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Ten Thousand Flowers and the Gremlin in the Head

Yesterday I went to the office supply store and bought a pack of unlined 3-by-5 cards.  I started using the fine point Sharpies that I’d obtained and found still too blunt to do my word art work with and drew flowers on them.

The first ten of ten thousand flowers.

Ten Flowers

The first five were drawn yesterday, the next five today.  I have decided I want to draw and give away ten thousand flowers to anybody who asks for them.

(If you’d like one, go here for the details.)

The thing that struck me when the intention to do so finally locked itself into my brain was how ridiculously, delightfully right it felt and how, almost instantly, my inner gremlins were on the scene, trying to talk me out of it.

Everybody who creates has to deal with the gremlins.  There are all kinds of names for them–Resistance, the Lizard Brain, the Inner Critic and even the Inner Mean Girl–but whatever you call them, you know what they are.  They’re the voices in your head, the parts of your multitudinous self that try to stop you when you try to do something new and strange.  There are lots of different ways to deal with them, but one thing that I realized when I was working my way past them for this particular project is that they can sometimes be quite useful.

This is a rough approximation of the objections the thing raised when I settled on the ten thousand number and how I responded to them.

This is so stupid.  Who’s going to want one of those ugly scribbly flowers, let alone ten thousand of them?

Well, out of a billion people on the Internet, surely I can find ten thousand who will find a scribbly flower something worth obtaining, as something kind of fun and goofy to make them smile.

How are you going to pay for all the 3 x 5 cards and the postage and the envelopes?  You’re still too broke to eat out at a restaurant!

This was actually a valid concern.  This is a way that gremlins can be helpful.  I brainstormed a bit and then smacked myself on the forehead and realized that I didn’t have to spring for postage or envelopes–I could just ask people to send a SASE to my box.  Problem solved.  Sure, ten thousand 3 x 5 cards are still going to cost, but I can take care of that a few bucks at a time.  My first five hundred should last me a while and I can scrape together the money for the next batch of five hundred in the meantime.

What if nobody asks for one?  What if nobody cares at all?

Then I’ll have a lot less work to do, won’t I?  And I’ll get to keep the flowers!

You’re just going to flake out on this.  I’ve seen you go off on these crazy ideas and then fall down on the follow-up.

This is, again, a valid concern.  But I figure if I keep it simple enough I shouldn’t get too overwhelmed.  It’s not like I’m going to get ten thousand requests overnight or anything.  If I keep steadily making flowers and keeping the supply ahead of the number of requests, I should be fine.  Plus, I tend to flake out more with things that only I know about.  Once I’ve told the world, I tend to be a little better about sticking to it.

What happens if people start coming to your blog and trolling you and making fun of you?

I delete the comments and spare a moment of pity for people who are so dead inside that they feel a need to be cruel to somebody for the crime of making scribbly little drawings to give away to people for fun.

Why are you even doing this?  What’s the point?

There are a lot of points to it, really.  One is because it sounds like a pretty nifty thing to do.  Another is because I’ve felt so pinched and deprived that I really wanted a simple way to give the world something from a place of generosity, that fits with who I am and how I function.  I’m too painfully shy for most volunteer work, I’m too broke to donate much in the way of money, but this is a way I can try to make ten thousand people just a little bit happier and hopefully make myself feel a little bit happier as well.

At this point, the gremlin’s down to the usual “nobody’s going to care about this, you know” mantra, to which my response is “that’s nice, I’m going to finish this blog post anyway.”  So there you are.

Again, the page for instructions on obtaining one of my ten thousand flowers is here.  I check my mailbox about once a week, though that may change if I get enough requests.  Thanks for checking this out!

