New York City: Arrival and First Impressions

We’ve arrived safely and I’m thrilled head to toe and soul to spirit to be here. New York has an amazing soul…I can’t put my finger on it but there’s something about the energy of this place that I find very bright and optimistic in a different way than anywhere I’ve ever been. In California the quality and quantity of light inspires optimism. The expanse of sea and the vibrancy of the colors breathes relaxation and playfulness and freedom. But here it’s something else…as if New York City holds in a condensed moment of history and humanity, all the energy of myriads of people’s hopes and dreams for a new and better life.

So much more to ponder and explore on that topic…

After a genuinely pleasant flight on Jet Blue (they really do have more legroom in coach than any other airline), we landed at JFK airport. It being late and having baby Aaron in tow, I took a cab over to Brooklyn. From the taxi window I could see the skyline of Manhattan. In the late autumn night the lights look cheerful and orchestrated. And I found myself pondering the way nature had prepared the land where those steel giants rise–a basin of ancient, once-molten rock lies under much of Manhattan. By night as the city lights glitter, the man made marvels seem a fitting tribute to the earth that undergirds them. And then I see the Empire State, and remember that the Twin Towers are no longer present, and consider how vulnerable we all are, as humanity, as fellow creatures living upon this earth. This great city built upon tough metamorphic rocks can be wounded, too.

From a fleeting glimpse through the taxi window I saw her–the Statue of Liberty–for the first time. Like the Manhattan skyline she was lit up for her evening appearance. Even from this rapid, distant vantage point I found myself moved. Lady Liberty…what a symbol for a city. No wonder I am moved by the soul of this place. Many cities I have visited have a masculine symbol, but not here. Which is interesting if I think about it. New York can appear so harsh and jaded and fast paced and no-nonsense. But it also has this maternal, graceful, regal femme symbol that is known through all the world. It’s like a picture of human ambition (the energy of the skyscrapers, the commerce, the buzzing punctuality, the strength of ideas) converging with mercy (the emblematic welcome to immigrants, the hopes and dreams of mothers and fathers, families and cultures). Fascinating.

My brother- and sister-in-law live in a charming brownstone in Brooklyn. Built in the 1920s, it has gleaming wood floors and many small rooms adjoined one after another. Within it feels surprisingly spacious, for the ceilings are high and the doorways are mostly double-wide (in bygone days there must have been French doors dividing the main rooms).

After I arrived we spent time watching our sons get to know each other. Aaron mostly scampers about after Sam, who is 3. Nathan who is Ben’s brother is a programmer for a design firm and Rebekah writes Young Adult fiction. I know it’s going to be a wonderful five days here.

It’s past midnight New York time. Everyone, including Aaron, is asleep. Except me, and I shall soon follow suit.

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October Brings Good News: 6 Reasons to Rejoice

Six things have happened since Rosh Ha Shana that give me good feelings about Hebrew year 5773:

1 – I started an Artist’s Way group with about 10 phenomenal women.  We meet downtown Laguna on Monday nights and each week I am amazed at the depth, courage and wisdom of these gals.  What’s more, I cannot wait for their creative endeavors to succeed:  we’re talking about original novels I would want to buy and read, a book of contemporary etiquette/cooking that re-invites sociability, a body of art using raw linen dyed in fantastic designs, a narrated collection of original photographs of Paris, and so on.  This is what Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way says about creative circles:

Artist’s often help each other.  We always have, although mythology tells us otherwise.  The truth is that when we do, very powerful things happen (p. 220).

2- I’ve begun a business plan for something I’ve dreamed of.  Something I went to Harvard to try to learn more about how to do.   I know it will come forth at its proper time and my heart is aflutter with its possibilities.

3- With the income from the Artist’s Way group plus some amazing discounts provided by my hero of an older brother (a tech support genius for Apple), I have a new laptop which I am at this moment utilizing with great alacrity.

4- We finally acquired a car with 4 doors!!!! No more backbreaking bending and twisting to toggle the increasingly heavy baby’s carseat into the back of our Scion hatchback.  Hallelujah!

