Monday, June 06, 2016

A Brand New Website for My Paintings

I've been painting for 14 years. Now and then, people ask me where they can see my work. So I decided to design a website for the paintings and invite you to take a look:

I have no formal training in art. The way I came to painting was via my first novel, Dreaming Maples. The story features several women who are passionate about their art. Young Candace is devoted to her painting. In order to write about Candace, I spent a lot of time at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown. The climactic scene in the book takes
place at the Clark, beneath Renoir's "Blonde Bather."

The way I write fiction, I "SEE" every scene before I can write it. Many people say that when they read my books they feel as though they are watching a movie. So as I wrote, I kept seeing and seeing. Some of what I saw were paintings. Some of what I wrote was about painting. My journals from that period are filled with drawings and small pastels and paintings.

Two months after the book was published, in 2002, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Disease. The chemo was ruthless. I could barely function. I wrote poetry to get me through. But I also started to wander around the house in a chemo-induced fog, cutting out pieces of paper and making colorful  collages.

One week, when I was headed to Sloan Kettering, my dear friend Leslie Gabosh, who at the time owned an art store, handed me a fistful of colored pencils and a small art pad. She picked a Black-eyed Susan growing outside the door and she told me I should draw while waiting for my chemo at Sloan.  I did. It helped so much. Art cured and healed my soul just as the chemo and radiation healed my body.

At some point during that summer of chemo, I painted my first large canvas.
I remember standing beside our beautiful pond, surrounded by the green lush of summer. My painting: a hillside of fir trees against a beautiful blue sky.  The painting was OK, but I quickly realized that I didn't have much talent as a realistic painter.

So I started throwing paint on the canvas, the way Jason Pollock used to. (By the way, I have taken a workshop or two, and one teacher compared my paintings to those by Joan Mitchell.)

I continued to paint outdoors beside the pond. Whenever a painting wasn't working, I would simply hose it down and start again. Over and over and over, I tried to let the PAINT AND THE DESIGN HAVE THEIR SAY.  My goal always was to just STAY OUT OF THE WAY!

That was 2002. I have been throwing acrylic paint on canvas ever since. What have I learned? That painting is alive. More alive than writing. AS VIBRANT AS DIVINE LIGHT! 

You write a story or a novel, and it is made of paper (or now, it's an ebook.) But one sits on a bookshelf and the other resides in your iPad.  Paintings on the other hand are lively and pulsing. The colors heat up your soul. When you are done, you can hang them, store them in the basement or give them to your family and friends. I think of people who have my paintings and I smile at each one. PAINTING IS SO MUCH FUN!

At one point, my son Noah, who was living in New York, had so many of my paintings in his apartment that I used to joke that I had a very special gallery in Brooklyn :) 

So that's the story, or at least, that's all I need to say right now.

Friday, May 06, 2016

Missing Mom!

She passed on October 17, 2015.

We miss her.

This morning, I was looking for a necklace to wear. I searched my two jewelry boxes. Nothing. Finally, I tried the bottom drawer of my night table, where jewelry sometimes pops up.

There I found this tiny box I didn't recognize.

In it was a magnificent cameo.

And then I remembered.
I bought this for my mom 38 years ago, the first time I was in Florence, on the Ponte Vecchio -- the spot where my husband and I made the decision to get married!

Beneath the cameo was a tiny piece of lined paper folded in half. It read "Cameo is for Claudia" in pencil.

That's when the tears started up. That's when I realized anew that my mother is gone on this Mother's Day. I called my sister Karen and cried some more.

But then we realized, we have each other, and my sister Holly and my brother Rich. And our Dad.

Better to think about what you have than what you don't.  We have so many memories.

We love you Mom!!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

10% Happier

If you've always wanted to meditate, but could never figure out how to start, or how to keep going day after day, I would highly recommend a new meditation program called 10% Percent Happier. The program, which offers a "clear, easy to use, step-by-step guide" to meditation, is billed as "Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics."

Each day, the instruction begins with a short conversation between a highly experienced meditation teacher and ABC News Anchor Dan Harris. In 2004, Harris suffered an on-air panic attack in front of millions of TV viewers. The experience led him to daily meditation. These conversations are aimed at people who have looked askance at meditation, even as millions and millions of Americans are turning to the practice to reduce stress, improve concentration and boost brain health.

