The Chinese Dragon

When I set out that morning, I didn’t expect my day would include a Chinese dragon looking up my skirt. But this is Asheville.  One day, such things will come as no surprise at all.

The idea, from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, is to have a weekly date with yourself. It had been months since I had deliberately made such plans, but when I found myself with a completely free weekend I figured I was long overdue.

I walked to town to check out “Stories from Asheville’s Front Porch.”  Now if that doesn’t sound relaxing, you’re entirely too busy. Stories? Porches? What’s not to love?

As I walked through Pack Square on my way to the performance I saw artists unpacking boxes and putting up tents, setting out tables to display their wares. For what, I wasn’t sure, but now I knew what I’d do after the storytelling.

I crossed the street and that’s when the ruckus began. A gong being struck over and over, cymbals sounding, and a multi-colored Chinese Dragon weaving among the tents. I stood to watch, then took out my camera.


The dragon seemed to be attracted to cameras. I watched from across the street as he zoomed right up to those taking pictures, blinking his eyes demurely. Then it was determined he would cross the street, and I knew he was coming for me next:

At the end of the video, you’ll see that I lose focus, the camera staring not at the dragon, but at the sqaure.  That was when the dragon attempted to look up my skirt.  I, at first, was a little flustered that he was getting so close to me, and once I realized what he was doing, I stepped away, letting out a surprised laugh, at one point catching the eye of the guy inside who was responsible for maneuvering the dragon’s head. After shutting off my camera, I walked quickly toward my intended destination. I didn’t know what to make of the whole thing. I suppose, when in costume, men do things they wouldn’t do otherwise?

As I walked, I realized the dragon following me. It clicked just then that he was part of the storytelling event to which I was headed–as opposed to a very unusual stalker.

I saw the men come out of their costume for a rest before the event started and I got the feeling the front runner of the duo was a bit embarrassed by his actions–not thinking he’d actually see me again, and not looking like the type who would normally attempt to look up women’s skirts.

And all of this was before my artist date even officially started. It was going to be an interesting day.

Me? An Introvert?

“Do you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert?” he asked me. We met just three hours earlier, and already our conversation had covered religion and poverty, our life stories, and now personal reflection. But this happens all the time when I get in a conversation with the unconventional-traveler types: in this case, a couchsurfer. This guy would sleep on my pull-out couch tonight, and continue on his way the next morning.  I would probably never see him again, and that, I believe, is what drives travelers to waste no time getting into the deeper conversations.

I didn’t really know the answer to his question. So I tried to figure it out in his presence. “When I was little I was definitely an introvert — shy and quiet.” I thought back to those days of hiding out in my bedroom with a book or a craft project, convinced I was adopted.  How else could I explain how I ended up with four siblings who were like pinballs — shooting around all over the house? Those pictures of my mother in a hospital bed holding a newborn that was supposedly me? Staged.

I moved forward to my early twenties. “I took the Myers-Briggs in college. That said I was an introvert.  But I think I was on the border. Now that I think about it, what’s the real definition of the difference between the two?”

He smiled. I had apparently asked the right question to the right person. “Introverts have gotten a bad rap,” he explained. “People think introverts don’t want to talk to anybody. But that’s not it. It’s where you get your energy from. If you get your energy from being alone, doing solitary things, you’re an introvert. If you get your energy from being with groups of people, you’re an extrovert. I asked because you seem to float pretty easily between the two.”

I took this as a compliment and thought  back to a boyfriend’s father telling me I was great “conversationalist.” Then, I remembered a party my company held for our clients back when I lived in Boston. I had been with the company just a few weeks and knew hardly anyone, so I grabbed a glass of wine and started chatting with people. Then I excused myself to get some food, and sat down next time at a completely different table, easily making conversation with whomever I met. I continued on that way for hours. The next day my boss said she thought I talked to more people that night than any of the other employees.

But where is it that I get my energy? I thought of the mornings I used to wake up and write for hours without realizing where the time went. The days I spent in bed reading a  book I couldn’t put down. How much I loved cooking, my music blaring as I danced from fridge to stove to countertop. An introvert. Definitely. It all made sense.

Yes, I love to teach. And help people declutter. And I can hold my own at a party where I know no one. But then there are the days I spend roaming art galleries alone. Or entire cities. I’m the one who took off for Europe alone after college.  I wanted someone to go with me, but all my friends had taken 9-5 jobs with only two weeks off. Extroverts might then choose to go with a tour company, or not go at all. Introverts choose to go it alone.

This doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy spending time with others. Quite the contrary. But it certainly explains why I feel so run down when my week is booked with commitments. It’s much harder to hold sacred the time you book with just yourself. But this weekend I managed to do it. And that is why you, my wonderful readers, are seeing this blog post right now. 


