Monday, March 31, 2008

Weekly Wings Challenge 3 - Finding Your Core

This was a difficult exercise for me. I had trouble getting past the first step. We're supposed to be discovering our core values, click here for more details. The first step is writing about a peak moment, and the moment that came to my mind didn't seem to involve any special values on my part. I've always thought that I got lucky. So, my next plan was to write about some achievements at work, like when I helped a man who had trouble walking, not only walk again, but run, or when I helped a stroke victim who loves to dance, do the Macarena [she loves it]. I kept going back to my first thought, though, and wondering if there were values I was unaware of...

Peak Moment

Describe a high point or peak moment/experience in your life or work up to now.
What was happening at the moment?
What does this experience say about you?
What values were being honored in that moment?
What do these values mean to you?
How can you elaborate on your description of these values?

A high point in my life was when I realized the depth of the love my husband and I shared. We were newly weds living in San Antonio, and struggling with our own business. Times were tough, and I would get depressed occasionally, sometimes not knowing why. He was always patient and understanding, and would comfort me. I could tell him anything. This was the first time in my life that I recall ever being able to trust anyone like I did him. What I've discovered about myself is that in spite of not knowing how to trust anyone, of a tendency to be drawn to people who would abuse me, and of low self esteem in general, I could learn to trust, get past my fears and discomfort, and be successful at something that was foreign to me. The values I needed to accomplish this were courage to leave my comfort zone, and insight to see that things could be better than what I've always known. What this means to me is that I will always be able to improve my life. I don't have to be victim of circumstances. To elaborate, hmm... I'm not sure how. I guess in looking around me through the years, I've seen many people who aren't able to do the same, so they live their lives making the best of a miserable situation. I was able to pull myself out of that miserable situation.

Suppressed Values

Describe a moment/experience in your life or work up to now in which you felt frustrated, angry, or upset.
What emotions were you experiencing?
Why did you feel that way?
What values were suppressed or violated in this situation?

This step made more sense to me after writing the first step. A low point in my life was a few years after my husband died. I was working two jobs, and taking care of my mother, who has Alzheimer's. I had forgotten to pay the electric bill, and my mother was left alone all day confused and afraid with no electricity, until I got home from my second job late that night. I snapped, and tried to take my own life. I felt like a failure, ashamed, and guilty for being too caught up in my own life to care for her properly. This was because I had lost the courage to continue with her care, and the insight to see how to get help. I had obviously lost touch with my core.


Beyond your basic survival and community needs, what must you have in your life in order to be fulfilled?
What qualities are essential to the life of your spirit?

I want to make a difference in people's lives, and I need change, to keep from getting bored. Most people must have a purpose in life, and I feel like mine might be to help people. The qualities I would need would be good communication skills, patience, and empathy. I'd also need to be motivating. To keep things changed up, I'd need curiosity, persistence, and determination.

In-the Moment

What gives energy to you now?
What do you most value about yourself, your relationships, and the nature of your work?
What 1 or 2 things do you want more of or different?

My creative endeavours are my energy. Loyalty and conscientiousness are what I value about how I handle relationships and work. This last part was difficult, though. How do I narrow it down to one or two things, when I need so many things? I finally decided self sufficiency covers everything I need.

Values String

Revisit what you wrote in response to the above exercises, and pull out what you consider the most important values and concepts that have emerged.
Using each value as the beginning of a string, write a series of several related words separated by a slash. For example: Integrity/Honesty/Role-Model
When you have finished, number the strings in the order of those which you feel are the most essential to your living a fulfilled, harmonious life. The first 3 -5 are your core personal values.

  1. self sufficient/courage/insight

  2. courage/determination/strength

  3. insight/vision/intuition/perception

  4. good communicator/good listener/patient/empathetic/sensitive/creative

  5. curious/imaginative/creative/persistent

Courage and insight are words that I haven't used in the previous two exercises. I seem to have forgotten about them, and/or take them for granted. When I was a teenager, several people told me I had good insight, and should consider a career in psychology. I wasn't interested, because I always wanted to be an artist. I'm reconsidering now.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Weekly Wings Challenge 2 - Your Zen Suitcase™

My affirmation board. I told myself this was going to be my desktop wallpaper when I was done, whether I liked it or not. I'm happy with it, and it's on my desktop now. For more info on the challenge click here.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Weekly Wings Challenge 1 - Contribute a Verse

This is for the Wings 4 You Coaching challenge by Carla. It's a blog with weekly challenges designed for self improvement. You can find the first challenge here. Here are my verses:

In the past, I was the wasp
Crawling across the window pane for 3 days,
Painstakingly searching every square inch for a way out,
Stopping momentarily for a ritualistic rubbing of my legs,
Like a dance of self destruction,
When there's an open door just around the corner,
Foolishly threatening to sting
Anyone who tries to shoo me toward it.

