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Who To Thank

KajaI first met Kaja through a writing group and I knew her mostly through her writing. She’s working on a an exquisite memoir that was started by her mother, written in a sublimely stark and rich voice. Much of this had to do with it being written in Danish and translated into English but there is also much artistry in the storytelling. I stand in awe of Kaja’s creative expression, not only in her writing but also in her art making, her presence and her main gig: interior architecture and design.

In our writing group, we bring a piece we’ve been working on and read it aloud to get feedback from the group. Last time we met, Kaja brought this piece that she spontaneously wrote while contemplating her creative trajectory and accomplishments. Hearing her read it was an immense treat. I felt like I had been brought into the fold of genuine gratitude and appreciation. And of course it made me think of all of the influences in my own life to which I can look back on and give thanks.

On the eve of a new year, I find this piece a worthy place of reflection as we move forward.

Knowing where things come from…

By Kaja Gam, Fall 2015 after August some time

Knowing where things come from makes you a conspirator.  Not knowing makes you a freewheeling spirit. An ignorant sort of spirit.  

When I was asked to sit on the Maryland State Arts Council Selection Committee for their first Individual Artists grants back in 1985 or 86- I didn’t know where that came from. Yes, I knew some of it, but not the whole story.

If it was through Mary MacArthur and through the NYFA connection, then how did that come about? How did I even get involved with NYFA?

There is so much I don’t know about how I arrived at where I am – or at any particular time of my life that I sometimes feel I have moved through the stages in this hazy bubble of insular SELF, completely oblivious of the people who helped me along.

Who were all these people who paved the way for me?  Did I even contribute anything or..?

Now that is being contrite and vain in reverse.  I did my work, I believed in it, or rather it was a necessity to get it out there – I often doubted the artistic value of my work, but never for a moment did I doubt that it was a necessity and a life thread for survival for me to do it.

However, I still wonder- and now more than then, who were behind me, who pulled the strings to get me pushed along.

There must have been forces, people, who pushed, paved the way for me -and I only know a fraction of what was done on my behalf.  

Looking back at what seemed easy and natural at the time, now feels as if I scaled Mount Everest in oblivion of the Sherpas that actually did the climbing on my behalf.

I did my work, and it was not easy. At times it frustrated me deeply and in the end I needed to say goodbye to it and give it up.  That was my work. No Sherpa did that for me.  But the recognition I enjoyed at the time, and the hope that it brought with it in the shape of grants and goodwill I was not fully cued into.

Looking back at myself at age 27-30-35-37 I was naïve – and I am somewhat ashamed of not being aware enough to really appreciate and thank the people who believed in me and my art at the time.

However, if I could have seen it with the eyes I have today I might not have done it.

Is that what maturity is about? Is that what youth is about? That I look back and say: ”If I had known then what I know today I might never have done it”?  

The fact is, I didn’t look back then – there was no future to look back from.  I did my work because I had to, because I believed in what I did without hesitation, and without thinking of how to get there, or how difficult the road would be.

Lacking a political mind in your work is goodwill’s best kept secret, but it is also its weakness.  You never know when and why the connection is lost because you didn’t know what to nurture.  And who to thank.

Who are the people and forces in your life who have propelled you to your own greatness? I take Kaja’s sentiment into my art journal today and give thanks to those who have supported me- both known and unknown influences in my life. I have much to be grateful for!

Is there something you’ve been meaning to say?

I am no smooth operator. I usually don’t know what to say in those epic moments and often hold back. So when it comes to telling others how you feel, I get it, it’s not always so easy. And feeling like it needs to be made a big deal of makes it even harder to get around to it, or express it. But there’s no denying the power of telling someone how you notice or care about them. It’s a small thing on your part and it’s HUGE HUGE HUGE to the person receiving it.