The introductory conversation is followed by a ten to 15 minute meditation with the experienced meditation teacher. The first seven days of 10% Happier are free, so you might as well try it (if you subscribe, the program costs only $10 a month.) 

Even after all these years I have been meditating, I am learning an incredible amount from this wonderful series. Try it and see for yourself!

Friday, April 22, 2016

About a Robin

What magic is this
robin, creeping so softly
over the green green grass.
As she passes my window
I marvel.

Here is another miracle.
Inhaling, I cannot
imagine which who what
unfathomable force or being
is at work here,
creating this black and
rust-colored  bird.
I have stared at so many
creatures and growing things
and still

I am awed by
and Lakes
and Oceans
and Babies’ toes and fingers.
I will always wonder,
My God, who makes them!?

Dedicated to a muse and my dear friend, Sharon Flitterman-King

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Jackson Pollock I am NOT...

But I sure did get inspired seeing his work last week in an exhibit at MOMA.  He was brilliant and innovative and so prolific.

Here is the first painting I did after seeing the show:

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Have You Seen the Pale Blue Dot?

My son has a small round tattoo on his arm. I asked him about it and he told me it was "the pale blue dot." Many of you may already know what that dot is all about. I didn't. But this is what I have learned: 
The pale blue dot appears in a photograph of the Earth taken on February 14, 1990. The Earth appears as a barely visible blue speck in the dark space of the Universe. The photo was taken by the Voyager 1 space probe from a record distance of about 6 billion kilometers (3.7 billion miles) as the space craft was leaving the solar system.  
At the suggestion of astronomer Carl Sagan, NASA turned Voyager I's camera around and took one last photograph of Earth across a vast expanse of space. Later, Sagan wrote a book called The Pale Blue Dot, in which he said:

"From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it's different. Consider again that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
"The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
"The Earth is the only world known, so far, to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand. It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.— Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Of Orchids and Oranges

One day when my son was younger, he was eating a sliced orange and out of nowhere he said, “Seeing an orange like this convinces me there is a God.”

I was a bit shocked, in a pleasant way, by his observation. I told him I agreed, but we didn’t go on to have a deep philosophical or religious discussion. There was no need to. He had captured one of life’s little miracles and that was that.

I thought about that comment this morning as I stared into the heart of my pink orchid, which finally bloomed a day ago. I love the very center of the flower.
I marvel at its mysterious structure. To me, it looks as though the orchid has two curved “arms” that reach right out of the blossom, offering up the flower’s unique beauty and architecture.

So here  I have written 139 words trying to capture the flower’s miracle whereas my son did the same thing with the orange in eleven.

Enough said.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

What a Mensch Merrick Garland Is!

Is anyone else awed by Merrick Garland -- the man President Obama has nominated to fill the  Supreme Court vacancy left by the death of Antonin Scalia?

I listened to NPR 's coverage while driving to the airport yesterday morning. The President's description of Judge Garland's record and accomplishments was so impressive.
Such a brilliant mind. Such an amazing career. Such a devoted husband and father.

Oh, yeah and what else? For 20 years, Judge Garland has managed to find time to tutor second, third and fourth graders in Northeast DC in reading and math!

Judge Garland is also a man who can freely share his heart and soul in public.

After Obama's introduction, when Garland began speaking, it was clear to me from his gravelly voice that he was barely able to hold it together.

When he said that his mother was sitting at home watching TV and crying her eyes out, I got all choked up. And when he said "I only wish that we hadn't taught my older daughter to be so adventurous that she would be hiking in the mountains, out of cell-service range, when the President called," I imagined Garland answering Obama's phone call. That's when goosebumps shivered up my arms and legs. (OK, OK, I know very well that I am what my husband calls a "smush." :)

Whatever the outcome of the nomination process (and I sadly expect that the Republicans will do what they have promised and sit on their fat a----s refusing to act on the nomination), I am so happy that the President chose to introduce us to this wonderful man, who is both a highly respected judge AND the kind of guy you would love to invite over to a backyard barbecue or a Friday night Shabbat dinner. 

