There Is No Short Cut

February 26, 2014

With Monday’s post in mind, here’s a quote on art that can be applied to life, too (just replace the word “art” with the word “life”):

“Sometimes, there is no such thing as a tutorial for the art we see. There is investigation. There is practice. There is appreciation. There is study. There is emulation. There is more study. There is more practice. There is searching for what's inside us. And if we are lucky, there is art. There is no easy tutorial for a process that blends all of that which could take the course of several years.

“There is no true short cut to art.”
—Jenny Doh,


Life As Art

February 24, 2014

So many times our lives feel like they’ve been reduced to a to-do list we’re forever trying to finish. We tear through our weeks, striving to find a balance between doing and being, giving to others and taking care of ourselves. Even a happy life can be reduced to a black-and-white list of things accomplished. What if we think of life in a different way? What if we think about our days as blank canvases, waiting for us to paint them? What if we turn our lives into an art form, picturing each of our activities as a color?

Most of us spend a good deal of time working for the benefit of others, or to support ourselves financially. Even if we don’t especially enjoy our jobs, there is beauty in them, in the benefits they bring to us and others. We can think of them as the base color of our canvases, and picture those hours painted a favorite color. Our free time gives us a chance to add accent colors to our base color.

Just as each artist has her own vision for her art, each person will have her own vision for her life’s canvas: some people will want theirs primarily filled with one color, and others will want a canvas splashed with multiple colors. Some will gleefully spatter their canvases with bright tones, while others will choose a more muted, serene palette.  I like variety, so I’m happiest when my paintings have multiple colors. My ideal canvas would have plenty of purple and blue, the colors I associate with reading and writing. I’d also have strokes of red for physical activity, green for working for my family, even some yellow for doing nothing. (I’m not sure how a literal painting like this would look, but my imaginary painting looks great!)

At the end of each day, when we look at our finished canvases, what do we notice? Is our free time primarily filled with things we value? Have we let too much work take over? Or too much mindless entertainment? What about self-care, or acts of kindness? Do they appear? What does a week of canvases look like? A month? A year?

We are the artists of our own lives—why don’t we paint some masterpieces? (For more parallels between art and life, see “Artful Living: Applying the Five Es”.)

If your day was a painting, what colors would you fill your canvas with, and what would they represent?


Link Love, Volume Six

February 21, 2014

Is everyone in the mood for some link love?  Here are some of my latest internet discoveries…hope you enjoy!

I sort of do this on Wednesdays, but Bookswept is almost entirely made up of photos paired with quotes from books for a simple-yet-thought-provoking blog. 

I would much rather read a print magazine, but this digital one looks divine. Jennifer Carroll’s blog is also delightful.  

I’m a little tardy, but here are some awesome “start the new year right” quotes. It’s never too late to make a new start!

This article explains why we should pay more attention to our “tiny, joyful moments.” 

If you’ve ever spent one moment worrying about your weight, read this. Or watch this video, which is also linked in the post. Powerful.

Why we shouldn’t judge others by appearance. I had tears in my eyes by the end.

What has captured your interest lately?


Releasing a Tree

February 19, 2014

One of the founders of modernist poetry, Ezra Pound, advised poets and artists to “make it new.” I’ve never before seen a poem about helping a tree shake the snow from itself, and I like this one by Thomas Reiter, who lives in New Jersey. [Introduction by Ted Kooser.]

Releasing a Tree

Softly pummeled overnight, the lower
limbs of our Norway spruce
flexed and the deepening snow held them.
Windless sunlight now, so I go out
wearing hip waders and carrying
not a fly rod but a garden hoe. I begin
worrying the snow for the holdfast
of a branch that’s so far down
a wren’s nest floats above it like a buoy.
I work the hoe, not chopping but cradling,
then pull straight up. A current of air
as the needles loft their burden
over my head. Those grace notes
of the snowfall, crystals giving off
copper, green, rose—watching them
I stumble over a branch, go down
and my gloves fill with snow. Ah, I find
my father here: I remember as a child
how flames touched my hand the time
I added wood to the stove in our ice-fishing
shanty, how he plunged that hand
through the hole into the river, teaching me
one kind of burning can ease another.
The branch bobs then tapers into place
and composes itself, looking
unchanged though all summer
it will bring up this day from underfoot.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2013 by Thomas Reiter, whose most recent book of poems is Catchment, Louisiana State Univ. Press, 2009. Poem reprinted from The Southern Review, Vol. 49, no. 1, by permission of Thomas Reiter and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2014 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.


There's No Place Like the Barn

February 17, 2014

During the past few weeks as I’ve worked through a bout of depression, I’ve been learning ways to manage and uplift my mood. I’ve discovered that I wake up feeling fairly cheerful, but crash around 2 p.m., so it helps to have something fun planned or someplace happy to go around then. And while I have several “happy places,” for me there’s almost no place happier than the barn where I keep my horse. It’s a few minutes from my house, but it might as well be 100 miles away from all my cares.

Why do I love it so much? Aside from the obvious (my dream horse Tank lives there), it’s quiet and peaceful. There are lots of animals, both domestic and wild, and I have good friends there. The barn also holds great memories of accomplishment and fun times. When I first started lessons there, I knew nothing about the care of horses or how to ride. Little by little, I’ve learned everything from how to properly groom a horse, to how to jump small jumps.

