The Creative Epiphany – Little Jo and the Devil Pony

youngjo Thunder is the one with the wild look in his eye..

It was bright and early on any Saturday morning when I was six or seven years old, down by the barn on our country property. I was skinny and small, maybe 60 lbs, not sure. Fresh out of bed and still not really awake. Wishing I could be listening to my Saturday morning radio shows up at the house. Strawberry blonde hair that curled up with summer perspiration  and blue eyes, unrevealing as yet of the budding determination behind them.

I knew it was time to ride Thunder again, probably get thrown off and lucky, I hoped,  to land safely without fracturing my neck. Mom was sure I would be injured. Dad was fearless, and I was caught in the middle somewhere. I knew the perils of horseback riding, had been taking formal riding lessons for weeks, so I also knew that, in spite of my size, I would rather be riding any full grown normal horse (we had two of those in the barn, just 3 stalls down from Thunder…and I loved them both) using an English saddle than to have to get on the back of that black devil pony from hell and that damn western saddle.

If I heard it once I heard it a thousand times, as I picked myself up off the ground and put my hat back on, trying not to cry after being tossed like a pillow over the top of Thunder’s head,  “Jo, show that pony who’s boss! Get up on him and try again! Come on, hurry up. He’ll warm up to you.” But actually he never did. I learned to ride him, but with great respect and constant  trepidation for what might transpire at any given moment, if he decided he didn’t like some bird or some weed or some sneeze…he was unpredictable. He had a consistent wild look in his eye, because he was nuts. Like a cowboy’s bad dream. Truly demented.

Those mornings eventually taught me more than how to get Thunder under control, but of course I didn’t know it at the time. I now know, however, from that time on, confronted with any problem whatsoever, I choose to walk through it over the hot coals rather than around it. The lesson was learned, more out of wanting to NOT look like a chicken than from wanting to be brave. I would rather hunker down and weather the storm than sneak around it going sideways to avoid the issue. But honestly, sometimes walking through the center to the eye of the tornado and out the other side  is nothing but crazy and I am just saying that you can get tossed around and badly bruised every once in a while with your perhaps foolhardy bravery. It does not work 100% of the time, to look a situation right in the eye and decide to challenge it. Violent situations with people and guns or wild animals are a couple situations that are best not confronted armed only with your steely-eyed determination and your slightly red hair.

But down through the chapters of your life, as you face adversity and all the problems that life brings, if you are engaged and truly living it, you must take it all on like a champ. You learn what to accept as a challenge, what to avoid at all costs, what to stand and fight for and what to flee. Which battles are worth engaging and which to ignore. You learn what can be negotiated and what cannot. You learn that some people are reasonable, and can be “talked off the cliff” and some will never know what reason is. You learn that sweating all the small stuff will just wear you out over time and that you need to save your energy and your big guns for the life-changing battles.

Yes, Thunder has become a symbol for me. Black as night, hoofs like thunder, the maniacal look in his eyes and the ability to run like the wind…you have to give that kind of life-form a lot of respect.

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The Creative Epiphany – I Didn’t Ask For a Shirt From Bangladesh

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As an American it offends me when the clothing manufacturers complain that “nice” clothing must be made in sweat shops of poverty stricken countries like Bangladesh because the profit margin they seek demands it  – it is cheaper to do it there. They also say that we Americans demand such clothing. Who in their right mind would want to support such conditions? Never once have I wished for a something-or-other originating from a Bangladesh factory. I read labels, of course, and if I ever saw a label on an article of clothing with the slightest reference that it was made there I would not purchase it. But it’s hard to tell. You can GOOGLE Bangladesh clothing and find endless lists of specific articles of clothing made there, and elsewhere under similar conditions, but barely any reference to the BRAND names that are sewn into those garments. And where were the buttons made? The zippers? The rivets?

Lauren Laverne has written a timely article online in THE GUARDIAN – see link below.

