance to be precise, to be funny if that happens, and to stay in touch. So many gifts have found me because of e-mail, and they continue to arrive. A blog gives me a voice, my own version of the Pershing Square soap box or a street corner for evangelizing. And, like the old drive-in movies, I hold in great affection any place that lets me show up in my pajamas.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The animals have something to tell us

Palm trees on our block are smooth-trunked and otherwise. The one rising past our dining room window belongs in the second category. Approximately the color of a well-loved, once-brown teddy bear, its texture is inhospitable; shards of fronds jut through whiskery fibers. It does not invite climbing - it is without purchase, branches, or a coconut treasure at the top. Yet this past week it became the object of burrowing fascination for the largest crow we have seen locally.

He (gender unknown, but supposed) had a wingspan nearing that of hawks which circle at higher altitudes. In full flight, destined for the tree growing some eight feet from the window, he appeared black-caped and fearsome. His quarry was on the street side of the trunk so once he had gained a foothold and settled into his task, the width of his densely black body was visible on either side of the palm. Something tasty had made a home for itself under the scratchy surface and our visiting crow - not observed before or since his two morning arrivals - was relentless in beaking his way through to retrieve it. His departing flights made this Harry Potter fan think of Professor Snape taking haughty leave of some Hogwarts chamber, robes swirling.

Crow arrived, crow departed, the week marched along. On Friday, I was surprised at the sound of a parcel being left on the doormat, as nothing was expected. Sent by my step-mother, solidly-packed and weighty, it contained more unearthings from my father's files. As he has been gone more than 15 years, she and I are both surprised that new material keeps appearing. And what I received were examples of writing, both by and about him, and photographs, things which I never knew existed.

There was a folder of poetry he had begun when he was 16, bound issues of a science fiction magazine he edited and published in 1939, articles about awards he'd won for his writing. In a self-promoting pamphlet, sent to editors as he sought new writing markets, was a copy of the New Yorker review of one of his children's books which said, in part, "The tale is slight, but it is written in a language of such memorable tranquility...that it is to be hoped...will be prolific..." On a sheet of green paper with faded edges and rust marks from the notebook's binding, I found a poem called, "On Saying Goodbye to my Son at the Coolangatta Airport," which marked his Australian visit with my brother in 1969.

I would call the whole a box of magic, communication from the past, bearing witness to the power of DNA, emphasizing his ceaseless determination to bend words to his will. I am not sure he realized how thoroughly he succeeded. The piece about my brother, its affection understated yet more intense for its matter-of-fact tone, was so clearly a message of love, lost in a cosmic mail room for 41 years, delivered at the perfect moment.

Crow, as a symbol, tells us of the creation and magic all around; he tells us to look beyond the present range of our vision. Crow is the keeper of sacred law and knows the mystery. And crow represents the concept of no time; in him past, present and future are all of a piece. His messages are from the cosmos, beyond time and space. He provides long-distance healing and reminds us to value ourselves, including the shadow aspects. For delivering visionary gifts, he and my step-mother are a powerful team.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Wanted: weightlessness

First home game of the season at Dodger Stadium. Seeing the news footage of the park, surrounding hills and the crowded plain of Los Angeles reminded me that once, some 45 years ago, I went for a ride in the Goodyear blimp. What is most vivid in my memory is the red dirt of the stadium as we drifted, low and slow, above the terrain where I had spent my first 20 years.

The word which repeats is lightness and the reason it speaks so emphatically is that it seems to be MIA these days. Reality is heavy and dense; it would sink to the bottom of the pond and need to be raised with crane. Good luck trying to pry it loose with a stick or even a crowbar. A light heart, a quiet mind, a tranquil spirit - is this too much to ask? At times, it seems the answer is yes.

From a long-forgotten source I have a quote which says, "Life should be like floating." And it should be, navigating our days without that pesky anchor snagging on every rock. Oh, for helium, for fizzy lifting drinks, for either the fog or equanimity that sorts events by their true proportion. If the world is too much with us, the challenge to let our thoughts soar, to find humor in dark moments, to be at peace begins to feel like a life-and-death struggle and reality seems to have the advantage of being, simply, too real.

Earlier this morning I commented on a friend's blog in which she asked readers to tell of their guilty pleasures and my first response was daydreaming. I arrive at truths and happiness by the grace of drifting, which is not always an option. Perhaps my chemistry is off; I feel terribly earth-bound and not the least bit silly. Is it earthquakes and volcanoes, unemployment and budget crises, or is it annoying gnats of projected - and pointless - worries, gaining in strength and number until their swarming cloud obscures the sun?

