Looking for a little inspiration


Laura from Aurora, Nebraska

Sometimes the best place to go for a little inspiration is simply out of town. My friend, a brilliant illustrator, Annie Brule said, “Being out of your usual context is almost always good for you.” She was telling me a story over a glass of wine in West Seattle about a weekend trip that gave her clarity.

When I boarded a flight to New York a few days later, I had no goals of seeking anything out or looking for perspective or anything like that. I just wanted to go have fun and see a few friends. Instead, I got inspiration in spades.

There were late night conversations with Aimee about love, life, our past struggles and our future daydreams. There was the instant comfort of a conversation with Selina. There was chatting at the Museum of Modern Art with Raluca about her trip home to Romania and her progress on her novel.

My friend Laura stands out the most. It was her first trip to New York and she took it all in with an unusual finesse and zest, pointing out the smallest of details and asking questions galore as we walked around the city. We all met Laura on maybe our first day at the Art Farm in Nebraska. She popped into the house, explaining that she lived in the next town over and gave us her phone number in case we needed anything. She soon became a dear friend.

Laura is a real Renaissance woman. She works with cows all day in a research project for the university. She can tell you everything about antique tractors or the Nebraska prairie. She’s also an artist, crafter and musician, who writes her own songs and plays guitar.

Over the summer, she told me stories about her Native American roots, her great grandmother who wore long skirts, kept a gun at her hip and could roll a cigarette with one-hand. In New York, she sang a song in Aimee’s living room with such courage. When we complemented her voice and her poetry, she admitted to having sung opera in the past and playing saxophone.

Laura-from-Aurora is who convinced me to take the trip east — even though I was reluctant to make a break in my routine. While we were crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, I thanked her. I said that she is that rare type who follows through on daydream plans — and that’s the type of person who I like the most. She couldn’t imagine being any other way.

On my last night of the trip, I drank spiked apple cider from a nearby orchard in Connecticut with my friend Stan and my cousin Lauren in her new house. We sat on Lauren’s screened porch, watching the sun set and bearing witness to the changing temperatures of a cool fall night. I talked about the uncertainties of my life, my struggles finding enough work to keep myself afloat and my desires to see my art go somewhere one day — whatever that means.

Stan offered to help in whatever ways possible. Lauren encouraged me to open a gallery. We all told stories and laughed as it became dark, then moved inside. I am grateful for the people who have recently become part of my life, for knowing Aimee and Trae, Selina, Raluca and Annie, and Laura. I feel like it would be so easy to have never met them, to have never gone to Nebraska and just turned my car around. I am grateful as well for the people who I already know who continue to push me forward. I feel like it is easy to want more — and perhaps more difficult to recognize that what we want, we’ve had all along — courage, love, inspiration, wild hearts, sympathetic minds and phenomenal beings all around.

Hitting the Pavement


My friend Ian Anderson

Every morning at 6 a.m., my friend, the talented painter Ian Anderson, loads up his bicycle with art supplies and heads to downtown Houston. He sets up and waits for the sun to emerge and highlight the buildings — and then he paints tiny landscapes of the skyline with a limited palette of a colors.

I spent some time with Ian in his studio recently and leafed through the piles of paintings on paper. He said that he hopes to have a show of the works one day, but in the meantime, he’s glad to be painting as much as possible. And, more than anything, he really enjoys what he is creating, every aspect of putting brush to paper and every pedaling adventure in the early morning.

Ian also showed me his failed ideas — the things he started working on but no longer wants to pursue. For a painter who once had trouble getting motivated to create, he seems to be on a hot streak.

Before heading to Ian’s, I popped into visit my other super talented Houstonian artist friend, Kevin Peterson. His studio was also full of new works, which means tons of time spent at the easel, for someone who paints every realistic detail in his fantasy pieces of children walking through the detritus of a city with wild animals at their heals.

I always have liked to spend time with Kevin and Ian, not only because I love the paintings they create. They are hard-working, dedicated and critical in a way meant to promote progress. I think it’s important to surround yourself with people who have a work ethic and dedication that you would ideally like to share.

A lot of people will agree that talent is secondary to putting in the hours of work required to create something great. But then again, few people actually will sit down and toil until they reach a breakthrough. I really do believe that it’s all about hitting the pavement and being dedicated to taking the journey, spending years trying to get better and constantly striving.

