Reflections on Month 6 and Beyond

Last week this happened.

I had my 6 month infusion, and after 6 hours in the chair, I was able to ring the bell.

The infusion itself was exhausting – physically, mentally, and emotionally. And ringing the bell? That was a swirl of all sorts of emotions. I had finished at the infusion center, but my last month of at home meds started the next day. Phew.

I’ve been expecting this last month to be easy. I was mistaken.

The level of difficulty has me feeling distressed, and a tad bit guilty. Perhaps that’s a lack of humility. Or perhaps it’s a misunderstanding of the process and gravity of it all. I’m the queen of relentless positivity and possibility. That’s good — fantabulous even. But, sometimes I need to remember that the positivity and possibility are happening against a backdrop of struggle, and endurance.

Those two photos speak to me of this dicotomy.

I purposefully captured the struggle amidst the positivity in the first photo. My face is to the sun — and the Son. Simultaneously an IV is pumping a plethora of medications into my vein. That is fantabulous and awful. Fantabulous because they are helping me crush the cancer. Awful because they are pummeling my body, mind, and spirit. It’s often remarkably difficult to keep them from vanquishing me.

In the second, I am ringing the bell — indicating the end of my infusion treatment. I’m laughing with my awesome nurse, as she and others cheer me on. Immediately after, we embraced in tears. It was a moment of exhilaration, joy, and relief; as well as a moment of exhaustion, sadness, trepidation, and some disconnect.

Perhaps that sounds odd. Why wouldn’t I just be relieved and happy?

I was! But, those infusions, and those remarkably wonderful, brilliant, and caring nurses have become part of my life. There’s an intense comfort knowing those fantabulous nurses are waiting for me each time I go in. There is security knowing their expertise, and those meds they give me, are keeping me alive and helping me thrive. It’s difficult to leave them, and nearly impossible to express my depth of gratitude.

Add to that the current status of my cancer as incurable, and the emotions intensify. That nagging negative voice in the back of my head complains and points out that it’s not really the end. There will be more.

It is only now, over a week later, that I can take a breath, acknowledge the truth the voice raises, and remind it that even so, for the moment, I am done with the infusions, and that is good.

Meanwhile, I push on with my home medications. They are working their own particular magic. They press on against my cancer, giving it no rest. For that I couldn’t be more grateful. And yet, they continue to press on me as well, and that is not pleasant. Thankfully, they too will soon end, at least for this session. And that too will be a victory worth celebrating. They are no easier, and no less important than the infusions, so their conclusion shall be celebrated as well. (smile)

As I sit here with an pounding head, aching chest, and overall malaise, I chuckle thinking, “Perhaps we should all do more daily bell ringing!”

We took the time to meditate and pray? Ring a bell!
We pause for some breathing and positive thoughts? Ring a bell!
We see the beauty in the little things? Ring a bell!
We are the recipient of unexpected kindness? Ring a bell!
We have patience, and don’t crank at the person who accidentally stepped on our last nerve? Ring a bell!
We notice the miracles and gifts of every day? Ring a bell!
We don’t vomit — even though we feel like we might? Ring many bells! (laughter)

When my last infusion was finally finished, and my nurse excitedly said “Wait! You get to ring the bell! Give me your phone, I’ll take a photo!” I chuckled. The photographer in me thought “Where shall we take it?” I momentarily considered good backgrounds. Then my aching head and ridiculous exhaustion got the better of me, and my thoughts morphed into “Oh my gosh, let’s just take it anywhere!”

In hindsight, the background is perfect. Behind me are all the little infusion pods. Behind me are my six months of infusions.

BEHIND me.

They are behind me. Finished.
At least for now.

They are behind me. Making me cancer lighter.
That is miraculous

They are behind me. Exhausting me.
That’s something I have to remind myself.

