Wednesday, April 12, 2017


Quote from Jason Isbell's Song 24 Frames.  He slays with the music.  Click for the video.

I am a person who likes to know all the things
and when in in charge of all the things.
Especially when I'm not sure what is going on
or that the person who has been designated as in charge
has any idea what is going on.

My tendency to be LARGE AND IN CHARGE
has been pointed out to me by many people and organizations.
Usually it is said in a way that seems somehow....complimentary.
I've earned accolades and certifications, 
advanced to the next rung on the ladder and 
been nominated for such and such.
In the past few years though,
I'm starting to think that maybe 
just maybe...
these compliments
were of the backhanded variety.....

I mean...these things sound like their intent is to be positive and affirming:
Wow, you are a bulldog!  I love having you on my team.
Successful people are all at least a little type-A.
You're a planner!
I love how you wrangle people...they're a mess until you show up.
I never have to ask you if you need've always got it covered.
You're my first stop when I need direction.
I'm making a major life decision, tell me what to do.

Don't they?

New art underway.  Not for sale.  Ever.  Probably.

The first time my therapist suggested that I might
just might
 have a theme of control
winding through my life,
I did the most logical thing.
I paused
for a teeny breath of time,
nodded emphatically (so she'd know I heard her)
 and said
Then I picked right back up talking
about the thing that I really wanted
 to focus on
which was some manner of

I did this 
or something very close to this
at least 6 more times.
She would bring up this theme of control
(lack of it, need for it, belief that I could have it)
I would deflect.
I would make noises of acceptance
without actually hearing her out,
without actually letting her words 
sink into my brain and heart.
I pretended to hear her wisdom
so that she would let me remain in my preferred habitat.
The one that I created for myself
that does not actually resemble real life.
It's a safe little place.
A little prison bunk.
Where I am either
In control or at the very least
safe (controlled).

For over a year, she gently nudged
and redirected me towards this topic.
Eventually I thought....why does she keep doing that?
Kind of like your friend who brings up that failed relationship
from THIRD grade
or your brother who wants to discuss the ears 
you ate off his Easter bunny in 1989.
I mean...we talked about this
so could you just move on already?

It finally occurred to me that maybe 
just maybe
there was something here that needed examination.
In spite of my assertions that there is nothing to see here....
maybe she sees something different.

Since she's someone I trust 
to lead me towards things that are good for me
and away from things that might not be
I decided to sit down with this little nugget
and see if that's a strategy or a story that rings true
when I look at the way my life is structured.

As I examine my approach to life
I realize that 
I have been circumventing
twisting away
and just generally dismissing
control as a theme
because I see so many people 
who have it as a double bold dark black sharpie line 
of control running through their lives.
I like to think mine is more like 
a skinny pen line
in a cute color.
I tell myself that 
I don't have issues with control because
I'm not like (insert crazier than me person here).
I also tell myself that the amount of focus I maintain
on keeping all the things going
is in fact...the exact amount of control
necessary to do this thing
called life.
(can you even hear this bull?  Does it feel familiar?)

The tricky nature of comparison is that
I can always find someone 
who is more (or less) of that thing
that doesn't serve
than I am.
I can use comparison to rationalize 
why I get to keep that thing 
that doesn't serve
and you should give it up.

It turns out that I can see the theme of control
running through my life like a 
I was going to say river
but in actuality,
 it's more like an 
underground subway system.
Lots of levers and exits.
Clear ways to get from here to there.
Relatively safe and clean.

I just might enjoy the facade that I have the ability to change or influence my life more than I enjoy living my life without expectation or a schedule or a grand design.

It is possible that 
I feel more comfortable with being ALIVE
and the messiness that comes from being ALIVE
when I can pretend that life is not in fact messy at all
because I think I know all the things.

Recent message from God outside Artist and Craftsmen in Charleston SC.  I hear ya....

I am often terrified of how little control
I have over my life.
So to feel more powerful
I create
 and rules.
I follow my own 
or recipe
so that I get to the RIGHT place.

What's the right place?  

It's the place where I know the ending.

Is that place a garden of delight
or is that place a prison?
How will I know if I only ever wind up
in that same place?
If I've decided that the only place 
that is acceptable to be is San Quentin
then even an all expense paid trip to the Caribbean
is going to feel like failure.

No pressure right?
I think she's right.
This need to control things is a theme.
Acceptance is important
so I'll probably just try and sit
in this place over a period of time.

