Weekend Links: 9.16.17

Have a handful of haute happenings.


Need an Instagram or Pinterest shake-up. Here’s one story of what can happen when you give into the daydream.

Holiday Creep

Experiences as gifts are more valuable than things because of the time spent and the love shown. That is what builds relationships. My kids and I love toys more than this author, but I agree with the ideas in this piece about not needing more toys.

Still want to buy a gift for someone? Consider this desk decor from Aleteia, in which one sister recommends keeping a skull on your desk. We will live better if we keep life’s trajectory in mind. That’s one way to extend the Halloween shopping season into Christmas.


Health and Relationships

For nearly two years I felt unavailable to three of my children. I feel the weight of this letter from a mother to her daughter, and when we hit rough patches, I still experience the fear that we will be in that dark place again.

“We cannot scream about the evils of abortion while simultaneously forcing women two choose between having a child or having a job.” Amen! Read more at Aleteia.

An interesting article from George Weigel considering Paul Ryan and social doctrine. In our area, we see incredible work done by non-profits, getting into community and building relationships. That is something that can only be done on the local level. Relationships create support when there is no family support, provides mentors when one or both parents are absent, and gives hope by communicating to the person his worth. None of that happens through the anonymous federal dollar handout.

This is an amazing suicide prevention video. These are the conversations I had with young people in my work. If you encounter someone who is thinking about suicide, the message, “stay,” asking that person not to do it, is a powerful request. A simple conversation can help that person find meaning in his or her life. Then connect the person with a mental health professional. If the person is in immediate danger, call 911.

Here’s a beautiful hospital story about Jeannie Gaffagin. I’d like to point out that when an appointment could not be made right away, she looked for other options. Because healthcare is so vast, unless you are already plugged into a major, all encompassing institution, you may need to do some footwork. We had two ER visits and a pediatrician visit with Peter when he was two months old and under birth weight. They all sent us home. Thankfully, the folks at UCSF saved his life. Today he is pushing a little toy car around the living room with his tennis shoes on and wild hair.



Highly Sensitive People

Sensitivity means being more alive to your surroundings. Good things are felt more deeply. Bad things are felt more severely. Our culture aims for even-keeled affect, in the realm of happy, but not flamboyant. Yet the highly sensitive person exists and here is why it is not so bad to “take things so seriously.”

There are so many personality theories out there. But like most systems, the simplest system that answers all the questions is usually the right one. Leave out the initials INFP and numbers which have long books of meaning, Enneagram 2, and take a look at the four temperaments. Here, Mary Claire LaGroue over at Verily applies this theory is applied to the concept of the highly sensitive person and how to support that person.

High stakes

This is empowering! Want to know about amazing women? Read about what Catholic women did when women were property and in many places not allowed to read.


Book Review Overview

I have devoured books this summer at about the same rate as our great girl has devoured those chicken men mentioned in Friday’s post. Initially, I focused on reading spiritual/inspirational material during the day in small doses and fiction at night.

After attempting to read The Evidential Power of Beauty by Thomas Dubay with children in the same room, it seemed better to switch my concept to light reading during the day and heavy reading at night. Dubay went the way of the nightstand.

Since then my review of And Then There Were None, my evening books consisted of Kristin Lavarnsdatter, The Loved One, The Birth of the Republic, and, now, The Evidential Power of Beauty. My day books were The Memoir Project, The Art of Slow Writing, and The Magnolia Story. The more you read, the easier it becomes to read more. This list is not a standard by which every person should read.

Kristin Lavarnsdatter.

Ah, Kristin, you fool. This was my second reading and a much more lucid reading than when I first read it. This epic book is set in Catholic Medieval Norway where it is common to practice, and yet, not to practice Catholicism. Our hero makes some bad choices for love. The genius of the story comes in the realistic emotional fall out of those choices. There is no moralizing here, just an illustration of what happens when love fails to mature. We are creatures moved by good and bad inspirations. The author, Sigurd Undset, is a master at identifying those subtle movements of personality. Want to leave Netflix but do not want to miss the drama. Try Kristin. This Netflix original intelligence, not Party of Five. I highly recommend it for those who are not afraid of commitment (1200 pages).

The Loved One.

