You, Alchemist, Springs to New Life

You, Alchemist

Punky Phil says it’s time for Spring.

Hallelujah and pass the tissues (she says, amid her waning cold sniffles)!

Let’s second that hallelujah and offer a third: Chinese New Year begins tomorrow, February 5th.

Here’s a fourth and final shout‐out: in the skies, it’s New Moon time. Clean slate time, akin to another January 1st here in the West. Astronomy reeks woo‐woo but there’s truth to be found in concepts that last a thousand‐plus years.

This particular New Moon comes amidst Imbolc season (as Ellen referenced last week). In Old Irish, Imbolc means “in the belly.” What sits in the belly but seeds awaiting birth? Be they human babies, words, dreams, or simply ideas, they’re all ready to spring to life. Pun intended, by the way.

Imbolc’s arrival says we’re halfway to Spring.

All these gifts: darkness to light, old to new, cold to warm, winter to spring. I accept them all. After 34 days of virus, shadows, and puny days, I’m opening the presents.

First is this painting, discovered on a road trip to Kay Kemp’s art studio in the Houston Heights. “You, Alchemist” speaks of the season, my life, and magic.

“You, Alchemist,” copyright, Kay Kemp.

A refresher first (one I, too, needed): alchemy was the first version of chemistry as long‐ago scientists used base metals in attempts to make gold. Others did the same, seeking immortality.

Sadly, we lost the real meaning of the word alchemy: to transform matter. This painting explains how it’s done, beginning with nine symbolic interpretations:

  • Powerful female figure—Goddess? Angel? Everywoman?
  • Circle of Life—embracing both hot and cold, passion and calm
  • Baby Leaf—gestating in protected circle of mother arms; centered in worlds visible, invisible
  • Hands—touching fingers protect while preparing, guiding new life into being
  • Skyward Leaves—supporting life‐forms, past, present, future; self, other, all
  • Seasons—traveling full circle, clockwise from upper left, in the life of a single year: spring, summer, fall, and winter
  • Colors—personalized (with no prior knowledge by the artist) with the six colors of my novel’s primary characters. And, yes, I color‐code my characters; doesn’t every writer? 
  • Roots—running deep, extending skyward, grounding image in strength, focus and purpose
  • Wings—powering the female as she lives, births; upholding new and old; angels or Self?

What more powerful connection can there be to reinforce our current Imbolc season? Seeds of new life growing within as the next season prepares for birth. Or is it something totally different.

C’est le vie. Gertrude Stein—born 145 years ago—offers cover: “If you knew it all, it would not be creation, but dictation.”

We live in a world and culture that demands we accept dictation. In other words, practice conformity.

Creativity scares many people. Why? It’s what we live, breathe, and consume every hour of every day. It’s what we see the world around us. In paintings. In blog posts.

Let’s bury all lives of dictation.

Let’s start over on this New Moon, tomorrow’s Chinese New Year, this birthing month of February. Let’s live as we are, supported, gestating, grounded, and take flight, creating what’s inside, ready to be born.

As a wise someone said once, let’s start living the lives awaiting our ‘yes!’

Groundhog Day.….Again!

Groundhog Day! One of the first early signs that we may have survived another Winter and Spring may just be around the corner? Such an odd custom. Depending on a groundhog to determine our future for the next six weeks. Just what exactly makes rodents so smart? How does such a custom come about?

In this country we need to look to the Dutch and German settlers. Back in the “old country” hedgehogs were used to predict weather. Apparently hedgehogs weren’t readily available for the settlers here, so they switched hedgehogs for groundhogs. Rodents are interchangeable? Who knew?

Is this really all about weather and agriculture? Or is this some Jungian tale of how we react when we see our shadow selves? What a fascinating tangent; however, it is a topic much larger than this blog will allow. Back to Groundhog Day…

Hollywood made a movie called Groundhog Day where the day kept repeating itself over and over until Bill Murray could figure out that Andie MacDowell was a catch. I would send you to Google to check this out, but I am guessing this movie will be showing on television several times this weekend. Just check the listings.

