Doin’ Lines

We write in lines as if to say we can herd our thoughts along a linear flowing path.

My own writing wants to go in circles and make diving leaps here and there, following its own way to who knows where. More labyrinthian than linear, I like to wander as I write, taking the line out for a walk or run. All the time playing with the space between, above and around the marks i make.

As I once described Glen Epstein’s calligraphy for his website, I want writing which laughs out loud and tumbles out of line; lettering which dances and cavorts across the page to the beat of some swanky rhythm. Outrageous, delicate, sensuous LINES.

I line up my books on the shelves and put everything back in its place today after another round of teaching.  I will soon leave to wait in line to gather up my gaggle of middle school girls, aghast that I have become a car-pool, mini-van driving mom.

The lines of tree branches-barren but daring a bud or two here and there-dance in shadows on my paper studio blinds.

As Kaz Tanahashi writes:

“You can’t hide anything in a line. you are there whatever line you draw. And you will stay there, even when you go somewhere else.If your personality is interesting enough, the line will be interesting. To do this, you have to be fearless.”  Brush Mind by Kaz Tanahashi

Enough lines for one day-well until I stare at my face in a mirror 🙂

Rainin’ California Style

The rain outside is welcome to my ailing yard plants which withered under the unrelenting Summer sun.  They have not recovered, even after my attempts to nurture them back with daily watering.  I have since surrendered my yard to winter, and now look out at the muted greys of bare trees and scraggly vines covering an otherwise barren fence . I  am ever hopeful that things will bloom in Spring in spite of my own benign neglect and the vicissitudes of nature.

It was raining in California this weekend, where I spent four days immersed in a calligraphic wonderland. The setting was Kellogg West Conference Center, tucked away on the beautiful Cal Poly Pomona Campus. Who knew such a treasure existed amongst the freeways and urban development that characterizes so much of the Los Angeles area?  I was delighted to discover that the view from my classroom not only included trees, but a lovely view of the green hillsides of Pomona, and the snow-covered San Gabriel Mountains in the distance. The air was clean and cold as it rained. Whereas once a deep breath in Los Angeles might fill my lungs with smog, in Pomona, my lungs felt cleansed and refreshed when inhaling. The rain was a welcome boon to a parched Southern California, so none of us complained.  As a Texan who has watched her own backyard succumb to drought, I was thrilled with the moisture.

Indeed, I loved the rain in Pomona as it invited my calligraphy class to embrace an interior space, to come inside gratefully and willingly, with no sunshine to invoke a desire to be out of doors.

The Letters California Style Conference is unique among such venues because of its location and size. The conference organizers are sensitive to the need for art students to have time and space to create-and the Kellogg Center with its lovely accommodations, delicious food, and stunning views offers such a haven from the distractions of the outside world. Limiting the number of classes to 10 contributes to a peaceful atmosphere, where one is not only able to visit with one another between or after classes, but can do so without the distractions of evening performances or Must See exhibits. Indeed there are exhibits at this conference, but they are refreshingly small-the faculty of 10 exhibited pieces, and the conference attendees participants’ exhibit.  All in one room, alongside blessed Brenda Broadbent’s traveling Paper and Ink store which supplied us all with the tools and materials of our trade, as well as a plethora of delightful books and new art-making stuff. Ward Dunham and lovely Linnea held court in the corner of the auditorium where they offered for sale beautifully-crafted wares, including custom-designed seals and sealing wax, and exquisite fountain pens.

As challenging as it is to teach a class with all the accompanying anxiety of preparation and travel, I am once again struck by what a priveledge it is to be invited to offer a workshop to such interesting and willing participants. The calligraphy world is so unusually blessed with curious, gifted, motivated individuals who are invested in a lifetime pursuit of artistic growth. No one I have ever met-however skilled- rests on their laurels, but continues to devote time and energy to skill-building, to stretching their capacities and their visions. My class this weekend was one such group of calligraphers, courageous in their willingness to risk plunging into unfamiliar territory.  I congratulate them on submitting to a “write of passage” and moving closer to calligraphy they can call their own, based on their own personal, energetic and unique lines.

The major delight of this conference (besides the afore-mentioned), of course, was to reconnect with the TRIBE as I call it-to visit with beloved friends and discover new ones. The facilities were conducive to stealing away to a comfortable couch with a couple of friends in the evening.  With  glasses of wine in hands, maybe poring over a new book or publication, we could relax and visit in a deep and satisfying way.

And while it rained in California, my creative drought was surely washed away.  Back in Texas, watching the rain from my studio,  I feel the burst of new tendrils of ideas growing, waiting to flower on my canvas….

