Happy Valentine's Day! I don't know if it's the memory of grade-school valentine exchanges or the connection with chocolate, but this has always been one of my favorite holidays.
This year I'm celebrating by kicking off a new, occasional (meaning whenever I feel like it) feature on creative couples. For the first installment, I'm profiling two all-around wonderful folks, George and Mallory Waldman. I first met the couple when George and I worked together at the Detroit Free Press—he as a photographer and I as a reporter. I always admired his honest, direct, and often surprising images.
Back then, Mallory was tirelessly working for a nonprofit organization that provided services for the elderly and people with HIV/AIDS, which didn't leave her much time or energy for other creative work. Now that she and George have retired and moved to Maine, she has flourished as a fiber artist.
Here's how Mallory describes her creations: "I play with color in fabrics which I've cut into one-inch-wide strips and woven together. It's almost like painting in a way, because the colors change when woven next to one another. It's fascinating, huge fun, and quite exciting."
George claims he doesn't do much photography any more. Mallory begs to differ. While he may not be practicing photojournalism, "I see such creativity in his photographs of the area around us," she says. "He can suddenly make you see what you really didn't do more than glance at before. He sharpens your sight."
In addition, George is carving wood and learning to draw and play piano, "working in different dimensions, rather than the two," he says. "It's all a challenge. Piano is really the tough one."
It surprised me when George added, "I'm beginning to think of myself as a creative person." Funny, I always thought he was.
He went on to explain that while he hasn't considered himself creative in an artistic sense, he's a creative problem solver. "I am, in my work, trying to find the essence of a situation and a person untainted by my own subjective impulses, and following that through to a final, beautiful and honest image that is useful and used and helpful in people understanding and appreciating each other."
In the beginning
I wondered if the couple's creative natures played any part in their attraction to each other when they met on a blind date 52 years ago.
"We were so young and didn't know each other well (and I didn't know myself), so the creative part of George was not what drew me to him," says Mallory. "I did think he was one of the nicest and most interesting guys I'd ever met." (She still thinks so, by the way.)
George agrees that he was "young and unformed" back then, and says this about Mallory: "At 22, she didn't seem to play games, which might suggest she wasn't very creative, but it made her very attractive to me. She was sincere, the kind of person who would do what she promised to do."
Perhaps it was that sincerity and mutual respect that helped them develop a partnership in which they could hone their own talents while encouraging each other's. That's a key to creative coupledom, say Katie and Gay Hendricks, husband-and-wife coauthors of Conscious Loving Ever After. "When people get in deeper communication with their own individual creative essence, their relationships blossom as a direct result," they write.
Or as George puts it, "Be true to oneself, or why would anyone else be interested in you?"
Space, Skills, Support
For George and Mallory, support goes beyond encouragement; they also help each other find space and time for creative pursuits. George might move a new loom into Mallory's studio, then do the laundry and fix dinner while she sets it up. Mallory will handle other logistics to give George a chance to "dream or wander or putz around with something."
They share their skills, too. George set up a Facebook page for technophobe Mallory, where she can display photos of her creations (photos taken by George, naturally).
"I see the play of light in her work, the texture, shapes and colors more deeply than others might," says George. "Photographic elements."
Once, another artist whose work George had photographed observed that the result was "about the photographs more than the art." With his photos of Mallory's weavings, he aims for images that capture both: the artful weaving itself, but also photographic elements such as the play of light on the warp of the loom.
That mix of literal representation and artistic expression "can be a good thing," George maintains. "A kind of collaboration. Right?"
Helpful as it as to have a supportive partner when things are going smoothly, it's even more appreciated during creative slumps and rough patches, the Waldmans have found.
"During a labor dispute with the Detroit newspapers, I had to struggle to make a living in depressing and often unfulfilling, problem-solving creative ways," George recalls. "Mallory was rock solid in support and understanding, never wavering a moment while she had her own problems to solve in funding and administering a program meeting the needs of HIV positive/AIDS people. Just earning a living is a creative challenge for most of us."
Giving George extra encouragement at that stressful time seemed like a no-brainer to Mallory. "One wants one's lover to be happy, fulfilled and eager to go on," she says.