Kiawah -> Asheville

My mouth hung open as I looked around.  I hadn’t seen this much hand-made furniture in quite some time.  The best part? I could touch it all.  I ran my hands over the sanded wood, walked my fingers over the tiles, sat on the chairs.  That’s because I was in the Grovewood Gallery–not a museum, but a place that sells hand-made pieces.  And you wouldn’t buy a couch you’ve never sat on, would you?

I’d heard about the Gallery a few times in my travels and made an impromtu decision that it would be this weeks Artist Date.  I’m doing Julia Cameron’s 12-week Artist’s Way course and one of the requirements is a weekly date with yourself.  You don’t necessarily have to go see art–but you have to commit once a week to spend time with yourself (and only yourself) nurturing your inner artist or inner child.  So this counts:)

You don’t want to follow me into one of these places–literally.  You’d bump into me because I stop as soon as I walk in the door.  I have to simply look around and take it all in.  Then I spend more hours than most people looking around.  This is why it’s such a good artist date–I can spend as long as I want fondling the Montawi tiles.  I can pick up the book about them and read the first five pages–or the whole thing–and there’s no one at the door ready to go before I’ve even made it fifteen feet.

This place also has a second level filled with furniture.  I stood at the top of the stairs taking in the hand carved tables, the blown glass of the light fixtures, the….movement!  There was a woman sitting behind a desk in the corner. On the desk was a computer, behind her sat a phone, and I realized this must be here work space.  We greeted each other and as I walked around I thought what a great job to have.  I overheard her on the phone saying, “I’m just looking at a web site to see if this artist has anything I want to carry.”  She gets to choose all these pieces. And what a good job she does.

As I made my way around, I came in view of her desk again.  “You must love your job here,” I said.

“Oh, I do.  I get to be surrounded by all this.  I get to work with some amazing artists…”

Well, I had my in.  If she’d just said, “Yeah, I guess,” I would have continued on.  But I had nailed it–I found someone who loves what they do.  They’re rare, you know.  Well, maybe not as rare as they used to be.  But you have to look for them.  And I love talking to them.

We covered a little of our respective pasts and when I got to talking about moving to Asheville she, like every other person I’ve talked to down here, couldn’t say enough great things about the place.

“Every time I’m here, I just have this feeling that this is where I belong,” I explained.  “I just love the community – and communities here.”

She then went on to explain why that might be.  “There are some native Asheville residents, but most of the people here chose to move here.  Their job didn’t transfer them.  They saw something they liked in this place and decided to come.  Some even made great sacrifices to come here, but felt it was worth it to live in this area.”

Imagine that.  A community of people who want to be here.  I like being in places where people are where they want to be.  It’s why I liked working in tourism–everyone was on vacation.  They chose to be there, so they were in a good mood.   It’s why I loved Americorps–I spent a year working with volunteers: people who chose to participate in the service projects I organized.  It’s why I didn’t like working at doctor’s offices and hospitals.  Nobody wants to be there.

After Karen imparted her wisdom, I continued studying the artwork.  Then, I saw it.  “There’s a whole other room?” I said out loud to no one.  I cherished the hour I had in this place before they closed, and will definitely be back.

Thankfully, my Artist Date wasn’t over.  There’s an outdoor sculpture garden that was open til sunset.  It was there that I saw her.  Or me.  Her name is Inspiration.


She’s the first thing you see when you walk out the door of the Gallery.  There are two steps down to the path on which she stands–a perfect spot for me to sit and stare at her for a while.  It came to me quite quickly that the serene look on her face is what I’ll have by coming here.  Think what you want, but that’s what my heart told me.  And she’s never wrong.

Serendipity and Collages

I got an e-mail that the local library was doing a class on collages.  Yes, collages.  Remember those?  Tearing images out of magazines, arranging them somehow, gluing it all together?  Well, adults do it too…and sell them for quite a bit of money.  (Well, our teacher does at least!)  Realizing I hadn’t been on an Artist Date in a while, I decided to attend the class.

The only problem was that we were told to bring images with us.  I don’t subscribe to any magazines.  And I wasn’t about to go spend a bunch of money buying new ones just to tear them apart.  The whole idea is to use old ones – reuse, recycle.  So, as usual when I need something I don’t have, I figured I’d just go to Mom and Dad’s for it.  I swear they must get twenty magazines a month – at least.

I was in Rhode Island when I got the info about the class, so figured I’d take care of getting my images when I got home.  But God had other plans.