These 6 months have not been easy. My body, mind, and spirit have worked hard, and had more bad days than good. They have been pummeled. They are fantabulous for sure, but they are going to take a bit of time to recover. When I talked with my Dana Farber oncologist in October he said “You should be feeling great (pause) by sometime in January.”

Sometime in JANUARY?!?!?!??? Eee gads. If I recall correctly, I thought to myself “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Did he just meet me?!?!” But, now, I realize the wisdom of his words. This isn’t a little sprint. This isn’t an easy workout. This is an endurance event. And no matter how fantabulous I am, as with every endurance event there is preparation, execution, and recovery.

Now I need to respect the final push, and the recovery.

With that in mind, I remind myself this final push of medications and side effects, as well as my recovery are supported by all the things I do in the background.

Where I am, and who is there with me — in person, prayer, and spirit — matters!

How I eat supports me and all my work.

The things I do, and the ways I think, fuel me.

I always tell my Kindergartners about the importance of the struggle in our lives and learning. One year, one of them reminded me with great conviction “The struggle is real, Ms. James, and it’s important!”

Yes, my sweet, courageous, determined, girl — you are right. The struggle is real and supremely important. So too are these things. They overflow with life, energy, hope, joy, possibility, and power. They enable me to endure, survive, advance, and thrive.

So, with a big breath, I remind myself (and perhaps you) sometimes angst is just part of the process. But guilt? Guilt is inappropriate. Patience, peace, and acknowledgement of all I am, all I do, and all I have accomplished (with the help of so many) — that is appropriate. Let the bell ringing continue.

But first, I must collapse for a nap.

Erase Discouragement

Today’s calendar journal entry.

The image and letters are from some junk mail — hence they lost a bit of color as I worked with them. It’s funny how irritating I find that. And yet, it fits with the quote — erase discouragement and keep going.

The brown image behind the words is the cross section of a tree. I find trees to be some of the least discouraged individuals. If there’s a rock in the way, they work on growing around it or over it. Another tree falls on them? No problem, they adjust and grow on. And what about autumn? Each year, the trees appear to die as they drop their leaves. But even in apparent defeat they are brazenly defiant, surrendering only after putting on a spectacular show of color. And of course, come spring they burst forth in victorious life.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if we erased discouragement — not only from our dictionary but from our lives? And imagine how remarkable it would be be if we helped erase it from the dictionaries and lives of our students! Of course there will be difficulties and struggles. But, might we approach them like a tree?

“Drat a rock. That’s not what I was planning. Hmmm, how might I continue and grow, even though this rock is in my way. Ohhhh, I wonder — might I use this rock to my advantage?”

Oh my! I love this. I’m imagining all the students — and teachers — out exploring, looking for their favorite tree. What will they choose? Will they choose one that is already tall and strong? Or, might a smaller tree that is struggling speak to them? What will they notice, wonder, learn, and think? The opportunities for growth, and the possibilities for curriculum integration, social emotional learning, and STEAM related activities are unending.

BE LIKE A TREE
Speak the truth. This rock’s in my way.
Acknowledge the dilemma and feeling. This wasn’t the plan. This might not be easy. Ugh.
Speak more truth. I want to ______.
Think creatively, and explore possibility. What might I do now? Is all lost? What do I know? What have I learned?
Embrace my strength and keep going.

I’m on it. How about you?

Birds, Photos, and Stories


It’s a beautiful quiet morning. The breeze is cool and lovely, and everything feels like gift.

As I sit, I notice a bird on the power line, silhouetted against the morning sun. I grab my phone and take a few photos. Intrigued by the images, and chasing the perfect one, I take a few more.

It may seem silly to pay so much attention to birds sitting on a power line. Really, what’s the draw?

At first the draw was art and possibility. The birds seemed like a perfect subject, with great possibilities for pen, pencil, or watercolor.

With each photo, I noticed more and more, and as I did, curiosity, wonder, awe, and delight joined the party.

