the loveART blog


spirits rising

Elaine's Kuan Yin 05

Item 1: In March 2009, 2,250 people stood in line at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., for half a day awaiting the privilege of paying $22 to see Elizabeth Gilbert speak. Gilbert is the modest and utterly engaging author of the smash-hit spiritual memoir Eat Pray Love, which has been translated into 13 languages and has 7 million copies in print.

Item 2: Oprah’s been inviting guests like Thich Nhat Hanh, Marianne Williamson, Byron Katie, Elizabeth Lesser and Jon Kabat-Zinn onto her tv and radio shows and Soul Series webcasts. When she launched a virtual “study group” (complete with syllabus and workbook) centered on Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose, 450,000 people tuned into the first webcast. By the time the ten-week series wrapped, 20 million people had downloaded the programs.

These little things make the wordARTist‘s heart sing. They confirm my observation that the number of folks hungry for connection with Spirit is on the rise. And as we delve into ourselves to find, explore and deepen that connection, all sorts of good stuff becomes possible. Stuff like, oh, a stronger sense of community. An honoring of the mother earth. The eradication of hunger. Global peace. You know.

As my own small contribution to this heartening trend, I am offering two programs this weekend. Wearing my hat as the curator of the 2009 Summer Writers Series for SOMOS (the Society of the Muse of the Southwest), the preeminent literary organization in northern New Mexico, on the evening of August 21 I will host “Women in Praise of the Sacred,” a program featuring readings by award-winning poet and activist Dora E. McQuaid, chants and poems to Spirit by the short story writer, poet and artist Pat McCabe, and a special surprise guest. (A three-word hint: slam poetry champion.) The program starts at 7:30 pm and is at the new Taos Art Plaza, 223 Paseo del Pueblo Sur, downtown Taos.

And on August 22 and 23, Dora McQuaid and I will teach “The Alchemical Heart: Writing into the Sacred,” an intensive workshop we organized under the auspices of the Creativity and Consciousness Institute of Taos, a new University of New Mexico affiliate dedicated to education in the areas of creative expression and human consciousness. (Dora and I are both members of the CCI Board of Directors.)

Dora and I are excited to teaching “The Alchemical Heart: Writing into the Sacred” at the historic Mabel Dodge Luhan House, a fabulous 100-year old complex abutting Taos Pueblo Indian land, backing up into a sacred Penitente morada and dense with the creative spirits of D.H. Lawrence, Georgia O’Keeffe and other former denizens of Mabel’s infamous salons. Here’s a fun half-hour interview Dora and I did earlier this week with Jim Ball of Taos’ progressive talk radio station, KVOT-FM: Alchemical Heart & Women in Praise of the Sacred. (It starts at 19:48 minutes in.)

While you’re waiting for the (slooowww) audio clip to load, I’ll leave you with a petite writing exercise: What makes your spirit rise? List ten things.

Now go out and do one. Then come back, pour yourself a cup of tea (or something stronger) and enjoy the radio interview.

(Photo credit: Elaine’s Quan Yin, copyright 2006 by Diana Rico.)

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for whom the bell tolls


Yesterday Dr. Paul Elwood, a renowned new-music composer, champion banjo player, and professor of music composition at the University of Northern Colorado, turned me onto the quirky little comedy Stranger Than Fiction. In the movie Will Ferrell plays a terminally boring IRS agent who discovers that (1) he’s actually the character in a novel being written by Emma Thompson and (2) Emma has plans to kill his character off. Faced with the certainty of his imminent death, Will makes radical life changes in the few days he has left.

Then this morning came the tragic news of the real death of Natasha Richardson, a passionate and gifted actress from a long lineage of passionate and gifted artists. Richardson died after suffering head trauma in a skiing accident. She was 45.

Photobucket Photobucket

Her father, the Academy Award-winning director Tony Richardson; her mother, the actress and activist Vanessa Redgrave; her grandparents, the great actors Michael Redgrave and Rachel Kempson; her husband, actor Liam Neeson–these people have given the world so much. The wordARTist is struck by the shocking suddenness of Richardson’s passing, especially immediately after having watched Stranger Than Fiction.

