lessons in change

As I fumed into the phone last night at the woman from East-West Logistics who shipped our Buddha statues from China, I paused to note the irony of it all. It occured to me that I was way too attached to the outcome of whether or not we'll pay extra fees to extract our treasures from the Port of Baltimore.

My attachment to outcomes seems to be showing up a lot these days. Whether it's my controlling insistance that all other living creatures in the household live up to my standards of homekeeping, or my temptation to do an end-run around my husband's reasonable resistance to me dropping everything to pursue a career in the arts...detachment and patience are elusive friends.

The I Ching tells me I should not act out of frustration, anxiety, despair, or desire to escape the situation. Instead, I'm to still myself and look for the lesson hidden inside the difficulty. I'm to correct my attitude until it is open, detached, and unstructured...abandon my goals and stay on the path, where I'm to proceed step by step.

For a girl who likes to plan and get on with it, this is going to be quite the challenge.


I'm loving a new little boxed book set that I've been working on called Pairings. The "pairings" are a series of paste papers and sewn handmade papers, where I've played with patterns, repetition and color. I'm using a nifty structure that Julie Leonard taught us at Penland this summer, the glue-free (!) drum leaf. Will add more shots as the books and box are completed, but for now, here are some of the papers I made:

no geographic fixes

I don't want this to be my Denver. Let me explain...

Almost 2 years ago, my husband and I seriously considered uprooting and relocating to Denver. We were overwhelmed by the cost of housing in the DC market and were looking at all options. The "easier" path of getting more for our money and exactly what we wanted was very alluring. Never mind it required a complete reboot of my small business and leaving our support network behind.

The real issue, however, was fear of making the tough decisions and executing them with commitment and discipline so that we could get what we wanted: a home of our own that we loved here in DC. When we finally dug in to do just that, we landed nicely. While I'm guessing that we could have made Denver work, I believe we may have continued to run from the issues we really needed to face.

So is my increasingly strong draw towards a career in the arts my new Denver...or an important transformation not to be diminished or pushed underground?

I don't know enough yet, but the topic is on the table and out in the open around here. Finally. I've been carrying it around for over a year now, telling myself this is just a hobby...something to do in my spare time. But it's time to start airing this thing, this pull, this magnetic yet natural draw I feel to reclaiming my artist self.

Question is, can I do this without completely reinventing my life? Haven't I done enough of that already? Yes, and...maybe this is what's next. Maybe now that the dust has settled and I've got some stability, I can look around for my heart's desire. And maybe I can do it in a way that's not dramatic, does not cause unnecessary chaos or hardship, and that still keeps me grounded as a responsible and contributing member of a marriage.

That doesn't preclude there being some angst as this topic is aired around here. Far form it. But I trust that more than I would unquestioning support or codependent compliance. For this not to be my geographic fix, I must face and address the things that challenge me most.

moving parts

Have started a little project (Moving Parts) that involves my two passions: book arts and dance. More about it as things develop, but today I dropped by rehearsal at the dance company involved in the project, CityDance, to get a first look at "Entangled," a new piece being created for their January performance at the Harman Center. I was only there for about 45 minutes, but what I absorbed in that short exposure filled a page in my sketchbook!

It was intimate and fascinating to witness the creation of this piece - count by count, comment by comment, negotiations between the dancers (Liz and Jerome), choreographer (Paul) and dancers, perhaps the dancers with themselves (can I really balance her and dip this way?). Just listening to their conversations triggered ideas, as did asking the dancers about their takes on what's emerging for them.

Thanks, Paul, Jerome and Liz, for the warm welcome. Attached are a few shots from the field (complements of my phone - next time I'll bring a real camera)...

not so far and away

Have finally recovered from wicked jet lag and accompanying cold, post-China trip. Have not recovered from the perspective-altering, mind-shifting experience of this trip - and hope I never do. It was everything I'd hoped for and far more. Surprise after surprise appeared, some delightful, others disturbing, all eye-opening.

The world feels smaller and I now feel connected to a land and people so far away...all this from only a 10-day visit. Maybe it's because we sought out experiences and interactions beneath the touristy surface. That, and indulging my thirst for all things paper, print and book art. For a taste, here are images of some of my favorite things.