Word Art: Wishing Stars

There’s far too many lucky stars to count

–The Tender Idols, “Six Minute Feeling”

When I finally settled on pricing my art at the rate of five dollars per square inch, I decided I needed some form of one-square-inch art so just about anybody could afford at least something of mine.  I came up with the idea of doing wee magnets of Word Art with very short pieces on them.  I did the first batch of them at the Upper West Side Folk Art Market and dutifully transcribed all the original words into my iPhone so I could hang on to them:


Wishing Stars

Wish #1

This star is a wish for freedom to be whoever you really are. It is a wish that you may live without a sense of not being the way you should. It is a wish for you to love freely what or who you love and never feel the need to apologize for it

Wish #2

This star is a wish that the cracked places will find healing. It is a wish that your heart will expand in a way to your utter surprise. It is a wish for beauty, grace and for life in all its perplexing ways.

Wish #3

This star is a wish that you will always carry peace within your heart. This is a wish for serenity that knows beyond any knowing to breathe and let things be what they are. This is a wish for the wisdom to recall that all storms will pass and the rain exhausts itself into sunlight.

Wish #4

This star is a wish that the bright light of your inspiration will shine brightly for the world to see. It is a wish that your light will be seen as clearly as possible without filters to obscure the true colors and the true brilliance of it.

Wish #5

This star is a wish for you to know laughter, for you to take all things lightly. It is a wish no matter how critical the situation can become, it does not ever become serious. It is, in a way, a wish that you may see things from the outside and laugh now.

Wish #6

This star is a wish for a rich life full of all the marvels and wonders that this world has to offer to every one of us. It is a wish for you to lack for nothing in life that you have true need of and to embrace gratitude.

Wish #7

This star is a wish that your life may be filled with surprises of the happy kind. It is a wish that you will be gifted with presents you didn’t even know that you wanted until you received them. It is a wish for happy random perfection. It is a wish that apparent chaos may resolve itself into fractal beauty and perfection.


Sentinel of the night sky, perpetual in change and strangely constant for even as change will come over the face the same face is turned to us each night and only the shadow will shift. We are similar.

Actually, I did the moon first.  I’ve only done it once and I’m not even sure if I’ll do it again or just leave it on my fridge as a reminder of how this all started.

At my first art show, I swapped a wishing star with Chris Hubbard for a lucky star from his booth.  Somebody else bought another.  Then I came to the question of how to replenish my stock.  I decided to allow myself to repeat myself a bit and re-do some previous wishes.  Then I discovered how much easier said than done that was.

The first few stars had been tossed off rapidly–sketch in the stars and come up with words.  Then trying to repeat what I’d done left me wondering how in the heck did I do that in the first place.  It didn’t help that I’d been quietly raising my standards so that stars I would have used before started to appear too shabby for public consumption.  Finally, I hit a wall and could barely even make myself make them anymore.

Eventually, I nudged myself past my reluctance and starting refining my methods so the results both looked better and were easier to do.  (Templates are a beautiful thing, y’all.)  I tweaked my process a bit more as I sat in my booth at the Art-B-Que and while I didn’t sell much in the way of magnets, I did wonders in producing the things.

Art-B-Que May 7-8 2011

Just a quick post to let people know I’ll be sharing a tent with my brother Sean O’Shea of Industrious Designs at the Art-B-Que this weekend in Avondale Estates, Georgia.

Think maybe I should get some more art made for it?

Heading for the Doo-Nanny

I’d hoped to have some new art to post about but my inspiration logjammed to a halt and I was only able to get one more abstract done, which is destined for the Possum Trot auction tonight as the pre-game to the Doo-Nanny this weekend.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to finish packing.


Word Art: Abstract #1

This was a first attempt at what I plan to be a series of pieces that are abstract shapes with words that aren’t completely required to make sense.

Abstract #1
Abstract #1

Wake up to an iridescent sky and razor angular clouds burning in the blood rose glow of a sun that dangles on the horizon but doesn’t move for hours.

Walk outside to perfumed air, sweetened like sugar, brushing against the skin like a flirtatious lover.

All the birds have learned a new set of songs that remind you of the music you heard on the radio from the backseat of the car as a child.

You walk past a man wearing a crisp lavender suit.

