Trending Articles

Friends of SOAR

For great posts about the business of art, check out The Artsy Shark HERE!
ArtistsBillofRights.org reviews competitions and appeals seeking creative content, listing those that respect your copyrights and highlighting those that don't. Art Matters! publishes calls to artists, and not all of them may be compliant with ABoR's standards. Visit their site to learn more.
We support the Embedded Metadata Manifesto.  Metadata is information such as copyright notice and contact info you can embed in your images to protect your intellectual property, save time when uploading to social sites and promote your art. Click to visit the site and learn more.

The Personality of Process: On the Enneagram, the house we built, and marriage

The house foundations last August


Blobs, spots, specks, smudges, cracks, defects, mistakes, accidents, exceptions, and irregularities are the windows to other worlds.—Bob Miller

 

Part One: In Which I Vent About the Enneagram (Though I Love It, Too)

 

If you know a bit about the Enneagram, you know that you are likely one of nine types—and that each type has specific fears and desires and motivations. Learning about this framework helps us understand ourselves and others. 

 

However…I’ve also learned that you can come into this world as one type but can learn to adapt into another type that appears to serve you or others better. And then you can be very confused.

 

There are various schools of the Enneagram, and many of the types have different names according to which one you study. I believe I came into this world a Four—the Romantic or Individualist. But the world rewarded my ability to be a One: the Perfectionist or Reformer. I joke that I’m either a Perfecting Romantic or Romanic Perfectionist.

 

From my school years through the first months of my marriage, I lived pretty well as a Perfectionist-Reformer One. Even my creativity was highly structured; I’d embark on a series of 100 portraits, 30 days of painting-poems, et cetera, et-orderly-cetera. It didn’t help that most organized religion and education love achievers—and boy could I achieve. In grade school, I memorized whole chapters of Corinthians for our church version of the Girl Scouts, The Missionettes. (Somewhere, there exists a photo of myself wearing a turquoise polyester sash with all of my badges). I worked to be high school valedictorian. Then I worked even harder to be undergraduate summa cum laude. By grad school, I let myself breathe and settled for magna cum laude. And that was probably because, while I shaped my poetry thesis, I rediscovered a wild creativity longing to play free—uncaged by a rigid grid of quantification.   

 

And then, decades later, I got married. Funny thing about marriage: your True Self emerges in a way it never did before. True union eventually squeezes out anything false. And when two become one, a lot of shit has got to go. (I could make a terrible pun here about two each becoming the most annoying parts of the Enneagram’s Reformer One, but I shall not!) 

 

Suffice it to say, that whatever façade we’ve built basically gets shaken off, and whatever’s underneath probably has some black mold and maybe a rat or two, despite however many years we think we’ve done our spirit excavation. 

 

And also, I married an Eight: the Challenger. Challengers can call your bluff pretty darn well. 

 

Part Two: In Which I Vent About Building a House (Though I Love It, Too)

 

This all leads me, most indirectly, to the process of building a house—before we’d been married a year. (In fact, as I write this, we are just about to reach our nine-month anniversary). 

 

But before I get to that, I should also mention that it took me until my forties to see an obvious life pattern. During my college years, I worked as a housecleaner—for residential and professional buildings. And then I worked as an editor in some capacity for longer than most starting editors have been alive. Cleaning and editing. Basically, I trained myself to see the mess and the misspelled and to perfect them all. But such tasks, though they felt good when done, didn’t feel good in the process; they felt exhausting and never-ending. I wouldn’t so much celebrate as check off the completion of each round of “perfecting,” even as I braced myself for the next round of trash and typos. Versus celebrating the process—mud ‘n’ all. 

 

And let’s just say that pointing out all the dirt and dialogue flaws is not a beneficial marriage skill. But the long-entrenched One in me—the Perfectionist-Reformer—was so used to doing this, that it was hard to stop. It took me a while to be grateful for the fact that my husband doesn’t really care if things are clean or if every T is crossed. “But these are my strengths!” a part of me kept shouting. 

 

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the truer part of myself kept saying she loved going off on muddy river adventures and not needing to analyze the etymology of the kayak term “boof.” 

 

One book on the Enneagram is called The Road Back to You. The One-Me never understood that title. The Four-Me is jumping up and down for childlike joy, saying, “Yes! We’re back!”

 

Marriage has invited me to return to my creative being: my True Self, the Self who loves paint splatters and rough-edged canvas and impromptu word play for pure fun; the Four who knows that all of life is poetry, not just words on a page—or a specific page count. That Self has risen up alongside our house.