The sun was bright white, and at first the scene appeared black and white to me. But, as I studied the photographs I took, I noticed blue. Blue?! I gazed upwards at the actual scene. Sure enough, there it was.

I took one more shot, and was gifted with the moon!

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At some point, connection and making meaning rounded out my morning party.

Curiosity, wonder, delight, and awe have been my constant companions these past few days. They’ve been filling my thoughts as I make art, and popping up in my research and reading as a colleague and I construct new curriculum. This morning they were present like faithful friends, encouraging me to photograph, study, consider, and enjoy these birds on the wire.

And, speaking of faithful friends — birds! They tweet their remarkable voices in the woods while I walk, and in the yard while I sit. They flit in and out of the garden, and even venture bravely onto the porch near my chair. And, just the other day, they blessed my art world in this Art Tool-kit video on sketching birds, and this remarkable resource by John Muir Laws.

When I first noticed the bird perched on the line this morning, I grabbed his image for the artistic possibilities. I thought he might fly off, and I’d miss the moment. But he stayed, and was joined by friends.

I’ve been working on breathing, and trusting life and God during these unusual days of the pandemic. That work, the birds continued presence, and my peaceful noticing, brought to mind the great spiritual His Eye is On the Sparrow, and the scripture of how important the small and seemingly insignificant sparrows are to God.

Birds, photos, and stories. I love when everyday things come together to tell a story.

I am held, seen, and heard.
I am loved.
Beauty is always present.
Hope is always warranted.
There is always more.
More joy, more surprise, more awe,
More beauty, more possibility, more reason to hope.
Look for the more.
It is here.
Expect it.
Accept it.
Live it.

There are endless stories to tell. Make them good ones.

What If Anything is Possible

Have you ever read any of Brad Montague’s stuff? Changing the world is on his to do list! When you get a moment, definitely give him a look, listen, and read.

In the March/April 2019 Ideas Issue of Good Grit, Brad says his workshop is “the kind of space where if someone comes to work with us, they would feel like anything is possible.” How awesome is that?

I love that idea, and this cover shot. It makes me smile and chuckle — but it’s also super profound right? Anything is possible. Grab hold of your dream — and your trusty colander — and make it happen!

My thoughts immediately go to my students. I can see us — goggles on, capes flapping behind us, dripping with jewels, multiple bags on each arm — laughing out loud as we run to join Brad in his time traveling machine. I revel in the joy I see on our faces. Then my thoughts turn to the makerspace where we turn ordinary objects into extraordinary inventions. And finally, I see us sitting together in reading groups — eyes wide with amazement as they read!

One of the practices Rosamund and Benjamin Zander suggest in their book The Art of Possibility is stepping into a universe of possibility. What if all educators worked to create a space in their minds and hearts, as well as in their physical learning space, where anything is possible and miracles happened every moment of the day? What if we created universes of possibility for ourselves and our students?

It would be amazing and world changing!

But how? How do we create universes of possibility that others can feel? We can’t just say it’s a universe of possibility where anything is possible, we have to work to make it a reality. Our choice of words, classroom design, norms, agreements, rules, and beliefs have to support everyone in the universe of possibility. We need to believe it’s true, and then speak and act in a way to make it real for others.

I’m thinking what that might look like for me.

Model curiosity.
Engage in conversation.
Listen.
Wonder.
Marvel at ideas and give them a go. Even, and especially, the ideas of a 5-6 year old.
Laugh.
Collaborate.
Make mistakes.
Use, and teach, “How Fascinating!”
Explore.
Investigate.
Think.
Problem-find.
Problem-solve.
Be creative.
Be teachable.
Learn.
Regularly engage in What if? moments with myself and my students!
Believe the best about others.
Help others see and believe the best about themselves.
Radiate positivity.
Speak from a mindset of abundance.
Speak of beauty and goodness.
Be grateful.
Invite others to join in.

