A million colors of white

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I dabble a bit in painting, I would hardly call myself even an amateur, really. But it’s a fun hobby and I get a ridiculous amount of joy from an afternoon in my little studio with all those little tubes of paint, mixing and painting and remixing and painting on another layer.

There are probably a lot of lessons to learn from mixing and painting, but there is one that I can’t stop thinking about. If you’re trying to make an interesting painting–contemporary, abstract, realistic, whatever–you need lots of layers and subtle differences in color. Red is never just red, in fact, it’s most interesting when it’s got a little green in it. Blue is most interesting with a little orange or yellow in the shadows or highlights, respectively. And white and black are the most realistic when there are bits of all the other colors mixed in.

That image up there is a still life by Vincent Van Gogh hanging in the Art Institute of Chicago. From across the room it looks like floppy white roses; but when you come up close, one white rose is lined in lavender, another in seafoam green, blues and purples, yellows and reds are probably more frequent than straight up Titanium White, the whitest white.

Consequently, the deepest, velvety black patches of paintings have bronze and purple, forest green and burnt umber, and sometimes even stripes of silver or yellow to offset those deep, rich dark colors. (Also, coincidentally, it’s a LOT harder to get a decent cell-phone photo of all that variation with unforgiving museum lighting and guards nervously pacing, anxiously intervening when they think you are too close. Ahem.)

I like to think about people in terms of those flowers, and the dark skirts of Victorian ladies, or the sumptuous midnight backgrounds of Dutch portraits, with gorgeous browns and vibrant reds and inky blues. We all have undertones and edges that change who we are, that reflect where we have been and what we have experienced. The variations and changes, the subtle glint when the light changes, the differences in perception depending on where you stand.

This is what makes us human. This is what makes us interesting. And this is what makes us so dang hard to understand each other, and so beautiful to each other when we finally can see all the colors and undertones and variations that work together for each, individual person.

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Blank Slate

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Sometimes, I feel like I need to wipe everything clean; to toss out the (proverbial!) baby with the bath water. Sometimes I purge my closet. Other times I viciously thin my shelf, or the condiments in the fridge. Sometimes I skip through my social media and block/unfollow/hide anyone who routinely makes me eye twitch. Sometimes I tear apart my calendar and only add back the components that are necessary and/or bring me happiness.

I think we all have these feelings at some point, right? Something gets too sticky, too tangled, or too murky and in a fit of rage, or clarity, or exasperation we take ourselves to task until it is sorted, smoothed, tidied, and put into order.

I don’t know if it’s the cabin fever brought on by Arizona summers, or if it’s some mounting dissatisfaction with [redact redact redact], or even lingering loose ends on my move from Salt Lake last December. I feel trapped and stuck and like so many things are tangled and murky.

And, after weeks or months of this back-burner murk continuing to grow and tangle my front-burner life…I want to burn everything to the ground and start from scratch.

Ok, that is super dramatic.

But I do have a SERIOUS hankering to tear everything apart and just start over. I want a blank slate. Of course, not everything is in need of purging. In fact, most components of my life are on the up and up, most things are better than they have been in years, or ever. Most of the biggest, most important pieces are messy around the edges, but with a solid and carefully balanced core.

Here’s the problem with throwing everything out and starting over: it is not very economical. Throwing away the good and the great with the needs-a-lot-of-improvement is to dismiss weeks or years of work in a fit of less than responsible behavior. It’s harder to pick apart the seams and start over, but it certainly is the more responsible option. I’m not only talking about money, I’m talking about time, effort, energy, and emotions that are already invested in a person, project, or dream.

Setting everything on fire will not conjure a beautiful, perfectly formed and mature Phoenix to rise from the ashes. It just leaves you with a pile of smoldering ashes. You still have to shovel them up, sweep them away, and then start building again.

And so, maintaining some annoying-but-essential-for-now Interweb vaguery, it is time for me to dismantle some pieces of my life, cut away the excess and the rotten, and then retrench in a cleaner, simpler, more sustainable plan. I need a clean slate.*

*For the record, it’s a lot easier to do this on your own, proactive terms, instead of trying to respond to outside influences. Mr. Blue Eyes and I have run all the options, made the spreadsheets, weighed pros and cons, and are ready to embark on Harriet 2.0 7.0 together. I’m so glad to have him on my team.

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Confessions of a Bookaholic: Creativity and Writing

I seem to go through phases of high creative output and then these doldrum-y weeks where I don’t want to do anything but lie on my fainting couch, watching Netflix and eating frozen M&Ms. Granted, lately some of that lazing about may possibly be due to several weeks of go-go-go and temperatures many many degrees higher than I ever agreed to.