The following are real-life sentiments I’ve experienced or told to someone else. You might recognize some of them happening in your mind, perhaps left unsaid:

  • I’m not going anywhere.
  • I love talking with you.
  • I admire your bravery when you (did that really brave  – or stupid? –  thing).
  • I’m sorry it’s so rough right now.
  • I don’t care what we do, I’m really looking forward to hanging out with you!
  • I love (this thing you made); it’s so (wonderful qualities about it).
  • Before I met you, you were the girl with the vivid blue nail polish, and I said to myself “who wears blue nail polish?” I knew I had to meet you!
  • You are really creative! (people really need to hear this one more and multiple times!)
  • love you. I adore you.
This is the time. And not just because it’s Thanksgiving-time. Because it’s now. And now doesn’t wait. You’ll lose this moment if you don’t use it.
little love: mother nature  little love: little prince
little LOVE creature card 1  little LOVE: wondrous animals card 2

In her book The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown wisely says that “Staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take if we want to experience connection.” If we don’t reach out to something about something that matters deeply to us and make it known to them how much it matters, that thing dies and your connection with that person becomes static.

This is what I base my personal definition of “love note” on, this idea of valiantly telling someone how you feel about them. A “love note” is not just the romantic admission of adoration at a distance. No, to me, it’s that vulnerable moment when I write to a dear person to admit to noticing a detail that is touching, inspiring, lovely and perhaps even awkward but totally flattering. Acknowledging these little moments is an act of vulnerability that is deserving of the label “love note.”

little LOVE: woman wisdom card 2  little LOVE: little boys card 2
little LOVE creature card 3  little LOVE: wondrous animals card 3

To help make the artfulness of your expression easier, I’ve gathered up 24 of my favorite lunch note designs and had them professionally printed. They’re organized into four different themes: Imaginary Creatures, Wondrous Animals,Woman Wisdom and Sweet Boys. I would describe the size of these cards as “intimate.” They’re small and sweet. Just enough to say what you’re going to say and that’s it. Then leave it in a sneaky, creative place for your loved one to find in the normal course of their daily life.

little LOVE: wondrous animals card 1  little LOVE creature card 4

How it all went down last Friday

Last Friday was my art exhibit with Amanda Judd at the Dragonfly Wellness Yoga Studio here in Ossining, NY. We collected over 50 (actually closer to 70, I think) pieces of original art that we did in our art collaborations throughout the year and installed them at a local business in a quest to live what we wrote about.

It was an exciting week of preparation and collaboration! The unfortunate piece of this whole story is that Amanda threw out her back and was unable to drive the 3 hours to join me, it just wasn’t going to happen this time around. We were both extremely disappointed, it was going to be our very first time meeting each other face to face (after 10 months of video conferencing at least once a week, it really does feel like we’ve met in person!). Her instructions to me: take lots of pictures!! So I did.

Here is an account of what happened as told through social media and emails.

Since we weren’t going to be able to sign each piece together, we had to find another way to have all of the artwork personalized. A signature stamp! Quick make one:

FACEBOOK | DAY BEFORE THE EXHIBIT | 4:23PM | I usually write when I’m at Max’s swim practice. Today is a new one for me, I need to carve a signature stamp. I’m gonna enjoy the next hour!!
INSTAGRAM  |  DAY OF THE EXHIBIT  |  7:17AM  | No lunch note today*; Max has a half day and has lunch at home. This morning I’m using the time to prepare for the art exhibit tonight. Each piece is stamped with a signature stamp. ‪#‎artcollabrocks‬ ‪#‎artfulmother‬ ‪#‎makeitwork‬ ‪#‎artexhibition‬ ‪#‎creatives‬‪#‎creativity‬ @pinklovestudio what an exciting day!!

* I usually make art for my son every day and write a message on the back for his lunch, and then I post it to Instagram. Every day. But this day was an exception because there was no school and I was busy preparing!

EMAIL TO AMANDA| DAY OF THE EXHIBIT | 9:35AM | I’ve arranged and rearranged … time to get it up on the wall!
EMAIL TO AMANDA | DAY OF EXHIBIT | 10:50AM | First set up! The yoga class was coming in as I was finishing up and we had a great discussion about the art! They were so astute, noting the overlap of influences and thinking about what stories the wanted to construct. Wish you were there to her it! It was so sweet! Plus one lady told me to it a sold sticker on one of them cuz she really wanted it. I did and she kept talking to her friend about which other two she would want to go with it!!

