Watercolor Painting

Freedom And Boundaries

Luxurious Living, Personal Muse-ings

The celebration of Independence Day every Fourth of July, is a celebration of freedom. This American holiday is, in my opinion, one of our most substantive holidays in terms of ideology. Freedom is at the very heart of American culture. It permeates the whole of our society from our government, to our politics, to our economy, to our social structure, and our core values. Certain freedoms were of such importance to our founding fathers that they were articulated into our Constitution. They are protected by law.

Freedom also takes center stage in much American debate. Often it is an issue of the freedoms of the individual versus the freedoms of the majority. These debates are heated and there is passion on both sides. My intent is not to get into these debates themselves, but to address the idea of freedom itself. More specifically, the principle that true freedom always exists within boundaries.

Many people mistakenly believe that freedom is the absence of consequences. This is not the case. In fact, it is not even possible for freedom to exist outside of, or independent from, the natural law of consequences. Here in America, we are free because we have laws, or restrictions if you will, governing social behavior and economy, etc. When we obey these laws, we are free. When we do not abide by law, there are consequences. Often consequences limit our freedoms.

All of nature is governed by natural law (e.g. the law of gravity, or the laws of physics). For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. These are natural consequences- part of the natural law. They are not something humans can circumvent. True freedom comes from awareness of consequences to actions and making decisions accordingly, by choosing a desired outcome and not an action in and of itself.

Freedom has existed within boundaries from the beginning. When God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, it was with certain laws. God also granted to Adam and Eve their agency, they were free to choose for themselves. However, when God’s laws were transgressed, there were consequences. (Of course God is loving and merciful, so He gave to Adam and Eve the law of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, whereby sin and death could also be overcome by repentance and obedience.) This principle of freedom within bounds is woven throughout the entirety of Christian doctrine.

Some examples to illustrate this idea are things like, being free to drive a car in accordance with traffic laws. Or being free to interact on social media in accordance with the rules of any particular forum. The freedom to use a licensed product in compliance with stated terms and conditions. Freedom from stress over a test after diligent study. The freedom that come with knowledge and skill after disciplined practice, whether it be in art, music, medicine, science or any form of industry. The freedom of a teenager who has his or her parents’ trust. The freedom of choice when considering options such as universities, after qualifications have been met. Freedom from debt when bills are paid and budgets are followed.

The absence of law, restriction or consequence does not create freedom. Without law there is chaos and anarchy. A society that is truly free understands and reverences this principle. An individual who is truly free is obedient to the rule of law. The pinnacle of freedom is found in the rule of one’s self- mind over body.

I am free as society intends me to be free, when I obey the laws of the land. I am free as God intends me to be free, when I obey His laws.

I love the words to the American hymn “My Country, ‘Tis Of Thee.” Particularly appropriate in this context are the lyrics of the fourth verse:

Our fathers’ God, to thee,
Author of liberty,
To thee we sing;
Long may our land be bright
With freedom’s holy light.
Protect us by thy might,
Great God, our King!

America is free when “In God We Trust.” God bless America.

Creativity: a contingency

Plan C: Make Lemonade

Creativity, Personal Muse-ings

“C” For Creativity. Creativity isn’t just for making art projects. Creativity is for making life better, no matter your circumstances.

As a child, I always wanted to be a mother when I grew up. That was plan A. There were several influences which contributed to this desire. The primary would be my religious beliefs. The second would have to be that my own mother was a homemaker and raised eight children. I love my big family. The idea of a career never really appealed to me. Another could have been simply that I didn’t really know anything else.

This didn’t really ever change as I got older, though I did learn more about what other pursuits interested me, as well as a broader definition of a career. After I got married, I was fully ready and prepared to put my education on hold for the higher and nobler calling of motherhood. But things didn’t happen as my husband and I had planned. So, on to plan B, I continued my education. I thought, the Lord knows I’m willing to quit school to be a mother, maybe He wants me to graduate. A few years later I graduated. In my personal prayers I started telling the Lord I was ready now. Still no children.

