Art is Life is Art: Summer Garden

Phlox“My Garden is my favorite teacher.”

~Betsy Cañas Garmon

I was looking through quote sites to find a quote to go along with this poem I wrote a couple of weeks ago and I found my own quote.  Sometimes we need to hear our own voice reminding us of what we already know.  Tending to the garden is tending to my soul.  I’ve been focused on creating books, but I always return to my little bit of earth for lessons and breath.


Summer Garden

Thursday 10 July


Time disappears into droning bees gorging on phlox

A red shouldered hawk kee-aahs claiming territory on a current in the cloudless blue sky

One dry sunflower leaf crunches against its towering stalk



And always the cardinals chirp and the mockingbirds fuss

The hose gurgles in my hand as I pray resurrection prayers over a droopy basil plant

and water my soul with the sounds of summer


Be in your life,



Art is Life is Art: 3:36 am



To be misunderstood can be the writer’s punishment for having disturbed the reader’s peace. The greater the disturbance, the greater the possibility of misunderstanding.

Anatole Broyard


3:36 am

if I whisper words

will you hear them?

if I fashion them



just so

will you understand what I am truly saying?

I have bled into every word

I have saved tears and tucked them into the corner
of every picture that I hand you

I tell stories, speaking softly and slowly
in order to mitigate the drama

because the drama ruffles your feathers
and stops up your ears

so I stop talking

But the stories rumble

and my bleeding heart is impatient
with my whispering concerns over reception

it circles and




until bars bend

and all runs free

I howl and claw

and no longer give a damn if you speak Italian or French


~ Betsy Cañas Garmon


By |2016-10-19T14:20:31-04:00July 3rd, 2014|Art is Life is Art|3 Comments

A manadala for prayer & poetry

Recently attended this conference w/ R and two of the boys.

Mandala for poetry

There were prayers, discussions & questions and a lot of space made for prayers, discussions & questions.

this is your day to explore

bring an Expectant Heart

There were blessings and wise words spoken by David Taylor, author of For the Beauty of the Church. I asked that my copy of his book be inscribed with a pastoral blessing. I confess I’ve re-read the inscription several times.  Blessings are like that… easy to return to, as they give us clarity and gumption.   Wonderful to have poured over our heads or put into words to keep close by.


{May God grant you the grace to discern the specific contours of your calling pastorally and bless you to expand beauty upon the earth.}

Habits define us.

choose and rechoose and rechoose

The evening wrapped up with a poetry reading and some beautiful music; and as is often my habit when listening, I drew.  Anya Silver’s poetry put me in mind of trees with deep roots & the regular things, that in their simplicity, capture hearts.  I came home with a slim volume of her poems called, The Ninety-third Name of God. The impact of these words has been anything but slim…  Attend again next year?  Yes, please.

Mandala for poetry

By |2016-10-19T14:20:34-04:00August 25th, 2011|Art is Life is Art|2 Comments

Art is Life is Art: July – Bird

red bird 490x180

“Every child is an artist.  The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”

Pablo Picasso

When I shared this watercolor WIP with some creative friends, one asked about my process.    These days getting to art is nothing “pancy” as my sweet little Goddaughter would say.  In my world, getting to art is all about carrying a book and catching ideas, then guarding the time to execute said ideas.

Before I share the details of my process,  I have to tell you that my 5 year old niece, Ruby,  is one of my artist heroes.  She makes incredible amounts of sparkly art, full of color and movement, from her window-walled corner table.


She helped me decorate my travel journal when I stopped at her house on the way to London.  {Note the blue squares and gold chocolate wrappers that she glued in the book for me.}


And this past holiday season, she spent some time down in the studio with me playing and creating.

Scanned Image 112290000
It was a delight to watch her work.  She wasn’t worried about how to use materials properly or whether or not there would be more supplies.  She just joyfully made stuff – all kinds of stuff.  She literally hugged her work before during and after its creation.  Even now months later her energy and inspiration still linger in the room as some of her work hangs there and I talk often about her wide open approach.

So, when in the ongoing collaboration with Meghan Arias, we landed on the word BIRD as July’s word, I entered a sequence of thoughts & events that went something like this:

  1. July’s word is Bird… wonder what I’ll post.
  2. I call my kids, “birds”
  3. I call ALL kids, “birds”
  4. When I called niece Ruby a bird, she said, “I’m not a bird; I’m a guurl.”
  5. That Ruby… I love her.
  6. Sentences for poem burst forth into brain.
  7. Run to journal asap and to write words down.
  8. Keep the poem on ice for weeks waiting to paint the perfect watercolor bird.
  9. Kick self into a reality check and just get idea captured.
  10. Put bird with on poem in journal.

My ideal end project is a series of small watercolor paintings that have corresponding poems.  I currently have bits and pieces of poems and sketches for a Morning Bird, a Song Bird, a Wren and an Elusive Bird.  But for now I have a poem and working sketch of a chubby Red Bird.

Red Bird

Ruby eats crayons for breakfast 
and DANCES on a whim.


She reads stories at night 
knowing that she will write her own some day.