 

Yes, finally, I get to the house. It has become my metaphor for building a more authentic self and marriage. 

 

Last summer, I took a photo of the foundations—surrounded by heaps of displaced earth. Where wild grass had grown in beautiful abandon, the hillside looked like a jagged scar. But we wanted to build something, and so we had to tear into what was there. We had to make a mess.

 

Now, a brick home stands on that site, finished, after months of trucks and lumber. But nothing is ever finished, is it? The wake of construction rubble and ruts surrounding the house remind me how ongoing building really is.

 

Our first day in the house

So that Miller quote I opened with; I am still struggling to love the messy process. But now that I’ve been building a life with someone and building a house with someone—I am beginning to get it. 

 

I am also beginning to embrace both the Reformer and the Romantic in myself—and I consciously choose those two labels for the One and the Four. The drive for excellence in the former helped ground the often formless creative sensitivities of the latter. Maybe I’ll call myself a Romantic Reformer—head in the clouds but feet on the ground. Imperfectly trying to bring Heaven to Earth.

 

The two types in me have finally become one.

 

Union starts in our very own hearts. 

 

Part Three: In Which I Don’t Vent About Marriage, But Instead Write A Poem About It

 

O this strange bliss—

brimming with

mess & misspellings 

mud & wonder—

I embrace all 

your stains & stars.

 

Two become 

one house 

uniting 

divided hearts

 

We build

a mystery.


Right after the land became ours last spring


The Gasket of Grace

To celebrate this month that celebrates relationships, I decided to write about gaskets. 

I don’t think I really knew what a gasket was until we had three needing to be replaced. First to go was my husband’s kayak drysuit neck gasket (which I really didn’t know about). Second was our woodstove door gasket (which I learned how to replace). And third was my little stove-top coffee maker gasket (which apparently gives up if I accidentally leave the contraption on the burner too long).

 

Once things happen in threes, I start to pay attention. And I start to research meaning. Turns out, the official definition of a gasket is a seal that fills the space between two or more mating surfaces.

 

Well, if that isn’t a relationship metaphor! 

 

A favorite of the hundred or so books I’ve read on marriage (I exaggerate that number, but only slightly) is Rob Bell’s Zimzum of Love. In it, he explores the ancient Hebrew word zimzum, which essentially means “the space between.” I’m kind of obsessed with this idea. In fact, my first poetry collection many years ago was a little chapbook titled, The Space Between. I look for connections everywhere—for what brings things and people together and what keeps them together. 

 

The best part of the gasket definition? It allows for less-than-perfect mating surfaces between two, irregular parts. Which could be said of the space between two, irregular people.

 

“So,” I asked myself, “What is the gasket of marriage?”

 

First, I should explain that my husband and I are very different. We are learning to laugh about this. 

 

He’s Mr. Spontaneity. On a Friday after a long work week, he can grab a jar of peanut butter and head out camping on a whim. I am Mrs. Planner. If we are going camping, I like to A) know about it at least a day in advance and B) pack a cooler brimming with pesto, sliced aged cheddar, pre-chopped onions soaking in olive oil for morning eggs, driving snacks of sea-salt dark chocolate, at least one good bottle of wine, etc. etc. 

 

He’s Mr. DIY. Whether changing the car oil, installing a new dishwasher, or cutting his hair, he’s a do-it-yourself kinda guy. I’m Mrs. Outsource-My-Weaknesses. I like to take the car in for its checkup to my trusty mechanic, hire a handyman to install anything that comes with a lengthy instruction manual and connects to electricity or water, and when I did briefly cut my own hair for a season, it just confirmed that I should leave some things to the professionals.

 

He’s Mr. Down-to-Earth and says it like it is. I’m Mrs. Pie-in-the-Sky and tend to quote literature aloud. When we watched Starsky & Hutch one night, I recognized the start of a favorite Shakespeare line, quoted by Snoop Dog, “To err is human…” and I spoke in time with the rest of it: “…to forgive, divine.” At dinner parties now, my husband likes to say I quote Snoop Dog, at which point, I start distinguishing between primary and secondary sources. 

 

Whether expressed by a 17th-century bard or a 21st-century bard, forgiveness is something my husband and I both agree on. It’s the gasket of grace. Especially in marriage. And especially when two different people approach life in different ways—which is bound to lead to misunderstandings.  

