Ginger Ale

Ginger Alexander
1995 - 2013

Ginger Ale departed for a new adventure on Christmas Eve at 9:20 PM. 

It was my pleasure and privilege to serve him these last 16+ years. He was a joy and comfort and a real trooper... and had a mischievous sense of humor.

Ginger never met a person he didn't want to fully embrace

Although he lived a robust, healthy life of at least 19 years, we will all miss him terribly.

Fare thee well, my boon companion!

Light a Candle

6 x 8 in.
"It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness."
– Chinese proverb
The bridge between matter and spirit

Real magic is alchemy but not necessarily turning base metals into gold. Real magic is all about transformation.

This is the best time of year to ponder transformation. During the longest nights, the seeds of new growth lay hidden in the earth. We may not see them but they're there. Regardless of our scientific knowledge, it does take some faith to believe that the light will return with longer days and another spring and summer.

These festivals of light, Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, Christmas, have been carried on, in one way or another, for eons. I can imagine the ancients putting their full attention on finding sources of light at just this time of year. If there's a record of what time of year Prometheus lit that torch from the sun and brought it down to mankind, I would not be surprised if it were right about now.

The full title from which I lifted the above header comes from one of my favorite books by the architectural visionary, Paolo Soleri.

The bridge between matter and spirit is matter becoming spirit.

This week there's a full moon to boot.

The Full (Cold) Moon peaks today, Tuesday, December 17, at 4:28 A.M. EST.

The Winter Solstice occurs on Saturday, December 21st at 12:11 a.m. EST.

Light a candle. Meditate. Say your prayers and... Celebrate!
"The black moment is the moment when the real message of transformation is going to come. At the darkest moment comes the light."
– Joseph Campbell
"This has been quite a journey! Intense, stimulating, sometimes challenging, but always rewarding.

"Suzanne has helped me understand myself better, accept my limitations, and not be so self-critical. She has showed me how to have fun being creative.

"Suzanne has been very generous with her time, and very supportive and encouraging in all her critiques."

—Rosemary Connolly, Charlottesville, VA
Consider how your light is spent

Life is the First Art

Since I announced my upcoming group coaching program, (starting in late January), I've received a lot of questions as to what it's all about.

The formal description will be announced at the first of the year (unless you're on the waiting list, in which case, you'll receive the description just before year's end.) But, I'll say a few more things about it here.

If you've taken my workshops or studied with me online, you'll know that my teaching is all about solid foundation. Without an underlying systematic structure, most things— buildings, people, creative endeavors, businesses and plant life, for that matter, will fall apart.

In most of my creative endeavors, including program and content creation, I've taken an architectural approach. Behind my poems, lyrics, music, paintings, building, and whatever other projects I've thrown myself into, lurks some architectural sensibility. It's been a life-long through line.

As anyone who's studied with me will tell you, my drawing and watercolor workshops and courses are means to personal transformation. Not everyone wants to draw and watercolor, or is too afraid, or thinks they don't have time, or that they're not good enough.

So, for those who do not opt to work with pencil and brush, (and for former and current students who want to continue on the transformation process in another way), I've designed a different kind of program for transformation.

Life is The First Art takes an architectural approach to building a strong and beautiful foundation for your life. The design will help you clear space in your mind, heart, soul and environment to discern what's really important to you, how you really want to spend your time, eliminate habitual excuses and realize the life that will make you happy. Life is really short. This program will help you create your own foundation now and, in future, when you need it, that foundation will help you stand strong (or get back on your feet again) when you feel as though everything else is falling apart.

My approach to teaching and coaching is systematic, down to earth, intelligent, supportive, encouraging and expansive. The people who sign up for my programs are, in a word, AWESOME. You want to know these people! They're brave and committed and wonderful and kind to one another. I want you to know each other! We do a lot of work and have a lot of laughs.

A good foundation is key to good living, working, playing, building, and any sort of creating. A happy, systematic program, with encouraging guidance and a compassionate support group is a super fun way to rebuild and realign ourselves; to climb out of the straight jacket of old habits and to formulate new disciplines and practice.

Life is the First Art is my new group coaching program launching in late January 2014. If you're on my waiting list, you'll receive advance notice and an invitation. I'm keeping this first group small, so space is very limited!

Put your name on the waiting list now!
Click Here for the course page and sign up!
No obligation, just information and notification.


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So much to do...

Watercolor, 7 x 10
"One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one's work is terribly important."
― Bertrand Russell
So little time...

I forced myself to take last weekend off. What a concept.

Last Wednesday and Thursday, I kept popping at the proverbial seams and wondering why. I didn't have to wonder long. After a couple of over-reactive episodes, it dawned on me that, in trying to rebuild Rome in a day (as it were), I'd become overwhelmed and exhausted. I ordered myself to rest.