What would you do differently if you knew you were going to die tomorrow? Why not do that now? Hardly new questions, but ones that we do well to remind ourselves of in moments like this one.

(Photos of Natasha Richardson from Photobucket.com.)


in other words

Books in Guatemala (copyright 2007 Diana Rico)

As a writer, the wordARTist never fails to be amazed and heartened by the power of story. In today’s New York Times, an article titled “Read a Book, Get Out of Jail” tells of the program Changing Lives Through Literature, “an alternative sentencing program that allows felons and other offenders to choose between going to jail or joining a book club.” This sounds flip, but one study showed that program participants had half the recidivism rate of a control group. It costs $500/year per head, versus $30,000/year for incarceration. And can we even begin to measure the internal impact that reading and studying the written story might have on the incarcerated?

The probation officer begins by telling participants that “this program isn’t a miracle,” but it works in mysterious ways…. Searching for terms to explain the mechanism by which literature “changes” readers, participants come up with “turning points,” “epiphanies,” even “grace.” “When it’s working,” [program founder and English professor Robert] Waxler says, “this discussion has a kind of magic to it.”

Of course it does. Love is magic, and I believe stories, at their best, are a form of love. “Sometimes a person needs stories more than food to stay alive,” says the character Badger in Crow and WeaselBarry Lopez’s fable inspired by the stories of the North American Plains peoples. “That is why we put these stories in each other’s memory. This is how people care for themselves.” And the great Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield, in his book The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness, and Peace, tells this remarkable story about stories:

In the Babemba tribe of South Africa, when a person acts irresponsibly or unjustly, he is placed in the center of the village, alone and unfettered. All work ceases, and everyone in the village gathers in a large circle around the accused. Then each person in the tribe speaks to the accused, one at a time, recalling the good things the person has done in his life. Every experience that can be recalled with detail and accuracy is recounted. All his positive attributes, good deeds, strengths, and kindnesses are recited carefully. This ceremony often lasts for several days. At the end, a joyous celebration takes place, and the person is symbolically and literally welcomed back into the tribe.

The astonishing power of story. How will you use it today?

(Photo: My and Lily’s Beds in Guatemala, copyright 2007 Diana Rico.)


try a little tenderness

There Is Still Time (copyright 2007 Diana Rico)

This gentle sign sat at the entrance to the adobe casita I lived and wrote in at the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation last year. The Wurlitzer is a magical place, a colony where fortunate artists are gifted with the time and space to work–or not–in whatever way they deem best. There is no pressure to do anything at all, just a nurturing environment of total support and acceptance. 

We all need that, don’t we? And what’s important to know is that we can give it to ourselves

Last week the wordARTist taught a workshop called “Delving into My Artist’s Statement” to a group of painters, printmakers and photographers at the Taos Artists Organization. I know, from talking with many artist friends, that the task of writing the artist’s statement often raises fear, anger, resentment, confusion and just plain blockage in people who are accustomed to working in the purely visual realm. And so we took a few deep breaths together, and then we dove in.

First, I had them write a list: “10 Reasons Why I Don’t Have to Write an Artist’s Statement.” I think it’s very important to give yourself permission not to do something that is torturing you. The critical voices inside our heads can be cruel, especially the voices saying “SHOULD” and “MUST” and “YOU’RE BAD IF YOU DON’T.” Let’s introduce some tenderness, shall we?  Tenderness leads to self-love, and self-love is a key to unlocking the creative spirit.

We read the lists out loud, and of course common themes emerged: “I shouldn’t have to explain my art,” “I don’t know what to say,” “I don’t want to tell people how to look at my art,” “I hate to write.” The room was filled with tension as the artists spewed their negative feelings onto the page and into the room. Good. The wordARTist believes in getting all that internal poison OUT, so that it stops killing you at the root.

