The Tyranny of Busyness

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days.
— Anne Dillard
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Day in and day out I hear how busy everyone is. It’s our national compulsion -- we pack our schedules to the tipping point and then share JUST how insane our lives are, if we have time to do so. Despite all of our invocations to be present, to be mindful, to pursue self-care, to spark joy, our busyness is as pervasive as fake news and addictive as the devices that broadcast it. A few years ago I watched some poor soul drop into torpor as I explained how busy I was. I was not only boring the poor woman to death, but was also self-important in the process. I am quick to identify self absorption in others and was mortified by my hypocrisy. I knew better.

Decades earlier, I was regaling my sister with my schedule over the phone. I had to simultaneously move my studio and apartment; I was preparing for a group show; I had so so many unshakeable engagements; I had an energy suck of a boyfriend. The list went on. I probably implied that I was BUSIER than she was. She waited for me to finish and said: “Until you have your own children you have all the time in the world.” She had three young children and I got the message, but only understood it when I had my own children and was up all hours of the night with a sick child or whiling away hours playing chutes and ladders, or wondering if it should take an hour to get out the door. I never stopped apologizing to her for my impertinence.

It’s a hard habit to break. There is cultural validation in being busy and we have conflated human significance with the intensity of our calendar schedule. From an evolutionary standpoint busyness is not going to grow our brains, or safeguard our health. A packed schedule is not going to amplify our stardust. My busyness is not going to single-handedly save the planet. Do I really care if I’m regarded as a flaneur just because I’m not showcasing my path?

Social media reinforces all this agitation around doing and being. It is easy for all of us — producer and consumer —to be seduced by the filtered images and the airbrushed personas. And many users are driven to achieve goals just to have a viable post on Instagram — setting up a sinister feedback loop. Like most creatives, I use Instagram as a professional enhancement to showcase my studio, to reinforce that I am a working artist. But I also use it to suggest that I’m an interesting and nuanced person and attach many ancillary identities beyond my professional one simply to broaden my appeal. I tell myself that it is all part of the process of the reveal, but that could be a justification for garden variety narcissism.

Marie Kondo’s success as the good fairy of leaner living is no coincidence — the antidote to this first world problem of clutter is simplification. Material possessions are easier to purge than a to-do list but last month I decided to stop riding shotgun down the avalanche. I turned off my phone or programmed it so only my family can reach me when I’m working. I restored my written calendar and put a book back in my purse.I got up earlier. I eliminated social media apps to tackle my addiction to Instagram. I return emails once a day, not all day. I sliced my device time in half. The to do list remains daunting and the email pile grew —I still have to maintain the quotidian. I did realize how much of this “labor” is of my own manufacture, and of my own choosing, and that I need a much better “net for catching days.”


Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and the birthdays of two out of three of my favorite men fall in its wake. One belongs to our son, Duncan, the other to my late father, Henry. I think of Henry and his footprint in our era of belligerence and deliberate ignorance where men like him are scarce. My son reminds me of him -- 

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Postcard from Colombia

“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world. ”

— Gustave Flaubert

I am currently in Colombia with my family cramming as much in as we possibly can between Bogota, Medellin and Cartagena. Traveling tilts you off axis, which to my mind, is a very good thing. Our family becomes more intimate as we push into close quarters, and reliant on each other for company.

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The Mean

"Be generous with your time and your resources and with giving credit and, especially, with your words. It’s so much easier to be a critic than a celebrator. Always remember there is a human being on the other end of every exchange and behind every cultural artifact being critiqued. To understand and be understood, those are among life’s greatest gifts, and every interaction is an opportunity to exchange them." -Maria Popova

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Conspicuous Consumption

This year I want to create more, and consume less. I am a somewhat reformed magpie in terms of material stuff, but I want to address other kinds of consumption -- my constant nose diving into the national news for instance. It’s an addiction that is chomping into my creative life as I scramble to look at the news each morning.  My husband is a writer, and pulled me out of this self sabotage by sharing a snippet from a recent interview.

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One Thousand

One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs,
Or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls.”  Khaled Hosseini 

On the studio walls....

On the studio walls....

I have broken through to the other side and have a thousand followers on Instagram.  It seems like a pyrrhic achievement. What’s the big deal? It’s not the affirmation that people might think I’m cool, successful, hot, or hip. After all, there are plenty of Instagram stars. Taylor Swift probably has the same number of followers as Warren Buffet has dollars. I'm not interested in convincing anyone that my life is glamorous or that my thigh circumference is perfect. My feed is simply about my studio and the visual delights that I stumble into, and  inspire me, and my creative life.  And occasionally, something personal that intersects with my virtual visual cabinet of curiosities. So my pleasure in hitting 1K is about connection to, and with, a creative community  who want to swap images and ideas like baseball cards.

Here is what I’ve observed:

  1. I have discovered that there is a rich community of artists and visionaries that proliferate outside of the sanctioned art world who make exceptional work. Most of them have tidier studios than mine. There are many interesting voices out there that I would otherwise miss. 