In the mirror, I am a Cypress Tree,
Lofty and strong
With outstretched branches that support Spanish moss,
And provide shade and comfort for woodland creatures below,
But whose roots are shallow,
And "knee" deep in mud and decaying matter,
Reaching up for air
Or rain when the bog dries up.

In my dreams, I am a shark,
Docile, curious, and even playful,
Because I have no need for aggression,
But I'm not without power, not ineffectual,
With golden braids, too many to count,
Thick, even to the long flowing ends,
Plaited precisely
To prevent tangling in the ocean's currents.

In my fears, I am the missing sock,
Stained brown with dirt,
Bereft of purpose and incomplete,
Doomed to spend an eternity
Of boredom, with lint,
Tangled in cobwebs of hopelessness
Behind the nursing home's clothes dryer,
Where my coherent memory has been carelessly cast.

In my stories, I'm a Monarch butterfly,
Metamorphosing, emerging, and
Finally finding glorious wings,
Pumping life into them in the warmth of the sunlight,
While still vulnerable to prey,
Then taking flight to far away adventures,
Finding my way intuitively to fields of foreign flowers,
Then embarking on a spiritual path home to complete the cycle.

123 Acrostic Poetry Meme

H-Acrostic 123 Poetry Meme

The H in H-Acrostic is from HARVESTED--meaning you start with harvested phrases.

I was tagged with this exceptionally fun meme by Mary. Here's how it works:

1)choose a book (mine is Tending the Earth Mending the Spirit)
2)go to Page 123, Look for the first interesting word or phrase:
"A healing vibration" (you can go on to the next page if
necessary)(Short words are quicker!)

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26

For each letter of your word or phrase, add that letters number of
pages and count down that letter's number of lines and write down the
first interesting phrase BEGINNING with the LETTER. Continuing adding
pages, and if you get to end, continue from the beginning. Or just
open any page randomly. Do NOT use a poetry book.

  • A: 123+1=124pg- applied to many other aspects of our lives; accepted responses of plants
  • H: 124+8=132pg- humans need to accept that ripening and maturing are natural things; how to respond; hope for myself
  • E: 132+5=137pg- experience taught him; every spring reminds me that there is something about a garden
  • A: 137+1=138pg- appreciation of the miniature earths we create; alone to process; at least a few minutes
  • L: 138+12=160pg- look outside and see the outline of my garden, and I suddenly remember
  • I: 169pg- in sights, smells, sounds, and textures; intuitively, instead of categorizing and analyzing
  • N: 183pg- nature sanctuary for plants and animals; nourish me in this environment
  • G: 190pg- gave me great comfort to know the natural world would go on
  • V: 212pg- value of extinct species in the natural order of things; very sterile, artificial world
  • I: 221pg- I'm not some kind of earth goddess
  • B: 223pg- be wondering how any one person can make a difference; been unable to make a dent in the status quo
  • R: 2pg- rich and famous, impoverished and unknown
  • A: 3pg- are involved in creative pursuits
  • T:23pg- that with the process of letting go of those we love the most
  • I: 32pg- is something that a therapist and writer call communing with nature
  • O: 47pg- of what's so magical about a garden
  • N: 61pg- now giving something back to the natural world

(Yours of course will look different.)

Now comes the hard poetry part. Now that you have a start, you can change anything you want, look up new phrases. You can keep the acrostic form, but if you do, try to make it not be obvious. Or get rid of it. Revise and Edit till you have a poem. Feel free to take a week or two at least with this meme. Try to keep at least some part of the original words or phrases. Here's mine:

A Healing Vibration

Accepted aspects of plants are applied to my life.
How do I respond? I need to accept that ripening and maturing
are naturally arduous answers.
Experience has taught me hope, and every spring reminds me of
Appreciation. I am alone to process, and
Look outside to see
Intuitively, the sights, sounds, smells, and textures. I try to
Nourish myself in a natural sanctuary,
Give myself great comfort apart from a
Very sterile and artificial vanity, but
I'm no earth goddess. I've just
Been wondering how I make a difference,
been unable to affect the value,
been wanting to stop the bleeding.
Richly impoverished and famously unknown
Are all searching for creative pursuits.
The process of letting go of those we love
Is an art that calls for communing with the nature
Of a garden's magic, and is
Now giving that art back to my world.