Here is a brief excerpt of what she says:

“This week’s column, therefore, is a plea to fashion producers for traceability of their supply chain, and a mention for brands and services which supply those things to consumers. Frustratingly, at the top end of the market that kind of accountability is easier to come by, but there’s no reason the high street should be exempt from offering similar guarantees. As Lucy Siegle noted in this newspaper, big brands distancing themselves from the factories in which their goods are produced is part of their business model. It helps safeguard their profit margin. If consumers demand they become accountable in great enough numbers, they will.”

http://www.guardian.co.uk/fashion/2013/may/19/lauren-laverne-shopping-conscience-rana-plaza

After doing some digging around I was able to find some specific brand names associated with these rundown and dangerous Bangladesh factories. I was disgusted and surprised but will not name names here in my blog…..no lawsuits please. It’s information that is findable. Every once in a while an American manufacturer is exposed as being just one of the many guilty of exploiting poverty stricken people in the most disgusting of workplace conditions or is using child labor. Of course much of the responsibility is with the owners of the actual buildings in these countries and the lack of building codes enforcement, and so as Americans the only valid means of registering our alarm and disapproval is through the money chain. It starts with identifying the owners of the major brand name clothing companies who are the violators and then it trickles directly down to you and me – we are the ones who determine their financial success. We can make or break them, or make such a large dent in their business that it gets their attention, but it takes a big organized village to do that.

The issue extends to fabrics used in home furnishings and even art. Indonesian fabrics, as just one example, are gorgeous, using silk threads in an intricate tapestry-like weave, incorporating metallic threads and brilliant colors which lend to some of them a Renaissance  brocade quality. I have used them in fabric collage with great success.

I would just like to have the right to make a choice that can be made intelligently, based upon information and truth in labeling. While shopping, I would prefer to know where the product originates. Not only the country but the factory! That seems quite simple, actually. I don’t want to be one of the uninformed Americans who perpetuates the problem. I would never consciously choose clothing over people. We are all connected in this world, on this big blue planet, and what happens around the globe happens also to me.

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The Creative Epiphany – It’s Not Rocket Surgery – romance and the active senior

 

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I have decided to take a slight departure from my usual range of subject matter today and offer just a few of my observations on the senior citizen dating scene. Yes it does exist and is only very slightly altered by considerations of age. For those of you who cannot believe that anyone over the age of whatever could possibly enjoy an active love-life, read on and have an epiphany if you would like to be encouraged by valid observations and evidence. For those of you who really don’t give a hoot because you are in complete denial that you will ever get older, refer back to this blog when you realize you are not in the slightest degree exempt from the process of aging. Any way you look at it, it is indeed a fact that intimacy and sex continue beyond…beyond what? Far beyond the age you would guess they would.

There is a sparkling, tumbling, gurgling irridescent waterfall here at the entrance to our Sun City Active Senior Community that falls playfully into a deep teal green pond. We all refer to it as Viagra Falls. Things are suddenly different for our generation of seniors with the advent of the little blue pill. There is now a smile on faces that used to be permanently scowling and a spring in the step of many a resident. I like to compare our time of life as near closing time at the saloon. The music is lowered to a slow dance, the lights are dimmed and everyone is looking around for someone to help them make it through the night. The closer it gets to 2am the more urgent is the energy in the room. We all want someone to love for a little while or forever of what is left – whether it is the right one or the “right now” one. Nothing changes as the years go by. Love and romance are what make the world go around. Divorce happens at any age these days, or people die, and life goes on for the ones left who treasure it and want it to continue.

It’s Saturday afternoon Happy Hour at the Sports Bar.

The silver-haired gentleman slithers almost silently onto the bar stool next to the lovely lady, settles in and whispers in her ear, “Do you like waterfalls?”

“Well, sure I do,” she answers, glancing over at  him, wondering what is coming next. He’s wearing a faded pair of jeans with one knee torn and frayed (how youngish of him), he has a muscular upper body and a wide, mischievous smile deepening the canyons of the wrinkles at the corners of his mouth. His blue eyes are twinkling. Loafers without socks.

“Why don’t we hop in my golf cart and run up the hill to my house. I have a waterfall in my back yard. Had my landscape architect build it for me. I’ll wrap you in a blanket and make you comfortable in one of my deck chairs. I’ll hand you an adult beverage of your choice and we’ll talk, watch the sun go down and just see what happens. It’ll be fun.”

“Is it difficult to build a waterfall?” she inquires, trying to buy some time and keep a grip on the conversation. She is looking cute in her capris and red, scoop-necked summer sweater.

“No! Making a waterfall is easy – not like rocket surgery,” he says confidently.

