What can you do?

“My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” – John F. Kennedy

Once the marches are over – the real work begins. Volunteer. Serve. Help. Find something you feel is important that is threatened and work for it. It is time to stop expecting the government (or anyone else) to help. It is our time to act with love, with unity, and with focus on making our neighborhoods, our country, and our world a safe, loving and healthy place for everyone. This happens only with love – not with protesting the bad but by working for the good. It is not a time of numbness or fear, but of building, and rebuilding.

Jesus says to love our enemies. Love. Not protest.

Marching in protest doesn’t build. It says what you are against, but not what you are for. If all you do is focus on the negative, then that is the only thing you are giving your energy to. Life is too short to be angry all the time. Do something positive.

Teach a child from another country how to read and write in English. Learn Arabic or Spanish so that you can welcome the stranger. Donate your time to a women’s shelter.

Buy land and keep the trees on it so it is a haven for wildlife, and produces air for people to breathe.  Or donate to the Nature Conservancy to do the same thing.

Worried about the Department of Education?  Go to the library.  Read non-fiction.  Learn as much as you can.  Encourage others to do the same by teaching a class on what you learned.  Start a group (sometimes known as a salon) where you all share your knowledge.

Worried about the National Endowment for the Arts? Start your own creative co-op.  Paint.  Draw.  Have a play.  Recite poetry.  Have a concert.

You don’t need a special place for these experiences – you can rotate using member’s homes.  You don’t need a permit.

The biggest thing is to focus on what you can do.  Not on expecting anyone else to help or support, or protect.  The props are gone, or are going.  We don’t need them anymore. We can walk on our own.  We are stronger than we know.

Build bridges, not walls.  You.  Yourself.  Don’t worry about the government. You can’t control them.  Focus on yourself – what you can do.  It is time to stop being passive about your life. It is time to stop being co-dependent.

Worried about access to birth control?  Research natural rhythm methods.  Practice abstinence or non-penetrative sex until you are ready (mentally, emotionally, financially) to have a child.  Learn different ways to be intimate with your partner other than having sex.

Art books

Here are some books I’ve read that have helped me on my creative journey. Some have taught me tricks that have saved me years of struggle. Some have made me see the world in new ways. If your local library does not have them, ask for them to get them for you from Inter-library Loan (ILL). Remember, the more money you save from not buying books means more money for art supplies.

When Wanderers Cease to Roam. Vivian Swift

Gardens of Awe and Folly. Vivian Swift

The Art of Expressive Collage. Crystal Neubauer

Graffiti World – Street art from five continents. Nicolas Ganz (

Art Before Breakfast: A zillion ways to be more creative no matter how busy you are. Danny Gregory

The Creative License: Giving Yourself Permission to Be The Artist You Truly Are. Danny Gregory

An Illustrated Life: Drawing Inspiration from the Private Sketchbooks of Artists, Illustrators and Designers. Danny Gregory

The Trickster’s Hat – a mischievous apprenticeship in creativity. Nick Bantock

Urgent Second Class: Creating Curious Collage, Dubious Documents, and Other Art from Ephemera Nick Bantock

The Art of Cardboard: Big Ideas for Creativity, Collaboration, Storytelling, and Reuse. Lori Zimmer

Freehand: Sketching Tips and Tricks Drawn from Art: sketching tips and tricks drawn from art. Helen Birch

The art of urban sketching: drawing on location around the world. Gabriel Campanario

Urban watercolor sketching: a guide to drawing, painting, and storytelling in color. Felix Scheinberger

Urban sketching: the complete guide to techniques. Thomas Thorspecken

The Art of Whimsical Lettering. Joanne Sharpe

Acrylic Solutions: Exploring Mixed Media Layer by Layer. Chris Cozen

Map Art Lab: 52 Exciting Art Explorations in Mapmaking, Imagination, and Travel. Jill K. Berry

Art Journal Kickstarter: Pages and Prompts to Energize Your Art Journals. Kristy Conlin

Wreck this Journal. Keri Smith

How to be an explorer of the world- portable life museum. Keri Smith

How to avoid making art. Julia Cameron

The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. Julia Cameron

Drawing Lab for Mixed-Media Artists: 52 Creative Exercises to Make Drawing Fun. Carla Sonheim

