My Mother’s Hands

9 11 2017

I inherited my mother’s hands. I got my father’s short and stocky build, but I’ve got the long, tapered fingers with strong nails from my mom. I’ve always considered my hands my best physical feature.

FullSizeRender

I’m at the beach now to recharge and refuel from a busy summer. I’ve completed a solid draft of my book, Growing Your Creativity. A key component of the book is to do things outside your comfort zone. I’ve enjoyed watching the Para gliders on the beach from my condo balcony, but doing something outside your comfort zone can be much smaller. These small or large nudges allow you to look at something differently and it feeds your creativity.

This vacation is about doing as little as possible. Giving myself a manicure fell into that category. At the store to pick up some essentials, I look at the nail polish. I’m ready to wear a color I’ve never worn before. No reds, no pinks, no tans. I reach for blue because I’m at the beach. Then I notice a blue that’s sparkly. I love sparkly things. Without more thought I put the polish in the basket.

It’s November and still delightfully warm at this Gulf Coast beach. I sit on the condo balcony where I’ve watched the sun rise and cast her white blue, soft pink, pale yellow where the sky meets open water and the snow white sand.

I’m unreasonably excited about putting on the new polish. My sweetie almost pretends he’s interested. I put on the first coat and I’m so disappointed. It’s almost clear and you hardly can notice it. I wanted bold color that looked foreign on my hand. So I keep putting on layers of polish. I stop at four coats to sip my evening cocktail.

As the light changes I notice the new color on my nails change too. It looks like I have opals on my fingernails. The iridescent colors shift with the light. There are soft whites, pale shimmery blues, pale pinks and creamy glitters. I have the colors of autumn at the beach on my hands.

I’m unexpectedly warmed by a memory of my mother. We loved the girlyness of doing our own manicures. We shared our favorite nail polishes. My Mom’s nails were generally fire engine red, but I know she would have loved this color. She was always on top of fashion trends.

I’ve been coming to this beach since I was a child. There are high rises where there once were sand dunes. But the light has remained the same. Iridescent.

By nudging myself out of my comfort zone I’ve been brought back to the luminescent comfort of my past.

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CREATIVE HEROES: Walker Thornton

29 10 2017

Walker Thornton is a sex blogger. She’s a published writer and her writing on midlife sexuality has won awards and professional recognition. I know her from an online blogging group we’re both in. It takes boldness and bravery to live a creative life. She is a Creative Hero.

walker

Living Outside the Comfort Zone
You have to be authentic to live a creative life. Walker has consistently opened herself up to new possibilities and amazing adventures have followed. A friend told her, “You play a big game of life, and you play a big game of business, and you integrate these so well.”

Walker grew up in a small, southern town. She was raised to be a proper, southern lady. She was taught that it was important to always look good and men would not like you if you did not wear makeup. Walker got her masters in educational psychology and married young. Her professional life was spent helping women who had been impacted by sexual violence and teaching women how to protect themselves.

Walker took a big risk when she divorced her husband of many years. She lost the support of family and friends because by the time she got her divorce, her husband was in a wheelchair with multiple sclerosis.

Emotionally she ended her marriage, but she didn’t walk away from her ex-husband when he needed help. They worked out an agreement that worked for both of them. They continued to live in the same home for a number of years until he went to an assisted living facility while she remained his primary care giver. She continued this care until he died.

Walker began her newly single life—and dating—while still living under the same roof of her ex-husband. Walker broke the rules ingrained from her upbringing. She did what was not necessarily considered proper. It was a huge, difficult step that led her to the journey she is on today.

A Pivotal Moment
After her ex-husband’s death, she felt truly free. She wanted to own her sexuality. She wanted to know how to feel pleasure in her body, for herself, not to please anyone else. She leapt out of her comfort zone again and flew across the country for a woman’s sexuality retreat designed for women to discover and embrace the divine, juicy woman within. It was during a massage that she began to feel the beauty and strength of her older body. When looking at herself she saw the extra pounds, the stretch marks from her pregnancies, and her aging breasts. The trained sexological bodyworker touched her belly and called out to the beauty within that had carried her children and to the beauty of her breasts that had fed those children. It was a transformative moment when she learned to cherish her aging, imperfect body. She embraced the beauty of the life her body had given her. She returned home with a newfound, radiant confidence.