Humorous, yes, but there are many other fine examples of great friends being made and people finding eachother at just the right point in time, when it is only the Indian Summer or late fall of  life. There is still much to do before winter comes, in the company of a romantic companion who is also determined to remain open minded and enthusiastic when it comes to love. Similar stories play out on every weekend, and usually “she” does not just leap into his golf cart and take off with the wind in her hair, but my point is that the games are the same at the Sports Bar as they have always been – only the ages have changed. The beat goes on. Let the games begin.

The good news is that people are grabbing for the gusto and wringing every bit of juicy living they can out of the time they have left. Imaginative flirting and warm romance are alive and kicking, memories are still being made, and it is not over until it’s over. The bad news? There is none. You just have to appreciate the spunk of it, don’t you? Living creatively is the best revenge against those damn wrinkles. Life is left for those who take it.

The Creative Epiphany – Life is a Three Ring Circus

 

oct11 002 Painting by Jo Ann Brown-Scott titled Red Sea at Night, Sailor’s Delight

As I was having dinner with a couple friends the other night we happened upon the subject of getting older – a subject we don’t dwell on here where we live but it does rear its gray and wrinkled head from time to time. We live in  a  lovely 55+ active senior community of over 7,000 households that affords us many choices for how we might enjoy spending our leisure time. Sun City here in Lincoln, CA is a state of the art senior retirement area that has it all. We are located in the rolling hills leading into the Sierras, halfway between SF Bay and Lake Tahoe, so we can certainly keep ourselves busy when we go “off campus” as well. There are many people here who still work, and many who do very well at staying productive and relevant although they are completely retired. I have had a part-tine job here for the past 3 years teaching adult art classes, so I fall somewhere in the middle. The lifestyle we wake up to every morning is a positive example for anyone over 55 who is dedicated to staying active and young at heart for as long as possible.

One of my friends mentioned that she doesn’t like to volunteer her age in social gatherings because some rude harsh realists instantaneously make a judgment to themselves about her when she does – mentally placing her in a category they see as appropriate to that number, thus stereotyping her based upon no actual factual information. It drove her crazy – she could see it happen before her eyes. They either made remarks of utter amazement at her ability to stay looking and acting so young, as if she was some mutant who had drunk from the fountain of youth, or they saw her as doomed any minute when her age finally caught up with her. So she made a conscious decision to be “age-free” similar to some people who never discuss their weight and refuse to acknowledge a scale.

They said recently on TV (and sometimes we want to believe what we hear on TV) that 70 is the new 50. Well! That got the attention of many people I know. You can call this denial or readjustment of numbers a silly tactic or you can call it clever marketing….. I happen to believe it is no one’s business how old you are or how much you weigh. Who cares. I certainly don’t. But I will say this – when you arrive at certain pivotal markers in life, you do begin to realize that you may no longer be in the “center ring”. You pick up on subtle clues…in a heated discussion of some topic, for instance, involving a group of people of which you are the oldest, you realize that no one cares what you think. No one asks, no one wonders, no one directs the conversation your way. Or perhaps a group starts making plans for an activity that is quite physical, maybe a hike, and instead of asking if you’d like to participate, they assume it’s going to be too strenuous for you and leave you out of the plans. No one wants to be dragging your sorry ass up the trail. And maybe it is too strenuous, but an invitation would still be nice. Please let me hold onto my dignity; I will decide what is too strenuous for me. Maybe I’ll die trying but that’s for me to decide. Maybe I’ll just stop halfway up and eat my lunch.

It is difficult to start feeling irrelevant long before you really are. Many cultures include the older members of the family in their extended living arrangements, and that seems to me a great way of elongating  the productive years for seniors. There is usually something we seniors can contribute to the family whole that is valued and helpful, and being included in daily conversations and activities of the people you love is a crucial to feeling relevant. It has been proven that longevity is far more likely if accompanied by a healthy and happy quality of life that gives you several reasons to get up in the morning, whether it is a garden to tend, a pet to feed, a child to read to, a porch to sweep or just a friend to have coffee with on a regular basis.

The circus of life does have 3 rings, and even a carnival side-show. The trick is to figure out how you can continue to be productive in some arena. Then after that, be a little assertive about holding your place in the order of things. Don’t vacate your hard-fought territory.  Offer your opinions, laugh and listen to the conversations around you. Insist on being the same you that you have always been. This is not our parents world; this is not Leave it to Beaver or Ozzie and Harriet. This is the brand new 21st century and the statistics say we are going to be around longer. However we choose to handle ourselves as active seniors, you can be sure we are being observed. We are the new Poster Children for active senior living. Let’s make some noise about it and leave everyone proud we were here for so long.

