Going native in my own land: my adventures without GPS

I have divorced my smartphone. I no longer have a smartphone, the “i” is back to just me and a retro flip phone that I can barely text on, much less do anything else but talk to someone, which is just fine with me. I was much too addicted to my lovely smartphone – when I found myself checking my email and the Weather Channel at every stop and was obsessing over constant “notifications”, that’s when I called it quits.

So what I do when I go on trips, instead of having a bot talking me through every turn, is print out my Google route beforehand, and paying attention to the directions. Is this more efficient? No, as I’ve already made some detours on trips that took me way, WAY out of the way.

However, I find now that I can finally make it to the vet on my own without electronic assistance, and when traveling through the Appalachians, have learned to look more closely at my directions beforehand, flagging those directions that say, “Continue on such-and-such road”, and “go 52 miles, past a Jack’s on the right”. Now I know that “continue on…” means “don’t get off your current road, no matter what the street signs actually say”, and to keep tabs on my odometer, because there is surely more than one Jack’s on the road on the right and plenty of distractions in 52 miles that will cause you to miss the important cues. Especially, I’ve found, if you find yourself in Tennessee.

Tennessee is three-faced: the good, the bad, and the sublime. The broad, powerfully destructive / tranquilly lovely Tennessee river and other rivers therein. The Smoky Mountains. All the multi-hued green patches of TN river valley with quiet huge shiny gray pockets of industries like Nissan and FritoLay just stitched in here and there in the farmland quilt like they were pieced out to be there. A town like Gatlinburg whose downtown is totally sold out to the entertainment industry (a great place to take your kids!), but whose once-forested hills greenly and somberly showcase rows of tree skeletons after a brutal fire ravaged part of the Smoky Mountains area just a few years ago. Tawdry commercial areas border sites of natural beauty unparalleled in the South. And poverty – well, there’s that. A lot of that. And I haven’t been to Nashville yet, though I did take “Dolly Parton Boulevard” in Sevierville (Parton’s hometown) for a short ways on my quest to find Clingman’s Dome.

Snow wonder

I brought over a lawn chair for my visiting snowman to relax on, and thanks to Google voice recognition translator, I was able to decode most of what the snowman was trying to say. A little snow cat had jumped up on his lap, and helped put him at ease.


“You and I are very different”, he said. “I’ve come a long way and [and here he either said he was staying with his Aunt Attica or he had come from Antarctica – it didn’t help that he talked extremely slow and soft and mumbled half the time]… I’m shivering not because I’m cold, but because I am afraid.” When I nodded sympathetically, he continued, “I shiver when I feel warmth, because I know I’ll start to melt. Melting is not painful, just one never knows when they will appear again, and in what form. My girlfriend from last year might have reappeared this winter as this little cat here – one never knows.”


He went on, “I feel fortunate that I’ve come back in a similar shape as last year, and that I’ve arrived in a yard where people respect me, and don’t just wrap a silly striped scarf around my neck and forget about me.” [here I cringed, because in the past I’ve been guilty of same.]

As this little conversation took several hours to complete, and the sun was starting to take it’s toll on him – I might have thought that it was my imagination if I hadn’t had my Google translator handy – we both called it a day.


“But we both like cats,” he managed to say as I was walking away…


He’s back – the itinerant snowman

I saw him apparently looking up to my bedroom window.


What could he possibly want? I set him up with a nice snow woman last year and they seemed made for each other (see last year’s post “This Really Happened”). Where is she now? What happened?


He is so obviously sensitive to the cold. Look at him, shivering out there alone. Perhaps it’s an existential, rather than physical, cold he suffers from. At any rate, I think I’ll go out there and throw a coat over him and see if I can communicate with him.

snowman-side 2016

Hmmm. He wouldn’t look at me or talk to me or even acknowledge my existence. He just keeps staring at the sky. Bird watching? Or maybe he has an eye on that windvane on my house.

We’ll see what tomorrow may bring. In the meantime, I’ll practice up on my snow dialect and learn the whispers and subtle tinklings that characterize his language, and maybe we can at least exchange basic pleasantries while he is around… (to be continued).


What to Draw: Lesson 2: Set your intention

To those who are practicing their loop-de-loops, bravo! I love you! To those who are not practicing loop-de-loops but are still reading this, I love you too, and will play Words With Friends with you later.

Putting marks down on a piece of clean white paper can be a scary thing at first, so you might pick a piece of lined notebook paper, or a piece of a brown paper bag, or a napkin with coffee rings on it, to start. It can be like finding your way blindfolded through a maze – exhilarating for some; inhibiting, frustrating and even frightening for others. So let me suggest some guidelines:

More warmup exercises

When you really get into a drawing, your breathing deepens, and you feel enclosed in a safe, warm bubble, no matter where you are. Yes, go ahead and say it, mindfulness. Yep. Whatever.