Watercolor Pencil Magic. Cathy Johnson

Collage Discovery Workshop: Make Your Own Collage Creations Using Vintage Photos, Found Objects and Ephemera. Claudine Hellmuth

The Creative Edge: Exercises to Celebrate Your Creative Self Mary Todd Beam

Art Lab for Kids: 52 Creative Adventures in Drawing, Painting, Printmaking, Paper, and Mixed Media-For Budding Artists of All Ages. Susan Schwake

Watercolor Journeys: Create Your Own Travel Sketchbook. Richard Schilling

Taking Flight: Inspiration and Techniques to Give Your Creative Spirit Wings. Kelly Rae Roberts

How to Make a Journal of Your Life. Dan Price

Books to inspire your artistic side.

Do you want start or become better at sketching? You can’t go wrong with these books –

The Art of Urban Sketching: drawing on location around the world by Gabriel Campanario

Urban Sketching: the complete guide to techniques by Thomas Thorspecken

The Creative License: giving yourself permission to be the artist you truly are by Danny Gregory

An Illustrated Life: drawing inspiration from the private sketchbooks of artists, illustrators and designers by Danny Gregory

Watercolor Journeys: create your own travel sketchbook by Richard Schilling

For inspiration, look at:

When Wanderers Cease to Roam: a traveler’s journal of staying put by Vivian Swift

Drawing from Memory by Allen Say

For mixed-media artistic experiments, try these –

Art Lab for Kids: 52 creative adventures in drawing, painting, printmaking, paper and mixed-media for budding artists of all ages by Susan Schwake

Drawing Lab for Mixed Media Artists – 52 creative exercises to make drawing fun by Carla Sonheim.

Also, look at anything by Keri Smith to get your head out of that rut. “Wreck this Journal” is a mandatory purchase.

Menopause and art

Menopause is a time of shifts and changes. It is a time where you are no longer physically able to be creative. And by creative, I mean procreative – you are no longer able to produce a baby. But the energy and desire to create is still part of being human, and still needs to be used. It just needs a different outlet.

We are the physical vessels through which God is revealed and works in this world. God gives us the energy and we provide the shape. We are created to be co-Creators with God.

When you go through menopause your ability to create changes and you have to navigate these unusual waters. I like to think about how a caterpillar knows what to do when it becomes a butterfly. Who tells it how to fly? How does it know how to move with these new legs? Everything is different and strange – yet it is normal. It isn’t like it was, but it is like it should be. Perhaps we forget that menopause isn’t a disease. We are transforming into something else. It doesn’t herald the end of life but the beginning of a whole new one.

Being creative saved me and taught me. Art is what saved me when my back hurt. Even though I had to hunch over my desk in order to make my art, somehow the slipped disc in my back no longer hurt.

I found this to be true with doing art now as well. The need isn’t as immediate, but rather it is cumulative. Now, doing art in some form every day centers and focuses me. When my mind was filled with too many ideas, writing helped me slow things down enough that I could think. Painting and making collage at least twice a week has given me a way to create and express myself that don’t use words. Drumming has restored my rhythm.

It took a while to learn how to navigate with these new wings. I didn’t have a guide. Mom died long before she thought about telling me how to “do” menopause. Even if she was alive now, I doubt she’d talk about this. Somehow the reality of being in a physical body was something that she just didn’t talk about. Perhaps being a person was too personal.

Part of my learning was done the hard way. There were a lot of nights where I didn’t get enough sleep, and days where I felt I was going to melt. Hot flashes aren’t a “Western construct” as one person (younger) told me. They are a reality. They aren’t in my mind. I didn’t expect them to happen so soon – so it certainly wasn’t something that I manifested. I’ll concede that perhaps hot flashes are a result of the Western lifestyle (eat whatever you want, don’t exercise).

Some of what I did was to get up when I couldn’t sleep. I would wake, hot in body and mind. Instead of staying in bed, I decided to use that energy. I didn’t want to disturb my husband or concern him though, so I didn’t get all the way up. I moved to another room and turned on one small light. I sat on a recliner in mostly darkness and wrote in my journal or in my Kindle. Some of what I wrote became this blog. Often I’d return to bed, having “burned off” that heat – yet I’d produced something useful with it.

