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“Our greatest danger in life is in permitting the urgent things to crowd out the important.” Charles Hummel

Lately, it seems I spend a great deal of my work day putting out fires.  We all know the feeling.  You start out with a well-organized “to-do” list and before you can finish your morning e-mails, something crosses your path that MUST be done NOW.  The next thing you know, you have missed lunch, it’s 5 o’clock and you realize how little you really accomplished.  Even worse, you also realize that the fire burning up your day was little more than a smoke ring.  When this goes on long enough, the important things never get attention until they become the truly urgent.

This week has really brought this into focus for me.  I had several meetings and phone calls that were not urgent, but very important and vice-versa.  As I reflect on them, it becomes clear just how satisfying it can be to tend to the important.  Putting out that fire may offer a sense of heroism – after all, I saved the day.  Doing the important feeds my soul.  There is little stress in tending to the important and there is a bone-deep feeling of satisfaction at the end of the day. The trick in business sometimes is sorting out the two.

A note from my daughter made me think about this as it applies my personal life.  She was inviting me to attend a girls night out with her friends in a couple of weeks.  Her maid of honor is visiting from California.  Our Bride wants to gather all the girls together since many of her friends have never met this young woman who is so important to her.  I’m not a party person, it’s a weeknight, and why in the world would the girls want “Mom” there?  What is wrong with me?  None of that matters.  It is IMPORTANT to my daughter, SHE asked me to be there. That’s what I needed to understand, what is important to my daughter is important to me.

I have been reasonably consistent in setting aside time to tangle.  I have come to understand that it is important for my well-being.  It is a time of relaxation and intense focus.  Somehow the answers become clearer, creativity flourishes and the important is easy to identify.  Try it sometime.  Invest in the important.

 

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Fungus: any member of a kingdom of organisms (Fungi) that lack chlorophyll, leaves, true stems, and roots, reproduce by spores, and live as saprotrophs or parasites. The group includes moulds, mildews, rusts, yeasts, and mushrooms”  from World English Dictionary

Fairy Ring:  a naturally occurring ring or arc of mushrooms. Fairy rings also occupy a prominent place in European folklore as the location of gateways into elfin kingdoms, or places where elves gather and dance. According to the folklore, a fairy ring appears when a fairy, pixie, or elf appears. It will disappear without trace in less than five days, but if an observer waits for the elf to return to the ring, he may be able to capture it. ” Wikipedia

We have had a lot of rain in the past few weeks where I live.  It has been welcome, as we were in a severe drought for several months.  The gardens and trees love the rain and our Louisiana landscape is once again green and vibrant.  One of the wonders of all this rain is the mushrooms that are popping up everywhere.  Driving around on a pretty Saturday morning, I was enchanted with the patches and rings of jaunty little caps.  There seems to be no rhyme or reason associated with their appearance, some quite large and elegant, other short and squatty.  I was a little disappointed that my yard wasn’t blessed.

Wonder leads to curiosity and I decided to do a little research.  The first thing I discovered – there is a fungus among us (sorry,  I couldn’t resist.)  Even further, they are closely related to mold.  Not good, since I am allergic.  I’m losing the magic here.  Further investigation yielded the information that these are also known as fairy rings in European folklore.  This is much better, I like this idea.  Magic rings springing up in the wake of fairies, pixies and elves. This morning I grabbed my camera and set out to capture a few photos before my enthusiastic neighbors fired up their lawnmowers.  As I strolled out of my house, I glanced over to the area between my house and my neighbors’ fence.  Oh my!  My yard WAS blessed!  As I was snapping away, I noticed a little friend.  Not a fairy, but still a cute little surprise.

My fascination with the mushrooms seems to have emerged in my last few Zentangles, with a very distinctly mushroom looking tangle finding its way onto my tiles.  This is not unusual, as many tangles find their roots in nature and patterns we see around us.  Usually it is more deliberate and tanglers work to distill these patterns into the fewest possible strokes while capturing the spirit of the design.  Not so for these, they just sprouted up on my tiles.  Like a magic fairy ring.

“Don’t live small. Live big.” Linda V. Allred

These words keep replaying in my mind as go about addressing the various challenges before me this week and plain old daily living.  I attended a workshop at The Red Shoes presented by Linda V. Allred on the power of the subconscious mind.  She is a great speaker with a passion for life and paying her own gifts forward through her work as a certified hypnotist and wellness coach for women.  A philosophy closely aligned with my own  decision to teach Zentangle.  She shared her story and her profound belief that we have a power within us to achieve so much more – proclaiming “Don’t live small.  Live big.”  Wow, such a simple statement, yet very profound.  I quickly jotted it down – not wanting to lose that thought.