However, I have missed writing, I’ve not painted in months, and the extent of my creative ventures have involved mastering sunscreen application techniques. In the last few weeks I’ve read (ok, listened to) two books about creativity…and it seems the biggest lessons I need to learn are 1) it doesn’t have to be perfect or even important; 2) do something creative every day, anything.  I often feel crushed by my own internal need to create (write, paint, conjure) something AMAZING…when, truly, I just need to do something, to get into a habit of doing and then let the repetition and practice hone my skill and the dedicated space for doing to provide a platform for inspiration.

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Creativity Inc: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration, by Ed Catmull & Amy Wallace (5 stars). I loved the idea that failure is not actually failure, it’s just part of the process of creating, it’s part of refining an idea, or a story, or a piece of art. It’s not a negative, it’s an essential stepping stone for moving forward. I think parts of this book are very workplace or manager-style specific, but I also think there is a lot to learn as a creative-type, or a creative-wannabe-type, on how the process is not usually a BLAM of inspiration and, 10 minutes later, a perfect finished product. It is a PROCESS with a lot of back and forth and revising and more revising. It’s work to create something, and it’s okay if not every single decision you make in that process is, ultimately, one that leads to your finished product. It’s all part of the process.

I’m not sure if it is because my whole life feels like it’s in a state of flux–workplace things included–but I responded SO WELL to this book, the ideas and principles Catmull talks about for success, and all the little factoids and stories about his time in digital animation.

Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert (4 stars). Many years ago I read and loathed “Eat, Pray, Love” and while I maintained Gilbert was a great writer, I really really hated that book. So, I was pretty hesitant to pick this one up, however I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it. Gilbert’s ideas on what to do with creativity, how to not think of your creative outputs as your babies, or unchangeable, or needing to be perfect are things I have struggled with of late. I love to write, but I want it all to be brilliant and witty, and the truth is, I am not 100% brilliant or witty, there are a LOT of parts of me that I can express creatively that have nothing to do with brilliance or wit, and THAT IS OKAY, HARRIET, IT’S OKAY TO BE A LITTLE VULNERABLE SOMETIMES. I love to paint, but I often get bogged down in not having the skill to express on paper or canvas what I see in my mind’s eye, and THAT’S OKAY! IT’S OKAY TO BE AN AMATEUR, HARRIET! So….clearly I have some internal things that I need to work on when it comes to creativity and writing and expression, and I also need to remember that this space, in particular, is not for a shiny finished product. This little corner of the internet is for me, in all my unfinished and work-in-progress glory. That is why I made this space in the first place, for the process.

Overall, there were a few parts I think some parts of Big Magic that were a little too hippy-dippy for me, a little too woo-woo, and even a little too Elizabeth Gilbert, but, I really enjoyed her take on the creative process and it has already inspired some additional creative ventures of my own, so in that respect, this book is a success! In may ways this book reminded me of Gretchin Rubin’s book on habits, and Anne Lamott’s book on writing.

Other Books That Inspire Me:

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott (4 stars).

Writing About Your Life, by William Zinsser (5 stars).

Instead of grouping book reviews by month or quarter, I’ve decided to group them by topic instead because that seems to be how I read them anyway. What are you reading lately?

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In which I discuss control freakishness and my need for a new script writer

It is a fairly well documented fact that sometimes I can be a bit of a control freak. Popular definition may give you the impression that my “control freakishness” means I have crazy-psycho reactions if even the teensiest detail is not My Way. Not so much. I also do not turn into a crazy Lifezilla type if faced with something I don’t want to do. Nothing like that (I hope). The Harriet version of “control freak” is more along the lines of “I freak out when I feel like I have no control,” with said “freak out” being something along the lines of absolute despair with a side of living in a perfect graveyard of buried hopes. I really really REALLY don’t like feeling like I’m being tossed around my Life and there’s nothing I can do about it. On second thought, perhaps this doesn’t make me a control freak, perhaps this just makes me normal…?

I feel like I am finally on the tail end of months YEARS of being tossed around, I’ve got a few weeks of craziness left and then I have a solid stretch of what should be no big plans and a general calmness at work.

Should be. And so help me, Karma & Murphy, if you throw a wrench in that dream simply because I vocalized it I will destroy you.

I’m sick of being tossed around. My freak controller has taken a serious beating of late and I am worn out. I’m tired of not knowing what is going to happen next, of not even having a vague idea. I have repeatedly thought that my life would be a fantastic soap-opera, what with the relationship drama, the crazy family situations, the “Past,” the events that border on completely bizarre…those three kids I didn’t know were mine…wait. No. Scratch that last one. That’s not a thing. (I promise, NOT a thing.) I just…I need a vacation from all of this crazy. I need Life to slow down a little bit so I can recenter and find my groove again. I need to give my battered controller a break so she can recoup and re-prioritize.

And then, after I have fully recovered, THEN we can go back to the crazy soap opera stuff, mmmkay?

