Your Creative Heart

When I was a child I loved September. I loved school shopping. I loved the smell of a new lunchbox, fresh new clothes, breaking in new shoes and the sharp graphite tip of a bright yellow number two pencil whose perfect pink eraser was still intact and whose pristine finish had yet to be marred by my biting incisors.

But that was then. This is now. And as we enter the second September of the pandemic, it’s a struggle sometimes to hold on to my optimism, my hope and my motivation. I know I’m not alone. Let’s face it. The past year and a half has been one heck of an endless slog.

What do you do when you know you’re reaching critical mass? When you know the stress of all we’ve been through and all we’re bearing witness to weighs too heavily on the heart?

Inspired by a friend whose journey as an artist has been so much fun to watch, I pulled out my own art supplies. The creative process, whether it’s at an easel with a fresh gessoed canvas, in your kitchen whisking a roux or with pen in hand and a story to tell, is the distraction we need. It offers us room to breathe. The creative process slows down time and provides space for honest reflection. It provides the clarity we need to be honest with ourselves about how we are experiencing life in this New Normal.

Where is your creative heart? Music? Visual arts? Cooking? Writing? Is it time to get your creative heart beating again?

Lately I’ve been seduced by the practice of ‘slow stitching’. Letting time pass one slow stitch at a time. My Aunt Mimmie taught me how to embroider when I was young and slow stitching has nudged awake a joy I’d forgotten. I’ve also been working on a series of mixed media pieces called ‘Family Album’. This collage is from that series. The man on the left is my great uncle William Harrison Barber, known as ‘Henry’ to his friends and family. The text on the right is from the last postcard he sent to his brother Robert. From the moment I found his postcard in my mother’s collection of family ephemera I felt a connection  to this man. I can’t explain it. I just did.

Henry wrote the postcard in 1903 from the Oakes Home for the Consumptive in Denver, Colorado. He tells his brother, “I don’t look like a sick man but appearances are very deceptive with lung trouble.” His doctors tell him he is not improving and advise that he head to Saranac Lake in the Adirondacks. Henry knows that if his health doesn’t improve when he is in New York, he will never see Colorado again. He’s only twenty-three. And he never makes it to Saranac Lake.

His story has given me pause to reflect on what we do to survive and the connection between good health and creativity. 

Throughout the pandemic it’s been my adventures with basket making and needle felting and wet felting and eco-dying and collage that have brought me comfort. They’ve kept me sane and quite possibly alive.

William Harrison Barber was a musician. He left his studies in Boulder to pursue a career in music and found some success with his ditty ‘Dainty Flo from Idaho’. I’m sad that music didn’t save his life but I bet it brought him comfort. 

Can exploring your creative nature be a comfort to you?

Creating Connections with an Old Bag of Tea

We power through cups of tea at our house. I’ve been saving the wrinkled and wet used tea bags in a bowl. Don’t judge me. I have my reasons.

Not quite finished. The dark flecks are tea. The red pigment comes from pounded rose and geranium petals.

In June I began a year long virtual course of study with India Flint. India is an artist who works with plants and found objects to create beautifully dyed paper and cloth. India’s course of study is why keen eyes might find me in the wee hours of the morning gathering handfuls of eucalyptus leaves from along the bike path that parallels El Camino Real and stuffing them into the pockets of my baggy cargo pants.

India Flint, and this course, is why I save used tea bags.

India’s teaching style is that of a storyteller. Rather than providing precise step-by-step directions – like the sort you’d find if an Ottolenghi cook book – she weaves a tale of her experiences with the plants she is using, the mistakes she’s made, the lessons she’s learned. She gives permission for us to take what we need, to leave the rest, and to be inspired by her life’s work.

I’m inspired.

Our first journey was through the making of a book. I didn’t have much of what was needed – proper paper, a sewing machine, a very sharp pair of scissors – but this course is filmed with such care and beauty it didn’t bother me that I wasn’t playing along. I was still learning.

Which is how, this morning at 5 AM, I found myself carefully deconstructing a dozen or so tea bags, emptying their contents into a bowl and spreading the fragile paper out like one might smooth a bedsheet.