I also started the practice of getting ready to go to work a little earlier. I made time every morning to do something artistic – watercolor pencil drawing, painting, collage, or my new “fortunate stamps” pieces. This took just 20 minutes in the morning, but it has been enough to help me immeasurably. I really notice when I don’t make time to do it. I’m starting to think of making art as a multi-vitamin. It strengthens and protects me.

I’m using this energy I’m finding to take new classes and discover what I want to do “when I grow up”. The coasting I was doing during my middle ages has changed. I no longer want to drift through life. I am trying to play it safe and be bold at the same time, so there is some tension there. I keep taking classes in helping people communicate with each other. There is something about peacemaking and leveling the playing field all rolled up together. My tutoring is factoring into this as well.

Menopause is a chance to discover new wings. It is a time to assess priorities. It is a shift of energy. It isn’t the end – but it is a reminder that life isn’t permanent. For me, creating has been a way to feel like I’m making a difference, that my existence matters. Deep down, that is the reason behind most human activity, according to Matthew Fox in his book “Creativity”. Properly channeled, it results in greatness.

Many names of God

When Muslims pray the 99 names of God they don’t believe that there are 99 different gods. They believe that there are 99 different attributes of God. God has many names but is still one God.

It is kind of like me. I am Betsy, but legally I am Elizabeth. To my husband I am his wife, to my coworkers I am their coworker, to my friends I am their friend. I am always me, but other people have different ways of interacting with me and know me in different ways. It depends on how they see me as to how they refer to me.

God is the same. “God” is just a descriptive, after all, not a name. In the Bible, God uses the name “I AM”. God is known as Elohim, as Jehovah, as Lord, as the Almighty, the Creator… the list goes on and on.

While there are different names for God, we are still talking about the same God that created the Earth, spoke to Abraham, and was made known on Earth as Jesus.

I’m not so sure if people are talking about the same God when they refer to Spirit.

I know a lot of people who are disillusioned with church and have left. They seem to like parts of it but not all of it. I get that. I left church too.

Some of them like the ritual. Some like the community. Some like the hymns. They are creating their own version of “church” with the pieces they like, but leaving out the pieces they don’t.

They are having circles where people talk about what is important to them, or they paint, or they drum, or they recite poetry.

I get that too.

But I’m strongly opposed to them calling it “church” if Jesus isn’t present. If they don’t read the Word of God and they don’t celebrate Communion, then why call it church? It is more coffeehouse gathering than church.

Let us call things by their true names. Let us not deceive ourselves and say that we are going to “church” when Jesus isn’t present. The same is true of the “mega churches” with their “Prosperity Gospel”.

Things evolve, of course. I left a medieval reenactment group because it stopped being a medieval reenactment group. Years ago, people who were thinking about joining asked if they could dress up like fairies and vampires, and the members told them no. They said that had nothing to do with the group. The focus of the group was “A day in the life of a European court.” The time period was pre-1500s. But then slowly it became more and more “early period” with more and more people showing up in shapeless garments with animal skins tied around them. Then, the Middle-Eastern re-enactors started showing up.

Now this group looks nothing like what it looked like when I joined. It has stopped being “A day in the life of a European court” and started being a “come as you want to be” party. When will the Klingons and the Silurians show up?

I’m all for everyone feeling welcome and included. I like the idea of “All are welcome” and “radical inclusion”. But I feel like at some point a line has to be drawn. Are we talking about the same thing? Are we still on the same page?

Hummus has a few basic things that make it hummus – garbanzo beans, oil, citrus juice, and tahini, all blended up in a food processor. While you can exchange black beans for garbanzo beans, and you can use lime juice instead of the traditional lemon juice, that is as far as you can go. After that, it stops being hummus. You can’t put apples in a blender and call it hummus. You can’t add tahini to a pot roast and call it hummus. There are certain things that you must have, and if you don’t have them, you don’t have hummus.

Church is the same way. You can strip away the ritual and the hymns and it is still church. You don’t even have to gather together in person – you could have a videoconference. You can add in dance, or painting. You don’t need musical instruments, or you can have a whole symphony.