Struggling for answers to why my heart’s desire would be denied to me, wondering what the Lord wanted me to do instead, and even what I wanted to do with my life, I was faced with the awful reality that I hadn’t prepared a contingency. I had no plan C. The necessity of a plan C had never occurred to me.

Practical thinking said, get a job, but I already had two part-time jobs. Teaching positions, plus a few private art students. I was using my degree in art. The thing was that I had never really faced the reality of a career as anything more than temporary or in addition to being a mother.

Facing the reality of plan C after I graduated was a very discouraging and emotional time for me, and I hid this fact from most who knew me, further isolating myself from friends and associates.

What ultimately rescued me from depression and despair was the realization that I’d been given an opportunity. Rather than despairing over my inability to change my circumstances, I needed to focus on being happy doing what I could. There were a lot of things my friends with small children couldn’t do. I’d majored in fine art (entirely impractical, I know) so now I’d have to get creative with my creativity. Rather than focus on what I didn’t have, I started asking myself what else I wanted. What were the things I’d told myself “maybe someday?” Publishing a book was one of them. So, in need of a plan C, I decided to see if this was “someday.”

I know I’m not alone in saying life isn’t always what we expect or want it to be. But there are always possibilities that will bring joy. As Maria said in The Sound of Music, “When the Lord closes a door, somewhere He opens a window.” The Lord doesn’t always give us what we want, even if it’s a righteous desire. God gave us a portion of his creative powers. (Read more about Art and Creation here.) Sometimes we have to get creative with our contingencies.

Our greatest disappointments just may turn out to be unexpected opportunities, perhaps for something we never would have considered otherwise. Instead of being a mother, I have two dogs, a Bachelor’s degree in fine art and I’m writing a novel. I never would have planned my life like this, but I’m happy. And the next time life hands me lemons, I already have a recipe for lemonade. The key is being creative.

How have you made lemonade out of life’s lemons? Share in the comments.

Setting and Achieving Goals

Personal Muse-ings

In his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey references the story from Aesop’s Fables, The Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs.

The story tells the account of a farmer who discovers his goose had laid an egg of pure gold. Each day another gold egg appears and soon the farmer is very wealthy. As his wealth grows so does his greed and impatience. Thinking to get to the source of the treasure, the farmer takes an axe and kills the goose, only to find there is no store of gold inside.

Covey explains that the eggs represent your product, or the goal you wish to accomplish, or even an ideal. Then he says that the goose represents your production capacity, or your ability to produce the desired results. He refers back to this metaphor all through out the book and continually asks the reader is he/she is taking care of their goose or foolishly (or even ignorantly) killing it like the farmer.

As I pondered this fable, another analogy came to mind. Namely, how the process of forming habits is like exercise. It is commonly said that it takes 21 days to form a habit. Cultivating the will power to establish a habit is like building muscle. The muscle must first be conditioned. This three-week period of conditioning is critical because it is during this time when you are simultaneously building capacity and learning to accomplish new tasks associated with your goal. It is, in essence, an attempt to do something which you are not quite capable of doing. You are lifting weight which presses the boundary of your strength in order to increase your capacity. To do so requires a considerable amount of discipline.

Elder Jeffery R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said of this principle: “For a while the harder you try, the harder it gets, take heart. So it has been with the best people who ever lived.” (Read more of his address here.)

Covey’s analogy made me look at this fable differently than I had before. I realized that I had, as many people do, made a judgment based on the literal meaning of the story. I had failed to apply the universal principle. I thought, in effect, “how stupid of the farmer to slay his goose.” Yet I often fail to recognize my own golden goose, and effectually slay her, whether by the direct and immediate damage of outright violence or by the slow and subtle, yet inevitable, destruction of neglect.

I started asking myself, not only what I wanted and what my goals were, but also the more difficult questions. What is my capacity to accomplish them? Is my capacity what it needs to be? What am I doing to improve, and what am I doing that hinders my own accomplishments? How can I change or eliminate them? The answers were difficult to face because acknowledging these things would necessitate change.

