Tag Archives: art

90 BLANK in 90 days corrects my path

Ever have one of those moments when you look at a picture of you and it seems foreign? Is that me, you think? Do I look like that? I look fatter. I look angrier. I look… ugh.

The discomfit with the outward appearance then causes reflection on all the inner stuff the picture doesn’t show but you know lurks.

I had one of those moments recently. It wasn’t pleasant. I had lost contact with the various touchstones in my life that keep me centered, healthy and grateful. I lost the present with an absurd focus on the future. I lost the me I worked so hard to find.

In rehab terms they call this White Knuckling. For those trying to stay sober, they lose the joy and health that one fueled it and have lost contact with their inner state. Emotionally they are a wreck, imploding and even doing the destructive behaviors they would only do when using or drinking or behaving compulsively. The white knuckles snuck up on me because I didn’t want to drink. At least not yet anyway.

But old habits were returning. Working too much. Compulsive eating. A lack of patience with others. Frustration with myself.

Good habits were fading. In my search for a “new” workout routine, I stopped doing the one thing that really worked for me: yoga. My running declined. My clothes hung poorly off my growing gut and swelling love handles.

In recovery I often wrote a reminder to myself called the four Ps: Positive. Present. Productive. and it’s been so long since I wrote them I forgot the fourth P. That says a lot. I lost one P entirely and two of the other three were fading like the family photo in Back to the Future.

My picture wasn’t an actual photo this time. Usually it is. This time the picture was a living moment. I tried to do yoga again after a layoff of at least a month.

I’m no cover of a Yoga Journal on my best days, but I used to have a good practice. I was told I had some beauty to my practice and I even taught some others with confidence. All of that…. every bit of it… had disappeared when I huffed and puffed and grunted and moaned through a short yoga practice. I stumbled and staggered and strained. Midway through I looked up and caught a glance of my body in the mirror and it hit me.

I was white-knuckling life again. I looked it. I felt it. I could see it. The outward merely reflected the inward chaos.

I was filled with self-loathing.

In recovery when someone relapses the first advice they are often given is get back to a meeting. In fact, we are often told go to 90 meetings in 90 days to re-establish the habits and to make sobriety the intentional priority of each of those 90 days. Everything else comes second.

I hadn’t relapsed and had no intention of doing so. I don’t need a meeting to stay sober. But I needed the intention. I needed the focus and I needed to rebuild the habits that keep me healthy.

So I drafted my own 90 in 90 plan. I call it 90 BLANK in 90 days.

The blank, I realized, involve many things for me.

  • Yoga. A must.
  • Spiritual exercises including quiet prayer and journaling.
  • Healthy exercise
  • A vast decrease of chocolate
  • Gratitude
  • Art, like playing the guitar or working on my novel.
  • Time for others
  • Service
  • Learning Spanish

It’s odd, but all of these things were the touchstones of discipline that I used to get sober, get healthy, and get focused on being a better person with proper priorities. I needed them all back in one way or another if I was going to rid my mind of the self-loathing that had grown.

So I crafted a schedule. I stated the intention of each day going forward. I weaved in the above activities starting with yoga and spiritual disciplines every day. The other stuff weaved in and out, but intentionally so.

The first three days were hell. I hated how bad I felt during yoga. I hated seeing my belly hanging over my waistband. I hated struggling to do poses that had been doable just a few months before.

But I took the advice of my yoga teacher to try to observe myself without judgement.

“Where you are is where you are,” he’d say.

I didn’t want to be where I was, but, for now that was it. I couldn’t change it immediately. But I could return to my practice and know it would recover. I could recover, too.

After two weeks a spiritual mentor checked in. I told her, “I’m much better. Well, that’s not true. I’m much less EFFed. I’m getting better.”

The work continues and will for many more days until I hit the 90. It won’t stop then I realize, but the milestone will be important. I need the achievement of following through. I need to know I did it and will continue to do so.

This life I chose is not a fad. These things I believe are not temporal. Because in the end, I am convinced I didn’t choose it really. God chose me. And to be what She chooses me to be, I have to be the me she chose. The only way to do that is to live as me, every day, with the intention necessary to live it well.

Recovery is an active, present verb in my life and will remain so. I’m not sure I entirely got that before. The whole “one day at a time” thing doesn’t make much sense until you live it, one sober day, one healthy day, one loving day after another until you welcome it.

I wish I hadn’t lost track of these things and wish I didn’t need to also consider my life in recovery. But in seeing myself in the photo for what I was slipping into, I stopped the slide and returned to the disciplines I established. I came home and this home I’ve built is lasting.

For that I am pleased.

Fiction critique group forms with #SFWC2016 in mind

Perhaps one of the reasons the San Francisco Writers Conference was named as one of the top five in the country is the dividends that continue to pay for participants after the conference ends.