And what if we didn’t just create that space in our classroom? What if we created universes of possibility fin our everyday lives? Again, amazing, and world changing!

Is my life a universe of possibility? Yes. I am the Queen of Possibility.

Do I always live in that knowledge? No. Sometimes I forget I live in a Universe of Possibility, and get mired in the slog that the day brings me.

Clearly, even as the Queen, I can deepen my practice of believing, speaking, and living possibility.

So, the universe of possibility I’m working on today.

Cancer? A cure is possible.
Side effects? No problem, I can manage.
The pandemic? Brilliant creative people are working on a vaccine and treatment. Prayerful people are praying them closer to it. It can end.
People hating and being less than human to one another? We can choose to love and be kind. We can make a difference.
Experiencing stress? I can breathe, pray, nutraceutical up, and move through it.
My washer and drier are old and hanging on with a thread? They can continue to work. And, if they need to be replaced, I can stay safe and comfortable in the process.
Feeling small in the face of it all? God is greater. God is generous. God is trustworthy.
Hope? Always good to have, and never disappoints.
Joy? Absolutely.
Possibility? Everywhere.

And, thanks to my good friend, Jojo, I can leave you with one of my favorite Universe of Possibility creating quotes.

When nothing is sure, everything is possible. (Margaret Drabble, The Middle Ground).

Imagination, Curiosity, Creativity, Possibility, Hope, Peace, Joy, and Faith

I breathe best in a space of imagination, curiosity, creativity, possibility, hope, peace, joy, and faith. In some way, my breath supports each one, and each one supports my breath. In an equally powerful way, each moment of imagination, curiosity, possibility, hope, creativity, peace, joy, and faith, grows from, and feeds each other.

IMAGINATION is a mighty force. Sometimes it seems like a playground in my mind.

CURIOSITY often produces a laugh, entices me to exploration, and calls to my creativity.

CREATIVITY (thinking and doing) is looking with new eyes, open to the surprise, uniqueness, and possibility.

POSSIBILITY (thinking and being), is for me, the food of hope, peace, and joy.

HOPE, PEACE, and JOY are everything. They keep me going, and help me impact my world (inside and out) in positive ways.

FAITH – in myself, others, God, things larger than myself, the process, imagination, curiosity, creativity, possibility, hope, peace, and joy – makes it all possible. It encourages me to try when it seems I cannot, to believe when I do not, and to take another breath, and just be.

The other day, as I finished up my 9 hour infusion, a little loopy, and frankly, a little desperate. I didn’t feel like I had imagination, curiosity, creativity, possibility, hope, peace, joy, and faith, but none-the-less, I reached for them, and thankfully they were there!

I hadn’t brought much with me, just a small notebook, and a pen. What could I do with that?

I could occupy my mind and my hands, and fold an origami crane and a simple rectangular box.

I tore out a page, ripped it in half, and began to create. I made one of each. Then I took out another page. I decorated the page before I ripped it in half and folded another.

My breath eased a bit.

They say if you fold a 1000 paper cranes wishes come true, luck, and hope abound.

I say, 2 cranes and two paper boxes, folded with imagination, curiosity, possibility, hope, creativity, peace, joy, faith, and simple presence, might hold the same power. I took a photo to keep with me, and left the cranes, boxes, and any good they hold, for someone else to find.

I Did It!

I did it!

My brother and I got out for walk in nature, and I PAINTED!!!

I sat quietly, enfolded in the sounds and sights of nature. But, something in me rejoiced loudly “YAY!!! II’m sitting by the water, and I’m painting!!! All is right with the world”

It was a remarkably beautiful, and emotional few moments. I’m not sure I can express how lovely it is to sit by a river, with my watercolors, a fresh piece of paper, a paint brush, and some water (often from the river itself).

I know creativity isn’t the same thing as art. But, sometimes art gives me the opportunity to indulge in my love for creativity and creative thinking. Art sharpens my ability to be open to possibility and think differently — How might I express with the paint what I see with my eyes? How might I use the water, or the vegetation, or the wind as part of my process? Is there something new I might try? What if I expressed it in shades of black and white rather than color?