As it turns out, I was in Rhode Island helping a couple of friends declutter – and was actually getting paid for it!  Guess what one of my clients was getting rid of?  Yup.  Old magazines.  She was thrilled to give them to me to use for my upcoming craft project.  I took about ten of them, and put the other hundred in her recycling bin.

The class was yesterday.  I still had the magazines in my trunk.  So I grabbed some scissors, got in my car a half hour before I was due to leave and started cutting.  There’s something meditative to me about cutting out things.  I was responsible for the coupons growing up – dad had no patience for going through the sale papers and cutting them, but he had no problem using the ones I diligently found and presented as we entered the baking aisle for brownie mix.  I was into scherenschnitte for a while – using very tiny scissors to cut beautiful designs.  And now here I was cutting images from magazines.  In my car.  At 10 AM on a Saturday.  And really wishing I had another hour to do it.

Turns out I did: we spent most of the class looking through more magazines and getting more images – the library had plenty to recycle.  With only 20 minutes left of the class, I had yet to find a suitable theme or arrangement.  As a student who always wanted to get the assignment “right” I was tempted to call the teacher over for some advice.  But instead decided to just keep plugging along.  And of course, it came to me.  I had been attracted not to images of “things” in particular, but colors.  Lots of blues, in fact.  I had four different size rectangles of shades of blue which I layered on top of each other biggest to smallest, then made it “pop” with an image in the middle of a white vase with a red design on it.  I loved it.

The lady next to me said, “It looks very geometric and orderly.  Are you like that otherwise?”  I looked at the rectangles, at the splash of color in the middle.  “Well, I am a math tutor, so maybe that’s where the geometric thing comes in.  But I do a bunch of other random creative things, so that’s maybe what the color in the middle is all about.”  And it all made sense.  Our teacher had said collage was very reflective and how it was interesting to see what patterns emerged.  Here, with just five images from the forty I cut out, I had made an abstract image of me.

Baby Blankets

No, I’m not pregnant.  Nor is anyone else I know.  But I’ve been making baby blankets lately.  Why?  Well, because one of the women in my Saturday morning knitting/crochet group volunteers with the WIC program (Women, Infants and Children).  Our group (affectionately named Purl Jam) takes scraps from former projects and makes baby blankets and other baby items to give to these women who probably don’t have anyone in their lives that would make their child a homemade blanket.

Here’s the one I completed today – my third since I joined the group! As you may recall, I went to this group for the first time as one of my “artist dates” and enjoyed the women so much, I go every weekend I’m in town.

A Writing Retreat

I love that we can learn new things at any age.  In my first writing class at the John C. Campbell Folk School two years ago, not one of us had ever before attempted writing our own life stories.  And we were a group with participants in their 20’s up into their 70’s.

My experience there has led to all kinds of wonderful things.  Not only did I recognize a talent for and a love of writing stories, but I got the motivation to keep it up: a group of us stayed in touch and started an on-line writing group.  The first of every month we send pieces out to each other for critique. This past March four of us from the group reunited at the Folk School for another writing class.  And now we’re planning our own yearly writing retreat!

I would love to again have that feeling of being so excited about life that I can’t wait to start each day.  But in the meantime, what keeps me going are  trips.  A while back I came across a website for a place specifically dedicated to hosting writers for a week to months.  I sent it out to our group saying it seemed possibly “too quiet.”  That’s when I was thinking of going alone.  But to host our group it is perfect.  Five simple but beautifully furnished rooms, large front porches, all overlooking the James River in Virginia.

One of the many fabulous things about my on-line writing group is that when someone throws out an idea, the responses are usually nothing but the enthusiastic let’s-do-it type.  The plans are coming together.  I volunteered to supervise the food schedule.  Each of us will have one night we’re responsible for the meal (there’s a communal kitchen).  Each of us will also serve one night as the sous-chef.  And yesterday I called and e-mailed The Porches to inquire about our dates.  We’re planning for next summer, but a few of us will probably go this summer to “check it out” as Lois says.  (Really, of course, we just can’t wait a year to see each other again, to get away, and do some writing!)

So you know all those things I say about how good it is to do things alone once in a while?  Here’s another reason: you may make some fabulous friends and years later find yourself in a beautiful old home with them overlooking a river, laughing, cooking, and writing.

The Artist in You

I continue to go on Artist Dates with myself, and continue to be fascinated by not only how much I enjoy them, but the connections I’m able to make.

For those of you that don’t know, an Artist Date is a date with yourself.  Yes, just you.  Yes, alone.  If this scares the crap out of you, then you really should try it.  (Eleanor Roosevelt said do one thing every day that scares you.   That’s a tall order.  Once a week though?  Totally doable and a good place to start.)  Where do you go?  Someplace you haven’t before.  Do something you haven’t done.  Something you would like to do or something you said you’d never do.  The point is to do it and see what comes.