Walker had long been a sex educator and women’s advocate. She realized no one talks about sexuality at midlife. How does one cope with what menopause, divorce, widowhood, the changes of age or illness can bring? How does an older woman embrace her sexuality when society pretends it doesn’t even exist? Always an educator and now a writer, Walker began to integrate her life with her business. She began to write about midlife and senior sexuality and she took another risk. When most sex bloggers write under a pseudonym, Walker writes under her own name. A lot of women don’t talk about sex because of shame. Walker can be who she is and knows there is no shame to living a full, creative, and sexual life. She can be the role model and take away the shame. Her audience can see themselves reflected in her.

Walker writes about sexuality frankly, honestly and in a non-prurient way. As often happens when we allow our authentic selves to shine, others are drawn to our light. Walker’s matter-of-fact approach to senior sexuality has brought her professional recognition; she has become an award-winning writer and sought after speaker. Her journey is her audience’s journey and she’s become a published author with her book, Inviting Desire.

Taking Risks
Walker is a sexy, silver-haired woman. She continues to do things that she was once told she couldn’t or shouldn’t do as a proper southern lady. In a time and an age when women are often fearful of traveling solo, Walker flew to Portugal for a 2-week adventure. She learned that while not easy, traveling alone meant you could do whatever you want, whenever you want. And sitting alone at an outdoor café allows for flirty adventures that do not happen when traveling with others.

She owns her  power. In addition to writing, she is drawing and painting. She’s taking online creative classes. One assignment involved taking self-portraits. Early one morning, she rolled out of bed and snapped a selfie of herself still disheveled and makeup-free. It made her laugh and the image captured her delight. She soon saw a casting call for women who are aging naturally. She sent in the photo and got the gig.

As I write this, Walker is expecting a visitor. She’s been in communication with a man who is flying in to meet her. That fluttery, excited, anticipation of possibilities is the same for all ages. She doesn’t know what the future holds, but she’s always going to take the risk.

Walker continues to step out of her comfort zone, to live a fully creative life. It has not been easy. She has been the wife, been the mother, been the PTA president, and she is now being her own authentic, creative self. As she said, “This is me, coloring outside the lines.”

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CREATVE HEROES: Alicia Searcy

22 05 2017

Alicia Searcy is a fashion and style blogger. I met her at a blogging conference in her hometown of Nashville a few years ago. Her spirit and purple hair made her stand out in the crowd. Her creative voice and passion inspire me. I am thrilled to add her story to Creative Heroes.

Alicia

Wabi-sabi is a Japanese concept that embraces transience and imperfection. When creating art and an imperfection appears, the idea is to use it to make the art more distinctive. Alicia Searcy’s life embodies that concept. As we strive to live a creative life, we all face obstacles. Instead of being defeated by the obstacles in her life, Alicia has embraced her authenticity and is transforming the world.

Alicia was born with choreoathetotic cerebral palsy, which gives her mobility issues. Additionally she had to fight her way out of an isolated childhood. She overcame an eating disorder and is a suicide survivor.

Alicia survived the isolation by having a vivid, imaginative, rich, interior life. Alicia embraced her creative side, got a degree in Journalism, found love and married. She believes everyone is creative; that you just have to envision what you want and then have the drive to make it happen.

Alicia makes it happen. In her wheelchair, she has rolled over the obstacles life had put in her path. She owns the woman she is and the disability she has. Her CP means her movements are jerky. Because of CP, it takes her longer to do things. She is determined to do the things she wants to do and her CP makes her do it differently. It takes creativity to figure out how to do it. Her restless, creative spirit also means once she masters something, she moves on to the next project. She’s been an artist, a writer, and is now a fashion and style blogger with an impressive following.

She was frustrated that she was often invisible to people who assumed that she had mental disabilities because she was physically handicapped. She observed that when she paid attention to her appearance, people’s reaction to her changed. She is no longer invisible.

She and her hometown of Nashville were hit with a devastating flood in 2010 and she lost all the contents of her home. Again, she turned an obstacle into a creative turning point. When she rebuilt her fashion wardrobe, she bought new clothes with intension.