 

I have a hunch that you don’t need a lot of grace to love someone who’s a lot like yourself. That’s pretty easy. Learning to love difference is a gift in that it does require a lot of grace. Maybe the more difference between two people, the more grace you can have—if you also choose to give it. 

 

I looked up zimzum to make sure I didn’t miss anything. Part of HarperCollins’s definition states: “In marriage, zimzum is the dynamic energy field between two partners.” 


We are learning to celebrate the dynamics. 

 

So whether I lean toward my poetic-academic love of Big Words and call it zimzum, or whether I lean toward the practical gasket, I know that whatever seals the space between us will be made of grace. 



Love for the Win

“Heart Wins,” from the Take Heart series

Once upon a time, I spent the week between Christmas and New Year’s reviewing the previous year, evaluating it, and forecasting/goalcasting the year ahead. You might say I was an overachiever with  resolutions.

Some years, I was bullet-point specific. Like when I determined to go on an archaeological dig, learn salsa dancing, and take up archery: check, check, check. (I discovered that I hated the heat and dirt of the dig, I wasn’t a fan of prescribed dance steps, but I was a decent aim.)

 

Other years, I was more open-ended, listing four to five feelings I wanted to cultivate. Once, I painted a four-point compass with harmony at its center and joy, peace, prosperity, and grace as its north, south, east, and west.

 

At the end of December 2019, while housesitting at a lovely home, high on a hill—as I had for many years—I sat in front of the fire and started my review and projection. 

 

Or I tried to. 

 

I even had a fancy calendar that led you through all the steps with lots of questions to answer and blanks to fill in. (I should note that I am very good about answering all the questions and filling in all the blanks.) And yet, as I flipped through the pages I usually looked forward to filling, I found myself completely uninspired by all the specificity. 


For once, I didn’t want to grip the steering wheel of my life so hard and beeline for the next goal. And believe me: I can beeline! From putting myself through undergraduate and graduate school on scholarships to getting a grant to write poetry in Germany for a year to all manner of less scholastic but equally daunting goals since: I. Get. It. Done. 

 

But those last days before 2020, I didn’t want to get it all done. Because I had a hunch that there were things waiting to happen if I were willing to let go of my limited ideas of what I could achieve and maintain in my own strength. And so, to my surprise, I found myself writing the word “Love” in big, loose cursive across all those usually inviting blanks I was “supposed” to fill in.

 

Fun facts: Just over a month into 2020, I began dating an old friend. Then he proposed. Then we got married. And we have spent the last half year learning the intricacies of love—and I could not have forecast any of them!

 

So, for 2021, I didn’t buy the fancy, fill-in-the-blank calendar. In fact, I’m using one of those free company calendars. I’m keeping it simple. And I’m metaphorically writing love across every month. 

 

And on this Day of Epiphany—a feast day celebrating the manifestation of the One who is Love—I invite the continual manifestation of Love to us all…in all its unpredictable forms, across all the days of this year.  

Mannerly, Bannerly

This little poem is my wish & my wonder for the New Year:  


Mannerly, Bannerly

 

When all manner of bad 

lands in our laps, 

and the mean things 

land in our news feed,

what if, 

instead of responding 

in kind,

we respond in kindness?

What if 

we invite the other to dinner,

polish our best manners,

and serve goodness?

What if

we lift a banner of love,

lifting each other up,

until there is no other?  



*The illustration above is from Blessings: A Children’s Book for Grown-ups, cowritten with my dear mom, Jan Elkins         

 

Above the Fog, Above the Fray

 

On Saturday, I went Christmas-tree-hunting with my new extended family. We drove out of the foggy valley in trucks, careening up old logging roads into the mountains until we hit sunshine—and snow. 

 

The day was a catalog of goodness: Leftover turkey sandwiches by the fire (and roasting of “snow marshmallows”). Gentle, sunny walks for some…sledding (and wiping out) for others. Hot cocoa with whipped cream, optionally spiked with peppermint schnapps (yes, please).

 

It was a very good day to get away. Besides taking a break on Thanksgiving afternoon for our meal, Jared had spent every other daylight minute of the holiday weekend bricking the new house, and I had been staining its cedar shingles. 

 

Tree-hunting and snow-playing were welcome respites. When the sun and fire got low, we all piled back into the trucks and started for home. Through the forest, we kept glimpsing a lake of fog still covering the valley. And then, before descending back down the mountain toward home, we came to a clearing and saw this view.