I have been giving that short statement a lot of attention in the last few days.  How do I use that to be better?  Certainly, there is always room for improvement and growth. Linda also used the metaphor of driving through life with one foot on the accelerator and the other on the brake. For me lately, this has been a little niggle that hovers at the edges of my mind telling me things aren’t quite right, but I can’t define the issue. I believe happiness is a state of mind. Some people have a natural affinity for finding the positive in every situation and others have to work a bit harder and consciously choose to be happy.  Even as a young girl, I recognized the power of my thoughts and regularly used positive affirmations and visualization to achieve my goals.  Somehow, I misplaced those habits over the past several years.  It’s time to welcome back those old habits – they were good for me.  This time they will be added to my tangle time.  Hopefully, the positive thoughts will guide my pen as I continue on my tangled quest for tranquility.  Thanks, Linda, for the reminder to live big.

I’ve had an interesting week where my past, present and future have jostled around in my thoughts.  My daughter’s upcoming wedding has been at the forefront of my mind as we secured the florist and attempted to give him an idea of what our Bride wanted.  She isn’t as set as you might imagine  Her only hard rule is no red roses.  In fact, she left a very stunned florist as she stood up and announced she had to be back at work having never discussed the church or reception decorations.  “My mom can decide all that, I trust her completely.”  Wow, a lot of responsibility for a woman who isn’t really into all that stuff – but then, neither is our Bride.  This is one more way my girls are different.  Her sister loves all things associated with weddings.  If she ever gets tired of nursing, she could be happy planning weddings for a living.

One thing has been nagging at me as we begin to tackle the small details of this wedding.  I was asked to design the invitations and have most of this done, but nothing so far that was truly unique to the couple.  I had done the artwork for our oldest daughter’s wedding program and they were very specifically designed to fit her.  But, as I said, the girls are very different and nothing has come to mind for her.  Finally, I suggested a wedding logo made up their combined initials to be used on the favors and save the date cards.  Bride and Groom loved the idea and I was off and running.  Of course, the final result is Zentangle inspired.

Ah, but what of weeping guitars?  My husband and I relived our courtship days this weekend.  Would you believe it has been 35 years since Peter Frampton released his platinum album Frampton Comes Alive!  We purchased VIP tickets and drove over three hours in a terrible thunderstorm to attend his concert in Biloxi.  This was our first time to see him live and we were both blown away!  Peter Frampton performed for almost three hours, playing the entire original album and finishing with an incredible version of When My Guitar Gently Weeps that brought the audience to their feet.  What a way to finish the week!

“All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.” Henry Ellis

A large part of the magic that is Zentangle can be attributed to serendipity.  Each Zentangle is a little surprise when it’s done.  The outcome is not pre-determined.  In fact, my most beautiful works are those that have evolved naturally.  Where I relinquish my need to control myself and my environment.  As I spoke with a new Zentangle enthusiast after my class last night, I realized that though I have learned to let go of the outcome, I do maintain some levels of control.   He asked if I planned every tile because they all seemed to be very deliberate.  While I don’t ever see the end result, I do take light and dark, scale and harmony into consideration as I choose my tangles for a tile.  All those design principles pounded into my head at LSU have become a part of my DNA I suppose.  He explained that he was having a hard time with the string and I understood perfectly.  Sometimes the string can be a real challenge when starting a tile.  While you rarely see the string in a completed work, the string is what binds the individual parts into a pleasing whole.   My suggestion was to have his wife draw the string and he would work with whatever came.  Hmmm…an insightful moment courtesy of a student.

My CZT training was in February and at that time I purchased a set of ensemble tiles.  These are sets of 9 tiles that are pre-strung.  The intent is to create each tile independently and then re-assemble into a completed work.  I was struggling with strings at the time and this seemed a wonderful idea.  So why have I avoided working with this set for so long?  I only completed my first set this week.  As I spoke with my student, I realized that completing this ensemble had been an exercise in letting go for me.  Embracing the intent of the set, I shuffled and completed each tile randomly – never checking to see how they might look together as a completed “tile.”  I couldn’t judge what tangle might look nice next to another or if I had too much or not enough contrast.  The only bit of control was in my decision to only use each tangle one time for the set.  Yet there it was, a wonderful compilation when I was done.  Maybe I should let my husband draw my next string.

“Joint undertakings stand a better chance when they benefit both sides.” Euripedes

It has been a busy week for me.  In addition to all my regular personal and professional obligations, I had the pleasure of teaching the first of a two-part workshop series at the Red Shoes.  It was a large class of very interesting and talented people.  The time passed quickly for me and the group posed many questions that made me think about my own work in a new way.  The teacher and the student traded places a few times that evening.  My own “lessons learned” were hovering around the fringes of my thoughts as I worked on this week’s Diva Challenge and influenced the final tiles in some subtle ways.  This week’s challenge is to use your initials as the string.  I ended up doing several and may have resolved the issue of my “chop’ in the process.  A “chop” is the distinctive initials/signature at the bottom of a piece of artwork.  I have gone through several iterations with none really hitting the mark for me.  I haven’t worked out all the details, but it’s certainly better than anything I’ve used before.