Conscious Loving authors the Hendrickses see that sort of succor as essential in a creative partnership. In addition to asking oneself "What is my unique genius?", you can ask the same of your mate, Katie noted in an interview in the August 2017 issue of Mindful magazine. " 'What do you want to do in the world, and how can I support you and how can you support me?' That support is an expression of the genius of your relationship."
Recently, Mallory posed that very question to her spouse. "I asked George what would he really want to do if there were no constraints at all. Just dream and then tell me, and let's make it happen."
Passing It On
Though they don't collaborate on artistic work, George and Mallory did co-produce two exceptional creations: son Aaron and daughter Terrill. Not surprisingly, the parents applied their usual imagination and energy to nurturing their children's curiosity and creativity.
"We always had an art drawer for the kids, and George took them on an assignment once in a while so they could see him work," Mallory says. "We also supported their artistic impulses with classes and our general attitude that art was great."
Books were plentiful in the Waldman household, and George and Mallory encouraged creative thinking with daily questions: "What do you think of this? Do you like mustard on your eggs? What's the worst thing that could happen here?" (Mixed in with the occasional "Could you mow the damn lawn?")
Aaron and Terrill grew up to lead their own creative lives. Terrill and husband Charlie Jenkins, also a glassblower, create colorful and imaginative pieces in their studio, Tandem Glass. Aaron is "a very creative accountant in a good way and intent on the craft of it," says George.
Now grandparents, George and Mallory spend two days a week with their grandchildren and enjoy seeing their talents bloom.
"We're hoping to foster in them a freedom of thinking, problem-solving ability, and acceptance and understanding of life and its challenges," says George.
Come to think of it, those are exactly the qualities George and Mallory continue to cultivate in themselves in this phase of their creative couplehood.
"Life has several beginnings," says Mallory. "At 74, we feel this stage is another new beginning."
We all start the new year with such great enthusiasm for our projects. Then, a month or so in, we sometimes lose our momentum. Ideas dry up, energy sags. That's when an injection of inspiration can be just the thing.
Welcome back, Lene!
Lene's Ten Creativity Boosters
Attend to Your Health
Get Out In the World
Meet New People
Kick Back With TV or a Book
Get a Move On
Capture the Beauty
Connect With Other Creative Types
Accentuate the Positive
I hope you found something in here that might help you boost your creativity, and if you did, I’d love to hear from you! Maybe you have a tip that you’d like to add to the list, or maybe you’d like to share an experience when one of these “boosters” worked for you. Feel free to comment below!
Images courtesy of Lene Fogelberg
One of my favorite January rituals is choosing a calendar to hang in our kitchen. More than a place to keep track of events and appointments, the right calendar can be a thing of beauty to admire every day.
For the past three years, I've been delighted to find photographer Gail Howarth's calendars for sale at Artsplace in Fremont. I've been a fan of Gail's photographs since I saw a collaborative exhibit of work by Gail and painter Renae Wallace at Artsplace a few years ago.
This year, Gail is donating profits from calendar sales to Mel Trotter Ministries, a Grand Rapids nonprofit organization that works with homeless people. Gail is also undertaking a photography and writing project with the organization. I've invited her here today to tell us about her work and this new project.
One thing that has always appealed to me about your photographs is the way you create extraordinary images from everyday objects and scenes—an old chair in a barn, a pile of driftwood, a rusty bicycle in a patch of weeds, a weathered fence post. What is your process for finding subjects for your photographs, and what do you look for in a potential subject?
I feel as though my subjects find me. It is true that I carry my camera most of the time and that I often have a goal in mind when I go out for the day. However, what is on my camera at journey's end is seldom what I planned. I photograph a broad range of things, as you mentioned. I am attracted to things old and broken, beautiful landscapes, and interesting people. Often, I travel the same roads or walk the same paths and see nothing of interest. Then with a shift of light, I see the location or an object as though for the first time. This fascinates me and keeps in a state of wonder and awe. A potential subject is anything that tells a story. My hope is that my photography not only be beautiful but also conjures memories or inspires the viewer to create a tale about the image.
What are some of the most unusual or surprising places you've found good subjects?
I love old abandoned places. This is not unusual these days, as there is an entire genre of photography related to "abandoned places". However, it is where I am most surprised and intrigued. First, my storyteller's mind is intrigued by the possibilities of why a thing or place was left behind. Second, I am surprised by what is left behind. A girl's saddle shoe, the curtains, an apron over a bed frame, a lifetime of someone's greeting cards scattered upon the floor, a woman's purse, and so on and so on. Some images are heartbreaking, yet oddly beautiful.
