Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Trimming my Mindsets

I just cut my hair. As in: me, myself, and a pair of scissors. It’s fun learning how to do this, but the original motivation was annoyance. I knew ageing would change things, but I didn’t expect my hair to be one of those things. Don’t get me wrong; I love the gray hairs—really. Each one is a badge of wisdom, a lesson learned from four decades on this earth, and I don’t plan on dyeing them away.

What bothered me about my hair was the fact that I could no longer roll out of bed and bound off into the day without it looking a bit…um…tired. My hair just sort of hung there, lifeless. I resented the thought that I’d want to start spending time actually doing something to my strands besides rubbing a bit of argan oil into their ends.

I’m not a primper. I have the same curling iron I owned in the eighth grade (it survived in my grandmother’s attic while I gallivanted across several continents, and I rediscovered it in my mid-thirties). I only use a hand-me-down hairdryer to dry layers of acrylic paint on my canvases when I’m feeling impatient.

I could have gotten a perfectly good cut in a salon, sure, but I wanted to take this particular task into my own hands. I look down at the curls of hair that have fallen from my scissors and smile. As clearly as those dark clippings on white porcelain, I can see that my annoyance didn’t originate with my hair but with the conflicted feelings I had about cultivating beauty to begin with.

My grandmother—the one with the attic—had been a beauty. In her late teens and early twenties, she wanted to be a model, and I have one of her portfolio shots hanging on my wall. In the photo, her hair is perfectly coiffed. She faithfully and painstakingly twisted little bobby-pin curls all over her head. When I was a girl, I’d seen her curl her hair that way during sleepovers at her house with my cousin, Heather. We would watch Grandma sit at her long, glass-topped vanity while the curls dried. She used the interim to apply the contents of mysterious bottles to her face. She always took the time to look as good as she could, right up to the final years of illness before she died. Heather inherited Grandma’s aptitude and the willingness to use it.

I decided not to. I spent most of my high school and college years with my hair yanked back in a lumpy bun, happy with the fact that my shower products consisted of just shampoo, conditioner, and a bar of soap. Rebellion can look like a frizz halo.

I wasn’t rebelling against any person so much as the way our culture urged women to manufacture and maintain beauty. Not until grad school in humid Greensboro, North Carolina did I discover styling products—at first out of necessity (it’s hard to see through a sheen of frizzy hair), and then for amusement. UNCG’s creative writing program held legendary themed parties and thesis readings, and these required trips to the CVS for eyeliner and lipstick. I even let friends talk me into a trip to the M.A.C counter at the mall for a makeover.

For my first Halloween in Greensboro, I went as a Very Tall Woman. I’m already 6’ 3”, but my goal was to have to duck under door lintels. I invited several friends to get ready together at my apartment before we walked to the party on Carr Street. A fellow poet teased and hairsprayed my hair into a skyscraper of a beehive. Along with my five-inch silver heels, the hair added over a foot to my height, and I measured 7’5’. (A measurement confirmed by another poet who had to stand on a chair to read the measuring tape.) On the walk to the party, my beehive snagged in a magnolia tree, and I was the only one who could reach up to disentangle it.

It was a brief and entertaining season of playing with beauty products.

The reason I decided not to dye my hair came a few years later. I was living in Switzerland, high in the Alps, attending a theological study center called l’Abri. In a chalet with 35 students and three bathrooms, we were allotted just two showers a week. There wasn’t much point in styling limp, greasy, day-four hair. One winter night, I traveled down the valley to listen to a string quartet. I knew the cellist, but my eyes were on the violinist. She leaned deeply over her instrument, the crown of her head pointing almost straight toward the audience. Her long hair was dark brown, and swirling from the top of her head like petals from the heart of a blossom grew thick sections of unabashed white. It was striking, the way she embraced the evidence of her age. As I watched her play, I told myself I would always let my white hair show, too.

At the time, I had about four white hairs. Now, as I dry my damp hair, I lean into the mirror and see that the white ones are already innumerable. They are also becoming my favorites. They are the strongest and thickest. They are visible wisdom in a part of the world that often forgets to remember the beauty of time. And I’ve discovered that I want to celebrate them, even if that means occasionally taking time play with hair gel and bobby pins.

I think what once prompted me to skip the primping was the thought that it was faking something—that it was a well advertised attempt to mask reality. Sometimes it is. But maybe sometimes it’s also an individual way to celebrate reality.

All to say, you might see me with bobby pins in my hair—or see a trail of them falling out behind me as I figure out how to actually anchor the things. Or you might see me looking like I just rolled out of bed. Because that’s a celebration, too: simply waking each day into the continuum of ever-wiser life.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Les Yeux du Coeur

I couldn't resist: "Eyes of the Heart" just sounds so lovely in French! And now for a prophetic workshop in Tours, France...