Some suggestions once you’ve warmed up with a few loop-de-loops:

  • Let your hand move like the divining piece on an Ouija board, allowing the pencil or pen to move where it may.
  • Trace a photo. (Check into copyright restrictions if you want to publish your drawing, but it’s okay for practice).
  • Do a contour drawing. Don’t take your eyes off the model while your pencil moves along the outlines. Look down only when you are finished and see a fabulously distorted picture!
  • Experiment with pressure – draw fat and thin lines.
  • Smudge pencil lines with your finger.
  • Tear up your drawing, then use glue stick to paste down the pieces in different ways on another piece of paper.
  • Try something else that you think of.

Set your intention

Let me just say that it is perfectly okay to continue to draw the way you draw right now. What makes you unhappy about the way you draw? Plenty of artists who draw people with large heads and small bodies are quite successful. Do you wish your drawing was more representational, or do you wish to tell a story with your drawings? Do you want to please people with drawings that are framed gifts? Important to identify your intentions, but also know that you can enjoy drawing for the meditative act itself, and that it need not represent (be a symbol for) anything at all. Try setting your intention to “discovery”, and see where it takes you.

Next installment of these lessons will be “What to Draw: Lesson 3: Body and Soul”.

What to draw: Lesson 1: Loop-de-loops

spring loops.jpeg

Often upon finding out that I am an artist, someone will say to me in an ingratiating tone, “I wish I knew how to draw”. This always has had a kind of false ring to me, because if they wanted to draw, why aren’t they drawing, or at least compulsively doodling? Drawing requires doing, and really, it’s not doing much compared to other forms of artistic exertion. All one needs is a pencil and the back of an envelope to get started. So what prevents people from drawing?

Here are my guesses as to why people don’t draw:

  • They think they have to make a masterwork the first time they draw.
  • They are afraid people will laugh at them.
  • They have to clean the house first.
  • They are busy making piles of money doing something else.
  • They really DON’T wish they knew how to draw.
  • They don’t know WHAT to draw.

Why drawing is good for you. Drawing connects your brain to your body. It’s a way of making your own personal discoveries about your world, and every time you make one of those discoveries, your brain gives your body permission to feel good.

The biggest problem I’ve seen beginning artists struggle with is not HOW to draw, as WHAT to draw. They will pick something unbelievably complicated, like a lawnmower, and can’t get past the oil cap, or try to draw a face without first imagining the feeling behind the skin and bone, or draw a cat and try to keep everything perfectly symmetrical. And this causes people to throw up their hands when they are about a minute into it and exclaim, “I can’t draw!”

loopy Ls.jpeg

Start by drawing loop-de-loops. I hear that cursive handwriting is no longer taught in schools. This is a shame, because the fundamentals of handwriting can be applied to drawing. When I learned how to make cursive letters, I was first taught just to practice loop-de-loops. This is a VERY GOOD THING, loop-de-loops, and everyone who aspires to draw should practice them. Big loops, little loops. This liberating exercise is very helpful in relaxing tension and connecting your hand with your brain.

Please tell me – what are YOUR excuses for not drawing?

Next installment of this thread will be “What to draw: Lesson 2: Set your intention”.


Where do they all come from?

Ever since I published that post the other day about the romance between two snow people in my yard, snow people have been springing up everywhere around my house! I don’t know what they want. Maybe my yard has become a dating mecca for snow singles, or maybe they just want their pictures in my blog. Maybe they are just starved for attention. They’ll be gone when it warms up later today – I hope.

They're everywhere.
They’re everywhere now.

Snowperson-pineneedlehair Grasshaired-snowperson Snowperson-stick

This really happened…

Out of the frozen Piedmont of North Carolina, a snowy figure arose and walked and walked and walked, searching for he knew not what, until he finally sat down to rest at the bottom of a driveway in Cedar Grove. He did not question the reason for his existence, he only wished he were not so miserably cold and alone. He hung his head, and studied his breath gently blowing from his mouth in white clouds.

Cold, weary snowman shivers alone.
Cold, weary snowman shivers alone.


Suddenly, he felt a soft touch on his neck, and turned to look into the warm dark eyes of a stranger, yet he knew in his heart that this was his beloved, finding him at last, just as he was about to give up his search. Enjoying the warmth of their embrace, they melted away.

20150228_154958 20150228_155010

The end.