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Archive for March, 2015

The Power of Play

It is a happy talent to know how to play.  Ralph Waldo Emerson

This is the real secret of Life — to be completely engaged in the here and now.  And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.  Alan W. Watts

Fun is fundamental.  Doug Hall

In an ancient language, the ten of us chanted the words to a Buddhist mantra.  Over and over again, as we sat in a circle lit up by the glow of a beeswax candle, we repeated this powerful chant, an intention to focus and come into alignment with our deepest Selves.  And then the hum of our words faded and we settled into an inner space of silence.  It felt delicious to me, this gathering on a Wednesday night a week ago, the time we spent chanting together, and the silent afterglow as we brought this mantra into our own bodies and experience.  There was a honey-dipped sweetness in the air, a calm smile wafting around the candlelit room as we stretched our toes and our fingers and opened our eyes when the meditation part of the evening came to a close.

And then I’m not sure how it happened.  It started out softly enough, people sharing personal anecdotes from this thirty-minute experience, and others nodding in agreement or adding their own snippets or simply enjoying the inner silence.  I’m not sure how the energy rose, but it did, into a bonfire flame of passionate stories, veering us off in an entirely different direction.  It was the topic of “play” that shot up from the groundwork of this intentional chanting and the moments of silent meditation, not restrained grown-up play, but the raucous play of our youth.  And this conversation that brought us back to our childhoods was as delicious and high vibration as the silence had been just minutes before.

For one woman, it was hole-digging that excited her ten-year-old self.  “Each day, for about a month, I would race home from school to the hole I was digging in my backyard, and the neighborhood kids would rush over, too, and we’d dig.  Just dig.  And it was a blast!”  Hole-digging!  She was lit up as she remembered how fun it had been to simply dig a hole on her childhood lawn.  And then I remembered how I too had loved to dig holes when I was a kid, at the beach in the soppy low-tide-perfect-for-sandcastle-sand at the state park beach, and in the gray sticky clay sand of our own beach.  And I remembered how I had loved to splash in mud puddles in the fall and the spring, and how it was the best, the very best, when a thin layer of ice would form on one of these puddles and I was the kid who got there first.  There was nothing more fun than the crackle, the smash of a layer of fine delicate ice.  And during that evening a week ago, there was nothing more fun than the remembering of these fun experiences from our childhoods.

“Kids need to play!” my yoga friend, a retired teacher and media specialist, had said to me earlier that same day.  I agree with this statement.  Kids need to play.  And now I’ll add to it.  We adults need to play too.  It comes easy for the kids.  At least it does for my two-tipping-into-three-year-old grandson Viren.  “Grandma, you be Buzz Lightyear!  I’ll be Woody!” he hollered to me from the top of his neighborhood slide three weeks ago on my last visit to Idaho.  I’ve never seen Toy Story, wasn’t sure who Buzz Lightyear was, but when a grandson is ordering you around, you comply.  “Okay, I’m Buzz!” I responded in a deep B. Lightyear voice.  “Buzz, come slide down the slide!” Woody commanded from the top in a voice as deep as a guy not quite three can muster.  And what’s a grandma to do?!?  A grandma who isn’t quite as good at all this play-area play?!?  Well, I did it!  I climbed up, making sure the contraption was sturdy enough to hold me, and then I took my turn right behind that deep-voiced Woody.  Several times we slid down on our butts, Woody and Buzz, Viren and I, and then we ran through the field, our arms flying like planes in the sky.  Woody wiped out couple of times and Buzz hobbled a bit, but it was high-flying fun for two Toy Story toys, for a play-loving grandson and his willing-to-learn grandma.