The nice thing is the dates don’t have to cost money.  A visit to a cute town you’ve always wanted to mosey around.  A gallery opening – especially if you’ve never been to one.  A walk.

A couple months ago I chose as my Artist Date to check out the local knitting group at my library.  Grandma taught me to crochet when I was very little.  (I’d say around 8, but everything I learned “when I was little” I seem to think happened at 8, so I could be off there.)  I go through phases with it.  I made a series of blankets when a bunch of girlfriends got married.  I made the most adorable sweater for my niece, then an equally adorable sundress.  I’ll have to figure out how to post pictures to show you.  Anyway, I hadn’t made anything in a while.  Which is probably because I used to crochet anytime I was sitting in front of the TV, and I don’t have a TV anymore.  (By choice – but that’s another story.)

I knew there was a Saturday knitting group at the library not because I saw it advertised somewhere but because I had been in there on Saturdays to drop off books and saw them.  They were doing what usually happens when you get a group of women together – laughing.  And making pretty stuff, besides.  So one Saturday, I set off on my walk to the library – not with books to return but with a crochet project in hand.

Oh what fun I had!  The leader of the group knows everyone in town, but in a good way (not a busybody way).  She happily introduced me to everyone as they came in  -turns out showing up on time for this group is not required so I was one of the first ones there.  The good news is that nothing is required in this group.  You show up or you don’t.  You make something or you don’t.  Doesn’t matter.  They love having you there and if you disappear for a while they’ll welcome you back with open arms.  This was good because I didn’t want to “commit” to the group.  But guess what?  I go nearly every Saturday now.  I look forward to it.  It’s one of those things in my schedule that I won’t plan something over.

So one Artist Date and here are the perks:

1 – I met a fabulous new friend.  She’s just five years older than me but has six children, all of whom she homeschools.  And she’s got chickens.  And this week they’re getting goats.  And she knows how to can tomatoes and said I could help.  Woohoo!  Since our first meeting, her science-minded eldest came to my Anatomy Lab one day with me and loved it.  And she and I went to a flea market with another one of her children one Saturday after the group.  Oh how wonderful to have friends who are all so different!

2 – I’m being creative again.  I made a fabulous baby blanket with scraps from a community yarn box they have at the library.  One of our group members takes baby items to a local non-profit at which she volunteers.  So I took a picture of my blanket and then sent it off into the world.  I then made an adorable beanie for my niece.  My next project is from a pattern I found in a crochet magazine that was also in the community yarn box.

3 – I feel like I’m part of my community.  When they found out my love of organizing, the director asked if I’d give a talk on the topic.  Or a series of them.  I did my first one on Saturday on paring down your stock of books – and then bringing the extras to the library for their book sale in two weeks.  Ten people showed up!  And they loved me!

If every artist date turned into this much, my life might get a little overwhelming.  Thankfully, there are some where I go and never open my mouth.  I still have a blast.

Try it sometime.  And let me know how it goes. Oh – and if you think you’re too “busy” for it, turn off the TV or the internet for a couple hours.  And just like that: you have time:)

The Open Mike

So I’ve been trying my best to do an “Artist Date” once per week.  I’ve written about them in earlier posts – basically it’s a date with yourself.  Yes, by yourself.  I know it’s a scary concept for plenty of people, but oh how I enjoy it when I get up the nerve and do it.

Tonight I went to an Open Mike at the library a couple towns over.  How did I hear about this?  Well, on another artist date actually.  A couple months ago I went to here the Trapps at the Rhinecliff Hotel. On a Friday night.  By myself.  That took a little more push than other artist dates.  I’ve been to gallery openings,museums,  arts and crafts classes, antique stores – things people go to alone.  A band at a bar by yourself, well, I had to work up to that one.  Anyway, I find one way to get yourself out of the house is to get all dolled up, then you feel like you can’t waste a great outfit and a good hair day.  So I made it to the Rhinecliff, took a seat at the bar, and ordered a glass of wine.  Thankfully, most everyone was actually watching and listening to the band, so there was none of that, “I’m here with no one to talk to,” feeling.  The bartender was cute; the music was wonderful.  Not bad for a night out by yourself.

