Less Medication, More Medicine: The healing power of being seen

Leg shaking nerves only slightly attenuated, you met my gaze meaningfully as you said, “I’m OK…better…OK.” This was our second meeting.

Some moments feel extra authentic. This was one of them. Cloak of your defenses parted, I could see more of you – the effortful courage, the determination to stay clean. I could see you were OK, but not easily so.

During our first encounter, I understood quickly that you were used to being dismissed. You understood mistrust, had lived a lifetime of both creating and responding to it. Prepared for judgment, I watched the confusion, then the change in your posture when none was forthcoming.

“I’m usually too much for people,” you said.

“Really?” I hoped you might consider that another’s response to you might be more about them. Your shy smile and brief eye contact told me that was the right thing to say.

Briefly, I saw you as a young girl. Before you knew of unspeakable cruelty, desperation, the relief found by a needle in your arm. Before so many years of shame distorted your reflection. Before.

I could tell I’d put you at relative ease, could tell by the way you seemed simultaneously more full and light, even as your leg continued to jackhammer into the carpet. What else would you notice if you could be still? Would the vulnerability feel too much like drowning? Could you remember what it was like to feel safe, if, in fact, you ever had?

Without fanfare, I announced my impending departure from the clinic, that this would be our final meeting. Best to rip the bandaid off quickly, if you’d even care.

“Wait, no, you’re leaving? No!”

Your vehemence and involuntary tears, wiped quickly away like an annoying mosquito, reminded me that even brief encounters can be powerful.

“You don’t understand. I don’t like people. I don’t trust people. You’re different. You listen. You…you…it was different…you don’t group people together…you never treated me like a junkie.”

I didn’t know what to say. Except, “I’m really sorry I won’t get to see you deeper into your recovery. I really am. You inspire me. I think you have what it takes to stay clean.”

I meant it.

Your allowance of grief at our parting was hopeful, I thought, as was the discussion about our shared humanity. Addiction is almost certainly fueled by a wish to get rid of unwanted feelings, to manage deep wounds, the aching loneliness. Your capacity for shared grief, even momentary, a sliver moon in darkness.

You didn’t realize, I’d bet, that I was only witnessing what I saw before me, what you – courageously – had allowed me to see.

It actually wasn’t me who was different, but you. The you that shame forgot. The you wiped clean, exposed, if only for a moment.

What was unusual, perhaps, was your willingness to shed the protective layers. To unfurl your defensive fists. To risk being hurt, just long enough to be seen. Only then could you see your light – the new moon reflected – in the mirror I held in front of you.

You came to me for medicine, which I provided. But I hoped you would realize: true healing is found not in medication, but in being witnessed, in seeing yourself anew. If you wish to know light, outside or within, you must learn to polish the glass. If you want to see your true self, you must look closely in the window, to see your translucent shine reflected there.


Note: This is a work of fiction. Although inspired by real events, it is not a story about any one person and should not be read as such.

Want to Spark Joy without Tidying up?

Make art where you find it. Every day. For YOU and for love. This isn’t a Hallmark card, it’s a way of being.

Don’t wait for Valentine’s Day!

Deliberate creative acts, even small ones, feed your spirit. Do it with heart shaped strawberries or whatever inspires you. Make art – broadly defined- to create your best, most authentic life.

At most, it took an extra minute to decorate my husband’s breakfast plate as shown. The choice to do so made me smile, made him feel special, and added a little extra, out of the green box beauty, to our St. Patrick’s Day morning. Triple win.

Truth in advertising: I’m hardly an apron-clad housewife, looking for all the ways I can please my man. Most days I barely get Cheerios in a bowl for myself. Does he eat breakfast on those days? I don’t know! This post isn’t about being a good partner, at least not directly.

It’s about nurturing your creative spirit and watching your world transform!

When you cultivate a creative mindset, every day offers opportunities to make something new, to see the world with fresh eyes and an open heart. A creative approach to life changes everything.

And that’s not all…

When you find ways to share your art with others, you contribute to the pool of love. In case you hadn’t heard: love is the best antidote to fear. Don’t you want to feel less afraid? More joyful?

Making art (cultivating a creative mindset) is a form of self-love; sharing is how you spread love to others. Not everyone will feel the love, but even if one person does, the ripple effect may create a wave of goodwill. Don’t you think we need more of that?

Need more examples, more explanation?

Read more about #makeartwhereyoufindit here.