I don't like to feel powerless
or out of sorts.
I still want to know all the things.
It's a thing that I have to breathe through
on the mat, in the arena, in the now.

I can't skip ahead to the conclusion.
I can't know the conflicts or the arc of the story.
I can't even really know the cast.
They come and go...
I cannot determine much....
But I can 



That is in fact...all that I can do.

Spring is here.  Proof that God loves me.

Monday, April 03, 2017


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You remember the GOLDEN RULE right?

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Basically, treat people the way you want to be treated.
Seems like good advice-but is it?
I'm not saying it's not useful.
I'm saying that it's not the whole story.
Or maybe I'm saying that it's Step 1 in learning to love your neighbor.
It's a place to start...
It's how we teach empathy to those insane little narcissists
also known as toddlers.

Now Timmy...would you like it if Johnny did that to you?
How would you feel if he pushed you down and took your toy?
Terrible right?
Now say sorry and give it back.

We've all had this lesson.
Most of us over the age of ten have also given this lesson.
It is a lesson that we all need.

I'm just trying to say...maybe...
just maybe.... 
it's not the final word on how to treat others.

Problem is...the Golden Rule assumes that everyone else is just like you.

That what feels good to you will also feel good to everyone else.

Unfinished Art by me

Any basic survey on any topic
will show you the fallacy in that assumption.
We are all special and unique.
We have different preferences and experiences.
We cannot know what someone else wants...
and it is erroneous to believe that what I want is what you want.
And yet...we're taught from a young age
that when faced with the 'other'
we are supposed to do unto them
what we want done to us.

For many of us...this can be somewhat triggering.
Let's move onto something that should be less triggering....
let's talk about talking.

I've come to understand that I approach almost everything
 from the viewpoint of 
either a writer or a scientist.
I'm a science writer!
errr...actually, I'm definitely not that.
But I am a writer who was trained in scientific approaches.
I am often
trying to fit most communication into a story arc.
Main characters, conflict, resolution.
Hypothesis, data, conclusion.

If it's not clear to me at the outset of the communication
what the conflict or hypothesis is....then my brain
will spend a lot of energy trying to figure out
the problem so that it can start structuring
the resolution or achieving the conclusion.
I will start trying to gather 
This usually involves me asking questions
determining all the ins and outs-
-the knowns-
getting them out and on the table.
I like to dump all the data out
and categorize everything
(even things that defy categorization).
Swim around in it.
Question and analyze.
So that I can fit it into my preferred framework
which most often results in 

I'm exaggerating a little bit
but not much
and only to show how much I really really like this structure.
My point is....
this brings ME comfort.
This method has been successful for ME.
It is a positive pattern of resolution for ME.
When I can put something into a story arc
or science project it to conclusion
then I will have happy thoughts.
Like eating chocolate or hearing Hallelujahs sung in three part harmony.

Find this delight at Chet Miller

And here is where the Golden Rule lets me down.

Just because something is my comfort zone should not imply that it is comfortable for anyone else.

What is right for me is not necessarily right for anyone else.

There is in fact...
no absolute correlation between what works for me
and what might work for someone else.

Although I like to attack problems this way
you might prefer other solutions.
Or no solution.
Or to just eat cheesecake.
Surrounded by 3 of your best friends.

The Golden Rule tells me that you will like it.
So if I'm not aware of my bias
 I am likely to beat you over the head my preferred communication style.
I might have trouble understanding
why this is NOT comforting for you because it's so delightful for me.

So what is a good friend to do?

You should treat others the way they want to be treated.

And keep your own preferences out of it.

Apparently the idea that you should 
treat others the way they want to be treated
is called the Platinum Rule.
I thought I came to this conclusion (including the name) uniquely and on my own.
I used the google looking for an image idea and...
apparently this has been around for a while.
These guys even wrote a book about it.
I should use the google more often.
And be less arrogant and smug about my intelligence.

All I can say is....I'm super glad I made it to this next rule so I can travel another road
instead of the one that I've been on for a while now. 
Maybe there's another rule and I'll make it there eventually too.

You know you're singing it now.... did I figure out that my way is not the only way?
Funny you should ask....I can mostly thank this one special friend.
I call this friend Rose 
(even though he is male, believe me, the nickname works).

Because of my love and admiration for Rose 
I have been able to learn something entirely new and different.

