Category Archives: Art and Artistry

Hidden Treasure

If everything happens for a purpose then Mira Kirshenbaum offers a fifth reason– the ability to discover buried talents within ourselves which will change our lives for the better. She writes that when we look carefully at the bad things that happen to us, we oftentimes find that a “…talent exists just waiting to be discovered.”

I agree with Kirshenbaum, that is, sometimes, after suffering loss we do become aware of a hidden talent. It’s not the only way to have a special ability come to our attention but there does seem to be a connection between personal loss and the use of a new ability according to experts in the fields of sociology, health, and psychology seem to agree.

For example, the ARTC (pronounced artsy) is a program funded by the Franklin County Children and Families Community Resource Board in Wisconsin. The program offers creative art workshops and seminars to help those with drug addiction. In comparison, the Center for Grief Recovery and Creativity in Wisconsin quote Robert Fulghum, author and Unitarian minister, as one of their guiding principles to recovery. He writes: “I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge. That myth is more potent than history. That dreams are more powerful than facts. That hope always triumphs over experience. That laughter is the only cure for grief… that love is stronger than death.”

Further, the American Psychology Association (APA) found in a recent study that creativity and creative endeavors are part of sustaining a purposeful, wholesome, and balanced life. They also found that creative endeavors are a key or important part of recovery.

SeekLifeOne of the things that I’ve learned over the last 25 years of study about creative endeavors and children’s stories is that stories are powerful because they prepare our hearts to receive a truth. Life truths help us to make sense of things that are perplexing which is extremely valuable for healthy and wholesome living. For example, think of the story that Jesus told his disciples of a hidden treasure that a trespasser had stumbled upon in a field (Matthew 13:44).

In the hidden treasure story, we learn an important life truth: there are times that we feel emotionally, mentally, or spiritually like trespassers, interlopers, or uninvited guests. The familiarity and comforts of home are suddenly gone. Because of loss or grief, we find ourselves traveling through an unfamiliar place; we’ve lost that which is comforting like a family member, job, position, or anything else that had previously helped to define us and who we are; we feel like we are stumbling along without a plan or purpose.

Interestingly, what the hidden treasure story tells us, like Kirshenbaum, is that it is highly likely that despite the feelings of loss and anxiety there is secret wealth placed inside of you by God–waiting to be accidentally discovered. This treasure will redefine who you are (from trespasser to titleholder). And, perhaps most importantly, because it is not a mere distraction, your hidden treasure will redirect your life interests and activities toward recovery and life.

Living Life’s Way in 2014,

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The Power of Forgiveness

LoveWarmsHeartThere’s very few of us who have not thought a lot about some of the ways we’ve been hurt or disappointed. In fact, Mira Kirshenbaum, Everything Happens for a Reason, reveals that anger, guilt, envy, and not feeling safe are all signs that we carry a heavy burden of not being able to forgive—ourselves or others. But forgiveness does not always come easily or quickly because of two key reasons: shame and guilt. And both are the result of a basic need to point an accusing finger at ourselves or someone else.

Kirshenbaum sees our need to blame someone or something as part of our natural perspective in life. She writes: “Part of what can make it so hard for us to forgive is the automatic way we orient ourselves in life through blame. If anything goes wrong anywhere, the first thing anyone thinks about is who to blame… Blame is a very deep instinct because it makes us feel safe.” (p. 111) and, no one wants to feel as if they are constantly living under personal attack.

As I thought about Kirshenbaum’s examples she gives for Reason #4: To bring you to the place where you can feel forgiveness–or, perhaps said differently, to bring us to a place where we can accept the “…possibility there’s something else besides blame…” I found myself asking: What is there besides hate, fear, blame, and the inability to forgive? Are there legitimate reasons to forgive the cruelty of something or someone?

