Monday, March 30, 2009

Thomas Merton

The whole problem of our time is the problem of love. How are we going to recover the ability to love ourselves and to love one another?
-Thomas Merton

Modern dictatorships display everywhere a deliberate and calculated hatred for human nature as such. The technique of degradation used in concentration camps and in staged trials are all too familiar in our time. They have one purpose: to defile the human person.
-Thomas Merton, The Living Bread

Life is not attained by reason and analysis but first of all by living.
-Thomas Merton.

Anne Lamott

Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don't give up.
-Anne Lamott

Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor.
-Anne Lamott

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Quotes About Writing

You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.
-Ray Bradbury

Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.
-E.L. Doctorow

A word is not the same with one writer as with another. One tears it from his guts. The other pulls it out of his overcoat pocket.
-Charles Peguy

I would hurl words into this darkness and wait for an echo, and if an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight, to create a sense of hunger for life that gnaws in us all.
-Richard Wright, American Hunger

If there's a book you really want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.
-Toni Morrison


For under the language to which we have been listening all our lives, a new, a more profound language. . . offers itself. It is what they call poetry. . . .[And] it is that, we realize, which beyond all they have been saying is what they have been trying to say.
The Practice, in The Doctor Stories
-William Carlos Williams

Courage and Humility

We are a nation of tinkers and salesmen! When we muster the courage and humility to go deeper, that's when we find the real gold!


Taming the highs and bringing up the lows is a never ending challenge for the bipolar bears. Lately I have discovered that a long walk (like 6 miles) is perfect. I tried dancing wildly and swimming vigorously, but I got so high on endorphins I couldn't come down for hours and sometimes days. That is no longer appealing to me! Now I have something to protect; my sanity, my concentration, and my work. Walking my dog for a few hours is perfectly tame; it's a gentle lift for depression and a perfect grounding for the seasonal highs. I breathe fresh air appreciating the rhythm of walking, my muscular legs at work, and I enjoy looking at everything and greeting passers-by. Every day Lily and I walk a different route!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

New House

Four times a year I have a profound shift in mood and energy and perspective. After four decades of thinking I am to blame, I cause it, it must be something I'm doing or not doing, eating or not eating, I realize that I have a splash of the bipolar. I tell my unipolar friends you are so lucky because once you move into your house you can settle in. My house shifts every ten weeks, like a college semester. My theory is we all have a bit of it because it is related to the seasons and the light - we are animals after all. But the survival of the syndrome in humans may be because it is important and useful to be blessed with this kind of mind. We all know the drawbacks, but I'd like to talk about the gifts.

I keep a calendar and a daily journal to track the ups and downs. I have become a writer, athlete, musician, painter, cook, and mother of dogs in the process of tracking this. I try to warn my friends in advance that I have two houses. When the flat gray sets in, I begrudgingly set up shop and get accustomed to my state, and then weeks go by (ten weeks to be exact) and swoosh and whoosh the cyclone hits and like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz I wake up with an "Oh" and realize I'm not in Kansas anymore, for a little while at least. Nonetheless I am too much for most people on either side! It doesn't matter. I am a writer and a painter and a musician, that's how I make my life, my living, and fill and fulfill my time.

Right now I am at my desk, the sun is rising, the birds are singing, I got up at five thirty and was ready for life and the day! Just a few weeks ago I was the opposite. Today I know I must not skip my walk or drink too much coffee, must keep the balance and harness this energy! I use this energy to write and paint and walk for miles and take notes . . . oh, and get dog food and apples, and photograph the building being torn down downtown, and practice my bari sax, and maybe bake a pie and write a few letters . . . are you laughing yet? My mind is faster than my actions, but I can try to line them up. The goal is not to undo the cycle but to be in balance, to use this delicious machine, these muscular legs, this wild imagination!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

New Moon

New Moon,
Old Self.

The Kindness of Strangers

Yesterday it was freezing in the house and sunny and windy outside. I spent the morning mesmerized reading a friend's manuscript while wrapped in my fleece blanket. Lily was whimpering to go for her walk. Finally Lily and I set out and I got warmed up from walking. We really got cooking on our loop around the city. Then what often happens on a long walk, I had to pee. I met two public works folks raking the baseball field opposite the North Smithfield Police Department. They loved Lily! They let Lily and me go into the ladies room in the little building they use as an office and I was able to pee and get water for Lily. They were so kind and they said come back and visit us again!