But there is more to this story:

Over the weekend my friend Diane – a talented and dedicated artist – gifted me Beth Pickens’ book Make Your Art No Matter What: Moving Beyond Creative Hurdles. This is a book that weighs much more than it should and its Times Roman font is a point size or two smaller than my eyes enjoy. The first chapter, however, is about time. Something I’ve been pondering lately.

And here’s a little more to the story:

I had lunch yesterday with a friend I’ve not seen since before the shut down. Carolyn and I laugh when we’re together. We laugh a lot. But yesterday, as we were talking about how the pandemic changed us, we thought of something that stopped us in mid-giggle. The shutdown gave us time. And now time feels more precious. Both Carolyn and I are discovering how different life is when we treat time as a gift and not a commodity to burn through. We’re learning to say ‘yes’ to what we love. Even if that means saying ‘no’ to something we love less.  

And that is how I found myself at 5 AM this morning gently opening the tea bags that had been drying for a day instead of reading emails and absorbing all that had happened in the world as I slept. India’s course is inspiring me to explore. Diane’s book is encouraging me to love my inner artist. My conversation with Carolyn is reminding me that time is precious.

Deconstructing tea bags is a slow, careful process. While I sat at my desk, my Ottlite breaking the pre-dawn grey, I fell into a sort of meditative reverie. I thought about the tea, how far it had traveled – the Ashwaghanda from India and the green from Japan – I thought about the farmers who grew and harvested the tea then bundled it off to factories to be processed. I thought about the work it takes to create the paper that holds the tea and about how I was moving the process of creation forward by turning the old tea into dye and the these fragile scraps of paper vessel into a new vessel.

It was a profound moment to experience that deep sense of connection. It felt new to me because it wasn’t cerebral. The connection came from my heart. 

I hope I can hold on to that feeling of connection.

The Gift, Part I

On Monday the 16th of March I left home halfway through the government’s daily COVID-19 press briefing for the thirty minute walk to Feinberg Medical Group where I teach yoga and meditative crafts to chronic pain clients.

When I walk to the clinic I am listening to the sounds around me. I hear dogs scolding me with frantic yips from their living room perch. The 1:40 southbound CalTrain screams its way toward its next stop. Traffic races down Alma and music pumps from transistors balanced on the tailgates of pickup trucks parked in front of green manicured lawns.  

The path I walk takes me past Palo Alto High School. Before the coronavirus closed Paly the school’s track would rumble with the footfalls of athletes, the coach’s loud shouts of encouragement and snide laughter from the bleachers. 

Decades ago I walked with a cassette tape Walkman and then, when they arrived, a CD Walkman. I graduated to an iPod and progressed to a Nano a few years after that. If I was walking my ears were plugged and my brain was pulsing with U2, Jackson Brown, the Eurythmics or (and this will really give away my age) Howard Jones. When I grew tired of music I’d listen to news. Music or headlines – it didn’t really matter. My brain was happier stuffed with something other than my thoughts. On the day I realized I’d arrived for my walk at Shoreline without my Nano I almost turned around. How was it possible that I’d be able to place one foot in front of the other without my Nano?

Somehow I managed. That was the day I realized the cry of seagulls and the sound of the wind circling through the rushes was better than Bono wailing about bloody Sundays and the incessant peal of the next breaking bulletin. 

And that’s why I missed the news of the Bay Area’s imminent lock down on Monday. I was too busy listening to the thrum of life. That’s why I was surprised by the frantic energy pouring from Trader Joe’s doors as I passed. It explains why, by the time I arrived at Feinberg’s all that was left for me to do was turn around and return home. The functional restoration program – the program of which I’m a part – had sent patients home.

Like so many others, in twenty-four hours I went from having an overflowing calendar to one that was near-enough to empty.

We’re facing a tremendous challenge. Nevertheless, six days in and I’m realizing what a gift I’ve been given.

Intuition Manifest: Putting Form to Feeling


My Worker Self: Committee Suite “I Am the One Who Works but Forgets to Live”

I don’t remember what I was searching for the day I channeled my inner Alice and tumbled down the internet rabbit hole. All I know is that I fell far and fast and since that day I’m compelled to squirrel away magazines from waiting rooms or to visit every Goodwill on the Peninsula to peruse stacks of musty National Geographics. More likely than not, when I’m home alone you’ll find me surrounded by images torn from those magazines and an array of glue sticks, rubber cement, 5×8 inch mat board, xacto knives and scissors. Because the day my inner Alice tumbled, she landed at a place called SoulCollage®.