Strangely, COVID gives me more opportunities to think creatively as well. How might I feel comfortable sitting and painting? Where can we find a place to actually sit? If I have to stand, how might I use what is around me to hold my paint and water? Might I wonder and entertain all the possible things that might go right, instead of the things that might go wrong?

We humans have a negativity bias – keeps us safe – but I think sometimes for creatives our ability to problem find and imagine possibilities works against us. Well, I’ll speak for myself. Sometimes it works against me. Remember I said the moment was emotional? It was emotional because of the beauty, joy, and peace I felt. It was emotional because it was one of the first moments I have not felt afraid being out of doors doing something normal.

Yesterday I painted by the river.

Today I knitted.

Life is good.

These artistic endeavors soothe my soul. They teach me to look, notice, and wonder. They encourage me to be in the moment, open to possibility, even when it seems elusive.

I am a creative. It is part of who I am. I think I was born with the ‘I love noticing, thinking, creating, and figuring things out’ gene. Or perhaps, I don’t have that gene, but simply was blessed with parents who raised me to notice, think, create, and figure things out. Either way, here I am.

Yes, I am a creative. Each day gifts me with opportunities to increase my understanding of creativity and creative thinking, challenges that strengthen my creative confidence, and moments that urge me to consider possibilities. As I write this I am reminded of the Mary Anne Radmacher quote ““… sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, “I will try again tomorrow.”

If I might be bold enough to allow her quote to speak to me and inspire me about creativity, I would rephrase it like this — often creativity is the quiet voice at the end of the day, that, looking at opportunities untaken, or problems as yet unsolved, says “I will sleep on it tonight and will try again tomorrow.”

May we always treasure and nurture that small voice.

Possibility and Fantabulousness in Quarantine

The other day a colleague shared a link about how to force a copy to be made of a google doc, sheet, slide, or drawing, when you attempt to download it. What a great idea! Now no one has to remember to make a copy, or risk changing your original by mistake.

While I was on the Shake Up Learning site learning how to do that, I clicked on a few other things I found interesting. My absolute favorite was her magnetic poetry board that featured small white rectangles with black lettered words, waiting to be placed on a retro mint green refrigerator! Oh my GOSH!!! So good.

After playing for a bit, I noticed she had a free mini course about how to make the magnetic boards. I wasted no time clicking on that link.

I listened, played, and created a magnetic board for my Kindergartners. It was lovely, but a bit too complicated. Back to the drawing board I went.

Finally I decided I’d create a board that had space to create sentences in the middle, while holding the words on the top and bottom of the slide. This would allow the Kindergartners to create the sentences by clicking and dragging.

I shared it as an optional assignment.

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When you are finished with your other projects, please consider teaming with me as an Official Tester of Our Kindergarten Virtual Magnetic Words Board.

I can’t come put magnets on your refrig, so I had to do it on the computer. I learned some new skills, and used them to make word “magnets” as well as a place for you to create sentences, poems, lists, or other things we haven’t yet imagined, on your computer.

This is the first time I’ve tried this, so I’m not sure how it will work for you on your device, or how much you will enjoy it. But I’d really like to know.

If you’re ready to be brave, resilient, I can do it Kindergartners, click here. Make a copy, and see what you can do. Try it for a few days. I’ll be waiting for your thoughts, and your sentences.

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I was sure they would except the challenge. But, I had no idea what I’d get in return. I waited, with hopeful anticipation.

Slowly their responses began filling my email inbox. They were great! Each one showed me the spirit, resilience, and all around awesomeness of the student who did the work.

Their sentences speak volumes about who they are, how they see themselves, and what they are experiencing and thinking. I gotta say, they filled my heart with joy! Take a look at a few:

Yes, yes indeed, I do feel all the love!