The Loved One

This is satire…hilarious, morbid, British satire. If you cannot handle dark humor, do not pick this book up. In this story, we see the commercialization of death through the mortuary business. The ending pushed me a little far (two suicides occur during the span of the book). If you liked The Royal Tenenbaums (I laughed out loud as Ben Stiller asked another character about whether or not he wrote a suicide note), this book is for you. I cannot recommend it for everyone.

The Birth of the Republic.

Birth of the Republic

In July, my son’s hospital admission was more serious than others of late. That circumstance prevented me from writing about a remarkable gift we received: two donated tickets to the hit musical Hamilton. With revived historical interest, I picked up a book from junior year, U.S. History, taught by the extraordinary Mr. Wayne Hinds. I remembered liking this book, which reads more like a narrative than a text book. The book is very good, reminding me that there are many stories to tell from this period of history. Hamilton’s is one. This book answers the question of “how did this new country come about?” focused on what forces led to it: what perceptions, what ideas, what events furthered those ideas. It is half events and half ideas, an understanding approach that we do not need to dismiss our American heroes because they were also men. The author points out that these ideas were new. Even if they were not ready to take those ideas (like equality) all the way to their natural conclusion (abolish slavery, equal vote) we do not have to assume the beliefs were lies. High school level, so good for adults who have not read history in some time.

The Evidential Power of Beauty.


I have some progress to make on this yet. I love it thus far. The first section is a remarkable treatment of the concept of beauty, what makes a thing beautiful (across subjects), and what makes a thing ugly. The second section demonstrated the many awesome things in creation.

Day Reading.

To share on another day.

Review: Window Painting from By Mommy Skills

I grew up, laying on my bed, gazing out the window and the wild blue sky daydreaming about everything and nothing in particular.


In our first apartment, on the third floor, I kept the window blinds open while we enjoyed the green of the trees outside.


We moved to the first floor before our firstborn joined the party. The view was changed, but old brick buildings are not too bad.


From that to this, city to country life on a hill.


The photo does not show all the dead Foster Farms chickens at the bottom of the hill.

Now we live in suburbia. Backyard and front yard views are not bad. Our front yard tree looms large. I see little else than green looking out the window.


I imagine how my children will grow up in this house. When I look outside their window, I see a privacy fence a few feet away. Seems disappointing. I have considered planting something vining and flowering, but I do not know neighbor fence etiquette on this matter.


For a change and as a treat, I hired Melinda from By Mommy Skills to paint their window with seasonal flair. This is a test to see if the kids can refrain from scratching it off, or adding to it.

Over email, we created a design. I sent her photos from Pinterest with the style and description of what I wanted. She Melinda arrived, we discussed it on site.


The kids and I are very pleased.

When the idea came to me initially, I thought the cost would be prohibitive, but it was less than eating out.

I love the way it looks like the fence belongs in the picture.


I am already planning on a snowy scene for winter.

How do you decorate for fall?

Review: A Workshop by Kelley Flower Farm

Monday morning I declared to my husband I would not be home much that day. My mother and I went to Rainbow Fabrics and Joann’s for Labor Day sales in the morning. After a two-hour break, we enjoyed a French Dip Panini and wines from Lodi and France at Camp 4.

With this enjoyment and the bonding that comes with sitting down and conversing away from children, we headed way out west to Kelley Flower Farm for our first floral workshop.

Magazines taught me to arrange flowers. One year, in the same month, Real Simple and Better Homes and Gardens featured the same theme. Start with your greens as a base, add your face/diva flower, then fill in with other smaller flowers. While I did not always follow it exactly, these tutorials served me well.




There is always more to learn.

Along with a professional’s tips and insights, workshops give you access to their materials, in this case…dahlias!

We arrived ten minutes late and were discovered knocking on the wrong door. The workshop was in the back, a metal building with cement floor. Tables with bright pink plastic table clothes were arranged in a row with antique chairs, large vases filled with water, and pruning sheers for each attendee to use. On the wall atop two folding tables were buckets and buckets of flowers. Under the tables were more buckets of flowers. To the side of the table was a chair with another bucket of flowers. Throughout the workshop, if we ran low, they offered to go out and get more flowers.

Face flowers like these dinner plate dahlias are expensive and for the flower lover, this access is the equivalent of rolling around in a pile of money.

Kelley and Sharon led the workshop. I met Kelley when planning flowers for my grandmother’s 80th birthday party. I got to know Sharon this spring through the Farmer’s Markets as I came and relieved my sadness by taking in the wonder of their incredible flowers. The two have different styles, they explained as they began their demonstration.