Fear, doubt, laziness, lack of commitment, ignorance, selfishness, are all habits that destroy our golden geese, depriving us of the wealth of joy in obtaining the golden eggs, and there’s likely more than this list. I know I’m guilty of all of them in some form or another and at any given time. I don’t want to be like that, I’d rather have the golden eggs. Wouldn’t everybody?

A common maxim, carpe diem (meaning seize the day) has always intrigued me. Admittedly not because it is a motto by which I live, but rather because I have always found its meaning rather vague, subjective, and open for interpretation. More specifically, I find I must tell myself to seize the discipline necessary to exercise and increase my capacity in order to accomplish my goals. This daily struggle to press forward through the brief period of strength-building difficulty to develop the discipline will allow me to claim the golden egg as my reward.

As I pondered my own goals as well as my capacity to achieve them, introspection came in the form of a question (and I was pretty pleased with myself when I discovered it rhymed): Are you cultivating your capacity to produce, or slaying your golden goose?

Consider for a moment: What is your golden egg? What do you want? What is your goal?

Now consider: What is your golden goose? Are you slaying her by some bad habit? How can you change that habit to cultivate your capacity?

I love it when another person can offer fresh insight to something I’ve thought about. Please, share your insights in the comments.

City on a Hill

Personal Muse-ings
Acropolis, Athens

Acropolis, Athens

     The Savior said: “A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel.”  He concluded with the injunction to “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)

IMG_20150321_115842219I think it would be easier to be a candle under a bushel. I don’t consider myself shy, though I am definitely reserved and introverted. I don’t want a lot of attention. Particularly the negative attention which inevitably follows any effort to stand up for Christian ideals in the public sphere. Nobody likes condemnation, but I would much rather have it from men than from God.

Acropolis, Athens

Acropolis, Athens

Though this blog is primarily about my creative and artistic endeavors, there will be the occasional religious reference as such is a significant part of my life. I may share spiritual thoughts and lessons which I have learned on my own journey to become more like my Savior as well as those things which pertain to my work. I do not intend to preach, but my religious beliefs are an intrinsic part of who I am. They cannot be ignored. You may choose to disregard them if you wish, but I did not feel I could truly follow this commandment from the Savior, by omitting the religious and spiritual aspects of my life, particularly since it is to God that I owe the credit for all my talents and opportunities.

In sharing these things, I do not intend to exalt myself as admittedly the title may suggest. Rather, my intent is to be obedient to my God. I hope that you will see that I am like you. Imperfect. Daily I make mistakes for which I must repent. But it is through repenting that I draw closer to the Savior.

A most fitting sobriquet describes God as the Creator. I believe that artistic creation, in a way (and particularly with an appropriate, reverent mindset), is a form of worship in which to celebrate the Creator. You can read more about my views on art as creation here, or read my Artist Statement here.

Acropolis, Athens

Acropolis, Athens: A big thanks to my very dear friend at havenshirejournal.blogspot.com for the photos of the Acropolis.

A Coalescence of Artistic Endeavors

Personal Muse-ings

IMG_20150321_171744627     Most people know me as an artist. This is understandable considering I’ve spent the last fifteen years promoting myself as an artist. That’s what I got my degree in, and that’s where the majority of my professional experience has been. The truth is that I am also a writer. It has simply taken me longer to discover this for myself. Upon reflection, writing is something that has always been in the back of my mind. It was never something I consciously intended to pursue, until a couple of years ago. I have always written, I have simply never publicized it.

I have spent the last few years concentrating on a project which has been in the back of my mind for nearly twenty years. I am just now beginning to see it come to fruition (well it’s blossoming, there’s not much fruit yet, but I remain hopeful). I have felt both exhilaration and fear over this endeavor. Still, when people ask what I have been working on, expecting to hear about paintings, confusion inevitably crosses the person’s face to hang in the silence when I mention writing. It still feels awkward to tell people I have been writing a novel (which has unintentionally grown into a series). Additionally, I’ve had more than fifteen years practice talking about my art, whereas I’ve never before told people about my writing. As I was pondering how to bridge this gap. It occurred to me that the best way to discuss my writing would be through my art. Especially since these creative endeavors are so much the same to me. The creative processes of writing and drawing/painting are very closely related. Particularly since the genre of art I am most passionate about is narrative art- art that tells a story.

