Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Again with the dreams...and not for the last time

RubberMoon stamp.

Last week's episode of GLEE, which I saw last night, had a theme of dreams...aspiration married to wish. My dreams feel like Divine mandates, they feel like promises inscribed on my heart and, as with the fictional students on television, I sense that they transcend the ordinary reality of this moment. I would not call them enormous, as in sailing solo around the world, being the first civilian on the moon, yet they still represent a distance between here and the yearned-for there. My dreams, however they might be classified as to likely, remote or you've-got-to-be-kidding, are, as I have come to discover, an essential part of my authentic self.

Thomas Moore's book, ORIGINAL SELF, is a collection of 50 meditations, which "...offer fresh interpretations of living with originality rather than conformity, presenting multi-dimensional portraits of the creative self...what it means to live from the burning essence of the heart, with the creativity that comes from allowing the soul to blossom in its own colors and shapes." It is to be grabbed with both hands by anyone suffering disenchantment, disconnection or merely seeking a voice of rich experience to remind you that, in your eccentricities, ample thighs and unmatched socks, you are not doing it wrong.

For people will, you know, eagerly admonish you about the impracticality - or impossibility - of your dreams. It is not an easy path, being the odd duck, yet I have, if not proof at least a strong hunch, that those who read these essays on a regular basis don't visit here looking for lessons on how to march in a straight line. Coincidences don't exist for me as such; the facts that yesterday morning I sat and saw new products, new designs, new forms open before my eyes, then felt my spirit singing along with the flat-out dances of joy I saw on television, seem mutually confirming. I know that what we dream matters and we must heed it. It is not necessary to know how it will be reached, if it will be reached or if we've been pointed in that direction because of what we will find along the way.

Do your dreams fill you with doubt of ever seeing them materialize, or do they warm you with the magic that comes from embracing them? I think it is important to love our dreams, to treat them respectfully, perhaps as sacred, and find as much delight in befriending them in their dream incarnations as we anticipate doing when they take form. A dream makes a reliable sidekick. We can exhale with relief, for something that sees the world as we do has our back.

Our dreams are gifts, perhaps that we give ourselves, chosen from a dim cupboard of ancient knowing. Dreams don't require - or even tolerate - explanation. I see them as the ultimate post-hypnotic suggestions: they are the notes pinned to our coats when we left wherever we'd been to come here. They are the messages we carry. I love the notion and the fact of them; I love how they both pull and push us toward expanding, whatever that means in each of our hearts. As a recovering hyper-vigilant, I don't want to let my dreams down, yet I know that the simple act of holding them, giving them voice and honoring their presence is, for today, enough, but a few new sketches, between friends, couldn't hurt.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Rubbermoon, in black and white

These are two of my 90 designs currently available from Rubbermoon, found here.

The site also features images from dollmaker Jane Cather and Dave Brethauer, founder of Memory Box.

During the time I created samples for Debra Valoff, Rubbermoon's owner and tireless holder of every job, wearer of every hat for the company for more than 16 years, I found that her selection of illustrations from the various designers on her team worked seamlessly together. Something Rubbermoon does extremely well is allow you to tell a wordless story using just their pictures. Their signature look is stamped images, brought to life with colored pencils. At the opening of their website, an animated pencil appears to add color to the page. It is worth visiting. P.S. The row of cats could be inked individually with a brush-tip pen to allow use of each cat as you like, rather than together in a line.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Backstory - Button Bunny

Button Bunny, as he is called, may appear as a rather lumpily-shaped freehand drawing, a stamped image, a stuffed creature or any one of his many incarnations. He prefers to be depicted as yellow.

He has taken two or three voyages as a foot-tall, pencil-colored cut-out made of very heavy, hot press watercolor paper, illustrated front and back, glued together (with a backpack that opens), to be auctioned in the annual Postmarked exhibit and fund-raiser in Claremont, CA. (This year's donations appear in the postings for Feb. 25, "Postmarked 2010," and March 1, "Let the sun shine.")

B.B. was inspired by the story of a childhood toy belonging to my friend Claire. He came to life around Christmas a little more than two years ago and continues to evolve. The image shown here is a postcard on corrugated cardboard and the wish to have it done quickly accounts for his less than perfect figure. Otherwise, he is more handsomely proportioned.

In smaller form he may be found here in the "Escape from the Toybox" stamp set from the Unusual Suspects collection. His set, which contains two companions, serves as my avatar on this blog and on Facebook. Let's declare what remains of May as Meet Your Rubberstamps Month.

Monday, May 17, 2010

They were right: don't assume

Nice day for a meltdown. One thing we can count on, secret pockets of unexpressed grief lurk like the remains of a Fillet O' Fish sandwich that has fallen between the car seats and ripened in the warm spring sun.