Kelley methodically placed greens, in sets of threes evenly spaced, in her vase while Sharon dove in and built up a wild foundation for her flowers. The arrangements ended as differently as they began but held one thing in common, they were beautiful.

It was our turn now. I felt like a kid when the piñata breaks, but I refrained from running and elbowing as I picked my greens from the bucket. I spent Kelley and Sharon’s demonstration mentally picking the colors for my arrangement. Would I do yellow for Regina? Pink for Miriam? But oh, those deep purple dinner plate dahlias. I melt a little when I see them. I chose purples and reds, fall colors. Deep greens would be their foundation. A variety of basil with green and purple leaves made my base, along with a host of other greens (because when you have buckets and buckets, why not?).

After my foundation was full and secure, I went for the dahlias, and then more dahlias, and then more, sticking to deep purples and reds, using a handful for bright orange “Darcy” dahlias for accent. Use varying sizes, they recommended. After dahlias, I added celosia in deep reds and oranges. In Alexandria, Virginia, I eyed flower vendor booths at the Farmer’s Market’s, where we attended weekly as newlyweds. When I finally purchased a bouquet for myself, it had this brainy celosia. Those fuzzies held a place in my heart ever since. After sprinkling a little deep purple scabiosa and sweet williams, I called it complete.

As with most of my projects, I had a basic plan in mind when I set out. The finished product came quickly and happily.




For those who requested help, Kelley and Sharon were hands on in guiding their selection and placement, offering tips, cutting extra flowers when they had one in mind that was just right. I watched Jenny DiAnna of Bella Fiori Flower Farm create an airy arrangement evoking spring, peace and all good things.

Better than the flowers was hearing my mother with an open mind say, “I guess it just takes practice,” a changed tune from, “I don’t know about arranging flowers.” Sometimes all we need is a teacher or demonstration to make the impossible seem possible. I felt that way about the calligraphy workshop I attended.

Workshops are a luxury, but because they teach you a skill, you take more with you than the finished product. It is the “teach a man to fish” perspective. I’ll buy that.


Weekend Links 8.28.17

Twelve tidbits to tide you over till tomorrow.

On Family and Community:

  1. The American virtues of autonomy and usefulness poison the sense of duty in the family to care for each other. If I must always take care of myself, I deny my family members their duty to care for me. That duty makes us better people. I try to remind myself of this when I feel I burden others with our family’s unavoidable needs. Gilbert Meilaender puts it well here from First Things archives.
    Giving women credit that they can make choices. We are not just a bundle of “twitching nerves.” That this fertility awareness method is mainstream is terrific.
  2. Community networks and organizations, like the local parish, helped mitigate the problems of age segregation highlighted in this article on youth culture because children were naturally around adults, teenagers with kids, kids with elderly. The more we separate, individuals may feel understood and better fulfilled, but there must be variety.
  3. Wouldn’t hurt for us to keep perspective about why we do the parenting things we do, like first-birthday parties. I wished we could have done something for my son, Peter’s birthday. It was a miracle he made it that far. But I was so burnt our keeping the other family traditions alive, we did not do a thing. And that’s okay.
  4. This woman: her writing is amazing, her story is amazing, she has been an inspiration and source of her. Her posts following the births and deaths of her twin girls gave us the courage to face our daughter’s birth. Here she writes about what she carries with her.
  5. Peter’s little guts are in a study right now, different goals as this, but just as amazing.
  6. Our family is making plans! Want to journey with us to Detroit to pray for our son?

On the Church:

  1. One of my favorite saints is St. Francis de Sales. Only after I met him and loved him through reading Introduction to a Devout Life did I learn he is the patron saint of writers.
  2. The Church will always offend someone because she is charged with declaring what is right and wrong. Even speaking with as much kindness as possible, the only way to not offend anyone, is to stop talking.

