Monthly Archives: September 2020

Timeout for Art: Feminist Art


“Women’s Art,” for good or not, has often been differentiated from “Art,” which by default is art by men.

Mary Cassatt, though clearly of the Impressionist school, spurred the broad landscapes favored by her male counterparts. She focused on more intimate, interior spaces, often with images of women and children. Just like many female artists through history, much has been made of that being a result of her feminine point of view.

Other female artists, like sculptors Rosa Bonheur and Anne Whitney, gained attention in their lives for opposite reasons. Their work was noted for being indistinguishable from that of their male counterparts, when judged by style, subject matter, size, and mastery of materials.

There have been women who, like many female authors, presented their work under gender-neutral or male pseudonyms to avoid being judged by their sex. And, there has always been a huge discrepancy between opportunities for male and female artists.

The modern feminist art movement rose up from the political and social upheavals of the 1960s. Linda Nochlin’s essay, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” was published in the January 1971 issue of ArtNews magazine, and helped to solidify the movement. The essay, as well as the entire movement, continue to be controversial to this day.

Do woman need a separate movement to be recognized as legitimate artists? Is that not, in itself, a form of division? Do we want – or need – special criteria for judging our art? These are all valid and on-going questions. They may never be answered to universal satisfaction. In the meantime, art historians have had time to observe and analyze work that has resulted from – or since – the movement began.

Feminist art is body conscious. The human figure has reemerged, with imagery of the female body from a woman’s point of view. These are not gentle, fawning ladies; depictions of women appear strong, forward-moving, even angry. Feminine trappings are treated with tongue-in-cheek humor or extravagance.

Feminist art is personal. It is message-laden. It addresses individual stories as universal themes, through performance, story, and imagery. Often, the viewer is invited to become a participant, either by entering the scene or by adding to it.

Feminist art harkens back to craft. It has been noted that women have always made art, but that the work made by women was considered lesser. Thus, the many forms of stitchery, weaving and arranging that fell to women were titled “craft.” Judy Chicago turned that idea on its head with “The Dinner Party,” a massive art installation that combined needlework, embroidery and ceramics as well as an impressive history of women through the ages.

Faith Ringgold incorporates paint and brocade in large story quilts. In a sculpture series called Family of Women, she uses ceramics, sewing and basket-making techniques to create large standing figures. Ringgold uses satire and a loving eye to address the struggles of women as well as the civil rights movement in her work. Which brings up another important aspect of feminist art: it is often political.

Like many art movements, feminist art has many facets, but is impossible to stereotype. According to Linda Nochlin:

“Not all women artists are feminists; not all feminist artists wish to incorporate their feminist identity into their art works, and certainly, even if some of them do, none of them will do it in the same way.”

Ideally, in my opinion, feminist art will one day be relegated to history. It will be noted as an archaic but necessary step to achieving an all-inclusive art world.

Here is Fall


“Time is a storm in which we are all lost.”

~ William Carlos Williams

Finally, here is fall.

Not that I’ve been trying to rush the season. No…summer, could have stayed awhile. I am not yet tired of long, warm and sunshiny days. I could stand several more weeks of it, without complaint.

Still, this year more than others in recent memory, fall started announcing its pending arrival early. Chilly nights brought out the blankets, and warned that cold weather was coming. First, it was acknowledged as a relief:

“Great sleeping weather!”

“I’m loving these cool nights!”

Warm days at the beach followed by nights nestled under heavy quilts is how I remember August on childhood vacations on Beaver Island. Wonderful! “Chilly,” though, gave way to downright cold this year. Almost a month ago, I went around and closed every window, stored the box fan in the attic, and carried the portable heater downstairs.

For weeks, conversations have turned toward all the signs that warn of a hard winter coming. The days, which lengthen by such slow increments in the spring, seem to shorten rapidly this time of year. “Dark, already,” I observe with surprise day after day. The activity of deer and squirrels; the gathering of birds; the behavior of small rodents are all signals to watch.