Namely....that my way is not the only way.

Or even the right way.

We have decades of friendship and inter-connectedness.
There is no disputing that we love, admire and respect each other.
And yet.....
we are so different when it comes to
 communication style that we might be different species.
He very often leads me down a long winding road when he talks to me.

St. Olaf stories seem simplistic compared to some of our conversations.

Here's an example of an interchange I might have with Rose:

Rose:  What did you eat for lunch?
Me:  I ate nachos with extra guacamole and spicy salsa at that little place I love.  
What did you eat?

Rose:   I was thinking about going to eat BBQ but then my other friend wanted to go.
Do you know my friend Cal?  
Well, Cal wanted to go to...he told me last week that he'd might be
free so I texted him and he was free!
As we were walking out the door though, we ran into Ricky and Bobby.
You remember Ricky and Bobby right?
I met them a while back at that conference remember?
I told you about them right?

Ricky is tall and has 3 kids and works in IT.
Bobby is blond and he goes fishing a lot on his boat.
Anyway, it turns out that Ricky knows Bobby and they were doing some 
work in the building beside ours today.
Ricky has a new car, an SUV that's green with a third row.
He wanted to drive so we all piled into his car.
Not the new one, he actually drove his wife's car today.
He just wanted to drive because he gets 
car sick if he doesn't so we said ok.
He really likes jazz and we started talking about concerts and music we like.
Turns out Cal just went to a concert last week in Chapel Hill by 
that band that you remember the one I'm talking about?
I can't remember that band's name but I think it started with a P.
No...maybe a number?
Anyway...we were laughing and having a great time.
When we got to the restaurant, the restaurant  was packed.
We ordered our food but there was no where to sit.
We were going to have to split up until we realized 
there was another group there that we all knew too!
I ate at a table with Ricky
Cal and Bobby sat with the other group.
Lunch was pretty awesome.

there will be a long pause here.....

Me: So what did you eat for lunch?
Rose:   Oh, I had chicken fried rice.  Didn't I say that already?

Sweet Jesus.This kind of communication is very very challenging for me.

There is no way to speed this story up
or get to the point
without derailing the whole story
and leaving poor Rose feeling frustrated and unappreciated.
He is working so hard to paint the scene for me
and include me in his experience.
This is exactly how he has been successful in the past.
This...this is his comfort zone.
This feels right and good to him.
This is what he would want me to do for him.

Now...don't get me wrong.
All this information is useful.
It just doesn't answer the question that was asked.
It does not solve the problem!
So...I have spent several minutes
and lots of energy trying to figure out where this winding path is going.
And listening for the answer to my question
instead of enjoying the ride
that gives me insight into a special time 
that my friend had.

As an experiment
I've recently committed to Rose and myself
that I will just hear him out.
When he gets going
unless there is an emergency situation
I will let him go.
Until he is done.
I will not rush him or prod him.
I will not ask him 5,987 questions for clarity.

Why is the simple always SO HARD?

I have done this effectively 3 times to date.
I have persevered.
I have breathed deeply.
I have stopped the words from coming out of my mouth.
 I have just observed.
I have engaged the platinum rule
and tried to do unto him as he would like done unto him.
I have treated him the way he would treat him.

I listened.
I heard him out.
I did not pepper him with questions
or throw off the rhythm of his telling
by inserting my solutions to perceived problems.

And you know what?
It is kind of beautiful.
I might never get a direct answer to what he ate for lunch.
But I will get the color and view into his heart and mind.
Which is the answer to most questions anyway.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Joint Efforts

Detail of box drawing...look at that fig tree on the right.  Can you see it?
Being creative is an interesting process.
It has taken a long time for me to see and accept

that creativity is an essential part of 

living as a human.

Creating connects me with the Creator.

Creating opens my heart and lets in the light.
Creating is hard, sweat-inducing work
that leads me down a path with no discernible
light at the end.
I don't know were I'm going when I'm creating.
I just know there will be something new if I go down the path.

I went about 2 decades without being creative.
I told myself that I was too busy
but I realize now that
 I was unable and unwilling to be vulnerable
to the possibility of what could be.

there's a crucial thing that I understand now
that I didn't really get then....
I can't create if I can't be vulnerable.
To try and create without vulnerability is
just manufacturing or treading water.
Creation requires me to open up
to accept the possibility...
the inevitability...
that I will
break open
to bring something new into being.

detail of box planting....tomatoes and basil and eggplants and beans....