Apparently, getting hit by a 2x4 was the only way I was going to learn that, indeed, I can't control the universe. This includes holding onto or otherwise attempting to "protect" what I have right now. Living the good life - and by that I mean a relatively carefree, abundant, drama-free life - is not guaranteed, no matter how much yoga, acupuncture, therapy and mediation I do. Crap will continue to rain down, regardless of how hard I try to keep my eye on every little thing I've been learning that's turned my life around these past 5+ years.

That's the irony: in the process of keeping my eye on "every little thing" (aka, attempting to ward off the bad stuff), I took my eye off what matters most: to not get attached to what is. So despite trying so hard to "do it right," it's not about preventing what I fear through "right" living. It's about understanding that nothing is permanent and that there's no insurance to protect me from what life brings - just reassurance that this, too, shall pass.

I do believe these tools are getting me closer to "turning it over." I just didn't realize how much I needed the extra push.

books transformed

Su Blackwell's "The 12 Dancing Princesses" (2007)I recall my reaction the first time I learned about altered books: a mix of shock, guilt and curiosity. It somehow felt wrong to tear into, cut up or otherwise transform an object I'd always revered as sacred, or at least precious. But how my take on this has shifted! Su Blackwell's work covers the sacred, precious and downright beautiful. I love how she describes her work, which resonates for me in many ways:

It is the delicacy, the slight feeling of claustrophobia, as if these characters, the landscape have been trapped inside the book all this time and are now suddenly released.

grounded truth

Spent the day with my 15-year old niece today. We went to the Spy Museum and lunch, her choice. At the end of the fascinating, educational and all around excellent exhibit we watched a movie, Ground Truth. It tells the story of how espionage is now playing a major role in a very different 21st century war - no longer targeting one major "dragon" (the Soviet Union), but now tracking intel from countless smaller and more dangerous "serpents" (terrorists). Knowing, from an insider's perspective, what's happening "on the ground" is the name of the game. An arm's-length relationship to the action interpreted through satellite photos is not enough.

On the metro ride home, we got to talking about this blog - having just "friended" me on Facebook, we were discussing the trickiness of boundaries and our online selves in general. When she asked why "designing a life" I told her the truth about its genesis and what I'm trying to do here. Which led to more questions: what did happen back then? Having skirted her questions in younger years, I decided it was time for some gentle honesty, not an arm's-length brush off.

The result was a sweet, connected conversation in which we both opened up and shared. Not inappropriately, but enough that it felt real and like I wasn't hiding something from her, ashamed of my past or treating her like a child. Talking about my whole life - not just its rebuilding - is my ground truth. Denying what was or skirting the issue doesn't make me the kind of role model I want to be for her.

However, compassionately embracing what's true on the ground does.

wake-up call

Got a timely wake-up call yesterday, in the form of losing a contract bid for a major job. Timely, in that I'd been getting a little cocky about a string of wins and didn't see this one coming. Ouch - especially since I was the incumbent. The universe's way of keeping me grounded, it seems.

So after a few minutes of fussing, cussing and blaming, I settled down and started journaling. Here's where I am so far...

I got beat out by a new comer – a 1 (2?) person consulting 8a with government-specific creds and great packaging. I am ultimately very competitive. I hate getting beat out. But this little firm beat me, fair and square. On image, at least. Maybe on competence and results, maybe not. But me smugly “knowing” that they client won’t get as good a result as they would with me does not mitigate the fact that I did not get this contract.

The real question for me now is am I going to really jump in here to compete in a way that will win biz? I know what to do: redo my business website, be crystal clear on what I offer to whom, and compete. Really compete. Not this half-hearted uncommitted approach I’ve been taking. My client work is whole-hearted and totally committed - my effort to "show up fully" in this market is not.

Doing is not the issue. What do I want? It means making a conscious choice. I’m at a turning point, actually. Bite the bullet and compete or don’t. But be very clear I have a choice. Instead of feeling bad or pointing fingers, this is all about me stepping up (or not), and then being accountable for my decision. And being at peace with it. In hindsight, I did see this coming - and by this, I mean a turning point, not the smaller "this" of losing a bid. I just didn't want to deal with it.