In Yiddish, there is a word for a person who is good and honorable and special in all sorts of big and little ways. We call that person a "mensch," and Judge Garland, that moniker fits you to a T. Now, if only we could work some magic on your behalf and see you sitting where you belong, there on the Supreme Court bench!

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Thursday, March 10, 2016

Hillary, Come Meditate With Me!!

This may sound crazy but I think Hillary Clinton needs to meditate.

Watching her speak last night after winning Mississippi, it occurred to me for about the 200th time that she talks and talks and talks but never catches fire the way Bernie does. It's gotten to the point that when she is giving a speech on TV, I close my eyes. I can't stand to see how prune-faced she can look. I can't bear to see her as she was last night, with a kind of schoolmarm attitude, not smiling at all, practically scowling while she spoke.

What Hillary needs is a crash course in authenticity. She needs to step onto that stage and demonstrate both how vulnerable she is, but also how incredibly strong and capable she is (and she is both!) She needs to speak from the heart and really sound like she is doing it! She needs to smile (the way she does off-stage.) She needs to demonstrate that kind of Bill and Barack passion that grabs you and won't let you go. (Yeah, so, we know, Bernie has a lot to teach her.)

Back in 2000 when she was running for the U.S. Senate from New York, I met her at a press conference on prescription drug prices that she was holding with seniors in NYC.  I'll never forget: she wore a bright sunflower power suit,
and after the press conference she stood speaking to a cluster of seniors. Two things amazed me: how warm a person she is when you are one-on-one with her. And two, how she was able within just a few minutes to memorize all of the seniors' first names! She spoke to them with great passion about an issue which was very close to the seniors' hearts.

Fast forward 16 years. She still cares about seniors. She still has the right positions on so many of the issues. But can she convince us that her presidency won't be business as usual? Can we be convinced that she won't balance her convictions against the whopping influences of corporations donating to her election campaigns?

Ok so why should Hillary meditate? Because it is in meditation
that I have gotten some of my most profound insights. It is in meditation that  practitioners often receive insights and inspirations that percolate from deep in the subconsciousness.  I bet if she took an entire day (better yet, a week) to meditate, she might find her soul speaking in a whole new way. She might be able to tap into a whole new source of authentic power that meditation often gives you.

And maybe too, in meditation -- slowing down, breathing deep, over and over again -- she might keep from making costly mistakes. Mistakes like the gaffe attacking Bernie for not supporting the auto industry bailout in Detroit. That was just plain dumb, and she should have thought before she spoke. Maybe meditation will make her a bit more self-reflective. Finally, maybe by meditating she lets go of just a smidge of her GIANT PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE EGO. She will come to see that it is our ego that separates us; it is our ego that makes fearful and grasping and proud and swaggering.

Maybe she will see that what draws people to Bernie is in part because he isn't thrusting himself forward; his is a campaign that steams ahead collecting the energy of revved up crowds invested in "revolution."

Well, so I know a lot of great meditation teachers, and should the impossible happen (she would read this and agree), I would  be delighted to make the connection. But no, I won't expect a phone call, a text message or a tweet. Maybe I will just meditate it on the idea.

P.S. If you watched last night's Democratic debate in Miami, Hillary was smiling and looking more relaxed. Hey, so maybe she DID meditate! When asked how she felt about the fact that 37 percent of Americans don't think she's honest, she replied: 

“Obviously, it’s painful for me to hear that. I am not a natural politician, in case you haven’t noticed, like my husband or President Obama,” she added. “I just have to do the best I can” and “hope that people see that I am fighting for them.” A great answer. Honest. Forthright. Speaking from the heart! She is showing both her vulnerability and her determination to do the right thing!