Mira Kirshenbaum offers her readers a spectrum of reasons for putting away finger pointing and accusations. She asks us to consider forgiveness when:

  1. The other person’s cruelty was because “he or she was sick, damaged, or limited somehow”;
  2. We see that the other person has “suffered enough…even if they haven’t suffered as much as we have”;
  3. We realize “we are safe now”;
  4. We recognize that “we don’t want to be the kind of person who doesn’t forgive”;
  5. We find that the other person makes up for what was done;
  6. We understand that “if we don’t forgive, we’re the ones who are hurt the most.”

Life is not perfect and neither am I.  There have been many things and people in my life that were incredibly cruel. There have been many times that my Christian values stood in conflict with my feelings.  As I remain open to God’s  leading, however, I’ve found that His amazing grace helps me to substitute finger pointing with the power to forgive. But forgiveness does not come cheap; it takes great inner strength and commitment. I’m reminded of what Gandhi said: “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”

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The Gift of Life’s Struggles

We are shaped by those people, places, and events around us.

We are shaped by those people, places, and events around us.

Have you ever walked into a room and felt out of place? You experience a feeling of discomfort, look for the nearest exit, and then make a bee-line toward it? According to Psychology Today, you are not alone. All of us desire to feel safe and secure or “at home” in familiar surroundings instead of apprehensive and fearful in unfamiliar places. So what should we do with all these painful or stressful events?

In Part 2 of her book, Mira Kirshenbaum asks us to look at difficult or fearful events and life-long struggles as a gift for many reasons. She believes that these events will prove themselves beneficial if we give it enough time. Among ten explanations, her Reason # 1 is: these events happen in order to help you feel at home in the world. She believes that when the life we are living, similar to a pair of ill-fitting boots, becomes uncomfortable and painful, it is for a reason. The painfulness we feel acts as an encouragement to look for a life that fits who we really are.

Kirshenbaum gives several examples of distressful life events. Among them she describes: a close artist friend (and restless soul) who writes a letter explaining how kidney failure helped her to savor her life despite the physical pain; an orphaned 13-year-old becomes emotionally pained and embittered when suddenly left to the care of an aging stern grandmother; and, a wealthy spoiled young woman who finds herself physically and emotionally imprisoned inside a women’s prison in Central America. In each case, the life ordeal turned each of the individuals into more confident and caring people.

With these examples, Kirshenbaum reinforces that pain and suffering as well as the awkwardness of feeling out-of-place as natural and necessary; it is part of how we learn about the true nature and meaning of life. She writes: If anything about nature is true at all, it’s that the natural world is a place of learning…Valuable lessons are always being learned and there are endless wonderful gifts waiting for us, especially as a result of tough breaks we have to deal with… and this learning gives meaning to our lives (p. 34).

Importantly, Kirshenbaum establishes a spiritual side to life’s classroom. She believes that God’s goodness and presence is ever-present in this learning environment. This belief situates us as living beings of great value and importance as we are called by God to be more, not less of our true selves. She argues that we have free will to choose and that God has “custom tailored” learning experiences as opportunities to choose. These learning experiences result in our being the very best we can be. For Kirshenbaum, Cosmic Kindergarten is a place where we find about our true spiritual nature and develop our abilities to handle such forces as: life, insight, knowledge, faith and love among many others.

I agree with Kirshenbaum’s call for a deeper understanding of life being more than just food, drink, shelter, or clothing. The human spirit is an incredible creation which requires training in recognizing what is good and what is bad. One very valuable way of training is through exercising not only our emotions but our physical senses.

Additionally, her writing made me think about who I am and my own identity. I learned some years ago in a class I took on social media that our identity can be categorized in many ways—spiritually, socially, economically, even psychologically. I discovered we are not out here by ourselves, each of us living in separate untouchable spaces. Rather, everything that happens to us shapes who we are and how we know and interact with each other—every experience, every action, every word, every thing.

My prayer? …that in response to life struggles, all the painful and stressful events… that my choices result in my good and the good of others.

Side note:
As I thought more about the concept of a living spirit in training, it led me to create a 12×12 digital artwork to express the force and shape of this “becoming” a full spirit being. It is entitled: Identity.

