I have been posting a lot of my photography and art on Instagram lately. Peony season seems a good time to post some flower photography here for a change.
Photography is something that I do as an artist, yes, but also as a way to meditate on and appreciate overlooked beauty and wonder around us each day. It begins with taking the photos with an open mind, persistence, and patience. Then, through the editing process, I begin to appreciate what is captured on a whole new level. Editing photos is a part of what makes this practice an art for me. Most of all, photography draws me close to nature in a way that goes beyond the moments of being there.
I am not going out with a tripod and big expensive lenses. I am not a studio type photographer. I have always done this in a minimalist way. That is true to who I am and how I approach life. An acquaintance of mine who gets into photography, after looking at my photography, asked what I use. I revealed my little camera, and they were shocked and said it was miraculous that I get the photos I do “with just that”. The difference between me and a studio photographer is that my core is studio artist, not photographer. I want to create art in moments and in contemplation of what is, and what arises afterwards. Most of all, when I go out to photograph, it is therapeutic for my spirit and heart, and I am able to let go and be.
Peonies are a favorite of mine to photograph. Did you know that peonies have been cultivated for over 2,000 years and can live for 100 years or more? Not only are they simply gorgeous in full bloom, they represent the ability to thrive and bloom where you are planted. Once planted, it is not recommended to move a peony plant. They do best in full sun, but some put them in semi-shade to help the gorgeous blooms last just a bit longer. From my observances, they seem to do well with a subtle structure (like a tomato cage type thing) to hold up the plant when the heavy blooms come about. Also, planted in full sun they do, indeed, seem taller and happier than those in part-shade. Without further delay, here are my peony photos from yesterday.
Isn’t just seeing a photo of peonies a real mood booster? Flowers truly are living symbols of beauty, love, and mysteries of life.
If you would like to order a full resolution archival quality print or to buy a digital copy of any of these, please contact me.
I walk the line between environmentalist and artist, fact-checker and mystic, activist and present moment being. I walk the line between critical thinking and faith in things that are unseen. And, the importance of realizing the miraculous within the ordinary and mundane is not lost on me.
With so much to navigate with mindfulness and discipline, I was fortunate to have an amazing art mentor at university who walked those same kind of lines, and who walked with me for a time. He took me under his wing, and helped me to mature as an artist and spiritual-seeking being. The most important things I learned from creating art at university remain relevant and core to my passion to this day. These are my ten biggest lessons about being an artist, which I have whittled down to this summarized little list:
Art requires ongoing content. To create we must have: an ongoing impulse and need to create, ideas and perspective, and dedication to return again and again to blank objects (paper/clay/canvas/found object/etc.) and the various stages in between started and finished. If we don’t have these qualities, we will not be able to be an artist.
Make big mistakes, not a lot of little ones. When a mistake is made in a work of art, that mistake must ultimately be embraced as a part of the process and piece. However, we need to dedicate enough energy and focus to doing our best and maintaining an awareness for most possible issues. This is to prevent a work riddled with so many little mistakes that compromise the purpose and effectiveness of the piece. Lots of little mistakes are much harder to track, fix or redeem. A big mistake is much easier to learn from and integrate into a process. A big mistake most often leads to better and more joyful ways to create and work in the long-term. Embrace the big mistakes: work with them and grow from them.
Stick with the piece you are working on. When we draw or paint, for example, we may end up erasing or changing a lot of what was originally intended. Mistakes, layers, and reworked parts are not reasons to abandon a piece. Keep them. The work and layers may not ultimately be visible, yet keeping them creates a palpable energetic history that lives in the piece, as a work of art. It is also a conservation of materials. Instead of abandoning a “messy” piece for a fresh start, value the process and keep the layers as a living history, whenever possible.