Okay, so it might not appeal to you to put on the persona of a Toy Story Toy and slide down a slide. (Although I can tell you that sliding down a slide is up there on my fun chart with ice-on-puddle-crackle-smashing!)  And I confess that I really don’t care what I play when I’m with Viren; it’s the being with him that is the play for me.  Our tastes change.  What we loved at two or ten might not make our hearts dance in our present moment experience, but we can bring the spirit of that fun into whatever we’re doing now.  Chanting with a group is fun for me and going inward and noticing my breath and finding a still place somewhere down there in that body of mine while present with that same group of people also is fun.  I love sinking into that stillness.  It calms me.  I love sharing it with others.  And I love being silly.  I think my authentic self is silly beyond silly; I think my silliness rises from that place of deep stillness.  And that’s what happened at the gathering a week ago Wednesday.  The hole-digging woman and I couldn’t contain it, all this silliness.  In Joy Center’s foyer, as people pulled on boots and slipped into coats, we were laughing so hard, contorting our bodies, and allowing silliness to reign.  It felt sacred.  It felt wonderful.  It felt like being ten again and wise beyond measure and connected to something free and expansive and available in any moment.


Viren and Grandma Helen horsing around: Moscow, Idaho, March 2015

Viren and Grandma Helen horsing around: Moscow, Idaho, March 2015

The Seed of the Idea

This is the time to launch a project, a new relationship, or renew something that has been put aside for a later date.  With your intention and willingness to allow a full cycle to complete itself, that which you desire will manifest.  The seed of that idea is ready to emerge from the darkness of your subconscious into your full awareness.  The next step is  to put into action what is fully required to fully realize the idea.  Steven D. Farmer

I can feel it.  The crows can feel it.  The coyotes howling at the sliver-of-a-moon, they can feel it, too.  The sap is rising, the air is downright balmy at a mid-day forty-five degrees in these northern woods, and you can almost taste the snow that is melting in this season of melting snow.  You don’t have to be a red squirrel to feel squirrely in mid-March when springtime begins its annual release.   It’s a squirrely time of the year — and what do you do with all this squirrely energy?  How do you grab hold of that quivering seed of an idea and call it into focus?  I’ve been pondering these questions this past week since returning home to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula from two trips over the past month, one to New York City to visit my cousin Abby, the milliner, and the other to Idaho to visit my grown sons and their families.

The seeds have been quivering inside of me for sure.  In my nighttime dreams, my belly is round and I am pregnant, ready to give birth, and, in the morning, I wake up filled with momentum, eager to move forward with a book I am planning to write.  There is no denying the eagerness.  It’s there.

Except, in the days after my return from from the last trip, my eagerness found itself stuck in the melting slush.  The structure of the book hadn’t come into focus yet; it was still a blurry image in the developing tray of my psyche, a baby in utero.  And there I was skittering about like the red squirrels with all this springtime energy, asking myself: What is a gal to do when she’s feeling skittery and unfocused and eager beyond eager to move forward?  And some answers did start to rise up.   “Sequester yourself for an hour or so each day in your creativity room and putter with your unfocused project or putter with anything that strikes your fancy,” my inner guidance instructed me.  “And skate-ski on that crusty layer of springtime snow.  You know that makes you feel like you are flying!”  My guidance continued.  “And watch The Voice!” My wise woman was getting downright bossy now.  But what the heck.  It all sounded fun.  I love to putter and I love to ski.  And The Voice, well I had reason to jump on board and join the millions of fans who immerse themselves in this television show that brings to the national stage musicians of amazing talent.  My friends’ son Josh is a contender this spring and I have been a fan of his music for over a decade, and now here he is nurturing his own quivering seeds into fruition as he sings his heart out on a high vibration stage.

So that’s what I’ve been doing.  Even on the busiest days, I’ve been stuffing myself into my creativity room, closing the door, and allowing the inner muse of the moment to guide me.  One day, I found myself cutting and pasting a vision board collage for this new season.  Another, I organized the materials that I have been accumulating for this book project into neat and tidy pockets in a binder.  The next, I wrote two letters, on vibrant and fun cards that I had bought at the Moscow, Idaho Food Co-op the week before.  And then there’s the skiing; that one has been easy.  There is nothing as glorious as skiing in your shirtsleeves as you fly along a corn-snow trail with a balmy wind blowing through your hair.  And it has been fun allowing The Voice’s upbeat breeze to blow through my hair as well.  It is inspiring to witness such musical talent, uplifting to watch the coaches offer positive genuine feedback.  In fact, my inner wise gal was so impressed by coach Pharrell’s wholehearted and sweet approach that she started ordering me around again.  “Google Pharrell,” she commanded.  “You’ll find something worth your while.”  And that’s how I found the his interview with Oprah, the one taped shortly after his forty-first birthday.