Monday, March 23, 2009

City Walking Tour

I just walked all over Woonsocket. It was a mighty grand tour on this cold sunny gorgeous day!! I went from Rathbun to Main to South Main to Niagara Street to Clem Labine Field, up Mt Saint Charles and down, over to Hamlet Ave, to Cumberland Hill and finally back home.

The amazing curved brick mill building on Hamlet Avenue is being torn down. It's in the mill complex where the new middle schools are being built, opposite Gian Carlo's and Consumers Oil. Luckily they are keeping the tiny ornate Cashmere building beside it.

At Saint Anne's parking lot I saw spot lights and film trucks and a catering truck. A pilot is being made for a TV series called Empire State, about a family feud in Manhattan (real estate vs. lawyers), filmed here in our little Woonsocket!!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Great Equalizer

Years ago I complained to my doc about feeling lousy. He said, what's changed? I had stopped swimming. He asked why. Because I felt too bad to swim and then I felt too good to swim. Swim! he said.

I have discovered that exercise brings me up from the mud when I am blue and it pulls me back down from the sky when I am flying. Exercise is the great equalizer, enabling me to find balance. I am trying hard to navigate this spaceship!

Bits of my Morning Walk

The tree fluff is out and I can feel it. My skin is burning and itchy. It's very interesting living on this planet.

There were so many seagulls in the Burger King parking lot it sounded like a day at the beach. They all flew away as Lily and I approached. I also saw a saw a bright red cardinal fly past me into a bush.

The streets of Woonsocket are getting swept up after an icy snowy winter. We can see the sidewalks again. The streets look GREAT. I wish people would break the habit of throwing trash and bottles out of their car windows. We live here! We walk here! Ray picks up the shattered glass, I pick up the paper and plastic.

I saw a guy riding a bicycle while wheeling a supermarket shopping carriage - one hand on each! He stopped every few feet to pick up aluminum cans. Five cents each adds up and he's keeping the streets of Woonsocket clean!


When I was a child our family would take long car trips. I'd sit in the way-back of our big brown Ford station wagon and look at the drivers in the cars behind us. I started to see a resemblance between people's faces and the front grill faces of their cars. This amused me a great deal and kept me from getting bored.

To me, cars have always had faces. We've had some mean-looking cars the past few decades. I'll look in the rear-view mirror and see a scowling SUV trying to run me and my smiling Subaru off the road!

Cars also have asses, which I stare at when I'm at a stop light. Some cars have wide, fat asses, and some cars have tight little asses, some have colorful turned up asses like baboons!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Eat and Run

Lily is so active we keep upping her food to keep her weight on. What an athlete she is! She eats double the amount of what they prescribe for a Great Dane! Lily is all muscle now! Our vet says she is healthy. And freshly bathed we can't stop hugging her.

Lily rarely barks and is not afraid of much. But every time we walk past Colonel Sanders' giant face painted in white on the glass window of Kentucky Fried Chicken she's terrified and barks like mad.

Friday, March 20, 2009

In Russian!

I was just told the book I illustrated, Dreamer from The Village; The Story of Marc Chagall by Michelle Markel will be translated and printed in Russian by a Russian publisher.

Happy first day of Spring!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Happy Birthday Lily!

Today, March 19th, is Lily's birthday according to the papers that came with her from the humane society. She is now officially two years old. I gave her a bath this afternoon and she is irresistible and fluffy. She doesn't really like to hop into our empty yellow bathtub but I coax her with a dog biscuit and lift her front legs in and then her back legs. Once she's in the tub she tolerates getting bathed. I use the hand-held shower attachment and make the water warm and lather her up and rinse her off. She especially loves the rub down. We got to have a big walk and she ran in the soccer field before the rain and then at sunset Bill and I played fetch with her in the baseball field. Saturday marks her seventh week with us.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

John F. Kennedy

The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.
-John F. Kennedy

Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.
-John F. Kennedy

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.
-John F. Kennedy

Thomas Merton

Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.
-Thomas Merton

The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.
-Thomas Merton

The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another.
-Thomas Merton

Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony.
-Thomas Merton

The biggest human temptation is to settle for too little.
-Thomas Merton

Bike Path Parade

All in one day: I saw a guy riding an adult tricycle with two toy terriers inside the big wire-mesh basket between the back wheels. I saw a mother wheeling her infant baby in a stroller and a dachshund was poking its head out from the compartment below. I saw a woman wheeling twins in a double stroller and simultaneously walking a pug and a bull mastiff. What a parade!