She started a blog with a tongue-in-cheek name, Spashionisita. She loved the colors, the textures, the design, and the creative vision of fashion designers. “Our clothes tell the world who we are that day.” There were no models that looked like her. Despite this, she loved fashion, even though her movements were awkward and she was in a wheelchair. She realized that other disabled people often paid little attention to their clothes and became an advocate for the disabled and those with different body types. She knew that when people are proud of their appearance, they start to feel differently about themselves. And that pride makes the once invisible, finally and truly seen.

Alicia Searcy wheelchair

With her creative wheels turning, Alicia created Nashville’s Fashion Week’s first Fashion is for Every Body fashion show this past year. The show included models of different ages, different shapes, sizes and abilities. The models were wearing designs by the area’s hottest designers and vintage boutiques. The concept was such a success that Alicia turned it into the Fashion is for Every Body non-profit whose mission is to eliminate the stigma surrounding people with non-sample size bodies in the Nashville fashion industry by serving as a platform for body-positivity, inclusion, and self-esteem while demonstrating their strong ties to fashion and design.

Alicia knows, “no matter what your circumstances, being creative nurtures your soul.” Childhood isolation taught her deep empathy and a passion to help those that society doesn’t see. A literal flood washed away all her possessions and made her start over. She rebuilt her life with conscious intent. The invisibility of being a disabled, middle-aged woman gave her a unique point of view that no one else in the image-driven fashion industry had. Her cerebral palsy makes her take a creative approach to living her life.

Alicia’s creative spirit saved and transformed her. It allowed her to roll over huge obstacles in her life. Her creative spirit is a shining beacon that illuminates not only those around her, but illuminates her entire community. She is the spirit of wabi-sabi. She took transience and imperfection, and turned her life into a work of art. She is a Creative Hero.

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I Didn’t See This Coming

21 01 2017

My creative journey meanders and takes me to unexpected places and gives me unexpected gifts.

There’s a point in most creative projects where the project takes a turn. An obstacle appears. It may be little or big. How you address the issue impacts the result. This is why it’s important to understand your creative process. It helps you with innovative problem solving. Understanding your process also helps when life throws you obstacles.

I also believe in observing the coincidences—which I call cosmic happenings—that go on around you. They are very quiet and when your life is loud, they are hard to observe. But they can guide you, and teach you, and gently push you in the right direction. They are gifts.

The Garden
My garden is a place of solace and joy for me. Gardening is somewhat new in my life. I don’t know a lot about plants and I have to rely on other’s expertise. It is winter. In Louisiana, that means things are brown and I miss the color. I’m able to find beauty in the season, but I have to look hard.

winter-leaf

I drive to work in the morning in silence. I drive through a neighborhood without much traffic and it’s my quiet time before I start a busy day. I was thinking about cosmic happenings and how it had been a while since I had one. Over the cold weekend I found repurpose ideas for my garden on Pinterest. One of them was to put an old chair in the garden and have plants grow on it. I saw something leaning against a garage in what looked like a trash pile and I turned down the side street only to realize it wasn’t trash. So I took the short one block detour to get back on my regular path…and there they were. Two chairs that would look great in my garden this spring. I deviated from my regular path and found what I was looking for.

I am thankful for this gift.

The Creative Process
The chairs are not like what the ones I saw on Pinterest. They are not old and ratty. They are nice, formal, dining room chairs that simply don’t have the upholstered seats in them anymore. I put them in the garden and I need to readjust my idea because the reality of the project is a little different than the original idea—it almost always is.

chairs

If I put a bottom on the seat box, it would make a cool planter. My sweetie has wonderful practical skills and he does this for me. I put them back in the garden and the concept is still not working. The chairs are too formal and I have two chairs that are perfectly matched, not mismatched. So what if I join them and make it a planting bench. Again my sweetie helps me fulfill my vision.

bench

The project is still ongoing. I know it will continue to evolve. It will also change with the seasons.

How Does the Creative Process Apply to Life?
I was asked to help with a newcomer’s meal at my church. So I volunteered my sweetie to make a pot of gumbo.

gumbo-pots

I do realize all my ideas eventually involve my sweetie’s practical skills. I laughingly tell him he’s a lucky man.