Distance, perspective, and time apart are all important. All the stages involved in creating, honing, and resolving a piece can leave us enmeshed…too close to the work to maintain useful objectivity and purpose. If the piece is not resolving and we begin to dislike what we see, it can become absolutely essential to know when to: get up and stand across the room to look at the piece from a distance off and on, turn it upside down and/or sideways to work with it from those angles, and to put it away and take some time away from it — in order to come back a day, week, month, or a year later — to see it with fresh eyes that are more able to appreciate it, know what it needs, or…that it is done, and it is great.
Pay attention to both positive and negative space. It is not enough for us to observe, notice and draw the object or being in front of us. We must see what isn’t there, energy, and the empty space around that object and being as well. Until we recognize negative space and how it rests and moves around objects and beings, something will be missing from our work. This practice facilitates a more disciplined and objective process for still life drawings and paintings. It is also important to move back and forth and up and down throughout the process, rather than focusing on one small area at a time.
Seek balance in completing tasks and challenges. We may give ourselves a challenge, and work so hard on accomplishing it, that what should be easy and straightforward becomes neglected — of poor quality or effort. Spread the effort and quality to every layer and task. Even if one part is daunting, don’t let it take importance away from the rest of the work. Hold every part of the work as valid and important.
Art is necessary. An artist doesn’t create art in order to sell it. Earning money for art is payment for the result and quality. This is not the motivation for the act and practice of art. Artists create art because they must create art. The artists I most respect are the ones who go about their lives, always creating, with or without opportunities for public attention and sales. Selling and displaying art in galleries is not the point of creating. For us, art is necessary — an innate part of self and being — that takes many forms. Art is also necessary for the non-artist: it is therapeutic, enriching, informative, healing, supportive, challenging, and elicits various emotions and new thoughts.
Be honest and kind. When we praise someone for the art they have created, it needs to be because it genuinely impacts us. Being nice is not the same as being kind or honest. We don’t need nice. We need vision, feedback, and perspective. We cannot grow as artists if we are not able to give and receive constructive criticism. Just make sure the constructive criticism is kind and honest. There is no reason to be brutally honest. We don’t need meanness either. Almost any true statement can be said with compassion. When we don’t know enough about art and creating, or the specific genre and medium, then we need to include that in our feedback. Honesty, real feedback, and kindness are all important.
Set out to make something ugly. We need to challenge ourselves to put intense feelings and energy into making art that is ugly. Not only does this release us from crippling patterns of perfectionism, it also releases us from the restrictions of expectation and conformity. In addition, sometimes in seeking to create something truly ugly, we instead create something intriguing and new. Some of our most beautiful work may be inadvertently created by channeling the energy of anger or grief. While aesthetics, symmetry, and pleasing creations can and do have importance, it can be more important to leave all that at the door, in order to allow our emotions and raw energy to create without restriction. This can lead to hidden doorways of creation: new approaches and techniques.
Consider context and need. This is a broad topic, but I will summarize three main aspects. One, there is always context, meaning, and need to be found as model and inspiration in Nature — no matter what medium or genre we work in. Two, we need to consider how our materials, use, and waste affect our health, collective health, and Nature — and adjust what we are doing, as much as we are able. There may be no ideal solutions, but some choices are better than others. Three, consider saturation level for the topic and genre. Do we really need to create another version of something that has been made over and over for decades or centuries? We must ask ourselves: do I have something different, unique, valuable to say? Is this practice? Is this something bigger? What is the intention? Is there a need for it?
This article is dedicated in loving memory of Peter Fletcher.
It reminds me of what happens when we let go of illusion, yet maintain the magic in life, while also taking responsibility for ourselves. It can be beautiful…in the midst of everything, a rising up, and a rooted stance is taken. And the glow from the resulting blossom inspires, simply by existing.
The blossom opens each day to the world, and closes each night to dream.
Looking out my home office window today, the sun is shining, despite a thin blanket of clouds. Little buds have started on the old lilac bush, and in the distance, above a neighbor’s roof, there are distinct blossoms forming on tall upward tree branches. I peer down at the ground, slightly astonished, despite knowing better, to see the ground again. We had a severe stretch of winter weather that bogged us down well into March. There were, not only mounds of snow, but inches-thick layers of the most unruly, bumpy ice underneath it. It had been impossible to have a decent walk for weeks because of the treacherous ice being everywhere, unmanageable to snow plows even. The melting process from that extended period has resulted in flooding in some areas, and loads of dangerous potholes — more than can be remembered from recent years.