As far as this My-Life-As-A-TV-Show thing goes, I want a better script! I want a new director with a brand new artistic direction! I want a new wardrobe lady! I want softer lighting and a team of airbrushers! I want better snacks! I need better snacks! I want a mini-series in an exotic location; Belize or Iceland or Myanmar. (And no cheating and using Manitoba as Iceland. I want the Real Deal.) I want more air-time with Mr. Blue Eyes! I need more time with him, just us, figuring “us” out in peace and serenity.

If I was the lead actress in that show I would sooo be lounging in my own (air conditioned!) trailer sipping Diet Dr. Pepper and rolling my eyes with my assistant (oooh! I get an assistant!) and rambling on about how “I can’t work under these conditions”, and “artistic differences” and blah blah blah.

…Do I sound like a freak yet? Maybe a little? Ok, as long as we’re on the same page. In fact, if only to emphasize how serious I am here I think a scathing letter is in order:

Dear Life,

Please stop with the crazy. Really. This has been going on for months years and it’s enough already. Besides, it’s The Holidays–summer totally counts as “holidays”–can you at least stop sucking for The Holidays? Or forever? Kthxbye.

Love, Harriet

…Ummm, so “scathing” may have been a bit of an overstatement; I’m exhausted and not quite cranky enough for “scathing.” Hopefully, Life will still get the message.

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Life, or something like it


There is something so soothing about watching the waves; small ones lap gently on the beach while large ones crash furiously over treacherous rocks, leaving white foam and tide pools in their wake. Poetically, the ocean seems self-cleaning, constantly changing, spitting out shells and garbage and mermaids, sucking sand and unsuspecting tourists out to sea. Ok, so my poem is kind of twisted. (Also, mermaids aside, I am well aware that the health of our oceans has been on a constant and steady decline for years.)

My soul belongs in the mountains, so this ocean thing is kind of a tricky analogy for me (I want SO BADLY to make a “fish out of water” pun, but can’t seem to work it in properly, so you get this parenthetical instead. You’re welcome.); I feel like my whole life is somehow caught right on that line between sand and sea, being pulled both ways at every moment, trying to straddle two competing forces and stay upright. I’m not just talking about a split between my home here in Arizona and my heart-home in Salt Lake, although I’m sure that division is a contributing factor. I feel like I’m waiting for something big to happen, waiting for forward movement, just waiting. I feel anxious and kind of discombobulated most of the time, restless even, not sure what to do or say. Sometimes I’ll be on the verge of a weepy break-down for DAYS at a time. This is…not a normal state of being for me, I feel cramped and irritated in my own skin. This lack of confidence is a really uncomfortable admission for me, and I wish there was an easy fix…emphasis on the EASY part.

I know, I know. Life is not easy. It’s not supposed to be easy. Any major shift or movement requires a lot of consistency, small and progressive goal making and achieving, and a long-term goal to work towards. Maybe that’s my problem right now…for most aspects of my life I do not have a long-term goal, no guiding star to help me navigate. So here I am, stuck in  the waves, without any real direction or urgency for getting unstuck.

The Cheshire Cat says that if you don’t know where you want to get to, then it doesn’t much matter which way you go. So, here I am, all Alice in Wonderland-ing my way through the days and weeks (and months?) feeling like I’m wandering in circles and starting to tire of the endless journey. The last few weeks I have kept thinking about ways to pull out of this wander-y funk, and I tend to gravitate towards extravagant grand adventure type solutions. (Road Trip to Prince Edward Island! Or Alaska! Hike a Dozen 14,000′ Mountain Peaks!! Spend a Year Doing A Thing To See If It Makes Me A Better Person!!) Each suggestion seems more maniacal than the last. But, really, my restlessness in daily living will be right here waiting for me when I get back.

I need some long-term goals, Life Goals that can help reshape and redirect my actions and modify my behavior. That’s a very fancy way of saying: I Need A Plan. I hardly recall a time in my adult life where I didn’t have a solid idea of where I wanted to be in two or five years, but suddenly when I try and conjure that up, I draw a blank. I mean, I’ll be here, in this house in the desert, with Blue Eyes and (on occasion) his kids. But that’s all I’ve got. And, truly, that is not enough for me. A healthy marriage and a safe & comfortable home is a really solid base, for sure. But I need more than that.

For my own sanity, I need to fix this. I need to find some long-term goals that will stretch me and be something to work towards. I am actually kind of embarrassed to admit that I don’t have any solid long-term dreams right now. Embarrassed and sad, I am legitimately weepy. I don’t quite recognize this version of myself, the sort of sedentary content-with-the-status-quo person.

Do YOU have long-term life goals right now? In your relationship? With your family? Finances? Work life? Personal life? Athletic life? Academic life? What do you do to remember how to dream big?

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