It’s Inauguration Day. I’ve avoided the news because I’m horrified and fearful about the new President. I envision an evening spent sitting around a table with like-minded folks talking about things that matter to us. But it doesn’t turn out how I imagine.

Because we’ve served the meal, we are the last to sit down. The other tables are filled with the newcomers and so we sit at a table by ourselves. The minister comes over and tells us there is a kind, but homeless, man who attends our church and he has shown up for a meal. “Would we mind if he sat with us?” “Of course he’s welcome to sit with us,“ we say. So he joins us and talks nonstop about his every relative going back to his dad who was delivered by a midwife in 1937 in a home with a dirt floor. He hardly touches his food. I realize he is there for another kind of sustenance. He’s hungry for people and community. I know I can provide that. I realize it may the most important ingredient I’ve brought to the meal.

I am thankful for this gift.

What’s The Big Picture?
I read an article on how our new President could actually be the change agent this country needs (link here). It showed up in my social media feed right when I needed to see it.

Things are not how I imagined them to be. I sure didn’t see this coming. I need to adjust my thinking and get innovative in how I’ll approach this new political landscape. I’m not sure what I’m going to do or what it’s going to look like.

With a little hindsight, I’ll probably be thankful for this gift.

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The Chateau, The Flood and Me

17 09 2016

A few years ago I saw a story about an Australian couple that had bought and were attempting to restore the 14th century French Chateau de Gudanes.  They recently shared a Vogue article about the Summer at the Chateau. I got lost in the stunning photography and found myself drawn back to the story over and over. It seemed so different than my life in flood-soaked Louisiana.

The photos showed antique chairs and a settee outside casually placed around a fire pit with a glimpse of the Chateau’s weathered wall; colorful summer wildflowers placed in front of a crumbling fireplace or artfully placed in a vintage china bowl. Centuries old bedroom furniture comfortably arranged in a room ravished by time; broken windows opened to a stunning summer mountain view unchanged by time; a stairway lit only by candlelight. As I explored this beautiful, other-worldly place, I found a blog post written by the new lady of the manor. She wrote of the Chateau as a real, living thing and she told of the gifts, as well as the difficulties that she and her husband had experienced in trying to bring life back to the crumbling structure.

She wrote of friendships that have been forged as people from all over the world were drawn to restoring this old structure that had survived wars, droughts, famines, and time. But it was her short mention about the frustrations of hitting government bureaucracy that made me see similarities in my seemingly unrelated Louisiana life. It’s clear in her writing that she doesn’t want to complain about her frustrations because it’s obvious that she comes from wealth and privilege to be able to not only buy the Chateau, but to attempt a restoration on such a grand scale.

My home did not flood, so I too come from a place of privilege. The waters crept close, but the house stayed dry unlike my neighbors a block away. I have a bit of survivor’s guilt and know I can’t complain. But loss and sadness hit me anyway.

 

 

I’ve lived in my home nearly 30 years. The people that own businesses around me are my friends. The family that owned the best Chinese take out—whose children I watched grow up—will not be reopening, nor will the drugstore, or the dance studio in which a generation of little girls twirled and danced. My hardware store and garden center, where I bought my Christmas trees, my birdseed, and who helped me with my garden was swept away forever. My gym is gone, as are the three grocery stores I frequented. While it’s just an inconvenience to find another place to shop, I don’t know what happened to the people who worked there, that I knew by face and smile only. Did they lose their home and car along with their job? Or were they lucky like me?

trash

House after house, street after street, neighborhood after neighborhood. Photography by my daughter, Jade Th’ng

 

trashpile

Photography by Jade Th’ng

 

books

Photography by Jade Th’ng

wheelchairs-copy

In front of the nursing home where my mother use to live. Photography by Jade Th’ng

There has been progress made in the weeks since the biblical-sized flood hit south Louisiana. The trash piles that contained people’s lives in the front of their homes are starting to be picked up. By spring the trash piles will all be gone and new growth will erase the brown stained yard that’s left behind. But right now, spring seems a long way away.