I didn't rest completely but took time out for play, socializing, and laying around in bed.

I actually used to call up friends and ask them to give me permission to rest. I wasn't quite that direct but, essentially, that's what those conversations amounted to. They could also be loosely translated as follows: if I quit working (pushing, figuring things out, trying to achieve, hustling) for a day (or a week) won't the world fall apart?

Dear reader, I don't have to tell you the answer to that question! Embarrassingly ridiculous, I know. I can only confess to this in public because I don't do it anymore.

Now, I recognize the signs of fatigue and take my foot off the pedal to coast for a while. I wish I could say that I always catch myself in time but I don't. That has to be okay with me because, as a human being, I am always becoming. There is no there there.

There's only here here and now now!

What saved me last week was remembering my favorite (or most helpful) Thomas Merton quote.
"Anxiety is the mark of spiritual insecurity."
—Thomas Merton
Rest is trust

There are more forces at work than my own little paws spinning my own little hamster wheel. That's what I've learned to remind myself. Regularly.

When I get out of my own way or take a nap or order myself to rest in other ways, problems are solved or disappear and sometimes, miracles happen.

No miracle but today, as I was wondering how I was going to do x amount of tasks in y amount of time, my wireless keyboard gave up the ghost. The only thing I could do (if I wanted to continue working) was to drive to the Apple Store and buy a new one. At some point on the errand, I realized that, by flipping my priorities, I could manage my work load and better my situation.

I didn't take a nap (although I'd have preferred that to the mall), but I provided my head a rest of sorts from the particular problem I didn't know how to solve. I moved my attention away from the issue and a resolution arose.

The point I want to make is that by allowing myself to rest, I am allowing myself to trust. This may be a foreign concept for some of you but I'm guessing (an educated guess) that I'm not alone in this.

The not being alone part? That's critical to resting and trusting, too. It's also another article but I would not have noticed how crispy I was (as in burnt out) last week had it not been for my interaction with others.

It's funny how difficult it is to see in ourselves what is obvious when we look at someone else. That's one of the beauties of working in community. What are those Robbie Burns lines?
"O, wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!"
Until you're experienced and practiced (and sometimes even then), it's the same with drawing and watercolor. It really helps to have a group of others through which to better understand ourselves and see the excellence in our efforts (when we may only find the fault.)

I'll have a new online drawing and watercolor course starting in March of next year but, I'm offering a long awaited coaching course starting after the first of the year. One of the benefits and wonders of my online course is the group dynamic. I'm excited to watch that unfold in my coaching course!
"During periods of relaxation after concentrated intellectual activity, the intuitive mind seems to take over and can produce the sudden clarifying insights which give so much joy and delight."
— Fritjof Capra
Foundation and Community

In addition to rest, there are other elements that help build strength and prevent melt-down (amongst other things.) Eating right, exercising daily, operating in some sort of regular supportive community. Basic, common sense, approaches to living and reminders of universal principals that really work to guarantee a pretty awesome life.

A good foundation is key to good living, working, playing, building, and any sort of creating. A happy, systematic program, with encouraging guidance and a compassionate support group is a super fun way to rebuild and realign ourselves; to climb out of the straight jacket of old habits and to formulate new disciplines and practice.

Life is the First Art is my new group coaching program launching in late January 2014. More about that in the future but I'm launching the program with a small group by invitation.

To put your name on the waiting list, email me and ask me to add your name. No obligation, just information and notification.

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The Key to Forgiveness

Watercolor and pencil paper test on 4 x 6 in

Watercolor is an unforgiving medium

After people tell me that they can't draw a straight line and they realize that I also teach watercolor, that I'm a watercolor artist, there are a small variety of negative reactions. One of those is "Oh, watercolor is such an unforgiving medium!"

I was going to write something this week based on a Marcus Aurelius quote but when I went to retrieve my book to look it up, I ran into an unexpected and unpleasant encounter. That stuck with me.

When I started going through the Meditations, other quotes jumped out at me and I mulled over the encounter and the theme for this week's Stroke & Flow.

The theme of forgiveness seemed in order but that's such a rich topic. One could (not me) write a book about it. I'm sure there are many books already on forgiveness. Yep, just checked Amazon: 9,603 titles.

Just for the record, (and this is for another chapter in the forgiveness book) not taking things (anything) personally, no matter how personal it may seem, is the way to head off the chain reactions that leave us (sometimes literally) dying for forgiveness.
"Reject your sense of injury and the injury itself disappears."
—Marcus Aurelius
There are so many emotional stages to process after getting hooked by some conflict that lead us to the need for forgiveness: insult, hurt, anger, resentment, tension, obsession and so forth.

