Shifting Focus

I have come to the realization that I have been in quite a funk the last few years. I wouldn’t call it a full blown depression, but I have definitely not been myself. I have been anxious, angry, and frustrated because my life hasn't been what I was expecting - what I was hoping it would be.

When David and I first got into visual journals, we had no idea where it would all lead. We were just two artists looking for a way to stay connected to our own art since our jobs as art educators often pulled us away from the studio and away from our art. For me, the journal was a way to connect with myself and to connect with my art making. It got me back into creating, and I grew in ways I could have never imagined.

After a few years of immersing ourselves in the journal, we saw a need to share our journals and our process with people, and things quickly began to take off. We went from sharing informally with fellow educators and artists, to sharing at conferences, workshops, and seminars. The Journal Junkies Workshop grew out of those presentations and hands-on workshops, and it was an amazing thing to see so many people respond so positively to the book. It seemed like we were poised for things to take off even more - ready for something even bigger, and with the publication of our second book, Journal Fodder 365, my focus began to shift. I started thinking about how much I enjoyed the conferences and the workshops, and conventions, and there seemed to be a growing demand for what we had to offer. I began to consider the possibility of stepping away from teaching public school and into the world of a full time artist that taught workshops around the country, sold books and art, and gave talks motivating and inspiring others.

I was starting to see this as a way to make a living - a way to pay bills - a way to make a buck. I lost track of the reason why I was doing all of this in the first place. All those years ago, I had begun sharing the journal as a way to connect with other people - as a way to help them with their artistic and personal growth, but my focus shifted to wanting to make a living - wanting to make money. My aim became how can I step away from my career as a public school art educator and be a full time artist, presenter, workshop instructor. I became more and more dissatisfied with teaching, and plotted and schemed harder and harder trying to make my “dream” happen. But the more I tried, the further away it seemed. Things popped up that got in the way draining me emotionally and financially. No matter what, I was still were I was and not moving any closer to what I thought that I wanted. Actually, things seemed to back sliding. I became miserable at school feeling trapped and unappreciated - feeling angry and lost - feeling like I was treading water barely keeping my head above the surface.

I got lost in thoughts of “One of these days…” and I begin to despise where I was constantly feeling like I was not moving any closer to my dream. I got lost in the whole ego of the situation feeling that I wanted to be somewhere else - to be someone else. I looked at others who I felt were making it, and I made excuses why they had been successful, and why I hadn’t. It became me against the world. I was a victim of circumstances, and if circumstances were different, then it would be me that had the success. But a realization dawned on me - an awakening that finally made me see that the misery - the dissatisfaction was just a story that I was telling myself - the sad, poor me story that made people into enemies and situations into hopeless circumstances.

I realized that I had lost my way and my reason. I hadn’t written the books with Dave to make money or to make a living. I wrote them to share what I did with people knowing that there were many like me who want to make and create - who wanted to change their lives. I knew what power the visual journal held, and that’s why I wrote the books and presented at conferences and art retreats. I wanted to share and to connect. As I lost sight of that, I had stopped connecting. I had stopped so many things and isolated myself and shut part of myself off. I didn’t want to be shut down and closed off anymore.

One of my big revelations recently has been that we are always where we need to be. If we needed to be somewhere else, we would be there and not here. We might not exactly like where we are, but we are where we are because there is something we need to do - something we need to learn. We can’t ignore our present reliving the past and hoping for a certain future. We have to be in the moment that is NOW. By becoming present and by realizing that it was the thoughts about the future that were making me miserable, I realized that now is the only time that I have, and I can choose to be happy and choose to make of my life what I want now.

So I dedicating myself to reconnecting - reconnecting with myself - reconnecting with my art - and reconnecting with people. That is why I am here - to connect and share. I can’t do that in a future that will never come. I must do that now. Now is the only time I have. So, I have decided to stop withholding myself and what I have to offer from the world wallowing around in my sad, woe-is-me stories of lack. I have decided to stop living for a future that will never come. I have decided that in the here and now I will lay myself out there for others and try in every way to connect. I have decided to stop making the present an enemy and accept that I am where I need to be, and if I can truly hold that space for others, I will experience such abundance and happiness no matter where I am. I have decided that I am no longer waiting for that one day when everything is right with the world. I have decided that day is now - today - this very moment.

If I can live fully in the present moment, the universe will take care of me. The misery, anger, frustration have eased. I still have my moments when I catch myself conjuring the negative self-talk, feeling the frustration, but then I remind myself that I can only be where I am - HERE and NOW. There is no other place. I will stop trying to force something to happen, and simply abide in the now without resisting, and the universe will take care of the rest.

Spirit: Resonance

In its simplest terms, resonance is the amplification of vibrations, and the smallest vibrations can build and build upon each other and have the greatest effects. Just check out the mere act of wind on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge causing its ultimate collapse in 1940. A similar thing can happen to an individual when he or she is doing the thing they most love to do - small things come together and amplify the satisfaction, the rewards, and the results. There is a resonance of the spirit in those moments. Deepak Chopra calls this “align[ing] with the force of dharma,” and though I most often associate dharma with the teachings of Buddha, in its most general sense dharma is “virtue or right living.” Ken Robinson calls it being in your element, and when you are in your element, you feel that you are doing what you were meant to do. For me, these are the moments when I come most alive - when I feel the resonance of the moment and I feel the most connected to the universe.