On The Path

Yesterday we saw an old man and his dog. His dog was leashed with a very long piece of clothesline rope and they walked very slowly across the soccer field, sitting down to take breaks. The man was elderly and his back was quite hunched. His dog looked like a red fox! He said it was part Basenji and that he had adopted him three years ago from the Animal Rescue League in Providence. I told him my first dog was adopted from there, thirty years ago. Our dogs met and played and I told him about the red fox I saw the day before. We talked about the idea of a dog park. He was kind and had an eccentric laugh.

Today Lily found a four inch gigantic dog biscuit in the bushes in front of the Violet Berard Center on Cumberland Hill road. How often does that happen! When we got to the recreation center I decided to pick up a trashed plastic Dunkin' Donuts coffee cup I have passed about 64 times! Then I got on a roll! Next thing I knew I had filled two plastic bags with trash. There were six beer cans at the waterfall so I scooped them and then the waterfall area was gorgeous again. I'm hoping a little bit of clean up will discourage people from littering easily. At least I won't have to pass those same beer cans tomorrow!

On the bike path Lily and I met a tall man with a tiny pug! Lily was all excited to play and they did for a moment. I spoke to the owner about a dog park. So far every dog owner I meet loves the idea!

At the entrance to the wooded area of the bike path I spotted a blue tennis ball, so Lily and I turned around and went back to play fetch on the soccer field. I left Lily's green leash on her while she ran just in case it would help me catch her if she strayed. She went wild with joy running in large clockwise circles. I gave her a treat each time she came back with the ball which was five consecutive times, a record for her! Then on the sixth throw she ignored the ball and remembered the goose poop, but I caught her just in time!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Owl Dream

I dreamt I saw an owl perched on a telephone pole. I did see an owl in our backyard once when we lived on the West End in Providence. I'll never forget it. It looked like a cat with wings. The crows were harassing it so it didn't stay long.


A song is like a dream, and you try to make it come true. They're like strange countries that you have to enter. You can write a song anywhere, in a railroad compartment, on a boat, on horseback - it helps to be moving. Sometimes people who have the greatest talent for writing songs never write any because they are not moving. I wasn't moving in any of these songs, not externally, anyway. Still I got them down as if I was.
-Bob Dylan

I don't know how I got to write those songs. Those early songs were almost magically written ... You can't do something forever. I did it once, and I can do other things now. But, I can't do that.
-Bob Dylan

Monday, March 16, 2009


I was out on the bike path with Lily-dog early this morning and we saw a red fox crossing the soccer field. I bet he heard the noisy sound of Lily's kibble in the Altoids tin getting jostled as we walked. I stopped and slowly walked towards him. The fox looked right at us. He stared and we stared, all of us perfectly still and then he went behind the black chain-link fence and crossed the railroad tracks and disappeared! He must love it here, there's a waterfall of fresh water and many places to hide. Good thing my dog wasn't off her leash and good thing she isn't a fox hound or coon hound, she would have taken off to chase it! He reminded me of a Shiba Inu, or a Corgi. His body was red-brown, the color of burnt sienna. His neck and chest were white. His tail was bushy!

Lily and I walked to the Manville dam, a gorgeous waterfall. Along the way I saw a man wearing a hat and sunglasses walking briskly, carrying a golf club. I knew the golf course was not close by. He was carrying it for protection. He was so frightened that he didn't realize how frightening he was! When I tell people about the bike path they all ask "Is it safe?" On the way home I saw two swans on the river. I was imagining a business that could be called Tandemonium, a tandem bike rental place so people could ride together and not be scared to go on the bike path!

Prison Pup

Yesterday I met a couple walking a little black lab puppy wearing a yellow NEADS vest with their logo. The couple brought him over to play with Lily who is five times his size but they were fine together. During the week the dog lives at the prison in Norfolk MA getting trained by inmates to become a special needs dog. I think dog training is a great idea for prison rehabilitation. Find out more here.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


The kids in my neighborhood spent the winter having fun with sheets of cardboard they dug out of the dumpster. They were playing in the cold for 11 hours a day! They rode the cardboard box remnants like sleds and snow boards sliding down the snow pile into the fenced in icy alley. Who says you need money in order to have fun?

Left or Right

Our friend Hector Lambert told us that when he went on vacation he would load up the car with his wife and kids and drive to the end of the street and he would say okay everybody "left or right" and they would just improvise the whole way. Or maybe they spent the week arguing about whether to turn left or right! I try to be open on my walks and with my writing and my painting and soup making. Because when I plan too far ahead or make rules and expectations I just run screaming into the woods or hide under my bed.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Street Toys

Many of Lily's favorite dog toys are ones we have found in the street; her little brown football, her little plastic yellow ball, her purple tennis ball! Lately she loves playing with this blue and green corduroy-covered cube with a tiny bell in it. I found it yesterday under a bush in our yard. When I toss it she hears the faint jingle and she runs and fetches it. So far she hasn't shredded it! I am amazed. I think it was originally a baby toy.