Finally, I realized that the real key to forgiveness is letting go. Easier said than done. Letting go is not really forgetting (forgive and forget), it's letting go, releasing. In forgiving, in letting go of everything we attach to a perceived harm, we actually release ourselves from the bondage of those nasty, negative thoughts and emotions.

After I finished a big watercolor this afternoon, I thought about how a practiced watercolorist must let go in order to play with the medium. Not a new thought, but in light of this forgiveness theme, arising in a new context.

While learning watercolor (and we're always learning) we go through stages of struggle in lessons and, eventually, in practice. Anyone who has painted with watercolor, at any stage of the game, will tell you that the more you struggle, the worse the outcome. Sure, you have to learn the basics and gain an understanding of the behavior of the medium, develop your own coordination and skill, then you have to practice regularly and over an extended period of time. But at some point, by letting go enough, you begin to understand the medium of watercolor and become friendly with it. Watercolor is not so much unforgiving as misunderstood.

Like watercolor, forgiveness requires us to let go. After all, so much conflict is based on misunderstanding.
"Is one doing me wrong? Let himself look to that; his humours and his actions are his own. As for me, I am only receiving what the World-Nature wills me to receive, and acting as my own nature wills me to at."
― Marcus Aurelius
"Because a thing is difficult for you, do not therefore suppose it to be beyond mortal power. On the contrary, if anything is possible and proper for man to do, assume that it must fall within your own capacity."
—Marcus Aurelius
If you have a difficult time letting go...

Just think about how brief life is. Do you want to spend your hours in anger and resentment? Probably not.

Over the holidays, you'll have plenty of triggers, from the person in the car in front of you, to a family member at the table beside you, to yourself.

Can you see yourself in the other person? Have you ever been the person in the car in front of someone else, next to someone like yourself at the table?

Let it go, especially if you're being hard on yourself. Remember that all the anger and resentment and whatever negativity you feel towards anyone else is not doing them any harm. It's only harming you.

Take a deep breath. As you release your breath, let it go, let it go, let it go. Like most things, letting go is a practice.

I'm going to be practicing this. You're welcome to join me.

On the other hand, don't be a door mat.

Look to yourself for your own truth, be clear on your boundaries, and be kind.
"When an opponent in the gymnasium gashes us with his nails or bruises our head in a collision, we do not protest or take offence, and we do not suspect him ever afterwards of malicious intent. However, we do regard him with a wary eye; not in enmity or suspicion, yet good-temperedly keeping our distance. So let it be, too, at other times in life; let us agree to overlook a great many things in those who are, as it were, our fellow contestants. A simple avoidance, as I have said, is always open to us, without either suspicion or ill-will."
—Marcus Aurelius


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Practice Gratitude

Suzanne McDermott
Watercolor 8 x 8 in.

A Simple Prayer
"Thank you is the best prayer that anyone could say. I say that one a lot. Thank you expresses extreme gratitude, humility, understanding. "
—Alice Walker
Give Thanks Every Day

The Oxford Dictionary definition of the word gratitude is

"the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness."

Readiness to return kindness is a key part of gratitude. Each time we give thanks to someone or for something we express appreciation. One aspect of appreciation involves increase in value. Gratitude raises consciousness and allows expansion. Gratitude can be contagious, we simply have to be willing to expand.
"Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend."
― Melody Beattie
Your 26-Day Gratitude Practice Challenge

Thanksgiving Day comes but once a year.

Thanksgiving is a symbolic day, a reminder to celebrate all that we have to be grateful for. Our harvest.

Thanksgiving also marks our final stretch to the darkest day of the year. Let's brighten each day between now and the winter solstice with an intentional remembrance every day for one thing we have to be grateful for. The winter solstice is exactly 26 days away.

If you play along, on the darkest day, you'll have been practicing brightening each day with this gratitude challenge.

Make a list of 26 things you have to be grateful for right now. It won't be very difficult. You can keep it by your bed or work space to remind you how much you have to appreciate (if you need reminding!)

Don't be shy about sharing your list. It's a way of inspiring someone else.
"At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us."
—Albert Schweitzer


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Dramatically increase your rate of failure

Just do it

I had lofty plans for an issue on impermanence or practice but have shelved those topics for another time. It's Tuesday and time to go to press.

Here's the deal. I moved to Raleigh, North Carolina not quite twelve days ago and much of my work time has been sacrificed to driving around in circles (or miles past destinations), then finding my way around, meeting and greeting, setting up order in new digs, etcetera.

Also, a group of Tibetan monks were visiting down the street, creating and destroying a sacred sand mandala. I've seen two created before but this time took advantage of their proximity to attend both opening and closing ceremonies, stopping by regularly to see progress.

So, this week, I'll just say that I've started a new daily drawing practice blog (an exuberantly humbling experience.) I've had no time to design or develop the blog itself, only to draw and post. But that's the point!