The Heroine’s Journey: Reflections on Art Workshops

I always experience a workshop-whatever the time length-like a hero or heroine’s journey.  If you are familiar with Joseph Campbell you will know what I mean.  For anyone not familiar with Campbell’s “mono-myth” cycle, I will sum it up as an experience wherein one receives an “inner calling” to take a particular action. Heeding the call, the individual embarks on a journey, moving  beyond the known boundaries of his/her experience.  Along the way, she inevitably confronts a series of challenges which typically lead to a “dark night of the soul” experience: here one feels he/she has completely lost his way.  It is at this moment during the journey when a helpful boon typically occurs -one which leads the heroine out of her predicament, guiding  her safely home. Perhaps outwardly unchanged, the hero/heroine has, nevertheless, experienced an inner shift of consciousness leading to greater wisdom and self-awareness.

An example of this process is Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz.  Her call comes after forces beyond her control land her in a strange land. The task before her is to find the Wizard of Oz who is the one individual who can help her return to her native Kansas.  During her incredible journey she collects wisdom, courage and a heart-and courageously defeats her greatest foe in completing the necessary task set before her by the Wizard:  killing the wicked witch of the west. Alas, Dorothy  then discovers that the Wizard is only an ordinary man who is ultimately unable to help her return home.  It is at Dorothy’s moment of greatest despair, as the wizards’ balloon floats off without her, when Glenda the Good Witch appears and advises Dorothy that she has had the power to return home all along.  Three clicks of her red heels, and Dorothy is back in Kansas.

Like Dorothy, we artists who heed the call and go to workshops embark on incredible personal journeys. We meet our inner demons of all ilk-and no doubt encounter a few wicked witches in the form of self-censure and self-criticism.  Our helpful boon comes when having persevered through our oftentimes hazardous inner landscapes, we learn that there is an art spirit inside glowing brightly which has been there all along.

As a teacher I am like the wizard-human and unable to grant magic powers. Like Glenda, though, my job is to remind you what you already know. I can hold up a mirror and reflect back that spirit waiting to be discovered; I can help you dust it off, polish it and release it joyfully onto the page and  into the world.


I had a dream about a tsunami the night before the election.  When I woke up, I didn’t feel distressed; I felt energized.  Nervous, nonetheless, I spent the day fuming, wondering whether or not America had awakened from our collective sleep to “take arms against a sea of troubles” and choose to change direction,  or whether we would choose to go down deeper into the heart of darkness.

Tuesday night I was at a friends’ house watching the election returns, seated next to a woman whom I had not met before, but who had been close with my mother-in-law, the late Governor Ann Richards.  Margaret described what was happening in the election as a tsunami. I smiled and told her about my dream  and how portentious it seemed.  Indeed, it seems archetypal: what we experienced Tuesday night was a deep, seismic shift-in attitude, in vision, in confidence. It was the culmination of a movement begun long ago, with many fits and starts over the years.  Inspired by a man whose background has been suspect to many and symbolic and healing for the rest of us, we saw thousands-millions-of people do the quiet, steady hard work of reclaiming their country. Many of those thousands were in  Chicago watching Obama step into the role of president-elect of the United States of America.   Thousands more danced in the streets in communities throughout the USA and the world, including the front door of the White House in Washington, DC.  Tsunami.  If ever there was a time to use the hackneyed phrase “a picture tells a thousand words”, this was it.

In electing Barack Obama, America has not spoken, but shouted.  Intelligence and truth have prevailed. We have turned from the “warrior” leader archetype to “visionary/healer” archetype.  We have chosen hope over fear, possibility over destruction.  We have co-created a vision which Barack Obama so beautifully embodies and eloquently expresses: ordinary citizens can accomplish great things. We don’t have to live out a script of cynicism and failure, we don’t have to create armeggedon for Americans and the rest of the world.  We CAN CHANGE OUR DIRECTION. WE CAN LIVE OUR IDEALS AND PUT THEM INTO PRACTICE. WE ARE CHANGE.  Yes. We. ARE.

I have been experiencing bouts of tears alternating with wonder and joy.  I feel like I can breathe.  The tsunami is washing away something old, battered, weary. I am riding the wave and am hopeful, dreamy and ready to continue the hard work of being a responsible American citizen.  Can we risk putting aside fear and act from compassion, reason, intelligence? Can we really co-exist peacefully with each other, regardless of race, religion, politics? Can we create an America worthy of our higher selves and vision? Yes, WE can.