My inner voice is no slouch; she knows what she’s talking about — the interview with Pharrell was a gold mine for me.  Oprah spoke about the resounding world-wide success of his award-winning “Happy” song and asked him to share his process for writing it.  And his response was what I needed to hear at that moment.  He wrote nine drafts of the song, thinking it out, trying to make it make sense as part of sound track for the movie Despicable Me Two.  And none of these drafts felt quite right and he found himself struggling and frustrated.  And that’s when he gave up; that’s when he had nothing left in him.  And that’s when the music began to flow, simple and easy.  And that’s when the words came to him, pouring in from this place of nothingness.

Spring arises from winter’s release.  It happens every year.  Without our forcing.  Without our struggling.    The sap rises; the seeds, they crack open and sprout.  And my project?  Well, clarity came to me, last Sunday, while skate-skiing around Blueberry’s Wolverine Trail, on the second lap as I breathed in the scent of balsam and a happiness in the melting-snow air.  I knew the next step.  I knew how to write an introduction.  And later, in the car, on the way home, the form of the book took shape, and then the title came tumbling in and an image for the cover.  Just like that my path was cleared of slush and I was moving forward with focus and momentum.  Just like that spring had sprung and I was breathing it in.


A hint of what is coming our way: Frontyard Crocus taken on recent trip to Moscow, Idaho, March 2015

A hint of what is coming our way: Frontyard Crocus taken on recent trip to Moscow, Idaho, March 2015

The Importance of Being Earnest

(Snail-mail letter from Joy Center mailing for March/April, 2015)

You must give birth to your images.  They are the future waiting to be born.  Rainer Maria Rilke

I have found it, the holy grail.  Actually, it wasn’t me who found it.  It was my cousin Abby, a milliner who has lived in New York City for most of her adult life.  She discovered this golden chalice of information in the archives of New York City’s public library, right in the midst of Manhattan, this letter written by our grandfather in December of 1918.  It’s not like I haven’t seen letters written by him before — I’ve been on a Grandpa quest these past nine months, sifting through and soaking in a wealth of information left to me by my father (Abby’s mother’s twin and Grandpa’s son).  I’ve read published essays about my grandfather and by my grandfather, letters he wrote to his mother and to his sister from London and Paris, letters to art dealers, letters from other artists, and remembrances, too, by his friends and fellow artists after he died in a car accident in 1925.  And I’ve perused through the pile of art that I have inherited.  You see, that’s how I knew Grandpa, as an artist — internationally known during his lifetime and remembered for his etchings, engravings, pen-and-inks, lithographs and watercolors.  And these etchings and watercolors and theater posters adorned our walls when I was a little girl.  And the grandfather who created this art died more than thirty years before my birth when the twins were four.  And to us, his kids and his grandkids, he was more Famous-Artist-Myth than flesh and bone.