You can visit that blog by clicking on the image above. Follow the blog or subscribe by email. Don't be shy, leave your reply (comments) on the daily posts. Help me get some energy going over there!

PS If you're in the Triangle region of North Carolina, please let me know. If you have friends or family in the area who might like what I offer, please pass this along to them. I'll be offering regional talk/demos, workshops and have set up a unique invitation list for the area.
"Many artists become so afraid of producing artworks of sub-standard quality, that they never produce anything at all. Unless it meets their imagined ideal of what they ought to be able to produce, they procrastinate and make excuses, instead of making art. That avoids the humiliation, but it also ensures that nothing is produced.

"It has been said that we all learn from our mistakes, so the best way to become a success is to drastically increase your rate of failure. I think we should make failure our goal. How liberating is that? We get to make art, knowing from the outset that it is our intention to produce something not quite good enough. For perhaps the first time in our lives, instead of being afraid of making something that isn’t quite perfect, we’re emboldened to go ahead and make something we know, for certain, won’t be."

Creative Ideas for Starving Artists


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10 things to do in the dark

Autumn Field
Watercolor, 8" x 8"

“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.”
― Mary Oliver

Summer is history. Gone are the long days when it felt as though there was all the time in the world. 

It's full on autumn now. Here are a few good things to do while you're adjusting your inner clocks, eyes and schedules to the falling back season.
  1. Imagine (really good things)
  2. Sleep
  3. Look at the stars
  4. Light a candle
  5. Read an enlightening book
  6. Say a prayer of thanks (because you're safe and warm)
  7. Dream
  8. Remember that darkness is temporary
  9. Drink Ginger Tea
  10. Listen to J.S. Bach's Goldberg Variations
Leave a comment below with 10 of your favorite things to do in the dark.

"I imagine that yes is the only living thing."
—E. E. Cummings


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To my fellow swimmers

"Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore."
—Andre Gide
Banish the word struggle

I've been listening to Fully Alive: A Retreat with Pema Chödrön on Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change. A prophecy for our time by the Hopi Elders is woven throughout the talks. The main theme of the retreat is about how to stay in the middle of a fast flowing river (life as we know it now) and not hold onto the shore (out of fear and be torn apart.) One line in the prophecy advises us to "banish the word struggle" from our attitude and vocabulary. The prophecy is addressed "to my fellow swimmers."

A few days ago, I took my last swim in the ocean for a while. There is nothing to hold onto in the water but the force of the wind and current. In fact, you don't hold onto that, you play with it. Wow, if you struggle in the water, all is lost. You really have to trust the water, waves and current to support you while you float or move. As for letting go of the shore, I prefer swimming with some action of natural forces (not that too much action isn't scary.)

I referred to the part about banishing struggle in one of my drawing and watercolor classes last week. If you try too hard to draw or watercolor with a particular outcome in mind, it usually shows. Trying too hard is a form of resistance, struggle. You can't hold onto anything (but the pencil, pen or brush!) while you draw and watercolor. You work with, rather than resist the process of natural forces like seeing, perceiving, remembering, and transforming through the retina, nervous system, breath and muscles of the arms and hands. The best drawings and watercolors look effortless.

Mastery of any creative expression (and life is all creative expression) produces results that often looks effortless no matter how much work is involved.

According to the teachings in this Pema Chödrön retreat, we do not let go of the shore and banish struggle to save ourselves but to be of service. Think about it.

When you let go of struggle, resistance and fear, aren't you more delightful to be around? Don't you help others more easily? Doesn't your light shine more brightly?

For me, the answers are yes, yes, and yes.
“The greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something and tell what it saw in a plain way. To see clearly is poetry, prophecy and religion, all in one."
― John Ruskin


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Read it again

“No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.”
― C.S. Lewis
The local farm stand has a table of used books. Earlier this summer, I spied a couple of paperbacks from my childhood and picked up both of them for $1. One was The Call of the Wild, the other, Rascal. I just finished Rascal and don't mind telling you that I cried near the end.

There's nothing like spotting the cover of a cherished book from childhood in a pile at a yard or book sale. I've spied several favorites over the years, have re-read them and been stunned by the language, imagery, lessons and stories. While slightly intoxicated by the familiar musty smell I realize how much I was formed and influenced by these seemingly innocent works.

One book I did not read as a child is Bambi by Felix Salten. I'm including it in my short list anyway. I found an old hardcover copy of that book while down with the flu in a friend's daughter's room and read it while recovering far from home. Forget Disney.