Of course if you keep going back in time, you will find that Groundhog Day was celebrated by the Pagans as Imbolc. It was one of the first rites of Spring. A re‐dedication to life and trust that soon plants would grow and that all of life would be renewed for another year. Then the Catholics came up with Candlemas. Again a celebration of re‐dedication to their faith.

However you slice up the cultural pie, this is a time when people look to the future. Even if you New Year resolutions have all fallen by the wayside, there is still hope for you to believe in the future and yourself.

As if in preparation, much of the country endured the Polar Vortex this week. Not only did the US Post Office not deliver, but there were even some bars in the Midwest that had to close, because the beer trucks couldn’t deliver. Talk about your weather emergencies!

Here in Houston, I spent some quality time on the road at the Houston Arboretum.

If you haven’t visited the Arboretum in a while, it has really changed. They are making some big changes as a result of the lasting effects of Hurricane Ike in 2008 and the Summer Drought of 2011. They are adding more ponds and walking paths. There is even a second entrance on the feeder road to the 610 Loop. So many paths to take. So much exploring to be done. If you haven’t visited here in a while, it is definitely worth an afternoon of strolling around to discover all that is new.

While I may not be ready for winter to be over, apparently Nature has other ideas. I even saw some of the early Texas wildflowers at the Arboretum. Can the bluebonnets be far behind?

In honor of this weekend of re‐dedication, new life, and the hopes of Spring, I re‐dedicate myself to writing and art. Writing projects continue even as I think up new ones.

Also, I have started another Art History class at the Glassell School of Art. We will talk in depth about lines, shapes, spaces, time and motion. We are even going to delve into the principles of design. I can’t wait!

I hope everyone has a great weekend! I will be practicing all kinds of creativity.

Until next time.….

Lava on the Road, Story on the Page

Only weeks ago, I resolved to find magic in this New Year. It landed last night, courtesy of an unexpected gift.

The weekend crisis du jour sent DH and I on the road. A new lamp shade beckoned.

We arrived home with that and a bonus: a Lava Lamp for my writing studio.

In the store, the colorful box screamed, “All this color! You know you want me!” Curious, is it not, that all the box’s colors match my novel characters? Can you identify the six shades?

Looming larger, this toy offers a different kind of road trip—straight down memory lane. But in my 70’s teen days, I never owned a Lava Lamp.

Having one up‐close, I’ve realized a Lava lamp is essentially an electric candle, sans wick, parked inside a glass bottle. It works when a glob of bottled wax gets heated, rises then dances inside glass under illuminated by a tiny light bulb.

Lava Embryo With Legs speaks of new life, new creation, new start. And unable to stand.

This mutant look compliments reality. Nothing’s ever perfect as it’s born.

All applicable for what’s been an ongoing funky new year. Maybe now as we begin week number five, it’s full‐on reboot time? Isn’t that what last week’s Full Moon with a Wolf SuperBlood twist teased? Saying goodbye to the past and moving forward with gusto, finally free?

An hour after plug‐in, Lava Embryo With Legs grows up, sprouting a semi‐carpet of background grass.

Technically, my inner feminist says this should be Lava Woman. I squinted to identify relevant body parts.

It becames that: It. Or SkullScoliosisRump. Alien doesn’t fit because this image resembles no creature I’ve seen in the best (and worst) sci‐fi flicks.

Still, it’s perfect, mimicking change with scary precision. Is change ever easy to figure out?

Two hours in, an entire new world arises: Lava Universe?

This unfolding lava world reminds me of watching last week’s eclipse. Shadows and colors changing on the moon as a memorable lunar evening reveals itself. We changed, too, watching, absorbing.

As I unplugged Lava Lamp three hours later (and DH already in bed), the meaning of the night roared in.

We writers do all this as we pen the stories that call us to the page (or the computer).

