To Crave & To Have: A Thing & Its Shadow


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photo by Edward Steichen - the beauty we love: farewell letter

Photo by Edward Steichen

To crave and to have are as like as a thing and its shadow. For when does a berry break upon the tongue as sweetly as when one longs to taste it, and when is the taste refracted into so many hues and savors of ripeness and earth, and when do our senses know any thing so utterly as when we lack it? And here again is a foreshadowing–the world will be made whole. For to wish for a hand on one’s hair is all but to feel it. So whatever we may lose, very craving gives it back to us again. — Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1980)

I wonder, is this true?

Certainly, sometimes the thing we’ve craved, once held in hand, does not live up to what was rounded out in exquisite detail when beheld in mind. Nor does the thing in hand last quite as long, if the thing we crave is not an object we can possess.

But is the thing in hand a mere shadow of the thing we craved for?

Is the matter-object we hold for but a moment in our hand less substantial than the ideal we crave and can bring to mind at moment’s notice and hold onto forever?

Sometimes I like to think so. I like to think those we’ve lost that are dear are as close as our thoughts of them fleshed out by memory and imagination. By a pure, keenly-honed desire to have and hold. Desire as sharp and hot as a welder’s flame.

I like to think that all I love and long for–that deeply felt-sense of them–is never lost. It’s shadow-substance may come and go and disappear as things do in a world of constant change. But its essence, the thing-in-itself that ever was, remains.

Brighter, clearer, than when held in hand.

Sweeter, purer than before.

The clean, keen edge of it never lost. Never wavering.

Music for a Rainy Morning


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Taking some time for myself this morning. A fire, a book, music streaming as a gentle rain falls beyond my window.




From the Tailwinds of 2019, Hope Lost & Its Glimmer


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Edward Robert Hughes (1851-1914), Night with her Train of Stars (1912)

I ended a blog post at the tail end of 2018 with this wish list for 2019:

A Look Ahead – What I Want Most

A happy ending for my son.

A happy ending for my novel.

More novel-writing, more painting, more blogging.

More artful living.

More Love. Lots and lots of love, for all of us.

My wish list for 2020 is much the same. For one year, it appears, was not long enough to fulfill these wishes.

The happy ending I’d hoped for my son seems less likely now than ever. His addiction has once again robbed him of everything he built during four years of sobriety.

The happy ending for my novel is still on hold. We took it off the market while I sent it to a professional editor. And the editing I had begun was postponed when my granddaughter came to live with me.

Instead of more writing, painting, and blogging in 2019, there was less and less. I did not blog or paint or write at all last month.

More artful living? More love for all of us?

Not so much last year.

The one gift 2019 gave me (which is huge and fills my heart!) is hope for my granddaughter when she came to live with me. Hope that she will remain in my care–happy and safe, healthy and strong, responsibly cared for and dearly cherished as she grows into a young woman.

May this blog post be the beginning of a bright new year for all of us.


Finding Our Place in the Family of Things


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Don Hong-Oai's mystical and delicately toned sepia landscapes using the Chinese ''pictorial'' style of layering several negatives to compose a scene.

I often turn to the poetry of Mary Oliver when seeking solace, when trying to negotiate a path through the cares and sorrows of this world and its grace and beauty.

“Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine,” she says, simply.

As if she and me and despair are old friends. As if despair, with all its sharp, broken edges is as common as grass, as remarkable as wild geese shrieking across the sky. Just another thing among the many that make up a life.

Not to be avoided. And not to let drown out the other voices that call to us, or whisper up from deep within.

Here’s one of my favorites.

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things

The Mystical Mindscapes of Matthew Wong


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Matthew Wong, 'River at Night,' 2018, oil on canvas

“River at Night” by Matthew Wong

I discovered a new favorite artist on the day he died–too young at 35, Matthew Wong. A tribute to Wong’s artwork and an announcement of his death appeared in my feeder early in October and I was captivated by what I saw there. His work defies description for his influences were many: van Gogh, Matisse, Munch. But his vision was uniquely his own, a lush surreal mysticism, so richly complex that at first glance I missed the small mysterious figures or structures that are often hidden within, as we see in the painting below with the figure in a canoe.

