Want What You Already Have

Sometimes weeks just aren’t wonderful. Don’t get me wrong…I’m sure wonder is still out there for the discovering, but sometimes I’m just not able to see it. Between a funeral, an unfortunate incident at work, setbacks in getting my book out, and just the general ennui that comes from working everyday and spending way too much time behind the wheel of a car in this city, this week has been decidedly lackluster.

I certainly haven’t had much time to explore the action I suggested this week for creating a space to wonder in. I had grand plans to make a cozy reading nook tailored for comfier family storytimes, as well as filling the shelves in our “office” (a corner of our bedroom) at my son’s level with things he could create with (in contrast with the disorganized and downright dangerous mess that’s there now, from which I am constantly having to distract him). I did get a beanbag from someone on craigslist, which turned out to be ginormous and takes up half our living room instead of being the small son-sized nook cushion I imagined. Besides making our living room look like a college dorm room, it is quite cozy. And Little Man (I should now call him Mr. Busy) and I have been having a great time rearranging the couch cushions into an obstacle course of sorts. He’s not into forts yet, but just wants to climb, climb, climb. Up and down and over and under, simply re-creating our couch has created hours of wonder for him. I bet he couldn’t be more excited if we bought an actual jungle gym.

If it were only that simple for me. I think a huge part of my discontent at the moment is thinking “if only”. If only I didn’t have to work so hard right now, if only I had the amazing dream house one of my clients has, if only I was published, if only I was more put-together/beautiful/organized/talented like some of my friends who seem to have it all figured out, blah blah blah…snap out of it! I am enough. I have all that I need. And more than I’d ever imagined I could have. It is enough. I don’t need a jungle gym, I have couch cushions. Some people don’t even have a couch. None of that really matters. My son would be happy if he just had a stick from the ground to play with. If he didn’t have a stick, he’d still have me. And I would have him. And I won’t forever, as the funeral reminded me.

So, the action I’m challenging myself with the rest of this week, or at least right this minute, is to wonder at all that I already have. Mainly, love in abundance. Hallelujah.

That said, I would love to hear if you have been able to create wondrous spaces this week. Just try not to make me jealous.

This is Mr. Busy hiding in one of our couch cushion/blanket forts while I loudly look for him. I love that he still thinks if he can’t see me, I can’t see him. Even if he’s giggling.

Some wonderful things:

Wonders Out of This World

Beauty is a Rare Thing by Ian Johnson

Activities, Uncategorized

Action #2: Create a Space to Wonder In

Once a week, I will post a suggested activity for creating wonder in your life (mostly to get myself to do it, but I hope you’ll join me). I will include three different participation levels, so lack of time or money will be no excuse. Please share your experiences here to inspire others. Go forth and create wonder!

Create a space to wonder in. While walking the dogs in a huge park in the city the other day, I came across this:

Someone had seen a huge fallen tree and was inspired to gather branches to build an Andy Goldsworthy-esque wall. They used the shape of the dead tree as a dramatic entrance and extended a circular space from it that felt sacred inside. Same woods, same ground, but now it felt hallowed, special, set apart. It was like an invitation to come in and contemplate the beauty of the surroundings from this open air sanctuary, a call to wonder and worship in the woods.

It made me think about the spaces we enter every day and how we don’t notice their specialness, their sacritude (did I just pull a Sarah Palin?), unless something calls our attention to it. May’s comment on last week’s action about our own houses being living museums plays right into this. What could we do to create space for wonder in our own homes, offices, cars, yards, etc.? Here are some ideas:

Ample Time and Money: Build a space dedicated to wonder. Get the kids involved and construct a treehouse in your backyard. Make your car an art piece. Install custom bookshelves to showcase your collection of precious objects and books. What about the pottery/yoga/painting studio you’ve always dreamed of? If I had more space, time and money I would make my dream studio. That goal will have to wait, but there are smaller steps one can take now while they are dreaming big for later.

Limited Resources: Make a teepee in your yard with gathered branches and a tarp or old sheet. Make it comfy and spend the night in it. Cozy up a nook in your living room or bedroom for reading or drawing or wondering of whatever kind you prefer. That could mean sprucing up an old chair to make it special or making room for a desk to put art supplies on so they are accessible. Buy a collection of picture frames and make your hallway a rotating gallery of your work or your child’s drawings or found art. Invite friends over for new exhibits.