5- The baby has learned to feed himself with a spoon.  This may not seem very important, but aside from being hilarious to behold (think pin the tail on the donkey…where is my mouth?  Sweetie pie, it’s not on your head. Nope, it’s not on the brick wall behind you either. There you go, open wide, bingo!) This signifies a growing trend of happy appetite from my hitherto reluctant consumer of solid foods.  The future prognosis: fuller tummy = longer periods of rest; mommy and daddy may once again know the pleasure of a full night’s uninterrupted sleep.

6- Aaron and I are going to New York City! I’m jumping on the band wagon of a powerful art opening to be installed by my painter friend Lisa Rainey and curated by former senior editor of American Artist magazine, Allison Malafronte.  This show, called Converge, is probably one of the most important exhibitions of the decade.  I feel dizzy in the strength of intuition’s pull that I go and be part – and for the wonderful opportunity to see my sister in law, author Rebekah Faubion, as well as Aaron’s uncle Nathan and cousin Sam, my college friend Mia Hall, and to meet up with Laguna’s own Sandra and Natasha Weir on the East Coast in fall glory.

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There is this amazing girl who I met years ago through an Artists Way group hosted at Rainey Fine Art Gallery. Jennifer Tenace is her name and her soul is deep and lovely. She’s living down in Chile as an English language teacher, and always, seeing the world through her unique lens as an honest, open, artistic soul. This post speaks to me and anyone I think who is finding that the real “groove” of life is finding ourselves ok with just being ourselves and receiving what life has to give us. Enjoy!

Chica Tranquila

Okay, so I’m really struggling to keep up with this blog and I can’t figure out why.  I love to write and I want to continue it.  But why can’t I make it come together as easily as it did, say, 6 months ago?  Every time I sit down to write, I find myself remembering to do things like pay for my storage space or worse…I dedicated an hour yesterday to skype Sallie Mae about my student loan payments….not to mention relentlessly checking the latest Facebook posts and finding new things to like.  Still, I am insistent on getting one more blog post in by June (and that leaves only one more day!).

I guess without being self critical (as I could call myself lazy)…I like to think that my circumstances have changed a lot from when I began writing on here.  Last year I suspect I used it more…

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Beating the Heat

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September is a playful month. It presumes to promise Fall-the cool, crispness of air, the fresh unfolding of a new school year. Rosh ha Shana being around the corner I am amped on this season and the sense of new beginnings held out like a crisp green apple dipped in honey. Except that for days now September has played me for a fool!

Today Ben and I grabbed baby Aaron and drove to San Diego. It’s become a little ritual for our anniversary. Go south and buy a special piece of art or pottery from an artists village in Balboa Park. But we were unprepared for the hundred degree weather and the dearth of shade. Our picnic melted and we hung out in the air conditioned art museums.

Still, art was found. We bought some small, incised cylindrical vases from a favorite potter named Doug Snyder. And I found fresh inspiration in a Russian born painter, Igor Koutsenko. But the best art was the conversation – with Ben as we drove, sharing our artistic goals for the coming year – and once home, with the baby. Ok, the baby doesn’t talk yet in the grown up sense, but he’s very conversational. He wanted to draw and make a tent out of a giant brainstorm page I made. So out come the crayons and in comes the fullness of fun. Leave it to the baby to help me get my art supplies out and begin to draw!

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The Secret Place

When I was 10 or so I had this Asian-American friend named Bevin Lin. She was spunky, clever and brave. With her sleek black hair in a side ponytail, she was high style in the early nineties. Bevin and I had an obsession back then with finding and creating a special hideout, a secret place. We rode our bikes along the paths that flanked superbly boring stucco houses and it’s a tribute to the power of children’s imaginations that we were able to “see” these paths as as anything other than what they were. To us they were intricate and hidden, leading to mystery. We even made maps to our secret place. If I remember right our maps had something to do with the order in which we crisscrossed this or that cement walkway in order to unlock magic and take us to our secret place.

We never really discussed what was so important about this secret place. It was somehow a given. A place where we could be close to home-very much at home-and yet in a world apart. A place that would declare our pact of friendship and also provide solitude and scope for our imagination.