Once the first set is up, some yoga students arrive for class and I have to get out! So, off to get some food.

EMAIL TO AMANDA| DAY OF THE EXHIBIT | 11:20AM | When it all comes out of the packaging it won’t look like very much … enough? I have to check my cup and napkin supply… Miss you!!!
EMAIL TO AMANDA| DAY OF THE EXHIBIT | 1: 30PM | Second set ready to go on the wall … this is looking really nice! One popped off while I was getting Max/Zoey and having lunch. A little nervous about that. Don’t have my computer here, lots to lug and I don’t know about the connection. OK onward!! Xoxo
EMAIL TO AMANDA| DAY OF EXHIBIT | 1:56PM | We have been installed… I mean the portraits of us. I still have a set to do! Guess what, I ran out of command strips! Ha!! Regardless, the process is pretty smooth. I’m going to lay the home set out on the floor and then make a run for more strips, more cider and napkins! Oh yeah, look at the photo, do you like that I gave myself boobs*? Lol 😉

* Admittedly strange humor: do you see the piece of art below my self portrait (the one on the right)? Doesn’t it look like two boobs and a tummy? Every time I look at this, I think it’s about fertility. When juxtaposed with my head, it looks like I have boobs. Yes, I’m weird!

EMAIL TO AMANDA| DAY OF EXHIBIT | 3:24PM | Getting there! I actually hung some of the home series … only six left to add to it. Off to get the rest of the stuff we need!! As I hang them I feel like were either brilliant or very lucky! Perhaps we’re brilliant enough to make our own luck!! Xoxo

Some of the other images I sent in that same email:

IMG_20151023_141801  IMG_20151023_141749   IMG_20151023_140248

IMG_20151023_141659   IMG_20151023_141639

EMAIL TO AMANDA| DAY OF EXHIBIT | 4:41 PM | All of the art is up (although one of them, a big one, wants to keep coming down). I’m going to find the biggest Command Strip available at Walgreen’s before heading back there for the real deal). I just finished “signing” all of the books! The stamp was a great idea, looks so great on the backs of all the art and in the books!! Sending you lots of love xoxoxo!!

And from that moment on, I had dinner with my family and headed over to the exhibit! It was a fantastic evening with friends and interested people dropping by starting at 7pm and helping me pack up at 9pm. I enjoyed all of the conversations and was invigorated by how into it everyone was (not just me! yay!). People enjoyed looking at art in a yoga studio, the vibe was calm yet alert. By the time I got home, I sent one final email that basically said “It was fantastic! I’m going to bed, let’s talk tomorrow!” And in the morning, the goodwill of the experience made me feel like I woke to Christmas morning. 


Who Does She Think She Is?

Did you know that Amanda and I were originally going to have a third section to our book that was all about getting your art out in the world? It seemed like the natural progression of things in our book:

  • Section One: take care of your self-agency,
  • Section Two: make art with someone else, and
  • Section Three (which wasn’t put in the book): share your art publicly (and why not make money too).

The scope of the book got too big to include the third section and we’re still investigating logistics of how to make it work with ease and according to a philosophy of abundance that doesn’t hing itself entirely on monetary economics.

In the meantime, we’re full-on living the idea of sharing our art as an extension of the values and mindset we lay out in our book. The art collaboration we walk people through in the book is called “Personal Gallery.” It’s a specific way of practicing art with another person (we’ll likely be developing more). “Personal Gallery” helps artists create a series of meaningful art pieces together that can be arranged in a collection, either for personal enjoyment in your living environment or publicly, as an art exhibit.


Sharing your art within your living environment is powerful and celebratory. You need to hang your pieces just as you would hang your child’s art. It reinforces your creative power and potential every time you see it.

Sharing your art in a public setting is also extremely powerful. But it puts your artist mindset and everything in section one of our book to the test and can be summed up into one question:

Who does she think she is?