Then I talked to them about how an artist’s statement helps me, as a viewer, understand what I am looking at and deepens my experience of an artist’s work. A well-crafted artist’s statement opens a doorway, leads an audience into a unique world. In writing their artists’ statements from a place of loving kindness, they would be holding out a helping hand to all who might potentially benefit from seeing their work.

Next I asked them to write another list: “10 Reasons Why I It Would Be an Act of Self-Love to Write My Artist’s Statement.”  

Shoulders that had been scrunched up visibly relaxed. Arms that had been clutched in front of chests unfolded and opened. The air became warm. Gentleness settled in. As they shared their second lists, their voices rang out strong: “I need an artist’s statement to approach galleries with.” “It feels good to tell people what I’m trying to accomplish with my art.” “I feel empowered taking charge of my career.”  

They spent the next two hours excitedly writing out answers to questions I posed about their work, brainstorming the raw materials that would become their artists’ statements. The floodgates were open; it was hard to get them to stop. And amazing, moving, to see the joy that had replaced the tension in their faces. 

That sign in front of my Wurlitzer casita had a similar effect on me; it never failed to reassure me. Sometimes these days, when I’m hearing the cruel, judgmental voices in my own head, I remind myself of those heartening words. And recently I got to meet the woman who had put it up, a writer named Susan Varon. Susan is an ordained interfaith minister; she marries people. She bills herself as an “Officiant of Love.” She talks about a wedding as “a divine collaboration” with “the power of Love in the universe.”  

Isn’t that what artmaking is? The next time you’re blocked or scared or just struck dumb, pose yourself these questions: What can I do to be an Officiant of Love to myself? How can I bring a little tenderness to bear, in this situation, right now?

(Photo: There Is Still Time to Do Good Things, copyright 2008 Diana Rico.)


“journaling” is not a verb form…yet

cover by Cody Hudson (copyright 1000 Journals; courtesy Someguy)

The wordARTist was excited to learn about 1000 Journals, the brainchild of a San Francisco-based graphic designer who modestly calls himself Someguy. Dude leaves blank 220-page journals with stamped instructions inside (draw, paste, cut, rip, fold, burn, write, sew on its pages) in a variety of locations. People who find them follow said instructions and come up with fantastically creative visuals and word-musings, then pass them on by hand or mail or whatever to the next potential artist.

spread from 1000 Journals (copyright 1000 Journals; courtesy Someguy)   spread from 1000 Journals (copyright 1000 Journals; courtesy Someguy)

Journals have been hidden in a cave, left in a lost and found, abandoned in an airport, and become part of a treasure hunt. They’ve traveled by air, sea and land through 50 states and 40 countries. Sort of like the gnome in the film Le Fabuleaux destin d’Amélie Poulain (come to think of it, another great example of the wordARTist’s Theory of the Power of loveART).

spread from 1000 Journals (copyright 1000 Journals; courtesy Someguy) spread from 1000 Journals (copyright 1000 Journals; courtesy Someguy)

If you happen to be in San Francisco between now and April 5, 2009, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art has an exhibit of the 1000 Journals. But don’t be sad if you can’t get there; Chronicle Books has also published a book condensing some of the most groovy of the journal entries.

spread from 1000 Journals (copyright 1000 Journals; courtesy Someguy) spread from 1000 Journals (copyright 1000 Journals; courtesy Someguy)

I love these covers by (left to right) Craig Frazier, Gary TaxaliMichael Mabry and  Simone Legno  (they have fabulous websites, too):

cover by Craig Frazier (copyright 1000 Journals; courtesy Someguy) cover by Gary Taxali (copyright 1000 Journals; courtesy Someguy) cover by Michael Mabry (copyright 1000 Journals; courtesy Someguy) cover by Simone Legno (copyright 1000 Journals; courtesy Someguy) 

The wordARTist proposes that we follow the lead of Someguy and keep the spirit of 1000 Journals going. Quick, tell us right now: What would YOU do if you found a blank journal at a gas station or in the frozen foods aisle or in your favorite café, with instructions inside to make it into an objet d’art? Heck, if you feel so moved, go ahead and make something and send the wordARTist .jpgs. I’ll post the best ideas and images. Let’s spread the loveART!