 

Up on that rise, we felt warmth and had perspective. Back beneath the fog, we felt the cold and had limited visibility. But beyond what we can feel and see in our valleys—geographical or emotional—a higher elevation rises above us.

 

Whole days can feel like they look: heavy and damp and dark.

 

But. 

 

Looking above the fog, I reminded myself that even when we can’t always get to a higher vantage with our physical bodies, we always can with our hearts and minds. 

 

This photo is for all of us on the days when we’re stuck below—in the fog and in the fray. A reminder that, above what seems oppressive and heavy, there stretches a bright, wide scope of possibility. Until the fog lifts, we can choose to enjoy the lights on the tree and the warmth of the wood stove. And maybe a bit of peppermint schnapps in our cocoa. 

 

Gratitude and joy to you,

 

Anna

Not What I Expected

Once upon a pre-pandemic time, I heard a famous writer say that when she looked back at her life, nothing had turned out the way she’d thought—and that was good. She said she could summarize what she’d learned about life with this simple statement: Not What I Expected.

I think that would make a great T-shirt. 

 

This year certainly racked up more than its fair share of unexpected things—good and bad. I was scanning the calendar all the way back to the maskless days when I realized that so many big things I’d anticipated got cancelled, and yet even better things—things I could not have fathomed—happened in their stead.

 

Exhibit A: This spring, I was going to help lead a workshop in Paris and then begin my poetry book tour there afterward—continuing the tour in New York and San Francisco. It was kinda career-pinnacling stuff. And then, a matter of weeks before departure, the world shut down. But guess what? The day the workshop would have started, my now-husband proposed to me. And as grand as Paris is, if I never return to the world’s most romantic city, I feel no lack; I have actual romance now! 

 

Exhibit B: I had been invited to give a poetry reading and teach workshops at a college writing conference in Wyoming this fall. One of those all-expenses-paid gigs poets dream of. The event managed to stay on the books all through the summer, but then…it was finally cancelled. The plan had been to drive out there with my husband, teach, and then take our delayed honeymoon road trip from there. We wouldn’t have had as much time to see the national parks and monuments we hoped to visit, but we were going to make the best of it. When the conference was cancelled, we were able to take the entire time together—time that became so precious and relationship-building, I am quite glad we did not have to give up a minute of it. 

 

Exhibit C: Any moment now, I would have been boarding a plane to Sweden and then on to Latvia for a month-long writing residency. I would have spent all of November writing in a little seaside village. You guessed it: cancelled. But you know what? I’d almost forgotten that was going to happen. My life has taken such a different turn that many of the things I once wanted fiercely now seem like brief apparitions—like glimpsed prisms of light that all but fade by the time you focus on them. 

 

I have no idea what November will bring instead of Latvia. (And I’m not talking about elections or anything else one might expect.) I’m actually glad to have no idea what specific goodness is on its way—I just know that something is. It always is; Goodness & Mercy are always at our heels. Maybe we just have to stop now and then, turn around, and acknowledge them. Something tells me those two are all the more thrilled to come closer with their surprising gifts when we’re grateful for them. Even when they deliver stuff we never ordered. 

 

Speaking of ordering, I’m seriously thinking about making that T-shirt. I haven’t figured out what the back would say, but I might borrow a line from another famous Creator:

 

“And it was good.” 

 

Serenity, Anyone?

In the 1980s, my grandmother had the Serenity Prayer decoupaged and hung in her guest bedroom. When my cousins and I had sleepovers as kids, I always marveled at its simple, rhythmic request:  

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, 

courage to change the things I can, 

and the wisdom to know the difference.

 

I typed those lines from childhood memory. That prayer has been with me ever since. Even as a gradeschooler, I knew my life-long goal was serenity in a chaotic world. 

 

Decades later, I discovered the Enneagram. I know it’s all the rage right now, but for good reason; its pegs humanity’s nine personality types through the core beliefs of the types, the wounds they suffer from, and the healing they seek. 

 

I’m a number One: The Reformer. I want to make this world a better, more beautiful place. Which is a teensy bit exhausting and mostly impossible. Zero surprise that the life pursuit of a One is serenity. Can we say #challenge?

 

This year, we need the Serenity Prayer not just as a decoupage over the guest bed, but as cosmic light show illuminating our dark skies.