With the slow progression of Spring beginning now, the most heartening days are the ones filled with sunshine, bird song, and enough warmth to facilitate a lengthy walk — either at the lunch-hour, in the evening, or both. Yet, not all is sunshine and warmth…oh well.
Astrologically, the influence of the Pisces season and the Neptunian Mercury retrograde are at a close. How was your mystic, mythic journey this March? Having gone through it now, I would say there have been opportunities for confusion, misunderstanding, illusion, and the possibility of becoming stuck down a proverbial rabbit hole. There were also plenty of possibilities for snags, delays, and untended wounds that want to heal — interrupting and disturbing the already emotionally flooded scene. The trick to the Neptunian-type journey may be to apply the medicine of other perspectives, creativity, and a spirituality that centers — along with the healing detachment of meditating — and critical thinking, as balance. Equally important: to seek and ask for support, help, and wise counsel .
Best case scenario, during the course of March, we took the rose-colored glasses off — or they were taken off for us — and a somewhat painful realization came to light…maybe about how we’ve been fooling and short-changing ourselves in some way. And, how others have been fooling us as well….but not anymore. This opportunity may be coated in emotional pain, and an ebb and flow of confusion. This is partly due to ignoring our own emotional and spiritual needs, perhaps in an attempt to preserve or “save” something that is no longer working. This cycle has been calling for us to move on, and adjust with new wisdom.
It is important that we face our own part in glossing over serious issues (related to loss, self-respect, health, boundaries, responsibility, and inappropriate choices) in a desperate attempt to abate natural, needed change. It is important that we face the painful realization(s), like we may have been betraying or kidding ourselves on some level, and/or allowing others to do so. Once we do, then we can begin to address things more honestly. That will make room for us to process some of the more difficult feelings that accompany new understanding, which we may have been hiding from.
When darker, painful, and less popular emotions emerge, it can be overwhelming. Hopefully we can find expression for them consciously, carefully, and responsibly. It may be good to treat it like an infection that must be cared for daily. Also, it will help to mindfully, gingerly channel the visceral, raw energy of adrenaline, which may be released when facing and feeling the harder emotions.
Constructive, cathartic, and practical activities work best. For me, this often means: cleaning, editing, organizing, writing, drawing, dancing, and/or a bit of exercise. Notice, those are all concrete actions — this is important. A physical aspect needs to be incorporated when channeling formerly exiled and recently emerged emotions.
A Piscean lesson within March’s Mercury retrograde is to remember our boundaries and our lessons learned. Whether this is when we are in service to others, via creative expression and exploration, or with ritual and spirituality — knowing what is us, and what is someone or something else — is super essential to operating day-to-day, and remaining healthy and honest. This awareness of boundaries for health, benefits others, and gives us important information about the nature of the various wounds we may experience and encounter each day, and how to respond to or refrain from responding.
Truly knowing our limits is part of what defines healthy boundaries and allows us to discern at an essential level of reality and experience. This helps us to answer more quickly and accurately: Who does this feeling, thought belong to? What do I need right now? Where is my voice in this? Is this my real need or my wound speaking? Is this fear mine or someone else’s? Is this thought distorted, or accurate? Is this expectation mine or someone else’s? Is this real or an assumption?
I release needless fear and replace it with trust and knowing — with my breath, words, and actions.
I release other people’s needs and judgements and replace it with my true self, honoring my needs, and trusting who I am.