The mice are unquestionably moving inside. At the hardware store, the section of the store that holds rodent-control products is depleted weekly. I’ve heard many stories of mice showing up in homes and in places where they’ve never been seen before. Too many apples? Too few coyotes? We can only speculate on the reasons.

“Are the leaves changing yet?” The questions come from other locations, from people who would happily travel north for the glory of fall colors. We watch closely, as that is another signal that fall is coming. First it’s just one branch showing red, on a whole tree of green leaves. Or one single golden leaf. Then, just overnight, it seems, the King’s highway is ablaze with color!

The cold weather continued, through August and into September. Cool night temperatures dipped to cold, and stretched into the daylight hours. We compared the readings on indoor and outdoor thermometers. We asked each other, “how cold did it get?” The farther you live from the Lake Michigan, the more vulnerable you are to early frost. When Doug Tilley reported he’d had to scrape ice from his windshield, I knew my garden was on borrowed time.

On the last day of summer, I filled one basket with spinach leaves, and another with kale. I pulled up the basil, and plucked every precious green leaf off the stems. I picked all of the tomatoes. I was merciless in discarding those with blemishes and bruises. I threw away the ones that were too immature to hold any hope of ripening, and filled one bowl with perfect green tomatoes. The red ones, I lined up on the counter near the sink.

I stacked and stored the metal tomato cages, then filled the wheelbarrow with the vines. I pulled up the cucumber plants, harvesting four that were hiding in the greenery. Squash was next. I saved every blossom. I tossed two tiny butternut squash that had no hope of ripening. The zucchini and other summer squash, which has produced spottily all summer long, served up more than a dozen new fruit, no bigger than my index finger.

I dug the shovel into the ground where my potato plants had been, then pushed my hands into the loosened soil. I was rewarded with a half dozen fist-sized potatoes. I pulled up all the bush beans plants, then yanked out the branches that formed the pole bean teepees. The tall vines yielded a handful of overripe beans that I’d missed when I last gathered them. Everything harvested at this late date seems dear: the last the garden has to offer.

On the last day of summer, I simmered peppers, basil and tomatoes with salt, pepper, and a dash of balsamic vinegar to make a fresh sauce that seemed to capture the essence of the season. I spooned it over diced and roasted potatoes for dinner. Before I went to bed, I put a handful each of dried black beans and great northern beans in a pot. I carefully peeled back the pods of my own pole beans, and added each bean seed to the mix, then added water to let them soak.

On the first day of fall, I made end-of-summer soup. I put the teakettle on to boil, then sliced an X into the top of each ripe tomato, and set them into the sink. When the water boiled, I poured it over the tomatoes to loosen their skins. I drained the soaking water from the bean pot and set it on the stove. As I peeled and rough chopped the tomatoes, I added them to the softened beans, and brought them to a simmer.

As the day progressed, the dry beans softened and took on the flavor of the tomatoes they were stewing in. I cut up the spinach, kale and squash blossoms, and added them to the pot. I chopped up a green pepper, a half head of cauliflower, two stalks of celery and three carrots that were in the vegetable compartment of my refrigerator. I diced an onion, and the last of the potatoes. I washed and sliced each tiny, seedless zucchini, letting their fluted edges dress up the mixture. To finish, I tossed in a slight handful of barley, and sprinkled some salt and pepper.

When it was done, I filled a bowl with soup. I carried it outside into a day – the first day in more than a week – that felt like summer. Warm enough to sit outside without a sweater. Warm enough to think, if it weren’t for the calendar, and the fall colors, and the now barren garden spot, that summer was still with us.

We all mark the changing seasons in ways large and small. In my house, warm soup made from the last of the garden’s offerings is a good way to welcome the beginning of fall.

Timeout for Art: Edges

Touch Point

Throughout the history of art, the way that the edges of two dimensional works are treated has varied wildly.

Often, edges are used to further the illusion of realistic painting. The scene depicted runs right up to the borders, as if the frame is enclosing a window rather than a canvas. As if the view is real, not simply a painting.