And that’s why I’ve been questing, to make Ernest Haskell, my grandfather, real for me.  And he was becoming real to me, this artist grandfather, before cousin Abby, two weeks ago on a Saturday morning while she and I sat in a booth eating breakfast in her Harlem neighborhood IHOP, handed me excerpts that she had copied from a letter she discovered in the public library archives.  During the autumn months of my quest into our family’s own archives, as I read the letters that Grandpa wrote home to his sister from New York and London and Paris, I found myself delighting in his exuberance and his humor and the determination he possessed to learn from the great artist masters during his lengthy period of self-study.  I found myself adventuring alongside him as he sailed the waters of Casco Bay near the salt-water farm that he owned and loved and handed down to us, his ancestors.  I found myself admiring his integrity and his ability to cave out for himself a handcrafted life on his own terms.  And, in late January, my husband Cam and I flew to California for a five-day trip tracing Grandpa’s trail to Sequoia National Park, to the very spot where Grandpa, one hundred-and-one-years ago, etched in copper plates the mighty Sequoias.  And then, we followed his path to the coast, to Big Sur and Monterey where he lived and created art among the windswept cypress.  Yes, his life and his art were already becoming real to me before this trip east to New York two weeks ago, to the city where he spent many of his winters, where he connected with other artists and art dealers and curators of art and the theater people he would immortalize in posters.

So what was it about this letter written by Grandpa in 1918 that made me fall head over heels in love with him?  (And was that what I’d wanted to do all along, not just to make him real, but to like him, to heart-open tears-in-my-eyes love him, not just as artist, but as person?!?)  It was less than a year since his wife had died in the 1918 flu epidemic and he was sole parent to two small children and he was hurting for money and writing to a friend with connections to patrons.  There was a vulnerability in this letter written by my grandfather, now an artist in his forties who had become well-known and acclaimed for the etchings that he had been creating for much of the last decade.  He was telling his friend that he had devoted himself to these etchings created in the tradition of Rembrandt, that he knew he had a gift, that a man’s eyes would only allow him to continue for a limited time, that he thought that fifty more etchings would complete his work in this medium.  He continued to say that he knew that etching wasn’t a popular art form of the time, that it was the era for the modernists, that he could make money doing portraits and oils, but that his heart was in etchings, that it was the gold that he possessed, the talent that was his, the treasure that he must manifest.

That’s when I knew I was in love with my grandfather.  He wasn’t seeking fame and fortune.  He wasn’t following popular trends of the time.  He wasn’t choosing the easy path of creating art that would sell.  He was listening to his own heart, and honoring his talent.  And I’m not sure whether he found the patrons that he was seeking.  I don’t think so.  We have never found evidence to indicate that he did.  But I’ll tell you this — in the next seven years, the years before his accident, he did complete an amazing collection of etchings, etchings that critics have felt are his finest pieces.  He did it!  He did what he had set out to do.  He did it while parenting those two children and marrying again and fathering the twins and living with integrity and guts and humor.  And the last lines of the letter are the ones that make me cry, the lines that bring the whole quest home for me.  He was telling his friend that he was not creating this art for the present moment; he was creating this art for future generations.  And oh my goodness, here I am, nearly one-hundred years later, reading the letter.  I am the future that he was creating for.  We all are.  And to me, it’s not just the art.  Though I’ll tell you, it is a treat to dive deep into these etchings.  It is something else, too.  It also is a treat to dive deep and to discover a mentor, a role model, a friend, someone who can hold your hand and cheer you on as you, too, listen to your own unique and precious callings.  I discovered that Ernest Haskell is indeed earnest, and is such a friend.

The Players Club, Gramercy Park, New York City: February 20, 2015 Ernest Haskell was a member, late 1800's/ early 1900's

The Players Club, Gramercy Park, New York City: February 20, 2015
(Ernest Haskell was a member, late 1800’s/ early 1900’s)

Cousin Abby at Player's Club, New York City: February 20, 2015

Cousin Abby at Player’s Club, New York City: February 20, 2015

Helen in Harlem: February 21, 2015

Helen in Harlem: February 21, 2015

The Puck Building, New York City: February 21, 2015  (Where Ernest Haskell did the printing of his art work)

The Puck Building, New York City: February 21, 2015 (Where Ernest Haskell’s lithographs were printed)

The Student Art League, New York City: February 21, 2015  (Ernest Haskell taught an etching class here during the winter of 1918)

The Student Art League, New York City: February 21, 2015
(Ernest Haskell taught an etching class here during the winter of 1918)

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