This is a wake up call. It’s time to decide. Consider. Choose. Then act.

Losing this bid could be the best outcome, actually. It asks me to pay attention. To stand up and stop playing small, making due with what lands in my lap. It’s not a sustainable strategy for getting what I want: serenity, peace, contentment and joy.

What I'm not clear on yet is the right choice for me now. I need to sit with this. Check in with myself and the small circle of wise mentors and supporters I've learned to both trust and believe. Maybe this is just part of my transition strategy. Could I tolerate it more if I saw it as a means to an end? I know I don’t want to be a big federal contracting firm – if I did, I would be acting to do so.

But can I be successful “enough” to get what I want: the platform and means to other things? Can I make enough of a living and really help my clients, without eating up all of my time or creative juice, to engage enough with the book arts (learn,  create, build relationships) to eventually sell my work, have a studio and teach?

my gal in india

I love a good "system," especially if it means I can delegate something, forget about it and it still gets done (bill paying, housekeeping, retirement investments, estimated taxes, yard care). Oh, the privileged life I live.

Yet when it's come to my all-time nemesis - meal planning and grocery shopping - a palatable system has eluded me. No amount of list making, cooking classes, overspending at gourmet markets or dragging my husband along for company has gotten me to commit, really commit, to ensuring that a reasonable amount of food stays in our house so that we can eat decently. Not even Nigella could seduce me into a habit that would stick. 

Earlier this year, I discovered Tim Ferris' super-organized-outsource-everything-so-you-can-have-a-life philosophy in Four Hour Work Week...and thought, yeah right. Then the fantasy of outsourcing this task floated into my mind and I immediately had to try it. Enter Triveni, my gal in India.

We're in our second week of the experiment. So far, so good - with several good laughs and a few surprises. Here's what I did to get us going:

  1. Created a sample 1-week meal plan
  2. Created a blank 1-week meal planning chart
  3. Created a sample grocery shopping list
  4. Scanned 20+ of our favorite recipes, plus various links to sites I like for ideas (e.g., easy, quick, good stuff)
  5. Re-activated our Peapod account
  6. Emailed all of this to Triveni with instructions on how to proceed

Turns out I'm not as specific as I think I am, when it comes to giving direction. I also hold a lot of assumptions. My favorite little twist so far was the lovely menu she sent back, jam-packed with enough meals and food (and a shopping list) to feed our household of two, plus all of our neighbors. I also smiled at the mac and cheese with a side salad for breakfast.

With an accumulated hour's worth of back and forth, we got the first order done. This week, it's taking us minutes. Last Saturday, I happily met the delivery at our door and have been enjoying the results:

Virtual Assistant: $10/hour, Online grocery order + tip: $130, Not eating PB&J or cereal for dinner again: priceless

mein inspiration

Stumbled on another amazing paper art site, Mein Inspiration, this weekend. There are so many talented people doing beautiful work. Deep breath, Kel (I get very excited about this stuff). Will attempt to pace myself, savoring each discovery. Relish this cut paper art...

Chris Natrop's Into the Silver See-through

Chris Natrop's Goddess as a Young Woman IV (detail)

Miriam Londoño's Memories Hina Aoyama's Lettre de VoltaireRob Ryan's Papercut Frame for VoguePeter Callesen's Distant Wish (detail)Peter Callesen's The Impossible Meeting (detail)

butterfly effect

I started what I thought was going to be a straightforward project yesterday: a fitted lid box with a double-sided window in the lid, into which I'd planned to display a butterfly I found at Penland.

Only as I started thinking about this particular butterfly, it became clear that I have a lot to say about what happened around finding and being with this little guy as he died.

So instead of whipping out another box, I'm letting this process unfold as it will. So far, it has me journaling about death mostly. Not in a morbid dark way, but in what feels like an honest way...about the people I've been with as they died and what was happening in my life at those times.

