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Woman Testing a Balance

National  Gallery of Art

National Gallery of Art

2015 was a rough and tumble year. Too many meetings. Too many projects, Too many expectations and opportunities. Life no longer was a matter of putting on foot in front of the other and slogging through but had twisted into running two marathons in opposite directions simultaneously.

At the end of the year I had a business trip to Washington. The trip did not begin well. Lost luggage led to a hotel with no room ready. All I wanted to do was crash. The hotel lobby–hard sterile white marble walls, glass and chrome furnishings, black and white photographs, very uncomfortable chairs–propelled me out of the hotel and to the museum.

A brisk walk through crisp winter air brought me to the echoing limestone lobby. I was feeling a bit more like myself when the docent stopped me as I tried to brush past. Even though I had been to the museum many times common courtesy kicked in when she caught me at the information desk. And that’s when I heard that four Vermeers were in a small gallery on the first floor.

I made my way to the small gallery where visitors were taking selfies with the main attraction, a Vermeer from Amsterdam. Somewhat overlooked on an adjacent wall hung Woman Holding a Balance. At first glance, I was puzzled since it seemed like the woman was contemplating something unseen. It was only after reading the caption that I took a closer look and saw the delicate whisper-thin balance at perfect equilibrium, held by a woman ignoring the pearls and jewels tumbling out of the chest on the table.

I spent a few hours in the museum that afternoon and revisited the Woman Holding a Balance several times interspersed with intervals of reflection on benches in the neighboring galleries.

  • How do I find balance in my life?
  • What distractions should I look past?
  • Can I learn to pull back?
  • When will I achieve equilibrium?

I learned later that the painting is sometimes called Woman Testing a Balance.

That I understand.

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The Cloud Appreciation Society: Just Breathe

Clouds over the Tractor Road , Ashley, Illinois

Clouds over the Tractor Road , Ashley, Illinois

Not too long ago, a link popped up on my facebook page. Underneath a blue sky and cumulus clouds were the words “Cloud Appreciation Society.” It sounded like something whimsical out of a children’s book. Without hesitation I “liked” their page.

Now every few days I receive a photo of a cloud formation. Stratocumulus, altostratus, and anvil tops. Prior to that my experience had been limited to clouds of the nimbus, cumulus or cirrus variety. The Cloud Appreciation Society takes clouds seriously.

But beyond the cloud classifications, I began looking at the clouds in my own skies. Cloud billows high above the oak pillars of Tower Grove Park in the morning. Cloud wisps drifting past my office window. Receding clouds at sunset, reflecting the opalescent pinks and lavenders of the innermost whorls of sea shells shot through with fiery reds and exploding nova yellows. Cradle clouds cushioning a full moon.

Each a unique moment. Impossible to capture. Life-giving.

As the sun set while I was driving home from Nashville I watched the clouds changing. The beauty of each moment was such a distraction I took the exit for a town called Ashley and pulled off onto a tractor road to just breathe and savor a unique purply sunset, and then continued upon my way, glad to be a part of the Cloud Appreciation Society.

Receding Clouds over the Tractor Road, Ashley, illinois

Receding Clouds over the Tractor Road, Ashley, illinois

 

Butterflies and Bees: Sharing Opportunity

My Garden

My Garden

A few years ago my friend, Ann, brought me a bouquet of Mexican sunflowers as a surprise. In their overblown lushness they are the my garden’s equivalent of Betty Boop flowers. This morning a butterfly went from flower to flower doing the work of pollination. After a few minutes the bee arrived and took up the task.

I thought back to something my friend, Chris, had shared with me. I had been invited to serve on a Board by a nonprofit agency. It was a busy time–when isn’t a busy time–and I was telling him how frustrated I was because I had to take on one more thing.

That’s when Chris quietly said, “You should give someone else the opportunity. What is a burden for you is an opportunity for them.” And he was right. I had been focusing on myself, not on what would be best for agency Board or on how another individual could happily bring their talents to the table. What could be burdensome for me was an opportunity for someone else.

I didn’t join that Board and somehow they managed just fine, perhaps even better, without me. Someone else served instead.

The bee can pollinate the sunflowers as well as the butterfly. It is only a matter of sharing opportunity.

Bees in the Garden

Bees in the Garden

Coneflower Creativity: Life after the Pinterest Black Hole

Coneflowers

Creativity implies creating something. This, however, is the age of Pinterest and virtual creativity. We create vicariously by scrolling through an endless array of elegantly executed creative concepts. Instead of following our own path we settle for pinning the ideas of others to boards stored in the cloud, saving the instructions for projects that will never be ours or become real. We lose our creative vision.

I started sewing when I was about ten and my mother sent me to the Singer Store on Cherokee Street for lessons. I made a delicate yellow voile dress, lined and with covered buttons, an overly ambitious project that I approached with great enthusiasm until I had to rip out a dart seventeen times. My mother was experienced and knew it was a recipe for disaster. I should have made an apron. But she realized that the dress was my vision.

Those scraps were the beginning of a fabric stash that could take over a small room. Snippets of cotton, wool and silk in bins and baskets. So many possibilities. Perhaps a tablecloth, a throw pillow, or a crazy quilt. Pinterest opened up an ever-expanding universe of projects and the clicks of the keyboard drew me further into the black hole. So many plans and ideas to pin and share.

And then one day, the realization that pinning is not creating.

Time to head up to the sewing room.

I pulled out the batik fabric scraps thinking I would create a table runner that captured the simmering waterlily pond in the yard but a drippy striped sunrise of yellow orange caught my eye. Coneflowers at dawn.

Magenta pinks and shadowy purples for petals, aggressive spotted orange for the bristly center, Chartreuse and retiring forest green leaves. No need to sketch, take a Pinterest break or wait until tomorrow. Pull out the scissors, needle and glass-headed pins.

Coneflower creativity.

Robins Know Their Own Minds

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When I was in Ireland I stopped at a country fair where local craftsmen were selling their wares. I brought home a nesting box for robins simply constructed of pine with a slate roof. It is charming. In the three years I have had it up in the eaves no robin has nested. Obviously my assumption about what robins think is wrong.

Recently, I spent several days with a colleague, Jane. Her boss had stopped her with some questions about a project as she was leaving for a three-day conference but she was in a hurry and as they finished their conversation she made a flip remark.

She doesn’t know her boss very well. Her boss is relatively new and she finds her hard to read. Their last conversation weighed on her mind and Jane was convinced her boss had found her remark offensive or rude. I suggested that she e-mail as a follow up on the project and in passing mention that she hoped her comment hadn’t been taken the wrong way.

Even after Jane did that, however, she was still worried and continued down the path of assuming she knew what her boss was thinking. Then she received a message that her boss wanted her to call, a message that engendered more speculation about what her boss was thinking and why did she want to talk to her.

As it turned out, she just wanted to confirm a few details about the project that they had discussed. And perhaps the motivation for the call was an effort on her part to put things back on an even footing, or even to reassure Jane that no offense was taken.

We can’t assume we know the mind of another.

When I went to the studio the other day, I walked past an old gaslight by the steps and was startled to see a robin sitting on its nest inside. Evidently, robins know their own minds.