He flips a shiny silver coin in his left hand and asks you in a smooth voice if you want to play a game.

His face is trustworthy in its featurelessness, but the coin has a sinister glint when it catches the light and you think it better to continue along the way.

Instead, you find a shiny red ball that seems to change color each time your foot connects with it, and you kick it through the spectrum down a mosaic street of cracked and crazed tiles.

You step aside for a singular vehicle passing through—a brocade tent mounted on wooden carriage wheels, drawn by a pair of blonde ostriches.

A glossy blue dog trots up to where you left the ball and sniffs at it.

As you come closer, the blue dog picks up the ball in its mouth and runs off with it.

The world blurs as you give chase, feet pounding and lungs aching by the time you catch up.

The dog rests at the foot of a large and gnarled tree with feather-white leaves.

It drops the ball at your feet and fixes you with a look of head-cocked curiosity, as if to ask “Why do you strive so hard to retain that which you’d only just acquired by accident?”

A leaf falls lightly from the tree and lands on your forehead to melt into your skin like a snowflake.

“When do we wake up?” you ask the dog.

“Wake?” it asks (this time aloud) “What makes you think we’re asleep now?”

Originally, I tried a jagged edge and red and black ink, but the words that came (I drafted them in a notebook first) were ugly and dystopian and I didn’t like them.  Merely changing one of the potential ink colors to purple was enough to shift my thinking to something more pleasant and after a botched first attempt, I shifted to curves instead of diagonals and did the tricky work of breaking the color exactly at the line even if a word intersected.  The result is something that looks halfway decent from a distance and hopefully intrigues on closer examination.

I’m running out of frames to play with, so a trip to the thrift shop may be in order.  I hope I’ll be able to get more done soon.

Prints of this work are available here.

The original has been sold.


Word Art: Breaking Awake

I had it in my head that I would do something simple and easy to add to my collection of Word Art.  Two colors bisected by a narrowing crack between them.  Something about the breakings of things.  Should have been able to knock it out in one evening.


My inspiration ground to a halt in mid-sentence.  And there is perhaps some significance in the fact that the point I stopped at How can any of us hope before setting aside the pen and leaving the work undone for days which became weeks and weeks which became months.

My time filled up with other matters.  Matters of survival, to some degree, but also matters that were less challenging than buckling down and making myself finish this thing.  I couldn’t even seem to make myself start on something else until it was completed, perhaps for fear that I’d wind up just as stuck partway through.

One fine Saturday afternoon, I crouched down on my bedroom floor, yanked out my art supplies, pulled out the notebook I’ve been drafting things in and forced myself to at least get a few more words down.  I ended the incomplete sentence, hammered out another and then had to get ready to leave.  But I’d done something.

One week ago, resuming my post at the Glenwood, listening to the Taylor Kennedy Group, I drank a glass of wine and word by word, line by line, filled the page to the end.

I nearly always title things once I’ve finished them, rather than beforehand, since I don’t always know how the words are going to turn out.  The words “Breaking Awake” came to me as I prepared to write the title down and thus it has become.

Breaking Awake

Breaking Awake

Nothing ever remains unbroken.

The earth or the air or time itself will shift and what lies in the wake of that shift has no choice other than to bend or break.

And no matter how pliable you make something, materiality itself is rigid enough to snap under just the right kind of stress.

Even the bonds of water molecules will separate into droplets or steam.

What breaks is never mended to precisely its original state.

It is at best similar, much like what it was, but the world will have shifted around it in such a way that it will not and cannot by quite the same thing.

A crack can only be solidly filled by adding to whatever already was.

This is how we grow, how we expand and it is also how we contract as we refine ourselves, chip away the stone of our lives to unlock the angel inside us.

We must break things in order to live.

We must break from our pasts so that we can embrace the moment as it truly is.

We must break away from paths that will ultimately lead to suffocation.

And yet it is also our nature to mourn when the porcelain of our perfected lives ends up shattered upon the ground.