I invite you to think about who you are becoming through all of your life experiences, listen for the voice of God’s living spirit, and then celebrate the creative spirit you are becoming.

Living life’s way in 2014,
Mb

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A Father’s Love

“In 1959, my father hung a plaque on our dining room wall. The plaque had a beveled edge and was the size of an unframed 5 x 7 photo. My curiosity was peaked as my father worked away hanging the small plaque in place. I waited until he finished to take a closer look. As I looked up, I saw a painted path with trees and bushes and the words of a poem written on the face of the flat wooden surface in a thin scripted font. The words were simple enough for even a young schoolgirl like me to read at that time. The poem was entitled ‘Be the Best.’ The poem read:

If you can’t be a pine on the top of the hill
Be a scrub in the valley–but be
The best little scrub by the side of the rill;
Be a bush if you can’t be a tree….

It isn’t by size that you win or you fail–
Be the best of whatever you are!

Authored by Douglas Malloch (1877 – 1938), an American poet and syndicated writer, his words resonated within me that day as a youth. Oddly, the poem continued to speak to me over the years, sometimes as a light lyrical heartening tune, oftentimes now in my waning years, as a sobering deeply drawn breath. In the past, I found that Malloch’s words offered a way to make sense of and respond to a world filled with many differing and conflicting emotions.” (Edited excerpt from doctoral dissertation, ML Skiles Buck, pgs. 116-117).

Over the last  years and especially as I began to settle into a new life here in Abingdon, VA, Malloch’s poem about contentment continued for some reason to tug at me. I had earlier taken a closer look at Malloch during my doctoral studies and discovered that he prized nature and the naturalist life. For him profit and productivity existed only in a state where man, acting as an overseer, protected and nurtured his environment.  As I thought about Malloch’s work, I realized that somehow his words had become part of an important process for me, beginning as a young girl and continuing even now as a mature woman. It was part of a process by which I had learned to place a high regard on contentment as a lifelong value—but how?

Earlier this week, I discovered among other things that the word contentment comes from the Latin root –contentus, meaning a state of happiness and satisfaction. Most social psychologists agree that contentment is both an intuitive and natural concept. In comparison, contentment differs greatly from a state of peace; peace is a civil concept and is, oftentimes, hard won. One only has to open a history book to recognize that peace comes at a great and high price!

How contentment develops as a life long value, however, differs from one individual to the next. For example, in my father’s case, I believe that development of contentment as a value began in the Philippines where he was born and raised. Possibly, his father held and modeled contentment as an important value. Perhaps stories were told at the dining room table about a meaningful and content life. For, as my brother-in-law Dan is apt to say, “The fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

I’m sure, however, that the development of contentment in my father’s life followed him here to the States where he and mama raised nine children. And, it necessarily continued to grow as a deep abiding ethical root throughout his 26-years with Bechtel Corporation as an electrical engineer.  And, just as surely, his contentment was likely challenged over and over again as he tried to make sense of life away from his birth land.

Surprisingly, I never had the chance to ask my father what Malloch’s poem meant to him. By the time that I was old enough to form my questions, my father had lost his hearing and become isolated from his family. I’m sorry that I never asked him about the poem, it’s something that I will always wonder about.

For me, contentment developed growing up in a large busy home. As a young girl, I learned to be content with the quiet care that my father showed toward me. Contentment came, for example, when reciting my catechism, he would smile and nod; reading my books, he would read his newspaper; and, waving good-bye as he dropped me off at the bus stop during the week– he on his way to work and I to school. I also learned to be content sitting to his left at the dinner table; bringing him ice tea during the summer that he painted the house pink; and, watching Thursday night boxing on TV together.

As I think about those quiet times, I have to admit that my contentment, of recent, has been sorely challenged. “Change, at best,” a parish priest once preached, “is difficult.” And during a recent time of change, my heart  has felt sore and raw like a stubbed toe or burned finger. But, despite it all, my contentment has never gone missing or completely disappeared. And, I realize now why Malloch’s poem had been tugging at me.