Trying to Find What's Lost

My post Life in the Sign Business is going to be included in next month's issue of Blue Print Review. Check out the latest issue. It has some very interesting articles and photos. In the meantime, I've been trying to find my artistic self, like I mentioned at the end of that post. Still working on Spring Cleaning, I decided to go back to my high school days when I loved to draw, and try a style I really liked back then [the first picture below]. I'm still not happy with it, so I pulled out my old high school sketch book to compare.

!!!OMG! I got a good laugh when I held this up to a mirror and realized those are the lyrics to a Black Sabbath song written backwards.

I was not a happy child!

What on earth possessed me to draw this?! I vaguely remember drawing it, but can't imagine why.

Well this little trip down memory lane has been enlightening. It's inspired me to write about my childhood, but I think what I've written is too long to post here in this blog [over 5000 words]. If I were to ever write a book, it would probably be the first chapter. If nothing else it's been therapeutic.

I couldn't resist a photoshop version.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Photo Friday: The Good Life

My sister and I snorkeling in Acapulco. It doesn't get any better than that.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Life in the Sign Business

It was the fall of '83 when I walked into a sign shop looking for a job. I was eighteen years old, and had been working a minimum wage job at a plant nursery. I didn't know anything about the sign business at the time. The shop was on my way home from work. I asked if they were looking to hire an artist, to which the reply was no, but they decided to hire me as a helper for $5 an hour. I was thrilled. It was the highest I had ever been paid.

There were three owners, Karen and Janet, who were lesbians, but not lovers, and John, whose jealous wife quit her job to work as the office help for the shop, so she could keep an eye on her husband. She soon realized her husband had been telling her the truth about Karen and Janet, but she stayed on , I think because she was the financial brains of the business. Janet was the sales person. Karen was the artist. John was the silk screener. I worked as Karen's helper, painting wall graphics for local school gymnasiums, cafeterias, and hallways. When work was slow, I helped John with layouts and cutting film for the silk screens.

This was a fun time in my life. I was learning new things, and doing something different every day. Plus, usually around quitting time every day, the bosses bought everybody beer. We were located next door to a bar called The Loose Goose, and after work, we'd go play pool. To an eighteen year old, this was an ideal job.

The shop had a sign painter in her mid thirties, by the name of Sandy, who was one of the few female sign painters around. She told me how the sign business was a male dominated business, but, as John complained, " you wouldn't know it by hangin' round here." I was awed by Sandy's ability to freehand paint letters. As if writing with a pen, the paint flowed off her brush in all the exact places. I had tried to paint a sign before, and knew how hard it was. One day I told her so, and she started to teach me how to do it. This was the beginning of a fifteen year career and friendship.

It wasn't long after I was hired, that Karen and Janet went their separate ways, and John took over the business. A little while later, Sandy moved on also, but we remained friends. John decided that he didn't want to deal with hand painted signs, and arranged with me to send all his customers to me when they wanted hand painted work. At the age of nineteen, I started my own sign company called Sign Illusions.

In the early 80's, Houston was booming. There was no shortage of sign work. A 4x8 would sell at it's cheapest for $200. People were willing to pay for the extras that would make their sign stand out. I naively thought that was how it had always been and would be.

Through Sandy, I had met several of the self proclaimed "old timers" of the sign business. Sandy was taught by a man named Larry, who taught her to paint the "old timers way" with a mahl stick, and that is how she taught me. Larry was her ex-boyfriend, and was known nationally for his gold lief work. He had been featured in the magazine, Signs of the Times, a couple of times. He was a hippy who had never out grown his drug induced partying days, and he was not alone. Many of the sign painters I had met were chemical dependent. They would joke about that fact, saying, "we're either a bunch of drunks or born again Jesus freaks." I always blamed it on the paint fumes.

Sandy was neither. I always saw her as a self reliant and independent woman. Then she met Jerry. At the time, I thought she had changed when she met Jerry, but I can see now that I was just beginning to see another side of her. Jerry was a typical sign painter. He was a drunk. He was, though, the meanest drunk I had ever met. He served in Vietnam as a munitions expert. I don't think he ever quite adjusted to civilian life. In the 70's, he did time in prison for the black market construction and trade of bombs. He was out on parole and owned his own sign company when she met him. His shop was in his house like so many of the sign shops were then. It was an old rickety wood frame house in the Montrose area downtown, complete with a pot of goat's head soup simmering on the kitchen stove. Because he was so unpredictable when he drank, he had no friends. His social life was with the people who worked for him. I did a couple of jobs for him when I first met him, but had very little to do with him after he started beating Sandy. It took me a few years to figure out why she would ever marry him, especially after he threatened to blow up my car and come after me with a shotgun. She would stay with me when he beat her, but she kept going back.