SFWC is organized by more than a hundred volunteers dedicated to the vibrant, artistic community that exists in San Francisco. But beyond that, few conferences have a literary agent as a leader who attends writer groups formed during the conference.

During the last SFWC, several of us took on Michael Larsen’s challenge to form a non-fiction writers critique group.

We came together with a precise goal of having a marketable product in time for the 2016 San Francisco Writers Conference. Larsen volunteered to attend the first group. He liked it so much he’s kept coming since.

It’s been invigorating, so much so that we want to start a similar group for fiction writers. Larsen was the first to join the group to offer his expertise and encouragement.

“This is what the conference is all about,” he said.

We have openings for five SF-based writers and two from afar who can join via Skype.

The format:

  • We will meet the second Sunday of each month from 4-6 p.m. in the financial district near the Embarcadero Bart stop.
  • Each month two writers receive an hour of focused feedback. They send out up to 25 pages prior to the meeting. Others are encouraged to give detailed edits in track changes that can be emailed after the group.
  • During the group discussion each participant gives a handful of bullet-point critiques.
  • Over the course of four months, each writer will cycle through for his or her feedback hour.
  • Over the course of the one-year commitment, each writer will receive three, in-depth, hours of diverse feedback to push their work to a deeper level.

If this commitment appeals to you, visit our contact page and drop us a line.  Include a brief overview of your work, interests and bio. You can learn more about my writing and editing at www.effinartist.com

Free 30-minute author consultation – I have new openings in my editing and coaching schedule for up-and-coming writers of fiction, memoir or investigative non-fiction. Check out my platform here. I am an award-winning reporter, columnist and editor with fifteen years experience.

Contact me for a free 30-minute consultation based on a review of one chapter of your work. I build relationships with my clients and want to share their vision for the project. If I’m not a good fit, I’ll tell you and encourage you do to the same. I am confident our efficient and organized partnership will save you time and money while helping you meet your writing goals. References available. Visit our contact page if interested.

Next generation of Effin Artistry thrives

Yeah, we’re proud. Effin proud, The Bride and I. “The Youngest One,” as The Bride calls her is an Effin Artist, man.

She’s been dabbling in various artistic expressions for several years. She loves to sing and she especially loves to act. As  kid she performed fearlessly in talent shows and joined a Cirque du Soleil camp where she performed swinging above our heads. But she also has fooled around with drawings for years. She dabbles, like all good artists do, trying to find her passion and matching that to her talent and combining both into the hard work necessary to truly evolve.

She’s only 16. She’s only recently begun to think seriously about her future and her talents. So it came as a shock when a drawing she did to experiment with henna designs and posted to Facebook drew attention and praise from a Florida-based artist named Beju, cofounder of Lejobart. The Youngest One’s dad, who as a talented guitarist has deep creative instincts of his own, connected The Youngest One to Beju, who was holding an art show benefit for endangered species. He noticed The Youngest One’s drawing and wanted it for his show.

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The Youngest One insists it’s no big deal.

“I saw a picture of the giraffe and I wanted to draw it,” she says. “But I saw this girl that did Henna drawings and I wanted to make use of it for the giraffe.”

After the original artwork arrived he showed it to his partner and wrote back with these comments:

Also. I just showed it to Sherryl who came in really late last night. She saw a frog, I also see a frog but mainly a giraffe. Actually the frog I see is within the mouth of the giraffe, she sees it on top of the giraffe’s head. Basically there is so much to see in this piece it’s fascinating. Congratulations!

Like I said, we are all damn proud.

She may not admit that it was a big deal, but it did make an impression. Soon she was looking into schools like the San Francisco Academy of Art instead of college.

That’s one of the reasons art and creativity is so compelling. People see it in others and encourage them just as Beju did for our daughter. It makes a powerful impression. Encouragement is like that. It’s infectious and can be life-changing.

The Youngest One is creative, which seems so often the thing that gets most censored in many of us when we transition from children to adults. At one point she launched a new Twitter feed simply to encourage others, which helps explain why she had more than 700 followers in just a few days @lets_stay_true.

Art reflects the old soul nature of The Youngest One. She has three older siblings, all adults now with significant others and yet she fits in seamlessly. She’s mature and grows weary of high-school antics.

She is driven. She wants to be a successful actor. She’s auditioned for The Voice and wants to keep trying until she gets on the show. She wants to use her college experience to explore these talents and see where they take her, which in our opinion is exactly how to get the most out of college.

Sometimes she’s mature enough to think about “fall back plan” or studying something practical like “business.” But when you talk to her, you know her heart isn’t in business or a fall back plan for that matter. She’s an Effin Artist man. Where that will take her, we don’t know. But we know if she can figure out this young how to live her life within the river of her talent and passion, it will be a good life, indeed.