What I’ve discovered is that happiness and satisfaction are nurtured by the simple and ordinary things we do for and with each other. I’ve realized that during those simple quiet times with my father, I was experiencing and learning to value being content. Perhaps, most importantly, I’ve come to understand that in 1959, with hammer and nail in hand, my father not only hung a simple 5 x 7 plaque of Malloch’s poem on the wall of our dining room but he simply, quietly set the value of contentment in my heart, for a lifetime–nurturing and protecting it, as only a father’s love can do.

Happy Valentine’s Day, daddy!

Living life in 2011,

Mb


To access a memorial of Arthur Frank Skiles, Jr., as created by Mrs. Patti Skiles Robinson, please see: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=42407388

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More than a Bedtime Story

“Auntie Lorie?” Said my 5-year-old niece in a somewhat melancholy voice.

“Yes, ma’am.” I responded.  As usual, I had adopted, as a means of role modeling, a respectful and acknowledging response, given my nieces’ age and level of understanding. I had recently observed that Miss Lenzie was growing into the stage of childhood that my mother called “becoming a big girl.”

Lenzie’s understanding of the world around her was changing. She carried a certain growing sense of discernment about things that had been a mystery only months earlier. She knew that a troll did not live in granny’s basement; she knew the difference between make-believe and real life; and, she also knew that she could make her younger brother suffer horribly just by ignoring him.

Of late, I found that her questioning could generally be classified into small, medium, and big inquiries.  A small inquiry required mostly a simple nod or grunt on my part as it usually dealt with food and apparel; a medium question, which addressed comings and goings, needed a more thoughtful and careful response; and, finally, big questions, dealing with life and death issues, had to be handled in a responsible and mature manner.

“Why do you always do that with your hand when you pick things up?” She asked.

The quizzical look in her eyes told me that she needed a prompt and pointed explanation.  She had been very quick to notice the difference between how she used her arms and hands and how I used mine. Her question came as we worked together. I was supervising the clean up of her room before reading her favorite bedtime story aloud. As I bent over to pick up toys and papers from the floor, she noticed that I did things differently than she. And, it wasn’t accidental, as she had observed the same condition earlier that afternoon—a lifeless arm. How was that to be understood?

“Well, sweetheart, Auntie Lorie’s arm is broken.” I explained calmly, “It doesn’t work like it should. And, one arm has to help the other.” I looked to see if the answer of the broken arm satisfied her inquiry. Her question clearly fell, after all, in the big question category. And, this was the first time she asked openly about the lack of strength she plainly saw in her auntie’s right arm. I wondered if I needed to go any deeper into the physiological damage of dystrophy, the doctor visits, the painful tests, the prescribed medications, and the…

“Oh.” She replied. Her tone suggested that she thought it perfectly normal that one arm should help the other.

Adjusting to the full effects of muscular dystrophy as a long-term illness remains an ongoing challenge for me. And, the mental image of Miss Lenzie that night has played itself back several times over the past few weeks. Many medical researchers suggest that just as those of us who suffer a long-term illness require some adjustment, so do those around us. Oddly, I had not given any thought to how a five-year-old would need to make sense of her auntie’s long-term illness. I had been more concerned with how my own daily needs would be satisfied; I also wondered a great deal about my future. Interestingly, Dr. Phil (http://www.drphil.com/articles/article/30) suggests that in the face of long-term illness, we should among other things:

  • Learn to manage the illness
  • Communicate how the illness affects feelings
  • Accept and confront changing personal feelings
  • Realize that the illness can redefine relationships
  • Set realistic personal guidelines
  • Don’t force children to deal with adult issues

And, as the image of that evening relives itself once again in my memory, I have to ask: “Would I say or do anything different?”