I was surprised to read, in the text on the back of your 2017 calendar, that you started out with little or no confidence in your skills as a photographer. What helped you grow and develop confidence in your abilities?
I have always had an eye for composition, but I thought my photography was ordinary. Honestly, it was my friend's comments on Facebook that made me believe I might have something more than snapshots.
Then Renae Wallace, a painter from Fremont, Michigan, began asking me if she could paint some of my images. Of course, I was shocked, honored, and so pleased. That eventually turned into our exhibit at NCCA - Artsplace: Of Time, Transition and Reflection. Words cannot even begin to describe how wonderful that experience was. Renae is a gem. A dream came true when Lindsay Isenhart said yes to the project. Everyone at Artsplace was incredibly supportive. Faune Benson Schuitema even helped me pick all the materials to frame and mat my work. The community came out in earnest to support both Renae and me. It was then that I knew I was on my way and felt like a real artist.
How have your techniques and approaches to photography changed over time?
My technique improved once I learned more about all the settings on my camera. Instead of just taking a shot and hoping for the best, I learned how to set the camera for the best capture. Additionally, I started shooting in RAW versus JPEG and picked up a couple of higher-quality glass lenses. I learned Lightroom and Google NIK for editing. I do have Photoshop, but have not yet learned it. Perhaps this year.
My approach is different, as I take more time with setup and take fewer images versus taking too many images and then sorting through for the best one. That was very time-consuming. I also ask for opportunities to photograph things that interest me. In the past, I would miss many opportunities because I was too shy to ask.
This year, you're donating profits from your calendar sales to Mel Trotter Ministries. How did you come to be involved with the organization?
I worked as a practice management software trainer for Patterson Dental. When Mel Trotter Ministries Dental Clinic purchased the software, I became their trainer. Over the years, I would occasionally be called upon for follow-up training. I felt at home with this group and felt strongly that their mission was important. I was moved by their conviction to help and I would think, if I ever left my job I would want to be part of this.
In early 2016 I began to feel more and more unsettled in the career I had loved. As the year progressed, I found myself thinking more about photography and writing and less and less about my job. One day when I was training the dental staff at Mel Trotter, I mentioned to Janice Keesman, Director of Clinics, how I was feeling. I told her I was considering leaving my job to pursue my passion. I mentioned that if they ever needed help, I would still like to be considered. That resulted in many discussions, and finally a job offer. I work in the clinic three days a week and spend the rest of my time cultivating my life as an artist.
In addition to donating calendar profits, you're working on a photography and writing project for Mel Trotter Ministries. Tell us a little about that project—what you're doing and what you hope to accomplish with this work.
This is truly a labor of love. The project is so important to me that I do it on my own time. Mel Trotter Ministries is an organization that serves the homeless. It provides overnight shelter, meals, residential programs, job training, counseling, the dental clinic, chiropractic care, vision, legal services, and so much more.
The project was born soon after I began working in the dental clinic. Patients often said the same phrases to describe what was happening in their lives. They went like this: No one hears me. No one sees me. I am invisible. I thought perhaps I could help. With my camera and writing skills, I could give them a voice, a face, and increase public awareness of homelessness.
Mel Trotter Ministries publishes my pieces on their website. I will be including the blog posts on my own site soon.
Additionally, I would like to create an exhibit for ArtPrize and/or other venues to increase awareness.
How has your work with Mel Trotter ministries affected you personally? As an artist?
One cannot work at Mel Trotter and not be changed. First, it has deepened my personal relationship with God. It may sound quite absurd, but I did not expect this. I think the usual things you might think: I am more grateful, considerate and have deeper compassion.
But, I would also say, I feel a bit more of a burden of responsibility in caring for those less fortunate. I find it difficult to leave the building between 4:30 and 5:15 pm. That sounds terrible, but I have a tender heart and my mind has a hard time wrapping my head around the extent of the issue of homelessness. That is the time when the homeless women check in for the evening. They wait in line and security goes through their sparse belongings before allowing them entry where they will receive a meal and bed for the night. I often see the same women day after day. There is no age limit. Some are very young and some very old. Some appear to be frightened, angry, resigned, and yet others quite joyful. And I wonder, where are their families, why does no one care enough to open their doors to these people, and what does the future hold for them?