John Galsworthy wrote the original foreward:
"Bambi is a delicious book. Delicious not only for children but for those who are no longer so fortunate. For delicacy of perception and essential truth I hardly know any story of animals that can stand beside this life study of a forest deer. Felix Salten is a poet. He feels nature deeply, and he loves animals. I do not, as a rule, like the method which places human words in the mouths of dumb creatures, and it is the triumph of this book that, behind the conversation, one feels the real sensations of the creatures who speak. Clear and illuminating, and in places very moving, it is a little masterpiece.

"I read it in galley proof on the way from Paris to Calais, before a channel crossing. As I finished each sheet I handed it to my wife, who read and handed it to my nephew's wife, who read and handed it to my nephew. For three hours the four of us read thus in silent absorption. Those who know what it is to read books in galley proof, and have experienced channel crossings, will realize that few books will stand such a test. Bambi is one of them. I particularly recommend it to sportsmen." —March 16, 1928
I spend a lot of time helping people experience the world pre-verbally. Drawing is more fundamental than reading. But great writing and a good book can transport us like nothing else.

A short list of favorite childhood books I have re-read:

A Light in the ForestConrad Aiken
The Story of My LifeHelen Keller
By the Waters of Babylon (and all the other short stories by)Stephen Vincent Benét
RascalSterling North
BambiFelix Salten
Winnie-the-Pooh + The House at Pooh Corner A. A. Milne
Fahrenheit 451Ray Bradbury

I should mention, of course, that many of the original versions of many books from childhood have exceptional illustrations by exceptional artists like E.H. Shephard (Pooh), John Schoenherr (Rascal), Kurt Wiese (Bambi), to name a few.

Comment below this post to leave your favorite(s) from childhood reading (especially those you've re-read.) Would love you to share them with each other (and me!).
"The aroma of an old book is familiar to every user of a traditional library. A combination of grassy notes with a tang of acids and a hint of vanilla over an underlying mustiness, this unmistakable smell is as much a part of the book as its contents." —Dr. Matija Strlic, University College London
Listen to Aldous Huxley talk about language and read from Helen Keller's autobiography.

"Somewhere it must all be recorded, as insects are captured in amber—that day on the river: transcribed in Brule water, written on the autumn air, safe at least in my memory."
—Sterling North, Rascal


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Honour thy father

"Viva enim mortuorum in memoria vivorum est posita."
"The life of the dead is set on the memory of the living."

My father's birthday was last week. I'm not sure which date because his birth certificate did not reflect his actual birth date. Even my brother and I can't agree on the date we'd celebrate as a family though I defer to his memory because, in this case, it's better. In fact, when my brother and I were speaking last week, he pointed out that our father would have turned 100 this year.

I'll mark my father's centenary with lyrics to a song I wrote for him (but never recorded) and some stuff he used to like.

Long ago, in the mist of almost forgotten family lore, "they" (I guess my father's family) used to say that my father's eyes were as blue as the Lakes of Killarney.

The Lakes of Killarney

In salty air,
on sandy feet,
you pointed out across the waves,

“Somewhere out there Ireland lies
and one day I shall take you there.

"It is the place where we come from.
Out of the marshy timeless mist,
with poems and magic we are kissed.
Our souls forever breathe her airs.

"Our thirst is legend,
for we are Irish.
In dreams we drink the rainbow dry.”

and now I dream in gold
and now I dream in green

If your soul is in repose,
then all Killarney’s lakes must seem
as blue as your eyes,
as blue as heaven.

©1995 Suzanne McDermott/Drexel Road Music (ASCAP/STIM) All Rights Reserved

Some things about my dad

Ed McDermott graduated 3rd in his class, Order of the Coif, from University of Pennsylvania law school in 1932. At 29, he argued a case before the US Supreme Court that's still quoted today.

He was once arrested for bathing without a top at Atlantic City beach.

During WWII, he taught naval officers accounting at Penn.

Before he was married he loved driving convertibles, especially when they were filled with pretty women.

He was a passionate audiophile, brought home the first serious turntable in the neighborhood from some local radio station, subscribed to High Fidelity and built varieties of huge speaker boxes over the years. By the time I was 5, he'd taught me how to drop the diamond stylus needle at the start of LPs and how to carefully retrieve and replace the albums in their sleeves.

Sam Goody helped my father build his early record collection. One day, Sam insisted that my father bring a particular record home for me. That night, Dad handed me a copy of Meet the Beatles and said, "I understand you should listen to this."

He read things like Donald Francis Tovey's Essays in Musical Analysis for fun. On the other hand, he'd skip down the stairs singing "Harrigan" and played infinite variations of "Collegiate" on the piano.

He was a huge fan of Arnold Toynbee, Toscanini (he once caught Toscanini's baton at a live concert), Shakespeare (especially the Cambridge Dover Wilson editions), Q, and new camera equipment (he had a good compositional eye.) He collected first editions of the Cambridge Shakespeare, A Study of History and Modern Library editions. He read stacks of Erle Stanley Gardner and Iain Fleming.(My brother would have to fill you in on his enthusiasm for sports teams because I couildn't have cared less and paid no attention whatsoever.)