~ CS Sherin, WildClover.org
Lastly, we overrule hasty impulses and stubborn delays by trusting our own inner timing and intuition. That is the compass of trust we need to implement now. Then, we can begin to re-harmonize, uplift, re-balance, spring clean, and re-direct our own path forward — more effectively and truer to self — now that the rose-colored glasses are off, and responsibility for our selves is in motion. Dreaming, creating, and diving into a mythical and/or mystic journey (like March potentially was) can result in concrete, realistic new conclusions that can propel positive actions aimed in a more accurate direction, for each of us.
Since yesterday and through April 4th, the Neptunian thought and emotion waves of lessons decrease. We will arrive, then, in a cycle of concrete action and wiser seeds to be planted. We will need to tend them accordingly, so that they can grow into honest, consistent, and inspired forms of self-expression, action, and being.
By April Fool’s Day, Mercury will be moving forward again. On April 5th, the New Moon is in Aries. This is where the concrete actions, wiser lessons-learned, and the inner wound’s ongoing healing are all seeds planted and to tend come into play.
The energy of Aries on a New Moon translates into the following key words: independence, self-expression, action, childlike enthusiasm, unique way of being, physical activity and exercise, creation, novelty, willpower, fire, and new beginnings.
Two people whom I like to think of, when envisioning Aries energy, are: Jonathan Van Ness and Conan O’Brien. They are both Sun in Aries, and express the Aries energy in dynamic, unique, and entrancing ways. Their individuality and Aries-type expression is far from the possible war-like, aggressive side of Aries and its ruler, Mars.
Of course, most people are not totally representative of their Sun sign, because many other signs collaborate to form a layered and complex personality. I can never recommend limiting anyone to their Sun sign. However, it is helpful to look for certain Sun sign characteristics, in self and others, in order to understand the influence and the dynamics within it for all of us. We all have Aries somewhere in our chart. For me, I have Mars in Aries, so that Aries energy is strong in my life and being, despite it not being via my Sun, Moon or Rising sign. This is something important to keep in mind.
So, with that all in context, both Jonathan and Conan could be considered aggressive in a certain way via enthusiasm and raw willpower, yet it is really a harmless, creative aggression, which is a part of their charm. Both can be blunt, but again, the pure joy of witnessing each of them being so transparently honest in who they are — it comes off as real, funny, and a part of the true-to-life, yet larger-than-life package of who they are as individuals.
Sure, if you don’t have your humor, or if you are feeling a need for rigid control, this type of energy will burn you up, with its free-wheeling wildness, irreverence, dominating interjections, and innocent child-like truth-telling.Both Jonathan and Conan seem to have deep self-awareness and self-knowing. They both appear to be fearless when it comes to being who they are, and acting on it. That can be pure magic, for sure!
This is because they have done the hard work, or it seems they have. This means, they know their weaknesses like: being impulsive, hasty, impatient, pushy, and blunt. And they know how those weaknesses can be wielded as their strengths as well. In order to do that, it has to be faced and made conscious. That is the inner work done. It is ongoing work.
So, JVN and Conan are two great muses for you to ponder and observe this New Moon, and for Aries season. For more Aries Sun-type energy inspiration, you may also want to look to: Emma Watson, Diana Ross, Jackie Chan, Eddie Murphy, and Maya Angelou.
I wrote the narrative below, Give Up, at the end of September in 2014. It is about a dark night I went through that I will never forget. It wasn’t the first hard time I have faced, but it was a pivotal one, different from other times.
It was August 11th, 2014. I experienced a deep depression that washed over me quite suddenly. I was to find out the next day, that it was the same day that Robin Williams died. He was someone who had been a bright light for me in a rough childhood — him and The Muppets. Finding out the next day about his death, I realized I had probably felt a “disturbance in the force,” so to speak, that had affected me. Robin was such a great presence on Earth, dear to many, and missed. I am sure his death was a real energetic part of what I felt that night. But there were personal dynamics at work too.
Before that night, I had already gone through some devastating loss. My oldest sister had died four months earlier, after a long battle with a cancer that had turned quite brutal. A few months before that, our elderly dog had also gotten a brutal cancer, and had to be euthanized suddenly. Simultaneously, I had come to a point in my self-employment where I knew I had to make a change. I had been doing holistic spiritual care for over a decade, and didn’t quite know where I was headed, if I were to stop and change.