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Paper & Egg

I’m housesitting at the moment, happily tucked away in the countryside, alone with several projects and a few animals. Those animals include two chickens who live waaaaay down the hill toward the bottom of the lane. After the first round of morning coffee and writing, I walk down to the coop with any veggie scraps, feed the hens, and collect an egg or two. I tuck the eggs into a fencepost nook and continue my walk, past barns and vineyards, taking at least an hour until the list of tangibles in my head dissolves and ideas of the heart can blossom. When I return to the base of the lane, I gather the daily newspaper and eggs, and climb the steep hill back to the house. Then it’s round two of coffee and the afternoon work—the stuff that doesn’t need “morning brain.” Some days that’s painting. Some days it’s catching up on pixel work. Often, it’s both.

Even when I’m not housesitting, my days have a similar structure—sans chickens. But when I started hiking back up the hill today, a fresh egg cradled in the Wednesday copy of the Medford Mail Tribune, I thought that “paper and egg” made a nice metaphor for the day’s ritual.

Somewhere on a social media discussion this week, I saw a comment about the book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, by Mason Curry. Though the book is on my overlong wish list, I haven’t read it. I looked up the book description and saw that it examines the habits of dozens and dozens of artists, past and present. Apparently—and this was from the lost discussion thread—there are four elements that most successful artists across genres seem to share:

1. Structure
2. Solitude
3. Simplicity
4. Exercise

And despite quoting someone I can’t remember about a book I haven’t read, I felt the “yes” of these enough that this little list stayed with me over the last couple of days and remerged this morning as I finally crested the hill and reached the house with the paper and egg.

In the kitchen, I set a cast iron skillet on the stove and turned on the burner. I thought about it; those four elements aren’t sexy or groundbreaking, but they work. And they are a gift that most of us can open in some way—whether easily when housesitting alone or with admirable effort in a household with a large family.

Today’s simple structure continued after my solo walk—including a very nice egg, over easy, to fuel the next creative project.

As will tomorrow’s….

Saturday, April 30, 2016

#Micropoetry for Poetry Month

{Photo by Danny Hall}

For this year’s Poetry Month, I wrote and posted a micro poem every day on Twitter. It was a fun challenge to condense “the best words in the best order” into 140 characters or less. Less, really, since I tried to squeeze in the hastags #micropoetry and #PoetryMonth with each post, too!

Here are my five favorites. Enjoy....


Thick sleep, strong coffee—
the day’s armor donned,
I begin to write and find
there is no battle but a dance.


For wrists & knuckles, knees & hips, 
for all the parts that twist & bend
with & without me thinking—thank you.


Between finger & thumb,
between river & shore,
between yes & no,
every “if” awaits.


Yesterday, a Machado poem fell
from my pocket. To you who
finds it—let the bees spin honey
from every marvelous error.


I opened an old set of drawers in my mind,
dumping out lists & grudges & desires.
So little to keep, I tossed
the dresser, too.

Friday, April 1, 2016

A Rumi of Her Own

I'm happy to have another essay up at Perceptive Travel! This one is called A Rumi of Her Own and was inspired by a trip to Sayulita, Mexico a few springs ago. I stayed in a villa named for a love poem...and on the floor named for the poet Rumi. Since some of the photos are already published with the essay, here are a couple of watercolors I painted in Villa Poema de Amor. Enjoy the essay!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Wings: Gifts of Art, Life, and Travel in France

This month, a beautiful book was born. It was a debut of double happiness; my dear friend, Erin Byrne, wrote the book, and I had the honor of illustrating it. I am most pleased to announce it here!

WINGS: Gifts of Art, Life and Travel in France (Travelers Tales) is a collection of essays drawn from Byrne’s travels across the country. From Cézanne’s studio in Aix-en-Provence to a tiny village in the Jura Mountains, from a traditional bistro on the Left Bank of Paris to a plain high above the Normandy beaches, she travels through France collecting stories, characters, tastes and secrets that act as ingredients for change, then takes those experiences and digs deeper to uncover meaning.

Alan Riding wrote: “To join Erin on her travels is to see France through the eyes of an ever-curious and affectionate friend.” ‘Tis true, and so I’m also pleased to introduce the author, “irresistible bon vivant,” Erin Byrne:

Erin Byrne writes travel essays, poetry, fiction, and screenplays. Her work has won numerous awards including three Grand Prize Solas Awards for Travel Story of the Year, the Reader’s Favorite Award, Foreword Reviews Book of the Year Finalist, and an Accolade Award for film.

Erin is author of Wings: Gifts of Art, Life, and Travel in France (Travelers’ Tales, 2016), editor of Vignettes & Postcards From Paris and Vignettes & Postcards From Morocco (Reputation Books, 2016), and writer of The Storykeeper film. 

Erin is occasional guest instructor at Shakespeare and Company Bookstore in Paris and on Deep Travel trips.  Her screenplay, Siesta, is in pre-production in Spain, and she is working on the novel, The Red Notebook. 

* * *

We hope you’ll enjoy the stories and images. You can find Erin’s book on Amazon and the illustrations at my these: 

Ceiling of Saint-Étienne-du-Mont, from the story “Reconnaissance” 

The Red Typewriter, from the story “Dear Madame Renaud”

Les Éditeurs, from the story “French Connections”