On Culture and Education:

  1. I hope there are newer films/shows out there that would benefit girls than this list presents (as these are mostly older), but I must say, I love many of the movies on this list for girls.
  2. Some good advice for any graduate student. I think it applies to us lifelong learners as well.
  3. Here is an article on The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis. In high school, I argued with a friend over what order one should read the Chronicles of Naria, whether in order of publication or the order of the story sequence. I cannot remember what side of the argument I was on, I often argued ignorantly in those days. This author is on the side of allowing the story to unfold as Lewis intended it, with The Magician’s Nephew coming first. Allowing authors to lead us through the story. There is something to be said for trusting the author to lead you through a story. If we trusted rather than deconstructed, maybe authors like Arther Golden would not have found it necessary to present his historical fiction, Memoirs of a Geisha, as an autobiography.
  4. There is a modern iconoclasm taking place in the United States. We worshipped civil heroes while blacking out their conversion stories or stories of weakness, letting our universities do that for us (Martin Luther King Jr., Christopher Columbus). Would that we understood a man can do great things, while still falling short.

Winchester Mystery House

My husband and I purchased expensive tickets for the Winchester Mystery House for July 10th. Do you live somewhere famous with famous attractions other people talk about but you have never seen? The Winchester Mystery House is like that for us. My sister first told me about it. She is a master at learning an area and actually seeing the sights of interest, rather than just living the mundane. Learning a movie would come out soon about this house, I thought it was about time we saw it.

The cost is terrific, in the terrifying sense: $37 a ticket for the basic tour, which boasts of viewing 110 rooms out of 160. I do not recall the other ticket options.

July 9th arrived, and so we did we…at UCSF for my son’s hospitalization. The good people running the Winchester Mystery House were exceedingly kind and rescheduled our tour even though we were not within the stated 48-hour cancellation guidelines.

So we went today. We took the scenic route, sentimental to us both because my husband lived in that direction while we dated and because that was the way we traveled for our Monterrey and Santa Cruz adventures (adventures my sister took first, I admit!).

Smell the garlic of Gilroy! This will improve our immune system, my husband said to me. He turned off the button that recycles the air you have already breathed into your air conditioner so we could experience a purer, more pungent smell of garlic. I thought of the Garlic Festival, another event we always talked about but never attended. Is this a bucket list post?

The Winchester Mystery House is not only surrounded by city but by beautiful shopping, the likes of which we see in San Francisco, DC and the Stoneridge Mall in Pleasanton. Parking is tight but easy. The air feels good, only 80 degrees here, not the 99 at home.

In the courtyard, spooky music plays while we lament the laser mechanism of the shooting gallery.

Our tour begins. We enter the through the carriage entrance and begin to see the sights of many small stairs (“easy risers”), one staircase that leads nowhere, one upstairs door that leads to quite a drop, two cabinets that lead nowhere. I wonder throughout, is this really the layout of the house? These were the stairs they used. In part they were, yet I cannot get a sense of it.

Poor Sarah Winchester, mourning the loss of her infant daughter and young husband, she is overcome by guilt at the deaths caused by the invention carrying her married name: the Winchester rifle. A medium tells her spirits of the dead haunt her. She must move west, built and never stop. The rooms will house the good spirits; the construction will scare off that bad. This makes me deeply sad for this woman I never knew. Spiritualism was a thing in those days. Had she been a practicing Catholic she might have offered up oodles of money in masses for their souls, instead, she kept construction going.

I liked the kitchens best. I noticed their sinks. It shows my age and state of life. The bathrooms were interesting. The linen room impressed me. The lighting was beautiful. I would like to have a conservatory.

In the end, the visit made me appreciate our local McHenry Mansion all the more. There I can see the same finery and craftsmanship, without the quirks, for free. It is our own treasure of history. My husband and I do not believe in spirits locked on earth to haunt the living, so we were moved most by the age of the house, and the curiosity.

It is a curiosity. That is what I walk away with. It was interesting. I do not know if I can say I recommend it. I am glad I saw it because I would have wondered, especially with the movie. I like to see famous, iconic things. But I cannot say it has improved my life. I could say that about the wallpaper at the McHenry Mansion in Modesto, but then, I do love Art Nouveau.

New Adventures: Beginner Modern Calligraphy

A little adventure this time: a Beginner Modern Calligraphy workshop with Holly Anna Calligraphy.

Handwriting has been my nemesis. It is too slow for the speed of my thoughts. So I typed. I have relied on typing since 5th grade.

My hand-writing languished. Penmanship was taught but not enforced. Second grade, we competed to see who could write the smallest. Cursive was punishment. In the end, only I could read my scribbles. Now, some days, if I am actually writing my thoughts, it seems I cannot do that.