That’s what I’m going through right now. Amanda and I are preparing for an art exhibit of our collaborative work. It’ll be at a local (to me) yoga studio next Friday evening (Oct. 23rd). I’m mounting over 50 pieces of original art and people have been invited. Let me say that again: people have been invited!


Who do we think we are, having an art exhibit? Our art will be right out there, out in the open, and people have been invited to explicitly LOOK at our art. Duh, of course, this is what happens at an exhibit. But put yourself in the place of the exhibitor and see how that feels. This is where the values and mindsets of section one come back into play full force and I have the opportunity to practice them away from my sketchbook.

When I look at the art Amanda and I have made together, I feel joy, love, meaningfulness, peace, growth, and adventure. Will others see this too? Will they value not only the physical byproduct of our collaboration but the principles we practiced together in order to make the art? Will people be able to see the invisible pieces of our art making? Or will they say: Who do they think they are?

We are very blessed to exhibit our art at the Dragonfly Wellness Yoga Studio. It’s a laid back setting where they believe in much the same things we write about in our book. Life is not a competition, yoga is not merely a series of poses, be who you are, breathe deeply, live intentionally, and so on. If you get yoga you get Artist rEvolution and art collaboration.

I’m very excited about next Friday! If you can stop by, please do! You’re invited!   

Artist rEvolution: Starts Today!

Have you ever thought about something so long that you subconsciously develop a philosophy around it and even ways to apply it to your own life? I’ve been thinking about creativity, art making and living life deliberately through my many design years at IBM and more recently in sorting out how I wanted to invest in my artistry.

I thought about what matters to me, what’s nameless and how to name it. I thought about how choosing something and then acting on it with discipline and continuously showing up for it will make a difference in that choice.

And then I met Amanda Judd. Through Twitter, no less.


When Amanda and I met, something clicked into place. She’s been thinking a lot of the same things I’ve been thinking. We were like minded about our values and our ideas about learning, growing and transforming as an artist and as a person.

We didn’t do the usual ‘getting to know you’ things when we met on Google Video in mid-January earlier this year. Our version of small talk consisted of: Want to make something together? Yeah! What? How about a book? Sure! A book on what? Oh, maybe collaboration? Cool! Let’s!

What happened next was a ten month conversation with each other that each of us had been having silently in our own heads. Things like how to practice a unique voice as an artist, why daily practice and ritual matters, how to grow and explore in sustainable and personally authentic ways, how to maintain self-agency in a collaboration. From that we came up with new ideas, like Inward Facing Collaboration. And we practiced art together to see if we could apply the philosophy we talked about.

Now, today, after ten months, we have something very special to celebrate: we have completed our book Artist rEvolution: A Five Week Odyssey into Inward Facing Collaboration, Self-Awareness & Discovery and it is available on Amazon!

Last week when we met, we laughed that we probably did this the hardest of possible ways: we wrote it ourselves, we illustrated it ourselves, we laid out the book ourselves, we marketed it ourselves – I tell you, it had its moments of overwhelm! But what sticks out far more than that, now that I reflect on it on launch day, is that we lived (and are living) what we wrote about. The way that we worked with each other and made art together has been so fulfilling! So on launch day, I’m celebrating more than the launch of this tremendous book we did together, I’m celebrating living a way of life that feels wonderful and meaningful! And I’m thankful to Amanda for taking this journey with me – to take values that we share and lay them on the line to practice together.


We care very deeply that art is used not as an elitist tool where only a few master and are heralded for, but as a personal tool of growth, transformation, and of knowing. Anyone can do it; from the person who hasn’t done art since high school to even the most seasoned – all can find growth in their own art making.


But how does an artist acknowledge “I am an artist”? And how does that person enter into an art collaboration with another person and be open enough to improvise in unknown territory? We talk about bushwacking, which is our metaphor for using a compass instead of a map. We don’t tell you how to make art, we set the stage for you to find your way. And yourself. What rules will you use? What rules will you break?