 

A few nights after the Oregon fires had ravaged friends’ homes just miles away, and another news cycle featuring Angry Everybody made me want to move to the Yukon Territory without the Internet, I found myself awake in the wee hours, whispering the Serenity Prayer over and over again until—much later—I finally fell back asleep. 

 

Honestly, the more authentic version of that prayer often sounds like the character George Costanza from Seinfeld screaming, “Serenity Now!” 

 

We can yell two words. 

 

We can whisper three lines over and over. 

 

May we pray the prayers. May we also do the work to heal our own wounds so that we don’t wound others from our unresolved pain and so that we can bring our healthy selves to serve a hurting world from a place of forgiven wholeness seeking to restore instead of retaliatory brokenness seeking to destroy. 

 

(And may we have a bit of serenity!)

 

 

My Favorite Classroom

It’s back-to-school season, but you might say I’ve been in summer school since July 4: the day I got married. I never knew that marriage would be my favorite classroom. I also never knew that no matter how much reading I did ahead of time, nothing would compare to experiential learning!

 

So-o-o much to learn. Such a variable curriculum, such a huge canon—love languages, personality styles, bathroom habits.

 

And I’ve never been more excited to study. 

 

I couldn’t really prepare for it like I did in my student days, by plowing through the required reading list and over-achiever-ing by plotting out the syllabus on my calendar. 

 

I couldn’t prepare for it like I did in my teacher days, by plotting units and setting assignments all the way till Christmas. 

 

So even though preparation is my superpower, I find myself releasing the ways I thought I learned best. 

 

And I am embracing every unplanned moment that arises. This photo is from last Sunday, when I looked up to see my husband smiling as he loaded the car after an afternoon on the lake. We had made a  detour there after an active camping weekend near the Deschutes River. The river was splendid, but he knows I love lakes, so he suggested we find one. 

 

On the obsidian-rich shore, we read aloud, napped, and played on the stand-up paddleboard. (My play looks more like a wobbly attempt to not to fall off. He can do a handstand on the thing…on a moving river). 


He is learning to enjoy the stillness I love, and I am learning to enjoy the motion he loves.  

 

It’s actually because of—not in spite of—our differences that we are on the trajectory for a master’s degree in communication someday. 

 

At this moment in our culture (and at any moment) we might do well to adjust our usual learning styles. We might do well risk wobbling as we try for new balance. To be still when we prefer motionor vice versa. Generally: to push the limits of our personal learning curves.

 

Here’s to embracing the classrooms of life: marriage and more. 

The Corndog Compromise

When Jared proposed this spring, he had a wedding date in mind: July 4. Beyond the general delight, I was also delighted he’d already thought of the day. I was game for the holiday wedding—we’d have anniversary fireworks forever! 
The venue that first came to my mind was Plaisance Ranch, a vineyard owned by dear people we both knew. We not only loved the connection to them, I had also written the poetry wine labels for Plaisance’s beautiful vintages. 
Perfect! I thought, we’ll have a wine and cheese reception.
Thing is, my now-husband is more of a beer-and-corndogs guy (though we’ve also shared plenty of cheese and wine). Still, I thought he was joking when he said he’d like corndogs as an appetizer at the reception. Beer in addition to the wine, of course. But corndogs? That would mean renting a deep-fat fryer, and…it kinda clashed with my vision. 
Enter our first compromise. 
Just after the proposal, we were talking with the Pennington’s, who had helped introduce us once upon a time at their bakery farm stand. They make a wow version of pigs-in-a-blanket, complete with honey mustard baked into the crust. Cathy suggested, “How about we make little ones and put them on a stick, and you can call them corndogs?” Wisdom from a woman married for forty years. 
And then, Jared’s parents asked if they could cater a full dinner for the wedding in addition to the planned appetizers. My solo vision expanded into something better when shared. 
There might be a lesson in there somewhere. 
And so, we had “corndogs” at our wedding. One of the moments I asked the photographer to capture was us biting into a compromise—aka corndog—together. It’s more important to me than the traditional feed-each-other-cake thing. This, we made possible together. A symbol of many things to come. May they be sweet—or at least savory.

Solstice Eve


Solstice Eve
On the longest
day of the year,
I want to choose
the shortest path
to joy—the one
with no distance,
no time. The one 
we can know
as close as our skin
& in any season. 
I want to go to sleep
& come awake
to this lengthy day, 
to sun—to all 
that’s possible
in hours of light. 
But may I remind
myself of all I can also 
do when darkness 
begins again—when 
joy will dress in shadow
but still glow, 
nevertheless.