Early Christian painting held a different attitude. Images were centered within the surface, similar to low-relief carvings, which they were modelled after.

In my own abstract work, I like to be aware of the parameters. Sometimes I use pattern and color to draw the eye to the edge, then back in, to the center. Other times, I place an object in the center, and frame it in. Sometimes the border is negated by lines zipping off the surface, as if the image continues off the picture plane; other times the border is emphasized. In every case, the treatment of edges is important to the overall feeling.

Open Loops


“Each man should frame life

so that at some future hour fact and his dreaming meet.”

~ Victor Hugo

In my on-going, continual effort to (1) organize my life, time, space and daily activities and (2) make actual change to foster personal and creative growth, I came upon the “Open Loops” concept.

According to the book, Getting Things Done by David Allen, “open loops” are any tasks, projects and commitments you’ve started and not finished. “Started” can even mean “had a random thought about doing.” Open loops are not regular tasks that you do automatically. They are not “favorite things.” They are not chores.

Open loops are things that you’ve invited into your brain by starting them, or by acknowledging that you want to start them, or that you should start them. They are physical things, these thoughts and ideas that represent a task or project to be completed. They take up space.

Our brains can only hold so much information in active memory. If you’re holding everything you want or need to do in active memory, you are inviting anxiety. You’ll feel overwhelmed at the number of tasks vying for your attention, and anxious that you’ll forget something.

Open loops foster procrastination, by constantly presenting several optional activities to any job-at-hand. They all feel pressing. They are like promises to yourself. Promises feel urgent, so they end up taking precedence over dreams. No matter how insignificant the open loops. No matter how important the dreams.

Allen’s advice for dealing with open loops? Write them down! Listing all of the onerous little “to-do”s will prevent them from sabotaging legitimate efforts toward progress. Once they are on paper, they no longer need to play constantly at the edges of your thoughts. No need to worry that they’ll be overlooked or forgotten. They have a place.

Now that they are all written down, it becomes obvious that some are trivial, and that others are truly important. Amazing, that they all seemed to carry equal weight when pulling at your attention! You can rank them, now, in order of urgency or significance. There may be some that can simply be crossed off the list. Some can be easily knocked-off by a letter or a phone call. Others will need to be planned for, and scheduled in. On paper, dealing with open loops becomes a real but not insurmountable goal.

My own list, which easily covered two full journal pages, included “thank-you”s and other letters owed, subscriptions to cancel, and phone calls to make. It also had several big projects (move the snowball bush; re-hang the bookshelves), and a few dreaded activities (last year’s taxes, for one). I was able to check many items off in the first week. Others, I continue to plug away at.

Unfortunately, I continue to come across new or forgotten items to add to my list. I may never have a blank page! Still, I find it is helpful to have all of my open loops down on paper, rather than playing constantly around the edges of my mind.

Timeout for Art: Daily Drawing


One of the accomplishments I am proudest of this year is starting and maintaining the habit of drawing every day.

Drawing is not a skill anyone is born with. Some people seem to have more of a knack for it, however, fostering the false belief that you’re either born with the ability, or you’re not. Untrue!

Drawing is a motor skill that involves coordinating the eyes and the hand. Like juggling. Or driving. And, like any motor skill, it must be learned, and maintained. With practice, ability will improve; without it, the skill will decline.

I’ve watched my drawing skills slide, over years of neglect. I’ve felt the struggle to get the shadows, or a line down correctly, when I wanted to capture an image. What once was easy for me, became difficult for lack of practice. Over the years, I gathered quite a collection of nearly-empty sketchbooks, and a good stack of ambitious but unfinished drawings.

This year, I decided that was going to change. I added drawing to my list of early morning self-improvement activities, along with meditation, gratitude practice, journal-writing, yoga and studying. Because I have a long list, and morning time is limited, nothing gets more than a half-hour.

I find the sketchbook page is much less intimidating if there are borders. Often, I break a page up into small rectangles, but even pages reserved for one larger drawing are framed in. I use a fine-point, sepia-tone marker. That eliminates the possibility of erasing, and forces me to make – and stick with – decisions regarding placement and subject matter.