Like the Chateau owner, I have many, many, friends frustrated by bureaucracy. Everyone is desperate to get normalcy back into their lives, to get back home. Only to be bitch-slapped by insurance, or FEMA, or this or that agency. They’re told their claims are being denied, or to start over, or to fill out this form, or go to that office, or to wait in that line, or to be put on endless hold.

So I continue to go back to gaze at the Chateau’s photos. I’m an art director, so I understand it’s the contrast of the time-damaged walls with the exquisiteness of hand-crafted antique furniture, or beautiful flowers next to crumbling brick, that makes the images so powerful.

I’ve now walked through friends flood damaged homes. I’ve seen the contrasts in their lives. These home are in the process of being restored too. I see their precious, salvaged items scattered out on tables in gutted homes. I’ve seen made up air mattresses replacing bedroom furniture on concrete floors. I’ve seen temporary privacy walls shielding bathrooms that have working plumbing. Like the Chateau, my friends’ homes are trying to come back to life.

Expert historians, artisans, and just plain folk are drawn to help restore the Chateau. The job is much bigger than the Australian couple can accomplish by themselves. Across the world in my beloved Louisiana, volunteers, faith-based groups, friends and family are helping each other try to bring lives back to normal. It’s bigger than any one person, or one family, or one town, or even one state can accomplish.

Life in south Louisiana is in a new normal. Many things we love are gone forever. They will be replaced with something new. It will take time, and patience, and money. Restoration has a timeline of it’s own. It may take another generation to see the fruits of our labor. But it will eventually be restored, just like the Chateau.

If you’d like to contribute to Louisiana’s flood recovery these are organizations that I trust.

Together Baton Rouge
Baton Rouge Area Foundation
Woman’s Hospital (where I work)
GoFundMes
A friend, Trent Bland and family
A musician friend, Joey Decker and family
Where my daughter and parents went to High School
For McKinley Senior High School students

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Church and Comfort Food

10 07 2016

It’s a brutal time for my hometown, Baton Rouge, and the nation. I have felt shock, anger, fear and hopelessness. I don’t profess to have answers for all the problems of today. It’s been hard for me to find hope, but I felt it Sunday. I felt that glimmer of hope—of future possibility—in places that have been a part of my Sundays my whole life. I found hope in church and at Piccadilly.

Piccadilly

When I was a little girl, I did what many white families did after attending their Sunday service, we went to Piccadilly. Piccadilly is a Baton Rouge born cafeteria that specializes in southern-style, comfort food. As a child I was allowed to pick whatever I wanted; fried chicken, greens, deviled eggs, fried okra, cornbread and a slice of pecan pie. I learned the phrase, “your eyes are bigger than your stomach” from a Piccadilly meal. Families would go in their Sunday-go-to meeting’ clothes and white gloved, black waiters would carry our trays to our table, while a black man played the piano.

As an adult, I have learned how lucky I was to be raised in white privilege.

After the horrific week that my city experienced I had a desperate need for comfort. My sweetie was raised Catholic, but I can bribe him to come with me to my church if I tell him we’re going to Piccadilly afterwards.

This Sunday may sound the same as the segregated southern town I grew up in, but a time traveler from 1966 who landed in 2016 would not recognize it. I drifted away from the Southern Baptist church I was raised in during my college years. As I got older, the answers it offered to life’s difficult questions, no longer made sense to me. I found the Unitarian Church when I was expecting my biracial daughter. Her father is Chinese and Buddhist and many of her cousins are Muslim. It was important to me to find a faith community that was not going to tell her that her father and family were going to Hell because they weren’t “saved by the blood of Jesus Christ, amen.”

What I didn’t know when I joined 26 years ago, was the church’s history of social activism. The Baton Rouge church began in the turbulent 60’s when bus boycotts and downtown riots were happening. It was always a church where blacks and whites could worship and strive toward justice together. This was an idea that was so threatening to some that in the 60’s the church was visited by the KKK and told to stop. But the church didn’t stop and we still come together to strive for a more just world more than 50 years later.