An avid health nut, my father jogged, walked everywhere he could and kept things like blackstrap molasses, honeycombs, wheat germ, protein bread and such in the kitchen. As a young man, he rowed single scull on the Schuylkill River. While I was growing up, he swam a mile a day.

My father never spoke down to me, always brought me along for a jog and made sure that my brother and I had swimming lessons as young as possible. He taught me to body surf and always cut me a wide swath of independent space without ever letting me out of his sight.

The only real argument I remember between my parents was when my father wanted me to watch the film of Henry Fielding's Tom Jones with Albert Finney. My mother thought it was too mature. (She won.)

One of my fondest memories was when he took me to see Forbidden Planet and explained afterwards how it was adapted from Shakespeare's The Tempest.

A great dancer, I especially liked standing on his feet while dancing with him as a little girl.

He was an exceptional bridge player though all I saw of that were his blue ballpoint pen markings on the newspaper bridge puzzles he did on the train rides in and out of town.

Every weekday morning, he went to 6 AM Mass at St. John the Evangelist in the city before heading into his office and never said a word about it.

He loved the ocean.
"Let us not burden our remembrances with
A heaviness that’s gone." 
—Wm. Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act V, Scene 1
One of my father's photos from the late 1940's - early 50's


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from my journals
6 October 2013
"Character contributes to beauty. It fortifies a woman as her youth fades. A mode of conduct, a standard of courage, discipline, fortitude, and integrity can do a great deal to make a woman beautiful."
—Jacqueline Bisset

Discipline is a practice.
"Without discipline, there's no life at all."
—Katharine Hepburn
It's been an interesting couple of weeks in my little world. The only thing that has kept me upright and onboard is my personal, daily discipline. I've not been able to follow all of my practices but those that I have been able to follow have kept me from falling down and not getting up again.

I was sitting next to a friend's mother at brunch in early September. Can't remember the details of what prompted her response but she looked at me pointedly and said, "No matter what, don't weaken!"

Whatever your circumstances and specifics may be, we all go through challenging experiences. What keeps any of us on board is our faith, true friends, our daily spiritual and physical practices and willingness to continue, to the best of our abilities.

Walk, draw, paint, do yoga, pray, run, meditate, I don't care what you do but like marriage, whatever you sign up for, remember that it's in sickness and in health and whether you like it or not, do your practice daily to the best of your ability.

Any of my students will tell you that my live workshops are a rush. We cover a lot of ground in a short period of time and, even if you don't finish with a picture you consider worthy of framing, you feel accomplished, fearless. You have a backbone.

It's easy to have someone paint by numbers or splash paint on a canvas for fun and send them off with some finished product. It's not so easy to lay out the underlying principles and elements of a creative form and explain that real accomplishment requires discipline, which requires showing up over and over again no matter how many times you fail or fall down.

My long course, online students will tell you that discipline is de rigeur. Each student must find their way, regardless of personal situations, to meet the work and do it. My online course students show up and learn and do and exchange. I love and admire each of them for doing so. Their work and their relationships are a beautiful thing to watch unfold.

If you're not working on drawing and watercolor and you don't have me as a teacher, life's going to find you anyway. There's no way around it. If you want to accomplish anything, you must practice. If you have to practice anything, you must discipline yourself.

Discipline. It's a good word.
"We must all suffer one of two things: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret or disappointment."
—Jim Rohn
"If I'd had good discipline, I might have gone into music."
—Clint Eastwood
Click here to listen to King Crimson's Discipline.

If forced to pick one most favorite band of all (my life) time, the choice would be easy. King Crimson, second incarnation with Tony Levin, Bill Buford, Adrien Belew and, but ofcourse, Mr. Robert Fripp.

To learn more about how this piece came together, click here.


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Get Out!


Go outside and take a walk!
"If you are seeking creative ideas, go out walking. Angels whisper to a man when he goes for a walk."
—Raymond Inmon
Walk outside. It's easy, free and one of the best things you can do for yourself.

If you're able, get off the beaten track. Leave your cell phone, and camera behind. Look up. Look out. Listen to the birds. Notice where the sun is positioned in the sky.

See how long it takes you to get past your thoughts, out of your own head. How long does it take to really become present in your surroundings?

Let your busy mind fall in synch with ambulating. Notice how good it feels for your lungs to start pumping with your legs and for the oxygen to course through your system.

Doesn't if feel great to look at the real world in all its depth and beauty and not at a backlit computer screen?
"A vigorous five-mile walk will do more good for an unhappy but otherwise healthy adult than all the medicine and psychology in the world."
-Paul Dudley White
How close are you to a path through nature? Is it right outside your door? Do you have to hop in a car and drive? Can you find nature in your immediate and everyday surroundings?