Fantabulous, right? I included a few words in their word bank that were a little less than positive – yell, cry, worries. I added them to honor and validate the reality that we might want to yell, cry, or be worried. They didn’t choose them — except to suggest — after a long line of things they do — love, laugh, imagine, and create — they don’t yell. That actually made me laugh out loud.

Curious to consider, but true none-the-less, this fantabulousness happened because of the quarantine.

Because we’re home and not together in our school, I needed to rethink how to do what I would normally do in our classroom. How could I give them open ended opportunities to create with words? How could I allow them to share themselves and their ideas? How could I do some formative assessment?

Living during this pandemic I have a bit more time, and am experiencing a good deal more stress. So what could I do? I could try to follow my passion to learn and create. So when this opportunity to learn and get caught up in the flow of creativity came my way, I eagerly embraced it.

I think this fantabulousness also happened because of all the work we put in together pre-quarantine. Not just the work to develop skills, but the work to develop relationships.

Everything about our time together — even now — is about relationships. Relationships with arms, hearts, and big beautiful brains, wide open to embrace each other and all we bring to one another.

We say good morning, inquire how the other is, look each other in the eye, and share our thoughts ideas and feelings. We laugh, and sometimes we cry. Our relationship is based on trust, love, openness to possibility, wonder, willingness to risk, and mutual respect.

For sure, that relationship allowed me to take a risk, do something new, and ask my students and their parents to join me in my experiment. Undoubtedly it gave them courage and freedom as well.

We remain apart, but at the same time together — together in all our fantabulousness!

Magenta and Naples Yellow

I took some time to breathe, and make art in my art journal today. It was pretty fabulous.

My first few tries and marks were quite uninspiring. It’s part of the angst of having an art journal — those uninspiring or downright dreadful attempts. Sometimes it keeps me from working, or, I work but resist trying new things. Thankfully, today, I was able to set my angst aside. I covered my less than pleasing attempts with a lovely layer of white gesso, and, as simple as that, I was ready to go again.

I picked medium magenta, quinacridone magenta, and naples yellow from my acrylic paint box. Definitely not my typical color palette. Magenta, yes. Shades of magenta, sure. Naples yellow? Nope. Naples yellow and magenta? Big fat nope. But today, for whatever reason, the colors spoke to me, and I listened.

Then, I sorted through my collage stash looking for colors, words, images, or texture that worked with the colors on the page. I placed papers on the page, squinted, tilted my head, rearranged, and thought.

Eventually I made my choices — a mustardy yellow-brown page with mismatched fonts spelling possibility, a pinkish lotus flower, and a quote about failing. I went through the same process with the chosen papers – placing, adjusting, tearing, squinting, looking, and thinking. After a while, I was satisfied.

I loved the darkness of the water surrounding the lotus flower. But, I definitely needed another splash of darkness to tie that water to the rest of the work, and create a bit more balance. As with my initial work, my first attempt at adding darkness was less than pleasing. No worries, add a bit more collage. Perfect!

What about abstract lines and squiggles? I’d just seen someone play with them in their art journal. I liked the look, and it seemed a good and simple way to accomplish my goal.

Turns out I was wrong. It is fabulous, and it’s a good idea, but it is not easy — at least not for me. Who knew how difficult it can be make relaxed lines and squiggles? Certainly not me.

I’m going to do some “squiggle study” so I’m more prepared in the future. But for now, I forged ahead, and hoped for good things. I decided to include words in and with my squiggles. I allowed the natural flow of handwriting to inform my squiggle practice.

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I’m not completely satisfied with the result, but I like it quite a bit. And, perhaps more importantly, I am intrigued by the process, and enjoyed all the making, thinking, creating, and reflecting involved.