Like solid wax in a cold lava lamp, Story remains static, unborn, unchanging. But give Story enough heat, time, and attention, and it rises to new life, changing shape, spawning tales, and building the form that was always inside. Waiting.

More than a half century ago, Michelangelo wrote: “The greatest artist has no conception which a single block of white marble does not potentially contain within its mass but only a hand obedient to the mind can penetrate to this image.” 

Substitute a few words and you’ll find a writer’s truth: “The greatest writer has no conception which a single page* does not potentially contain within its mass but only a hand obedient to the mind can penetrate to this image.”

We’re not working alone.

The Story is already inside us, awaiting heat, time, attention.

Like a lowly little lava lamp.

*Substitute computer screen, piece of paper, notebook, etc.

*NOTE: The Michelangelo quote is verbatim from 1501, thus verbiage rings/reads somewhat stiff and awkward to 21st century ears/eyes.

3 Days, 3 Roads, 3 Adventures

Tuesday. Drove to Hermann Park with Dear Friend (DF). We wanted to spend some time outside on a beautiful cool day with art, squirrels and ducks. This particular park is a wonderful place to go for a walk. There are concrete paths, gravel paths, and lots of grass to walk on. There are also many trees, benches and picnic tables. DF and I walked and sat and walked and sat some more. We absorbed as much of the park as we could and committed it to memory. I took pictures with a real camera (as opposed to the camera on my phone).

This particular sculpture was a topic of discussion last year when I took the Women In Art class at the Glassell. The artist who created this piece was sculptor, Hannah Stewart. The title of the work is Atropos Key and is located on top of the hill at Miller Theater.

Since it was a weekday, there were not too many people. Foot traffic did pick up during the lunch hour with several people escaping an office setting to commune with nature. Some folks just walked and others sat on benches and visited with the ducks. Some folks walked alone, some in pairs and others in small groups. The squirrels kept an eye on everyone who wandered through.

Wednesday. DF was in the hospital getting ready for some surgery. Nothing major or life threatening, but necessary. Sometimes a road trip involves being wheeled around a hospital (or accompanying someone who is being wheeled around a hospital). From admitting room, to pre‐op holding room, to operating room, to recovery room, to hospital bedroom. I spent the day either by his bedside or sitting in the waiting room. Surgery was scheduled for 11:30 a.m., but he was not wheeled into the operating room until 1:00 p.m. He pulled through the surgery like a champ. Only a 5 hour wait in the recovery room before DF is moved to a private room. Once I was assured he was comfortable in his room and tucked in for the night, I left with the promise to return the next day to transport him home. Nurses checked on him every hour.

Both before and after surgery, we spent time in curtained cubicles where we caught some strange snippets of conversations.

A doctor said, “Your wound is safe. You could put WD40 on it and it still wouldn’t get infected. You won’t have any problem with a shower.”

A nurse said to a co‐worker, “No, it’s an hour and a half. Do not try to add another 1/2 hour to my life.”

A nurse said towards the end of the shift to someone we could not see,“I don’t like coffee. I don’t like the way it looks. I don’t like the way it smells. I don’t like the way it tastes. I don’t even like the look of coffee beans. Coffee is not my friend.

Thursday. DF and I had hoped for a hospital discharge by 11:00 a.m. No such luck. There were no more road trips around the hospital. Lots of waiting in the room. The nurse continued to visit every hour. Finally by 3:00 p.m. DF was sitting in a wheelchair on his way to the front door of the hospital.

Once out in the sunshine, we drove off in my car. We went to a drug store for meds and then to Brasil’s for an early dinner. I drove slowly through tree lined neighborhoods. Classical music played on the radio. Now life began to return to what can be considered normal.

Until next week.….

Howling at the Moon

Copyright Valerie Gache, AFP, Getty Images

Oh, but to be a RoadBroad eyeballing this moon view at the Temple of Apollo in Corinth, Greece! 