As an artist, I would say it has been a call to action. I am one person. What can I do? I can and will use my words and camera to do whatever I can to help.
The photos of yours that I've seen in galleries and on your calendars have focused mainly on places, objects and wildlife/nature, and not as much on people. Your new work with Mel Trotter Ministries is all about people. Is this a new direction for your work overall, or just for this particular project?
I like photographing people, but not in a studio setting. Lighting with flashes, reflectors, and the use of backdrops is a mystery to me. The project at Mel Trotter is an extension of something I started in November of 2016. I began asking people to think about for what they were most grateful while I photographed them. I used the light that was available and processed the images in black and white. The result is a very raw image. Some people cried while others beamed radiantly. The first person I photographed for the gratitude project taught me that what I was asking was not a minor request. I was asking people to become vulnerable and to bare a part of their soul. I am grateful to those who participated. To be allowed a look into someone's soul is an honor and needs to be treated respectfully. This is what I hope to bring to the Mel Trotter Project.
What directions do you want to go with your photography in the coming year?
I would like to pair writing with my photography more often. I will definitely be reviving my neglected blog. The folks at Mel Trotter have asked me to also photograph and write about the volunteer of the month and have begun asking me to photograph events. I am hoping that Renae Wallace and I can begin another collaborative project soon and am open to collaborative projects with other artists, but there is nothing in the works. Perhaps this is the year that I will finally learn Photoshop.
Anything else you'd like to add?
My work is available at NCCA - Artsplace in Fremont and at MB Woodworks & Company and Market 41 in Newaygo. Online I can be found at:
I am also starting a small gallery by appointment at my home in Holton.
In this first month of the year, it's exciting to envision good times ahead, to imagine accomplishments and successes piling up like drifts of fresh snow. This year, I'm also looking forward to goof-ups, flops, bungles, epic fails. To dumping garbage, if you will, on all that pristine snow.
Seriously? Seriously! It’s my intention to embrace failure, to view it as a teacher, not an indication of my worth.
This is not an easy mind-shift to make. I've spent most of my life aiming for success (however I chose to define it) and avoiding screw-ups. I've taken risks, but they've been calculated risks that I had reason to believe would turn out all right. For the most part, they did, or at least I convinced myself they did.
So why am I so intent on failing now? It's because there are things I want to try without worrying how they'll turn out. I'm not talking about major undertakings like kayaking across Lake Michigan, just small endeavors that previously have intimidated me.
For example, I have always wanted to draw, but my drawing ability plateaued around age seven. In college, I signed up for an introductory drawing class with a young, hip professor named Larry. For the first few weeks I looked forward to every session. Larry put on a Crosby, Stills & Nash album, demonstrated a technique, gave us an assignment, and cruised around the room offering suggestions. To this day, when I hear "Marrakesh Express," I'm back in that classroom, immersed in the scratch of pencil on paper, the magic of images taking shape beneath my hand.
Drawing was a joy, and I thought I was making great progress. Then one day, mid-way through the term, Larry made a comment to a mutual friend, and the friend (who was not known for his tact) repeated it to me.
"Larry says no one in your class has any talent."
That did it. I finished the class, but my enthusiasm for drawing died. I packed up my pencils and never gave them another thought . . . until recently, when I realized I still have a desire to draw.
It's a modest desire. I don't care about creating realistic likenesses, I just think it would be great fun to draw whimsical, cartoonish figures, faces, flowers, creatures, and objects. I envy friends who embellish their journals and notepads with fanciful doodles that seem to flow from their pens as easily as words.
So I bought a sketchbook and a book called How to Draw Almost Everything, which promised step-by-step instructions in the kind of drawing I want to do. I filled a page with with cartoon-y faces, first copying from the book, then making up my own. It was fun, and the results—while still at seven-year-old level—pleased me. With practice, maybe I could progress to advanced seven-year-old level!
Emboldened, I added bodies. Not too bad. Then I tried animals—squirrels, to be precise. The first one came out kind of cute, but the more squirrels I drew, the more bizarre they looked. Hunched backs, distorted bellies, fierce faces. All of a sudden my seven-year-old talent had regressed to kindergarten level. And not even cute kindergarten level—more like extremely disturbed kindergarten level. I tried clouds, trees, suns, stars, ballerinas, mermaids. All disastrous.