What I first noticed was that the uncharacteristic choice of naples yellow opened the door for the possibility paper. Then, the lotus flower in the intensely dark water encouraged me to add the black marks. My inability to make the marks the way I wanted caused me to add words and word-like doodles. As I looked, wondered, worked and reflected, I noticed more, and had more aha moments. Here are a few of my reflections.

POSSIBILITY – Possibility, and my openness to possibility, started and sustained the process.

LOTUS – What a great image. The color was lovely – a beautiful blush pink against that intensely bold dark water. Drops of water always fascinate me, so having them on the lotus was a bonus. And, everything the lotus stands for — growing from the depths of darkness, strength, movement, beauty — is fantabulous. I’m a big fan.

LOVE – The first word I wrote in my word-like scribble was love.Funny enough it didn’t seem to matter if the word could be read. Simply having it present made everything else possible. That seems true in my life as well.

ALL THINGS — All things are possible. All things, even those that seem impossible.

FAIL. FAIL AGAIN. FAIL BETTER. — That is just spectacular. There is so much to ponder in those three sentences. And, goodness gracious, there are so many things at which I should willingly fail, fail again, and fail better.

FEAR — As I thought about failing, and fear, my first thought was  — release fear. But, as I sat with that, I realized sometimes I really need to just embrace fear, and perhaps even be willing to simply coexist with it in peace.

CREATIVITY — My choice to be creative — to stretch beyond my comfort zone, try new things and risk failure — opened me to a myriad of experiences, joy, and realizations.

I love this stuff. It’s so very interesting. I could go round and round — possibility, love, fail, fail again, fail better, be fascinated, look, learn, see the possible, do the possible, do the impossible — and then start again at any one of those points.

Possibility is everywhere, and creativity is always an option. My plan is to seize, create, or just be peacefully open to possibility and creativity, with each breath, gaze, and thought.

Create Space

A while back I was experimenting with ideas from Joanne Fink’s book about zenspiration dangle design.

I’m not quite sure if Joanne suggested dangling a circle or if I came up with the idea. But it enjoyed playing with it. After finishing the exterior side of the circle, I decided to dangle the interior portion as well. Even now I’m intrigued by the different sense of the design on either side of the circle.

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For some reason the outer design maintains its outward flow. When I look at it, it doesn’t change. It is strong, steady, open, and ever reaching. I am attracted to the balance between white space and color, between lines, shapes, and openness, between straight lines and curved.

My relationship to the inner circle work feels much different. I am at one and the same time attracted and somewhat disturbed by it. The structures do not maintain a particular direction, but seem to move depending on where my gaze lands. I notice the same elements of line, color, and open space. But, I feel a sense of conflict as the various elements converge on the center.

As I wondered what to do, I remembered a henna design the awesome Catherine Lent did for me. In the midst of her beautifully intricate design, she had an empty circle. We chuckled about it as she worked around it. After checking with me to be sure I was ok with it, she left it empty. She said something like, “Sometimes it’s good to leave a bit of space.”

Hmmmm. Space. Yes, leave a bit of space, or create a bit of space.

I went back to my drawing and covered the tightness of the center with a small circular piece of white paper.

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I love it! I am intrigued by the space I created in the center. It is at one and the same time empty and yet full of stillness, openness, wonder, and possibility.

This speaks to me for my life as much as it does for my art.

In art, and in life it’s good to have space. Space for possibility. Space for stillness. Space for breath and being.

Space.

Sometimes it’s hard to find.

But, just like with this piece of art, I can step back, make a choice, and create space in my life, my heart, my mind.

Breath, prayer, times of sitting, a walk, are some of the small white circles that I place upon my life to create calm, still, open moments.

Sometimes it’s nice to leave a little space … or to create it.

Creative Spark!

Yesterday, I picked up my copy of Journal Sparks: Fire up Your Creativity with Spontaneous Art, Wild Writing, and Inventive Thinking. I was hoping for a creative spark from Emily Neuburger. She did not disappoint.