Summer Kamp and the Livin’ is Easy

I love how my life is punctuated by particular events occuring at the same time every year. There are the obvious holidays, birthdays-and of course the Austin City Music Festival-all fun and much anticipated. For my daughter Maeve, none of these days which mark the “round of the seasons” seem as special as the first day of KAMP at Kickapoo, in Kerrville, Texas. Indeed, just yesterday, we were sitting in the long line of cars leading into the picturesque setting that is Kickapoo Kamp, waiting to drop off her trunk and other bags, when Maeve remarked, “Here we are again!” On this first day of camp, her fourth term at Kickapoo, she went on to share her feelings of anticipation, nervousness, excitement, curiosity. Blessed by cloud-cover and a cool breeze, I smiled as I sat with her in the car and listened, and wondered right along with her which friends would be back, what cabin she would be in (marveling that each year she seems to skip the logical “next cabin”!), who her counselors would be.

When at last our car rolled under the large oak trees near the “Band-Aid” nurse’s station, Maeve learned where she would be living for the next two weeks. She then bounded out of the car and up the hill towards her cabin, meeting several old friends along the way, one of whom, is a “Pawnee” and a fellow vegetarian. I saw Myrtle, the ubiquitious and kindly “keeper of Kampers”, delighted that she returns year after year to participate in the growing of our blessed girls. Laura and Bimmie were in their usual office stations, calm, welcoming and unfazed by scattered parents like me who typically forget some important form to be filled out.

We unloaded Maeve’s stuff in Cabin #3, learned that her counselor Nicole from last year had not only returned to Kickapoo, but would be her counselor this year as well!

It took only an hour to get settled, at which point Maeve hopped down from her top bunk bed, hugged me and said “bye!” A few years ago I might have been taken aback by such an abrupt, seemingly emotionless farewell. However, It was clear that it was time for me to go, and allow my daughter space to make the transition to her camp home. As I made my way back to the car, I didn’t feel sad, I didn’t feel worried, and I didn’t feel teary-eyed like I have in past years. I felt joy and pride at having a daughter so secure with herself-and with her surroundings-that she could part with me in such a simple, lovely way.

Kickapoo Kamp. Certainly not as fancy as some of the Hill Country girls’ camps on the Guadalupe. Indeed, it is downright rustic. Cabins are not air-conditioned, and the somewhat primitive accomodations would seem crowded to the spoiled among us. A few spiders and ants are surely my daughters’ cabin companions, and I wonder how she is going to do her increasingly complicated bathing rituals in a bathroom shared by 8 other girls and two counselors! The food staff do not cater to vegetarians like Maeve, and there aren’t that many places to go if it rains. Oh and those rugged, sharp steps she skips down and up a hundred times each day, coming and going to her various activities. I can’t imagine her navigating them successfully in the dark, flashlight or not!

But the camradarie. The fierce protectiveness of the staff-their absolute confidence in the girls and their ability to thrive away from home, while learning something important about themselves and each other in the process. The loving kindness of Myrtle, the patience and smiles of Teri the nurse, the lively counselors and Kampers who return year after year in this rustic haven. The fun-loving family who own Kickapoo, who LIVE Kickapoo-All of this-and the ineffible “something special” of the place-create two of the best weeks of my daughters’ year.

Last Summer, a parent of one of Maeve’s Kamper friends remarked, “Kickapoo is like the camp that the twins in the (original) movie ” The Parent-Trap” attended. It is good, clean, old-fashioned fun!” I might have paraphrased his remark a bit in the relating of it here, but the gist of it seemed to be, and I agree, that in such a slick, fast-paced world of modern conveniences, it is refreshing to offer our children a healthy alternative: a rustic retreat. Life without air-conditioning? Heck yeah! No internet, t.v., cell phones, video games? Yup. Kickapoo provides a positive “time-out” for girls to reconnect with themselves, with their humanity, their instincts and passions, and with each other.

Without the numbing distractions and questionable pressures of modern life, girls can be, well, girls.

I have done a bit of research on girls camps in Texas. Some look really lovely and sophisticated, boasting of air-conditioned cabins and gourmet food. One camp website showed a picture of young women clad in white, diaphanous dresses. Others , alternatively, look funky and down to earth, offering ropes courses and rock-climbing classes. I took a moment to reflect on our decision to send Maeve to Kickapoo (sight unseen her first year!) and wondered if we had taken the time to explore the other options more fully, would she have chosen Kickapoo? It is really a moot question, irrelevant in my daughters’ eyes. She is most unabashadly “kickapoo for life,” a proud Cherokee who is hopeful about becoming a Pawnee-and perhaps even a counselor some day. There is no question in her mind (nor in ours, after three amazing terms) that Kickapoo is her rightful place in the Summertime scheme of things.

Maeve did have one complaint this year about going to camp, and that was simply, “I want to stay at Kickapoo longer.”