My thinking penmanship
Day to day penmanship
When things are looking good


A couple weeks ago, in a memorable bout of good mothering, my daughter and I transcribed a poem onto a piece of paper and painted the rest of the paper with images we imagined from the poem. I wished for some way to elevate my penmanship. Fortunately, this workshop was just around the corner. The kindness of the teacher, Holly, made me feel comfortable to such a commitment. It seems I often have to cancel last minute because of some Peter-related issue.

Workshop day arrived! I left the kiddos with my parents and drove off apprehensively to Modesto. Would I feel comfortable? Would it be too difficult to be away from Peter? I already spent the morning away from him. My thoughts swirled with worries about Peter, the heat, and my parents’ energy levels. I thought of Celeste how long it was since I visited the cemetery.

I found the location easily, next door to Vito’s, once Oceania, where Kyle and I spend a couple dates gazing lovingly into each other eyes. Down a narrow, paved walkway with branches of bright pink bougainvillea dropping dried petals like a flower girl there stood the chalk board sign which read, “Calligraphy Workshop.” I seemed to arrive with the early crowd.

Opening the antique glass-paned door, a burst of cold air welcomed me inside from the 104-degree outside, afternoon temperature. A handful of women sat around plastic folding tables ornamented with white paper bags, cream colored tags tied with ivory ribbon. Each tag was decorated with a name, our names in gold ink calligraphy. I thought of my wedding place cards and how we printed them on the computer using Apple Chancery. I thought how pretty they would have been like this. I thought of how long that would take. I thought, better not to regret, and instead, I observed the room.

To one side were products, beautifully created prints with watercolor flowers and words of wisdom scrolled across their centers. A gray couch, a punch of distinctive lighting overhead, and the easy manner of Holly meeting and greeting participants as they entered made everyone new to her feel as though this would be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

“We’ll start on time!” she said, to honor those who came early. Everyone was there by the starting gun and off we went, peacefully thumbing through the workbook she created. I laughed out loud at the collective gasp of joy when Holly announced the paper in the Rhodes book provided was see through. We could trace the workbook letters, no need to soil it with our attempts to learn.

We started by learning about our tools and drawing lines, then strokes.


Every letter is a combination of strokes. It becomes manageable when you see it that way, even the “m’s.”

After tracing and repeating, building our muscle memory, I began to experiment with names.


I wrote Celeste’s name over and over again. I made me feel close to her as if I were creating something for her. Like a junior high girl doodling her name with her crush’s last name. I tried to flourish a heart around Miriam’s name and draw a train around James’ name. I think of the term “fail forward.”

Never did I think my handwriting could be beautiful. Never did I think I could write that lovely handwritten note Mrs. Post is always talking about. But I did. And I can.

This is the benefit of learning from another person, and along side people. While I could have looked online and studied some strokes, signing up for a workshop means someone who has tried the field of materials gives me her most-recommended pieces. I need not hunt around for the best price. She refilled my ink pot before I left. I asked for help on the flourishes. She gave me her perspective. She gave her alphabet.

In modern calligraphy, there are no strict rules. You are presented with the information and you make it your own. It is a project that looks much better to every other eye than yours. It is forgiving. I need that in life. This is something I can do.

I already have my first card reading to put in the mail.

(This is not a sponsored post).

Review of And Then There Were None

I did not succeed as an English major because another course of study called me away. It was a course of study with a purpose, with a goal. I was an English major because I liked it, not because I had any goals. This is no judgment on English majors. I would not mind going back now to study literature because I see those books introduced to you by teachers who love them become beloved by you, or me, as the case may be.

So I never read Agatha Christie. I loved Hamlet, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Hurston, and Dickens. I know many women who love Anne of Green Gables, I met her once but did not love her. I wish I could have.

I think you need to read a variety of styles to become a good writer. And I do mean styles, not content. Content is important, but I do not think 50 Shades of Gray or LGBT lit will add to my skill. Read deep and read light, but always read well. The Handmaid’s Tale can stay on the library shelf. Give me Lord of the Flies. Give me Christie.

Sometimes we need Tolstoy and characters like Levin who represent the author’s ideas and characters like Madame Bovary who represent mine— my weaknesses, that is…not adultery, but vanity. I should clarify.

I last read White Fang, which made me more sympathetic to my cousin’s Doberman Pincher licking her paw to the bone when she saw her love masters’ suitcase. Before that, I revisited The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. I like a strong woman in a story and men of substance. On a roll, it was time to finally read Agatha Christie.