It could be that tranquility is something we receive on loan, something which was not intended to be a permanent gift. Or this could be an over-reaction to a temporary patch of disquiet. Granola-like clumps of troublesome thoughts arrive and eventually depart. When they are here they seem the size of Jupiter; when we step back they look more like cupcake sprinkles. Balance, proportion's best friend, is a slippery trickster, whose great appeal may be its seeming elusiveness.

That I carry the imprint of riding the current through once-smoggy skies gives me a tangible goal; I know what weightless feels like. I have found it down here on the ground and held it for longer than I would have thought possible. I want it back and I know that chasing it will only drive it deeper into the woods. With enough time for my mind to dawdle, I may be able to devise a temptation, luring peace near enough to catch hold of and we can be airborne once again.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Cue the singer...

When I posted the LITTLE MARY SUNSHINE entry on April 10, I had considered including a favorite song from a musical of the era under discussion. After listening several times to the version which I found - and additionally hearing it sung by Scott Bakula on an episode of BOSTON LEGAL (what are the odds?) the next night - I decided to share it. The song, "Once Upon A Time," is from the Broadway show, ALL-AMERICAN. The song has been recorded by, among others, Jack Jones (the version here), Frank Sinatra, Bobby Darin and Tony Bennett. Just a reminder that a play need not be a hit (it closed after 80 performances) to have enduring music. And my thanks to sirpaopao for the use of his video.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Vintage Candy Machine Turned Guerrilla Gardening Dispenser @greenUPGRADER

Friday night's local tv news and the Home section of Saturday's LA TIMES presented a story about guerrilla gardeners with a new, accessible way to beautify vacant urban spaces around Los Angeles. By modifying old candy dispensing machines, L.A. designers Daniel Phillips and Kim Karlsrud, with San Francisco landscape architect David Fletcher, offer passers-by the chance, for 25 cents, to purchase and distribute seed bombs. The balls, which come in three mixes formulated for different habitats, are a combination of soil and seed and are meant to be tossed, guerrilla-style into bare and unlovely patches of earth. Called Greenaid, the concept calls for 10 of the dispensing machines to be installed by mid-May. The first is located in L.A.'s Chinatown. For further details, background and photos, here is the link. And to all guerrilla beautifiers of our cities, including a blog-pal knitter in Australia, thank you.
Vintage Candy Machine Turned Guerrilla Gardening Dispenser @greenUPGRADER

Saturday, April 10, 2010


All singing, all dancing. In my childhood home, the Broadway musical was king. For their favorite shows, LITTLE MARY SUNSHINE and THE BOY FRIEND, my parents were willing to drive...distances...for every student, amateur, community or professional staging they could find. The plays were always performed with great heart, and, as I remember, no cast ever disappointed. Imperfect diamonds are diamonds all the same.

The big shows sang throughout our lives, too. When all we had was a phonograph, the cast recordings of KISMET, CAROUSEL, SOUTH PACIFIC, GUYS AND DOLLS played again and again, music to indoctrinate young minds. When I think what the soundtrack of my story would include, I am conscious of many separate compartments, from my grandfather's World War I standards like, "There's A Long, Long Trail A'Winding," Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, all the show tunes, up to the Dylan albums that I was listening to when I left home and all that has been added since. That doesn't even touch upon everything we heard on the radio, which I started listening to like a religion when I was still in grade school.

When we purchased a stereo, my father positioned his chair between the speakers. One half of the combo had the turntable and all the dials; its companion, equally large, about the size of a double-door kitchen cabinet on legs, was all speaker...probably not ALL, as I imagine most of it was empty space. What he liked almost as much as the musicals were albums of what I think were called society orchestras, instrumental, dance-tempo renditions of familiar melodies. I remember one favorite was Lester Lanin. They went on to play (thanks, Google) at the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana. We were not a family that listened to classical music, something which I may still remedy, but we surely had music and as long as my long-term memory holds, lyrics by the boatload can be accessed in an instant. Additionally, songs (as performed by the original artists) will simply begin to play in my head. I wonder if there is some message being communicated or if it is merely part of the soundtrack, randomly selected.

In his newspaper job, which included a daily column, my dad was - over the years - in charge of a variety of sections and departments, like camping - which was a family joke since we never went camping together - but he wrote about sleeping bags and Coleman stoves to go along with his suggestions for back roads and tranquil destinations. He was the book editor, almost ever-lastingly - our mail arrived in canvas sacks like the letters to Santa being brought into the courtroom in MIRACLE ON 34th STREET, mountains of review copies, what joy. For a time he was, not music editor but somehow in charge of being sent review copies of records and, as such, would received original cast albums, occasionally for shows which had closed by the time the record arrived.