Amanda and I have practiced Inward Facing Collaboration over and over again. Each time we 1) pick a theme, 2) decide on a color strategy and 3) decide on a size. These decisions help unify the pieces we’ll be making in the three weeks it takes to do “Personal Gallery” (a very specific kind of art collaboration we devised). There are a myriad of additional decisions that must get made as you work things out from week to week. Many of them have to do with how you’re going to deal with questions that pop into your head. Questions ranging from logistical things to how you feel about what you’re doing.


This is a life of investigation, creativity, and knowing. We invite you to empower yourself and join us! Three simple steps:

  1. Get to know the concepts and actions in the book. It’s available in print copy from Amazon and in PDF here on my site.
  2. Join our Art Collaboration Facebook group. Everyone here is savvy about the principles in the book and keen to have an artistic adventure! They are supportive and encouraging. You will get a link to the group after you sign up here.
  3. Start making and sharing your art! Use #artcollabrocks to find others also on the journey!

Be brave! Be you! Live meaningfully (whatever this means to YOU)! Hope you join us! 



A special thanks to Lisa Stiefel for copy editing our book! With her help we said what we meant, organized our thoughts and meant what we said 🙂

Inspiration: Pivot Points in Life

When I think back on moments where my life pivoted, it usually involved 1) some sort of realization that I desired something new (inspiration) and 2) my own willingness to acknowledge and invest in that inspiration. It’s not always easy to identify those moments, but I can usually trace backwards and realize the moment when the inspiration struck based on the trail of activity I left in venturing toward it.

One of those trails leads to Lisa Sonora Beam. I had started art journaling years ago but really didn’t know it was “a thing.” I was pretty isolated about it and never thought to look outside my own practice to realize others were doing it and helping each other do it. When I saw Lisa’s 30 day art journaling event, things sparked all over and of course I took it! It left a 30 day trail that continues to inspire me into my artistry!

Quote: We must go past the threshold of fear in order to have what we really want. by Lisa Sonora

Since my 30 day art journaling experience with her, I’ve also made my way through her “Creative Entrepreneur” book. I share her message and message on the personal fulfillment art making brings to us all. Check her out: Creative + Practice. Maybe you’ll have your own life pivot.  🙂

Beyond Disease

Recovering from Hashimoto's
I made this one morning as I contemplated my path to wellness from Hashimoto’s Disease.

As you may already know, I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease earlier this year. I’m writing about it because it affects my ability to show up to my art making and my ambitions. I’ve been really quiet lately and I miss being here. Lately, my adventure with Hashimoto’s is like an art project and I wanted to share that with you.

My doctor told me that I would need to take a pill for the rest of my life … oh, and “why don’t we start me on hormone replacement therapy early?” I left her office that day feeling really confused. She knows a lot more about medicine than I do, but I was in no way on board with her prognosis and I didn’t know what to do. For awhile I just didn’t do anything; her words “Trust me…” and the look she gave me when I suggested that I might adapt my lifestyle to address the issue kept replaying in my head.

In early July I was participating in a #DareToExcel challenge and my symptoms kept getting in my way. It became clear that not only was I not going to be able to do the challenge but this was getting in the way of me living life. So I used the dare to directly face my Hashimoto’s. In the month of July I educated myself about the autoimmune disease and discovered there were people who have indeed cured themselves of it. I knew it was possible and I decided I was going to be one of them. I also knew it was the beginning of a long road. There wouldn’t be any quick fixes but I’m still game.

After reading books from the library, meeting with a few functional medicine gurus via Skype, I overturned a few fallacies about Hashimoto’s Disease:

