Monday, September 18, 2017

#SOL17: Healing with Art

 Call and the Birds Will Come


A friend, Heidi, recently returned to school to study art therapy. I was delighted for her as this seems like a very good fit. I have no doubt she will be terrific. Thinking about art therapy led me to also think how for the last 19 months I painted most every day and in doing so I began to heal.

As some of you have remarked, the last few months black birds seem to have flown in and out of most of my paintings.  Another art friend, Jim, asked today why there were birds in so much of my work. I told him I was not completely sure why the birds are flying in and out, but I feel better knowing they are there. I also realized that the last section of the memoir I am writing has the subtitle, Wild Birds Rising. I suspect there is a connection. Perhaps the birds are spirits.


A few weeks ago, my friend Jane's sister, Susan, died. The birds showed up again in force right after her death.  I didn't realize until this evening that her death affected me.  For the last two weeks I have been feeling down, revisiting the sadness I felt months after Rob died. Susan was three months older than Rob. Both were far too young to die. Last year, I spent a week with Susan in North Carolina at the beach and the beginning of August I had the opportunity to visit with her while I was in North Carolina taking an art class. Some people I've know forever and others have come in and out of my life briefly and yet profoundly touched it.  That was the kind of person Susan was.  She profoundly touched lives by simply being herself.

Some days I think the birds are those spirits that carry away pain. Some days I think the birds are the departed who find ways to wing back to this world.


For me, painting reveals new ways of naming and feeling--ways I am often not aware of in a codified manner.

I sense knowing. '

Edward Hopper explained how the language of art opens us in ways that words simply do not.  He wrote, “If I could say it in words there would be no reason to paint.”

Here are a few of my new paintings.

How I See You (acrylic, collage, pencil, Tombow markers, gesso, digital remix)

Prayer  (acrylic, Tombow markers, pencil, digital remix)

Through a Window (acrylic, gesso, pencil, digital remix) 

Tangled (acrylic, ink, pencil, digital remix) 

Self Portrait  with Black Birds (Photograph, paint, transfer, acrylic)

A few art therapy links (Activities and books)

Here's a link to 100 Art Therapy exercises. Does anyone want to take some of these on? I am going to try to work my way through the list.

Here are 20 art therapy ideas that also looks good.

Art Heals: How Creativity Cures the Soul

Imagination in Action: Secrets for Unleashing Creative Expression

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

#SOL17: A Crazy Woman in Ringwood, NJ

Last night my son and I were coming home around 9:30 and a car coming off an Interstate pulled in behind us and talegated our car for the 15 minutes it took to arrive at home. We live at the end of a dead end street and the car not only followed us up our long hill, but also drove right in behind us in our driveway. I got out of our car and approached the two-toned sport utility vehicle, like a Suburban, to ask if the driver needed help. A woman in her 40s or 50s was driving.

"Do you need some help?" I asked, approaching the front passenger side of the car. The window was opened and I could see the driver quite well.
"Who is in the car with you?" she asked aggressively.
"Who are you and why are you in my driveway?" I asked.
"Someone in a car like that destroyed my property."
"My son is in the car. We did not destroy any property." By then, Devon had also gotten out of the car.
"Oh, I see his face. That's not him," she said contritely.
"Are you crazy?" I asked.
"I'm sorry I bothered you," she mumbled.
"Lady, what you're doing isn't simply a bother. You pursued us. That's aggressive and wrong."
Devon and I watched her back out of our driveway and then I went inside to report the incident to the police. 

It was disconcerting to have some crazy woman pursue us with the aim of confronting us about something we knew nothing about. What's very odd though was that it was a chance encounter, given that she had just come off of a highway and that is how she ended up behind us and we were miles from our home. Also, my son drives a very common car, a black Ford Fusion, hardly a unique car.

It made me wonder if Devon and I needed to fear having her return during the night, but I decided not to get caught up in this woman's craziness. I did call the police and reported what I knew and gave the dispatcher my home address. The encounter also made me wonder about the vigilante sentiment that Trump and his followers seem to embrace. Is this part of making American Great Again? Vigilantes driving around the streets? How bold and foolish this woman was to drive down our driveway. How entitled she seemed to feel and certainly acted.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

#SOL17: Saying No to Best Practices

(M.A.Reilly, 2017)

I woke up this morning and realized that I am tired of best practices. In education and otherwise. Every fall with the startup of school comes the ads, tweets, and posts for best practices of this and that. It's like some absurd Seuss riddle and frankly it is well past time to say no to the whole idea of a best practice in learning. It cannot exist. The logic is flawed.

To me the use of the word, best, is an example of foolish coding.  Place that adjective before any noun and it is likely an invitation to think that the matter has been determined. When used in education to connote a practice, it begs the question why someone or group would want to reduce discussion about learning and variables and anomalies. It also belies context. How could any one practice simply be best? For whom? In what situation?

Kurt Godel's Incompleteness theorem told us that best as the exclusive correlative of excellence was simply not possible. There is always that which does not fit neatly within a given set. I wonder if we might do better to consider the exception rather than the comfortable fit? 