As he also wrote reviews of Civic Light Opera performances, for several seasons we were among the happy opening night audiences when Broadway went on the road. I do not under-value what a gift it was to have those orchestra seats, usually just a few rows from the stage, for such names as Ethel Merman in GYPSY. The theaters in which we saw them may be long vanished, yet the shows endure. Perhaps fewer in number and variety than 50 years ago, they come to Los Angeles, sell out and entrance current generations with their unique magic.

As I recently verified on-line what I remembered of the musicals, seeing if any videos existed of less-well known tunes, I found comments left on You Tube from people thanking their parents for raising them with the, "...good, old songs," crediting their success in life to the values represented by parents who played them Broadway shows. I wouldn't have expressed it in just that way, yet I don't disagree. For me it is, more accurately, another square in the quilt of my life, additional texture, more near-encyclopedic knowledge that will never appear on a resume. It does contribute to my way of seeing, of responding, of appreciating. While aspects of my earlier life have required repair, at the same time the continuous influence of my parents' enthusiasms has provided substance, sturdy handrails which have kept me from flying overboard. The arts enrich; it has been proven. Knowledge and experience of a wider, creative existence seem to balance the sense of being alarmingly insubstantial that results from childhood's unwelcome teachings.

Many of us emerge from our younger lives with pieces that don't seem to match. Art from found objects - assemblage, collage, constructions, anything that brings disparate parts together into a new and resurrected whole - offers a model of how our incongruent histories can make sense. Retain all that feeds your spirit, whether you remember the words or not, and forgive the rest.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

What's your other choice?

"All who joy would win must share it; happiness was born a twin."

Lord Byron

How do you greet yourself in the morning? When you awake, are you inhabiting your skin with a welcome entity or something that causes you to think of exorcism? Any day that begins with even a pinch of self-rejection is going to be a particularly bumpy ride. Save bumpy for the chenille bedspread; what we want is smooth, kind, gracious. Gee, I sure am happy to see you.

If we are enemies to ourselves, how can we hope to be a friend to another? I have come through stretches of time - years would be my best guess - when, as soon as I opened my eyes, every character defect, shortcoming, each bit of unfinished business, regardless of its vintage, was being enumerated for me, like the Naughty side of Santa's ledger, by a voice so superior in its disapproval that I felt defeated before the covers were even thrown back. This is not living; this is not right.

My eventual release from this hell, one which I know is shared by many, came from (a) traditional talk therapy, (b) 12-step programs, their impressive record of wisdom and recovery and a power greater than myself and (c) beginning to keep a journal of only gratitude. No complaining, no self-pity, no diving into the story so that wounds could be kept fresh and oozing.

"Thank you," I would begin, "today I am grateful for..." and go on to list all that I could think of which was not a recitation of how the wheels were about to come off the wagon. I was thankful for everything that worked that day - automobile, plumbing, pencil leads that stayed sharp, meals prepared without mishap. It was easy to be grateful for my son, for my friends, for family members who allow me to sit close, metaphorically, rather than treating me like something better handled through third parties or with the use of rubber gloves and barbecue tongs.

As thankfulness becomes a state of mind and a state of being, we notice that another hundred blessings just got off the bus. They have their hands in the air, oooh, oooh, pick me. It reminds me of the lines for "Let's Make A Deal," taped at the studio where I was employed. The couple dressed as containers of french fries could have been on my show. Blessings are patient; waiting - time itself - hah! no matter. We will be here.

An invitation via Facebook from Giant Robot to their presentations at the coming LA Times Festival of Books drew a benevolent sigh when I read that David Horvath would be there. Horvath and Sun-Min Kim created the Ugly Dolls. They belong in the Perpetual section of my gratitude list for how seeing any one of them makes me smile. A green Abima and magenta Moxie reside with us. It was discovering them - and the mind-expanding "Giant Robot" magazine - that elbowed me to draw the creatures who became a line of rubber stamps for Stampington and Co. in 2008.

Today I am grateful that I didn't gobble my package of Peeps but savored them...three still remain. I am grateful that our supermarket strawberries were not only inexpensive, they were also ripe and sweet. I am grateful to hear my friends speak with unguarded affection about their children, their pets, their gardens. My list today contains newsletter recipients who sent favorable comments to the store for which I write. I laughed - perhaps disproportionately - when hearing of the new game, " Chuck Norris versus Werner Herzog," which film critic Roger Ebert is playing on Twitter, where it apparently began. If you've read earlier entries here, you know whose team I'm on.

Life is absurd. I am relieved and reassured whenever that awareness taps me on the shoulder or grabs me by the lapels. In the midst of grief, etc. What will make it onto your gratitude list today? Will you say Thank You for: The means to acquire new pens for a sketching fest? News of good health from someone dear? The wealth of useful facts and overflowing inspiration that creative bloggers all over the world deliver to our table? Lucinda Williams' "...pens that don't run out of ink and cool quiet and time to think..."?