  1. Hashimoto’s disease is a thyroid issue. No, it’s an autoimmune disorder. This is a significant distinction to make. If I tried to fix my thyroid, I would not get well. I needed to tend to a cycle of bodily triggers that have gotten botched along the way and are no longer operating correctly. This cycle involves hormone balancing, liver filtering, gut biome thriving, immune functioning in the gut and not leaking into the bloodstream and brain, proper rest, and other nuanced events that work together to make sure my body knows what to fight against and what is actually part of my own body. 
  2. Medication and hormone replacement will fix the problem. No, medication “manages symptoms” and decrease the rate of decline. Hormone replacement does just that – replaces hormones. Over time your body figures it doesn’t need to do this for you. Taking medicine and hormones can temporarily alleviate my symptoms, but my body will continue to attack itself. I learned that in order to get better, I need to:
    1. Reshape my diet to heal my biome and gut lining. This means no: gluten, GMO foods, processed foods, sugar, foods I’ve become allergic to, alcohol, caffeine, skipping meals. Yes to: fiber, vegetables, healthy fats, vitamin D, selenium, zinc, probiotics and prebiotics, green tea. 
    2. Manage stress: get enough sleep, rest when needed, don’t overexercise, meditate, MAKE ART!
    3. Detoxify. Get rid of heavy metals, chemicals, molds in my environment and body.
  3. Hashimoto’s disease is incurable. No, the conditions which cause my body to attack itself are, in fact, reversible. My body has known wellness and it can again if I shift conditions to make it so. 
  4. Only a doctor can help me heal. No, I have what I need to heal myself. The two biggest things I need to do this are: a good source of information and ability to monitor and self-correct. A good doctor can help me do these things, because I’m not always very good at them; it’s very daunting and overwhelming, especially on those days when the fatigue is so great I’m in bed. But what I mean here, is more of a mindset: I have the resources to fashion my environment that will aid my wellness. I have the capacity to be proactive and effective about my own health; I am my own life long experiment. 
  5. You do something ‘wrong’ which results in having an autoimmune disorder. When I started learning more about autoimmune disorders, the complexity and multi-facetedness of it had my head spinning. At one point I started to feel like this disease was incredibly unreasonable. But no, I realized it’s really our modern diets, toxic environments, and stressful lifestyles that are extreme and need to be rethought, for the sake of our wellness. We are all on our way to autoimmune dysfunction. Some of us are more sensitive to the extremes of our culture and we deal with it first. One woman I talked to told me that some people react to her as if she’d done something wrong to have the disease; the truth is, she’s not doing anything different to what everyone else is doing. She’s just more sensitive to the extremes of the situation. I’m in that boat, too.
  6. You have to live with having an autoimmune disorder; you’re sick, that’s who you are. The End. No, this is a bump in the road, but I refuse to believe that I am perpetually sick. Sure, I feel like I’m making excuses when I can’t go bike riding with my son or run with my husband because my joints hurt so much and I lack energy to pull it off. But this is temporary. This isn’t who I am. 

I’m continuing to learn loads more than this, but these six points are what got me started. Now, midway through August, I’ve changed my diet (and continue to do so, this is an ever-refining process) and started taking chloride dioxide and have had very positive changes. My joint pain is nearly disappeared, my eyefog has cleared and I am not dipping into what I call “zombie-ism” (extreme fatigue and fogginess). I am heartened and excited about the road to wellness ahead!

Ask yourself this very important question

What if you decided to agree that you’re a highly creative person?

What would happen? Would you succumb to all of the stereotypes that identify creative people with lack of real purpose, lack of prosperity, lack of organizational skills or practicality? Would you become ineffective in the workforce or unable to collaborate? Would your family reject you and your friends laugh at you? Would you become mentally imbalanced?


There are four big truths of being creative:

1) Being creative requires great amounts of personal agency and responsibility, it’s no wonder most of us shy away from this powerful trait and believe it’s something you’re born with or something that belongs to other people or specific jobs. Being creative takes dedication, conviction and personal initiative. You really have to believe in yourself and you have to be responsible for yourself (own your ideas, your outlook, your process, your mindset, your way of being, your expressions).

2) Being creative is being powerful. Despite all the stereotypes of creative and artistic people, being creative and using creativity in every facet of your life yields rewards like nothing else. You become more interested and interesting. You have greater awareness, self agency, and insight.

So now, if you decided to agree that you’re a highly creative person what do you do? How do you get there?

3) The third truth of being creative is that you never “arrive”. This is both a frustrating thing (that often cause people to back away, stop trying and choose to use the convenient excuse that ‘other people are creative, not me’), and a blessed thing (we all get to reach to increasingly higher, unlimited levels of creativity – if there were a limit to creativity, it would be boring and it wouldn’t have the kind of personal power we all desire, but tend to look for outside of ourselves).