I watched And Then There were None (1945) on TCM late at night when I still lived at my parents’ house. It was too late for me to realize how boring the movie was though I understood halfway through a bootleg streamed copy that this was not something I could sit through. Still, I revered the original story having a morbid fascination for such clever darkness.

My daughter asked what my book was about. There was no good answer I could give her.

I did not know this was considered Christie’s best by some circles. Not knowing if my nerves can take another novel by her (though I will be drawn to it like a Netflix binge) I am glad to have read the best.

The novel is perfect. Is that right? Yes, I think it is perfect. It is not deep. It is not difficult. It is fitfully entertaining and grips you as you enter into the suspense the characters’ experience.

10 people on an island. Everyone is guilty of something. The murders begin. One of them is the killer.

You pass through the thoughts of ten characters, you hate only a small handful of them. Even having seen the movie, anticipating the twist, the movie is different enough from the book that I doubted who the murderer was.

Yet it was there. She dropped some clues: too calm, and that smile…

I wanted them to live as in the movie but you feel the supreme literary justice that movies do not often give.

The book was perfect. I do not know what other people read on the beach. I would read Agatha Christie. I would absolutely read And Then There Were None. If I dare, before I read that again, I will read Witness for the Prosecution. Because I love Marlene Dietrich.

Review of Simply Tuesday

In A Million Little Ways, Emily P. Freeman encourages the reader not to fear if someone has the same message because you have a different way to say it. That way of saying it might be just the right way from some recipient, who would not otherwise be heard or been penetrated by the core message. Freeman’s book, Simply Tuesday, does just this with St. Therese of Lisieux doctrine of the Little Way. Does Freeman know about St. Therese or the little way? I do not know, and it does not matter. The message is beautifully put in her lovely writing style which takes a scene or a moment or an object from her personal life and holding that image in mind, she reflects on its meaning and its application to our life.

Not only is Freeman’s prose impeccable, it is filled with a gentle rhythm that makes her work a proper meditation on maintaining peace in a chaotic life, and quieting ambition in our typically hectic work. She allows her words and images to build organically. Her tactic of returning to images from previous chapters as she includes new ones connects each of the concepts of the book, going ever deeper in reflection.

Rev. Francois Jamart, O.C.D., summarizes the little way as this:

  1. We must fully recognize our spiritual poverty, our incapacity, and accept this condition.
  2. We must have recourse to God with blind and filial confidence, in order that He may accomplish in us what we cannot do by our own powers; for God is our Father; he is Love infinitely merciful.
  3. We must believe in Love and apply ourselves to the practice of love.

Spiritual poverty, described as smallness by Freeman is considered at length between the smallness of humiliation and the smallness of wonder. She invites the reader to embrace the smallness of wonder and the ordinary moments of our lives, which she encapsulated in the concept of Tuesday.

There is a bit of the lady bug philosophy, that when we learn to sit still is when ladybugs will come to us, that grace will come to us. God has called us to these moments, so let us sit and reflect and calm the rush of daily life.

In the third point of the little way, the practice of love, Therese emphasizes the importance of practicing love in the mundane tasks (because in our spiritual poverty or smallness, this is all we can do). You will find the same message throughout in Freeman’s work.

Does this cheapen Freeman’s reflections as something copied? Most definitely not. The message may be the same but the telling is wholly original. Therese wrote her little way as pieces of her autobiography and as a response to the direct request to write out this belief and practice. In that, it is not more ornate or poetically written than came natural to Therese to explain her ideas.

Freeman’s book is a verbal painting of the little way. This little way is at the heart of scriptures, wholly original and wholly tradition, and Freeman, by engaging the scriptures, with the help of others in her life, describes herself as being on this path.

This is the second book by this author that I have made my daily companion, an event of each day when I stop what I am doing and meditate on the chapter where a business card marks.

Reading her work, I have become more reflective and more appreciative of the small moments. It has helps me to act more intentionally and to move a little but further on the path of regaining peace and balance in my life. I heartily recommend Simply Tuesday by Emily P. Freeman.

Review of The Artisan Soul

The Artisan Soul.jpg

After perusing The Home Design Doodle Book, I picked up The Artisan Soul: Crafting your Life into a Work of Art by Erwin Raphael McManus (2014). How odd to wax poetic over a doodle book and then have very few good things to say here. I will not finish the book. My reading reduced to a skim. The reviews on Amazon on overall quite positive. My experience was not.