The Creative Epiphany – Distance

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Distance has  been a challenge for me most of my life. Physical, geographical distance; the distance between me and the people in my life that I care most about. I am part of the problem, because I have moved a lot since leaving Ohio to pursue my love of art at the University of Colorado and then due to my husband’s work – Air Force living led us on a meandering path from South Carolina to Montana to Colorado, with stops at various states in between for weeks of pre-Viet Nam jungle survival training in Mississippi, and much later, missile  training  at Vandenberg AFB in California. Followed, after Air Force life ended, by the solitary life of the traveling salesman’s wife.

But those days are long gone and the distancing continues. I might sound like a whiner now, maybe for just a little bit, but my intention is to present the facts as they are. When the children became adults, thanks to the ease of 21st century travel, their endless curiosity and their ability to successfully combine career and exploration, they both became moving targets. That’s the good news and the distance news.

I have had no choice but to get used to it. Nepal, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile, Canada, London, Singapore, Yemen, Guatemala, Kurdistan, Thailand, Cambodia, Viet Nam, Panama, The Philippines, Bali, Bhutan, Antarctica, New Zealand, Poland, Turkey, Greece, Africa, Madagascar, and the list goes on. I’m sure I have forgotten some. Oh yes I am very proud! They say the best gift you can give your children is wings, and I was able to do that. This has really been something to watch unfold and I do at times live vicariously through their adventures. It has always positively influenced my art – the stories! the photos! the people they meet! the exotic gifts brought home for me! What a joy it has been to observe! But there are always a couple days here and there when I think, ok that’s enough now. Come home. Stay. Don’t move. Get over it.

But where IS home? Ah that is the catch. They have made homes everywhere to the point where home is not anywhere and yet it is everywhere. And of course I am moving my headquarters – yes me – “house and home” is moving again – a happy move from California back to Denver in mid-July. The saying goes, “Bloom where you are planted.” And I always do. The pieces of the re-location puzzle, looking backward, always make perfect sense in retrospect. An experience in one place affords you a stepping stone to your next move and the ways in which you will continue to be productive there. This time, based upon my three years of teaching adult art classes here in California (on top of literally a lifetime of painting) plus some particular life-long passions and affinities,  and having friends who share them, I see a magnificent possibility on my horizon based out of my new Denver headquarters. As I look back on things I realize that my art has always presented the path that has taken me where I wanted to go. It is my soul’s home place and my anchor. At this point my next adventure is  too far off to be specific about – but too close not to begin moving toward it. This will be my best move yet, and when the dust settles, you will be the first ( well maybe the second) to know what happens! I do believe that everything in my life has brought me to this….this position of strength.

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The painting is by Jo Ann Brown-Scott, titled Strength from her Soul Flags series.

 

The Creative Epiphany – High on Life

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For quite some time now I have wanted to post a blog about creativity and its connection to being high on life. You know that feeling – well I certainly hope you do – when you wake up feeling like you might burst with potential. Your energy level is over the top, you somehow managed to acquire a handful of new ideas overnight and you will tackle and throttle anyone who stands between you and your desire to manifest this moment in time with a creative achievement. Whether you are an artist, a writer, a musician, a chef, a designer, an inventor, a mother of young children, a tour guide, a choreographer, a photographer, an architect or even a retired person who has the entire day free to create as you please, this rare day of open-ness and possibility is like nothing else. It is a luxury and a gift to have such enthusiasm.

Oh I have produced some of my best paintings on less than perfect days as well. I am not one of those artists who can’t paint, can’t think, and can’t be at all productive when my life is not ideal. In fact I run to my work table when I need comfort and escape. I usually get some good stuff done when I wring out all of my sadness and frustration and drip it onto a canvas. I find that process cleansing and therapeutic.

But those sparkling days of illumination and inspiration that come rarely and inconsistently are the ones I am talking about. They almost always arrive un-announced, because the element of breathless surprise is what gets your adrenaline going. However I personally believe there are things you can do to call out to them and tease those brilliant days into showing up…..