I capture mundane objects…

…and sleeping dogs.

When my sisters and I went to Florida in February, I packed my sketchbook right along with my journal, camera, and bathing suit.

When I was in Hawaii this spring, there was always something delightful and challenging to focus on, from unusual plants to coral and rock samples, and it was one more way to document a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

When I got home, it was a great way to pass time in quarantine.

Now, finally, daily drawing has become a regular and valued part of my day.

Loose Ends


I’m a pretty careful writer, but I’m especially good, if I take the time, at editing. I don’t always do it, though. Sometimes it’s a friend that points out that I’ve used the same descriptive word (often something like “large” or “extremely,” mundane and uninteresting enough if used only once) thirteen times in a single essay. Sometimes I notice a problem (that “friend” showed up as “fried” when I missed the N, for instance) weeks after publishing, leaving me wanting to send each reader an amended copy, with an apology.

In re-reading the story I wrote last week, about being lost in the woods, I came upon a few problems. In one of the first paragraphs, I noted that this incident happened more than twenty years ago, that I worked, then, as the morning server at the Shamrock Bar & Restaurant, and that I did not have dogs at that time. None of these bits of information had anything to do with the story as I wrote it. Why did I even put them in?

Well, actually, I should have also mentioned that my Aunt Katie was still alive, and living here on Beaver Island, and that my walking routine rarely varied at all. Two more loose ends to be sewn up!

The dogs deserved a mention because in the years since then, when I’ve gotten turned around or momentarily disoriented while out berry-picking or searching for morels, the dogs are quite good at finding their way. If I’d had dogs with me, I certainly would not have traversed that wide, watery bog. Thinking of the burs they’d pick up in their fur, I likely would have turned back as soon as the trail narrowed. And maybe they could have led me out when I couldn’t find my way. That’s why I brought up the dogs; I just forgot to bring them to any conclusion.

I mentioned my job at the Shamrock, and my morning coffee drinkers because, as I was wandering through the woods in the middle of the night, I was thinking, “No one knows I’m out here. No one will miss me.” Until, of course, I wasn’t at the restaurant to serve coffee in the morning. Then the coffee drinking group would wonder. They might call my house. Maybe, they’d send out a search party to see if my car was broken down on the side of the road. If they made it all the way to my house, they’d see the dirty dishes I’d left in the sink. Dread!

Finally, they would call my Aunt Katie, to see what was going on. “Her car is in the driveway,” they’d tell her. They’d speculate, together, about various possibilities. Maybe they’d make a call or two, to make sure I wasn’t asleep on the sofa at Emma Jean’s, or out on a boodle with Diane. If they wondered that I got turned around while on a walk, my aunt would be quick to assure them, “Cindy always walks along the road.” So, there would be no way to know that I was back in the trees and bog behind Fox Lake, lost in the woods.

As I wandered that night, and in the years since this happened, these considerations have all seemed an important part of the story. I just presented them, then left them hanging there. It took another entire essay just to sew up the loose ends!

Timeout for Art: Collagraph


Collagraphy is a printmaking process that has always held my interest. It begins with a collage (and I do so love collage) that becomes the printmaking plate.

The plate can be inked like an etching, where the cracks and textures hold the ink, and release it onto the dampened paper when rolled through the printing press. It can also be inked like a relief print, wood-cut or lino-cut, for example. Then, ink is rolled onto the raised areas of the plate. I combine these two methods, as well as hand coloring areas between runs though the press.

It’s a process that has many steps to completion. Making the plate is a project by itself, requiring preparing the ground, making the collage and sealing the image. Papers have to be dampened, then layered between sheets of blotter paper, and wrapped in plastic at least a day before printing.

Inking the plate for one run through the press can take an hour or more. For the first pass, I usually choose a medium brown-black. I mix the color from tubs of ink, adding a drop or two of plate oil to make it more malleable. The thick, tar-like ink is spread over the entire plate, rubbed in so that it reaches into all the lines and textures, then wiped off with tartalan, a heavily starched cheesecloth fabric. The edges of the plate have to be wiped clean, so not to outline the image.

