Lessons From a Literary Icon

Those of us who engage in creative activities know first hand the power of making art. We create and share our work full of joy, inspiration, and narrative. The amazing thing about art is that even if you’re not trying to get your work in a museum or gallery, the experience alone is healing. Creating in any way, shape, or form releases chemicals in the brain that are better than any drug one can take. The question is how to spread that message.

When you have someone like Tolstoy on your side, spreading the message is much easier. Tolstoy, best known for his books, War and Peace, and Anna Karenina, spoke eloquently about art (not the written word specifically) when he said, “Art is a human activity, consisting in this, that one man consciously, by means of certain external signs, hands on to others feelings he has lived through, and that other people are infected by these feelings, and also experience them.” (from John Butman’s book Breaking Out: How to Build Influence in a World of Competing Ideas)

The line about others being infected by the feelings and experience is palpable. We, as artists, disseminate thought provoking questions. Our healing journeys are on display every time we create. Our creative energies serve as role models and goal models. We bring to life feelings and experiences, and that’s contagious.

Ask an artist why they create and they’ll tell you, “I have to”. I did a piece years ago titled, “All I need is the Air that I Breathe”. I was clear when making the piece that it was about the one thing in all our lives we need to continue. For artists, that one thing is creativity. We all have that one thing that keeps us motivated, engaged, and inspired to live another day with meaning.

What is it you want to share with the world? How will your creative endeavors spread a message, a question, or an experience? These are the healing moments we get to experience every time a piece of work is created, no matter the medium!

Looking for education, support, and inspiration when facing a chronic or life-threatening illness?  Visit http://www.survivingstrong.com


Your Impact Reaches Far

Why do you visit museums and galleries? What is it about a particular exhibit that catches your attention? When you leave the exhibit what sticks with you? After having that experience what happens when you enter your own creative space; is there a shift in your work?

As artists we seek art as a way of attaining inspiration. It also gives us something to aspire to on our journey of creation. We create for all different reasons, but part of the outcome is it leaves a legacy. Our work is our narrative. It provides the world with a visual representation of our lives. If you’ve ever done a retrospective of your work you may notice patterns in your work.

I have two pieces (left: “In Sickness and In Health”, right: “Stop the Madness”) currently hanging in my living room that represents a difficult period in my life. I believe it was a time when I was having a flare of my autoimmune disease. The pieces were in response to my struggle with the discomfort and disappointment I was experiencing. Fortunately I had an outlet and one of the things about art is you can put it in the closet when it doesn’t serve a purpose.


I brought these works out this past weekend just to rotate the work hanging in the house. I’ve been looking at it and it reminds me of that difficult time. It also allows me to cherish the positive health outcomes I’ve had since that point. I can reflect on what was and see what is! I also can see how the art mirrored my feelings at the time. It gives me the sense of knowing that telling that story, no matter how difficult, is always available to me.

We seek out the work of artists to see how they used technique. When we examine their lives we can see how the work reflects their personal or historic context. Your art has the same kind of impact when others experience it. Your work can make others feel not so lonely in their own journey of health and healing or overcoming any type of adversity.

Give yourself a lot of credit for creating awe-inspiring work. It doesn’t have to be in the Metropolitan Museum of Art to have far reaching impact on the lives of others!

Looking for education, support, and inspiration when facing a chronic or life-threatening illness?  Visit http://www.survivingstrong.com

Who Teaches You to Dream?

We all have role models from an early age. Finding those who dream gives us a road map to what’s possible. Unfortunately, many of us lose our ability to dream because of our own negative self-talk or the disparaging remarks made by people of influence in our lives. It doesn’t matter what interests you have/had, we all have people whose opinion we trust and their opinion carries a lot of weight, sometimes too much weight.

People like Julia Cameron who wrote ¨The Artist’s Way” gives creatives an opportunity to break free from the dream killers. She provides a roadmap to release the negative self-talk and establish your rightful place in the creativity arena.

I think a lot about how our dreams and voices get stifled and what it takes to invigorate and breathe life into a new creative spirit. Looking back I reflect on an experience in high school with an English teacher I had both sophomore and senior years. She wasn’t necessarily inspiring, but during my time in her class I was obviously struggling to find my voice through the written word.