How can any of us hope to become greater than what we are if we continue to be confined to the boundaries of all that came before, even as such limits have been blurred by time?

All the fractured places in our lives do not require mending before we can progress.

That is a lie that we tell ourselves in order to keep us comfortably within the lines we draw around our lives.

What is true for our bodies is not always true for our souls.

While it is hazardous to walk upon a broken leg, it is not the same risk to love through a broken heart.

A heart is mended by the flow of love into these open spaces.

The mistake (the common, the tragic, the foolish mistake!) is the believe that this healing must only come from outside sources.

The breaks in the heart are filled by what pours out as much as what pours in.

A seed must crack its shell in order to sprout into what it was shaped to become.

So much our hearts, our spirits, our lives.

We do not have to wait for forces of nature to smash things open for us.

(Though they inevitably will if we hold ourselves too rigidly.)

Nor do we need to damage ourselves just to make a clean break of things.

We can tap against the shells we find ourselves in and form those fractures with utmost care.

Everything we think we are can be broken.

It is all in how to choose to fill in or widen those empty lines that shapes us.

And here then is the paradox that takes some lifetimes to ever understand—that when we open ourselves wide enough to take in all the gaps, the unfinished places, the ways we are torn open and left incomplete, when the hollowed spaces in ourselves, in our hearts, in our lives are allowed to remain unfilled, when our flaws, all of our fuck-ups and every imperfection is gently held open, then we find that then, without striving or struggle, we are truly whole.

My only hope is that I will remember these words when I embark on my next piece.  Particularly since it seems to me that the one thing that was holding me back from completing this piece was a nagging urge towards perfectionism.

Prints of this work are available here.

The original is not for sale.

My New Career: One Year Later

One year ago yesterday was the night I mark as the start of my art career.

One year ago today might be the day that I first considered all the implications of what that might mean.

One year later, and now I’m contemplating all that has resulted since then.

I certainly have some good stories to show for it, from the gift I gave to Neil Gaiman to my first art show and my crazy time at the Doo-Nanny.  I sold a few pieces, which is more than I would have sold if I’d never done it at all.

But I also slammed into a brick wall of inaction as my efforts started to feel more and more futile.  I did art shows and sat at my table at watched people walk past and sometimes look more closely and gape in astonishment and say things like “Wow!  Honey, look at this!  This is amazing!  This is incredible!  I’ve never seen anything like it!  Good luck!  Bye!” and walk away.  My words started to seemingly repeat themselves, and I worried that my well of ideas had already run dry.  And, most damningly, I looked at my own work and the flaws seemed more numerous than ever and I felt appallingly arrogant for even expecting anybody to want to pay money for it.

I learned that a blog is not enough.  A Twitter account is not enough.  A Facebook page is not enough.  An Etsy shop is not enough.  Having something that nobody else seems to be doing is definitely not enough.  (I can’t even give the stuff away, it seems at times.)

I learned, most of all, that my self-sabotaging tendencies are not that easily defeated.  That the demon in my head that stands between me and doing my work is constantly finding new strategies to keep me stuck and that each time I strike it down, it rises again in a new form sooner or later.  The path of the year behind me is strewn with missed chances, things unsaid and undone and a thousand little rationalizations that let things slide for one more day.

The most insidious weapon in the head-demon’s arsenal is this–it takes the hopes I have of where I’d like to be and then, after throwing everything it can to stop me so that every stumbling step towards my goal seems some kind of victory, proceeds to mock me for being a failure because I didn’t get as much done as I would have liked.

There are two paths I could take here.  One would be to conclude that I’m just not cut out for this art business and reduce it to a nice little hobby while I look for a proper job on the side.  A tempting prospect, but one I can’t accept.

The other is to recalculate my efforts, amplify my ambitions and give the demon a harder fight than it’s ever had from me.  And, more importantly, to recruit backup instead of trying to carry this all on my own shoulders.