But you have to have God, and you have to have Jesus, for it to be church. And they can’t be implied or guessed at. There has to be no doubt about it.

What about “the Goddess”?

While I’m fine with the idea of the many sides of God being welcomed and included, actually including the idea of the “Goddess” is totally not acceptable in church. Remember “Thou shalt have no other gods before me”? That is a big one. To worship the “Goddess” is a complete violation of that commandment.

God has many aspects, not all of them related to gender. You can be a feminist and still worship God. But the Goddess isn’t God – she is another thing entirely. If you want to worship the Goddess, fine. That is your choice. But then it isn’t church. It is something else. To call it church is deceiving to yourself and others.

So what about those names of God? At what point does God stop being God? At what point are you worshipping something else? At what point are you not in a worship service at all?

These are important questions to ask yourself.

Changing gears

When I made a lot of jewelry in college, I would go on binges. I’d feel really creative and make just one earring of each set. I’d make about twenty different single earrings like this. To slow down long enough to finish out the pair would stop the flow. I’d leave the tray of singles aside until another day, when I wasn’t feeling as creative but I wanted something to do. Then I’d make the other one.

I’m finding it is the same with writing. I’ve reached a slower part. It is now time to condense everything and sift out what needs to go into a book.

There are plenty of contenders for the first book. I feel like I’ve written about three, all at once, over sixteen months. I certainly hadn’t planned on writing this much.

It isn’t all awesome. Some of it is rambling. Some of it is just a warm up for the rest. Some of it is pretty worthwhile. Some of it surprises me. Some of it I don’t remember writing.

The funny part is that with writing and jewelry it is the same. The stuff that I really like, that I poured a lot of work into, is the stuff that gets ignored. My “throwaway” pieces get far more notice and attention. Well, except for the stuff I publicize. When I’ve posted stuff on well-trafficked pages on Facebook, I’ve gotten thousands of hits.

For a while I was writing three posts a day. Sometimes five. For a while I’d wake up with a new idea for something to write every morning. Then I’d get new ideas during the day and I’d jot them down in my notebook. For a while I felt like the ideas were wrestling for my attention, demanding to be written. For a while it was overwhelming.

It has slowed down quite a bit, and I’m glad in a way. I’m a little concerned it means that things are drying up, but I still have my notebooks full of ideas. They are like little seeds. Just water them with a little time and they will grow into full sized posts. They are like zip files – compressed information. The ideas were coming so fast it was almost like I had to take shorthand in order to catch them.

Now is the time of sorting. I’ve sort of pre-sorted all along. I’ve put posts into categories and I’ve tagged them. The only issue is that some posts are in multiple categories and some have multiple tags. While this is fine in a blog, it isn’t fine in a book. Books are very linear. Blogs are very, well, not.

I’m not a big fan of sorting, but it doesn’t do itself. Sometimes I think I’d like to have minions. It would be nice to have an assistant to sort and sift. But then whatever comes out of this is going to have my name on it, so it needs to be all stuff that I not only like but can stand behind.

I’m sorting things roughly now. I’ve created a separate blog just for the religious/spiritual pieces to help me organize. Interestingly, that blog has its own set of followers. I don’t advertise it. But creating it gives me a different way to look at what I’m sorting out. I put the posts in folders on my computer as well. Then I’ll go through and look at them again, closer, and weed out what isn’t quite useful at this time.

It is kind of like making a jigsaw puzzle, except it doesn’t have the ease of visuals. I can’t just look at a post like I can with a puzzle piece and tell that it has a bit of sky in it, so it goes over here. I have to read the posts closely for themes. It takes longer.

Just getting them from one blog to the other (and the folders in between) takes a long time. It was really slow going for a while but I’ve finally learned to open up two browsers. I’m almost embarrassed to admit how I was doing it before. It was quite clunky and I was losing posts. I was also getting confused as to how I was sorting them.

This work is pretty dull in some ways, and interesting in others. I’m coming across some posts that I’ve forgotten. I’m also a bit amazed at how much I’ve written. I have no idea if this will do well as a book either. I may spend a lot of money self publishing it and nothing will happen. Sure, it is already “published” on the web, but there is something about having an actual book that says “real author”. Of course, having it published by a “real” publishing company versus self-publishing says that.