Want to Live Your Best Life?*

So often we fail to notice the interesting, potentially inspiring, or beautiful, things around us. We’re busy, tired, distracted. Hardwired to notice threat, we’re more likely to attend to the things that could go wrong, than to appreciate the musical quality of the wind, or an unusual shade of green.

Except when we train ourselves to do otherwise, as artists of all types do.

“But, I’m not artistic!”, at least some of you protest. To which I would suggest you might broaden your definition of art. To make art where you find it.

Have you ever read a sentence that made your toes curl with understanding, so moved you copied and posted it so you’d see it again? Shared a photo of a sunset? Picked and dried a wildflower that reminded you of a trip to the mountains? Kept a rock you found on the seashore and set it on your windowsill, next to the others you couldn’t leave behind?

I could go on. The point is to recognize your role in creating your experience, to look closely beyond the familiar, the easily unnoticed. To discover whether your artful witness can spark joy, no Marie Kondo style tidying up required!

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Watercolor Expressions: Reclaiming purple

Lavender Daydreams, 5×5 watercolor

Before I knew anything about painting – only slightly less than I know now, mind you – I was heavy handed with the color purple. For no reason I can really remember, purple (one shade, straight from the tube – ugh!) was my go to color.

Then I learned to avoid it, along with the color red. An unconscious hedge against the inadvertent possibility of making purple, I’d guess.

Blues and greens were safer choices, certainly for the seascapes I’m so fond of capturing. The real problem was that I didn’t understand color mixing, among other things. And dark purple was a good cover for poorly considered brushstrokes and color choices that couldn’t be undone. Hmm… maybe I’m starting to understand why I used it so much!

I cringe to think about some of those paintings now, even as I also see how much I needed to make them. And I’ll almost certainly know this feeling again when I look back at my currently unrecognized shortcomings. So it is with growth, when we’re honest about where we’ve been. Hindsight and all that.

My learning curve as a painter is still on the rise, but I’d rather risk exposing flaws than continue hiding behind a limited palette. Or worse, stop sharing myself as I am.

Progress, not perfection, my friends!

This painting, with all of its transparency, shows a bit better in person. Even so, the color palette soothes me, as I hope it will you.

What do you avoid because you don’t do it well? What colors in your life need to be reclaimed?

Painting the days as they come

Winter Windstorm, 11×11 watercolor

You know those days. When everything feels a bit off?

Yesterday was that kind of day for me. It started with a dental appointment. We lost power due to tree-bending, frigid winds. There were no candles to be found, at least ones not scented with the makings of nausea. You get the idea!

To be clear, it wasn’t a terrible day. I’m grateful for teeth, access to dentistry, and a home that usually has electricity. The day was just a bit askew. Much like a “fresh breeze” scented candle which, in fact, smells like nothing found in nature!

It’s not the sort of day that usually inspires me to paint. But with the power out, my options for escape were limited. Plus, I wondered if it would be possible to paint myself into an improved mood state.

Verdict: not really. At least, not this time! Instead, I painted this very unusual painting, which probably represents the day more than changed the course of it.

Truth in advertising: the painting looks best from a distance. But then again, so do those kind of days.

Watercolor Expressions: Freedom from expectations

Traveling, 5×5 watercolor (coldpress)

Some of my favorite paintings have been made from the passenger seat of long car rides. The time with nothing else to do and the light that streams into the car from every direction surely inspire me. But the absence of expectations and the willingness to improvise are the secret ingredients that make these paintings different, I think.

Folks in my life have wondered how I can paint in the car: Don’t you get carsick? How can you work with all the motion? How do you not spill the water or ruin the painting when you hit a bump?

Yes, I get carsick when I am not in the front seat. And I can only paint (or read) while highway driving. The paintings I make in the car are small, so the water is pretty well-contained in a cup holder. My travel paints sit on one leg; the paper pad rests on the other.

And the bumps? Well, they definitely happen! But, especially with abstract painting, the unexpected brush marks can usually be incorporated into the landscape.

And what a great metaphor! For when we keep our expectations loose – as ideas about form in a piece of abstract art – the surprises may add interest. The unintended marks might even inspire a major change in composition, impetus to create something better than we could have imagined.

The uncontrolled elements, and my unplanned response to them, may indeed be what makes my car paintings special. Maybe I like them best because they evoke the sense of freedom and flow I experienced while making them.

What frees you up to find creative flow?