During those years in her class I was the king of the fragmented sentence. It definitely impeded my success in her class. By the time I got to senior year I was determined to get a good grade on a paper I wrote in her class. I thought I was so careful in crafting the paper. When I got the paper back I had received less than the grade I felt I deserved. It was the first time that I went to discuss my grade with a teacher. Our exchange was civil and I remember feeling hurt deep in my heart by her comments. I left her classroom and went out to the fields behind the school to sit and ponder the experience.

It wasn’t until years later that I did Cameron’s 12 week “Artist’s Way”. The biggest benefit was releasing the demons that held me back. It gave me the freedom to write just for the love of writing. It provided me with the encouragement to write as a means of inspiring others to share their stories and make their voices heard. I found it so powerful, I did the 12 week cycle three times.

I’ve always felt the urge to live creatively. I spent many years in the music arena both singing and playing instruments. I thought I would become a music therapist, but kept music as an avocation, not a vocation. It wouldn’t be until years later that my true artist self would emerge in the visual arts.

My ability to dream expanded by seeing art created by amazing textile artists. I attended classes and joined an art quilt guild. The energy and enthusiasm was contagious (refer to my earlier post “The Greatest Contagion of All…Creativity) providing a safe arena to explore my own creative voice. These artists infused my soul with the power to dream. There weren’t any roadblocks to creating. In fact, that’s when I created a studio in my home, a sacred space to create and dream.

Who in your life gives you the encouragement and space to create and dream? What does dreaming about a life lived creatively mean to you and what will you do to achieve that goal/dream? How does living creatively heal physical, emotional, and/or spiritual parts of your life?

For education, support, and inspiration when facing a chronic or life-threatening illness visit www.survivingstrong.com

Artists Are Multi-Lingual

We’re all told about the benefits of speaking more than one language in a global economy. What language do you choose? If you’re an artist, the language to speak is the Visual Language of art. Art is a universal language. We don’t have to create dictionaries to appreciate and understand the work before your eyes.

We’re all told about the benefits of speaking more than one language in a global economy. What language do you choose? If you’re an artist, the language to speak is the Visual Language of art. Art is a universal language. We don’t have to create dictionaries to appreciate and understand the work before your eyes.

I was watching PBS last night looking for programming on arts and entertainment. Denver has a show called Arts District. The show shares information about art in the Denver Metro Area, but also shows stories about artists across the country. Last night one of the featured artists was Joseph Watson, a painter.

Watson lives in Las Vegas and works from the vantage point that art is a language. He shared that his ideas “fall out of the sky”. His work is modern and nostalgic. It tells the stories of life events that are common while being thought provoking. His work “The River of Rhythms” has musicians from all works of life in one vessel.

One of the projects he was a part of was a public art piece. He painted utility boxes in the community. The one piece was a large utility box and the piece was all about success. He showed the same woman many times around the box, but each time she represented a different occupation. It showed his respect for women and the confidence that woman/girls can be anything they want to be.

It’s this type of art that is empowering. Empowerment and the “I can” mentality can heal many injuries, physical, emotional, and spiritual. Artists like Watson show how art can wake up our creative intellect. Watson’s art inspires us to utilize our multi-lingual gifts to share our thoughts, ideas, and dreams.

Interested in receiving education, support, and inspiration following the diagnosis of a chronic or life-threatening illness? Visit www.survivingstrong.com

The Greatest Contagion of All…Creativity

Creativity is contagious. It gets you to stop, look, and think. It provokes a reaction stimulating the emotional and spiritual parts of your being. When we’re in the presence of creativity we feel lighter, motivated, and excited.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that so many healthcare settings are using the arts in the healing process. Visual artists, musicians, clowns, actors, dancers are showing up to give patients the opportunity to create or be part of a creative process. We invoke the creative aspects of our soul to tell our stories and live fully in the moment.

When I went back to graduate school to study Art and Healing, I had the privilege of studying with noted anthropologist Angeles Arrien. Unfortunately Arrien died on April 24, but her legacy continues. The class she taught was The Nine Muses (also the title of her book) and it focused on the nine muses from Greek mythology. Each of the muses represented a different form of the arts. We can each invoke the muses to inspire our inner artist.

