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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.

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…

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….

#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.

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!

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.  e-byrne.com 

* * *

We hope you’ll enjoy the stories and images. You can find Erin’s book on Amazon and the illustrations at my gallery…like 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”  



Eyes of the Heart: Prophetic Art Workshop


Back by request! The Eyes of the Heart prophetic art workshop returns to the Rogue Valley on February 27th. Want to get activated in your creativity? Want to know more about prophetic art? Join us! 
This workshop explores the history, contemporary practice, and hands-on creation of prophetic art. Whether you draw stick figures or professional portraits—or work in a non-visual media entirely—this workshop will help release you into greater creativity as you align with the Creator’s heart. 
When: Saturday, 27 February 2016. Registration: 9:00-9:30. Workshop: 9:30-4:30
Where: LivingWaters, 2200 Roberts Road, Medford OR
Cost: Special rate of $35 per person (and a percentage of the workshop proceeds will go to the Anthem students of Living Waters).

How to Register: Online via PayPal: and be sure to include your email address and the date of the workshop you’re registering for. For more information, email: [email protected]

No Other

The Great Wall of China, painting (study) by Anna Elkins, originally published with her essay at Perceptive Travel, Beyond the Fear of Other in China
Happy to have my first essay up on Perceptive Travel: “Beyond the Fear of Other in China” (originally titled “No Other”). And happy to have this sketch of The Great Wall included!

Happy New…Project!



I have always created with art + word + spirit….I just didn’t know that one day they would add up to prophetic art.


Prophetic art is about hearing God and creatively sharing His love for others. This can be through painting, writing, dance. It can be through words of encouragement jotted on restaurant napkins or drawings on window frost—anything that calls out the best in others. Anything that brings heaven to earth in a creative way.

I had already earned degrees in writing and art—and had taught both subjects—when I heard about prophetic art in my early 30s. I knew I had to discover more. So I left a teaching job on a tropical island and returned to the States to be a student again. As I studied, I started to dream about what it would look like for prophetic art to be part of that great exhortation: “on earth as it is in heaven.”

I spent several years practicing and teaching prophetic art. I eventually created my own prophetic art workshop (you can find that “Eyes of the Heart” workshop on my website annaelkins.com). But just recently, I realized there was something missing: a resource for people to learn about this kind of art. Each month, about 1,000 people search for prophetic art online via one search engine alone. But the search results yield mostly personal artists’ web pages and sub pages on sites of bigger organizations. No page devoted solely to sharing prophetic art resources existed. Until now. 

Someone once said that if you can accomplish your dreams on your own, you’re not dreaming big enough. Well, I am embarking on a big dream…or the first part of one! I have created a website called PropehticArt: Bringing Heaven to E(art)h. It’s a resource page for prophetic arts. My goal is to share what I’ve already discovered and to continually add new resources as I find them.

I began the website thinking it would be a nice little project I could do myself. Turns out, this dream is bigger than I thought. That’s where you come in; for the site to be truly helpful, it needs your help.

With more content, PropheticArt.Infocan become more useful. When you visit the page, you’ll see that I still need to add plenty of resources in some of the menus. Gathering and researching that content takes time. For example: I only suggest books that I’ve read, and though I’ve read a lot, I have a lot more to read. Also, my creative strengths are in two-dimensional arts and writing, but I hope to add more resources for prophetic music and movement (dance)—among other things. I also want to connect in person with people and groups who are creating prophetic art: for this project to be a community builder. 

I chose the Patreon crowdfunding platform because it’s more like a tip jar. Instead of paying for a project at the end of a campaign, you essentially tip for work I’m already doing—and will continue to do.

I’ve seen the power of prophetic art in action around the world, and I believe this project will be of value to many.  

You can help prophetic art grow by becoming a patron for this project. Check out the campaign here: http://www.patreon.com/PropheticArt

Happy creativity to all! 

P.S. To learn a bit more about prophetic art, here’s an article I wrote for CFN’s The Voice.) 