Brought to life several decades ago by a woman from Northern California named Seena Frost, SoulCollage® is an art form and visual journaling practice that requires nothing more than the ability to trust. But I am slow to open. Trust is something that, at times, I lack. 

Skepticism is not a trust issue, however, and it’s a personal characteristic I hold dear. My inherent skepticism compels me to question everything and keeps me from sipping the Kool Aid too soon. But maybe my skepticism has its own shadow side. Maybe it keeps me stuck (I should probably do a card on that!). 

It was a surprise when, on the day that I said “I am the one who…” for the first time, my ‘stuckness’ softened.

SoulCollage® touches on my love for art. It taps into my understanding of transpersonal psychology.  SoulCollage® pulls me from the sidelines and makes me an active participant in my spirit dance with interoception, intuition and gut instinct. SoulCollage® is a way to give form to feelings we experience but can’t always name.


Stand and Smile, My Observer Self: Committee Suit “I Am the One Who Finds Humor in the Absurd”

Meanwhile, there’s my aversion to circles. You know the kind I mean – the ones where we sit around and talk about our feelings.  I found myself on the doorstep of SoulCollage® facilitator Beth Breedlove’s welcoming home for her introductory workshop this past September.  As other participants arrived we were asked to select a variety of images from three large Tupperware bins resting on card tables in her kitchen. We pulled one image from our collected bundle and then gathered in her light-filled living room.

Circles make me queasy. I wanted to bolt.

But this circle was different. Maybe it was Beth’s calm manner, or the beautiful Native American rattle we held when it was our turn to speak, or the air of curiosity in the room. Beth leads SoulCollage® workshops from her home on a regular basis and one or two of the women with us had participated before. But for most of the women everything was a brand new adventure. I tapped into that energy and let myself explore the unknown. I swallowed my skepticism, settled my soul and opened my mind.

Beth led by example. She held her image and began to speak, “I am the one who…” By the end, after all six of us had spoken, I was beginning to understand the potential of the practice. 


My Great Uncle as Witness, Preparing for War: Transpersonal Card

But it’s difficult to explain, isn’t it? The experiential nature of SoulCollage® makes it difficult to define with words.

I decided it was best to arrive at the four-day SoulCollage® Facilitator Training at Dolce Hayes Mansion in San Jose, California a blank slate. After Beth’s workshop I continued to make cards at home but questioned not only what to do with them but if I was even making them ‘right’. So in the days leading up to the training I dropped any attachment I had to the story I’d told myself about the doors my training in San Jose might open.  I was excited, but it was an excitement tethered to the unknown.

I was honest. I wondered to myself if SoulCollage® was another angle on West Coast weirdness. On the afternoon of the first day I confessed out loud to my fellow trainees, our teacher Mirabella and her assistants, that I was skeptical, cynical and judging. We laughed, I explained my proclivity toward being skeptical and promised to shake off the rest.

But it wasn’t until our first chance to read our cards that I fully grasped the power each collage contained.

SoulCollage® channels the subconscious. It gives voice to aching silence. SoulCollage® allows us to find dreams believed to be lost, to chart a course, and to find comfort in the knowledge of discovering our own path.

It took a few days to process the enormity of what I discovered about myself in San Jose. Since then I’ve continued to make cards, to pull a card and to journal every morning. Until my facilitator training I was a morning news and coffee junkie. This new pattern brings peace and quiet contemplation to mornings that just a few months ago were loud and anxious.

SoulCollage® puts feeling into form. It transforms intuition from something like air – invisible and impossible to hold – into something seen and solid.

When we can honor our intuition by giving it shape and color, we honor our own truth.






Joy and the Fearless Heart

IMG_2910My hair went through a few changes last year. From spirals to straight and back again. No bangs to total bangs. And then last April, just when I was finally learning to embrace the curl and the fringe, without a second thought I chopped it all off.

There was a time when I believed that changing my hair would change my life. In my thirties I kept my hair in a graduated bob that would make Mary Crowley proud. And then, influenced by my new-found crush on all things Irish I took an electric razor to my head. I wasn’t quite brave enough to cut as close a shave as Sinead O’Connor but it was enough to turn a few heads – especially those times that I forgot to attach my #5 blade and carved random bald spots onto my pate.

