I want to tell you something about death

I want to tell you something about death. Death is easy for the living because we can reshape the deceased into whatever form suits us over time. They're not here to argue or prove us wrong. They are only as villainous or as heroic as we imagine them to be. 

We no longer have to consider their opinion, their reality, or their particular subtle truth if we don't want to. They can be reduced to three anecdotes that are retold on occasion. They may be immortalized in the few favorite pictures of them that survived trading hands and decluttering.

They can also be idolized, whitewashed, or simply forgotten.

For the dead, dying is easy because our to-do list is done whether that stuff got checked off or not. The list disappears the moment our brain ceases to give it meaning. Now it's a relic. It's a shred of our life story. 

Dying is also easy for the dead because we finally release the illusion of control. When our hearts are pumping and our legs are carrying us around, we're making decisions. We say "yes," or "no," or "I guess I can do that." We feed the dream that we're in charge of something. 

Dying says nothing. Death is still.

What I really want you to know is about life, though. 

Before we cut ties with the human collective of our lifetime, we mold its culture and its expectations in small ways by saying, "yes," or "no," or "Are you kidding me? We can do better." Complicit silence and inaction is akin to death.

We are our to-do lists, our image, and our choices for however many years our blood circulates. 

Make your list count. 
Make your image true. 
Choose with your beating heart.



Playful Inspiring Art Teachers

You know those long gray winter months when you're stuck inside and your numerous novels-in-progress are piled up in the corner staring at you in judgment? 

It could just be me, but in those times, I either find something to clean or learn a new skill.

I have been devouring classes on line-drawing, hand-lettering, and watercolor painting. I wasn't trying to earn a grade or even make a product. My only goal was to try something new and train my eye.

These are some of the teachers I revisit:

Peggy Dean at The Pigeon Letters

Tara Leaver at TaraLeaver.com

Dawn Nicole at byDawnNicole.com

Zakkiya Hamza at Inkstruck Studio

Torrie at Fox and Hazel

They are, without exception, generous and spirited. They also have a knack for attracting a community of learners to them. Since one of my archetypes is a cheerleader, I have to recognize these people for all the work they do to add joy to the world.

Most of my art is still based on tutorials or derivative, at best, but I love absorbing new terminology, trying new techniques, and occupying my squirrel mind with something productive.

Here is a quote I recently lettered that was inspired by this incredible TedTalk about redeeming Eve.

And now back to fiction - to keep retelling that story. :)

An Open Letter to My Sons

To My Sons,

There's a lot of talk right now about boyhood, manhood, and the ways our society twists those who identify as male, sharpening their primal urges into cruelty and instruments of might makes right.

I'm not going to write about the ways you could fall, fail, and hurt others. It's always a possibility, but instead, I'm going to tell you about the boys and men who have coaxed me out of the place in my mind where men were not to be trusted, as a general rule.

It might help you when people seem to treat you like you've done something wrong, even when you haven't just because you're a young man. It might help you to develop the kind of mindset that guides others out of the place of mistrust.

There was a boy in my fifth-grade class who smiled every time I looked at him. He looked into my eyes and grinned. It made me want to keep looking at him. It made me smile. We never spoke, but he brought me a small gift on Valentine's Day. He didn't ask for anything. He just smiled again. It taught me how simple it could be to communicate. Without a single word, he cemented himself in my story as a person who said, "You're special to me."

Then, in eighth-grade I had a crush on a beautiful boy. He was always better dressed than everyone else. He was an artist and had an ebullient personality. When I confessed my crush to a friend, she giggled and said, "Well . . . he's gay." I was pretty naive, but instead of being embarrassed, I nodded my head as if I'd known all along. Because I understood in that moment what was so magnetic about him. He was so truly himself. He loved being in his skin and it showed.

A couple years later, I had changed. I wasn't naive anymore. I doubted myself at every turn and had begun showing signs of mental illness. In the midst of that, there was a boy in high school whom I hurt. We dated. I moved on quickly. I was caught up in the next thing, never great at communicating, and cut off from my own feelings. But the guy I hurt in high school -he didn't hurt me back. I know that might seem kind of obvious, but he stepped away, and let me go. He honored himself and me by doing the only rational thing. 

Then there's your dad, and his dad. If I had to hold someone up and say, "Listen up, young men. This is what being strong and whole looks like." It would be them.

They are dads and husbands. Even when it's painfully dull and repetitive, they engage. They look their kids in the eyes. They fix things with tools and teach you how to cook. They bring food to the neighbors, indulge in hobbies, and are always learning. Their hearts are open. They love to work hard, grow things in the garden, and tell jokes. 

I don't claim to understand how they pulled it off, but if I had to guess, their self-confidence was probably the thing that served them the most.

When a confident, self-respecting man sees machismo in action, they recognize it and don't feed it. It doesn't mean they're never aggressive or competitive. It just means they don't use anger as a tool to control or manipulate. They don't rule by fear. They have healthy outlets and make time to decompress often.

They understand that feelings just are. Stuffing them down, or pretending you don't have them, contorts them into something darker. They understand that we don't live in Sparta. Our time and our society need warriors of a different kind. We need men who aren't threatened by people who don't think like them. We need men who are curious and willing to learn. 

I read recently that while we women have had the feminist movement to teach us for decades that we are enough as-is and how to advocate for ourselves in a male-dominated workplace, there is nothing to teach men how to advocate for themselves without relying on outdated patriarchal domination. When I read that, I thought, "YEEEEESSSSS!" 

That's what is needed. Bridging the gap for men and boys who have only known "might makes right" could go a long way. 

My sons, 

Feelings just are. Talking about what you need doesn't make you weak. In fact, it makes you stronger, and more whole, and more likely to make healthy choices in every area of your life. Not only that, but sometimes not talking is okay. Your opinion isn't the only one. Listen to those around you. Learn things. Teach things. Build things. Fix stuff. Feel your feelings. I love you. Now your job is to love yourself as much as I do. 


A Year in Roses

The previous owners of our house put in a gorgeous variety of plants around the property. We have a peach tree, and cherry blossom tree, and a crab apple tree. There are burning bushes, Bradford pears, dwarf firs, and many others I haven't identified yet.

Everyone's favorites, though, are the rose bushes flanking the deck outside our kitchen. When I trimmed them back dramatically last year, one of the kids cried. It was endearing, and we had a talk about overgrowth and pruning.

Despite the thorny work of keeping them from taking over, they are a constant joy to me.

I've been working on taking better photographs for the last few months, so I have a zillion snaps of our roses in every season. Here are my favorites:

September 5, 2017
I took this photo before I started shooting in RAW format, so it'll stay overexposed

September 13, 2017

September 14, 2017

September 26, 2017

September 26, 2017

October 2, 2017

October 20, 2017
This is one of the first pictures I took that I KNEW was going to be good before I got back inside to examine it more closely. Minimal editing here.

November 9, 2017
Captured the first frost of the year.

December 23, 2017
First Snowfall to Stick

February 21, 2018
Day 2 of a 3-day ice storm

February 22, 2018
Day 3 of a 3-day ice storm

Looking forward to Spring