This is the church I attended Sunday to be uplifted. It’s my place to grieve the past week in sacred community. It’s a place to support the protestors and the cops. It’s a place where we try to envision a more just community. It’s a different kind of church than the one in which I was raised.

greens

After my spirit was comforted, I got my southern comfort food fix. I deluded myself into thinking I was eating healthy because I was just eating vegetables—cooked in butter and bacon—and I didn’t get that slice of pecan pie. We were in our Sunday best and I realized with a sip of sweet tea that Baton Rouge has changed since my childhood. As I savored the meal I realized the staff and patrons were a diverse group. Black and White and Hispanic and Asian working and eating side by side. We carry our own trays now and we break bread together too. This simple thing, a diverse gathering of people eating and working together would have been impossible to imagine 50 years ago. I do, however, miss the piano.

I’ve heard over and over this week that things are worse than ever. But I realized at church and at Piccadilly that they are not. What has changed is technology. Because of videos, smart phones and social media, we are now seeing for the first time what has been happening all along. Many still delude themselves and want to blame the victim. It’s hard to change what you believe to be true.

I’m a bit of a Pollyanna, but I’m not naïve. I feel a glimmer of hope. We have moved forward. It’s a slow, painful and often brutal journey. As my minister said, I believe in a God that moves us towards justice. I have to believe that love and peace and justice will win the day.

 





Embrace the Flaw

5 07 2016

Wabi-sabi is a Japanese concept that embraces transience and imperfection.

The Shakers are known for their simple, classic furniture style. They believed that one should not aspire to the perfection of God. In their simple woodcraft they include a flaw, thereby keeping the work as humble as their faith.

The Navajos weave an imperfection into their blankets. It is their belief that the “flaw” makes the blanket more beautiful.

Yet our society tells us to strive for perfection, that anything less is failure. Striving for perfection, however, can sometimes paralyze us. Things rarely go as we plan them. I say embrace your creative flaws. Understand them and own them. Exercise your creative muscle. It’s how we respond to the twists and turns of life that gives our life it’s quality. It’s our creative muscle that can lift us up during turbulent times. That same muscle can help us, even power us through creative blocks.

It’s important to know and understand your own unique creative process. Understanding your process means you can consciously change it up. In Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, “Big Magic”, she writes of getting dressed up for your creativity as you would for a lover. Change it up, get out of your bathrobe, let yourself feel your beauty and take your creativity into your arms like a lover.

Embrace the Flaw
Children are naturally creative. They haven’t learned the woulds and shoulds of striving for perfection. They live life with simple creative joy. One of the favorite projects from my daughter’s childhood was her taking advantage of a “broken” project. She was making a plaster of her handprint when the caste broke in half. Instead of seeing it as a broken hand, she turned it into a face. Of the many art projects from her youth, it is one that I kept and is still on display.

Jade hand face

Exercising the Creative Muscle

Before mirror

Mardi grasI saw a cracked mirror on the side of the road in a trash pile on the way to work. As I drove past it I thought that it would look great in my garden. I have a long weathered fence that dominates the small garden and the mirror was very large. It had a gold ornate frame. It looked like it could have been in a House of Ill Repute. Gaudy and shiny things draw me in and amuse me. It’s like catching worthless beads at Mardi Gras, I don’t want one single strand, I want to wear a hundred strands of colorful beads, only during the parade. It’s transient and imperfect. It’s not classic and timeless. I know this about myself and embrace it.

I drove two blocks past the cracked mirror and turned around and went back to get it. It was dirty and weathered and so big it barely fit into my car. My creative wheels started turning. Before long I knew I wanted to embrace the crack, the obvious flaw. I bounced ideas around with a friend. By the time I got the mirror home after my workday, I knew I would etch a vine along the crack. Since it was going outside I needed to put caulk on the edge where backing meets the frame and to put waterproof paint on the back.

After mirror

So with the help of my sweetie, it’s now hanging in our garden. It’s my interpretation of wabi-sabi. Perfectly imperfect. I know it’s transient—it’s living in the hot, humid Louisiana weather. I don’t know if I’ll have it for a season or for years. But for the present, it hangs outside my bedroom window and expands my small sliver of a garden. It gives me joy every time I look at it.

Night mirror

Embrace the New Direction
Embrace your imperfections, your flaws, your creative blocks. Ray Strother said in a Creative Hero blog post, “Creativity is the spark of God.” When your project or your life turns in an unexpected direction, embrace the change. Know there is divine inspiration when the creative spirit takes you in a new direction.

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