Finally, the press. A sheet of newsprint protects the press bed from any wayward smudges of ink. The inked and wiped plate is placed face-up on top of it. A sheet of damp printmaking paper is centered over the plate. Another sheet of newsprint goes down on top of that. It is then covered be several layers of felt blankets, the same size as the press bed.

There is a four-spoked wheel on the side of the press, that I use to crank the press bed from one side to the other, through the heavy rubber rollers. Then, one by one I pull the felts up, folding them back over the rollers. I pick up the top sheet of newsprint and toss it to the side. Finally, I carefully lift the paper away from the printmaking plate!

That’s just the beginning. Sometimes, I have to adjust the plate to lighten an area, or give an area more texture so that it will hold more ink to make a darker tone. Then, it has to be sealed once more, before it can be printed again. If the image is satisfactory, it is placed between layers of newsprint, weighted down with a piece of plywood, and left to dry. Hand coloring is next, which I do with watercolors, watercolor pencils, and gouache.

Finally, it will be inked and run through the press again, this time with a rich blue-black, to redefine the edges and make the colors pop. There are things that can go wrong through every step along the way. I’ve experienced most of them. When things go right, though, and a print comes off the press with colors blazing, and ink like velvet running lines of character and definition through the image…it’s just like Christmas morning!



A customer came into the hardware store this week, wanting to purchase a compass. We didn’t have one, but his query reminded me that I have several. Or, at least, I did. After I got lost in the woods, it seemed like I was receiving compasses right and left, from anyone that heard the story. Over the years, I have given away most of them, to grandchildren and others, and probably misplaced a few, too. If I had to, I don’t know if I could put my hands on a single compass in this house today. I hope I don’t have to; I’m pretty careful not to get lost, these days.

Have I told this story here? I can’t remember. I’ll tell it again.

It happened a little more than twenty years ago. I was working as the daytime server at the Shamrock Bar & Restaurant, opening at 7 AM for customers who gathered for conversation with their morning coffee. Then, as now, I was in the habit of taking a daily walk. I did not have dogs, then, so I generally walked alone. That year, I’d set a goal to walk one thousand miles from January to December, so I’d increased my daily distance.

Instead of trekking from my house north to the end of Fox Lake Road and back home, which was two miles, I was going south, to the other end of Fox Lake Road where it meets the West Side Drive, and back again. That was three miles. I’m a steady walker, but not particularly fast. Twenty minutes per mile is my speed, unless I deliberately speed up or slow down. I’d usually set out from home at about five o’clock. Three miles, and I’d be home by six.

One day in late October, I got an early start. It was a beautiful, warm and sunny fall day, and I left my house at four o’clock. One mile south, Hannigan Road bumps up to the Fox Lake Road. On a whim, I turned left onto Hannigan Road, then right onto Middie Perron’s Trail, which starts out parallel to the Fox Lake Road. I’d never walked the whole length of the trail, but I’d encountered it from the other end, where it met the Camp #3 Trail.

So, rather than my usual route down the Fox Lake Road and back again, which suddenly seemed so dull, my plan was to take Middie Perron’s Trail to the Camp #3 Trail, which would then take me out to the end of Fox Lake Road, where it met the West Side Drive. I’d see more of the beautiful fall foliage, and have a different than usual view. If it turned into a longer walk, it was no problem, because I’d gotten an early start.

Now, I should mention that, at that time, we’d had three nights in a row so dark that neither the moon or a single star was visible in the sky. That played a part in the decisions I made. The other thing was my dislike for retracing my steps. When lost, I’d rather go forward and find my way than turn around. It has gotten me in trouble while driving, and it caused me some trouble when out walking that evening.