When I was in college, one of the visiting photographers came to our classroom and said, “Look around you. Some of you are already talented photographers and some of you are just learning. The ones who are already good will never be great. The ones who are just beginning will have the potential to be great photographers. They’re the ones who will take rolls and rolls of pictures to try to get better. They’re the ones who will learn daily and push themselves harder. The ones who are already good won’t feel the need to try as hard — and consequently will remain where they are today.”

“Continuous effort – not strength or intelligence – is the key to unlocking our potential.” — Winston Churchill

The Company We Keep


Yesterday, I met my friend Andrew for coffee. He’s a religious person, a former preacher who now focuses on music as ministry. He talked about “the void” and “the glory” — that vast unknown that is reality and the emotional transcendence that is on the other side.

He said that most people think of the two as opposing forces, but instead he believes people must traverse the void, live in it, face it fully — to find God.

The idea hit home to me. Andrew and I talked at length about how we have to face hardship to grow, to die to be reborn. Andrew said the void is the only thing that’s real — everything else is a creation, a distraction from reality, which in actuality, is chaos, the unknown. He said that we have to face “death” as we constantly evolve on our journeys.

Sometimes, we find ourselves feeling lost — and we long for change, renewal and growth. To get there, we might have to suffer, to pass through a rough spot, to let certain go of certain past traits, experiences and people. We have to let part of our old selves die to become who we will be in the future.

Andrew said that to get through the void, it’s essential to have faith — to believe that you are loved and that there is a purpose. For him, that comes from religion. For me, love comes from family and friends.

“When you agree to be someone’s friend, you are basically saying, ‘I allow you to shape who I am as a person,'” Andrew said. “We are giving someone permission to help shape us in our continual transformation.”

He cautioned about letting the wrong people in. He said we should be careful about the company we keep.

My friend Mac Scott said, “When you are around extraordinary people, you will learn extraordinary things. Let this be a lesson — pick your friends wisely.”

Being comfortable with not knowing

LindsayPeyton_When You Are Spinning copy

My painting “When You Are Spinning”

I started this painting, “When You Are Spinning,” when I first settled into my apartment in Seattle. It is inspired by my friend Steven Foster, a fantastic writer and creative force, who has been facing a number of challenges lately and who always heads forward into that abyss with great energy — whether its manic enthusiasm for the future or absolute dread with the present situation. The painting is of his office, a space that he remodels constantly — and always feels in motion and full of the energy of whatever Steven’s current project happens to be.

While I was painting I was listening to an episode of This American Life that just hit me. In it, the narrator describes the thrill of being on a carnival ride, in the midst of some personal tragedy. “It reminds you that when you are close to death and intimate with it, when you are spinning fast and high in the dark night with nothing around you, it is difficult to know what is happening,” he says. “It is difficult to be afraid, far more difficult than it is on the ground.”

When you are in the swing of this wild and crazy, wondrous life, it is hard to be afraid. But when things come to a standstill, anxiety is an easy companion to acquire. The problem is that life is full of hiccups and set-backs. I think for artists, this may be even more true, because we have consigned ourselves to a journey of self-discovery and constant reinvention.

In “No More Secondhand Art,” Peter London writes that “not knowing” is an important part of the creative process. Artists face not knowing when we stare at a blank canvas — but everyone deals with this — in our day-to-day lives with partnerships, friendships and basic experiences.

“Our usual response is to shrink back from the encounter,” London writes. “As a consequence, we are likely to fall back upon tired ways, disengage from the actual circumstances we find ourselves in and rerun past scenarios. The failure to make contact with the reality we’re in causes us in turn to feel out of our element and disempowered. In this dispirited state, we certainly do not feel in a mood for creative play or adventures of the imagination.”

I’m not sure how to become more engaged in actual circumstances and face the fear of the unknown — but it definitely seems worth spending time figuring out.

Peter London reminds us that “When all is empty, all is ready” and that “it is the zero point from which new things spring.”

He writes that “fear is the symptom indicating that great things are being confronted, the boundaries of what we take to be safe, real and good.”