Effin Artist moments brighten enjoyment in any day

The text arrived from my middle daughter and said simply, “I”m an Effin Artist man!”

I couldn’t have been more proud.

She followed it with a photo of a reclamation project she had just completed in time for Fourth of July, turning a dirty old pallet into a beautiful American flag.

That she felt that AH-Ha moment is the reason this site exists and made it all the more special.

We are all creative beings. It’s what makes us connect to our humanity. If God (however you can imagine Her to be) is truly a God of creation, then we in His likeness are also people who are designed to create. We are works of art, simply put, who create art ourselves.

Yet something in this (seemingly at times, God forsaken) world is hellbent on beating all creativity out of us. We hear the word “can’t” when it comes to creativity far more than can. We focus on our in-excellence instead of our effort being the excellent thing in its own right.

Perhaps, most simply, this is why we are people who have built mountains of trash in landfills and so little comparatively of things of true meaning that last.

Effin Artist moments are those times when the bonging drum of negativity in our head that attacks our best effort like an angry shop teacher pointing out all our flaws is silenced by a simple beautiful thought, “I’m an Effin Artist man!”

In this moment we feel the sanctification of oneness with our creator and oneness with our purpose and congruence with our true selves It’s a beautiful moment and here’s to many more of them in all our lives.

For those that want to put on the stars and stripes a bit this weekend, here is my daughter’s instructions on how to make a flag of your own:

I ran across a picture of this on Facebook and figured with my extra time and all the pallets in our yard it would be easy to recreate. I knew it could be  cuter than normal garden/front porch decor.

Very easy! I just picked the shades of colors I wanted to use and started painting. Used an old sponge to cut out a star stencil, and stamped them after the blue paint dried. Ready for the fourth and the whole project cost less than 10 dollars. Wallah!”

And Dad is very proud indeed.

A door of opportunity there if you look for it

I was jogging recently at a pretty snail-like pace, not really feeling it, when I came across a bare lot that had recently demolished the house that once resided there. All around it were lots with some fairly broken down places. It wasn’t felony flats, but it certainly wasn’t anywhere a real estate agent would purposefully drive by to show off the neighborhood.

Then the middle of the barren lot caught my eye and I actually stopped my run.

Someone had torn down everything else on the lot. Every weed, board, stick, broken glass, you name it.. except, a single red door.

I took its picture and ruminated about that door for the rest of my run.

How many times in life have I looked around at the fine mess my addiction and/or recklessness has caused and saw a stripped-to-the-dirt, empty-slate of a life that has so little left to show for it?

But each time, every time,  I also found the equivalent of that red door. I found something I could reach out, turn the knob, walk through and start again.

I call it grace. The red door is grace. And its there waiting. Every time.

It may have seemed like a joke at the time. By opening the door to the same empty barren lot of a life what really changes?

As it turned out, everything. Walking through those doors of opportunity that life afforded me even at my worst has made all the difference.

Nearly five years ago, life literally picked me up and chucked me through the door of recovery that seemed more barren, hopeless and desolate than anything I’d ever known before. I couldn’t fathom a life without alcohol. I envisioned perpetual grief over the loss, a constant feeling of absence and withdrawal.

Instead, as that blessed five year anniversary fast approaches, I know it’s anything but. I went through that red door of grace into a room of seeming nothingness and found instead a life I never knew could exist that had been waiting there for me all along.

Those red doors are there. Right in front of you. No matter how bleak the surrounding area, look for it. And when you find it, turn the knob, pass through to the other side and though it may feel very much like the same old thing, believe it isn’t. Because you’ve taken a first step into a new life that has been waiting for you all along.

The Artistic Diva: It may just be necessary

My children have accused of me of “diva moments.” It is not at all an unfair accusation, though I take seriously my role to minimize it.

Note, I say minimize, not eliminate. Well, I note it anyway. Because until I now I’ve always felt a twinge of guilt associated with these moments when my concentration is so narrowed and my lens so telescopic that anything outside the frame is as unwelcome as Cousin Eddie in National Lampoon’s Vacation movies.

I was trying to explain this to my kids’ significant others the other day and the more I tried, the more I infused it with humor to mask my baseline discomfort at the idea that I was giving myself permission — at times — to be an asshole. This is fundamentally at odds with who I attempt to be as a person who values and celebrates others. The incongruence of these two opposing values stung at me for a long time after like the road rash The Bride picked up on Mother’s Day showing off on a skateboard she had no idea how to ride.

I still picked at the scab the next day. My future daughter-in-law’s question buzzed at my ears like Tinnitus. “Well, if you know you are that way, why do it?”

Sigh. It’s hard to explain I wanted to say.