Today Lily and I walked on the bike path to Manville and back home again! It was a joy. Five miles to Manville and five miles back. Sounds like a Country Western song! When we got home I saw a beautiful young black Labrador being walked down our street. I rushed out with Lily so she could meet him. Jake and Lily played for a few minutes and tangled up their leashes! We need a dog park! I've written a letter to the Mayor asking if this is a possibility.

Friday, March 13, 2009


I spotted motion in the big tree outside my office window. When I first looked I didn't see anything so I thought I was just seeing the old wavy glass causing an illusion as I moved my head. Then it happened again and I saw a hawk with striped tail feathers. I watched for a bit and then when it seemed like he was staying put I ran to get Bill. Bill suggested we go upstairs and watch him up close. Lily followed too. The hawk was only a few feet away from us! He was perched on the branch with a starling carcass in his spiny yellow claws. His tail feathers were rocking to keep his balance on the branch. He tugged bloody red meat out of the dead starling's head, chomping down on its little yellow beak. Then the hawk looked up and opened his beak a few times. Bill said he was probably burping! But a moment later he spit out the yellow beak. Then the hawk ripped the starling's black feathers off with a muscular plucking motion like he knew what he was doing. Then he found even more meat to eat off of the tiny bird. I was thinking the hawk looked so well-dressed for such violence! We hunted down our bird book and determined we had just seen a red-shouldered hawk, too young to have his red shoulders yet.

Sinking In

Years ago I used to go into my studio and write letters to people as procrastination and that's how I got hooked on writing. My blog/journal writing is like the verbal version of my sketchbook. I'm sure if I was trying to write a novel it would feel much more like what creating a show of paintings feels like; overwhelming, intimidating, scary. This is why for a while newspaper illustration was such a good fit for me. It was small bites! But don't get me wrong, I want the freedom and challenge of painting it's just much deeper for me and harder for me to make it come together especially now that I have moved up the canvas size. Everything was duos in the smaller size and now they are trios! And my fear monsters and demons are a bit larger too!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Irish Weather

I was excited to wake as the day was brightening. It seemed as though my abdomen could feel the dawn. I always know I'll be in a good mood when I wake up this way. I hopped out of bed and saw that it was gray and wet out. I heard dripping sounds but it wasn't actually raining yet. It was Irish mist. I jogged with Lily over to drop my book in library drop-box and then we headed over to the bike path. At the intersection I ran into my dog loving neighbor and I made Lily sit rather than jump on him. It worked! I was able to reinforce the command with my Lily-the-Lion tamer kibble bits I carry in an old Altoids tin. I am starting to love walking along the big open soccer field and going by the little waterfall. The open expanse of land and sky feels more like the Midwest rather than the middle of a little mill city in Rhode Island. On the path I heard a bird song I had never heard before. I stopped to listen and look. I could see the gray and white singing bird in the bare tree. He was tiny. Lily and I walked up to where the water treatment plant and the railroad tracks and a residential street all meet. I saw an older couple enter the bike path, each carrying folded-up umbrellas. As they approached us I made Lily sit. They smiled. I was glad to see other people not dismayed by the weather.

As I was walking back I was thinking that I wish I could step back into time and meet Hieronymus Bosch. I tried to imagine what it would be like to visit him in his studio. I imagined cats and dogs, and buxom women gathered at a table with hunks of cheese and meat and a jug of red wine. My picture was completely cliche and cinematic and romantic, of course. I'm sure Bosch felt the same struggles and agonies we all feel trying to make paintings. But he kept making them! He didn't have the Internet to distract him but he probably still had to fend people off and wrestle his inner demons to get his work done. Maybe he worked at night and slept during the day. I imagine he had a community of artist pals cheering him on and feeding him. He must have! What was his mother like? An angel or a witch?

When Lily and I walked back to the soccer field nobody was around. I decided to let Lily off the leash. She joyously ran in a big circle top speed at the corner of the field! I hunkered down and slapped my thighs encouraging her. She ran a fast circle three more times, her beautiful muscular body flying through space like a star athlete. I could tell she loved it. She was doing her dance of pent up exuberance! When her attention wavered I got her to come and sit and I gave her a treat. We practiced the sit, stay command, the one where I place her, then back up and call her. Then I let her poke around loose some more. She ran ahead and when I called she didn't come because she had discovered a new treat; goose poop! I ran towards her yelling "Lily come!" I was getting a little nervous. When she saw me coming she started gobbling up the green goop at top speed like she was loose at a royal banquet. She ran from one fresh green goose pile to the next, moving away as I approached her. Finally I got on top of her and hooked her up. While crossing the field I could feel the water filling up my sneakers as I was sinking into the wet warm mushy mud.