She WAVES banners that say 
ARTIST. Dancer. Rubythinker. THE BEST.

She makes declarations that change the world.

She tapes her pictures on the wall; people stop to look and fall in.

She paints flower forests and castles.

Scanned Image 112290001

Her crown is always shiny 
and when she hugs her life and sings her ruby songs

People find their own voices.

Red Bird

By |2016-10-19T14:20:34-04:00August 17th, 2011|Art is Life is Art|10 Comments

From the wild thyme archives: On Grief & Green Play Doh

I dug this post out of the archives; it came to mind as I was reading from Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies yesterday morning – an Ash Wednesday tradition.  {A Nashville friend shared her practice of reading this passage on Ash Wednesday; several years ago, I adopted the practice too.}  I’ve tried to remember what was going on in my world when I wrote this post; nothing comes to mind.  I think I was simply missing my father, who died seven years ago on a sunny day in March.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

gremlin_1Thank you, thank you, to all the lovelies and friends who reminded me that sunshine gets rid of Gremlins. Your emails and words were (are) appreciated.   The overwhelming didn’t eat me!   And a weekend away with Randy opened the blinds all the way.  Rose-filled rooms and chocolates on my pillow helped revive me.

A camera + a mountain drive & my boyfriend = a deep breath X remembering to laugh…


Boyfriend 2

Boyfriend 3

I took the Anne Lamott book, Traveling Mercies, to NC so that we (the book and I) could get better acquainted.  I read  the chapter “Ashes”, over and over again; and I wept in the wee hours of  the morning, as I read the chapter entitled “Traveling Mercies”.  {This is how I know Rands loves me:  He didn’t complain when I poked him awake so that I could finish my cry with a friend.  A connected memory ~ He also used to wake up with me when I nursed babies in the middle of the night.}

The past few days have revealed grief ~  in conversation, in relationships, in books and inside of me too…  Interesting how themes emerge.   I haven’t been on the lookout for grief.  I didn’t decide one day to call a therapist because it was time to do “grief work”.  As a matter of fact,  I thought that I could control how and when we met – that I could make an appointment and meet Grief at the door with a journal of lined paper in hand. I thought that I would go through a sequence of stages and then it would be over.  (and silly me I thought I could ask him to come back another time…)  But Grief didn’t ring the doorbell.  He just walked in the back door, sort of sneaky- sort of not.  Sort of screen door slamming.  Sort of me turning around saying, “Was that the back door?”

Here’s what I read:   An excerpt from chapter 2 “Church, People, Steeple: Ashes” in Traveling Mercies:

Twice I have held the ashes of people I adored – my dad’s, my friend Pammy’s.  Nearly twenty years ago I poured my father’s into the water near Angel Island, late at night, but I was twenty-five years old and very drunk at the time and so my grief was anesthetized,  When I opened the box of his ashes, I thought they would be nice and soft and, well, ashy, like the ones with which they anoint your forehead on Ash Wednesday.  But they’re the grittiest of elements, like not very good landscaping pebbles,  As if they’re made of bones or something.
I tossed a handful of Pammy’s into the water way out past the Golden Gate Bridge during the day, with her husband and family, when I had been sober several years.  And this time I was able to see, because it was daytime and I was sober, the deeply contradictory nature of ashes — that they are both so heavy and so light.  They’re impossible to let go of entirely.  They stick to things, to your fingers, your sweater.  I licked my friend’s ashes off my hand, to taste them, to taste her, to taste what was left after all that was clean and alive had been consumed, burned away.  They tasted metallic, and they blew every which way.  We tried to strew them off the side of the boat romantically, with seals barking from the rocks on shore, under a true-blue sky, but they would not cooperate.  They rarely will.  It’s frustrating if you are hoping to have a happy ending, or at least a little closure, a movie moment when you toss them into the air and they flutter and disperse.  They don’t.  They cling, they haunt.  They get in your hair, in your eyes, in your clothes.
By the time I reached into the box of Pammy’s ashes, I had had Sam, so I was able to tolerate a bit more mystery and lack of order. That’s one of the gifts kids give you, because after you have a child, things come out much less orderly and rational than they did before.  It’s so utterly bizarre to stare into the face of one of these tiny perfect beings and to understand that you (or someone a lot like you) grew them after a sweaty little bout of sex.  And then, weighing in at the approximate poundage of a medium honeydew melon, they proceed to wedge open your heart.  (Also, they help you see that you are as mad as a hatter, capable of violence just because Alvin and the Chipmunks are singing when you are trying to have a nice spiritual moment thinking about ashes.)  By the time I held Pammy’s ashes in my hand, I almost liked that they grounded me in all the sadness and mysteriousness; I could find a comfort in that.  There’s a kind of sweetness and attention that you can finally pay to the tiniest grains of life after you’ve run your hands through the ashes of someone you loved.  Pammy’s ashes clung to us.  And so I licked them off of my fingers.  She was the most robust and luscious person I have ever known.

And here’s what I wrote:

Grief leaps out from behind bushes
that have special place branches
and certain song leaves.