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Together, the Clinton and Sanders Narratives Tell the Story of Progressivism

By Richard Kirsch

After Hillary Clinton delivered her Super Tuesday victory speech, Van Jones said on CNN that his Twitter feed was full of people saying that she had stolen Bernie Sanders's message. But that was only half-true. While Clinton is incorporating more of Sanders's progressive populism, her campaign narrative is in the best tradition of American liberalism.
Taken together, the core stories that Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are telling in their campaigns bring together the two main themes in liberal and progressive political discourse in America. They are telling a story that includes both driving ideas: our fundamental shared interest and our insistence that society should work for the vast majority, not powerful elites. Where the candidates diverge is where they put the emphasis in their narratives.
After Clinton's first campaign message--that she was a progressive who could get things done--bombed, she finally developed a powerful campaign story. She began her Super Tuesday victory speech saying, "You know all across our country today they, Democrats, voted to break down barriers so we can all rise together."
But then she quickly pivoted to Sanders's campaign message: "Because this country belongs to all of us, not just those at the top."
The rest of Clinton's speech was framed around breaking down barriers that block people from fulfilling their own potential and participating in the America promise: "Instead of building walls we're going to break down barriers and build ladders of opportunity and empowerment so every American can live up to his or her potential, because then and only then can America live up to its full potential too."
Even when she returned to Sanders's ground of progressive populism, she extended the olive branch of togetherness. This section from her speech captures how she combines the two:
[W]e're all in this together, my friends, and we all have to do our part. But unfortunately, too many of those with the most wealth and the most power in this country today seem to have forgotten that basic truth about America. ... Now I'm not interested in condemning whole categories of people or businesses... So let there be no doubt, if you cheat your employees, exploit consumers, pollute our environment or rip off the taxpayers, we're going to hold you accountable. But, if you do the right thing, if you invest in your workers, and in America's future then we'll stand with you.
Sanders, of course, does not soft peddle his attacks on corporate greed and its exploitation of working people and hijacking of our democracy. But the power of his campaign comes not just from anger at the powerful but in the hope for a more inclusive economy and democracy. As he said at the beginning of his victory speech in New Hampshire, "the government of our great country belongs to all of the people and not just a handful of wealthy campaign contributors, and their Super PACs." And in concluding that same speech, "Together we are going to createan economy that works for all of us, not just the 1%."
While the energy of Sanders's speeches is based in progressive populism, the tone of his two most recognized campaign ads is in the spirit of Clinton's inclusive vision of the American promise. "America," Sanders's instantly iconic ad, includes gauzy images of diverse, working and middle-class Americans to the tune of Simon and Garfunkel's refrain "They've all come to look for America."
Sanders's other powerful ad, "Together," begins sounding like the new Clinton: "Our job is not to divide. Our job is to bring people together." Its images literally bring diverse faces together. Its narrative rejects division and focuses instead on our common humanity: "When we stand together--white and Black and Hispanic, gay and straight and woman and man." It then returns to the Sanders version of togetherness, contrasting this with the dominance of the powerful. "When we stand together and demand that this country works for all of us, not just the few,we will transform America."
The divergence in emphasis between Clinton and Sanders is seen in the differences in the constituencies that respond most to each. Sanders's populism, along with his bold, transformative agenda, are reaching young people, progressive activists, and white working class voters. Clinton's call for breaking down barriers speaks powerfully to Blacks, Hispanics, and older women. And her moderated populism is more comfortable for Democrats with higher incomes and seniors.
In the best of worlds, the two narratives would come together. Sanders would learn from Clinton to talk about breaking down barriers that are much deeper than economic inequality. Clinton would stop apologizing for her populism and start linking the theft of our democracy with the ransacking of our economy.
Having said that, the good news is that Democrats are finally getting close to a shared narrative--a powerful, values-based story about their core beliefs. Underlying both progressive populism and the liberal idea of breaking down barriers is the progressive meta-narrative, "We all do better when we all do better." This is both a statement of values and of how society works. It is an understanding that when each of us can care for and support our families, when all of us realize our full potential to participate in society, we build thriving communities and drive the economy forward.
Clinton summarized this at the top of her speech: "America prospers when we all prosper. America is strong when we're all strong." Building an economy that works for all of us is a concept that is central to every one of Sanders's policy proposals. It is a story that can reshape what is possible in American politics.
Richard Kirsch is director of a new organization called Our Story, aimed at helping progressives express their core political beliefs. This post originally ran in the Huffington Post.