In defense of JOY

My word for 2019… JOY!

That is it. I don’t choose my word of the year lightly. In fact, I think
about it on and off for a few months, asking, “What do I need right
now? It is time for... what?” Joy. I am finding it funny and a little
perplexing that I am feeling defensive about this choice.

While trying to decide on a word, JOY was popping up every-
where last week. A lovely lady named Mary at Target was in a bulls-
eye t-shirt screen-printed “joy." A huge billboard in Minneapolis
said, “FEEL THE JOY, SELL YOUR HOUSE AS IS.” Even though
cynicism about joy may have a connection to the manipulation of
advertising, I was delighted when the word JOY popped up in well-
designed places. Then, I kid you not, as a gift last week, my sister-
in-law gave me a refrigerator magnet that literally says "Choose Joy."
So, I did!

Joy is the opposite of my least favorite words: greed, hate, shame,
hopelessness, fear, cynicism, and despair. Yet, JOY is such a simple
word, all too often overlooked. (Joy, really? What am I, 12? Maybe
My word of the year should be Glitter! Or, Juicy! But, for the record,
12-year-olds are some of the wisest people I know, who bring me
joy in teaching.)

Joy is an antidote. There are serious problems and suffering in the
world. The opposite of joy (see list above) seems to cause more
suffering. Yet, why am I cynical about joy? Pure JOY, not based on
material stuff, is so simple in this over-complicated, overstuffed life.
Seeing joy in others is a huge source of hope and inspiration, but we
hesitate to truly embrace it. Brene' Brown (really, I do read other
authors too) said, “When we lose our tolerance for vulnerability, joy
becomes foreboding.” In other words, we don't want to lose what
gives us joy, so we imagine losing it during the height of joy.
What is wrong with us? For instance, I’m grateful for joyful family
time during Christmas, joy so intense while singing 'Joy to the
World' I went from joyful-bursty-heart to heavy-I-don't-want-
anything-bad-to happen-to-these-people and back to bursty again
in 5 seconds flat.

So, I guess to truly embrace joy, you must be vulnerable. More
joy (and vulnerability) coming up. We all deserve it!


Word of the Year: Connection

“I define connection as the energy that exists between people 

when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give 

and receive without judgment; and when they derive 

sustenance and strength from the relationship." 

― BrenĂ© Brown

By the end of the year, 'my word' often feels prophetic, sometimes it
takes on a totally different meaning than originally intended. So far
this year, CONNECTION has multiple meanings: connections to other
artists, friends & family; connecting my art to reproducible design for
the RockFarm label; and getting closer to connecting to my purpose.
More about purpose later.

I have been asking myself lately, when do I feel most connected to 
others, and myself?
  1. When I spend time in person with someone, not looking at my phone
  2. When I make plans, and then follow through with plans to get together with people
  3. When I don't allow stress to prevent me from time to relax and enjoy the company of others
  4. When I listen to what people are saying, and not get distracted
  5. When I ask for help, or share what is happening with me
  6. When I feel appreciated, and show appreciation for others
  7. When I follow through with things that I know are good for me
  8. When I remember and follow through with things for others



The Power of Maybe

What kid really likes hearing 'Maybe' from adults? I used
to despise it, and I now I say it, repeatedly.

Recently though, I may have figured out why I say 'Maybe'
so often in teaching and parenting. While it may sound like
a wishy-washy reply, the truth is I want to empower kids to
come up with their own ideas and take action. Most of the
time when I say 'Maybe' what I am really saying is, "Great
idea! Now what? How are you going to make that happen?!"
How often do youth passively expect adults to make things
happen?  I want to empower my students and own children,
but that does mean giving up some of the control, and
expecting more self-control and leadership from our youth.
The responsibility of growing up and following-through is
on kids, too.

Below is an example of the power of 'Maybe'.

Once upon a time at the 2005 Fall Open House of Nevis
School, a junior named Micaela told the new Art teacher,
"We NEED an after school Art Club!" The teacher said,
"Maybe." Thinking, 'Show me how badly you need it.'
Then, Micaela and some friends showed up after school,
and kept showing up! They made a lot of big and small
things happen, like huge inspirational banners that filled
the cafeteria, art field trips to Minneapolis, and many
trips to the MSHSL State Art Show. In 2018, Nevis HS
still has an after school Art Club. The same teacher keeps
saying, 'Maybe' to kids who have big ideas, and then
watches them make ideas into art, friendship, and

Art Club cafeteria banner makers, 2006.

2014 meets 2018

For quite a few weeks now, I’ve been driving by this wolf-kill 
deer, not far from our driveway. A month ago I saw it mainly 
in half-darkness as rib-caged crows sat in and pecked at it. 
Immediately, I was brought back to my 2014 illustration for 
LouAnn Shepard Muhm’s poem, ‘Against Violence’. Today, 
walked to the wolf-kill rib-cageno birds around, but the 
sinewy heart shape came in view for the first time. So much 
in life comes full circle and connects; I suppose it is our job 
to keep our eyes open and make some meaning from these 
lessons. 2018-me and 2014-me are connecting with these 
words and images. More connections to come. #wordoftheyear 

"Long Winter", 2018

LouAnn Shepard Muhm's words from "Against Violence", 2014
My rib-caged crow illustration, 2014


Connection, my 2018 word

For five years, I have been choosing a word of the year.
Two years ago I said this:
Choosing one word isn't an easy task, yet that is what I assign myself
to do every year, now. BRAVE in 2014, COLOR in 2015. This one large
word/idea, like a block of basswood, begins the new year with a promise.
If I work at it with both wild abandon and careful hewning, something 
from within will be set free.

Then, came FREEDOM in 2015, and CURIOSITY in 2017.
In 2018, it is CONNECTION.

Last September I wrote this in my sketchbook.
I really don't know what I was thinking about
at the time. It could have been so many different things.
Really, it is a NOTE TO SELF.

In 2014, a little tongue-in-cheek, I started choosing a word 
for the year. It felt cheesy, but making resolutions 
has always felt like instant failure to me. I was skeptical 
of the word of the year thing, too. Wouldn't I forget 
about it? How could it make a difference in my life and 
art? And, it has made a difference. Words have power, and 
well, words and images are power x power! 

What is art but connecting the seemingly unconnected into 
something new? Stay tuned. More connections in the works.