We’ll see where I stand come next December 5th.  But wherever it will be, it can’t be any farther back than I’ve come so far.

Word Art: Speak

This is one of the first pieces I did, in about the same style as That Which Is Called the Heart and Spiral, which is to say in the style of still figuring out what the heck I was doing.  I made it because I decided that I wanted a background to my Twitter page that didn’t look like anybody else’s.  (Excerpts of it are also visible as the banner on this blog.)  I picked three colors–red, black and blue, to match the colors in the photo I was using at the time–and alternated each sentence.  Since there was no white space to work around, the words went every which way I felt like, though I pointed them in the vague direction of the nature of the Internet and communication.



We are here because we want to be heard.

Not just in the external sense, the milling crowds of humanity, but the internal we as well, the multitudes we all contain, despite our best efforts to present a unified front, a single face to the world.

‘My name is Legion—there are so many of us’ pleaded the man possessed, but I suspect that when those tenants were evicted and given new homes, there were still many left so that the place was simply less crowded.

And do not make the error of mistaking our masks for our multitudes.

We pick our faces as we decide upon the outfits that we will match to the surroundings we plan to be in.

Yet here in these electric spaces, we are so perfectly hidden that we can, as paradox as it may seem, reveal ourselves completely.

Sometimes, alas, it is our brutal selves that emerge, the demons we bury under polite facades who run rampant in this space without consequence.

But in spaces where the monsters can be held at bay, our delicate selves can be allowed to emerge, the way raindrops become snowflakes in the heatless air.

Why do some see fit to congratulate themselves for possessing contradictions, as if this makes them strange and complex and something greater than the milling crowd?

One might as well boast about possessing two different eyes as if the rest of the world were one-eyed or blind.

(In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man gets his eye gouged out for being different.)

We are all of us contradictions and far too much misery springs from the drive to be held to one self and deny all others.

No, not in our lovers, in our lives.

Monogamy is really a treaty between two kingdoms.

The greater the intersections between their citizens, the more tightly bound the nations become.

Is this what they mean by the two becoming one?

The crowds of our inner multitudes flowing into a larger crowd that seems to be one mass from a distance?

What a seething crowd we’d be if every single one of us let our crowds unfurl.

And so we are in this space, our citizens demanding their voices and quietly listening to others.

Sometimes we speak the language of sensibility.

Other times, flickers of madness are given an instant to shine with the intensity and brevity of lightning.

For some of us the glow is constant and we avert our eyes at the burning of it.

And I pity the ones who never allow that light to be seen, lest it illuminate too much and draw too much attention.

Some of us wave our madness like signal flares, hoping for rescue.

Others neglect it and let it burn out of control.

Still others try to smother it and those stories never end well.

But in this lightning storm, do perhaps some of us see something new in the moment of clarity, something they’d like to see more of?

Would someone light a match or kindle two sticks, to see clearly what was glimpsed in that flash of insight?

Or are they too terrified of what they might see and retreat to the soothing darkness to pretend that such things don’t really exist, for if they did, we’d see them all the time.

Wouldn’t we?

Wouldn’t we, though? (Though that assumes that reality itself is far more enduring than it proves to be in practice.)

And so our fleeting lightning moments are captured in an electric network and preserved for the world to see.

Sometimes, in shame, we unsay those words and hope no one traces the traces they leave behind.

But mostly we say what we mean or think we mean.

Sometimes the wind will carry our words farther than we ever imagined going.

Most times, we dream of a wind that never comes, or try to huff and puff such a wind into being.

But the winds are not summoned by our egos.

They come when we tap into something that flows with the current of things.

Some have mastered this art, others merely imagine themselves to be masters of it.

The closer to the center, the farther out you reach.

With each light we allow the worlds to see, we grant another permission to shine.

Do not light the brightness of another’s light diminish your own.

Instead, learn to shine that much more brightly.

Spotlights are temperamental things that don’t always linger as long as we’d like.

This is why we must bring our own brightness and let that light our way.