You don’t have to be an artist to catch the creativity bug. I just finished reading the April issue of Fast Company magazine. The cover story was “How to Unleash Creativity”. The article features Ed Catmull, head of Pixar studios. He shared from his book Creativity, Inc. how to create creative teams. He shared the creation of a BrainTrust, a group that shares their creative exuberance allowing for greater success of their movie projects. When we’re around creative people, our, often unspoken creative selves emerge. We stop being mute and begin the journey of ultimate self-expression.

Catching creativity is life affirming. It is the best thing we catch from another person or group. Fortunately when you catch creativity you’re not quarantined, in fact it’s better if you mingle and infect others with the creativity bug.

Catch Creativity, Spread Creativity, Use Creativity, and you’ll feel better.

Looking for inspiration, support, and education when facing a chronic or life-threatening illness visit www.survivingstrong.com

It’s Not the Weight You Carry, But How You Carry It!

I gave a eulogy this past weekend at a memorial service and read the poem Heavy, by noted poet Mary Oliver. Oliver’s poem shares how we experience grief, and how we survive grief. The poem was written after her long-time partner died. She shared her grief with each and every one of us who reads the poem. Oliver gives us the unspoken secrets of the grief journey and shows us that we can emerge triumphant.



That time

I thought I could not

go any close to death without dying

I went closer,

and I did not die.

Surely God

had his hand in this,

as well as friends.

Still I was bent,and my laughter,

as the poet said,

was nowhere to be found.

Then, said my friend Daniel

(brave even among lions),

“It is not the weight you carry

but how you carry it

books, bricks, grief-

It’s all in the way

you embrace it, balance it carry it.

When you could not, and would not,

put it down”

So I went practicing

Have you noticed?

Have you heard the laughter

that comes, now and again,

out of my startled mouth?

How I linger to admire, admire

the things of this world

that are kind and maybe

also troubled-

roses in the wind.

The sea geese on the steep waves,

A love

to which there is no reply

I read this poem and just sat with her clarity about the grief journey. I thought about how poetry allows us to share our deepest vulnerabilities in a way that others will comprehend. It gives us the tools to express the depths of our emotions when facing adversity. It doesn’t matter how you express yourself, the act of ultimate self-expression is what counts. It’s one thing that will release you from the ties that bind. It will release you to explore all your emotions and share those experiences with the Universe.

How do you creatively express your vulnerabilities? Let’s start a conversation in the comment section below.

Looking for inspiration, education, and support when facing a chronic or life-threatening illness? Visit www.survivingstrong.com

Life, Like Art, Is All About Interpretation

We all have individual tastes and preferences. When we view art, we filter the image through a lens that we’ve created over a lifetime. That lens is made up of experiences that shape our opinions, beliefs, and actions. Without this lens, our lives would randomly be assigned meaning, and that would create confusion and despair.

One of the things I’m appreciative of is the increase in public art. Recently, on my trip to Houston, I came a cross a multitude of sculptures. These public works of art were commissioned to share stories and create places in the city to experience creative expression.

When I look at the camera roll on my phone I’m amazed at the number of pictures I have of sculptures in various cities. I’m in awe of sculptors.   I love the size and scope of sculpture. I’m dazzled by the commitment a sculptor makes to each piece of art, not only in design, but also in size, and materials used, that to me is overwhelming.

The opportunity to interpret art allows us to create stories. Ever do an exercise where there is a group of people and you all look at the same piece of art and then each writes a story? Does every person create the same story? Of course not, because we’re individuals and we’ve all lived unique lives. We’re able to learn about the poignant facets of someone’s life based on their interpretation of the art. We may find hidden secrets about the person’s life experience based on their interpretation or we may find that we’ve traveled similar paths.

Interpreting art allows us to create our own world. It provides a visual context for our lived experiences. When we interpret pieces of art we are creating art. Our interpretation is our own artist expression. It’s soul driven. It allows us to share our voices.

Go out and create a world full of interpretation and let us see who you are!!!!

If you’re facing a chronic or life-threatening illness and looking for education, support, and inspiration, visit http://www.survivingstrong.com