That red‐orange orb, captured earlier today, is a Super Blood Wolf Moon. The same image, sans the Temple, will rise across North America at 11:16 p.m., Houston time. Add an hour for the Yankees. Subtract two for the Westies.

With clear skies and cold temperatures forecast, it promises a memorable night of sky viewing. Lasting an hour long, it’s the last of its kind until 2021.

The description “super blood” comes not from astronomers but from copywriters. Two reasons why:

Who wants to say “total lunar eclipse” when the moon’s orange‐red color looks like, well, blood?

Super’ slides in because the moon looks 14 percent larger than normal. It’s closer to Earth than usual for an eclipse. But it’s not actually bigger.

Ancient peoples dubbed the first full moon of the year as Wolf Moon. All that wolf howling in January. Why? High mating season for wolves. In the cold?

All these factoids led DH, the astronomy buff, to inform me that we won’t need his telescope for lunar viewing tonight. This big, bright, wolf moon requires only binoculars. Good. Easier maneuvering out the back window. Warmer, too.

Staying up after midnight might be problematic. Make that ‘will be.’

This Wolf Moon correlates perfectly with the man I married. He’s a real‐life Wolf. But my love doesn’t howl. Not in January. And never in public.

But I almost howled last week when a knock‐me‐flat cold did just that. Onset came less than 24 hours after a career‐rejuvenating writing intensive. Did the virus have something to do with completing a novel outline, consolidating 31 chapter opens/closes, locking down 11 character descriptions, and setting a first‐draft completion date—all in only four days?

The question brings me to the real point of this entire blog post about tonight’s moon.

Full moons offer completion. End of a cycle, stage, or phase. Pick your word. Astrologers say full moons are a perfect time to celebrate growth, note progress, and reflect on how far you’ve come.

Now cold‐recovered, I’m celebrating, noting, and reflecting.

And through the magic promised on this blog on January 1st, I’m starting over.

Happy New Year, January 20th.

Three months from Final‐First‐Draft Day.

Here we go…again.

Second chances always offer my best results.

Coffee!

In a few weeks, I am going to have surgery. Nothing too serious, but it will hopefully have a very positive impact on my life. There’s just one problem. In order to do this, I have to stop drinking coffee.

WHAT??? STOP DRINKING COFFEE??? HAVE YOU LOST YOUR MIND???

Coffee. The elixir of life. The joy of my every morning. Sigh.

No, I don’t have to give it up forever, but for a little while. Since I don’t want to go through a caffeine withdrawal headache, I am weaning myself off of the bliss that is java. By now the coffee I am drinking is weak enough that I can see through it. Just about ready to move over to green tea. Oh, woe is me!

Having been raised in the South, I have a long‐standing friendship with caffeine. I was weaned on Coca Cola. Drank it every day in my youth. Iced Tea was the drink of choice with every supper. No, I did not drink sweet tea. I put my own sugar in my tea and stirred it and stirred it until my arm got tired.

I made the move to coffee sometime in high school. It was the 1970s and I can still see Joe DiMaggio in one of his many Mr. Coffee commercials. What? You don’t remember the Mr. Coffee commercials? Please take a moment now and go to YouTube where you will find several. I’ll wait until you come back.

In college I remember many a night going to a local diner with friends to talk and drink coffee until the wee hours of the morning. Study sessions in the dorm also required numerous “cups of Joe”.

By the time I became a working adult in the 1980s, I was drinking about a pot of coffee a day and smoking two packs of cigarettes. I was actually delusional enough back then to think that I was a laid back “Type B” personality. I know much better now. Lucky for me, I gave up the cigarettes a couple of decades ago. Coffee has remained my friend. I drink it black with a little sweetener. I no longer use sugar. Sometimes I will treat myself with a mocha coffee. Oftentimes chocolate can be just as sacred as coffee and the combination will fill my soul with exultation!

Oh, I have given up coffee at least twice in my life. Whenever I did this.….Time Stood Freakin’ Still. The earth literally slowed down in her rotations and felt like it was going to roll away into the universe. What do non‐caffeinated persons do with all of their extra time? I really have no idea.