Because we do all shine on, “like the moon and the stars and the sun.”

And so by the glow of screens and cell phones, we shine on in our six billion crazy ways.

How much brighter we’d be if we let all our lights emerge.

But, ah, how hard is brilliance to maintain in this world.

The spotlight can be as much a bane as a blessing.

Some days we crave the cool darkness.

Sometimes it burns so, to be in the center of our incandescence, and so we shrink from it.

But one can become acclimated to the heat, with time and practice and persistence and courage.

And then one day you wonder why you wasted so much time in the dark.

We are not made unique by what we take from the world, for anything we take can be taken by another.

We are made unique by what we bring to the world, the parts of ourselves that no one else on this Earth can replicate.

And yet so many define themselves by their external trappings, even as they secretly chafe against their restrictions.

It seems so many people fear to go within, fear too look too deeply into themselves for fear of what they may find.

With one hand we pat ourselves on the back for being like no other.

And yet with the other, we reach out hungrily to find another like us so we won’t feel so terribly alone.

And so with the transmission of ones and zeroes comes the transmission of our hopes and dreams and our deepest desires.

And the ears to hear or the eyes to see such things need not be known to us before the connection is made.

We are now linked in ways it would have been impossible to link so effortlessly in times past.

The voices of authority have a harder time drowning out the voices of the subordinate.

Who, then, is really in charge?

What if we all of us were?

What a world it would be if we all claimed our kingdoms, made our alliances and learned the way to peace through plenty?

We live in an age of overwhelming abundance and yet we barely notice when we have more than enough.

How changed the world would be if we made note of this.

And yet the full are afraid to flow over, afraid that what they had would be beyond replenishment if they were to fill the hollow cracked spaces.

The holes in their own souls must be filled first, they decree, not knowing that the solid sorts of things they use are the wrong medicine for that affliction.

A spiritual gap cannot be filled with a material object.

A physical lack cannot be filled with mere words and well wishes.

But the spirit can bend the material when flesh is moved by the soul.

This is what we hope for when we call to the heart—that we will stir music in the soul that will lead to the dance of life.

But our mistake is believing that his somehow exempts us from taking our own actions.

All the chatter in the world has not the power of one single focused action.

(Though words are at least useful in advising us what action to take.)

There are times when it is enough to just be.

Fortunate is your life if you have the latitude and will to have such times.

And there are times when the words end, the sleeves are rolled and the action begins.

In the end, it is perhaps better to act first and then speak than to speak first and then act.

Though even speech before action is better than speech without action.

Few things annoy quite like the one who speaks endlessly of his brilliance and yet never bothers to truly shine.

I dare you to show me your heart.

Show me in words, show me in deeds, choose your weapons with care but show me your heart.

I dare you.

We all dare you, though some people who issue that dare don’t really mean it.

They just want you to do it first so they don’t have to.

Perhaps that’s why when we strip our souls naked some people retreat and scream and call the authorities.

Not because what you did was in any way wrong.

Not even because they were horrified and repulsed by what they saw when you exposed yourself.

They fled and demanded that a stop be put to it because they were terrified that they would be expected to follow your example.

They were afraid that they would be next.

Perhaps this is why some of those who hide behind masks are at their most vicious when one is at their most vulnerable.

They hope to shame these naked souls into putting some damn clothes on.

They chill the conversation so they can feel more comfortable in their numerous layers.

How much harder it would be for them should the atmosphere warm, that they would be left sweating and chafing and yet refusing to expose their skins, their flaws, their scars to the rest of us.

So they swath themselves in wool and tweed and decry our lack of modesty in this our modern age.

We are under no obligation to listen to them.

There are ways to warm ourselves in this still cold world.

Unlike a body, a soul can be both armored and naked, exposed yet invulnerable, unstoppable.

Stand firmly in your sense of self and no one can topple you from your position.

Be flexible enough to move as the occasion requires, and dance to the rhythms of your heart, and the blows will never be close enough to land.