4) The fourth truth of creativity is related to #1: creativity is personal. You are not going to get your creativity from a method, process or set of steps. There is no manual that can promise to give you creative power through a set of steps or exercises. You’re not going to find it by doing what other people tell you to do. You learn creativity by practicing creative acts, by being yourself, by having self-awareness. You can’t be anyone else to earn your creativity.

If you are wild about life and your journey in it, you’re more inclined to consider these truths about creativity and agree to take on the simple and profound journey. This prospect gives you goosebumps and the challenge, despite being daunting, is the thrilling thing you can’t turn away from. For those of you who are wanderlust about your human journey, this next bit will be a very easy leap:

be the artist you are.

Where are you in relation to that idea? How do you connect with and express your very unique creative qualities? Do you get lost when you consider this?

What if you thought of yourself as an artist and treated yourself that way? I’m not talking about Artist with a capital A. I’m talking about artist: the kind of person who makes thoughtful images and markings to explore and express themselves? The kind of person who empowers and infuses their life with curiosity, awareness, love, compassion, experiment, yearning, …

Why artistry?

You can be creative in ANYTHING and EVERYTHING you choose to do. I chose artistry very deliberately. With art, it’s very hard to fake being yourself, you’re exposed, vulnerable and there’s no where to hide. You’re you and there is an expectation that you express yourself. No one said you had to be good at it and no one gets to say what is good and what is art. You are more free to be you than what you might think. The only thing standing in your way are self-limiting beliefs, fear and judgement.

And an often overlooked quality: when you make art, the brain has to work in such a way where the choices you make are very close to what you believe in and value.

– stop thinking so much
– stop judging yourself and comparing yourself to others
– stop listening to the news
– stop gossiping and complaining
– stop efforting
– stop controlling others
– stop doing what other people tell you to do if it doesn’t contribute to your thriving
– stop measuring your worth according to external metrics and achievements
– start caring about how you feel
– start listening to your inner inklings and acting on them
– start being aware of what you tell yourself in your head
– start a practice of unyielding self-compassion
– start looking at the world through the lens of opportunity, possibility and richness

Dare to Excel: Double Dog Dare

You would think that if your body was constantly attacking itself, it would be pretty obvious and a simple doctor visit would be all it takes to uncover this nasty problem. Turns out it’s usually quite mysterious. I called what was happening to me “Zombie-ism.” I would have episodes of extreme fatigue, foggy brain, dry burning eyes, blurred vision, dry skin and hair and painful joints. These and other issues seemed unrelated until we discovered I have antibodies for Hashimoto’s, or hypothyroidism. What this means is that my body is eating at my thyroid as if it were a foreign body. It is an autoimmune disorder not unlike multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, Grave’s disease, and many others. I learned that if you have one autoimmune disorder, your weakened immune system makes you more likely to a host of many other sicknesses. So, not surprising that I also have Epstein Barr.

I have known that I have Hashimoto’s for about four months (though the symptoms have been there for a few years at least). Despite the clear episodes of Zombie-ism and declining ability to exercise, I still considered myself a very healthy person. I really wanted to believe that because I have stuff to do; I have ambition, I have ideas, I have things to make, I have people to love. Hashimoto’s is an inconvenience I really don’t want to have. But I also don’t want the inevitable medications and hormone replacement my doctor says I’m going to need. So I have a choice: deny it or embrace it?

I am participating in Jeffrey Davis’ (of Tracking Wonder) #daretoexcel challenge this month. I had all kinds of ideas of what kind of art and creativity related projects I might do. Then I had a harsh and immediate episode of Zombie-ism over the weekend that left me completely deflated, without creativity, energy and hope. I realized that I needed to take on Hashimoto’s above any creative project in order to ensure that I could take on many more creative projects in the future. To be completely honest, I’m not happy about this at all. I would rather focus my attention on other things. But as it so happens, my prerequisite to “other things” is my wellness. So be it. I will go with it. Head on, 100%. I want my wellness, dammit; I want it bad.