Yes, I think so. Knowing what I know now, I would want to stop, put my arm around Miss Lenzie, and tell her: “But it doesn’t keep me from loving you!”  Although I’m learning day by day to manage the physical effects of muscular dystrophy, I realize that I have much more to discover about change and my relationship with others especially those that love and care about me. What I learned that night from my 5-year old niece was the simplicity and straightforwardness she used to communicate her concern. She was willing to ask—why, without shame or guilt. Most importantly, she was prepared to confront the truth of her own feelings. I think I have a lot to learn about long-term illness. Is it possible to have a 5-year-old role model?

Living today,

Mb

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The Salve of Friendship

Did you know that coconut oil as a dietary supplement has many usages? Health care practitioners around the world use the oil as a substitute for butter in cooking and baking. Some practitioners even add the oil to smoothies. Recently, I discovered some of coconut oil’s unstated properties while recovering from a winter’s cold.

A few months ago, my sister gave me a 16-ounce coconut oil jar. The jar was half full. She said the jar was only a sample and that I should rub the oil on my face and hands . The oil would protect me from  a summer sun and skin damage. Interestingly, the container’s label warned the user that coconut oil changes shape depending on the temperature. If above 76 degrees the oil liquefies into a smooth liquid; if below, the oil solidifies becoming more like a cold stick of slightly granulated butter.

Having caught a winter’s cold this last week, I applied the oil as my sister had instructed me earlier on—slathering it about my nose and mouth. The oil relieved the dryness and irritation that came with the overuse of facial tissue. And, it was in this smooth liquefying slathered state that I ran into my neighbor Mandy down at our community’s mailbox.

“You’re not feeling well, are you?” Mandy asked. It was more of a concerned caring statement rather than an inquiry. I wondered if she could smell the coconut oil. Her comment amazed me, however, as I had bundled myself in a knee-length down jacket, covering my head with the coat’s hood. Only my eyes and oil-slathered nose were available for notice. However, since moving to the apartment complex, I’ve come to understand that Mandy has an amazing hawk-like gift of observation.

“Yes.” I replied. “But I won’t get too close to you.” Just then, her cell phone rang. As she answered the call, I opened my mailbox, retrieved my mail, and stepped back while locking my mailbox. Standing in the 45°Abingdon weather, I wondered if any unabsorbed remnants of the coconut oil on my face weren’t solidifying into whitish butter-like globs. Quickly, I waved goodbye saying that we would talk later. Mandy nodded understandingly.

Although no buttery globs materialized, meeting Mandy at the mailbox got me thinking about life, neighbors, and friendships. I’ve discovered that friendship is not a product of human imagination, intuition, or ingenuity. Friendship cannot be bought or stolen. Real friendship is an act of trust on the part of two or more people with the intent of engaging in a caring, honest, and healthy relationship. As I think about the friendships over my lifetime, five words come to mind:

1. Eager. I like a friend who displays a keen expectancy or interest in a shared conversation or activity.

2. Accepting. Also, I like people as friends that hold a balanced regard for my feelings as well as their own. One that respects my life experiences as real—for me.

3. Trustful. A friend should be reliable, strong enough to speak the truth in all things, and has a peaceful inner strength that comes through especially during a crisis.

4. Wholesome. A decent or down-to-earth friend who naturally senses when to give an encouraging word also ranks high on my list.

5. Resilient. Finally, a person, who recovers quickly from a bad situation, to me, is of great regard.

Does a person like this actually exist? I think so. Along with family members, I think some of my neighbors, past and present, fall into this category.

Getting over a seasonal cold is challenging. And, there are several things that can help one recover quickly: Rest, lots of fluids, boxes of facial tissue, coconut oil, and perhaps most importantly, a good friend’s caring remark.

Celebrating today,
Mb

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Professor Sullivan & Dr. Buck–do photography

During my undergraduate college days, I majored in communication and television production. My training included introductory through advanced photography classes. Back then, black and white photography was transitioning from science to an art. At the same time, Kodak, a major influence in the field, was having trouble keeping financially afloat. Despite the competitive registration, increasing cost of film and darkroom chemicals, I followed the call–hook, line, and sinker, and began a new journey of seeing life through a camera’s eye. A journey, which continues to unfold itself today after more than twenty-five years!

