To my surprise, I ended up designing a line of eco-kid-friendly (and grown-up-kid-friendly!) Valent
“Robots?” I asked Hayley, owner of EcoPiggy, who had the idea and gave me suggestions for images that would appeal to grade-schoolers. I lamented, “I can’t draw a robot!” Well, she proved me wrong, and the Super-Heart set is now the most popular of the three.
All of the cards are printed from my original watercolors on recycled paper with soy-based inks, so the planet will feel your love, too!
Interested? Here’s a direct link to order them:
And for those of you in the southern Oregon area, you can get the cards at Terra Firma Gift in Jacksonville starting this weekend. They’ll also be featured there during a special Valentine event on Saturday, February 1st, from 2-4pm; come enjoy samples of sweetness by Lux Cakes and face painting by local artists.
Wishing all a happy Valentine’s Day…and delightful surprises from directions you’d never suspect!
Lots of love,
Last night, I gave the first reading from my new novel, The Honeylicker Angel. The room was
filled with dear friends and new faces. I told of the three things that formed
the genesis of the book:
Photo, barge, transformed fear.
That part I said. What I didn’t say was this: for the
reading, I was wearing the dress the novel had been “conceived” in. It was a
dress I bought ten years ago in Switzerland, during that winter study—the
timeless kind of dress that doesn’t find its way into the Goodwill bag.
It was also the dress I wore when I met my own Mr. Once—slight inspiration for the novel’s version of him. It was the dress I dyed the color
of chocolate six years ago and took to Micronesia for my first teaching job—a job I took to conquer my fear of public speaking
(nothing like a room full of senior high students to kill that fear fast!). It was the dress I dyed again last week, navy blue this
time, to wear for the reading. That dress—that uniform of beginnings—needed its
I see myself in that dress back when it was pale and new
like me, filling a bottle with Muscatel on a hot, Spanish afternoon, hearing a
story of beekeepers and beginning to form a story of my own: of a woman who spins
her fear to love like I was just learning to do.
I gave birth to my character Melissa in that dress—my first
book child. I wish her well as she grows up and moves about in the world. If
you see her, snug between the covers of The
Honeylicker Angel, I hope you’ll spend some time with her and enjoy her
“I call a man awake who knows in his conscious reason his
“And sometimes it seemed that something never seen yet long desired
was about to happen, that a veil would drop from it all. . . .” (73)
“When artists create pictures and thinkers search for laws
and formulate thoughts, it is in order to salvage something from the great
dance of death, to make something that lasts longer than we do.” (157)
“Any work of art that was truly sublime, not just a good
juggler’s trick; that was filled with the eternal secret, like the master’s
Madonna; every obviously genuine work of art had this dangerous, smiling double
face, was male-female, a merging of instinct and pure spirituality. . . . In
art, in being an artist, Goldmund saw the possibility of reconciling his
deepest contradictions, or at least of expressing newly and magnificently the
split in his nature.” (171)
“One thing, however, did become clear to him—why so many
perfect works of art did not please him at all, why they were almost hateful
and boring to him, in spite of a certain undeniable beauty. Workshops,
churches, and palaces were full of these fatal works of art. . . .They were
deeply disappointing because they aroused the desire for the highest and did
not fulfill it. They lacked the most essential thing—mystery. That was what
dreams and truly great art had in common: mystery.” (184-185)
“All existence seemed to be based on duality, on contrast.
Either one was a man or one was a woman, either a wanderer or a sedentary
burgher, either a thinking person or a feeling person—no one could breathe in
at the same time as he breathed out, be a man as well as a woman, experience
freedom as well as order, combine instinct and mind. One always had to pay for
the one with the loss of the other, and one thing was always just as desirable
as the other.” (249)
“God is perfect being. Everything else that exists is only
half, only a part, is becoming, is mixed. He is one, he has no potentialities
but is the total, the complete reality. Whereas we are transitory, we are
becoming, we are potentials; there is no perfection for us, no complete being.