Dare #1: My Burning Question

So my burning question is: How might I take this lifestyle change and do something others could also benefit from while cementing it as a new way of life for myself? How might I cure myself of Hashimoto’s (without meds) and make that cure available to others with autoimmune disorders so that they could know thriving once again? How would I do it so that it’s rigorous and complete, but not so daunting that it feels impossible? How could I make it accessible? How could I make it sustainable? How could I do it so that the choice to embrace it head-on feels less painful than denying it? I believe all of this is possible. I feel like it’s bigger than me and it’s going to be really hard. But I also think that it will be worth it – more than money could buy.

Dare #2: Project Brief

How will I do this? What project could I create with this endeavor? “Curing Zombie-ism” will be a book that helps people choose non-medicated wellness and relief from autoimmune disorders.


Dare #3: Bringing My Young Genius To Work

As Jeffrey reminds us, genius comes from the Greek idea that there is a force each of us uniquely has that helps us find our way in the world. As young people, that force is how we make our way and what we choose to do when we make our world. So the question is: what was I like when I was 8, 9, or 10 years old that factors into how I will tackle this project?

YoungSelfWhen I was 8, 9 or 10 years old, I stood on the front steps of our home with my older sister. She had issued a challenge: a race to the blue pole barn. After beating me, she told me that there was no limit to how fast I could move my legs. I believed her and set about in earnest to see if I could prove it. After a few more races I beat her. In my mind that was proof enough. What that experience did for me was to look at myself and my world differently – that limits were movable and even somewhat arbitrary.

The adjectives I would use to describe myself would be: pliable, curious (about what’s possible) and dedicated. Dare #3 is to take these qualities and bring them to my project. I will be testing what is possible (how will I push limits? how will I adapt myself to achieve unexpected expectations?). I will need to continue to show up to this challenge over and over again to move my perceived limits. I need these qualities to explore the limits of disease, adapt those limits and move beyond them to create a new condition for myself.

Double Dog Dare

#DareToExcel is designed to get people to step up to do the things they already want to do, to be their better selves. The challenge is to have courage to be yourself, beyond what you’d imagined in day to day life. I love these dares; they’re very hard, but very fulfilling on many levels. But this isn’t the kind of dare I’m meant to take this time around.

This dare is the double dog dare for me: the dare you issue to someone who is entirely NOT motivated to take the dare. It’s the kind of dare meant to challenge your capacity to accomplish something you don’t want to do. It also raises the stakes; if I can manage to do this tough thing, others will take on the dare as well. “Curing Zombie-ism” is a double dog dare for me. I don’t really want to do it (I’d rather take on a number of creative projects), but I can’t not do this. We can’t not do this.

Art is so Practical: Learning, Self-agency & Reclaiming Creativity

thisIsYouIsn’t it weird how sometimes you find yourself doing things you think you’re not particularly suited for but then know you’ve got to do it? My dear friend, Lisa Stiefel (a wonderful ESL teacher), asked me to do a guest blog post on reflective learning and journaling. My first thought was – ‘Oh no, not more writing!!’* and my second thought was ‘Yes! Of course! Challenging, essential and something you stand for, you’ll figure it out, Tracee!’ Ha! Great!

I believe very strongly in the power of art making (not with kind with a capital A; the everyday kind), and the very practical things art making affords us: learning, self-agency, and reclaiming creativity. In this guest blog post I consider how we might create a recognizable and practical bridge between making and learning, in hopes that we can normalize qualitative learning activities and balance the rational-based learning embodied in today’s public school systems.

Both Lisa and I would like to hear any thoughts you have about this series and the topic in general. Enjoy the read!


*I’m in the process of writing a chapter for a book called “Demanufacturing Education” that will be published next year. I’m also co-authoring a book with an artist friend, Amanda Judd (working title: “Art Collaboration: A Guide to Inward Facing Collaboration”). For someone who doesn’t fancy herself as a writer (yet?), I sure jumped in the deep end! 🙂