I told Bill about my adventure and he reminded me that all of our dogs, though well-trained, have had a point where their attention would shift and they would revert to being wild and free beasties! We just have to try to pay closer attention and try to catch them before that point.

I put on dry socks and shoes and had hot tea which tasted exceptionally good! My bread is rising extremely slowly next to the not very warm boiler. I've got beans simmering in the oven. It's raining now and I am so grateful for my good mood.

Why Is Painting Hard To Do?

Why is painting hard to do? I've been ready to ask a friend to keep me at my easel with a gun to my head to make me push on and work past the fear. Maybe I should try chocolate as a bribe instead. Actually I would prefer asparagus and olives and marinated artichoke hearts and brie!

Hey, the asparagus, olives, artichoke and brie bribe!

Painting is so hard. But maybe I am being too wimpy. I try to tell myself I must endure the struggle, develop stamina both physical and mental, and to make the habit of transcending the fear and distractions.

My painter friend Rich says that painting is EXTREME solitude. He's right. Maybe because we have to visit another planet, one that has not much connection to this one, and it gets invented and destroyed as we make the voyage. He said painting would be easier if it were just something to do, not an overwhelming necessity. But we wouldn't paint UNLESS it was an overwhelming necessity. It's way too scary. Blessed and cursed by the paint. I have tried to run from painting many times and I do when I am too happy and can't sit still, but the need to paint calls me back!

Last Friday I invited my pal Susan to come see my many starts and a few finishes. She responded in a way that made me realize she is getting something out of my imagery, even more than me! She has a visceral intellectual connection to her eyeballs and a way with words. This is why over the years I have repeatedly called on her.

Lately I am building up my physical stamina by taking big walks everywhere with my big dog, Lily. I like getting strong and muscular again. Maybe it's muscle as mental armor! Bill says, "Just touch the brush." I say okay, Emily, touch the brush for two minutes, and then you can run back out of the room until tomorrow.

I find that playing music with people is a great sister planet to the painting planet.

I just found this quote and I think it describes the painters plight.

There is a muse, but he’s not going to come fluttering down into your writing room and scatter creative fairy-dust all over your typewriter or computer. He lives in the ground. He’s a basement kind of guy. You have to descend to his level, and once you get down there you have to furnish an apartment for him to live in. You have to do all the grunt labor, in other words, while the muse sits and smokes cigars and admires his bowling trophies and pretends to ignore you. Do you think it’s fair? I think it’s fair. He may not be much to look at, that muse-guy, and he may not be much of a conversationalist, but he’s got inspiration. It’s right that you should do all the work and burn all the mid-night oil, because the guy with the cigar and the little wings has got a bag of magic. There’s stuff in there that can change your life. Believe me, I know.
-Stephen King, On Writing

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Woonsocket to Lincoln

I was moonstruck last night. The full moon bounced light off the neighbor's slate roof. While I was awake our new tunes played in my head and I enjoyed listening. Our new dog Big-Lily is a dream. She is a very laid back gigantic Labrador the size of a newborn calf and she is cream-colored. She has natural black eyeliner, a pink nose, sepia eyelashes and expressive tan dots for eyebrows! She plays fetch and then suddenly she decides she is done and if you don't catch her attention shift she will actually let the tennis ball bounce off her head! It's pretty hilarious. I think I actually tired Lily out today on our bike path walk. We walked from Woonsocket to Lincoln. Along the way I spotted two swans on the river.

Monday, March 09, 2009


Just when I thought I was crazy for walking in rainy raw windy weather, I run into my other walking pals.

Getting Out

I have spent the past week walking first thing each day to bring my head up from my mental mud phase. Sometimes the improvement is extremely subtle nonetheless I am grateful for it. There is now a bike trail in Woonsocket a mile from our house. Yesterday we walked over and tried it out with Lily. She is so gentle and sociable when she meets other dogs and people. It's a real joy! When I am feeling mental anguish my favorite thing is to go out walking with Lily and have little exchanges with strangers and acquaintances as I walk through neighborhoods; nothing too deep just a gentle hello. I actually have to avoid deep conversations at these times because I am in too much mental pain but I need to get out and be near people.