One of my favorites comes next, and seems almost prescient: a lone figure looking across a white void to a tiny house set at the base of a green flowing mountain. An exotic red bird, wings spread, looks on, as if poised to fly him home.

It’s tragic to lose one so gifted so early. But something of his essence survives in his artwork, and continues to excite and inspire. And perhaps, to invite us to look more deeply into our own lush mindscapes to find what’s hidden within.

“The Beginning” by Matthew Wong

“See You On the Other Side,” 2019. Oil on canvas.

“See You on the Other Side” by Matthew Wong

“The Realm of Appearances,” by Matthew Wong, who had been painting and drawing seriously only since 2013. But critics, impressed by his striking canvases, invoked Vincent van Gogh, Édouard Vuillard and other familiar painters in assessing his work and its impact.

“The Realm of Appearances” by Matthew Wong

“The Kingdom” by Matthew Wong

“Starlight,” 2019. Oil on canvas.

“Starlight” by Matthew Wong

To find out more about Matthew Wong or see more of his artwork, check out these links:



October Trees, Falling Leaves, Bursts of Glory


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Larisa Aukon, Portal Aukon Fine Art Power of Landscape  painting workshop  April 11-15, 2016 Scottsdale Artists School

Larisa Aukon

October is my birth month. I’ve always had mixed feelings about that. Being born when the days are growing shorter, the nights colder, the leaves turning yellow and red in a last burst of glory before they drift away. Life coming to an end, hunkering down, readying itself for hibernation, for hiding beneath a blanket of snow. The melancholy of it all.

And yet that bright burst of glory, brief as it is! There’s nothing to compare to that. And nothing melancholy about such brilliant defiance. So, on the last day of the month, here’s to October trees, falling leaves, and bursts of glory.

Wolf Kahn

Tom Thomson, Autumn’s Garland

Crystal Pines by Erin Hanson

Erin Hanson


Egon Schiele

Matthew Wong

Claude Monet, The Three Trees, Autumn (1891) W1308, oil on canvas, 92 x 73 cm, Private collection. WikiArt.

Claude Monet


Claude Monet

Wolf Kahn

From Pete the Cat: It’s All Good


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One of the joys of grandparenting is revisiting stories I loves to read my own children and sharing them with theirs. What fun it was to read to my granddaughter some of her father’s favorite books, Judy Blume’s Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, and Superfudge. Equally fun is discovering new favorites all her own, like the audibles we’re listening to of Junie B. Jones series narrated in that delightfully scratchy and droll voice of Lana Quintal as Junie B. rebels against riding the stupid smelly yellow school bus, and gets back at that meany boy Jim who invited everyone in room 9 to his birthday party but her.

A new recent favorite is the Pete the Cat series, and my personal favorite I Love My White Shoes. This groovy blue cat with the yellow eyes and long skinny legs has a new pair of white hightops that he loves, loves, loves! So much so that as he strolls along he sings this song: ” I love my white shoes! I love my white shoes! I love my white shoes.”

But then, “Oh no!” he steps into a huge pile of strawberries, turning his white shoes red. What does Pete do? Does he cry? “Goodness, no!” He just keeps strolling along singing his song, “I love my red shoes! I love my red shoes! I love my red shoes!”

And when through a series of accidents his shoes turn blue, then brown, then wet and white again, what does he do? He just keeps strolling along, singing his song, which changes according to the circumstances: “I love my blue shoes! . . . I love my brown shoes . . . . I love my wet shoes . . .!”

The illustrations are so vivid and cheerful, the cool cat’s insouciant optimism so infectious, with the repetitious sing-songy verses undercut by unexpected riffs from the past (Everything is Cool! Groovy! Rock N’ Roll!), we don’t even mind when, at the end, the story points to itself and sets out the “moral” in black and white on the page:

“The moral of Pete’s story is

No matter what you step in

Keep walking along and

Singing your song . . .

[turn page]

because it’s all good.”

So simple. So wise. And for all its triteness, so encouraging to this grandma and her little granddaughter, each of us in the throes of transition, our lives turned upside-down since she’s come to live with me, not knowing what will come next as I petition for permanent guardianship,  the decision so completely out of our hands.  