And in regards to dealing with the past, I love this quote from him, “We must learn to discriminate between when the wind is blowing and when our memory is howling. We must take courage to breach the walls we have built to keep out the real dangers and test whether they are still present or have gone their ways. And when it ceases to howl outside, we must have the wherewithal to let it also go from our minds and turn to the new day.”

Even Cowgirls Get the Blues


Artists are known to suffer from occasional depression and regular mood swings. But creative types are not the only ones who may from time to time dip into fits of melancholy or instances of doldrums.

I usually like to dive into my emotions, dissect them, figure out the root cause and act accordingly. Depression may stem from a living arrangement that no longer suffices, the lack of strong friendships, missing someone — just as an episode of anxiety may reflect a need to exercise, eat, sleep or do something you love/have to do.

Sometimes, however, there’s a deeper blue. Sometimes, it all feels too overwhelming to analyze. Perhaps it stems from things that have happened to you. I admit to being the type who is more consumed by the past than I should be — and despite efforts to not act the victim, I often find it a hard habit to break. It simply hurts to have a broken heart, to have misplaced trust or to have someone cause harm to you in whatever way — and these are things we adults must face as we venture out into the world.

Meghan Austin wrote a story for the New York Time’s Style section on Modern Love, saying “I don’t regret any of it. Love often doesn’t arrive at the right time or in the right person. It makes us do ridiculous and stupid things. But without it, life is just a series of unremarkable events, one after the other.”

Even those things that haunt us — past mistakes and past pain — are markers on our journeys. They give us guideposts. They give us turning points. They give us identity as well.

We venture out even though we may feel scared. We open up even though we are scarred. Sometimes taking a risk is not a poor gamble but just a sign of a life being lived. I think it’s important to be a little wild, to try regardless. And perhaps learning to live with a bit of pain is a part of the process.

Always Reinventing


Earlier this week, I interviewed Michael Remson, executive director of AFA, an organization with the mission statement: “enriching the lives of young people through music.”

At one point in the conversation, he said that students find out who they are and what matters to them when they make music. I replied that I feel like I do the same thing with art every day, even as an adult. I figure out who I am.

“This is a process, and this is what we do all the time,” Michael said. “We’re always reinventing ourselves and always challenging ourselves. That’s what life is all about.”

I feel like this desire to change, to improve and to discover is the essence of being an artist. I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes an individual “an artist.” I believe it’s more about the quest, the exploration and the search than it is about the actual medium, subject matter and finished project.

I decided recently to move to a new house in a different neighborhood — and have been having anxiety about the change. I’m just starting to settle where I live now, just beginning to figure out my paths and routines, refuges and gathering places. But it’s important to move forward, to find new spots, to see new sights and process new experiences.

Aimee sent me a letter about being a hunter — and the thought has stuck with me. Artists are on the prowl, looking for kindling for creative fire — and also must be open to the transformation that comes with that blaze.

Show yourself some love


My painting “Grand, Extraordinary Measures Are Your Only Chance”

“We can be content with where we are — but that doesn’t mean we should be there,” my friend Chance said yesterday. We were having one of those rambling phone conversations that touches a number of topics and sparks a lot of future thought.

Both Chance and I were experiencing a similar type of breakthrough over the weekend. I found myself for the first time introducing myself as an artist — and actually showing people photos of my work. This is something that has, for whatever reason, mortified me in the past. I don’t know why — but I’m sure it was a combination of things — fear of seeming arrogant, fear of having to prove myself, fear of being unworthy.

Chance had played a piano gig and, for the first time, not fought or dismissed compliments he received after the show. Instead of rushing home, he allowed himself to linger — which led to him meeting more people, making connections and possibly scheduling more shows with new musicians.

During the past few years, I have found myself experiencing certain emotions more often than I would like — including bitterness and jealousy. I believe that these emotions are fed by a lack of self-respect or self-love. We tend to think it’s egocentric or self-indulgent to be too kind to ourselves. Of course there is a limit, but I think that it is actually key to take time to show yourself a little love.

This can be done in a number of ways. Having enough respect for yourself to say “I’m an artist, because that’s what I love to do,” seems incredibly basic — but it can be a challenge. Having the ability to say “thank you” instead of shooting down a compliment can be equally difficult.