Sigh. Those were the days.

Then there was the color. Various shades of red sometimes verging on purple. Dark brown leaning toward black. Platinum blond (just once for about ten days).

Not to mention the clothes. Vintage dresses layered with suit jackets and vests from the men’s section of the local charity shop. A cheap knock-off of the black Doc Marten boots I craved and fishnet stockings. Paisley with hound’s-tooth with plaid.

Those were, indeed, the days.

Each time I changed my hair or wore a new tattered treasure I thought, “If I look like this then I’ll be more like that.By ‘that I think I meant whatever quality I believed I lacked. In those years I hoped to be brave and confident, artful and hip. Those were the years I struggled as an artist and I hoped that if looked more like what I believed an artist should look like then I’d have a better chance at success. It didn’t occur to me that showing up each day and working hard, allowing my authentic voice to speak through my images and facing the world with a fearless heart would be more effective than a haircut or a pair of boots.

I’m thinking about my past and I’m thinking about how, from time to time, those same ideas rise up in me. About how I need to be a certain body type or wear a certain brand of yoga attire in order to look like what I think yoga teachers should look like.

Fortunately I’m older and maybe I’m a bit wiser, too. It’s not long before I remember all those things I wish I knew back when I was shaving my head with a #5 blade.   It’s not long before I remember my authentic voice and who I am as a teacher. It’s not long before I remember that who I am is someone who shows up to the studio with a fearless heart. It’s not what I look like that makes me a yoga teacher. If you asked me I think I’d say it’s the joy I feel when I teach. That’s what makes me a yoga teacher. The fact that I am filled with joy each time I walk into a studio. Even those days when my alter ego Snarky McSnarkington tries to take over. Joy still wins.

February was a fierce month. But now it’s March. I’ve settled into my new home and my new life. Those cravings and longings that I wrote about just a few weeks ago belong to someone else. Those couldn’t be my words. Those emotions, the desperation, they were all fleeting moments. But I moved through them. And I’m home.

Left of Normal: The Art of Mark Kielkucki

There’s something about yoga that brings out the art in me. Of course, I studied art in college so perhaps that’s not too surprising. Still, most of the yogis I know are also dancers, painters, photographers or writers. And most of the artists I know also have a mindfulness practice.

I’m not a big fan of the way Facebook has diminished the meaning of word ‘friend’ but I don’t know any other way to describe this relationship. I have a Facebook Friend named Mark Kielkucki who is both an artist and a yogi. We first met when I began to follow his YogaDawg posts which were too funny in that twisted “what is that guy on and where can I get some” way NOT to follow.

And then I found his paintings.

Here’s what I have to say about them:

Left of Normal: The Art of Mark Kielkucki

Somewhere between David Lynch and Tim Burton is the artist Mark Kielkucki.

At first glance, his Technicolor palette brings a smile to the face. The clarity and purity of light calls to mind childhood summers of years ago, when it was safe to leave in the morning and not return until dusk.

But take a moment to look through the surface and you’ll discover that the world of Mark Kielkucki is one step left of normal.

Children play in pools of water or by the seaside while unidentified flying objects hover (Coming Home I and II). Bodies levitate or drop slowly to earth while African tribesmen watch with casual nonchalance (Fallen Star, Falling Stars). In one of my favorites, Kielkucki’s sense of the absurd reaches new heights as a woman dressed with pearls and black pumps wields an Electrolux vacuum on the sandy beach while two swimmers frolic in the waves.

Mark Kielkucki’s landscapes call to mind the California painter Wayne Thiebaud. Both artists see the world in candied light. But Kielkucki’s lush, purple shadows and frenetic brush work create a sense of presence, place and time. His landscapes sit on the canvas with a quirky sensibility reminiscent of photos we took as children with our Brownie Reflex camera. The horizon line isn’t quite level. We’re thrown slightly off-balance. Made to feel ill-at-ease. In several of his paintings there is a swipe of color at the upper edge of the canvas. What is it? Another UFO? A reflection from the sun? In my favorite from this group, Amtrak North (Delaware), the glimpse of orange feels like an intruder on an otherwise perfect day. Or perhaps those slashes of color are anchors that hold us in place. That keep our eyes on the canvas.