There is a special moment in a Zentangle class when everyone places their finished tiles together to form a mosaic.  The room becomes quiet as everyone studies each tile and realizes their own is every bit as wonderful as all the others.  I think of it as a mirror of sorts.  Each person in that class gets the very same materials and instructions.  All do the same tangles.  Yet the tiles are each different, unique and beautiful in their own right,  just like each student.  I have also realized that the Diva Challenge is much like that moment in class, but shared virtually among caring friends.  We all start at the same place, but make the journey our own.  We learn from each other and grow better with each challenge shared.

Thanks are in order this week for several people.  My youngest daughter helped out as my assistant for the class – I could not have managed nearly so well without her.  The staff at the Red Shoes, especially Wendy and her husband for getting everything ready and helping me tear it all down.  And to Sue Jacobs for sharing the link to some wonderful Zentangle inspired letters.  Finally to my students, for the opportunity to share my passion with you and learn from you.  It was truly my pleasure.

‎”Striving for excellence motivates you; striving for perfection demoralizes you.” Harriet Beryl Braiker

While paging through a new book of inspirational quotes, this one seemed to jump off the page for me today.  Ironically, Rick and Maria addressed this same subject in their blog recently.  Perfectionism was something I worked hard to attain in my younger days.  It sounded so important: “I am a perfectionist.”  As I get older, and hopefully wiser, this doesn’t seem so good after all.  That road is loaded with potholes, big and small.  I’m getting tired of dodging them.   Maybe the universe is trying to tell me something.

Most of us love those perfectionists we encounter professionally.  They are always on top of every little detail and seem to accomplish super-human levels of productivity.  My family can tell you, living with a perfectionist is not always wine and roses.  My husband will never let me forget the “sofa incident.”  We were moving into a new house and buying our first new sofa in over fifteen years.  We started looking when we broke ground for the house and were still looking when we moved in – with lawn chairs.  I finally settled on one that had to be ordered and there was much rejoicing when it arrived.  By everyone but me.  There were some “lines” in the upholstery that did not match up.  I would stare at the thing for hours and refused to sit on it.  After about a week, he loaded it up and returned it.  On the way home, he stopped at a furniture store and demanded I choose one.  I was not allowed to look at anything with a pattern.  We came home with a blue sofa that I never really liked very much.  Over the years, I have tried to break this cycle.  The problem lies with many years of perfecting the habit of perfectionism.  I have made progress and now I mostly procrastinate.  One more pothole on that road.

Last week, I got my shipment of the new black Zentangle tiles.  I DO love black and white, so these tiles just called to me.  What a quandary I was in, I had never worked on black and haven’t had much luck with the white pen when I tried it.  Maybe I should wait a bit, think it over.  After all, I would hate to mess up one of those lovely black tiles.  By the weekend, I was pretty fed up with myself and decided to just dive in and see what happened.  It wasn’t so bad, only one total reject in the batch.  Riding the ripple in my puddle of success, I pulled out my markers and colored pens.  Sue Jacobs shared her process for adding color and I had been thinking about using color for a few months.  The first one is a real dud, but the others are not so bad.  Just in case the universe is watching, the “learning tiles” are here too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everyone should have an Aunt Sue in their life.  I have so many wonderful memories of my Aunt Sue.   She has a big heart and generous spirit that welcomes everyone she meets.  My brother and I spent many childhood summers at her house, getting into mischief with our cousins.   These were lazy times for us.  I’ll forever associate her with endless hours of Yahtzee!, Canasta and a coffee pot that never seemed to empty.  Squabbles with my cousins over dishwashing duties and who was on which team for chores and for games.  While all of these things are treasured memories associated with my favorite aunt, those that seem to capture her best for me are the times I got to watch her do the “wedding ring” trick.  This was something of a rite of passage for the females in our family, though I have no idea how it works or why only Aunt Sue could do it.  Whenever one of the girls would get pregnant, Aunt Sue would get a visit.  She would take the girl’s wedding ring and run a thread through the ring.  Then, while the girl was lying down, she would hold the ring, suspended from the thread, over her usually very pregnant belly.  The motion of the ring – either back and forth or spinning – would determine the sex of the baby.  I was so fascinated by this whole ritual though I can’t remember which means boy or girl.  I would watch so carefully to see if she did anything to influence the outcome, but she never did anything to move the ring.  In fact, she made sure it was not moving in any way when she started.  I was so excited when my turn came and remember everything about it – except what she predicted and if she was right.  Oh well, it was magic to me just the same.