It's there — you just have to start to notice it. The birds are singing, you just have to listen. If you can't hear birds, wonder why and find someplace you can.

Even walking for twenty minutes can change your mood, your well being and point of view. It's true. Shut your computer down and go remind yourself!


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Resisting Change

Almost Harvest

Socrates said it
"The unexamined life is not worth living."
Most people resist drawing so much so that they never put pencil to paper. Even when some people make a commitment to work on drawing, all sorts of resistance comes up. It's difficult to settle down and drawing requires that we settle down and stop the struggle against doing so.

We encounter resistance when we approach all sorts of creative activities, from drawing to starting a business. That's why it's so easy to give up before we start a thing we know we really want to do. It's too hard. What's really difficult is overcoming our resistance.

Change and creative activity demand that we shift gears. I watch resistance to change and creative activity within myself all the time. I usually call it procrastination. I watch resistance in my drawing students. What I know and they have to learn is that once you start to draw, as difficult as the exercise may seem, you step into creative flow and that, in and of itself, is a healing process.

Being present, engaged in creative activity is a cross between walking a tightrope and taking a long deep breath of relief. It's often the engagement, putting pen or pencil to paper, that is the most difficult part until you make it a habit through practice. Resistance never goes away but it can become easier to overcome.

A subliminal reason we resist drawing is that, in the process of looking out and seeing something for the first time, we simultaneously start to look within. Looking within is not always an easy activity. We exit our comfort zone of habit, even though it may take us to a place that is infinitely more satisfying and comfortable.

We're in the season of change right now. Change brings challenge and sometimes hard lessons. But you know what that other old Greek, Heraclitus said,
"The only constant is change."
Everyone has different levels of resistance to different challenges. Often, we're drawn to what we resist the most. It can feel like death to exit our comfort zones but we must let go of habitual patterns to overcome resistance and open ourselves to new possibilities. In order to change, we really have to learn about ourselves.

This is how we grow. That's what life is all about.

I so love the quatrain from the end of the film version of The Fantasicks that I'm transcribing it for you here. It's relevant.
"There is a curious paradox that no one can explain.
Who understands the secret of the reaping of the grain?
Who understands why Spring is born out of Winter's laboring pain,
or why we all must die a bit before we grow again?"
—Tom Jones

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The Balancing Act

Darkness and light

This week marks the Autumnal Equinox. On September 22, the day and night will be of equal length. It's a good time to contemplate balancing the darkness and light within.

As the long days of light give way to longer nights of darkness, summer fades and autumn sweeps everything clean before putting us to bed for the winter.

Autumn brings change and it's beautiful but change brings uncertainty. Uncertainty is scary. These days, uncertainty seems to be the norm. In the news, in recent conversations with friends, from one day to the next, it feels like many of us are surfing major waves of change. Fear goes hand in hand with uncertainty and often directs that fancy footwork required to keep from wiping out. Although wiping out is not necessarily a bad thing, it's trust (the flip side of fear) that really helps keep us steady.

Fear is the darkness and trust is the light. It's good to strike a balance by acknowledging the fear and consciously choosing to trust that the outcome is going to be all right.

In creative pursuits, uncertainty is key. We may think we know what we're creating in advance, but the truth is that (unless we're copying) it's often only after a project is complete that we can see what it was all about. We have to trust the process without allowing fear to keep us from starting in the first place.

Uncertainty is the name of a really good book by Jonathan Fields. It's on the recommended reading list for my online drawing and watercolor course.

from Uncertainty:
Why Uncertainty Matters

"Every quest to create something bold starts with a question, a hunch, or an idea. There are far more unknowns than knowns, and that's the way it needs to be. The only way to know all the answers, all the brushstrokes, words, codes, models, forms, shapes , and data points in advance is to seek to create something that has already been created before. Which means you're no longer creating: you're replicating, turning out work that is derivitative, and that's not what we're here for.

"We are in this game to bring to life art, business, ideas, products, services, companies, and experiences that are signals, not noise—objects and endeavors that in some way add to the experience of business, culture, humanity, and life. That requires us to live with uncertainty and its trusted sidekicks: risk of loss and exposure to judgment. These qualities are signposts, at least in the early stages of any endeavor, that what you're doing is worth the effort. That it matters to you and, one hopes, to others."
—Jonathan Fields
Click here to find out about Jonathan Fields's Good Life Project.


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What are YOU afraid of?


This past week, I've been focusing on Seth Godin's work. I've been following him for years but spent a few days in total immersion. In today's issue, I'm sharing an exercise with which he concluded an interview.

The question was "What's one action that listeners can take right now to help move them forward towards their goal of changing the world?" Here is Seth's answer:
"Write down what you're afraid of.