Most of us probably congratulate ourselves on being able to respond to loss genuinely, openly, maturely. For our mother's memorial service, my sister and I were dry-eyed (for the most part) and took our roles as family elders seriously. Then the wise and adored family friend who drove us home said, as he dropped us off, "NOW you can fall apart." We didn't, not then, but I found that every time I saw a smallish, white-haired lady waiting for a bus I had to pull to the curb and cry.

Last week, in conversation with a woman who has been friend/spiritual guide and model of truthful answers for some 25 years, we spoke of going on in a world without our parents. So many unanswered - or unexamined - questions, the answers to which we could only guess, not only remain but seem to have greater significance, the more we explore our own motives and choices. I felt that our talk calmed the waters, not that they had been roiling before. We spoke of my cousin Sheri's recent death, which also catches me by surprise...hearing her voice on the answering machine, seeing her email address when her husband writes...yet which I would have said affects me but doesn't leave me devastated.

Move on to lunchtime. A Trader Joe's special platter with tabouli and falafel, hummus and pita, and I am carrying it with focus, though not unduly protective. A moment of inattention and tabouli flies halfway across the kitchen. It, of course, cannot be salvaged and in that instant I have become the small child whose scoop of ice cream has toppled to the sidewalk and whose world will never be right again. And for at least five minutes, I thought it was about the tabouli.

Confronting mortality - our own or that of loved ones - and accepting loss cannot, in my experience, be managed. Today I will bring out my grief and sit with it for, oh, half an hour and I should be in good shape. Do you not hear the tilt warnings and horrified angels shrieking with alarm? Complacency is one of the stealth bombers; it is unwise to assume. It is particularly unwise to assume that we have ourselves and our emotions tightened down and in perfect order.

A companion in a long-ago recovery group declared, "No matter what you do, it (pick your definition of "it") always finds a way to come squirting out." Let that fizzy sound and sticky dribbling alert you to a lid that has loosened. I don't know how we can prevent being sideswiped by the grief our minds assumed we were done with. The mind is of no aid in the process. The best we can do, our only preparation as I see it, is to maintain a flexibility and the awareness that, once we have known loss, grief will always own a part of us. The more welcoming we are, the less likely he will be to carry off the sterling napkin rings when his visit is over.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


With a respectful nod to Seth Apter's celebration of "True Colors" on The Altered Page this week, it seemed fitting to sling some color around in this vicinity. The piece shown here, created on glossy card stock with Tria markers, black Sharpie pens in fine and ultra fine, is intended to be photocopied, then cut - or torn - for use as borders in journals, cards, ATCs, collages. On the high gloss paper, the marker colors are particularly vivid and create the appearance of having been printed rather than drawn. This was one of the samples shown at the Journal Improv demo Lisa Hoffman and I presented last Saturday. She spoke of keeping a number of journals open and available, mentioning that it could be handy to keep one by the phone for doodling. From now on, I'll have glossy paper and a Sharpie or two near my phone...why waste those shapes and squiggles on the back of an envelope?

Where the wind takes you

Is anything its simple-seeming, literal self (as in, "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.")? Today we have the big winds, and I think of a bully pushing from the back of the line so that everyone ahead stumbles. At the same time, the skies are clear (not counting the dust), there is movement - a sign of life - where all is generally still and, though it defies explanation, a sense of change.

I have never been one who saw things that people said weren't there; any fancied alterations to the status quo come to me as ideas, not sights. If I had Spiderman's inklings, I'd say something was afoot. Wind is a perfect metaphor for things not remaining as they are. (Apropos of synonyms, like, what is another way to say change, in a recently-viewed documentary segment on "Monty Python's Flying Circus," John Cleese explained how he brought a thesaurus to the session in which they wrote the Dead Parrot sketch, running through the list of all words and phrases that meant dead.)

So if things are not static but fluctuating, what are they becoming? And what things are they?

Right now I have no answer, only the questions. And in the absence of a clear answer, I know to wait. Could be the wind swept away some mental debris, leaving open space. Whatever may arrive to fill it has not yet appeared. Or perhaps everything that was lodged there yesterday remains today, only rearranged, not quite where I left it. So it may not be a traditional species of change that I sense, more an altered perspective; why, the room DOES look bigger with the dresser under the window. Los Angeles dwellers are known to become disoriented by our winds, except they are generally the hot, autumnal Santa Anas. It is equally possible that I've read too much into what is merely a shifting weather pattern. They say sometimes a wind is just a wind.

Friday, May 7, 2010

THE ALTERED PAGE celebrates "True Colors"

True Colors: A Palette of Collaborative Art Journals

Seth Apter, creator of THE ALTERED PAGE blog, extends the following invitation with regard to the art journaling collaborative publication, True Colors.