All we can do and must do is just keep strolling along, singing our songs, reading our books, enjoying our sweet time together in the here and now, come what may, regardless the shifting landscapes and incidences that continue to color our lives.

Knowing, like that great, wise, groovy Peter the Cat says: It’s all good.

[NOTE TO READER: While the Junie B series is new to me and my granddaughter, it’s been around for a long time, since 1995! Pete the Cat is not as young as he is cool either, having debuted in 2010. If you younger parents and grandparents know of newer book series you think my sweetie might like, please let me know. She’s an “old soul” first grader.]



Life’s Sweet Longing for Itself


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Image result for illustrations from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not from you.

I first read these words from Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet when still in high school, a child myself, although I did not see myself that way. His words moved me then, even as they do now, so many years later, when I am raising a granddaughter.

Then I truly was “life” in its earliest stages “longing” for the life that was to be, that stretched out before me in what seemed an endless and exciting unknown potentiality.

I didn’t want to be hemmed in by the hopes and expectations of my parents, nor by their fears and warnings. I didn’t want to “learn from their mistakes,” as they cautioned me. I wanted to live my life as an adventure, learning from my own mistakes, not theirs. My life was my own and no one else’s. I wanted to risk all, moving at my own direction, and good or bad, I alone would take responsibility for the life I chose. Such were my longings then.

So I found Gibran’s  parenting advice immensely inspiring,  both for myself as I was moving beyond my parents into adulthood, and also for the kind of parent I wanted to be to my own children.

He goes on to say:

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Now, as the mother of a grown son and the guardian of his child, The Prophet’s words still move me . . . and admonish me.

How I wish now my son had heeded my warnings, and that they had been louder and clearer. How I  wish he had chosen paths more safe and sane, had lived up to all the potential I saw in him then and see still.

But those are my fears, my regrets, not his. I must loose him and let him go, and see the direction in which he flew as his own choice. It was never mine to make or change or regret. I had longed when young to make and learn from my  own mistakes, and so must he. But that learning is his alone to make or forsake in his own good time.

As for his child, my little granddaughter, she too is an arrow who will fly beyond my bending, beyond my ability to see or guide her life’s flight. Will my warnings to her be louder and clearer? No doubt. Will she heed them, or long to learn from her own mistakes, as I had, as her father must? We shall see.

She, as her father, is in the Archer’s hand. And I must trust, trust, trust that each will reach that mark upon the path of the infinite toward which the Archer aims with gladness. They are, after all, Life’s sweet longing for itself.

As am I.

Chaos Can Take a Hike


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I wrote the following post For Love of Chaos in August three years ago, when I had my little three year old granddaughter living with me. She’s six now and again living with me. So times haven’t changed much in many ways, including the wrecking-ball politics we saw on the nightly news, then as now.  And I still enjoy watching The Last Kingdom on Netflix.

But chaos itself I can do without. I’m weaning myself away from cable news, and the dark, edgy stuff I used to like to read and watch I now avoid.

Now my nightly reading is Judy Blume, Tales of a 4th Grade Nothing, and Super Fudge, stories I used to read to my children when they were young. I read a chapter to my granddaughter before bed and she loves them just as much as her dad and auntie did. It’s so cute when she gets excited and starts giggling and covering her face when Fudgie does some new crazy thing that drives his big brother Peter nuts.

O give me light, give me laughter, give me snuggles and giggles. Chaos can take a hike.

For Love of Chaos, Trump, and Wrecking-Ball Politics

(First posted August 2016)

Since becoming the full-time nanny for my little granddaughter, my reading tastes have taken a decisive darker turn. Instead of the lyrical literary novels I’m usually drawn to, I’ve been on a Viking binge.

It started with Bernard Cromwell’s The Saxon Stories, upon which the acclaimed BBC series “The Last Kingdom” is based. It continued with Judson Roberts’ “The Strongbow Saga“, Giles Kristoan’s “Raven Trilogy”, and James Wilde’s books about Hereward, the English hero that some claim the Robin Hood tales were based on.

The question puzzling me for quite some time is why this dark turn toward such violent reads? What is it that draws me to them and keeps me reading?