We never quite succeeded in finding this secret place but the act of looking thrilled us both. It was like the very fact that two of us together were seeking such a place proved that it existed. It wasn’t just my fantasy or Bevin’s. We both believed in the quest.

This afternoon while strolling little Aaron through shaded sidewalks I got to thinking about how the childhood urge for a hideout is present in the adult psyche. It isn’t to my mind the need for escape so much as a longing to go somewhere where you can tune out the world and tune into your own stillness. No, more than that. The secret place is about finding stillness and adventure. It’s a place you go to allow nature and heaven stir you, safeguard you, identify you and send you on your mission. Its the place where you can let heaven and nature sing to you in a mysterious, only-for-you-way. A place where you pause to listen with all you have. Like Bevin and I with our bikes and our maps, daring to believe in the magical other side of a beige apartment complex.

In my childhood brain magic was like another word for Heaven. Something magical encompassed all
the stuff that transcends this world and yet exists parallel; the infinite and the peculiar; where everything wonderful, amazing, awesome and beautiful originates. Invisible but utterly real, and just one imaginative thought, one hands’ breadth, apart.

When I was in my early twenties I used to go for these long morning runs I called “chasing the dawn”. As I put on my sneakers my eyes were on the sky. My course would be determined by where the morning light was leading. I was driven to find a place of beauty, where I could watch the Creator’s canvas unfold. Running toward a prime vantage point for the split second euphoria of light and color that is otherworldly. I would watch as up over the mountains peeled the sun, and in an instant, the spectacular exhibition was done. Daylight. A new, fresh morning. But on such mornings it felt nothing close to mundane. Now my eyes have seen-however brief and flickering-this touch of Heaven’s wand. I saw the magic. Even if no one else did. This was my secret place.

Now my life is so altered. I don’t have the liberty to run at the cusp of dawn. But still I hunger for the essence of the Secret Place. The place of tryst with heaven and nature.

It does exist. I catch glimpses here and there. Like the view, from the office/nursery window, of a magnificent tree that claps its thousands of hands when the wind blows through. Or sometimes it is the window into another world offered by the paintings that adorn our walls. Some days it is the corridor between two bookshelves in the local public library, where hundreds of adventures beckon from the stories they hold. I am grateful. Grateful that, as an adult and a mother now, the secret place is still only a handbreadth away at times.

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Hopeless?

It’s unclear to me whether creative types (artists, writers, musicians and so forth) are more susceptible to self-criticism, depression, etc., than other sorts of people.  What is clear is that the inner critic is never more ready to pounce on my day than when I’m about to do something creative with my time.

It’s mid-day on a fresh, breezy Saturday.  I am in my swimsuit and a skirt (we went to the beach this morning) preparing to work on a canvas I’ve started.  A pretty big one.  Maybe 3′ square.  The composition is sketched out and I’ve applied the base color layers. The subject of the painting is a sequel to one I made in 2009 with me and Ben and Santa Barbara in the background and all of these magical goldfish swimming through the sky.  In the new painting Ben and I are actually inside a giant fish, swimming through a dynamic sunset over our city, Laguna Beach.  (We recently moved back to the city where we met and fell in love.  A city I’ve wanted to settle in since the moment I laid eyes on it.  It’s marvelous here). 

Before I get to work though, I find my thoughts heavy.  You know, the kind of thoughts that weigh you down with accusation.  You’re no good.  You are so selfish, rude, bad-mannered…you are hopeless!  Ugh.  What a weight of doom.  On a bad day, a day when my cumulative sleep-deprivation from hungry-at-night baby has not had respite, I’m not too great at extinguishing this ill-speaking blaze.  There are days when it goes from tiny spark to a forest fire in the soul and I let myself get burned by the inner dialogue.