The story you are about to read is about facing inevitable change, loss, past traumas revisited, and grief. It is also about the life-giving transformations we are able to experience while in relationship with other beings, for instance, a cat. Reciprocal positive relationship with animals, and other beings, can be profound and important in so many ways, if we are open to it. I recommend being open to it.
Perhaps one of the reasons that humanity finds itself facing so many crises and ongoing-history-repeating-itself serious problems is because, we are not in active, consistent, real relationships with the countless other living beings we share this planet with — not in a way that is ongoing, respectful and more selfless than self-serving.
The trees, plants, aquatic life of all kinds, rocks/crystals, land animals, creatures of the air, and below ground all have knowing of various kinds in their being. An openness to cultivating conscious, caring relationships with any of those — choosing to be present for it — could be the transformative change we need at this time. It is important to note that any committed relationship within or between other species needs to contain: consistent presence, kindness, honesty, consideration, and mutual respect.
The following story is evidence of the deep, long-resonating, lasting rewards that come from: a balance of giving and receiving, helping and receiving help, listening and sharing, asking and telling – true friendship. I have Boris, the valiant cat, to thank for the real presence and wisdom won during that dark, hard night on August 11, 2014:
There is an escalating pressure mounting around and within me tonight. It presses upon me like an ominous darkness of massive storm clouds, which contain a sharp cold front set against the air — stagnant, oppressive heat, humidity and no wind. A violent storm is looming.
Am I wearing rose-colored glasses, not facing reality? Not usually. I do love being practical and realistic, as much as positive and dreamy. Am I the eternal optimist made of ideals? Yes, that is true. There is a tireless, sleepless affinity in me for honesty and ethics…awake in my heart and mind like an atomic clock.
On my bed this day and evening, a powerful depression intrudes, and disrupts my true nature. I cannot continue. I want to give up, for real.
It is painful, blind, anguish.
It feels like that sucker punch in my solar plexus, from the mean boy in 4th grade. I was taken by surprise, robbed of breath and air, with that sudden punch of pain, that dropped me to my knees — sucking tears out of me without permission. He had walked away without a word.
This swell of sadness tonight is too dark, and overwhelms me beyond reason.
Boris, the cat, is by me now. He is the one who always comes running to see how he can help when it sounds, from somewhere in our house, like someone could be hurt, in trouble, or sick. If he were human, he would be a First Responder, a nurse, counselor, and/or healer. I tell him quietly and despondently that I am giving up. At first I am not sure if I mean my life. The darkness was so overwhelming. I ask myself, and feel deeply: No, not my life. My purpose and work — like a spiritual death, it seems. Boris tells me a surprising thing — with his wise eyes and being, Boris says, “Good. Give up.”
Startled into a sudden alert surprised awareness, that breaks the dark spell, I ask, “What?! Why? Don’t you care? You always care. Why don’t you care, Boris?” He answered with nonchalance, “Give up. I gave up once. After I gave up, good people found me, helped me, and then you found me. And now look at me.” He is beaming strength and love, smiling, eyes happy.
Astonished and awakened, I remembered what he meant. I thought of Boris’s story. Boris had been abandoned by a previous family, along a freeway, that had a tall fence separating it from the countryside. When he was found, the shelter workers told us, he was dirty. The kind of dirty, they said, that only happens when a cat gives up. A cat giving up is a starkly tragic thing. Cats take pride in their self-care and stealthy ability to survive. He had been brought low by the trauma of being abandoned and then trapped near a highway, with bad weather/storms, and no food. He suffered PTSD for a while after we adopted him. He needed antidepressants for a few months, to remember what normal feels like, the vet said. And he did, he got better after those 3-4 months of medication. (Actually, his example back then with needing medication for a while, helped me to address my own needs during a health crisis, not long after his.) It took us a few years after adopting Boris, to fully earn his trust and full affection. In his elder years now, after 11 years with us so far, he is well and happy, fully loved and loving. We know he is no younger than 17 and could be as old as 19.