I am trying to regain control over my days, my emotions and my thoughts. Taking five or ten minutes here or there to do small things can make a huge difference in battling that haze that comes with constant, busy days. Making the things I love to do — painting, reading and writing — a priority instead of an after thought is also part of that process.

In the past, I was content with being lost in a whirlwind of work and social obligations. My time for myself was hitting the gym and walking my dog. If I finished every chore, I would allow myself to paint. I didn’t even make time to sit down and read. I would sneak in two pages in a novel before falling asleep.

Only recently have I tried to put on the brakes and make an effort to own my time more — and as a result, I find that the bitterness and jealous feelings have faded away. I have become a better listener, more present in the moment and able to enjoy small distractions that might have seemed annoying in the past.

And like Chance said, just because we have become used to feeling or living a certain way doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t take time to examine our choices — and make moves towards a change for the better.

A Scavenger Hunt


One thing leads to another. I have spent the last few days contemplating off and on a few random lines and wondering if they fit together somehow — resulting in a bit of a mental scavenger hunt.

On Wednesday, I went on an amazing hike up Mt. Pilchuck. On top of a pile of boulders rests what used to be a fire lookout. Now it’s a spot to stop, take in the view and rest before hiking down. People sign their names in a spiral notebook in the old cabin and comment on their experiences. One person wrote a poem, which ended with the line “Act Wild.”

The poem caught my eye, but at 5,000 ft. up in the clouds, my mind could not really process or remember the words. When I was back home, however, I wondered if I could find the work online. I searched for Mt. Pilchuck and “Act Wild” — and instead I stumbled on this quote from one of my favorite writers, Virginia Woolf: “If we didn’t live venturously, plucking the wild goat by the beard, and trembling over precipices, we should never be depressed, I’ve no doubt, but already should be faded, fatalistic and aged.”

Intrigued by this quote, I read more poems online and landed on this piece by Emily Dickinson, which really struck me —

Crumbling is not an instant’s Act

Crumbling is not an instant’s Act

A fundamental pause

Dilapidation’s processes

Are organized Decays —

‘Tis first a Cobweb on the Soul

A Cuticle of Dust

A Borer in the Axis

An Elemental Rust —

Ruin is formal — Devil’s work

Consecutive and slow —

Fail in an instant, no man did

Slipping — is Crashe’s law —

People find this poem to be a juxtaposition — Emily Dickinson’s sing-song style mixed with a weighty and fatalistic message. But I see a lot of hope in her sentiments. If failure doesn’t happen overnight, then we have a chance to stop it from happening at all. But how do we recognize when we are taking the wrong steps? And how do we stop moving forward on the wrong path.

I feel asleep thinking about this, and the next morning I awoke to my daily text from Rhonda: “Fear kills more dreams than failure ever will.”

Conquering fears and leading a more courageous life has been high on my mind since I started this blog.

“It requires effort to face the person we are but no longer wish to remain,” I read today in Peter London’s “No More Secondhand Art.”

And in moving forward, he recommends:

— to affirm through practice, new ways of looking and responding

— to discard the many-layered masks that we use to conceal the person we actually are

— to fathom and celebrate in public the person we really are

— to locate our natural voice, its rhythm, tone and melody so that the songs we sing flow easily with conviction and with heart

— to assume responsibility for the creation of the life we desire and give up the comfortable role of victim of circumstance.

I couldn’t think of a better guide. The first step, it seems, toward conquering fear, veering away from failure and giving up the “comfortable role of victim of circumstance” is to be active in life and to examine our choices — and to become more self-aware and conscious of how we are impacting others.

On Being Lost


On Sunday, Aimee texted me randomly and asked me to do something. I was sitting on the couch reading the Sunday New York Times. It was one of those lonely mornings and just her hello brought tears to my eyes — simply because I needed it so.

She dared me to get lost, to really wander and to eventually ask someone for directions. I loved the thought, but I had all of these grown up things to do — make an outing to the bank, print up tax documents at Kinko’s, buy groceries at the farmer’s market, mail packages at the post office. And afterwards, I would go to the Seattle Art Fair — because, even though I usually hate going and find the fairs depressing, it seemed like the right thing to do.

When Aimee sent me her suggestion, it immediately made me think of junior high and my friend Elizabeth Osborne. We used to get massievly lost on purpose. It was our favorite game, before everyone had GPS devices in their pockets. We wanted the exhilaration of it, the joy of finally finding our way back, the relief.