Busy and Broke: Sometimes the simplest things can snap you out of your routine and cause you to wonder. Set a collection of meaningful objects on the windowsill in front of your sink where you do the dishes, or in your cubicle at work, or on the dashboard of your car. It could be anything that awes you when you look at it – shells or beach glass gathered on a special trip or a love poem or the fuzzy dice you’ve always wanted. Change them up often so you still see them. When I put my one-year-old’s toys back in the same place every day, he grows bored of them, but if I rearrange things, he notices right away and is attracted to something old just because it’s in a new spot. Keep things fresh for yourself, too. Or for others. What if you put fresh flowers in the bathroom at work? Or draw a circle in the sand at the beach or in chalk on the sidewalk, and wrote “Wonder in here”.

Get out there and create some wonder. Come back and share what you did if you like. Thank you for all who commented on museums they visited last week. Congrats to Tania! I’ve selected her name from the hat to receive a copy of my book. And I am getting closer to having it available for sale. Check back soon!

Activities, People, Places

Getting in the Flow

The creative action I proposed this week was to visit a museum. I thought it was an easy assignment, but when you’re busy and tired, it’s hard to squeeze something in that doesn’t feel like a necessity, isn’t it?  I made myself do it, though, and what I’m realizing more and more is that doing something that feeds me creatively is more “necessary” than most things I routinely put first in my life.

After visiting the Maira Kalman show at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, and looking at the catalog of the Wayne Thiebaud show at the San Jose Museum of Art (because I’d missed the actual show, darn it), I was inspired to paint again. They are two very different artists, but two of my contemporary favorites. Kalman’s paintings were smaller than I’d imagined. Little pieces of paper with wonky objects and people and words, mostly painted in gouache with more than a little whimsy and chaos. Thiebaud’s oil paintings are on large canvases with luscious, thick layers of paint that make you want to dip your finger in and lick it off like frosting. Hers were mainly intended for books and magazines, his for museum and gallery walls, but their work has two things in common that made me want to go home and try it. They both paint objects from the everyday – cakes, gumball machines, flowers, candy, shoes – and they both do it with wild colors.

I have always wanted to be wilder than I am. I am drawn to work by artists that can really go crazy with color. Kalman is clearly influenced by Fauvist painters like Matisse. Les Fauves were “Wild Beasts” with color. Kalman is cuckoo for hot pink and orange and blending colors on the page and leaving the brush strokes visible and uneven. Thiebaud is a little more restrained in his compositions. His perspective actually makes sense. But his color is just as wild. A slice of pie with white frosting on a white dish on a white countertop will have at least a dozen neon colors competing in the shadows. As an art teacher I was always encouraging my students to experiment with color, saying “the sky isn’t just blue, what other colors have you seen in the sky?”, but when it’s my turn, I can’t put hot pink in the sky, either.

I came home the other day, about an hour earlier than usual, my son was still with my in-laws, and I forced myself not to turn on the computer or take a shower or clean the house, but to get out the paints. I would try using gouache on a small piece of paper (totally different than the large acrylic on canvas or walls I usually do). I would paint a simple object, a white one, and try to use far more colors than just white. I saw my son’s Lamby. His lovey. The stuffed toy we’d lugged all the way to Taiwan and back because he can’t sleep without it. I propped him up, and got to painting, letting go of my to do list, and there it was.

I remembered how much I loved to paint.  Since hearing this TED talk, I know the name for what I was feeling: “flow“. There is nothing else like being fully immersed in the task at hand. Time stops, “existence is temporarily suspended”, and I can enjoy just being in the moment swirling colors around and putting them down. The product isn’t that great. It’s a one hour sketch in which you can see I am still tight and cautious with my colors and composition, not as wild as I want to be, but maybe if I let myself play like that more often, I could get there. Or at least enjoy the process, which seems to be the key to happiness. For years now I’ve been operating in a mode where I  spend most of my time doing things that contribute to my family’s bottom line, where the emphasis is on the product, but it has taken much of the joy out of the process. I’m going to try to allow myself more time for this getting lost in wild wonder, making things just to make them, because that positive, energized feeling I get is indeed necessary to a worthwhile life.

I also made time to take my son for a quick visit to the Bay Area Discovery Museum. This is him experiencing flow.

I hope you make some time to create wonder and find your flow this week, whether it’s through painting, dancing, or programming software. We are all wired differently, but we all have something that moves us. Remember, if you post a comment sharing your museum experience by this Sunday night, you’ll be entered into a drawing for a copy of my book.