I paused, and took this moment in.
Maybe the thought to give up wasn’t as bad as it felt at first. It is simply hard to let go of work that I have given all my heart and effort to, along with sitting with the layers of grief. I am loyal. I am a hard worker. Yet, I need to let go of some big things, and adjust to a changing reality and changing needs. Boris is right. I looked over at him in awe. The four-legged, hairy, mahogany-red with white, tall, thin, elder fellow is right. I didn’t expect that from you just now, Boris. Thank you!
King Boris, or Chewy Bill, as we sometimes call him, gave me a jolt of understanding that allowed me to release the fear and illusion of failure. Boris helped me to boldly take up courage, and be okay with letting go — even if it feels like dropping off a ledge on a tall building with no net or cushion below. Boris has an intimate, expert knowledge of major endings that are like deaths, and how rebirth is on the other side of it, waiting for us — something much better, and really right. A really wise cat, that Boris. What a gorgeous guide! I scratched his cheeks and massaged his head and chest in thanks. He smiled his open-mouthed smile with twinkling eyes, that reminds my husband of Don Knotts. That makes me chuckle. What I see is a cat who blazes and shimmers, a noble being, who commands his new life with joy — a new life, that found him. He knows — he gained all of it after he had given up.
Back to 2019. What I didn’t know yet, when I wrote that story, was that we would yet have to face the death of our elder cats, first Abigail, and then Boris in the following year. Living with, and processing all that grief, led me to shift and channel it, and the love, into practical, tangible work for healthy sustainable living (toxin-free) via Recipe For A Green Life, which took up nearly three years of my life, from start to finish. It was a big leap, and a big risk. It certainly didn’t pay well. Yet, it is and has been important, honors what and how I love, and speaks of our collective, interrelated, priceless connection to all life in totality.
Boris was such a strong presence in our lives — a magnanimous, extraordinary spirit, even for a cat. He always knew that humans are too often so slow to catch on to what animals know, and try to communicate. He was always persistent, and maddeningly so. I actually gained so much respect for his persistence — it can be an endearing, admirable quality. He never gave up on trying to communicate with us; helping us to understand what he needed or wanted, in quite obvious, when his subtle gestures were missed by us.
Pawing At My Heart
For a time before he died, he kept pawing at my upper chest, like he wanted to climb inside my heart. He did it so often. In my distracted, clueless, human way, I thought it was cute, yet strange that he kept doing it. Then, I found out that he was terminally ill. After a while of processing the two things, I finally understood what he was saying to me. He was saying,
“Keep me in your heart.
Don’t forget me.
I love you.
I will always be there.”
When I finally realized what he was saying, it loosed my tears, along with the enormous love grown through a positive, loving relationship with another being over so many years. It still loosens my tears of love, years later.
I picked him up, hugged and assured him that I finally understood. I told him that I would, always. He never did it again, so I know that he knew the message was received. I am so thankful that I was able to drop my human distractions for long enough to truly hear him before he had to leave us.
We are convinced Boris was a mighty spirit that took on cat form for a time, someone we were lucky to know and love. I could tell many stories about Boris’s ways. Like the Easter morning that he jauntily brought in a baby rabbit for me to cook for the holiday. Or, the nap we took beside each other, and the dream that we had — where he taught me to make healing balls of light (it was hard — he was really good at it). Or, how he always came to everyone’s rescue, never once afraid. And, how he wanted a dog so badly, and how he fell in love with her, when we did finally adopt a dog. And, how he had a soul mate, little Abigail (ginger cat) — and how they had an actual impromptu wedding ceremony in our back yard one Spring.
Yet, for today, what I will say is this: The time, love, and presence of Boris, that strong bright being, lives on and is in my heart always. That alone, gives me courage and the warm action of love for this life — no matter what.C