The first camera I purchased was a 35mm workhorse.  Manufactured by Pentax, the K1000 was a single lens reflex camera that made a wonderful unique clicking sound when the shutter release button was pressed. It had a manual focus, manual film advance, and manual exposure controls. Its sturdy metal body survived several accidentals drops without needing any repairs. It was discontinued not too long ago, and the company has since replaced the K1000 model with a fully automated digital version. But it was the Pentax workhorse with which I’d won several first and second place photographic awards and recognitions. And, it was this workhorse with which I began a teaching career. I’ll never forget the feel of the camera.

Since the purchase of my first camera, the field of photography has changed. Previously, the image of a photographer was oftentimes portrayed, especially in film, as a solitary figure living life on the edge waiting for that single mystical moment when light and object meet. In contrast to this romantic image, today’s photographer’s concerns can be mind-boggling! A computerized camera now provides precision control over an image’s pixel content. And, with the press of a few buttons or finger swipes, the average consumer can turn an image captured by a cell phone into instant photographic artwork!

However, as hardware and software continually change, I find, that a major challenge to serious photographers remains that of subject selection. New and seasoned photographers are always searching for the unusual or curious object as the center of their focus. To keep their skills honed they must continue to critically question their work by asking such questions as: What makes a good photographic subject? What story does it tell? What story does this subject offer that another can’t? Can some subjects speak more clearly than others to the viewer?

In my recent transition from southern California to Virginia, I had the opportunity to stay at the ranch house of my sister and her husband. The surrounding Appalachian Mountains woo a photographer’s soul. It is easy to see why visitors to the area, are captured by the sights of the hollows, hills, and mountaintops. For me, however, it was something very different that caught the attention of my digital lens. Found in just about every backyard, it was the simple wooden birdhouse that captured my visual interest. I have yet to find any two alike; each one has its own unique story to tell.

To share my newly found interest, you’ll find a brief how-to in photographing a bird’s house, below. In contrast to the romantic image of the solitary figure, this how-to was developed in collaboration with my sister, Professor Sullivan who teaches computer engineering courses at a nearby community college. She is an emerging photographer whose photographic work centers on farm life. The images featured on this page are her birdhouses. We have worked together on several other projects and I think you’ll enjoy the challenge presented here. As always, remember to get permission to go on another’s property. Be sure to take all necessary precautions when attempting any photographic fieldwork. And, perhaps most importantly, invite a friend along to share the fun and excitement!

HOW TO PHOTOGRAPH A BIRDHOUSE

Birdhouses, as a photographic subject, are compelling. These miniature barn-like structures are located around the world. The texture of weathered wood offers plenty of visual excitement. They act as temporary and permanent homes for some of the world’s most colorful birds.

In preparing to photograph a bird’s house, remember to allow yourself time to fully enjoy all of its visual intricacies; there are no two alike. Ask yourself: What is it about the house, which attracts you the most? How does it make you feel? What type of lighting will help to capture that feeling?

Here are three steps to consider when preparing to capture the essence of a birdhouse:

Step 1. Choose your angle. To give your birdhouse a majestic feel, shoot looking upwards. For a simplistic or down-to-earth feel, find an angle where you can shoot looking down on the birdhouse.

Step 2. Choose your lighting. Early morning light has a mystical feel to it especially when combined with clouds or mist. Use a late afternoon sun with strong shadows to capture a more dramatic effect.

Step 3. Choose your distance. Select your position well because it tells your story. Up-close-and-personal allows your viewer to “touch” the elements of your birdhouse and gives a feel of reality. Capture the birdhouse at a distance further away and you capture a larger story giving your viewer a sense of the “big picture.”

Living life in 2011,

Mb

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