Mark Kielkucki is an artist who startles the emotions. He can, at times, bring me to tears.

Night VisionHis painting Night Vision sweetly recalls Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks. Four silhouettes on a damp, foggy night. They stand on a corner, bathed in warm, gold light from the diner behind them and the tall street lamps above. At first the image evokes an inexplicable longing. And then, when the eye scans the painting again, we understand why. The silent silhouettes waiting on that corner include Popeye and Mickey Mouse. This painting is about more than mere nostalgia. This painting mourns lost childhoods.

Kielkucki’s Night Vision makes me sad. And that is what good art does. It demands a response. It turns our perspective a bit upside down. In our digital age artists no longer need to record the world as we see it. They can, instead, tap into our wild, collective psyche.

And that’s why I enjoy the weird and wonderful work of Mark Kielkucki. He keeps me on my visual toes. He makes me smile and cry in a single breath. I never really know what’s going to happen next.






Words, Walking and Making Art

One of the best things about my Spiritual Perspectives class are the projects we’re asked to complete. For example, on Tuesday I enjoyedAsh of a Lost Heart a three-hour walk as a meditation on the idea of ‘journey’. Today I began work on my spiritual autobiography. This project can take any form: song, essay, collage. We were asked simply to be authentic and inspired. I’m using the idea of reliquaries. I’m selecting one or two events from each decade of my life and creating an assemblage from found materials, text and photographs. The project is immensely challenging but creatively refreshing. Thinking in terms of symbols and images instead of words is a tonic for my brain.

It’s easy to look back on life and list by rote, “This happened and then that happened.” The challenge is to look back on life, remember the difficult moments and remember the astounding moments, too. And then contemplate how those moments transformed the spirit. Contemplate how those moments made you a better person. I’ve had so many stops and starts on the path – from a “Jesus-freak” in the 1970’s to a wannabe-atheist in the 1990’s. But in the past few years I’ve learned the lesson that so many of us have: that religion and spirituality are two very different things. I’ve learned that our journeys are intensely personal. I’ve learned that there is no one true path and that it’s all right to wander off the trail a bit from time to time.

I thought I’d share a bit of my essay about the walk I took on Tuesday.

Take ShelterThe wonderful thing about walking is that the rhythm of the foot falls become like a meditation. The chatter in the mind stops and the head suddenly has room to consider new ways of seeing. That happened to me around the two-hour mark. I remembered that, unlike all my other walks, this walk was different. This walk was not about non-stop movement. It was about a journey. A journey’s pace ebbs and flows, just like the tide. It slows down and it speeds up. Sometimes it even stops. And that’s what I did.

I stopped. Pedometer be damned I stopped right where I was. I looked across the water. I examined the banked earth for signs of burrowing owls. My eyes followed the small hawk who took off from the grass in front of me clutching her rodent lunch. And I took photographs of the bloated grey clouds blustering over the East Bay hills.

And nothing bad happened.

On our journey it’s fine to stop from time to time. To take it in. To witness from a fresh perspective. Today I was a witness.


Negative Space

I’m captivated by negative space.

The space that isn’t the thing:  the blue between the branches of a bare winter tree, the angles drawn by a box of pencils spilled atop a desk, the shapes that fall between the shadows of a picket fence on a summer sidewalk.  Negative space.  The space that isn’t the thing.  The space that connects.

Sometimes it happens that during our yoga practice the asana becomes a single intention.  A shape to hold in passive static until we decide – or someone decides for us – that it is time to move.

This can happen if we’re practicing a slow flow or lightening quick vinyasa.   The shape becomes the goal.  There’s a rhythm and a reason for our wanting to be there. When I arrive at my full expression of the asana I’m practicing I’ve arrived at someplace familiar.  Someplace balanced.  Home.

But what about the negative space?  What about the space between the shapes our bodies sketch? What about the movements we create as we shift toward trikonasana or sirsasana? And what about the breaths we draw around that movement?  Shouldn’t the journey we take to create the asana be considered, too?

As you practice this week notice the negative space.  Connect with the space that isn’t the thing.