After Sandy finally broke free of Jerry's hold on her, she met Tony. Tony was the most fascinating person I met in the sign business. He was married when he and Sandy met, and left his wife to marry her. Unfortunately, as usually happens in these kind of marriages, there were trust issues. At one point, Sandy even thought he was having an affair with me. After she realized it wasn't true, I got to know Tony a little better. Tony, whose real name was Vladimir, was Ukrainian. He served in the Russian navy back in the late 60's early 70's [cold war era]. One day while on a ship in the middle of the Persian Gulf, he struck a superior officer. This was an offense that he said could put him in front of a firing squad, so he jumped ship. He didn't talk about it much. In fact, I had to pry it out of him. I was astounded. Where did he think he was going to go, while he was swimming out there in the middle of a Gulf? He just laughed and shrugged his shoulders. He got lucky. An American ship found him and picked him up. Once on board, he uttered the only words in English that he knew at that time, "I defect".

I cannot begin to image how dramatic that life changing event must have been for him. In an instant, he made a decision that meant he would never see any of his friends or family ever again. He came to a country completely foreign to him. He didn't know any English, and was interrogated like an enemy spy by the U.S. government.

That was all the details he would give me about that event. He said the government finally decided he wasn't a spy, and let him stay, because they knew if they shipped him back, he'd be executed. They never gave him a green card or visa, though. It was 25 years later when he was telling me this, and he was still an illegal alien. I'm not sure why after being married to a U.S. citizen, but he indicated that he thought it had something to do with some of the trouble he got into after he got here.

When I knew him, he was a recovering alcoholic, who had been sober for 11 years. In the 70's, though, it was a different story. A smile would come to his face when he talked about his first taste of freedom in the U.S.. He didn't mind talking about this. He always said that he loved the U.S., it was his home, and he would never go back to the Ukraine even though it was safe for him to return now. He would talk about bell bottoms, long hair, hitch hiking around the country, and run-ins with the law along the way. At the time he was telling me this, his hair had long since been cut, he and Sandy owned their own sign company, and Rush Limbaugh was on the radio in the shop.

His marriage to Sandy didn't last, though. Sandy left him for one of their workers, a drunk who is very controlling. I can only speculate as to why, but it doesn't matter now. Tony went back to drinking after she left. On one binge, he ended out in jail in Louisiana. Immigration was called in. Because he didn't have a green card, they could detain him indefinitely. They finally let him go after a month or two, but he lost the business.

The sign business in general was completely changing by this time. It's mostly done on computer now. The sign painters that survived, diversified. Tony had a real knack at woodworking, and got into sandblasted wooden signs, which kept his business alive. Larry, on the other hand, went down hill. Tony and Sandy took him in at one point when he was homeless, and tried to help him, but he was doing crack. Even if he hadn't had a drug problem, he could not have supported himself anymore with hand lettering or gold lief. In '97, fourteen years after I first started, your were lucky if you could still get $200 for a 4x8. And as for Jerry, well last I heard, his liver was failing him. I picture him rotting away in some V.A. hospital. An even sadder picture I have, though, is of Tony living in a halfway house in Galveston, working as a laborer in a sign shop for minimum wage. Then one day, Sandy found him in his room, dead from alcohol poisoning. It's suspected that his death was intentional, not accidental.

This really hit home for me. Tony's life seemed symbolic of my experience with the sign industry. It started out naive and over indulgent, and ended out tragic. I quit sign painting before Tony's death, and have not been able to paint or draw anything serious since. I think my disgust with the industry has taken the joy out of art. Also, I could really identify with the hopelessness Tony must have felt. At the time of Tony's death, I was struggling to make it on my own, and dealing with my husband's death. I felt like I had wasted my whole life learning a trade that got me nowhere, like the mistakes of my past would haunt me forever, like I was a failure at everything I had ever tried to do. Even though I'm sure that this is how Tony must have felt too, I never saw him that way. I always thought he had so much to offer through his experiences and his talents. So much potential. He obviously couldn't see that about himself, and I couldn't see it about myself either. It scared me. I couldn't bring myself to go to his funeral. It was a funeral that only his 2 ex-wives attended. Oh God, I don't want to end out like that, especially if there is even the slightest chance of potential in me. A chance of potential like that which Tony threw away.