The stigma is going away for self-publishing. People don’t look askance at it. There are plenty of stories of authors these days being turned down by major publishing houses, only to go ahead and publish their work on their own. Then they make a lot of money, and the publishing house begs their forgiveness. Then they show a contract to the author, and the author realizes that she would lose a lot of money to get her book published by them. It is kind of like going freelance versus working for a company. An electrician who works on his own charges a lot less and takes home a lot more than the one who works for a business. Plus, people seem to like the renegade, the rebel, the self-starter. People cheer on the underdog.

I’m reminded that Emily Dickinson’s poems were unknown to anyone other than her in her lifetime, and that Mozart wasn’t acclaimed anywhere near what he is now. I’m also reminded that even Thoreau self published a book.

Do I want fame? Not really. Do I want the ideas that have come to me to change the world? Yes. Do I trust that God’s hand is in all of this? Yes, and no. But this is normal for me. I want to make the frog’s legs grow faster, because the tadpole is too slow. I feel like my “push”, my desire to get things done, is from God. Is it, or is it just me being impatient? A lot of it is trusting the process, and just showing up, right? I think if I pray hard and work hard, then what will happen next is what is meant to happen. I think that if I work to align myself with God, then I’m on the right path no matter what happens. I think that even if I think I’m off the path, it turns out that is part of the path too.

1000 – a picture is worth a thousand words.

I hadn’t planned on writing any fiction. I started my blog as a way to explain the symbolism behind my poetry. Then I couldn’t figure out how to upload pictures to it, so I started writing my observations and opinions instead. Then I started writing poetry because well, my Kindle almost does it for me. But I certainly didn’t plan on writing fiction.

There was that time when I was at the eye doctor’s office and I decided to write about who might have lived in the building that wasn’t there anymore. But that was a fluke. I didn’t mean to do that. I was bored at the office, waiting to be called back. It was entertaining me to invent these people and their lives.

But then it happened again.

I painted a painting, but not anything of reality. I put blobs of paint on a canvas and swirled them around until I liked them. I wasn’t planning anything. I just was playing, receiving. I was letting the Spirit guide me.

I was creating, not re-creating. I wasn’t drawing anything specific. In a true way, I was re-creating, in the sense of relaxing. I was letting go of my ideas of what had to be and just letting it be.

Then I looked at it and saw something. Kind of like a Rorschach test but without the creepy business of being in a doctor’s office. It looked like a scene with murky light. I could see a rock. I started to imagine where this was and who would be seeing it. A story was developing.

I decided to set a limit of a thousand words, because a picture is worth that, right? I started to ask more questions. Where is this? How did the viewer get there? Who is it? What is the character’s backstory?

Soon I had a thousand words. It is a very short story. I thought I was through.

Then a few days later I painted a different scene, unintentionally continuing the story. I’d painted other things in the meantime and they hadn’t triggered more of the story. This did. I wanted to know more so I wrote more.

Now I am interested in this character and I want to know what is going to happen next. I have no idea where this is going. I’m not sure how long it will last.

I’m trying to decide if I should stick with the idea of painting a picture first and then writing a thousand words about it. Or, just write, and don’t set a limit, and don’t worry about the illustration.

Most books are written first and illustrated later. This started off backwards, but it still started. I’m amused by it, but this is normal for me. Things never seem to happen the usual way for me.

I want to write more nonfiction too, but I have limited time. I’m wondering if this is a distraction, too. Is writing a work of fiction a way to avoid doing the hard stuff of thinking about heavy topics?

Or, is it just a different way to write about it? I’ve noticed that even when I create predictive text poems, the same ideas that I wrote about in my longer, thought out pieces seem to come through. And they seem to get more “likes.”

In a way this bums me out. I’d like to think that the stuff I pour my heart and soul into would get more attention. But then, this is a fast paced world. People don’t make time to even chew their food. Why would they read something that is three pages long when they can get the same idea from a short poem?

The thought is what matters. The package doesn’t. And no matter how I package it, the thought shines through, even if I wasn’t planning it.

So I’ve decided to write anyway, whatever format it is. Paint anyway, or not. Just let it be. I just need to make time to do it, whatever it is.