He hides behind trees made of perfume
and blue skies, then jumps out,
squeezing my heart until my eyes water.

green play dohIt all put me in mind of green playdough.  To me, green playdough represents the side of life that eludes our control.  Years ago I walked into a room full of my three small boys and a container of green playdough.  It  brought about one of the most important paradigm shifts of my life.  Watching my children get playdough under their fingernails and in their hair and wondering how making pancakes and snakes resulted in playdough mashed into the carpet left me feeling more than a little out of control and more than a lot furious.  But in that moment,

I witnessed delight and free expression.

I saw a wonderful picture of how messy it can be when people embrace life.

That playdough day was the beginning of a shift – or maybe a returning, because as I recall, I loved mudpies when I was a little girl.

Most days I am uncomfortable with mess – especially my own.  It’s why I’ve wanted Grief to stay away.  In part because crying is such a messy endeavor, but mostly because the whole process is unmanageable.  However, I’ve since decided that inviting Grief in for a cup of tea (or a good argument) is probably more prudent than continuing to swallow lumps in my throat.  Besides, I am running out of glue to paste smiles on my face.

When Rands worked nights, there were times when I wouldn’t hear him come into the house.  He would walk up behind me and greet me or reach out and touch me and scare the living daylights out of me.  But after that initial moment of panic, there was a huge relief, when the Oh-it’s-just-you-reality hit.  Grief keeps surprising me, but I am learning to say, “Oh, it’s you.  I’m glad you’re here.  I’ll put the kettle on.”  I think I shall acquire some beautiful handkerchiefs for the occasion.

By |2016-10-19T14:20:37-04:00March 10th, 2011|Art is Life is Art|3 Comments

Lessons from the garden: on brown wrappings

Her:  “Did you consider that it might be protection?”
Me *sniffling* “mmm…what?”
Her:  Maybe there is purpose in that situation ending.

On that day, I just wanted to cry… but yesterday down on my knees, with the damp earth seeping through my jeans, the words of my wise friend echoed in my heart.

It might be protection.

There is purpose.

new mums small

I get so excited for this time of year in the garden ~ the spring clean-up after the fall clean-up.  The fall clean up is a tucking in, but this, this is like opening a package.  Like welcoming a new baby.  Old growth, left for winter interest, is making way for the new. Like a deep breath of air right after it rains; all feels fresh, crisp and clean.

Ubiquitous cup of coffee in hand, I took inventory.

* Leaves & trash out of beds
* Move trellis
* Trim the crape myrtles
* Too much to do in one day, just start…

And then it was time… to tend and be in the quiet of birdsong, earth and thought.  As I gently pushed back crunchy brown leaves to uncover the seem-to-be-dead-but-not-really-perennials, I heard her again, “Did you consider it might be protection?” The wind blew, and I continued lifting leaves, like little blankets, off of the truth that, the scenario I thought was breaking my heart, was simply a cycle.  One that I can welcome not fight.  Situations fall to the ground and feel like death.  The tears are real, but the endings circle around to the next beginning.   I love uncovering the buds and bits of green because it’s like uncovering my dormant heart.  Those little buds infuse me with hope.  “Maybe there is purpose in the situation’s ending.” Maybe, oh, maybe…

new growth small

Winter is ending ~ Spring is coming.

I am new growth in a brown package;
hope wrapped in last year’s fallen dreams.

By |2016-10-19T14:20:37-04:00February 27th, 2011|Lessons from the garden|7 Comments

Behind the pages: A rough draft

Thought I’d share a little of the process on this day.  Today’s morning pages ended with a couple of collages and a poem.  Too often as writers, we hide our first drafts – our disjointed thoughts and not-quite-right word choices.  It’s easy to forget our awkward starts.  Easy to create the illusion of ease in arriving at the end.  On the back of this scrap is a poem.  I actually forgot about the first scribble and started to cut up the words on the back for a second collage.  Ooops.  A little glue and tape saved the day.

The Thoughts

First Draft

I’m all about word pictures and metaphors.  Flowing streams; walls and windows; and birds in flight are all infused with meaning in my world.  Everywhere I look, I see information about how the world works.  As if the universe can’t help but reflect and reveal itself.  So pencils whisper of the trees that formed them and buildings come and go proud, and then aged and crumbling just like their builders.  Today, I am a collage.  Aware of the torn pieces that have come together to make a new life – an artistic expression of forgiveness {and} redemption.

The Metaphor

my brokeness has come together to form the wings that have given me...

...definition and flight

“my brokenness

[misspelled] has come together to form the wings that have given me definition and flight.”

The Poem
I am a woman of words and flight
of transformation and glory
Beauty and grace rise from the ashes
of mistakes and sabotage

I am a woman of words and flight
No longer cutting-anger-of-my-wounds,
but story-encouragement-and-gift
No longer skillful-retreat or running-away-before-you-hurt-me,
but airborne-to-new-destinations

I am a woman of words and flight

By |2016-10-19T14:20:39-04:00September 9th, 2010|Behind the Pages, Journals|2 Comments