I can see now how easy it is to get sucked into a dying system, and miss opportunities to take new paths. Mistakes don't have to haunt you forever if you don't let them. It's how you see them that makes the difference. Do you see missed opportunities as the product of some incurable defect, or a normal part of life? Old habits are hard to break.

I feel like I need to make myself keep drawing until I can get the joy back. My last drawing, Spring Cleaning, seems like it has no depth, just shallow and flat. I think I know what it needs. Maybe a "surreally" muddy landscape and horizon, and a source for the light, like a sky with every color of the spectrum shining through clouds, or maybe like Obscurio suggested, I just need to simplify it. Why can't I make myself do it? It's not like I'm doing this for some faceless customer with no taste, who wants something for nothing. It's for me. I'm never happy with my drawing anymore. I get more satisfaction from my photography and digital collages. It never ceases to amaze me how my camera can make an ugly world look beautiful. It helps me to see beauty in places I haven't seen it before. I can't remember if art ever did that for me. Maybe it helped me see beauty in myself. I don't know. I wish I could remember what it was that made me feel so good, so I could get it back. I think the key is new paths, which is why I'm trying pastels, but the pastels don't seem to be working. I look back over the years and realize that I seem to have gotten lost somewhere along the way.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Wires and Clouds

Yuko's post about power lines compared them to chaotic thoughts and desires. How fitting then, that they are up in the clouds. I've always felt that they detracted from the natural beauty of the landscape, so too with our chaotic thoughts and desires that detract from our own natural beauty. Man's clumsy attempt at improving civilization and himself. Lofty ideas strung up high over our heads meant to simplify our lives, but in the end complicate things. My head's been feeling like some of these pictures the past week. There's a beautiful sky in there somewhere, but every thing's so complicated that I can't think straight.

Houston rush hour traffic, and incriminating evidence of my unsafe driving practices.

Stuck behind "Joe Bob's" construction services while passing cow pastures on my way home.

Yes, I can see the light has turned green. Stop honking!... Some people just don't know how to appreciate these things. This photo is the one that probably most suits my mood right now. Just a little light getting through.

These are the rail road tracks I cross before entering the subdivision where I live.

This was taken right after a hurricane, when we were without power for about 4 days.

Same place as above, different time.

Power lines in Mexico.

Closer view.

No wires up in the clouds in this one, but I thought it was appropriately ironic for a busy tourist town who's main source of income is from people who are trying to escape reality for a week or so. Mazatlan, Mexico.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Spring Cleaning

Pastels on matt board. I've been trying to make myself draw lately rather than playing with photoshop. I'm not very happy with what I do, though. This was inspired by some visualization work I'm doing in therapy. As soon as I figure out what it needs, I may work on it some more, or just start over. Any suggestions?

You can find this weeks post for Illustration Friday here on Silk Creek Portal.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Arboretum Art

I never get bored with photoshop.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Photo Friday: Fuzzy

This is the reflection of tree limbs in a spot of tree oil floating in the Cypress Bog at Mercer Arboretum. Below is the same shot with macro.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Illustration Friday: Leap

Fat with life and joy,
They gracefully dance their way
Through the emotional waves
Of a sacred sea.

Reaching the heights and depths
Of spiritual thought
With each glorious leap skyward
And each masterful plummet back to the mysterious deep.

I'm being led by someone unseen,
Swimming with currents and tides
Through rocks gently flowing,
And the dolphins want to play with me.

We arrive at a beautiful resort
Tucked away in a cove
On the alee side of a peninsula,
With the other side facing the sea.

They follow me with enthusiasm,
Because I'm the emissary
Of an unusual food that expands
When doled out to feed many.

To a worker at the resort, I say,
"Because of their ability to speak to nature
Feed the dolphins first,
These are the instructions I carry."

"Next feed the native people,
Because they are part of nature,
Then feed the locals,
Because they transplanted freely."

"Last, feed the outsiders,
Their needs won't be ignored,
But priorities must be set
In order to live together peacefully."

I cheated on this picture... the dolphins aren't my photographs. The rest is. I don't have any photos of dolphins. I wish I did. Hopefully one day I will, but in the meantime, I wanted to work on this dream. I think I might redo this one in pastels.