Sunday, September 3, 2017

25 Books that Helped Me To Notice

from The Poetics of Space.

I wish I knew you. I wish I could stand for a moment in that corridor of craft and doubt where you will spend so much of your time. But I don’t and I can’t. Eavan Boland, A Journey with Two Maps: Becoming a Woman Poet (p. 249). 

Under my childhood bed were boxes of writing--mostly poems. None survive to this day. On the walls of my childhood bedroom were images I painted. On the radiator were plants. And on the shelves were books. A large part of being a writer is listening and noticing. Below are a handful of books that have helped me to notice differently, listen attentively. Some are fiction, most not.

What books help you live more wide awake?

  1. Bachelard, Gaston. (1958/2014). The Poetics of Space. New York: Penguin Classics.
  2. Bateson, Mary Catherine. (2010). Composing a Further Life: The Age of Active Wisdom. New York: Knopf.
  3. Berger, John & Jean Mohr. (2011). Another Way of Telling. New York: Vintage.
  4. Berry, Wendell. (1996). The Unsettling of America: Culture & Agriculture. Sierra Club Books.
  5. Boland, Eavan. (2011). A Journey with Two Maps: Becoming a Woman Poet. New York: W.W. Norton.
  6. Carse, James. (1986). Finite and Infinite Games. New York: The Free Press. 
  7. Danticat, Edwidge. (2011). Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work. New York: Vintage.
  8. Diaz, Junot. (2012). This is How You Lose Her. New York: Riverhead.
  9. Dillard, Annie. (2013). Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters, Revised Edition. New York: Perennial.
  10. Gaiman Neil. (2013). The Ocean at the End of the Lane: Audio CD. New York: William Morrow. (I could listen to him read for weeks and weeks.)
  11. Heaney, Seamus. (1997). The Spirit Level: Poems. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 
  12. Heaney, Seamus. (2011). Human Chain: Poems. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 
  13. Heat-Moon, William Least. (2012). Blue Highways: A Journey Into America. New York: Little Brown & Company.
  14. hooks, bell. (1997). Bone Black: Memoirs of a Girlhood. New York: Holt.
  15. Kawabata, Yasunari. (1972/2006). Palm-of-the-Hand Stories. Translated by Lane Dunlop. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
  16. Lewis, C.S. (2009). A Grief Observed. New York: HarperCollins.
  17. McCarthy, Cormac. (2007). The Road. New York: Vintage.
  18. Merton, Thomas. (1979). Love and Living. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
  19. Morrison, Toni. (2008). What Moves at the Margin: Selected Nonfiction. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi.
  20. Oliver, Mary. (2006). Thirst. New York: Penguin.
  21. Rich, Adrienne. (2002). The Fact of a Doorframe: Poems 1950-2001 New York: W.W. Norton.
  22. Ruefle, Mary. (2017). On Imagination. Brooklyn, NY: Sarabande Books.
  23. Rumi, Jalal al-Din. (2010). The Essential Rumi. Translated by Coleman Barks. New York: HarperCollins.
  24. Solnit, Rebecca. (2010). A Field Guide To Getting Lost. New York: Penguin.
  25. Whyte, David. (2015). Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words. May Rivers Press: Langley, WA.

from On Imagination.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

#SOL:17: Coming to Know Other through Book Discussions

Utopia (M.A. Reilly, 2012)

"The only true voyage...would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes, to see the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to see the hundred universes that each of them sees, that each of them is."  - Marcel Proust

I have been thinking about Proust's sense of knowing other and becoming wise about other a lot lately. The times we live in demand such attention. Last night was my monthly book group. We were discussing Karolina's Twins: A Novel by Ron Balson and the recent uprising of white nationalists and anti-semitism. The novel is set in current day Chicago but chronicles happenings that occurred in Poland during Nazi occupation. (I write about this novel in a previous post). One way we become wise about other is to interact with others who are not necessarily like us--at least at the surface. It is through interactions--sustained ones--that we learn how our differences can be interesting and how being human creates essential similarities. I think about this as friendships have formed across these last few months that the book group has been meeting.

The book group is comprised of six other women and we range in age from our 30s to 50s. We are also of different races, religions, and ideologies. Three of us are immigrants.  Several of the women have lived in places outside the United States and others have lived outside the North East. Most of us would classify ourselves as progressives, but not all. We are all professional women and our work represents a range of occupations. The majority of us own/control the work we do. What is interesting to me is how discussing books allows for friendships to form, ideas to be developed, and difference and sameness to be enjoyed. We meet once a month at a local restaurant and over a meal and some wine, we spend three hours talking about the book for that month and current events and more recently about ourselves and our families. Jawahara, the book group's founder and leader prepares a set of questions that initially guide the discussion.