The moment I read the author thought he should not have hidden his naked body but danced joyfully in the front yard, I thought perhaps something was off about this book.

The first chapter was wonderful.

“The great divide is not between those who are artists and those are not, but between those who understand that they are creative and those who have become convinced that they are not.”

I wrote about this recently in my article, “What is Art?”

“There is an order to the creative process: we dream, we risk, we create.”

That is beautiful and deep, though I cannot say he expands on it more. Once could write an entire reflection series on that quote.

There are other reflections on the way that as art comes from us and we are made in the image of God, so beautiful art will, essentially, reflect God. The best art is authentic to who we are. This is why it is so jarring to see ugly “art” in the fine arts because it reflects our brute nature rather than our angelic nature.

Soon, his theology gets a little wonky; his philosophy a little sloppy. I think he actually says we are all drawn to the good, without referencing Aristotle.

It contains a reflection on craft distinguishing it from product. A craft is handmade. A product uses people. I could think of tidier definitions.

This highlights how things that are not part of the fine arts can still be done as an art, along with how those who are creating in the field of fine arts, can create garbage or art that is not moving. It is an important distinction.

Artists love without reservation. They give their hearts completely and leave nothing on the table. They are naked and unashamed…but not without struggle. This path is not an escape from life’s wounds and disappointment. To live from our souls is to pursue our greatest passions and expose ourselves to our greatest pain. We cannot live to create and be surprised that we have traveled through failure. We cannot live a life of passion and not know sorrow… All creativity emerges from struggle. All art is born out of the pain of labor. The artisan soul must be both tender and tough.

Wonderful insights and great explanations as to why it seems the great artists all suffered so much. Not because art makes us suffer, but that suffering finds expression and hopefully, healing, in art.

All well and good. The subsequent chapters I take issue with.

In Chapter 2, McManus discusses the role of our internal voice/narrative. He writes that some think a narrative of pessimism (despair) means only darkness can be authentic. He proposes a narrative of hope (optimism – but it’s not really) can show authentic art to be happy and about love.

The fault here lies in conflating pessimism/optimism with despair/hope. In psychology, these are particular terms. I think is one is making an effort tot write a book, it is important to have one’s terms clear. A better interpretation of his point would be an interior narrative of hope can make our art transcendent, lifting it out of darkness (negative emotions, brokenness) into light (love, self-gift).

In Chapter 3, McManus writes interpretation is more important than truth, and truth exists because God is trustworthy. It hurts to even repeat that. The fault here lies in a belief that truth can and cannot exist. It gets us into the realm of “your truth” and “my truth.”

A better interpretation would be truth exists regardless. By trustworthy, I think the author means reliable. Reliability is proven by experience. If someone earns our trust, in that we seek answers from him, it is because of how well they conform their lives to the truth. Others we can trust will answer in a particular way (honest or dishonest). That implies reliability. Interpretations of life are unique, but if they do not conform to reality they are insane. If they do not conform to a transcendent truth, they are limited, often depressing or vapid. Truth matters a great deal because it grounds interpretation to something anyone can access, even if one might interpret it differently. It is the thread that unites us.

In Chapter 4, McManus discusses the concept of vision or imagination. He writes, “Imagination is more powerful than knowledge.” Quoting Picasso, a point is made that Picasso’s gift came not with technical genius but imagination. The child imagination is praised. Yes, children have imagination. They do not yet possess not knowledge or skill. The fault here lies in believing imagination and knowledge are opposed to each other.

A better interpretation would be imagination without knowledge belongs to the child while imagination maintained in the adult is refined and focused by knowledge. Learning the art can be seen as having the imagination (creativity) to apply the skill in new and interesting ways. The author also touches on concepts of wonder and awe, which are different. This chapter wanders more than previous chapters. By now his writing feels tangential as well as repetitive.

I could read no more. If one will write about God like this and one is Christian, then let him reference Christian theological tradition. I know this may not be promoted in some Christian denominations, so I do not blame the author, but this book is not for me. Too many insights we have come because we are nested in a culture with a knowledge that has been passed down. What we think we access all on our own has been seeded by our culture and academic tradition. Let us give it some credit. And let’s define our terms.