Like I said earlier, this will be a temporary separation. I am already looking forward to having surgery behind me so I can drink my coffee in peace once again.

One last note: Here is a picture of the artist, Leslie Gaworecki and the picture she painted for Color:Story 2019 based on my essay called “Transitions”. Many thanks to both Leslie and Marlo Saucedo for coordinating this evening and preparing such wonderful works of art. Also, many thanks to those of you who were able to join us. There was a large crowd and everyone seemed to have a good time.

Until next week.….….

COLOR:STORY 2019

It’s here! It’s finally here! The opening for COLOR:STORY 2019 happens this Saturday! The Houston Press is calling it a “can’t miss” art exhibition.

COLOR:STORY 2019 is a wonderful combination of art and writing. This is yet another example of the fact that creativity cannot be pigeonholed in any one specific medium or genre.

To create this event artists Leslie Gaworecki and Marlo Saucedo asked local writers to submit poems and essays. The works of 17 different writers were chosen. Then paintings were created based on the inspiration received from the written words.

For the Exhibition Opening all of the writers will have the opportunity to read their poems and essays. What a great opportunity to share work with anyone who wants to come to look, listen and enjoy!

I am very excited to take my place in this exhibition! I feel honored to be a part of this wonderful creative event.

I hope that you can join me Saturday evening, January 12th for COLOR:STORY 2019. The location will be The Silos at Sawyer Yards located at 1502 Sawyer Street, Gallery 200, from 5:00 p.m. — 8:00 p.m.

If you need directions, please Google The Silos at Sawyer Yards where you will be able to find a map.

And just in case this news hasn’t excited you enough.…..here is a picture of Hannah the cat. She won’t be able to join us at The Silos on Saturday, but she is very busy helping me prepare. A very important job indeed!

I look forward to seeing everyone on Saturday!

Stuck? Try Constraints

For the first time in our 30‐year history, DH and I low‐balled our gift exchange.

$30 apiece on each other.

Why the limit?

Boredom? Familiarity? Fixed income? Seasonal stress?

A numbers thing: $30 for 30 years?

But that anniversary isn’t until next December. And we’re not early partiers.

What answered was this: time for something different.

And so, DH gained Sherlock socks plus a World Travel Book for Kids.

Nirvana for a retired kid with a travel‐hungry Holmes heart.

He gifted Springsteen’s Broadway concert CD plus colored pencils and word puzzles.

Music for a writer’s ears while filling in word clues with 48 different hues.

The deliberate, inexpensive gift exchange has, in less than two weeks, ascended to status as Most Memorable Holiday Ever.

Why?

We forced ourselves to think outside the box. Which, unwittingly, drop‐kicked us into another one. Whoever hears ‘think inside the box’? 

With four hard walls around our gift‐giving, we surrendered dollars and expectation to creativity and consideration.

Overwrought, over‐priced shopping expeditions sit in the ash‐heap of our coupled past. Thank god!

Now, it’s simplicity, fun, and creativity—in all presents. And presence.

Constraints: they’re as clever as you make them.

Like a < 200‐word blog post.

First ever.

Rhapsodic Creativity!

Rhapsody in Blue. What a treat! This weekend I am going to hear the Houston Symphony perform George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.

This has been one of my favorite songs for as long as I can remember. I remember seeing it performed during the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. I remember hearing it in one of Woody Allen’s movies (you know.….back when he was funny?) It was even included in the Disney movie, Fantasia 2000.

Not bad for a piece of music that was originally written in 1924. At that time it was considered modern music, because it was one of the (if not the) first times jazz music was combined with classical music. It was seen as a way to introduce popular jazz music to the more refined high‐brow symphony crowd. It begins with a “wailing” clarinet and includes both a piano solo and a symphony orchestra. It was an immediate success.