After a glass of wine, I started chatting up some of my fellow bar sitters:   a couple of “older” gentlemen who were former neighbors catching up with each other.  They had no problem talking to a single thirty-something instead of each other.  A little later others started dribbling in, and there I was, the band gone, and me still there!  A kindly gentleman asked if I was local and when I let him know I live just a few miles away he informed me that the crowd that just walked in was coming from an Open Mike that happens every third Friday at the local library.  He explained that the musicians are always amazing, and that they come by invitation.  He introduced me to the founder of the event, and I made a mental note.  Later, I pulled out my Palm Treo and marked “Open Mike at Morton Library” for every third Friday.

Well, tonight I made it over to the library.  Which actually looks like an old mansion.  Well, because it is old.  And was built by a wealthy couple as a gift to the community.  And what a gift!  It’s the first library I’ve seen that has a front porch with rocking chairs.  On one side is the library and on the other is the community room: hardwood floors, vaulted ceiling, a stage and a donated baby grand.  There were nearly fifty people in attendance by night’s end.  And the music?  Each song had a message for me.  Like I was destined to be there because these five groups had something to tell me.  It was a little of everything – we had some blues, folk, doo-wop, barbershop quartet, covers, originals.  The Rhinecliff donates sandwiches, there’s wine for sale in the back.  Everyone volunteers their time and donations for the library are accepted.  I read in the local “About Town” that the librarian knows everyone by name.  And now she knows mine:)  I joined the mailing list, and look forward to the next event.

Artist Dates

It’s a simple idea, though not so simple to enact: a date with yourself.  Julia Cameron calls them Artist Dates in her book The Artists Way. Sarah Van Breathnach calls them Creative Excursions in Simple Abundance.  Whatever they’re called, I’ve always liked the idea but had not put it into practice.  Until today.

Today I went to the museum at a local college – by myself.  I’d wanted to visit this place for quite some time, but found all sorts of reasons to put it off.  But today, the starts aligned.  Or I simply decided it was time.  And I went.

Well, it wasn’t that simple.  It would have been easier to just go home and relax in my favorite chair with my latest library find.  Or I could have used the excuse that I didn’t want to go alone.  But my inner voice said, “You know…when you do these things you’re always glad you did.  Just go.”  I even got dressed up for the occasion – I literally wore a dress, and make up, and good looking uncomfortable shoes (as any woman knows good-looking comfortable shoes don’t exist).

There are not many rules for these dates with yourself.  You don’t have to dress up.  You don’t have to go to a museum.  The only rule really is that you go alone.  And do something that you want to do.  For me, I’d noticed recently that I’ll tour all sorts of museums when on vacation, but never locally.  Why is that, I wondered? If I enjoyed art that much when I was away, why not enjoy it at home as well?  In fact, my friends say I have an alter ego that shows up when I’m on vacations and they try their best to encourage me to parade her out at home as well.  This was a small step.

I had no idea what the exhibits were in the museum when I got there.  I was sure that in whatever was there, I would find something.  Something what?  Meaningful?  Inspiring?  Thought-provoking?  I wasn’t sure.  But I just knew I’d find something.

I had a reason for going on this particular day.  There was a tour at 2pm.  I’m a big fan of tours as I enjoy hearing the background of the artist and the meaning of their works.  (Then, of course, we find our own meanings as well.)  One artist I viewed was quite the feminist.  I tried to keep my mouth from gaping open as I looked at some very provocative, controversial work of hers.  And there were at least two pieces that brought tears to my eyes.  One involved images of hearts and hands – and for reasons I can’t quite explain images of hands have always drawn me in.  The other was an immediate recognition of my own feelings, represented in a short sentence on an index card – one of a hundred or so.  The artist was depicting the contradictory advice she heard and received about relationships.  Honestly, what thirty-something woman couldn’t identify with that?

I don’t think it matters the medium, or the location.  I think in the act of having a date with yourself you’ll discover whatever was meant to come your way.  In my case, the recognition and affirmation of some thoughts I’ve been hanging onto for quite some time, a time of being among a group of strangers who share a common interest, a time of taking off on my own to see what I can see.

A Date with Myself

At first I didn’t know what attracted me to the piece of art in front of which I stood, transfixed.  “Ink on paper,” it said.  The name of the piece was Japanese as was the artist.  I stepped back, deciding that I didn’t have to know at all why it held my gaze, I could just simply look at it and enjoy it.  Quietly, it came to me: there was something so calming about it, despite the action it depicted.  The waterfall didn’t thunder, it fell gently into a pool beside a pagoda.    As I took it in, it slowly dawned on me that the piece was made with only three colors: black, red, and tan.  But with a little water and a little mixing, these three colors turned into many: rust, brown, copper, smokey grey,  burnt orange.  With just three colors, the artist was able to depict depth, beauty, stillness, movement, and peace.

If he could take three simple things and create so much, I wondered what I might be capable of with such simple beginnings?