But not today.  It occurs to me that these thoughts are very likely not healthy and certainly not helpful.  I do wish I were more unselfish, modest, well-mannered and more of a listener than a talk-your-head-off chatterbox.  However, there is a mustard seed of faith in me that tells me I was born for better stuff than this negative thinking.  So I am sitting at my computer and opening a small Bible with this really cool magnetic cover on it.  Here’s what I see: (and this is my “heart” translation – not the literal text, but I think it is accurate):

Psalm 39:7

The hopelessly selfish earthling asks: “So, LORD, what hope do I have?”

The Wonderful Creator answers: “Me. 

I’ve got your back.  I’m not ashamed of you, even when you behave badly.  I get you and I like you.  A lot.  Don’t worry.  I really AM your hope.  And anything and everything good in you comes from Me.  Just dial in.  I’m your Hope and I’m your Source.  My love is the ‘beauty that fills all spaces.’  My love in you is stronger than your human weakness. And if you let it, My love can pour out of you and touch others’ lives.” 

Pfew.  What a relief.  Now on to my painting.  And for the record G-d, thank You.  You really are the best Counselor in the whole universe.

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Beauty Fills All Spaces

This post is a direct steal from my brilliant mother, watercolorist Bobbi Boyd, who wrote the following in an email this morning:

Today I read in ‘The Art Spirit” by Robert Henri, and something that caught my attention:

“Beauty is an intangible thing; can not be fixed on the surface, and the wear and tear of old age on the body cannot defeat it.

Nor will a “pretty” face make it, for “pretty” faces are often dull and empty,
and beauty is never dull and it fills all spaces
.”

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Where is beauty in your life this day? In the color of water or the gleam of someone’s smile? There is so much beauty all around us; the best kind is discerned first in the heart and only later by the eye and by intellect.

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Write Now

Write now
Before the tide of joy subsides
Before the voice recedes because you choose
Not to believe
Stop making excuses
Just for ten lines
Make believe
that you are of a unique wonderful weave
knitted in secret, in the deep places of your cells
and render true words that make light
of fear and self-rejection and the tender sad way of lethargy
Right now just write
before you say goodnight
and may the dreams you dream speak speedily
of love and hope and danger
on the other side of excuse
you have nothing to lose

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Four Weeks in Florence

I’ve moved to Italy!

Well…not exactly, but Ben, Baby Aaron and myself have rented an apartment in Firenze for the month of March 2012, and I’m currently writing from there.  For the next 30 days or so I’ll be working through a new blog: Four Weeks in Florence.  Please do check it out and sign up to “follow” via email if you’d like to get regular updates.

Ciao!

Gnocchi and Valentines

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Valentines Day.  Most people take firm sides of either loving or hating this classic holiday.  I’m one who falls massively on the love side of the scale.  A whole day dedicated to expressing affection! What could be more ‘Becca-like?  As a kid I delighted in the endless pile of tiny envelopes you got to open, always hopeful for the ones containing a foil wrapped chocolate or powder coated message-candy.  And while I greatly admired my classmates who managed to make 31 handmade valentines, the store bought variety with Winnie the Pooh or Snoopy or Cinderella handing out hearts and balloons were just fine by me too.

This year I think my delight meter burst in the red over St. V’s day…not surprisingly the Bebe had some part to play.  But actually the most expansive part of this past Tuesday was that several people–old friends from college, my dear Mummy, gals from my Bible study group and my former boss–all made efforts to say hello and express love in some special way.  It was like a grown-up version of what I so enjoyed in elementary school: Valentines Day is for everybody, not just lovers.

Of course the romantic, make-sure-you-have-a-date pressure of Valentine’s Day can be a major drag.  When you are single, V-Day can feel like the day of dire desperation or sinking cynicism. One year I got so befuddled I actually tried to find an ex-boyfriend who had since moved to New York to pursue acting, and ended up leaving a needy-sounding message on the machine of some dude with the same name.  Yep, that was me.

What I decided to do this year was surprise my husband with a home-cooked dinner and an intriguingly romantic and creative atmosphere.  So I made meyer-lemon gnocchi (from scratch no less!) while baby sat in his bouncy seat wondering what I was up to.  And Ben surprised me with a hand made garland of origami hearts, each one containing a promised outing, adventure, or gift.   Smashing dahling!  This is a year to remember!

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