Watercolor Expressions: Going with playful energy

Mexico Energy, 6×8 watercolor (hotpress)

Not uncommonly, my perception of a painting changes depending on my proximity to it, not just the viewing distance, but with the passage of time. Sometimes I love a painting more the longer I look at it, sometimes less. Enduring appreciation of a painting might be one definition of merit, I suppose.

And then there is this painting, which I love best in the first moments of looking at it, when the palpable energy shouts to be heard over my notice of the imperfections. This isn’t my favorite painting for a lot of reasons and may not be yours either. But it evokes an approximation of how I felt when I made it.

Mexico is such a colorful country, a place where the warmth of the people matches the strength of the sun. There is evident hustle and work, but also an abundance of playfulness. And not just when the tequila is flowing.

Yes, there a dark places – crime, drugs, and corruption. But I’d venture to guess our impressions of those cultural elements are largely overblown.

I remember watching this painting evolve while hearing the sounds of the ocean. And, as is true with many paintings, a creative backstory is hidden in the final image. This one could be a tale of alternating ground and sky, of keeping perceptions fluid, of going with the playful energy.

Many thanks, Mexico.

Make art where you find it

Awakening (Found Art; Mexico, 2019)

When I think about my creative process, I can be admittedly fussy. The light isn’t quite right. Inspiration is lacking. Words aren’t flowing. The excuses are easy to find.

It’s not that quality doesn’t matter. But I wonder how often the insistence on the right conditions to approximate beauty is really an excuse to avoid the vulnerability of imperfection. 

There is something to be said for spontaneity, for making art simply to engage in a creative act, to express something in resonance with our best energy, our loving heart.

Destructive energy can be easily found, but collectively we can choose to shift the tide. One way to do that is to practice and celebrate simple creative acts. Whether it be a sand sculpture, a poem, or photograph, let’s make art where we find it!

Watercolor Expressions: Knowing when to stop

Mexico Dreams, 7×10 watercolor (hot press)

Arguably an ability that ranks high on the list of life skills to master, it is also a valued skill to develop as an artist.

Although the inspiration to start a painting can be a challenge, the wisdom to know when it’s time to put down the brush may be even more elusive. Many of my paintings have been cast in a dull patina of excess fiddling. At the other extreme, lackluster efforts have been rescued by a few additional brushstrokes or slight color adjustment. The problem for the amateur (me) is learning to judge proximity to either pole, to make more calculated decisions about when to rest and when to push on.

If my experience is any indication, I’d guess that beginners err on the side of doing too much, desperate to fully manifest the kernel of a good idea. Masters almost certainly know when enough is enough, when to move on. Not every painting is meant to be saved.

My decision to let this painting rest has been an acute struggle. I see flaws – things I’d like to fix or explore further – and bits I’d like to preserve in a better painting. I also know that the risk of ruining this particular work is far greater than the likelihood of additional improvement. I’ve already edged into destructive territory. Perhaps my willingness to stop here is a small step towards mastery.


Addendum (day after original post): “Oops, I did it again,” to quote Britney Spears. I said I’d stop, but I didn’t. Hear me out though!

As promised, I stopped to let the painting rest. Then I looked at it. And kept looking. I’d already determined it would never be a great painting. Still, there was apparently more to learn. So, before burning it in a ritual fire, I began again with nothing to lose but time.

Ironically (considering the orignal post content), I think the painting is improved in a number of ways. Under no illusions it’s now a great painting, with areas that are evidently a little worse for the wear, I nevertheless prefer it.

What then is the lesson here?

Perhaps knowing when to resume is as important as knowing when to stop. Especially for a beginner, squeezing every last drop of learning from each creative experience may ultimately be more valuable than the final outcome.

Sometimes growth may require a step or two back before finding the right stride forward.

The before and after images are below. Which do you prefer?

Watercolor Expressions: Keeping it loose

Untitled, watercolor (2016)

One of the best things about making art is the essentially infinite possibilities. Not everything works and, of course, we all have preferences or definitions of a ‘good’ painting. Like most things in life, I suspect it’s important to find balance in painting, to blend technical excellence with expressiveness.

Recently I’ve been trying to stretch myself by working with more representational images, focusing on drawing skills and perspective. This older painting is a reminder for me to stay loose, to balance technical advancement with enjoyment, the reason I started painting in the first place.

Fellow painters: How much you play with different styles? What style you prefer for your own art making? Do you find that switching styles helps you progress?