When I’m at the barn, I’m not surrounded by competing things I “should” be doing. I don’t need to choose between working on an essay and making dinner, reading a book or folding laundry. I’m doing both what needs to be done and what I want to do. While I stand in a cloud of dust and hair as I brush Tank, I’m also looking for cuts, swellings, abrasions, bug bites or the start of any skin or hoof issues. I “need” to groom him—and I love doing it (while not for everyone, grooming a horse is one of my favorite simple pleasures). He loves it too, especially since he gets pieces of carrot as I work my way around his body. 

Once I walk through the gate, I don’t hear the voices in my head telling me I’m not good enough—I hear turkeys gobbling, the snort, squeal or blow of a horse, chickens clucking. I don’t smell the trash that needs to be emptied—I smell fresh air, hay and the warm scent of horse. I don’t see all the chores I have left to do, I see pricked ears, a gleaming coat, and the eager expression of an animal waiting for me.

When I’m ready to leave, I’m filthy, often sweaty and fatigued, but my mind is still. If I’ve been mulling over a problem, I often know the next step to take. If I felt a little icky physically, I’ve probably forgotten all about it. Things have settled and shifted, and I’m at peace and, at least for now, happy.

What about you? Where is your “happy place”?

David Kessler

Happiness Is Possible Today

February 12, 2014

“We insist that we can’t possibly be happy until tomorrow, when things change. But if happiness is possible tomorrow, it is also possible today. If love is possible tomorrow, it is possible today. We can find healing even if nothing changes. To surrender to life ‘as is’ can miraculously transform situations. It is in this surrender that we are able to receive. The universe gives us the tools to fulfill our destinies when we let things be.”
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler, Life Lessons: Two Experts on Death and Dying Teach Us About the Mysteries of Life and Living.


The Dark Side

February 10, 2014

I’m sorry I’ve been a bit MIA here lately—ironically, or perhaps not as I’ll explain below—the author of a blog called Catching Happiness has been coping with a bout of depression.

I chose “catching happiness” as a theme for the blog because I’m not a naturally “happy” person. I’m naturally anxious and a little depressive. Since I know my default setting leans toward “sad” I work to look for the bright side, searching for the positive to counteract my natural tendencies, and mostly I’m able to maintain an optimistic outlook and attitude. When the dark side looms, sometimes there’s a triggering event, and sometimes it creeps up on me without my noticing…until I start to feel better, not realizing until then how unhappy I’d been feeling. Fortunately, I’ve never been suicidal, and I’ve never been so depressed that I couldn’t get out of bed. Sometimes, though, like during the past couple of weeks, it’s taken most of my energy to keep up with the basics.

Over the years, I’ve learned that during down times, I need routines and behaviors I can reach for when I begin to slide. The trick is making preparations before the darkness hits, because once it does, it’s too late to come up with ways to cope. To support myself, I focus on three things:

  • Comforts. My comforts include warm drinks like coffee and tea (my current favorite is pumpkin tea), settling under a throw blanket to read, using a heating pad for stressed-out achy body parts, warm baths (I see a definite trend towards warming myself), something funny to read and/or watch (what helped last week: Blandings), and pet therapy from Prudy, Scout and Tank.
  • Encouraging words. I have a stack of 3 x 5 cards with encouraging and uplifting quotes I’ve found, and when I’m down, I read them. Two of my Pinterest boards (Truth and Words Are Fun) focus on uplifting and encouraging words, and another contains pins that made me laugh. Posts from these blogs (click on name for a link to the post) have been helpful, as well: The Bloggess; Hyperbole and a Half and Stepchick. And instead of withdrawing, I’m working on communicating better with friends and family.
  • Small, practical things I can do, for myself and for others, to take myself out of my head. I often choose a small task that has been bugging me—the feeling of accomplishment on completing it is larger than the effort it takes to do the task. It could be as small as cleaning the faucet in the kitchen or replacing the batteries in the clock. Anything that will give me a checked off item on a to-do list.
I know that I’m very blessed and fortunate. My life is filled with precious gifts I am deeply grateful for, and I hold tight to those things, including my blog and all of you, when the dark side threatens. I appreciate your patience with me while I work things out. Regular posting to resume shortly!

Do you have any special ways you comfort yourself during difficult times?

Burning the Book

Burning Love

February 05, 2014

Photo courtesy dimitri_c

It pains an old booklover like me to think of somebody burning a book, but if you’ve gotten one for a quarter and it’s falling apart, well, maybe it’s OK as long as you might be planning to pick up a better copy. Here Ron Koertge, who lives in Pasadena, has some fun with the ashes of love poems. [Introduction by Ted Kooser.]

Burning the Book

The anthology of love poems I bought
for a quarter is brittle, anyway, and comes
apart when I read it.

One at a time, I throw pages on the fire
and watch smoke make its way up
and out.

I’m almost to the index when I hear
a murmuring in the street. My neighbors
are watching it snow.

I put on my blue jacket and join them.
The children stand with their mouths

I can see nouns—longing, rapture, bliss—
land on every tongue, then disappear. 

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2012 by Ron Koertge, whose most recent book of poems is Fever, Red Hen Press, 2006. Poem reprinted by permission of Ron Koertge. Introduction copyright © 2014 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.