No one is ever free from being criticized by someone out there.

Act, and you will be told by someone that you took the wrong action.

Do nothing, and another will shame you for your apathy.

Therefore, the only voice you can truly rely on is your own.

But how can you be sure the voice you hear in your head is truly your own?

The entire process of learning to function in our society requires that we admit the thoughts of others into our head.

If we are to speak and be heard, we must make room in our heads for words we didn’t invent ourselves.

The heart speaks its own language, and the art of translation is one of the most important skills to master.

But far too many people are told that the translation is incorrect.

Or, in other cases, we deliberately mistranslate, lest the words spoken scandalize everyone within earshot.

We learn the right things to say, even when the right thing to say is so distant from the truth as to be unrecognizable.

And the more the heart is mistranslated and misunderstood, the more reluctant it becomes to even try to be heard in the first place.

This is why silence is a precious commodity, for when we allow it to surround us and just for once let it stand unbroken, the murmur of the heart, the secret language of the self unseen, can be heard.

And this, in turn, is why silence frightens some people, for they are determined to drown out those sounds with the noise of daily living, lest they hear the sounds the heart is making, not the thump of the physical organ but the disappointed sighs of a misunderstood voice.

What does your heart say?

Do you even understand its vocabulary, or have you only been nodding and pretending to understand?

Only you can provide a sufficiently accurate translation.

And yet by seeing the translations of others, we slowly learn how to translate our own.

Do all hearts speak a common language?

I am not certain of that.

Perhaps each heart speaks a unique dialect that can be traced to a common tongue.

(The tongue, perhaps, that spoke the world into its being.)

I still hold out the hope that more of us will learn to listen to our hearts and make the effort to translate what it says into words and deeds that can shape the world into something greater.

And perhaps the key to this is not to wait until the cacophony of false voices, of mistranslations, of The Right Things To Say finally dies down. Perhaps we need to retreat to silence long enough to hear what our hearts have to say and then emerge from that silence to speak what our hearts have told us, speak our truth until all our voices combine and the noise is drowned out by our chorus.

And here is where we can begin it.

It’s too crude a piece for me to want to sell or even scan, but I keep it precariously fastened to the side of my filing cabinet with magnets for now as a reminder of how far I’ve come.

Prints of this work are not available.

The original is not for sale.

Rich Living: I Am Not Paul McCartney

Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.

–Oscar Wilde

If I want to really feel insignificant, I just compare myself to Sir Paul McCartney.

Face it, the man has more money, fame and sheer and absolute coolness than I can ever dream of possessing.  My net worth is spare change next to his collected assets.  His impact on history is the Grand Canyon where mine is a little line scraped in the earth with a stick.  By the time he hit my age, he’d already transformed the landscape of popular music as a member of the Beatles and was still knocking out hit songs with a little band called Wings.  Me, I’ve got a few bright ideas and some blogs, and this weird art thing that I’m doing that some people tell me is pretty neat, but that most people don’t even know about.

But, you know, sitting around and feeling insignificant isn’t a hell of a lot of fun, so I try to avoid weighing my lifespan against that of Sir Paul.  Actually, it’s best not to weigh your life against any standards, even, strange as it may seem, your own.  That way lies a different kind of madness–the one where you constantly berate yourself for where you should be by now without taking any pleasure in where you are.  (I should be published by now.  I should be married by now.  I should have a house by now.)  Even comparisons between now and your past self can trap you in misery, because lives do not always progress on a neat upward slope.  I could look back at the time a few years ago when I had the stable job and the hot boyfriend and compare it to now where I have . . . neither.  Yeah, maybe not such a great idea.

It’s a mental trap that snares many a hardy soul.  So, how do you get out of it?  Start with the one thing you have that nobody else does.  Yourself.  You are the only you there will ever be on this earth.