I remembered Larry's comment: no talent.
I laid the sketchbook aside and didn't open it for a few days. But then two things happened. First, I came across a couple of quotes I had copied from The Artist's Way when I re-read parts of the book during a creative slump:
Give yourself permission to be a beginner. By being willing to be a bad artist, you have a chance to be an artist, and perhaps, over time, a very good one.
It is impossible to get better and look good at the same time.
A few days after encountering those quotes, I was cleaning out some old files and found the first articles I wrote for the science writing class that led to the internship that led to my thirty-year career as a science writer.
My first attempt, a story on the health hazards of photocopy machine toners, dated August 30, 1980, was covered with red marks from the professor. And with good reason. My lede was leaden, my verbs flabby and passive, and story so full of qualifiers, readers would be hard pressed to draw any conclusions from it. In short, a failed attempt.
Yet if you had asked me—before I unearthed that old story—how I learned to write about science, I would've said it came naturally to me. Clearly, that's not true. I was once a beginner, and only by messing up and trying again did I get better at the thing I ended up doing best.
So I'm giving myself permission to be a beginner at drawing and all the other things I want to try or improve at: writing flash nonfiction, trying more challenging photography techniques, mastering yoga poses that don't come easily. And that means allowing myself to fail and try again.
What do you want to fail at this year?
Oh, I hope this doesn't come off sounding like a rant. Because I'm talking technology here, and that's a subject that can easily inspire wrath.
I know you've all got your own hair-tearing stories. Me, I've been dealing with a balky internet connection for a several days. Thanks to a lengthy phone session with a charming and patient young tech support guy named Brandon (I'm confident saying "young," because Brandons, Ethans, and Austins are always young, right?), it's working again. Sort of. Sometimes.
These bollixes never happen on days when my online needs are purely recreational. It's always when I'm trying to do Important Things. In this case, I had spent weeks polishing submission materials and was all fired up to start sending out queries to a painstakingly-researched selection of literary agents, hopeful that the just-right agent that I know is out there will offer to represent me and my memoir, Mango Rash: Survival Lessons in the Land of Frangipani and Fanta.
Now, however, the time I'd planned to devote to that endeavor is being eaten up with tech support, shut-downs, and reboots. I could go on—and on, and on—venting about my particular problem, but that's really not my purpose in this post. Instead, what I want to discuss is how technology affects our lives when our devices and connections are working just fine.
I've been considering this matter more than usual after coming across several articles on the subject.
One, titled "Smart Phone, Lazy Brain" grabbed my attention with its title. Written by science writer Sharon Begley and published in Mindful magazine, the article describes a number of studies aimed at understanding how all our Googling, surfing, and flitting from app to app affects our brains, as well as our productivity and creativity.
Perhaps you've heard of the Google Effect? If you can't quite remember what that is or where you heard about it, just Google it.
Ha! Gotcha! Instead of wracking your brain for that information, you let Google do the work. In the process, you undermined your ability to recall a week from now what you just looked up. That's because when you use your brain to remember things, you follow a path of mental stepping stones. Every excursion down such a pathway strengthens connections between neurons and makes future travels on that path go more smoothly. As Begley puts it, "The very act of retrieving a memory therefore makes it easier to recall next time around. If we succumb to the LMGTFY (let me Google that for you) bait, which has become ridiculously easy with smartphones, that doesn't happen."
Then there's the matter of attention. Begley cites this astonishing statistic: Computer users spend an average of only three to five minutes working on an actual task before peeking at Facebook or some other appealing website. Such fractured attention makes it difficult to accomplish anything. Yet ignoring those tempting distractions saps brainpower, too—the same kind of brainpower needed for judgment and problem-solving.
What to do? Author Stephen Elliott took the drastic step of disconnecting from the internet for a full month and described the experience in an article in Poets & Writers magazine.
First came a period of withdrawal, quickly followed by crushing boredom. "I realized I hadn't been bored in years because I'd gotten in the habit of never giving myself the chance," Elliott writes.
Avoiding boredom may sound like a good thing, but boredom leads to daydreaming, which enhances creativity, research shows. In one study, subjects who were bored did better on creativity tests than participants who were relaxed, elated, or distressed. In other research, half the participants were asked to copy numbers from a phone book, while the other half were spared the dreary task. Then both groups were given a creativity exercise. Who came up with most creative solutions? You guessed it: the ones who'd been given the boring chore beforehand.