In musical terms the word “rhapsody” means a piece of music written in one movement with a free flowing structure and a range of highly contrasted moods. Not being a musician, I spent years thinking this was a piece of music about ecstatic enthusiasm. I think both definitions work.

Blue is a favorite color for many people. It is the color of the sky and of the sea. Both of these are limitless in their range, depth and possibilities. Many think of blue as a peaceful and tranquil color. When you have a dear and trusted friend, you think of them as “true blue”.

What a wonderful combination of words to use as a musical title!

Here is an interesting fact to know and share: Part of George Gershwin’s inspiration for this music came from riding a train. The sound of the train inspired parts of the melody. I read a quote where he stated that he “heard” the melody in the sounds made by the train. What others on the train may have heard as noise, he heard as music.

Isn’t this what creative people do? Musicians hear music everywhere. Writers hear stories and plots in every day life. Artists see shapes and colors everywhere they look. This is what I like about being a creative person and a writer. I am never bored. If I find myself stuck in a place whether I am happy, uncomfortable, relaxed or unhappy, I can always look around and start developing stories in my head. The most recent character I have started developing during a process just like this is named Mr. Meringue. He should show up in a short story real soon.

I must close now. I have to get ready for the Houston Symphony, George Gershwin and Rhapsody in Blue!

Until next week.….….…

Magic, Not Resolutions

We say it once every 365 days.

Happy New Year!

What we forget is what else is true every January 1st.

It’s also Happy New Day!

And Happy New Week!

And Happy New Month!

Four times to thrill at a new start.

Next year, we’ll add a fifth: Happy New Decade!

It wasn’t that long ago that some of us celebrated Happy New Century and tag‐teamed with Happy New Millennium, too.

Why do we make only one of these happy proclamations then repeat it year after year, too? Are we numb to what the words really mean? Or could mean?

Photo copyright Rothko Chapel, Houston, TX.

Odd questions follow an otherworldly afternoon.

DH and I experienced the profound New Year’s Day Crystal Bowl Meditation at Houston’s Rothko Chapel. Neither words nor a singular photo can ever fully encompass this sacred space.

Multiply the mysticism by imagining people of all ages and types sitting on every bench with others camped on the floor on yoga mats and meditation cushions. Others crowd in quietly, filling the space at insistence to hear soul‐speaking chimes.

Dana Shamas of Bayou Bliss Yoga offered gentle guidance as harmonies rang out from crystal bowls arranged in the chapel’s center. From the chimes came a year’s intention for release, recovery, resilience, and renewal.

An hour later, DH and I emerged to the glory that is Barnett Newman’s incomparable Broken Obelisk. The reflection of Newman’s sculpture in the Rothko’s pool is only part of its charm.

The art honors Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who, ironically, our nation will honor two weeks from today.

Synchronicity roars. 

Today also marks the New Year’s Day birth of Irish writer Maria Edgeworth in 1768. Praised by Jane Austen, the British‐born Edgeworth was noted for her ground‐breaking innovation to the novel form. She also issued an ahead‐of‐her‐time clarion call for women’s rights and children’s education plus pithy and comedic social and political observations.

Edgeworth penned the novel Ormond, a title only one letter removed from my already unusual surname.

Synchronicity returns. 

How did I not know of this woman writer before? She’s so prescient that quotes from her 1795 Letters for Literary Ladies were recycled by 1960‐era feminists in America.

Edgeworth also penned this quote: “If we take care of the moments, the years will take care of themselves.” 

Comforting words on this New Year’s Day. A sort of centering prayer.

As are the words of noted American author Neil Gaiman: “May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness.…I hope you read some fine books…Don’t forget to write…and I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.”

I’ll merge the wisdom of Edgeworth and Gaiman to craft my own vision for the new year: caring moments in 12 gentle months laced with magical dreams and self‐surprises, topped off with a dollop of healthy madness, all in service of full‐time storytelling and a life fully lived every day.

Four intentions of projects to embody, complete, and present by this time next New Year’s Day.

You heard it here first.

What’s your vision to surprise yourself?