I’m typing this while I’m in front of a window that faces a dogwood tree.  The leaves are starting to tarnish into their fall colors.  Nobody else at this moment is able to see this.  Nobody else can–if somebody came in and looked over my shoulder, what they would see would not quite be the same.  Even as I try to clumsily describe it to you, what comes up in your mind will not be what I am seeing.  If I take a picture, it’s still not quite the same because you’re looking at it on a computer screen instead of as I am now.

view from desk

See what I mean?

Every moment of your life that you are aware of is a moment that you are a unique witness to.  No one, not even Sir Paul with all his millions, can buy it from you.  Artists do what they can to translate their points of view into tangible form, but even then they are doomed to fall short.

I have driven home on rainy nights with a Nick Drake song playing on the iPod hooked into my car stereo and it feels like I’m in the middle of the most beautifully shot art film.  Yet I’m the only one in the theater and I’m never going to see this scene again.

Step back from where you want to be and look at where you are.  Really look at it, because nobody else is able to, not in the way that you do.  Treasure it, savor it, embrace it and you will find that where you stand in comparison to others doesn’t matter.  They’ve got their lives to live; you have yours.  And nobody else is able to do the job of being you.  So make the most of it.

I may never be as cool as Sir Paul McCartney.  But I will always and forever be as cool as Sheila O’Shea.  And that’s all I really need to be.

Rich Living: How to Be Present

The starting point of living a rich life is to pay attention to it.  This seems ridiculously obvious, until you try doing it on a consistent basis and become more aware of how your brain can go rabbiting off from the present moment and gnawing on stupid things like What That Mean Person Said On The Internet.  Honing one’s ability to keep the mind on the moment is ultimately a lifetime process.

Think of it a bit like an exercise program.  There’s never really a point when you can say “Yay!  I’m fit now!” and never have to exercise again.  If you do, you’ll be okay for a while but eventually your body will regress for lack of challenges.  However, much like fitness, the more you do, the better you get at it to the point that a flight of stairs that would normally wipe you out completely can now be ascended two steps at a time.  (And I’m not exactly one to talk about keeping in shape, mind you; how do you think I know about what happens when you slack off?)

There are loads and loads of books and resources on mindfulness and presence, from The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh (which I highly recommend) to The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle (which likewise I did benefit from, though I did have some issues with.)  If that’s too woo for you, there are many nifty scientific studies on the benefits of mindfulness.

Does this mean you can’t ever let your mind wander ever?  Of course not.  But presence allows you to notice when your mind is wandering and bring it back to the moment.  You can even set your mind loose and decide “I’m going to just sit and think for a while.”  (This is one of the reasons I carry a catbook–so I can allow my mind to ramble and still remain in the present moment as I focus on the pen on the page getting all my thoughts down.)

But what if the present moment is kinda sucky?  Wouldn’t it be better to vanish into the mental clouds for a while until the moment passes?

Here’s the thing.  A rich life is not a pain-free life, nor a perpetually happy life.  A rich life has moments of agony as well as bliss, grief as well as elation, loss as well as gain.  That is how life works.  You have to be there for all of it.  But you will notice that if you accept the pain and honor the pain, it will pass more quickly than if you try to smother it.  Pain is a signal from the body that something is wrong that needs to be set right.  By paying attention to it, you can determine its source and have a clearer idea of what to do about it.  Emotional pain is much the same way.

An important part of presence is acceptance.  There are some things you can change.  If you’re in an uncomfortable position on the couch, you can shift and get more comfortable.  There are, however, some things that you can’t.  If you’re stuck in traffic, there’s really not much you can do except wait.  (Unless, I suppose, you want to be one of those people who thinks that the fact that they’re in a big hurry qualifies them for the emergency lane.)  While you wait, you can seethe about how horrible traffic is, or you can turn up the stereo, plug in some music you like and pay attention to that until traffic moves forward some more.  Your call.

Presence is the practice in which all other components of rich living are rooted.  By seeing what you are surrounded by, you are able to be grateful for it and to be curious about it.  And the best way to be yourself is to be who you are in this moment, without waiting for some better moment to arrive.