"Be vulnerable about it. Confront your shame and to be aware of the fact that if you're not finding it difficult to write down, it's probably not what you're afraid of.

"That act leads to you taking responsibility for the next set of choices as opposed to blaming the outside world that is stacked against you because of what you look like, who your parents are, where you were born, how you speak, how old you are, who you know, who you don't know and what cards you were dealt.

"That's all a given, right? But if we take that and put it right next to what are you afraid of, then I think you can chart a course that isn't filled with excuses and deniability. Well of course it didn't work because I have this whole list, which I used to carry around on a piece of paper in the back of my head before I finally got rid of it. This whole list of why it wasn't fair. You say all right that's all a given but given that, I chose to make this, what do you think? And the act of doing that is really, really difficult. No other creature on earth knows how to do it. Most humans are afraid to do it and if you can figure out what part of that process you are afraid of, I think you are going to discover your life changes." —Seth Godin
Even if you don't want to change the world, this is a powerful exercise that I highly recommend. Even if you think you don't want to change the world, you do. Every day in small or large ways, you change the world. (Remember George Bailey in It's A Wonderful Life?)

Irrational Fear

Most people have an irrational fear of drawing. Objectively, it makes no sense. We're talking about making marks on a piece of paper. However, I can only feel compassionate about this because sometimes I share the fear.

In my current workshop teaching space, there's a stuffed Striped Bass on the wall that I use for an exercise. Each time I sit down to draw it with a brush I announce, "I'm afraid." For a number of reasons, it's a challenge, especially with a gang looking over my shoulder. But I draw/paint it anyway. Most of the time it turns out pretty well.

In the case of drawing, we're mostly concerned with fear of failure and fear of being judged.

My experience with teaching and practicing is that when you overcome the fear of drawing, you can overcome fear of many other things in life including fear of failure and of being judged. Overcoming fear does not mean that the fear goes away, it only means that we feel the fear and take action anyway. It's a practice. It's one of the top ten reasons I teach drawing and watercolor.

You don't have to want to be an artist. You only have to have a desire to see what happens when you pick up a pencil to draw, when you play with water and color. It's a way of developing courage.

Do it now

September is the natural get back to group learning time of year.

If you've been waiting, deliberating, thinking that you'll have plenty of time to decide on whether to join my 12 Lesson Fall Online Course in Drawing and Watercolor, now is the time.

Click Here to check out my Fall Online Drawing + Watercolor Course starting on September 12.

As soon as you register, you'll receive your Drawing Primer and be able to start your first lesson right away.

Reminder: This is the last time I am offering in current, one-on-one format.


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One Thing at a Time

Click for video
Loggerhead Sea Turtle Hatchlings off to the sea, one at a time.
“A weakness of all human beings is trying to do too many things at once.”
—Henry Ford

There's no such thing as multi-tasking

The ocean waves do not try to reach shore at the same time.

The leaves on a tree do not try to change color at once.

Each wave, each leaf is a unique manifestation of an unfolding process of living experience. Human beings moving through space and time are also unfolding processes of living experiences.

But the human mind? Especially with gazillions of distractions here in the early 21st century? We are so easily distracted that we miss much of the beautiful unfolding process of life.

I make this claim with confidence because I am one of the most easily distracted people I know. My in-person workshops are quiet also because I teach an intensive amount of information with practical exercises in a short period of time and, if I drop a thread because of distraction, I may never get back to it.

I practice meditation briefly every day but nothing, no meditation I have come across, calms and focuses my attention like drawing or painting. It may not be for everyone but it sure works for me.

In my experience, multitasking is a myth. Trying to multitask can leave you dizzy, drained, overwhelmed. You may be working on several projects simultaneously but you can only take action on one thing or think one thought at a time (no matter how brief that time may be.)

Do one thing at a time. It's a sure way to sanity.
"Two things cannot happen at once; it is impossible. It is easy to imagine that two things are happening at once, because our journey back and forth between the two may be very speedy. But even then we are doing only one thing at a time.

"The idea of mindfulness is to slow down the fickleness of jumping back and forth. We have to realize that we are not extraordinary mental acrobats. We are not all that well trained. And even an extraordinarily well-trained mind could not manage that many things at once--not even two. But because things are very simple and direct, we can focus on, be aware and mindful of, one thing at a time. That one-pointedness, that bare attention, seems to be the basic point."
— Chogyam Trungpa, from "The Four Foundations of Mindfulness Meditation"
I have a long list of reasons why I teach drawing and watercolor. One reason is that the process allows people to quiet their minds and practice focusing on one task at a time. Practicing drawing and watercolor is super mindfulness training.

Wherever you are, you can learn these skills in the quiet of your own home by working with me online.


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