Elliott didn't resort to copying phone numbers to fill the time he'd previously spent online. Instead, he found himself spending hours absorbed in activities he'd been too scattered to engage in before: reading the New York Times cover to cover, tackling challenging books, writing for hours without interruption.
"I could feel my attention span lengthening," he writes. "I would think about problems until I figured them out."
Eventually, Elliott got back online. The 370 emails that had accumulated during his month of disconnection were mostly junk, but he did appreciate having once again an easy way to promote a fundraiser he was hosting and communicate with contributors to an anthology he was editing. Still, he didn't plunge right back into his old habits. He came up with some guidelines for himself and anyone else who wants to rein in the constant-connection habit and actually get something done:
As for that smartphone that's become like an extra appendage, you don't have to give it up. Just pay attention to how you're using it, suggests University of Michigan psychology professor Ramaswami Mahalingam. His research, featured in a recent article in U-M's LSA Magazine, shows that whether your smartphone use affects your life positively or negatively depends on how mindful you are when you're using the device.
"On the one hand, there is a humanistic impulse to say, 'Oh, it’s awful. The machines are in control,'" says Mahalingam, who teaches an undergraduate course in mindfulness. "But the challenge lies in creating an awareness about how you think about everything, so when you do something habitual you become much more aware of it. As you become more deliberate, you use the phone more deliberately, too."
He recommends loading apps that prompt you to notice and record thoughts, feelings, and things happening around you, especially instances of kindness and generosity. Students who do this find themselves feeling less compelled to look at their phones. That frees up their brains to think about other things and have deeper face-to-face interactions.
"Ultimately," says Mahalingam, "technology creates a broader set of tools to foster interconnection. It should help us see the expanse of who we are, and to adapt to changes with magnanimity and grace."
Is technology a tool or a trap for you? Have you made any changes in your online habits? How's that working for you?
All images used with this post are stock images.
I've made this point before, but it bears repeating: No matter how alluring your destination, the stops along the way are often just as memorable.
That held true on our recent travels. In between our longer stays in Stillwater, Albuquerque and Memphis (yes, we covered a lot of ground!), we found fascinating diversions in such places as Elk City, Oklahoma; Tucumcari, New Mexico; and Fort Smith, Arkansas. More about those discoveries another day; today we're visiting a couple of places that are even farther off the beaten path.
We happened upon the first while trying to find our way to Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument, southeast of Albuquerque. Even with a GPS, it's a confusing undertaking, because the monument comprises three separate sites: Quarai, Abó, and Gran Quivira.
It helps to get your bearings at the visitor center in Mountainair. After driving so long we were sure we must have missed a turn somewhere, we finally arrived at Mountainair. I figured we'd buzz through the visitor center, pick up maps and move on. But a glance around town convinced me to linger a bit longer.
Though the business district is only a few blocks long, Mountainair is clearly a haven for creative souls. Mosaics and murals decorate walls and fences; sculptures stand in parking lots and protrude from building fronts.
I was particularly taken with one mosaic installation, Reptile Rendezvous, in front of the national monument's visitor center. Created by artists Samantha Baumgartner, Rebecca Anthony and Tomás Wolff, the piece features a larger-than-life snake stretched across the top of a curvy, concrete bench, with smaller ceramic lizards scattered about.
Sunflowers show up in a number of murals around town, a nod to Mountainair's annual Sunflower Festival. With a juried art show, live music (this year by groups including the Folk City Hipsters and Nervous Nation) and a sunflower hat contest, it sounds like a can't-miss event.
Unfortunately, we did miss it, by a couple of weeks. But we weren't too late for lunch, and we were ready for a refreshment break by the time we finished looking around town. We found just our kind of place: Alpine Alley Coffee Shop. The friendly folks, outstanding food and artsy, eclectic décor reminded us of our hometown hangout, Hit the Road Joe Coffee Café.
The next day, we found another treasure along New Mexico's Turquoise Trail. You may already have read my account of visiting Leroy Gonzales in Golden, but there was more up ahead in Madrid. Though a bit more touristy than Mountainair, Madrid still has a funky, handcrafted feel.
I especially loved the colorfully decorated mailboxes that lined the road.