Finally, I landed on something this morning that put my mind at ease just a bit. The world is noisy. It’s fleeting and skittish as if the whole of humanity share the same ADD disorder. Twitter is a billion-dollar example of capitalizing on this collective impatience and — dare I say it? —  self-centeredness.

To have any degree of accomplishment (that’s not the word I want… I think “mastery” is better, but I’m still not sure) in an art, be it words, song, dramatic interpretation, painting, even chisel to stone, it takes both a focus that is at odds with the world and an “otherness” that wants to create something of value for all.

I lack mastery in all but a very few, a select few, fields of artistic expression. But in those that really matter, and even to some extent the pursuit of learning those that far elude mastery, I can’t do what I do with the clatter of this world fighting for my attention. The closer I get to the putting three or five or seven words in the exact order to say the exact thing I want, the less patient I become, the more heightened my irritation is, as if I unconsciously call the battalions to high alert to the ramparts of my mind in defense of this moment in time and space when something outside of me, better than me, and yet a small slice of the fulfillment of me, happens. Why do it? she asks? Because I’m not sure It’s not necessary.

I realized later had I been less concerned with my own ego and entertaining them, I would have thought about the question my son’s lovely lady asked. I would have said to her — a wonderful dancer from childhood, I am told — “Because it’s a bit necessary I think. Didn’t you find it so in the studio?”

I’m guessing she would agree with me, because she too has a little diva in her, or at least I suspect she did to be as good at her art as she used to be. Don’t we all have a little of this in us, right there nudging next to our finest moments, perhaps jading them with a bit of ourselves that we know are not as colorful as the art we try to produce?

I am constantly reminded how flawed I am. I am constantly aware of how hard I work to smooth rough edges that take hours of spiritual discipline to sand away yet can become married in a moment of elevated voice and sour-filled expression of selfish pity.

I suspect it’s necessary, these diva moments,  this side of heaven to keep us humble and to keep us learning until that day when we finally get it right, on Earth as it is in heaven.

At least I hope it is, which heightens my awareness of my responsibility to do what I do while minimizing my diva moments even if I don’t really want to eliminate them.

WeBromance- Unsplash offers simple artistry

I don’t know them, but I suspect the folks behind the website unsplash.com have a whole bunch of “ah-ha” moments. These folks are EffinArtists indeed, which is why they’ve been named to my growing list of WeBromances. Who doesn’t see this and fall in love?

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If you don’t know about them, check it out. They provide emailed, high-resolution, absolutely gorgeous photos every 10 days or so. When I dip into these reserves for a post, it simply makes that day’s blog beautiful.

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As a former news editor I developed an eye for photos that capture your eye. These almost invariably capture the eye, stir the heart and celebrate art on one of the must uncluttered, simplistic platforms I’ve seen. This is one of my favorites:

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Check it out. You’ll thank me.

Test kitchen to return to artistic pursuit of chocolate

We mess around with a lot of different things in the test kitchen. We can be so all over the map that it’s hard to remember this whole thing started with the idea of experimenting with chocolate. We launched the test kitchen to simply experiment with the artistic expression of chocolate– art you can eat, we called it, because we don’t like the clutter of most types of artistic expression.

The idea for all things Effin Artist came to me in rehab. Needless to say, the food sucked. Hell, everything sucked. But my daughter sent me books on artisan chocolate. I had mentioned in passing the idea — virtually clueless that the trend was long established — and she sent me the books to encourage me. I’d lay there and look at the incredible pictures of different chocolates with exotic flavors and beautiful expression and I simply wanted to make those things. Losing wine and cocktails and happy hours I was desperate for something I could call mine. Chocolate — the idea of it anyway — became “mine.”

Now nearly five years into sobriety my life is rich, full and expressive, in direct contrast to the narrowed, limited and depraved life that came at the end of my two-decade long dance with the bottle.

Here I sit on the other side of those perilous mountains of recovery that I simply couldn’t imagine crossing and life is good. EffinArtist is more than I ever dreamed it would be. Life is too. Health is great. Creativity is the key to sobriety. Blessed, I think daily. Blessed.

But those original pictures of chocolate art remain beyond reality and it’s time to change all that, I think.

As the test kitchen evolved, we went where our interest took us and so far, most of our chocolate remains entirely experimental and not very artistic at all.

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This summer we resolve to return to the original mission for a basic reason: A piece or two of beautiful, hand-crafted chocolates satisfies on so many levels: artistic expression, sweet tooth cravings, but also maintaining a healthy approach to food. And because it’s not easy, we have the blessing of Jimmy Dugan, and the interest to see it through.

 

Happy hour

For more than a decade I lived for happy hour. What followed wasn’t always so happy. Now I have a new definition of the term. It doesn’t suck:

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And this cookie doesn’t either. Man o man…. If I could paint, I’d have painted that cookie.

Life is so Effin beautiful.