But wherever we go, from potential to deed, from possibility to realization, we
participate in true being, become by a degree more similar to the perfect and
“Goldmund had showed [Narcissus] that a man destined for
high things can dip into the lowest depths of the bloody, drunken chaos of
life, and soil himself with much dust and blood, without becoming small and
common, without killing the divine spark within himself, that he can err
through the thickest darkness without extinguishing the divine light and the
creative force inside the shrine of his soul.” (301)
Herman. Narcissus And Goldmund.
Trans. Ursule Molinaro. New York: Picador, 1968. Print.
I could say the story started with a photograph I saw: a
beekeeper smiling, head absolutely covered in bees. I remember reading the
caption and learning that bees can sense fear. The man was unafraid.
Or the story started while spending the winter of 2003
studying fear and love in a theological commune high in the Swiss Alps.
Or maybe while ghostwriting later that summer on the Costa
Brava in Spain, hearing a friend tell me, in her French accent, about the last
beekeeping barge on the Canal du Midi in France.
I began to think of a story—a story about overcoming fear. The main character would be deathly afraid of
bees . . . and would end up face to face with far more than potential
anaphylaxis. And so, when a photo, a study,
and a story came together, The Honeylicker Angel was born.
I began this novel in my mid-twenties, at the “quarter-life
crisis” of establishing my identity. I worked on the novel off and on over the
last decade. It has travelled through various geographical continents and
continents of the heart. Seven years ago, it plumped up to 80,000 words after another
Swiss winter, and then it slimmed to 50,000 after a couple of years on a
And really, stories about fear and love have been around
since time began. This particular one just happens to take place in the douce France—gentle France. It is a douce story of sweetess and light—an
“Everywoman’s” story, as told by the protagonist, Melissa.
I wrote The Honeylicker Angel especially for women who are navigating their destiny. May
there be lovely surprises along the journey.
O taste and see. . . .
A forthright friend recently commented, “How strange that
you are an artist, and yet you are so rigid with your time. So structured.
Where’s the passion?”
To which I wish I had replied: “Talent and passion don’t just
transform themselves into books and paintings. That takes discipline. And one
person’s passion can look a whole lot different than someone else’s.”
After my undelivered comeback, I continued to think about
the misconception of artists as excitable partiers who throw together masterpieces
in between ongoing bouts of binge drinking and orgies.
True, some of the most prolific artists in history were at
least a little bit zany, but they were productive; they showed up, they worked,
they finished their work. The evidence of their discipline is found on library
shelves, theater stages, and museum walls.
Discipline is the artist’s friend. It is the ability to tell
your time and talents where to go . . .
and to follow your own instructions.
To those of you who build a structure to house your
passions, your creativity applauds you. It has a safe and reliable place to
come home to daily.
Sure, the best ideas often happen while outside of that
structure—walking in the woods, staring at a bowl of oranges, standing in line
at the post office. But my idea for a poem or a painting will only become a poem or painting if I steward that
idea with discipline.
And as for passion, it looks different for everyone. It’s
not necessarily loud. It won’t always set off the smoke alarm or leave stains
on the furniture. It doesn’t have to get kicked out of movie theaters or small
countries to exist. Passion can be blooming in the quietest person in the room,
the one with a revelation she’s trying to find a way to share with the world.
I took the picture of my alarm clock when it rang this
morning . . . very early. I don’t always like that thing. I don’t always listen
to it. But that little face is a foundational part of my creativity structure.
I wish my productivity peaked late in the evening like it does for fellow
artists I know. Mine doesn’t. So I honor
my version; I wake up my talents and passions, sleepy as they are, and we all
sip our coffee and get on with the business of creating.
That creation time is never rigid. It is deep and wild. Mystical
and mysterious. Full of a richness that I’d only know if I committed to
Yes, passion can look like puffy eyes lit by a laptop screen
at 5:30 in the morning. Really.
The other day, I interviewed for a position as an adjunct
professor. Something about twenty years of academic calendars and CV-centric
activities had elevated Being a Professor to the holy grail of vocations (never
mind that this position would be teaching introductory composition courses). I
had always assumed that teaching as a professor would be a benchmark of success.
Last year, I taught at university level for the first time
since grad school. It was just a comp course—not my dream of teaching
creative writing—but I was doing it!