Middie Perron’s Trail curved and zig-zagged. It narrowed from a rustic, leaf-covered two-track down to a skinny trail barely wide enough to squeeze through. Blackberry brambles grew up on either side, and arched overhead. The sun sat low over the treetops to the west. If the sun went down, and I was left in a night as dark as the last three had been, would I be able to find my way forward on this path? Could I find my way back, if I turned around?

In a moment that seemed like a flash of courageous genius, and quickly proved itself to be otherwise, I made a decision. I turned off the trail and walked directly, through tall grass, small trees and towering, thorny brambles, toward the setting sun. West, just a short trek through the wilderness, to the Fox Lake Road. Some things I forgot, didn’t know, or didn’t factor in, when choosing that course:

  • Just because Middie Perron’s Trail starts out parallel to the Fox Lake Road, it does not remain so;
  • Neither Fox Lake Road nor Middie Perron’s Trail run exactly north/south because of all the twists and turns they both have;
  • The sun does not set exactly to the west all year, and in the late fall of the year it is decidedly off course;
  • Fox Lake bog, which makes much of the land in the vicinity of Fox Lake very swampy, especially in the spring and fall;
  • Fox Lake. Yes, the entire lake stood between me, on Middie Perron’s Trail, and the Fox Lake Road, that was, in my foolish estimation, “just a short way to the west.”

I walked away from the trail. I pushed through thorn bushes and sharp grasses until I was far enough from where I’d started, I knew I couldn’t find my way back. That’s when I came upon a huge wet area. I looked back, considering. I looked ahead. Clumps of tall reeds grew from bits of earth rising up out of the shallow water. I went forward. I propelled myself from one bit of land to the next, clinging to low branches and reeds, and now and then sinking in up to my knees in cold water.

Many times, as I maneuvered through the muck, I thought I was making a big mistake. The way back, though, seemed just as scary and treacherous as the way forward. When, at last, I was through the boggy area and on dry land, there was no choice but to continue forward; I was not going to tackle that watery obstacle course again! Some things worked in my favor:

  • Though it was late in October, the weather was good. It was warm enough so that I was comfortable in a light jacket. It wasn’t windy or rainy. I wasn’t cold, even when wet;
  • The moon came up full and bright that night;
  • I knew, from observation, that the moon rose in the east and set in the west, so I could prevent myself from walking in circles by using it as a guide;
  • I was accustomed to walking, and in pretty good shape.

Once the earth under my feet was solid rather than liquid, and the moon was out, I started methodically trying to find my way. Keeping the moon behind me, I walked until I reached water. I carefully walked into the water until I was sure it was not just a puddle, then back-tracked. I did the same thing with the moon on my right side, then left, then straight in front of me. I seemed to be surrounded by water.

I continued in this way for several hours, changing the angle slightly each time. As the moon rose higher in the sky, I had better visibility. One body of water was a creek. Great! Any river or creek will lead to a lake. At that point, I didn’t care if that would be Fox Lake, or Lake Michigan; either would give me access, eventually, to a road.

I followed the creek until it spilled out shallowly over a large area of wet land, with no clear edges to follow. I turned and followed it in the other direction. When it appeared to turn into a large body of water, I tried to follow that around the perimeter. Every lake has an access road, after all. That, too became impossible to follow, spreading out into watery swamp filled with willow-like branches.

In this way, I continued on, through the night. Once, I tried calling out for help; not appearing to be anywhere near human habitation, that seemed like a waste of energy. I never panicked, but grew increasingly frustrated. At one point, I cried. I was tired, but never considered stopping, even just for a rest.

Eventually, I came upon a pile of cut logs in a clearing. They were dark, and moss-covered, indicating that they’d been there for quite a while, but I could still see the slashes of red paint on their ends that the loggers marked them with. There would be a road, leading to this spot! I scrambled over cut logs and through piles of brush until I found it. It was a narrow two-track; the deep tire ruts were filled with muddy water. Still, it was a grand sight to me!

I stayed on that path, sloshing through the mud when I had to but never considering changing course, until it came out onto West Side Drive. I got my bearings there, and walked north until West Side Drive met the Fox Lake Road. And that road took me home.