I may have found at least a partial answer in one of Kristian’s books, when the young Viking Raven muses on “the love of chaos.” How even in the most life-threatening moments, when absolute silence is needed to keep death from descending and destroying them all, part of him wants to cry out and “turn that still night into seething madness.” Part of him wants to “break through the thick ice of that mute terror, for even chaos would be better than waiting, than expecting the fire to reach out of the night and eat your flesh.”

Perhaps we’ve all felt a bit of that “love of chaos” at some time in our lives. Felt in the face of some extreme danger a wild giddy urge–to run the car off the edge of a dark winding road, to step off the edge of the cliff into the wild-blue thrill of free-fall. Perhaps all extreme sport enthusiasts harbor a bit of this in their hearts when attempting their death-defying stunts. The mad desire to push past the edge of all reason into a wild unknown.

Maybe my turn toward these violent reads is a dormant “love of chaos,” the urge to experience, if only vicariously, that death-defying thrill. To travel with these warriors into a dark unknown as they risk death and destruction in a daring quest for gold and glory. To risk all to see what great gain may stand on the other side. Or not.

I can’t help seeing some of this “love of chaos” playing out on the political stage today in what some have called a kind of “wrecking-ball” mentality in some American voters. Their impatience with restraint, nuance, diplomacy, and what they see as political correctness. The wild urge to tear it all down, all apart, and see what rises out of the ashes. They see Trump as wielding the wrecking ball that will destroy the status quo in the wild hope that out of such chaos will come gold and glory.

I’m far from being a Trump fan, but I do understand that wild impulse. In certain seemingly hopeless situations, throwing caution to the wind has a strong appeal. The desperate hope is that chaos itself will become the cauldron out of which a new, better world will emerge.

This urge toward chaos has strong a strong corollary in nature, in the violent upheavals that impose a new order: The shifting Teutonic plates that broke apart to create the continents and seas that sustain life today. The glaciers that ripped away vast chunks of earth to carve out spectacular canyons and riverbeds. The wild-fire that brings so much destruction, yet germinates new seeds for future forests.The list goes on.

“Out of chaos the dancing star is born.” So sang the poet.

Perhaps this love of chaos is etched into our DNA. We can’t escape it, but we can try to understand it, in ourselves and each other.

I’m hoping our better angels, our more reasonable natures, will prevail in the November election, and we do not trust our future to the chaos of wrecking-ball politics. But it’s important to try to understand what gives rise to these desparate tendencies. To not make the mistake of thinking we are above it all, that only the others, the so-called “deplorables,” have such dark urges. Hate, racism, xenophobia, terrorism–if we look deep enough into our own hearts and minds we will find the seeds of each, whether lying dormant or on fertile ground. We have to see this, and understand it in ourselves, before we can understand it in others. And learn to rein it in.

Young Raven learned to rein in his urge toward chaos that dark and deadly night, and he and his companions lived to fight again for gold and glory. Learning when to let our wilder urges move us forward, and when to rein them is what will move all of us closer to our own common goals, whether they be of gold and glory, or peace and prosperity and a better world

Resting in the Grace of the World


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Crystal Light series original oil painting by Erin Hanson

“Crystal Light” by Erin Hanson

“When despair for the world grows in me, and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought or grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.” ~ Wendell Berry

I have not lain down where the wood drake rests, but I am coming to find a kind of grace in letting loose, more than letting go, in pressing steadily forward without attachment to the outcome, in a kind of letting be, come what may.

My granddaughter came to live with me at the beginning of summer and she is with me still, having started first grade at a nearby school in which I enrolled her. I am petitioning to become her legal guardian. This comes with the blessing of my son, but not the child’s mother, who will fight this. Both are struggling with addiction, both victims of this opioid crisis.

I grieve for my son and my heart breaks for the mother, even as I fear for my granddaughter. Sometimes it seems overwhelming.

Then I take a deep breath and do what must be done, regardless the outcome.

I move toward “the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought or grief.”

I rest in “the presence of still water,” and feel “the day-blind stars waiting with their light.”

I cannot say I “am free.”

But I do feel the grace of the world, and love of God, surrounding me and mine. I lean on that, and it comforts me.