I felt absolutely unpinnacled.
The whole hallowed-halls-of-learning-in-a-classroom seemed a
bit overrated. I realized that I’d learned more in my ten years out of a
structured educational system than my twenty years within it.
The evening before my recent interview, I had dinner with a
sage friend. I was telling him (well, maybe whining) about my quandary. He
looked at me and said, “You can get whatever you want. But do you want it?”
I thought about what I wanted as I chose my outfit to wear for
the interview: a skirt suit of mix-matched vintage pieces I loved.
Ah, the owning of a suit: that was another thing I had
thought marked grownup-edness. Well, a matching suit, that is. As I looked at
myself in the mirror on the way out the door, I laughed. Why on earth did I think
I was a matching-suit kind of girl?
Don’t get me wrong, if a Neiman Marcus box showed up on my
doorstep with an Akris or Lanvin suit inside, you’d see me wearing it. But looking
at the reflection of my A-line tweed skirt and creamy Japanese wool jacket—both
courtesy of my local Goodwill—I let the idea out of my ideal.
The invention in my head (my idea of success) finally bowed to the more worthy principle (my ideal success). Success for me is
creating. That usually looks like writing and painting. Sometimes I get paid
for those things, sometimes not. The beauty is that I love the act of creation
regardless of any external value that might get assigned to it. That is my new
ideal for success. And my ideas about it are finally starting to align.
I was offered the teaching position and graciously declined
it. If anything, I needed to live my ideal first. Some day, I might accept such
an offer. But until then, I’m happy with my nomadic, bohemian, off-CV life.
Such a life brings me life. You could say I’m well suited for it.
I’m a great tenant. When I moved out of my historic
apartment in graduate school, my landlords offered to write me a letter of
recommendation. All kinds of parties—the millennium included—had happened inside
my walls, but I kept even the ceiling molding clean. I took great care of that apartment
because I was honoring the agreement I’d signed to rent it. After my two years on
Walker Avenue, I not only got my deposit back, but I left the place better than
when I’d found it.
My best renting situations were those where I signed an
agreement: everything spelled out, everybody’s expectations traceable to a
page. I did make the twenty-something-mistakes of renting a few hairy sublets
that A) I shouldn’t have rented in the first place and B) had no spelled-out
rental conditions. Here, a redux of those experiences blended into the voice of
one, conglomerate landlady:
“Hey, want to rent my room while
I’m in Milan for four months?”
Two months later: “Hey, I’m
coming back to town. With my boyfriend. Can you sleep on the couch?”
One day after they returned: “Can
you move out? And where is my pairing knife?”
Yes, I love the rental agreement: I promise to pay you X per
month. I can stay here for X months. I will get my deposit back in full if X, Y
and Z haven’t broken, fallen off the balcony, or gone missing.
The pairing knife’s location has remained a mystery, but my
understanding of the landlord-tenant relationship has clarified. In fact, as I
was reading the Book of John recently, I noticed something. In the spiritual
version of the landlord-tenant relationship, I have been thinking that God
resides in me kind of like a tenant does in an apartment. Even the “Christ in
me, hope of glory” can seem to work when I hold role of landlord. Unexamined,
that mindset is kind of crazy: God renting a room in Annaland?
What’s really happened is that I entered into an agreement
with Him; I signed over all of me for all of Him. With my full permission, He’s
got full ownership. Lordship. Landlordship, if you will. I agree to keep my
place in working order. I take out the trash, I keep the windows clean, I
notify Him of backed-up plumbing. It isn’t always easy to keep to the contract,
and I admit that I’ve done more than a few things that should dent my deposit
As is the norm, my Landlord is holding onto that deposit for
me. Beyond the norm, He’s invested it not for Himself, but for me. Its interest
is growing in ways I can’t yet see. I don’t want to jeopardize its growth by
punching holes in my walls of hope or dragging heavy anger across my polished
wood floors. When my rental agreement in this life is up, I want the most
gracious Landlord to write me a letter of recommendation. I want it to be
filled with words like well done and good and faithful. That will be better than any party I could ever throw—on
either side of a rental agreement.
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