Activities, Places

Create Wonder Action #1: Visit a Museum

Once a week, I will post a suggested activity for creating wonder in your life. Julia Cameron, creativity inspiration guru, suggests in The Artist’s Way to have a weekly Artist Date, doing something to “fill your well”. I think it’s a good practice to get you out of your routine and feed your soul whether you consider yourself an Artist or not.  I will include three different participation levels, so lack of time or money will be no excuse. Please share your experiences here to inspire others. At the end of the week, I will put all the people’s names who posted their experience in a hat and draw a winner at random to receive a prize. This week it will be a copy of my book, Animal Mashups, before it’s even available to the public. Whee! Go forth and create wonder.

I’m going to start with an easy one. Go visit a museum where the contents amaze you. This may seem obvious, but a museum’s purpose is to cause you to wonder at what’s inside. Some succeed at this better than others. Many people assume museums are boring, but there are all sorts of museums out there, full of things that may interest you. Find one that floats your boat and set aside some time to get lost and marvel for awhile.

Ample Time and Money: Seek out the museum of your dreams and go there. You may not be able to do it this week, but make a goal to do it someday. I have been lucky enough to get to see some of the best art museums in the world on various trips (the Musee d’Orsay, the Louvre, the Uffizi, the Getty, the Met, just to name a few), and they were amazing experiences. But maybe the museum of your dreams is more obscure – a train museum, a wine museum, whatever you are into, I bet there is a collection of the best of the best of it. I just discovered there is a children’s picture book art museum and it is now on my list of places to see. Find what you love and go.

Limited Resources: A trip to your dream museum may be impractical right now, but check out what your local museum has right now. I am lucky to live in San Francisco, where any given week a number of museums will have something interesting going on, including ones geared toward my son like the Zeum, Bay Area Discovery Museum, and Exploratorium. But wherever you find yourself, even in many small towns, there will be a local collection of history, art, or memorabilia of some kind. You don’t even have to plan a whole day. Check it out on your lunch break, or some museums have an evening each week when they stay open late and you can go after work (in SF, the Asian Art Museum, the Academy of Sciences, MOMA and DeYoung all have weekly evening hours, often with live music and drinks). I popped into the Contemporary Jewish Museum last week for an hour and was delighted by the Maira Kalman exhibit. Leave it to Maira to capture the wonder in something as simple as a rubber band. Love her!  I left walking on air and ready to create.

Busy and Broke: Many museums have free days, and sometimes you can find free or discounted passes or memberships. Check out Savvy Source or the San Francisco Library Family Pass. But if you just can’t physically get yourself to a museum, you can explore many collections online. Google searches can get you to museums specializing in all kinds of things from the Titanic to Aviation History to Black Inventors. Obviously, the quality will vary, but some of our country’s top museums have some really neat online tours. Check out the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History (beware, lots of stuffed dead animals in some gruesome scenarios) or the National Gallery of Art (this Hopper one is great).

Please come back and share what you discover (not something you saw once upon a time, please post an experience from this week or very recently). Where did you go? Was it wonder-inducing? Post what you saw by next Sunday, July 25 and I will send a copy of my book to one lucky participant.



For those of you who read this here blog from time to time, you’ll notice some changes, and some even bigger ones over at my website. Between a day job, a one year old, a husband, a dog, a class (learning Chinese again!), and all the accompanying accoutrements of a busy working mom’s life, it’s tough to keep up a blog, not to mention a journal (mine hasn’t been cracked open in months). I’ve decided that rather than be the catch-all place for my random thoughts and experiences, I want to make this the blog that I need to read. The one that reminds me to slow down and enjoy where I am. A place to go to remember how full of wonder this world is, and to encourage me to participate in it creatively.

I hope you’ll come back for the same reasons. My goal is to post twice a week. Wednesday or Thursday, expect an update on what I’ve been working on and what has caused wonder for me the past week. Sunday or Monday, I will be posting suggested activities for creating wonder. The activities are for anyone, but as I am a parent of a small child, they will often include things you can do with kids. If you aren’t a parent, don’t feel shy doing the activities for your inner child who also needs some creativity and wonder in its life. We all do.

Besides having the grand goal of spurring people on to create a more wonderful world, my own personal little way to create wonder is making books that engage readers in the world around them, captivate their imaginations, and encourage active participation in recording their own experiences in story or art. I have a description of my latest book on my website, and it will be available to purchase there very soon.

So, there it is. The big launch of a new phase of this blog. I would love to hear what you think!