(All images copyright 1000 Journals/courtesy of Someguy. 1000 thanks.)


jane fonda is blogging

acting, art, creativity, theater,writing

Jane Fonda is blogging. At the age of 71. In New York. While she prepares to go on stage in her first Broadway play in 45 years, 33 Variations, by the Venezuelan director-playwright Moisés Kaufman.

This may or may not mean anything to you. It fascinates me because I am in the peculiar position of being one of her biographers. In 2000 I produced, directed and wrote the two-hour E! True Hollywood Story: Jane Fonda. As a biographer, one gets to know people in a weirdly intimate way; it’s a relationship like no other. You’re not friends with the person (though you might become one), but you develop a wider and deeper overview of their lives than probably any of their friends or family members do. (An awful lot of what you discover ends up on the cutting room floor, but it also stays in your brain and your heart, and forever informs your understanding of their character.) And if you have some kind of intellectual or emotional connection with the person’s story, it can be an expansive experience of the most profound sort. This is, after all, why we read and watch biographies, and why some of us write them.

Anyway, I bring up Jane’s blog for several reasons. First of all, as an artist she’s not scared to say she’s scared. She is acutely vulnerable, sometimes unsure of herself, sometimes triumphant as she goes through the difficult, fascinating creative process of embodying her character and helping the play on the page come to life. This is what she has to say about her character, Dr. Katherine Brandt:

I play a musicologist of today who is obsessed with figuring out why Beethoven, at the height of his powers, spent 3 years writing 33 variations on a mediocre waltz written by a music publisher in 1819. My character is passionate in her quest for understanding and it’s a race against time for her to get a paper written on the topic and delivered to a conference because she is sick. Beethoven (who is also a character in the play) is also obsessed with finishing the variations because he is becoming deaf. Obsession, passion…these are things I love in life– the fact that people can grow old and become sick and yet their passions remain undimmed.

And think what you will about Jane Fonda (I’m not going to get into politics here–though she does, on her blog), she is someone who is always testing new frontiers. I personally am glad she’s on the planet, as a role model for women and girls and as an example of how to live one’s “third act” (to use her words) in a vital, engaged way. 

I recommend checking out her blog if you’re at all interested in the subtleties that go on in an artist’s brain and soul during the creative process. She tracks this daily, with her customary considerable frankness. 

Applause, applause.

(Photo of Jane Fonda from Photobucket.com.)


welcome to the loveART blog

Creativity is ecstasy. Participate.

heartchalk (copyright 2008 Diana Rico)

The loveART blog is the brainbaby of Diana Rico, a.k.a. the wordARTist. (If you want to know bio-type stuff, here’s a whole splendid website, and another, and yet more.)  But enough about me. What I’m really interested in is building a space for musings (mine and yours) about the nature, the purpose, even—dare I say it—the holiness of our creative impulses as human beings. 

I think the best way to launch this blog is to let the words of the Beat bard Allen Ginsberg ring out loud and true. This is from a 1968 interview (remember, it was the eve of Nixon’s election and the depths of the Vietnam War):

Life should be ecstasy. We need lifestyles of ecstasy and social forms appropriate to whatever ecstasy is available for whoever wants it…. We need a million children saints adept at high unhexings, technological vaudeville, rhythmic behaviors, hypnotic acrobatics, street trapeze artists, naked circus vibrations—magic politics to exorcise the police state.

These pictures are of a comparsa I got to participate in while living in Guatemala a couple of years ago. An arts collective called Caja Ludica had spent a week working with children who had been displaced by Hurricane Stan, making masks and costumes, creating dances, learning songs, and planning their parade route through the streets of Panajachel. This was the joyous result. (You can click on the images to make them bigger.)

Please, do share with us: What kind of high unhexings, technological vaudeville, and/or naked circus vibrations are you engaging in in your life these days? Or would like to be?

(All photos copyright 2006-2008 Diana Rico.)