Flipping through the first few pages I came upon suggestions of what my journal might be. I’d used that list before to great results. This time I was struck by this possibility:

This journal is a small, handmade, accordion journal (see page 132) that is meant to be completely filled in one day.

Hmmm. I know how to make accordion journals. They’re simple and fun. I flipped to page 132. But, it was page 133 that caught my eye. I’d made these books before as well. I even taught them at a book-making workshop I led for educators. It’s a quirky little cut which allows for many possibilities as you use the book.

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When I presented it to my fellow educators, they were a bit unsure of its quirkiness. The ambiguity of the way the pages progress was a bit disconcerting. I encouraged them to just give it a go and see what their students did with it.

At the time I was thinking book, not journal, so I could understand their discomfort. We typically think of books as progressing in a particular manner. But, now, approaching it as a journal, I absolutely love it! The concept of a journal, filled in one day, on an unconventionally folded piece of paper is fantabulous! The ambiguity actually adds to its fantabulousness. (Note: Perhaps we need to be open to ambiguity in our books as well! It may turn out to be an equally remarkable twist.)

At first I was a bit unsure how I would fill the journal in one day. Would I just sit and fill it? Didn’t know. Didn’t care. Just wanted to do it.

I folded, cut, and folded again to create the journal. I played around with it for a bit before I did any writing/drawing. It’s super interesting the different ways you can open and turn the pages. After a considerable amount of folding, refolding, opening, looking, wondering, I chose the way I wanted to proceed. I put my first entry on the cover. I had places to go and things to do, so I put the journal down and set about the next part of my day.

In my car, I noticed an old tea bag tag I’ve had in there for what seems like forever. Perfect! When I got back in the house, I glued it to the next page. Later in the day I was feeling the need for some stretching so I did a bit of yoga. Awesome. I added it to my journal with simple stick figures and words. Still later I noticed my impatience (I’m working on that) so I added a quote about gratitude versus complaining.

I was struck by the awesomeness of this simply, small, out of the ordinary journal as a opportunity for mindfulness and reflection. Since each page is so small it’s really simple to fill them. You can make a really quick jot, or you can be more involved if time allows, and it makes you happy.

The idea of filling the book in a day was key for me as it forced me to create small moments in my day. The last pages were done right before my night prayers. It was a lovely way to wrap up my day. It gave me an opportunity to record the things I wanted to remember as I closed my day and my eyes.

I shared the finished journal with my brother. As I talked to him, I opened the journal in several different ways. As I did, I realized you could do two days if you wanted. The folds allow the blank pages to be accessed easily, so I could fill in another day if I wished. I also noticed I hadn’t stayed on the same side with all my entries. It might be interesting to do that. He remarked “Perhaps you could watercolor each side and then follow that. It’d be an easy way to maintain each side.” True! And it would be pretty!

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I’m in the process of making this ridiculously simple journal for my friends. It has profound possibility and potential. I love it for the opportunity to be curious, to flip back and forth between possibilities, make choices, reflect, have fun, breathe, be mindful, and do some writing and drawing. I may do several of my own. They’d be great to have to return to, reflect, remember and be inspired.

I kind of want to send one to each of my colleagues — to encourage stopping, breathing, reflecting, creating, and mindfulness. I definitely want to use them with my Kindergartners — and not just as a book (though books are spectacular) but as an opportunity to be, and experience all those lovely fantabulous things.

 


Make your own:

If you use a rectangular sheet of paper (as Emily does) you end up with rectangular pages. You can use a square piece of paper if you prefer square pages.

Fold the paper in half long ways and short ways. Then, fold each half in half. This should get you 16 rectangles/squares.

Following the folds, begin on one of the outer folds and cut to just before your final rectangle (if you don’t stop, you cut the piece off). Turn your paper and continue cutting along the fold to just before the last rectangle. You continue in a spiral-like manner until any cuts would result in cutting a piece off the paper.

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Then re-fold, explore, and enjoy.