Ray especially loved Maggie's, the movie set diner where scenes from the 2007 comedy "Wild Hogs" were shot. The building is a gift shop now (Wild Hogs t-shirts anyone?), and the haughty woman selling souvenirs the day we visited was no Marisa Tomei. Still, it was a kick to see the place—and the Wild Hogs Adopt-a-Highway sign on the way out of town.
One of the most memorable highway highlights wasn't a sight at all, but a sound. Just west of Tierjas, New Mexico, we detoured off I-40 to travel over the Singing Road. On this short stretch of old Route 66, rumble strips are configured to play "America the Beautiful," but only if you drive over them at exactly the speed limit, 45 miles per hour.
Having traveled through quite a few amber waves of grain, admiring purple mountain majesties and fruited plains, we felt like singing along. But before we knew it, the rumble strips had run out, the road was back to humming its usual monotone and we were off to see what other surprises the highway had in store.
This month's collection of wisdom is a mixed bag, a reflection of what I've been thinking and doing since we returned from vacation. First came the obsessing over all the things I needed and wanted to catch up on, then the realization that I didn't need to do them all at once. When I settled down enough to set priorities, it was with a renewed commitment to my creative projects, both ongoing and new.
I also spent some time reflecting on our travels and on the benefits of travel in general. And then, because my daily at-home routine involves at least a little attention to the news of the day, I sought guidance to help me keep distressing events in perspective.
Finally, travels over and routine restored, I found comfort in being right where I am, right now.
We have to fight them daily, like fleas, those many small worries about the morrow, for they sap our energies.
-- Etty Hillesum
I believe that if you do not answer the noise and urgency of your gifts, they will turn on you. Or drag you down with their immense sadness at being abandoned.
-- Joy Harjo, Crazy Brave
Work is love made visible.
-- Ama Ata Aidoo
We see achievement as purposeful and monolithic, like the sculpting of a massive tree trunk that has first to be brought from the forest and then shaped by long labor to assert the artist's vision, rather than something crafted from odds and ends, like a patchwork quilt, and lovingly used to warm different nights and bodies.
-- Mary Catherine Bateson
You throw an anchor into the future you want to build, and you pull yourself along by the chain.
-- John O'Neal
The more I traveled, the more I realized that fear makes strangers of people who should be friends.
-- Shirley MacLaine
We say, "Seeing is believing," but actually . . . we are all much better at believing than at seeing. In fact, we are seeing what we believe nearly all the time and only occasionally seeing what we can't believe.
-- Robert Anton Wilson
I have striven not to laugh at human actions, not to weep at them, nor to hate them, but to understand them.
-- Baruch Spinoza
Perhaps the most radical thing we can do is stay home, so we can learn the names of the plants and animals around us; so that we can begin to know what tradition we're part of.
-- Terry Tempest Williams
The little things? The little moments? They aren't little.
-- Jon Kabat-Zinn
What's on your mind as this month draws to an end?
I had barely stepped out of the truck when . . . "GOOD MORNING!"
The voice filled me with warmth on that damp morning when I'd stopped for a better look at an unusual roadside assemblage along New Mexico's Turquoise Trail, between Albuquerque and Santa Fe.
"Come on in! Take all the pictures you want." The man with the welcoming voice emerged from behind a rustic fence of planks and crooked tree limbs, decorated with railroad spikes, old tires, metal barrels, cast-off toys and colorful bottles and jars.
From there, he hustled me over to the "gold mine," a mirror-backed tunnel that Leroy winkingly told me extends all the way to the Ortiz Mountains in the distance. Then a stop at the cantina, another trompe l'oeil façade of corrugated metal and cow skulls.
When he invited me to step inside a small structure behind the cantina, I didn't hesitate, even before he assured me, "Don't worry, it's perfectly safe." Inside, the walls were covered with tacked-up notes that previous visitors had left in the spiral-bound guestbook Leroy keeps on a table out front. I read a few, then he showed me a plastic storage tub filled with more notes and letters and a collection of photos visitors have taken of him and his surroundings.
"Stay as long as you want," Leroy said as he headed off to tend to his creations. "Just let me know when you're leaving."
By the time we said goodbye—me with a bunch of photos in my camera, Leroy with a few bucks I left in the tip jar, along with my promise to send him some pictures—I was in high spirits.