1) I believe it is important to take some calm days to incubate and marinate your ideas, keeping those infant ideas quiet, dormant and unexpressed while they form into full-fledged creative beings. Don’t feel like you must work at things every single day…..being creatively driven does not mean constant special FX action.

2) Get a good night’s sleep – your dreams often provide the answers.

3) Exercise outside, away from the gym, even if it’s raining or windy – notice things!

4) Keep an incubation file of ideas. Go to it for fun and profit.

5) Listen, be aware and communicate with friends and strangers. Ideas flow everywhere and from everybody – the smallest interaction can provide huge inspiration.

6) Last but not least – brand new is great but try to also build upon your best successful ideas. Think about how they can be tweaked and altered to grow them into bigger and better ideas. Rework, rebuild, recycle and get new improved results.

What is a creative epiphany? It is an answer you have been waiting for – new information – new inspiration – a light clicked on in the darkness that illuminates and feeds your creative efforts. A creative epiphany provides you with a grand realization that is sometimes life-changing on a day when you woke up feeling open and eager to receive it….a day when you were so high on life that you made yourself a magnet for such an experience. Lucky be you.

The Creative Epiphany – Pulling a Cochran!

th[7] John Cochran – photo courtesy of www.contactmusic/news/john-c

I would like to invent a new phrase – as a result of last night’s victory by John Cochran. As many of you might know, I am an all-in, 100% fan of the longest running (13 years) reality show on CBS TV – SURVIVOR. I relish the very things it stands for: Outwit, Outplay, Outlast.  People of all varieties and ages are chosen to play the game, taken to a remote and challenging location somewhere on the planet (it is different every time), provided with rice and/or beans and little else, and asked to compete in not only surviving the outrageously brutal conditions of the locale but many competitive games to see who wins a million dollars. People can be voted off by their peers at Tribal Councils if they are unpopular, cannot manage to contribute to the greater good of the team they are on, or merely for being a weakling….because it is of course a show about survival of the fittest.

Last night for the first time I can remember in Survivor history, a sort of symbolic “97 lb. weakling” type of guy won the million dollar prize. His victory was based upon a consistently stunning display of daily cleverness in his personal relationships with his peers plus his ability to win 3 key challenges in games that required endurance and strategy and that granted him immunity from being voted off.

Cochran, John that is, who had played the game once before and been voted off, was invited to return to play again as an alum. He began by getting a horrendous, plum purple and hot strawberry pink throbbing sunburn on the tops of his feet, and when Jeff Probst the host asked him how he got such a bad burn he replied, “instantly.”

Cochran is a brand new Harvard Law School graduate. He is an anorexic looking,  slight and rather stoop-shouldered guy, wearing mostly Ivy League button-downs in a t-shirt kind of situation, but brandishing a wicked sense of humor that allowed him to slide under the radar a bit. He seemed rather unthreatening for nearly half the game, lacking in confidence and unspectacular. Everyone else, all the brave, muscular, beautiful specimens of human fitness, thought they could beat him. Then against all odds he began to win challenges – 3 of them – that afforded him immunity from being voted off at critical junctures.

He began to emerge as a player – an authentic competitor – who had watched the show for half his life and had even written his Harvard thesis and other papers about it. He knew exactly what his strategy was, and he played without theatrics and drama and any kind of fanfare – tactics often used by the other  “easy on the eye” players.

“I kind of want to get a Segway, as lame as that is,” he told The Hollywood Reporter of how he’d spend his $1 million check. “I don’t know how often I’d use it, but I’d like to just ride around on one. Even if it’s just doing circles in my living room.” He also mentioned sinking some money into a new apartment and “a lot of wireless gizmos and stuff.”

During the season’s high-drama season, Cochran was also able to survive the entire run of the game without having a single vote cast against him during Tribal Council, an impressive accomplishment that only one other Survivor winner can claim (J.T. of Survivor: Tocantins).

I am thrilled with this victory – don’t tell me to “get a life” because I have a nice full life, thank you very much, and one thing I absolutely love is seeing a winner who has really performed and who deserves it. Someone who was the underdog and the least likely person to succeed. I think I would like to invent a new word  – a word that describes the underdog, the long-shot, the person who never gives up and to whom his/her obvious short-comings are irrelevant. I would call that person a COCHRAN!  Hurrah for John Cochran!  I am a forever fan! You are a winner! You pulled it off!

th[6] photo courtesy of www.fanpop.com/clubs/survivor