This week marks the second anniversary of Maggie's death, my maternal grandmother with whom I was very close. She died on the last day of our honeymoon. I swear, she waited until the wedding and honeymoon were over. It makes sense that I'd feel something now, but I didn't see it coming. Slowing down to listen to the stories my butterfly is asking me to tell is having its intended effect, I suppose.

what if...?

In Brenda Belfield's class this weekend at The Art League, Design Rules and How to Break 'em!, I was kicked right out of my comfort zone. I didn't think I'd been at the book arts long enough to know what my comfort zone is, but I discovered in this class that I clearly have one.

Brenda's a world-renowned abstract painter and glass artist, so just taking her class was a leap for me. As she encouraged us to think "what if...?" with all of our initial solutions to the design challenges she threw at us, I clung to what I now see is my comfort zone: sticking to the safety of the grid, a delicate esthetic, minimal patterns, a monochromatic palette. Hmmm...is this how I live my life?

I'm probably being a little hard on myself. After all, I color decidedly outside the lines at times. Yet as her question continues to pop into my head today (and my post-Penland high remains), I'm struck by its application to more than our little art class exercises. What if I really embraced my art? What if I could learn to fully express what I'd like to say through these magical media? What if I could change the world, just a little, with my art? What if I could design a life that, in my wildest (no, I think these are my oldest) dreams, I never thought I could have?

Never mind how for now. Just...what if?


Just returned home from 2+ weeks at Penland in Julie Leonard's box making class (assisted by the talented Jessica White). Hard to capture here what this experience has done for or means to me. Actually, I'm still trying to figure it out. What I do know is that under Julie's patient, expert, kind hand we all flourished in different ways. I went expecting to learn something about box making and have left with far more. 

The 8-hour drive home was crucial. I don't do long drives well, but I really needed (still need) the transition time to resurface...to come in for a landing. To reconnect with the people and things outside of that special bubble I was inhabiting in the Smoky Mountains and inside of myself.

More to come, but for now, here's some of my work...


tptsy.jpgI was wondering when my ability to feel true compassion for people who challenge or hurt me most would show up. Finally, it's here.

Maybe it's because I've gone to the places that scare me. Years ago, I actually bought Pema Chodron's book twice without realizing it, and then stashed each copy on my bookshelf, unread, after the first chapter scared the wits out of me. The power of the unconscious is humbling!

I finally did read her book about a year ago, but it hasn't been until this summer that a sense of peaceful connection with others has blossomed. Where has this come from? Why now?

Forgiveness (of myself and others) has something to do with it. That's taken a long time. As has allowing my anger -- really feeling it and the heartbreak beneath. I've found a way to my bodhichitta, that soft, tender, vulnerable spot in my heart. The pain I used to run from is no longer unbearable or terrifying, but rather a pure and profound connection to others who suffer.

Another key is discernment. There's a big difference between compassion and enabling or co-dependence. Having over-invested in many relationships, I left myself naively vulnerable to both being taken advantage of or, taking advantage of those who came to my rescue. Yes, discernment and accountability are in the mix here.

And what about my Fire? According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) of which I'm a big fan, we are now at the height of Fire in the annual five-element cycle. Fire is about the Heart, center of compassion and joy. My guess is that my Heart Protector (what a great name!) has finally been properly activated under the skilled touch of my acupuncturist.

One last thing. Staying open to, while not forcing or faking my compassion is a piece of this. Arriving on its own terms, I welcome this state of being with a strong heart and open arms.

penland fever

I leave a week from today to immerse myself in the book arts at Penland School of Crafts in the Great Smoky Mountains, about an hour from Asheville, NC.

It's all I can think about.

I've been very focused and organized this week -- a way to manage my anxiety, perhaps, about leaving behind clients, home, my husband and pets for nearly three weeks.

Part of me is not-so-secretly thrilled to be leaving it all behind. When I've run away in the past (to France for a month, for example, after a string of self-induced dramas), I sought a port in the storm.

This time feels different. For one, the little heart tugs I feel at the prospect of leaving are a good thing. There's nothing to run from here now.

I feel like a kid getting ready for summer sleep-away camp! Check out some what I'll be up to...

 Papermaking studio
Working on a letterpress book
Print studio