As Gaston said to Belle in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, “How can you read this, there are no pictures?” Well, I intend to illustrate my novel.

This coalescence of art and writing is essentially where the idea of this blog was conceived. When people asked what I was working on, it was so much easier to discuss my writing in terms of my art. So I began telling people about the illustrations I’m working on for my novel. The more I told people this the more I realized I needed some place where I could display both simultaneously, prior to and in anticipation of the project’s actual publication.

As I contemplated the logistics of actually starting a blog as opposed to theoretically starting one, I was very hesitant. Not only have I kept my writing hidden from the public eye, but the prospect of maintaining a blog (which I new nothing about) seemed exceptionally overwhelming to me. My conviction and my interest vacillated between possibility and fear and I began to refer to the project as “Reluctant Blogging.” This blog is the proverbial “leap of faith” (merely a step really) toward overcoming the fear that would hold me back as I share my work with others. You can read more about my “Reluctant Blogging” here.

So, in this blog I will share thoughts and work in a variety of related topics. Namely, my Art, my Writing, Mythology (which I am extremely passionate about), news and updates about my Current Projects (including sneak peeks), and some Personal Muse-ings including my experiences, and other sources of inspiration. My goals for this blog can be summed up as follows by three main objectives:

  1. To share my artistic and other creative endeavors.
  2. To overcome fear.
  3. To find like-minded people and make a connection.

Reluctant Blogging

Personal Muse-ings

IMG_20150313_134954523 (2)To blog or not to blog. That’s the question which has plagued me for a while now. Just over a year, in fact. It was a recurring thought, which was strange considering I had no interest whatsoever in starting a blog. Mostly, I think, out of fear. It’s a scary thing, as an artist to toss your work into the wind and risk the exposure to potential criticism. As these thoughts persisted, it became an internal argument. Why would I want my thoughts out there for the world to read? Who in the world even cares?

The little imp on my shoulder can be quite persuasive. “I don’t know anything about blogging.” I’d say to myself. I had lots of excuses, and doubt was getting the better of me. “Even if I did start a blog, how long could I keep it up? What if I run out of things to write about?” Thankfully, the little angel on my other shoulder works overtime too. “I don’t run out of things to think about, so why would I run out of things to blog about?” That would inevitably lead me back to my original questions and the little devil would say: “Who would want to read about your thoughts? Nobody cares when they have more important thoughts of their own.”

Yet, try as I might to talk myself out of it, these thoughts persisted. The possibility persisted. As I surrendered to the idea, additional ideas came to me and the questions I asked myself became: “If I did write a blog, what would I share? What could I contribute to the lives of my readership?” Deep down I did feel like I had something worthwhile I could share, despite the ever-present doubts. Once I admitted that to myself the ideas started pouring into my mind. I could write about my art. People frequently asked me about my art. That’s what my acquaintances knew about me. Some even knew about my other creative endeavors. I wanted to share my ideas with others, but I was timid about doing so. I was simultaneously intrigued and afraid of the prospect of a blog, and I was trying to rationalize my way out of it. I realized I was struggling against two sides of myself. The side that wanted to openly share my creative efforts fought the side of me that was afraid. The little angel was battling that little devil again.

I started a file in my computer labeled “Reluctant Blogging” and wrote down everything I could think of as a possible topic and expounded on them as the ideas came to me. Eventually I began to see patterns and the ideas started coming together on their own. I also started researching to learn as much as I could about the prospect.

In essence, my conclusion was that it didn’t matter so much whether or not someone else thought I had something worthwhile to say, or if they cared, or even how long I could maintain the momentum. I care. Ultimately, I decided that fear was the only thing holding me back. I didn’t want the little devil on my shoulder to win. The battle became a matter of overcoming fear and not a question of whether or not to blog.

I know I’m not the only one with fears. I’m not the only one who has fought this battle. But I wanted to join the ranks of those who overcame fear, for better or worse, for success or failure. Regardless of the future of this blog, I was successful overcoming my fear. Or at least, I’m working on it.