"Join me in celebrating this sensational publication. Beginning on Sunday May 9 and running everyday through Sunday May 16, The Book Guild on The Altered Page will be hosting a True Colors event. Nearly all of the original True Color artists will be sharing their personal thoughts about the project, the publication, and the experience of collaborating with the group. In organizing the stories they have shared, I can easily see why this project was so special and unique. This is one amazing group of artists. And if you have been impacted in any way by True Colors, you can just imagine how it impacted them! So mark your calendars, spread the word, and stop by beginning this Sunday to hear and share their stories. "

My thanks to Seth for the opportunity to share some of my True Colors experiences and to see what the other contributors have to say about theirs. Once you see his blog, you will recognize it as the rich resource it has become for book and mixed-media artists around the world.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Journal Improv in Claremont, CA

(Article reprinted from the Stamp Your Heart Out e-newsletter, click HERE)

Word of the week: Improvise:
Anyone who cooks knows the momentary panic which results when a recipe's key ingredient is missing from the pantry. Oh, the tap dancing begins. So we patch and fill, make our best guess and, with luck and a bit of skill, produce something not only edible, possibly superior. In any given 24-hour period, we are likely called upon to just "make it up" in order to solve a problem, a challenge, a frustration. Art forms may be the birthplace of improvisation; a forgotten line, not remembering how to spell a word so choosing a substitute, using the like-new tube of green instead of the intended, but depleted, blue. And on Saturday, May 8, fellow "True Colors" artist Lisa Hoffman and I will take a bold step and present a lecture/demo at Stamp Your Heart Out which we are calling JOURNAL IMPROV. In the privacy of our own minds, we are generally quick on our feet and we trust that ability will not desert us as customers and friends arrive with lists of materials for which they have no clear purpose. Our intention is to come up with suggestions for puzzling supplies which will make your journal pages (time to begin, if you haven't yet) sing. The presentation will begin at 1 p.m. and will include prepared technique samples, and the advertised thoughts on how to improvise when you feel lost, discouraged, stuck, blocked or simply uncertain. Please come and say hello; join us for what we hope will be a lively exchange.

Thank you, HP

This morning, having discovered that I somehow (don't ask, I have no answer) ordered the wrong ink cartridges for our newer HP printer/copier, I called the HP Home & Home Office Store to see if I could arrange a return/exchange. I anticipated that I would have to wait while the first cartridges (which are the correct ones for our older printer) got back to HP, then have the paper work processed, then watch the skies for the replacement arrival. My mood was cranky, because this was my error, because I wanted the color cartridge now, and because it felt as though forward momentum on projects with deadlines had come to a skidding halt. Oh, exquisite surprise.

The short version is this: correct replacement cartridges were on their way, I was to keep the ones ordered in error which were nonetheless useful, there was no charge, there was no difficulty. I am not enamored of ordering products on line; I am an old-fashioned type who likes to speak with a human. For this reason, if an on-line ordering site offers the choice of telephone ordering, I pick that. Last week, by talking with an actual person at Dick Blick, I was able to find out about and arrange for speedy delivery of needed materials. Today with HP Home & Home Office, I received service that surpassed anything I could have anticipated and I wanted to share that information and give thanks to customer service agent Kelly for bringing gladness back to my morning. There was a survey following the business of my call, which I had already agreed to take, and I had the chance to leave a voice message expressing my appreciation.

My experiences with customer service representatives around the world, for many of them are certainly working from distant sites, have been studies in patience and generosity...fees waived, that sort of thing. HP, however, so greatly exceeded my expectations - added to the fact that by ordering from them there are no shipping fees and delivery is next business day - that I felt sharing the story with others was my duty. There are signs all around us - and if you read these postings you know I am vigilant in my search for them - that remind us we stand beneath a shower of continual benevolence. I may need to add a subtitle to this blog, for how often the theme appears: There are no small blessings.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Somewhere in time

Los Angeles television used to have a newsman named Ralph Story. His segments during local broadcasts covered stories that often reached an "off the beaten path" status. Then he had a show called, "Things That Aren't Here Any More," and for Los Angeles natives, that list is long.

Bunker Hill (scene of John Fante stories and Angel's Flight railway), the Pacific Electric Big Red Cars that ran from the mountains to the sea, Mt. Lowe, a tourist attraction high above Pasadena reachable only by funicular and a narrow railway, all the amusement parks along the coast, the movie palaces on Broadway (though some have made a comeback through restoration and Mexican wrestling), gone.

Each of our lives, I am certain, contains such vanished sites of memory and significance. The stories of Brigadoon and Camelot - wonders which lived briefly, magically - resonate with our pasts, especially seen through the lens of our own losses. I grew up with dime stores, plentiful and vast in Pasadena, even more legendary in downtown Los Angeles...lunch counters a block long, Cokes that never tasted as good anywhere else, carnival rides set up in the basement at Christmas, much missed, enduring.