What resonates with my spirit? What causes that amplification of vibrations within me? What am I meant to do?

As I have mentioned before, art is my core and I am most in my element when I am connecting to my art. I feel completely present, completely at home, and completely at peace when I am making art and it just seems to flow from me. However another aspect of being an artist is sharing my love, my passion, my methods, my madness. In essence it is about teaching. I see my role as a teacher as an extension of my art. It comes from the same creative space.

But not all teaching elicits that deep satisfaction or resonates profoundly with my spirit. I earn most of my living from teaching art at a public high school in Northern Virginia, and unfortunately, in many ways it dims my spirit and doesn’t resonate with me. It is because teaching school is not solely about teaching. There are so many things that dilute the purity of the teaching experience. My educator friends probably know what I mean. Now don’t get me wrong, there are times when I come alive, when I see a spark in the eyes of a student, when a young artist “gets it.” But these moments are few and far between.

My spirit really lights up, when I am in a pure teaching experience. At conventions, conferences, workshops, retreats, and seminars where I can share my art, my experiences, and myself, I come alive. It is quite evident when I move people, when there is a dawning in their minds, when something that I share sparks something within them. The feedback is quite instant. Dave and I always have excited people coming up to us after a workshop or presentation and sharing their reactions, and fortunately, they have been overwhelmingly positive. We have also received countless emails about the impact that we have had. This makes it so apparent that what I do is having an impact.

But its not about the accolades, it’s not about selling more books or getting more opportunities (though all of that is good and I’m not discouraging it). It’s all about that sense of being in the moment doing what I feel I was meant to do. It’s about that feeling of being in my element and having an impact on the world. Quite frankly, I am out to change the world, and slowly, I am making a difference. I think of the thousands of teachers, artists, and students that I have impacted, and I think of all the people they have influenced. That is real resonance, and all because I do what I feel that I was meant to do.

What I do is simple, but it resonates with me and it resonates with others. These small ripples spread out amplified by what others do - what others bring to it. As the impact and the effects spread, the world changes, and I know that I am a part of that change.

Spirit: Proclaim Yourself

Just as with my body, my spirit has been battered, neglected, and abused lately. I feel that some of my life force has been drained. To put it succinctly, I feel lost.

Some how in the rush that has become life, I have lost myself. Life is chaotic and the demands on my time and my energies seem to have become greater with each passing day, and unfortunately so many things are being neglected and forgotten. Much to my chagrin, these are the things that are most essential to me, and I feel that a part of me has slipped away. I am caught up in habits that diminish who I am, and roles and expectations have been placed on me that eat away at my spirit. If I do not proclaim who I am, others will lay claim to identifying and labeling me. They will continue to place the roles and expectations on me. I must shake off these attempts by others to define me. I must find myself.

But how do I find myself? How do I proclaim who I am?

I have to stand up for myself, say no to the things that diminish me, and perhaps step on a few toes. It’s easy to ruffle feathers when you step out of those identities others have placed on you, but I have allowed others to define who I am for too long. I need to shout out, ring out, and sing out so that I can be heard. I must find the courage to reclaim those missing pieces and make the time and the room to cultivate who I am deep down.


There it’s out there. I’ve proclaimed it.

Everyday I need to do this and not forget who I am. I need to proudly say that I am an artist when someone asks me what I do. Too often I go for the easy and comfortable, “I’m a teacher.” I often even leave out the fact that it’s art that I teach like some how art and teaching art aren’t valid. But teaching is only a part of what I do and who I am. Even if I did not teach in a public school, I would still teach. I would still share my art, my thoughts, and my methods. Teaching is just a small part of being an artist.

Being an artist means more than simply making art. Yes, I make art. I draw, I paint, I collage. But these activities do not truly define me. I am an artist deep within. It is my core. I have always been an artist, and I was an artist before I was defined by any roles like teacher, husband, friend. It is the artist that drives me. I am inquisitive. I am curious. I am creative. I experiment. I explore. I think and reflect. I am brimming with ideas and stories that need to be expressed. I see the world as an artist, and everything that I experience goes into my reserves and becomes fodder for making art and expressing myself. And every experience, every relationship, and every moment is experienced as an artist. I can’t go to the theater without marveling at the stage, the scenery, the visual spectacle. I can't go for a walk with out noticing the colors and the shapes and the textures of the world around me.

I make art because I must. When I am not making art, I am sharing my art, teaching about art, and writing about art. But too often when I am not making art, I deny myself, cut a part of myself off, and deny my spirit. Too often I sit in front of the TV or waste time and energy with Facebook, email, and other technological distractions. Art feeds me, and in art I am not LOST. I find myself in every mark, every stroke, every color.

I am an artist, a maker, an expresser of personal things. Now I must carve out that identity. Live it. Breathe it. Stop denying it by distracting myself with so many things that do not matter. It is my core, I must treat it just as vital to my existence as food and shelter.