These are the books we have read to date since I joined the group:

March/April: Between the World and Me by Ta-Neshi Coates
April: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi
May: Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult
June: Hillbilly Elegy:A Memoir of Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
July: Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah
August: Karolina's Twins: A Novel By Ron Balson

And here are the books we plan to read through the remainder of the year:

September: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
October: The Ministry of Utmost Happiness: A Novel by Arundhati Roy
November: Miss Burma by Charmaine Craig
December: Grief Cottage:A Novel by Gail Godwin

As we have gotten to know one another, we also have introduced one another to other types of activities, opportunities, and groups.  I was introduced to the writer's group I now belong to from Jawahara.  Several of us will be at a women's writing conference next month as a result of an email Jawahara sent. One newer member of the book club, Navina, came to it through an art group she and I have in common. I thought she would love the group and it seems that she does.

Way leads on to way if we stay open to chance, opportunity, and other. Reading literature helps to open us to one another and to ideas.  Through shared books, Proust's notion of the true voyage can be realized. Imagine a whole country reading and discussing a single novel? It might be one way to begin to heal the great divides we now feel. 

Friday, August 25, 2017

A Few Questions

Crossing Avon Avenue (Reilly, Newark)

"Historically, our working and learning lives have been overly coded," writes Renee Charney on the first page of her dissertation, Rhizomatic Learning and Adapting: A Case Sturdy Exploring Interprofessional Team's Lived Experience (unpublished). I am serving as a committee member for Renee who will defend her dissertation in a few weeks. That opening line, so bold, caught and held my attention as I read her work. Frankly, it's the finest dissertation I've read and I found myself wanting to write academically again.  I wanted to wade into that sea of middles that I have known and forgotten. I wanted to dwell in that storied world Renee (re)presents so invitingly and think about codification, standards, tacit ways of knowing, grief and stories.

As I read I wondered:
  • What does it mean to live/work overly coded? In such a world, what happens to thought? Confidence?
  • What leads us to embrace certainty? How does it comfort? Complicate?
  • Are content standards a form of exploitation as defined by Holmqvist? (see here and here) Must we exploit?
  • How do we unlearn? How do organizations unlearn?
  • Are stories representations of middle spaces?
  • How might storytelling trigger unlearning
  • Can a nation heal through the stories and counter-stories it tells? How can we better hear counter-stories?

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

#SOL17: Why I Paint

Mountain Landscape (Reilly, 2016)

A FEW YEARS AGO, I heard a wonderful story, which I’m very fond of telling. An elementary school teacher was giving a drawing class to a group of six-year-old children. At the back of the classroom sat a little girl who normally didn’t pay much attention in school. In the drawing class she did. For more than twenty minutes, the girl sat with her arms curled around her paper, totally absorbed in what she was doing. The teacher found this fascinating. Eventually, she asked the girl what she was drawing. Without looking up, the girl said, “I’m drawing a picture of God.” Surprised, the teacher said, “But nobody knows what God looks like.” The girl said, “They will in a minute.”  from Ken Robinson, The Element, p. 11.


These days I mostly paint. Maybe, like the girl in the story Ken Robinson tells it is to represent God, to author. Maybe painting defies such cause and effect. I blessedly don't know. Some mornings as I stand with a paintbrush in hand, I wonder what my husband would have made of this compulsion. Painting is an in-the-middle type of work (highly rhizomatic) and a  mostly solitary expression. Seeing something arise out of the paint loosens the grip of grief even as it reveals it and deepens my will to live.

I dream about painting. Asleep I seem to be working out problems of space and intention. Rehearsing variations. I feel the paint move beneath my brush and stain my hands. After such loss that is redefined by each new moment, creating is a form of grace. So too is saying yes. Frankly, I indulge myself and I am unapologetic. I have traded earning money for time to paint and I am the better for it and just a bit poorer. Unlike Thoreau, I have more chairs in my home than I could sit on in a given night or week. Im the last 18 months, I have reclaimed the dining room and now it is filled with tubes and pots of paint, gesso, journals, brushes, pencils, and a crock pot.


Somedays I fear I am more Grasshopper than industrious Ant.  But after Rob's death, I mostly know what is important and what could easily be forgotten. If you were to visit  tomorrow you might see a half dozen journals spread across the dining room table in various stages of drying. Some pages might look abstract, while others might display more recognizable images. A hand opening. A woman's face in profile. A murder of crows lifting out of an eye. I paint to tell myself what my words can't seem to convey. Painting loosens what I tacitly know and gives it a temporary voice that remains uncoded.  I paint out of curiousity.

Often my intention when painting is to become better at it and also to have those very frustrating days when nothing my hand touches matches my intention--when painting mostly sucks. I paint to forsake technique, to forget intention and open myself to possibility. Painting reminds me that I can still be surprised.


Some mornings, it is the sheer messiness of it that I love best--that and how meaning sometimes emerges along the length of a line, within the swell of a shape, in conflict with space or tone, and often in homage to color. I must confess that I have loved Mark Rothko since I was a young girl. For every codification I make to explain what it means to paint,

                           the next day,

                                               minute                           finds the exception

    and returns me to
                                      a lovely stream

                                                                              where the banks
                         are less certain,

                   the flow less contained,

                                     and Gödel (not God)

is in the house.