In just a short visit, this man whose main mission in life seems to be welcoming people into his world, had cast a colorful light on my day. I hope I carried some of that color and sparkle away with me.
We're back from our travels, and do I have a lot to tell you! In coming weeks, I'll share stories of people, places and experiences on the road, as well as some closer to home.
First stop: Stillwater, Oklahoma, my home town, where we attended my graduating class's 50-year (!!!) reunion. I reconnected with friends I hadn't seen since high school and strengthened ties with those I've stayed in touch with.
Every time I meet up with these schoolmates, I feel comforted by our shared past. Many of us have known each other since kindergarten or first grade. We lived within blocks of one another, knew each other's parents, siblings and pets, played countless backyard baseball games and croquet matches, and giggled through many a sleep-over. Other longtime friends I came to know through church groups, scout troops and other clubs, where we learned values that shaped us into the grown-ups we became.
At the reunion, my school friends and I pored over old pictures, remembering carefree days, favorite teachers and a few who were definitely not our favorites. That was fun, but I got just as big a kick out of finding out what my classmates are doing in this current phase of our lives.
Many, I was delighted to learn, are using the freedom of retirement to explore their creative sides.
Terry, who retired from the florist business a few years ago, now applies his artistic talents to stained glass. His wife Robin stitches stunning quilts. The couple hosted one of the informal open houses that are my favorite events during our reunions, and Robin showed us the sunny studio they recently added onto their home. That's where Robin's quilting group gathers and Terry does his glass work (probably not at the same time, I'm guessing).
At another open house hosted by Keith and Holly, Keith told us he spends his time these days "fixing things and making things." When we asked what kind of things he makes, he took us to his workshop and showed us the wood and metal creations he's working on, as well as a few finished pieces. A former CPA, Keith always yearned to work with his hands. Now he's satisfying that desire, and from the way his face lit up when he showed us his projects, it was clear how much pleasure they've giving him.
Kay, a former school library media specialist, spends many hours tending to her flowers at Lily Hill, a 13-acre spread north of Claremore, Oklahoma. Somehow she also finds time to make lovely things, like the striped socks she knitted for me. The colors are inspired by the peacocks that roam around Lily Hill, and the package she surprised me with was decorated with a few of their feathers. Those colors just happen to be my favorites, and the socks were a perfect fit.
Cindi, a longtime dear friend, insists she's not creative. Yet her talent for nurturing friendship takes just as much energy and attention as making physical things. Over the years, we've diverged in many ways, but Cindi's steadfast allegiance has kept us close, and for that I'm eternally grateful.
Which brings me to another thing I want to share about my classy classmates, another thing for which I'll always be grateful.
Our last year of high school was a challenging one for me. I wasn't even supposed to be in Oklahoma, attending Stillwater High School. A year earlier, my parents and I had moved to American Samoa, where we planned to live for two years (that's a whole other story, and trust me, the memoir will be published someday). I was supposed to graduate from Samoana High School and then return to the States for college.
My diagnosis with a life-threatening illness cut short our stay in Samoa, and we returned to Oklahoma at the beginning of my senior year. All of a sudden I was not only the girl who'd lived in a faraway place and returned with a weird accent and strange habits, I was also the girl with the scary disease.
My classmates could easily have shunned me, not out of unkindness, but out of fear. I was a reminder that life was not all parties and pep rallies, that even our young lives could be in jeopardy. But not once did I feel anything but unconditional acceptance. My Stillwater friends sent me cards when I was in the hospital and welcomed me back when I was able to return to school.
Looking back, I realize now just how much open-heartedness it took for them to treat me the way they did. Talking with some of my old friends at the reunion, I expressed my wonder at their compassion.
"It never occurred to us to treat you any other way," one said. "We were just so glad to have you back."
See what I mean about classy?
While I'm taking a break for relaxation and recreation, I've invited some of my fellow bloggers to fill in with guest posts. This week's is from blogger/photographer Ruth Daly, who blogs here. Whether or not you carry a camera around, you can apply these insights on slowing down, focusing on details and really learning to see, to your everyday observations of the world around you.
Written from the heart,
from the heart of the woods
Read the introduction to HeartWood here.
Nan Sanders Pokerwinski, a former journalist, writes memoir and personal essays, makes collages and likes to play outside. She lives in West Michigan with her husband, Ray.