In the past few years
my creativity has returned.
At first it was fits and starts.
Some days it is a tidal wave or a tsunami of ideas, acts and attempts.
Some days it's a steady hum in the back of my mind.
I have invited it to live with me
and it comes and goes as it pleases.

Most of my creative outlets are for myself.
I sell some of them locally or online.
I give some of them as gifts.
I like best the creative outputs that I can use 
and incorporate into my day.
Whether it's a painting or a piece of jewelry or
even a meal.
It's part of who I am-a creator.
Just like all humans.

So pretty...Pad Thai I made recently for my growing (and starving son)

I've always been good at creating with plants.
You can see on this blog the posts where I'm comfortable sharing
or teaching about how to have a palette
using plant material.
Until recently...
I've never really tried to create an idea
or an outline for someone 
else to implement.
All of my creations with plants
were for me.
My plans and ideas
were mostly in my head.
The loudest critics
and opinions
were mine and (usually) mine alone.
Recently I've let my spouse into the creative space
when we're creating gardens.
That was hard.
The results of hard work were the church gardens 
that we've worked on and grown over the past year.
(You can read more about them here here and here).
The results of that collaboration were also...
A completely successful collaboration!
Who knew?
It was a new experience for me for sure.
Welcome Bed at House of Hope in the dead of winter is lifting pansy at a time.

Last summer ...a  gardening friend from our church
asked me to visualize a garden
for a hard to use space.

The space is between a parking lot and a private fence.
It is hot and muggy...
it was covered with weeds and some scraggly nandina.
My friend is an excellent gardener-she grows things all the time.
She works with our Simple Gifts Garden
and thought this might be a place to add additional 
vegetable growing potential.
But she wasn't quite sure what to do or how  to use the space best..
so she asked me.
I was so honored and excited.

My initial thoughts were...absolutely!
I know exactly what to do!

And then....
I got nervous.
Because she might not like what I suggested.
Because she might not implement it like I wanted.
Because it might not be good enough.
Because everyone is going to see it.
Because it could be a lot of work.

Expectation is the killer of creativity.

It chokes out beauty like weeds choke out flowers.
I had to sit with that for a good long time.
And then I had to get over myself.

So that I could put down on paper what was calling to me to be created.

I suggested boxes that are raised up 
so they wouldn't get run over by cars
or walked on by unsuspecting church goers.
I suggested trellises to maximize the space.
I suggested some base plantings to anchor the boxes and clear up the scraggly.
I drew a visual and suggesting vegetable rotations...
It didn't really take very long once I got to it.
Just a quick sketch and some coloring.

High level overview with a side view visual of the boxes...

And then I did the hardest thing.

I gave it away.

I very intentionally gave it to her
to do what she wanted 
with zero expectation.
It wasn't mine.
It never had been.
It was a piece of a train for someone else to hook onto.
Like all is
For us ALL.
Very rarely after art is done
is it for just one person.
I'm starting to know this. was hard.
Even though I didn't have time for one more garden.
Even though the building and overseeing of the garden
 would be intense and expensive.
It still felt like MINE.
And I knew it needed to be freed.
I released it.

Not surprisingly...when I did the hardest thing
something magical happened.
Someone else (or in this case several someone's)
could pick up the idea
and make it better.
That little idea
 serves so much more thoroughly now
more than it could have locked away in my sketch pad....
inside my little, tightly controlled sphere of influence.


An eagle scout took the project
and moved it forward.
He raised the money to build the boxes.
You can read about it here.
His troop spent a whole day putting them in.
They improved on the design
and built such beautiful
sturdy structures.

I could not have done this.

Not by myself.
Not with my friends.
Or family.
The work needed to be done here is too big.
Bigger than me.
Bigger than my ideas.
Little seeds need care and watering.
They need all the drops of rain and nutrition they get along the way.
I was a raindrop.
I did my part....and look what happens when we 
show up and do our part?
And then we let go so someone else can do their part?

Spinach and onions popping up

This just confirms for me
that creativity is part of how we connect.
To ourselves.
To each other.
I believe that I have a part to play
and it is an important part.
That I have gifts that are to be of service
but they are also needed in conjunction with other
gifts to evolve the idea
into the creation.
and cherished...
just like everyone else.