I walked into my house, and looked at the clock. It was just after two in the morning. I’d been walking pretty steadily for about ten hours! I peeled off wet clothes, brushed pickers and twigs from my hair, and stood for a long time in a hot shower, relieved to have finally found my way out of the woods. That’s my story of being lost.


Timeout for Art: Bookshelf


How long has it been since I’ve written a “timeout for art?” A month? Maybe two? See, I want to pause now, in what I’m doing, and look up that information. Then, once I had the facts, I’d have to rewrite what I just wrote, taking away any question. I’m going to try not to do that. It has been a while, let’s go with that.

I know that in the last timeout for art, I laid out plans to work my way through the alphabet. A was for Abstract, and I did a little blog about that. And then I got sidetracked. I had made a list: one art topic for every letter of the alphabet. Most of them related directly to my art, or some art practice that I know something about. When I got stuck at the more difficult letters, I consulted a little dictionary of art terms. X and Z were a bit of a stretch, if I remember correctly, but I had them all, A to Z.

I wrote the list down in the beautiful notebook with soft pages and rose-colored suede cover that my sister, Robin, gave me. For the last several weeks, I have not been able to find that notebook. Recreating the list has not been possible, because I not only cannot remember almost anything that was on it, I also cannot find the little dictionary of art terms. I have a feeling that both the notebook and the dictionary are buried somewhere in the massive stack of books in the corner of my living room.

Yes, I still have a mound of books stacked in the corner. Still! A month after the collapse of my bookshelves! Over the course of the last month, I have bought longer screws for the shelf supports. I purchased a new battery operated screw driver when the one I owned would no longer take a charge. With step stool, line level and all the patience I could muster, I managed to get one vertical support in place. That’s one of five.

In my defense, I am now working six days a week. Plus trying to coordinate times to record my radio show. I’ve been doing quite a bit of Emailing back and forth to finalize plans for an art show next year. And it’s summer. The dogs need their walks; the garden needs attention; the blackberries are ripening. Tonight, as I write this, I have a big kettle full of tomatoes simmering on the stove, and I’m so tired, I can barely keep my eyes open.

I wanted to write, though, about a book I just finished, that gives me hope. Perhaps you’ve noticed a pattern in the last few paragraphs. I am easily distracted from any task at hand. I give almost everything equal attention, whether it is a big, possibly life-changing event, or a minute detail. I have a dozen or more balls in the air at once. This combination results in constant frustration at myself. I seem to be always behind, and always neglecting the most important things.

It turns out, I am not alone! Jessica Abel is a writer, cartoonist, teacher, and graphic artist. She is also a blogger, pod-caster and workshop organizer. Oh, and a wife, and a mother of young children. And she just recently moved back to the United States from France. And wrote a book!

The book is Growing Gills: How to find creative focus when you’re drowning in daily life. It breaks down all the tendencies that get in the way of forward movement, then step-by-step forges a pathway through the chaos. It makes so much sense! For instance, she writes:

“Every choice you make, every time you prioritize one thing over another, there are corresponding sacrifices you make. Sometimes the trade-offs are financial, emotional or relational. Whether you are willing to address these trade-off or not is beside the point. They exist.”

She goes on to say that the real problem comes when you don’t decide, and let whatever happens, happen. She advocates choosing one creative endeavor at a time to actively work on. “Too many projects = no projects.”

The book includes lots of worksheets and tasks to help identify, sort, weed out, and/or bring to satisfactory conclusion every single item on the “Idea Debt” list. I read this book over the course of the last six weeks. I didn’t do all of the worksheets; I did take copious notes. Instead of immediately starting another book, as I usually do, I’m reviewing the notes and other materials.

I’ve never been very good at book reviews. I do a lot of gushing over books I like, and complain about the ones that disappoint me, but I’m not good at articulating the reasons why. I loved this book! I found it to be helpful…maybe life-changing-ly so. If your life seems chaotic and you feel like creative pursuits are falling by the wayside, you might find it helpful, too.