It is said that all of life is a blessing; I know there were days when the extent of my gratitude was to say, "I'm still here." Today I give thanks that I have so much more which I recognize as gifts. I am grateful to computers and the internet, to Google and Blogger, and all who dreamed them into being. I am grateful for a forum in which I can share my joy, for people who may find something of themselves here, for Lord Byron's insightful words, for being here.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Just love it

A friend of mine tells the definitive story of how what we want to see occludes our vision for what is. She and her husband were looking for purebred boxers and located a seller with two young dogs for sale. They did not resemble the boxers they had owned previously, yet the seller swore they were that breed. Driving home with the alleged boxers in the car, my friend was thinking, "We have our boxers," yet feeling that something was out of kilter. When they arrived home, they looked closely at the not-even-purebred dogs of indeterminate origin and had to acknowledge they had talked themselves into something from the sheer wanting of it to be true and these were not, never had been, never would be, boxers. "These dogs are not boxers," has become a phrase she uses when speaking of any situation in which we try and convince ourselves that...this is it.

Conversely, I am too well acquainted with how easily we can reject the real thing when it doesn't match some arbitrary notion of how, for example, a piece of art or writing ought to be. This falls under the heading of Nothing in Life Is One Size Fits All in my yet-unwritten manifesto. If I had kept track of how many years I spent comparing (underlined, caps, bold face...remember this word) the visual interpretation of my spirit with that of other illustrators, essayists, and so on, I would wander the streets draped in mourning for so much lost time, for gifts unappreciated.

How long until we understand that whatever our form of expression (this assuming that it doesn't cause harm anywhere), it is authentic and it absolutely is our gift. Would you dream of rejecting a child's handmade card, pillow, giant mailing-tube candy cane or cotton-ball tufted Santa face for its lack of sophistication? I have the memory of a pair of yellow and green earrings - could they have been made of seeds? - going right into the dresser drawer, never to be worn, never even taken out of the box, because they were not lovely enough. Since that is a fourth-grade memory and it lingers still, I present it as a cautionary tale. I will not elaborate on the first-grade clay Christmas tree whose tilt gave the impression, in brown and orange, of dancing, of happy motion. Did it sway to its own music on the top shelf in the kitchen cupboard decade after decade? At least it wasn't thrown away, yet it never got to come to the party.

Because my desire to produce a longer work brought me nothing but frustration, I gave in one day and let my shorter pieces speak for me. Trying to make myself into the boxer of my own creative process gave me cringe-worthy chapters of semi-fiction that went nowhere and said nothing. Because what escapes from any pen in my hand is somewhat silly, often cheerful and occasionally lumpy, askew and peculiar, I realized I was dragging myself back to junior high and looking at myself through the adolescent prism which emphasized how much I didn't match anything or anyone around me. Then it seemed to matter, at least somewhat. Fortunately, it didn't matter enough to go all psycho over never having owned a Lanz dress, having hair that only now - thanks for nothing, dwindling hormones - has quadrants completely free of curl and white bucks (it was the 50s, give me a break) that were never white enough, despite the powder-puff chalky pillow that I carried in my felt clutch purse in the hope of dusting them into a state other than scuffed and faintly gray.

Do not suppose it escapes my notice that outsiderdom is a recurring topic in these posts. Nor will I apologize for restating the belief that, if we are permitting ourselves to appear in the earthly regions in our true forms, we will always be one-of-a-kind. During the lengthy silent moments of my days, I feel guided to say a frequent "thank you," then sit down and be happy with my equivalent of the package of assorted Life Saver rolls which was the gift I brought to the 6th grade Christmas exchange. Unlike Loren (you know who you are), I would not sell them to my classmates while exhibiting facial disappointment and speaking of them in unwelcoming language.

Here is what I think, based on thoroughly unscientific observation and conclusion: we will never be satisfied with what we may one day produce if we are not happy with the light that flows through us today. For it is indeed light, pure and golden, and to reject or disparage it is to tell the universe that it has done a sub-par job. Do you really want to relay THAT message to all that is, to our source, by whatever name you choose to call it? I think of a long-ago Shel Silverstein book called, in my memory, "Uncle Shelby's ABZ Book." In it was cyclops, probably for the letter "C" and Uncle Shelby suggested that you, child reading the book, go and poke him in the eye. As Uncle Shelby said, "I'll wait here for you." Before something goes tragically wrong, take the gift, love it, wear it, coo and swoon over it. Feed it bits of carmelized popcorn, caress its funny, pointy head, give it a home and love it. As my brother once said, love it " the pain of being alive." Love it.