  2. I can now toss around phrases like organic reach, influencer and audience engagement with impunity and earn eye rolls from my teenager.

  3. I'm still baffled by the “follow / unfollow” trend!

  4. I'm still baffled by all the thong selfies who follow me -- not a fit.

  5. I’m not sure it's such a good thing to have this quasi literacy, and not, say be fluent in Italian instead.  

  6. Launching on all of these social media platforms takes a great deal of time.

  7. To preserve your time as an artist, you need to consider hiring someone who is a professional in this world. I did this instead of buying likes. My words and images are my own of course, but I would never get anything done as a wife, mother, artist, gardener, advocate, farm manager, writer's residency host,  to name a few, if I had to market and post everything.  If you can afford it, do it. If you cannot, consider a trade or possibly using a virtual assistant! I found Maria Brannon--Lightning Flash Creative, through my friend Sissy Yates and never looked back! She's been my trustworthy spirit guide in this rather baffling social media universe. 

  8. I take the weekends off and observe an internet sabbatical. I found I was getting hooked on the endorphin of being "liked" and this was the remedy.

  9. I have results. I sell a great deal more work than I did out of my galleries or my studio, and so many of my family and friends now understand the extent to which I am a professional since they follow my narrative online.

  10. This process has reinforced my love of writing. I am now writing outside of my journals and have written a book.

  11. Finally, and most importantly, I feel gratitude to all you good people who are engaging with me in a sincere and thoughtful way. I am delighted by it. I really do feel that the world will be a better place if we all tend to a creative impulse. Truly.








Soul Sister

You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp. Anne Lamott
Getting Bunny ears right before getting into my wedding dress. 

Getting Bunny ears right before getting into my wedding dress. 

This Monday marked the second year without Heather.  She was part of my life on this ground for 49 years, and still is, of course, but is now part of an interior landscape of shades, yearning and nostalgia.  A great sister--and mine was--makes you visible, affirms you. Women tend to be listeners -- we listen to our kids, to dinner partners, to the disgruntled parents at school, to the lonely contractor, to the dissatisfied soul at the post office, to the neighbor, to other members of the family. As an introvert with a powerful "look at me, don't look at me" dynamic, this is a safe place, but an isolated one. Heather was the one who listened to me, and was interested in the quotidian details of my life, alongside the more opaque side of my inner life. She was honest when my paintings baffled her, or when I was prone to lazy thinking,  and honest when she thought I was wrong. We would call each other when we were having fat and ugly days, or poor poor pitiful me days, or when we just needed a bitch session. We could move from the trivial to the complex with ease. She would call to ask if my daughter was over a cold, to learn of our son’s antics, what I thought of a particular book or a Krista Tippett interview, or wonder if I was sleeping well since women in our family struggle with insomnia. There was never impatience, just a flow of conversation. And like all sisters, we shared a repository of family lore and drama. My husband is my best friend, but Heather was my North Star.

Initially my loneliness was so acute that I was simply functioning the first year without her.I felt invisible and small. These feelings have morphed, they way they always do, into a gentler, constant current. I eased back into the world of joy and light and delight, but the undertow remains.  As the writer Anne Lamott put it: ”you learn to dance with a limp.”

At a wedding reception in San Antonio

At a wedding reception in San Antonio

When she was diagnosed with cancer, I called her at least once a day.  When I called she would pick up the line and ask, “Is this my daily harassment call?”

“Why yes it is,” I would respond.

And off we’d go. We fell into the good habit of telling each other “I love you” at the close of every call until the cancer moved into her brain and swept away her ability to communicate well over the lines.    

For years, I worried that I loved Heather more than she loved me.  I fretted that she disapproved of my wild child ways, especially when she was grounded in the rigor of parenting small children--we led opposite lives and my freedom might have seemed unearned and carefree, while her domesticity seemed safe, respectable and out of reach. She was an academic, a theologian, and lived in a world of reason. She harvested conclusions with discipline, while my artistic world was more emotional, chaotic and charged, relying on visual cues and sloppy mysticism. There was often no linear progression to my own career as a painter, no tidy accumulation of accomplishments. She harvested degrees like the dedicated academic she was. And though generous of spirit, she was more emotionally reserved and restrained than I. I lean towards impulsive thinking and speech, with a dash of hyperbole. She always took a more disciplined route to her conclusions. When I was young and much more literal, I mistook her reserve, her pointed glance over reading glasses and that wry smile below as a form of censure.  

When my life got upended by autoimmune disease after the birth of my first child, I  finally realized how much her  love bound us, filling in any crack in our differences. Heather went into motion and was my advocate-in-chief.  She coaxed me out of many an emotional mouse hole time and time again.  When we lost our mother, we knew we lost a singular champion. But we still had each other, and we were closer than ever  before. It took many years to really absorb the lesson embedded in poetry, in literature -- in all of the arts: that unconditional love is not evaluated measure for measure,  but is just a constant that we take for granted. That lesson never comes early enough.