Truth or Consequences

I’m sorry.  I’ve been distracted.  I’ve been spending some time with my new blog at skirt!, which you can find here.

You know how it is. A website offers you the thrilling opportunity to write for free and you can’t pass it up.  They massage your ego with an application process that makes you feel special.  Chosen.  You say, “Oh, yes, I want to write for free!” and off you go.

It’s all right.  I don’t mind.  I know it wasn’t six months ago that I posted I would never give my writing away again – complete with a link to Harlan Ellison’s rant – but that was then, and those were different circumstances.

We never used to practice in public.  Secrets used to be between our hearts and the diary we hid under our mattress. Today, however, every nuance of our lives is documented.  I can’t believe this is a good thing, and yet here I am, willing participant.

Over sharing is the norm.  Bad behavior no longer shocks us. Instead, it numbs us. Bores us senseless.

My blog on skirt! is deeply personal.  In contrast, I’ve skirted (pardon the pun) around issues here at Practically Twisted.  Hedged a little.  When my Practically Twisted posts arrive at the precipice I dodge the truth with a bit of alleged wit.

I have no regrets about what I’m currently sharing with a couple hundred of the closest skirt! friends I’ve never met.  My ego (today at least) is healthy enough to believe that maybe my posts will benefit someone living with similar circumstances.  But as a writer telling a personal story I need to be clear with myself.  How much of my truth am I willing to share? How much of our truth should we share?  How much does the reader need to know to keep the truth compelling enough to turn the page?

Rainy Mornings, Smoked Salmon and a Girl Named Turtle

The Bean Trees

Image via Wikipedia

I didn’t know this until today, but I love rainy June mornings.

Typically I tend to resent Saturday mornings.  I want to be like normal people.  I want the option of lounging about.  But my constitution won’t allow it. My body clock wakes me at six and I’m immediately consumed by the need to open my laptop and write.  What usually happens, of course, is that I leap out of bed, open my laptop and check emails.  This morning, with the rain tapping at my window, a miracle occurred.  I was convinced to keep my eyes closed for an extra ninety minutes.

When I did finally pull myself together, I was off to see my 90-year-old West Point graduate client for an hour of stretching and movement.  A widower, he’s typically quiet and reserved – except when I crack one of my notoriously bad jokes.  Although I really shouldn’t be encouraged, he’ll reward me with his hoot of a laugh.  Let’s just say there was a bit of hooting going on today.

After that I had brunch with a friend.  Ok, I’ll admit it.  It was with Mr. On Line.  What can I say?  I know this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be done – I think you’re supposed to treat online dating a more like a job.  I’m just not the type of person to set up coffee dates every free second.

To be honest, at this point I’m inclined to put an end to all the OKCupid stuff and consider myself lucky that I’ve made a friend and didn’t meet an ax murderer in the process.  Sort of file it under been there, done that.  Besides, I met Mr. On Line’s amazing cats today.  Any day that involves a cat NOT showing instant disdain for the strange, dripping wet  human standing in the living room is a good day.  It probably helped that I had the lingering odor of smoked salmon on my fingertips but all’s fair in love and meows.

Is this becoming one of those loathsome, tedious, drawn out blog posts that become mind achingly dull in their monotony?  Is it?  IS IT??  Great. Because guess what I did after I bonded with the cats?

I took myself to the Cantor Museum on the Stanford Campus and spent two hours there.  To see this.  Which was amazing.  If you’re in the area and appreciate books, typesetting, paper and etching – don’t miss it.

And then I went home to read.  For pleasure.  From 4:30 to 8:30 PM.  Just me, Barbara Kingsolver’s The Bean Trees (loved it) and several cups of pu-erh tea.

In other words, with the exception of my morning client, I managed to experience the day without an agenda.  Without the need to cross things off a list. (Ok…I confess… there was a little of that.)  But still it was an extraordinary day for Mimm Patterson.

Ps…by the way, this whole reading for pleasure business is fantastic!  I don’t know why I never considered it before.  Now there are a slew of books in my queue – my next Kingsolver will be The Poisonwood Bible.  After that Steven Harrigan’s Remember Ben Clayton.  Tomorrow it’s Velva Jean Learns to Drive by Jennifer Niven.  And then I’m on to all the books I said I’ve always wanted to read but never have…