In a Fix: The Danger of Renovation Relationships


When I was younger, I entertained a romantic illusion about buying a fixer-upper house and restoring it with the man of my dreams. No turnkey ease for us! We would steam away wallpaper, scrape carpet from hardwood floors, and paint the walls—tenderly wiping the paint splotches off of each other’s noses.
And then I grew up.
Well, partly. I nixed the idea of fixing up the house—I get a crick in my neck when I even think of repainting walls. Problem was, I shifted the idea to the realm of relationships; I thought I could find a fixer-upper man and transform him into flower-boxed, picket-fenced realtor candy. I would help him achieve my—er—hisdreams for himself. How marvelous of me!
Strangely enough, the men I dated also tried to fix me. Imagine! In fact, the main relationship of my 20s was a doomed, mutual renovation attempt:
Hethought he needed more money to make me happy. I thought I needed hishappiness to be happy.
He would have liked me thinner. I would have liked him to build a bit more muscle.
Hewanted me to look better in photographs. Iwanted him to be as kind as he lookedin photographs.
Thatreal estate bubble burst long before 2008.
We couldn’t renovate each other, but more importantly, neither of us had bothered to renovate ourselves. I am so grateful for that messy relationship because of what it taught me.
Now, on the brink of forty, I know that I don’t want a partnership built around constant trips to the relationship equivalent of Home Depot. With someone or without, life throws us enough hail damage, burst water pipes, and busted heating units (literally and figuratively). I want any improvement adventures to be the exception, not the rule. As much as possible, I want to be turnkey. I want the man I share my life with to be turnkey, too.
In short: I’ve done my work, and I’m looking for a man who’s done the same.
Still, I’m single. Thoroughly. Not even a whiff of “it’s complicated.” I enjoy my life, and I want to share it with someone. So last year, I succumbed to friends’ suggestions that I re-enter the world of online dating.
Sigh.
“Fine,” I said. Years before, I had tried, but I cancelled an account after glancing up at the “mail” button one night and—in a brief second—mistaking it for “mall.” I panicked that I would start to treat this search like shopping.
This time around, I tried another site. I dutifully uploaded photos and filled in the little boxes. In the field asking, “What are you looking for in a partner?” I listed several qualities that work both ways—like cultivating joy despite circumstances and communicating openly.
But reading the profiles of my “matches”—at least the ones who’ve taken the time to fill out their own little boxes—I am amazed at how few of these dear souls seem to have done their own work.
*Clarification before I proceed: I like men…I’m looking for one. I’m not bashing them here—they just happen to be the gender that I have experience searching for on dating sites. I am confident that plenty of women do the same things I mention…probably because I have done/thought some of them myself. With the exception of the photo-op.
When choosing traits they are looking for in a partner, many prospective matches opt for words like good listener and sympathetic. I have a theory that these are often “Fix Me” traits in disguise—a desire for external renovation instead of internal. Such words are the relationship real estate equivalent of: unfinished garage and undeveloped lot with potential. What these matches are usually saying is: “Yeah, I haven’t fixed parts of myself yet. I’m going to need someone to help me do it or…hey! You want to do it for me?”
No. Really, I don’t. And you shouldn’t want me to.   
When I do happen to find a potential match, or at least one who ran spell check, we usually move to the Q & A section. But…when selecting a round of questions to ask a prospective mate, many matches choose questions from the drop-down menu like: “If I came home tired from a long day at work, what would you do for me?” Again: “Fix me” alert.
On the site I’m using, you can also write your own questions. So I do. I ask things like: “What are the dreams you are working toward in your life?” That usually kills the conversation. In fact, it just did again last week. It fascinates me that few to none of my matches—or near matches—within a twenty-year age spectrum or from any country on earth (the search settings I chose)—is building their own “dream house.” They either want someone to build and/or renovate it for them, or they want to step right in to someone else’s.
(And one man out there apparently wants to attract a mate who’s interested in a photo of himself with his head sandwiched between a woman’s thighs. That’s not exactly the kind of dreaming I’m referring to.)
One match, a defense contractor, did seem promising. He’d filled out his profile with panache and wisdom, asked and answered meaningful questions, and sent me a Valentine’s email from Afghanistan. But after replying, I never heard from him again. Obviously, I still have some of my own work to do because I couldn’t help but wonder: was he killed in combat? That would be a terrible reason for the silence, and the more likely one is straight-up rejection. Of course, I hope it was just rejection….
Oh, humanity.
I’ve been thinking about turnkey in the context of relationships for years. But I only just looked up the word. According to Merriam Webster, turnkey’s primary definition is “one who has charge of a prison’s keys.” Hmmm. The second definition is an adjective meaning “complete and ready to be used.” Also, hmmm.
I am saddened by how many of us choose to sit in the fix’er-upper (or fix‘imupper) of our lives with the Home Improvement Channel cranked up to full volume and the roof about to fall in. If we do hear the sound of a key turning in the front door (Aha, There is my soul mate! Finally!), we often mistake it for 1) the warden coming to release us from our drafty, self-made “prison,” or 2) the arrival of one who is ready to use us—or someone we’re ready to use. Unhealthy dynamics whatever way you tilt the miniblinds.
I’ve observed something in successful relationships that have lasted twenty-, thirty-, forty-plus years; those partners know how to share their lives. But they share from their own wholeness—not trying to take from the other what they need or trying to give to the other what that person lacks. They each do their own work, and then they work together to build something even greater together.  
It has taken me several continents, years, and online dating sites to be able to propose a third definition of turnkey as it would apply to relationships: “Complete and ready to share.” So I am adding “good sharer” to the mutual list of traits I seek in a partner. And I’m practicing it here by sharing this essay.
Meanwhile, I keep my life ready to share with someone. I continue to enjoy the things I’ve fixed and to fix the things I haven’t—in myself, no one else. I don’t expect perfection, and I’m hardly perfect: the door to my heart can stick and requires a bit of a push. The ventilation system of my attitude can short out and needs occasional service to let in the fresh air of perspective. But I know how to get such things back in working order myself. Even more importantly, I’ve gone down to my soul foundations, made sure that the load-bearing values are built with integrity, and painted this entire structure in the color palette of joy-despite-circumstance. The furnishings aren’t bad, either.
“Charming and quirky” would be suitable descriptors for my real estate listing—I mean online dating profile.
And if my future partner does come home from a long, hard day at work, I’d love to make him his favorite dinner. Among other things. But I’ll do it from a place of completeness—not fixing or being used.

Turnkey woman is ready to share her life with turnkey man.