One of the best memories I have is of being totally lost in Sam Houston National Forest. I was in the midst of a break-up so bad that I no longer knew myself. I forgot what I liked and what I didn’t. I forgot how to exist completely.

And my first love Matt and my dear friend Paul offered to take me on a hike and geocaching adventure. Both of the guys were former Boy Scouts. Paul actually taught a class on how to use GPS — and had one of the devices before they were part of our cell phones. He brought his GPS device along — but forgot to mark our point of entry.

We wandered for hours deep into the forest, and as it became almost dusk, we realized we had no idea where we were. The guys mentioned the almost inevitable possibility of sleeping in the forest, but we pushed on as night began to fall. Eventually, we found barbed wire and trampled fearfully — and gratefully — across a farmer’s pasture. We emerged way further up the road than we had parked.

Luckily, a quick call to my dad (who just celebrated his 71st birthday today) yielded a ride back to the truck. We were worn out and exhausted — but adrenaline rushed, thankful and for me, what was the best part of the experience, actually lost and saved. It completely mirrored how I felt — lost emotionally — and there I was physically and literally forgotten in time and space — and our ability to make it home gave me hope.

So on Sunday, when I finally headed to the Seattle Art Fair, I realized that I had mapped the location incorrectly — and I had no idea where I was. I wandered for quite a while, then found a nice couple and asked for directions. It made me smile to know that Aimee’s instructions were coming into play exactly as she had detailed.

I felt worn out, but I was accomplishing my assigned task. On my way home, I stopped for a glass of champagne at one of my favorite spots, Barnacle. This guy named Paolo sat next to me and confided that it was his first night in the city as a transplant to Seattle from Minneapolis. He seemed so exuberant, hopeful, full of energy and possibility. I think I was that way a year ago. I swallowed my bitterness, my reserve, my worries about my own decisions. And I said cheers, this is wonderful, this is an adventure — and I wished him all my best before heading home, telling someone exactly what I needed to hear, feeling lost still in so many ways and yet wanting to impart a feeling of hope.

Focusing on Gratitude


I’ve been longing for artistic community. Ever since I returned to the real world and left behind the magic of the residency in Nebraska, I’ve felt this lack, this awareness of something missing. And it seems fairly obvious that what I no longer have is a group of comrades, working together, discussing ideas and inspiring each other.

There is this Buddhist idea that you have what you need at all times, if you are able to become fully aware. We humans tend to find the one thing we’re don’t have — and then miss out on acknowledging all the things we do. For example, you might neglect to notice all the love in your life — and instead focus on a broken heart. It takes a certain amount of grace to be aware of all the good and to remember that all of the bad, the entropy, the disorder is just one part of the picture.

In my attempts to be more present, I think it’s important to stop for a bit and be grateful for the community that I do have. Since starting the blog, Rhonda has been sending me an inspirational text message every morning, little quotes and sweet sayings to start my day. It is an amazing way to wake up.

Also, every day, my friend, the musician Mark Richardson, has been sending me songs that he has written over the years with explanations of where he was, what he was feeling and what the words mean. I eagerly look forward to the emails, listening to the melodies and reading what he wrote.

And then there’s the mail. Luckily, I have stumbled upon a few letter-writers lately. I am so grateful to receive a letter from Aimee, a postcard from Selina, a CD from Ben, writing from Carmella, a long note from a writer in Houston, Greg Oaks. It feels liberating to write letters again — it helps clear my thoughts and reminds me that communication can be so much deeper than the usual email, social media interaction or even phone call.

I am thankful for the artists who do call me as well to discuss art, especially for Justin Dunford, who is the most talented and always willing to give me a critique of a painting. I am lucky to have new friends like Daylan who will talk about art over coffee. And it helps me to focus on all of this — instead of sitting around missing my lunches with Angela Dillon, stopping into Kevin Peterson’s studio in Houston or my many happy hours, dinners and evenings at the Art Farm.

I still desire bringing back what I had at the Art Farm to my regular life, capturing that essence somehow. I still want to figure out a way to build a community here and now. But I need to stop and take time to appreciate and acknowledge what I have already — because it’s a lot.