Eventually, memory seems to take on an aspect of longing and with longing comes a pang of suffering, which makes those mental visits to the past some of our most bittersweet moments. In spite of a determined commitment to being in the present, I have to believe that even the most pragmatic mind can become lost in reverie. First-hand experiences and those relayed by DNA have taken residence in our cells; they have built us to be who we are.

I wonder about historians, devotees of people or times other than today, and how difficult they find the commute between worlds. The in-depth study of a subject surely creates an intimacy; a lifetime spent with, say, Benjamin Franklin or the Incas, the Ballet Russes or Confederate battles, will reveal their weaknesses and beauty. Will that study create a force that pulls the researcher into the world of his subject, a kind of homesickness for what would appear to be known intellectually? Are we only haunted by our own memories or does collective thought make us vulnerable to all the moments that have ever been?

It is no secret that I experience time as a fluid state and contemplate the extent to which each of us resides in a world built of then, now and tomorrow, a hovering presence just out of sight which we know by intuition. Time undulates, it swirls - I can't tell you why but the current seems to be clockwise - and my impression is that we are afloat in its limitlessness, which simply mirrors the continuum within.

I am not the first to find this puzzling. Maybe such curiosity is what draws anyone into writing (or attempting to write) science fiction; Jules Verne and I do share a birthday. Maybe it is a symptom of imbalance or over-active imagination; maybe it is a form of wisdom that would require several lifetimes to shift from speculation to fact. If you know of any scholarly, genius types who share this vision, will you let me know? Meanwhile, you will find me here on my imaginary raft, testing the current's flow.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Nature in suburbia

As spring hits its stride, vignettes around the neighborhood attract our attention.

The wind has been blowing for the past 5 days; two, three days ago it was all flailing palm fronds and snapping branches. And still the drone of leaf-blowers could be heard above the wind's own noise.

One of the necessary keys on the front gate touch pad is broken so newspapers haven't been arriving at the front door. "Waiting for a part" is given as the reason for delay. My son, knowing the vintage of all moving parts in our complex, suggests that a time machine would be the best means of acquiring the missing piece.

As the sun rises and sets, and often at random in-between moments, the wild parrots of South Pasadena lift en masse from their perches and shriek through the skies. There must be some reason or order for what they do but it seems more like the aerial version of citizens fleeing Godzilla. Their unique sound interferes with room-to-room conversations, drowns out a tv at reasonable volume and causes anyone on the other end of a phone call to ask, "What's THAT?"

Very like the celebrated Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, introduced to us in a documentary film of the same name, our flock are all lime green, the color most intense when the sun shines through their feathered wing tips or tails, which they fan as they bounce on the utility wires. As they venture closer to our windows, we see the red/orange on their heads and in prominent circles on their wings. I need to study their San Francisco counterparts again; that may help me understand whether they squabble as energetically as they seem to for a reason or if that is simply eccentric-appearing parrot behavior and not an indication of collected malcontents.

Nature in suburbia has taken a peculiar turn or two for us. Greatest oddity was the arrival of the voodoo lily. As I stepped through the patio door of our former home in Pasadena, it smelled as though a cat-sized (at least) animal had died and was decomposing under the bouganvilla. There had been no poisonous smell the night before. I noticed masses of flies, further confirmation of something quite dead. But they seemed to be clustered on a bit of curious flora rising amid familiar plantings.

Stepping closer, the creepy-looking, slowly unfurling flower was obviously the source of the great stink. Family members were gathered, closer looks taken, disgust registered. Calls to the LA County Arboretum and Huntington Library and Gardens resulted in a diagnosis: a voodoo lily was blooming outside our back door. The house had been in my family, at that time, for more than 20 years and no voodoo lily had ever been seen - or smelled - on the property.

The botanists we consulted said its bulb could have been long dormant, a bird could have carried a seed, none of the above. What they could tell us was that the odor would not persist; the flies would move on. The plant morphed through its normal stages over a period of days, never to appear again as long as we lived there. At the time, it had the aspect of an ill omen. My sometimes spotty memory no longer links its appearance to other unwelcome happenings, yet I am certain it was just one of several unpleasantnesses that carpooled into our lives.

In years since, we have seen television coverage of the blooming of what they call a corpse plant at the Arboretum. Video tape shows lines winding slowly past the potted oddity, interviewees taking pleasure in describing the off-putting fragrance. To think we could have charged admission.

And then there were the hours my father once spent poised with a hoe above a gopher hole, the patient hunter, if only there had been decoy gophers or some instrument to call them. The gophers always won, as did the snails on the mulberry bush, though we managed to outlast the voodoo lily. But never doubt that nature will always come out ahead. After all, it was here first.