This weeks Diva Challenge, and the first I have finished on schedule, brought my Aunt Sue to mind.  Interestingly, this week’s challenge was issued by Sue Jacobs, CZT – coincidence?  I think not.  Sue’s challenge was to thread a string through a round object and allow it to drop onto the tile to form a random string.  Oh my!  Just like a wedding ring and a thread. I ended up doing three of these – one of which was created using my wedding ring in honor of my Aunt Sue.  It should come as no surprise that this one turned out to be my favorite of the trio.  I just might have to name it Sue – fitting, don’t you agree?

I don’t like math very much – it’s like bad tasting medicine.  I need it to get through life, but I don’t have to like it.  It wasn’t always that way.

I loved school from the very beginning.  In fact, I couldn’t wait to go to “real” school where I could get homework.  On the first day of first grade, my mom arrived at school just as I was coming out of the cafeteria from lunch.  “Mom, you need to come back later, I have a whole half a day left! Please don’t make me go home now.”  You see, I was supposed to walk home for lunch and never arrived.  She must have been so worried and then crushed that I would want to stay at school instead of coming home to eat with her. I was the oldest, so I am sure she was struggling with her baby growing up.

Reading and writing were my very favorites – and that has never changed.  Math wasn’t my best friend, but I liked learning it.  It was an easy companion and useful to know.  Then came Mrs Dunbar and multiplication.  Seriously, my brain just didn’t work that way.  Suddenly, math was the class I dreaded.  It took a year, but we made peace and I was once again ambivalent about math with the occasional times table nightmare.  The big fracture came a few years later – in the form of algebra.  I just thought multiplication was bad.  Suddenly I was looking at a+b=x.  WHAT!  Even worse, they added an element of multiplication, 3a+6b=x.  I hated algebra and dreaded the rest of high school if this was what I had to look forward to for the next four years.  And then came geometry.  I didn’t have much hope for my new math class called geometry – after all, algebra was supposed to be a new, fun way to do math.  Algebra had  betrayed me, but geometry quickly became a trusted friend.  I loved the theorems and formulas, the lines and shapes, the simple logic of it all.  I think it spoke to the artist in me that wouldn’t be uncovered for almost 20 years when I took my first art class in college.

Zentangle reminds me of my old friend  geometry.  I especially love tangles with straight lines, pure geometric shapes, and optical illusions made up of only simple shapes.  While I love the very organic tangles, and work hard to perfect them, it’s those grids and lines that allow me to lose myself while tangling.  Imagine my excitement when I found templates for geometric solids on the web.  How cool is that?  Perfect triangles begging to be tangled and then turned into a solid object.  Zentangle and geometry in one tidy little package, a perfect pair.  I love them both.  How about you?

Tranquility.  The World English Dictionary defines it as “a state of calm or quietude.”  Most of us search for those islands of tranquility in our busy lives.  For some it is achieved through meditation, music, physical activity, journaling or hobbies.   I was always a bit envious of those people.  My mind never stops so meditation and music don’t do it for me.  Those who know me can testify that I hate to sweat (in the South we call it glistening) so physical activity is a big NO.  My perfectionism and tendency toward boredom once I master something ruled out most of the other options.  At the ripe old age of 49, I figured this just wasn’t in the cards for me.  But life has a way of turning things upside down leaving you scrambling to assemble the pieces of your identity into a new reality.

In September of 2010, on a perfectly ordinary Monday afternoon, my family was turned upside down.  We came within a whisper of losing our oldest daughter and her two children in a horrific auto accident.  As mothers are wont to do, I was the one who kept it all together.  It is who I am – the one my family can always count on.  All three of them recovered through the grace of God, prayers from friends and strangers around the world, and amazing medical professionals.  However, our family was forever changed by the experience – mostly for the better.  While we were always a strong family, this gave each of us a much deeper appreciation for each other and an awareness how quickly things change.  In many ways, it was a loss of innocence for us as well.

So how does this relate to my quest for tranquility?  About two months after the accident, the emotions I had switched off to deal with the crisis decided it was time to make an appearance – all at once.  I struggled to find a way to deal with the maelstrom roiling in my brain.  Then, in mid-November, a friend posted a link on Facebook.  It was a video demonstrating Zentangle- how to draw the tangle “Betweed” by Zentangle founders Maria Thomas and Rick Roberts. There was an effortless magic to the drawing.  I had to try it – something about it called to my soul.  As I explored the world of Zentangle and began to actively create my own works of art, I discovered something amazing.  When I was tangling, my mind would quiet and begin to calm.  Blessed Tranquility.

And so I begin…sharing my Tangled Tranquility with others and trying to pay it forward in my corner of the world.  Thank you for joining me.

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