Monthly Archives: October 2013

protagonist parting words

So at the end of this month of searching for meaning and purpose, I find myself in Spruce Pine, NC at the end of a mission to visit two very important people. I first stopped in Richmond, VA to see my cousin Dena and her family in and then wandered further up into the mountains to track down this month’s chapter writer Emily Wheat.

I could spend a whole month highlighting all the wonderful making and creating that these two have done in their lives but will simply share these few examples as highlights from these two special birds.


Emily Wheat’s amazing bird costume. “What kind of bird are YOU?”

Both Dena and Emily have played a large role guiding me and helping me to understand what my purpose is and how to articulate it.


For my last creation of the month, I decided to make something for Emily.  I call it the “hunt for meaning”.  This is not an object but more of a journey or scavenger hunt in which Emily will be led to random places around the state of North Carolina to find hidden objects and messages.  I won’t say too much about it here as I would like to leave the adventure a surprise to her. But I think it was while finishing this last act of making for the month when it became clear what my purpose may be.  It simply comes down to two things.

As noted in the very first post of this chapter, my meaning is found in the process of making (or the doing) itself coupled with a specific intention behind the making.

Although, I have spent my life enjoying materials and treasuring artworks and objects large and small, I now find I am drawn not to making these treasures but to developing places, spaces, opportunities, and connections for others to create, care and share their own experiences and talents. That created living shared space or place is the making I want to do or the purpose that I want to pursue.

After making and sending treasures this month, everything from a written letter out of Necco wafers to a headdress out of popcorn to a sea monster scuba mask puppet, I have returned to some conclusions that I think I have  been enacting all along.

1. The meaning IS in the making. There is no meaning or purpose without the act of making or doing itself.  I must continue to engage, play, glue, cut, write, color, photograph, dig, cook, reflect, and connect to continue living fully.

Miss Emily Wheat has set a great example for me and has reflected this fact back to me every day that I have known her.

2. Set your intentions. Reflect what you are. Deciding why I do something and for what purpose seems to lead me closer to where I want to be. By setting an intention I can also set an example for others to find what their intentions are. This somehow feels more important to me than the made object itself and feeds my motivation to continue to create, care, and share.

My cousin Dena has been a great inspiration and example in learning this.

As today, October 31, is a special day for tricks and treats – I am going to stop making for a moment and celebrate this beloved holiday with some wind, witches, walking in the woods , and WHEATIE of course!!

I will leave you with a short message that I left for Wheatie in “the hunt for meaning” and two songs sent to me by the Living Chapters maestro this month that were more than helpful in my own search for purpose.

“There just is no rhyme nor reason – On any day or in any season – To be searching out purpose and/or meaning – When all we need is found in gleaning” –   The Hunt for meaning 10/30/13

The meaning is in the making:

Reflect what you are:


Check out images of the adventures creations made this month on the Chapter 5 Gallery  or on the Living Chapters Facebook Page

Just finding this blog today? Read more about the Living Chapters project here.

making waves

Oxford contemplationPurpose of Easton Point

Last week I had the opportunity to visit with this month’s wild card Doug Sadler on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.  There may not be a better place to contemplate the purpose and meaning of our lives than by the bay, rivers, and streams, on the Eastern Shore. It’s been a couple of weeks now since Doug posed his very simple, yet poignant and thought-provoking questions challenging me to pin-point my purpose.

I haven’t responded in writing until now because I just have not been able to wrap my head around any definite answers to his questions.  However, even unanswered these questions themselves have already begun to make waves in my  life.  Since reading the wild card requests, I have been consumed with dissecting my daily and life intentions. Are my actions honest? Have I been acting and reacting though self-direction or following external pressures? Do my actions add up to an overlying goal or purpose?  Well, I must step back and grant myself a bit of slack here; I think it should take more than a few weeks to figure out or to define this “super objective” as Doug calls it.

During our visit last week, we spent hours crunching on and contemplating the “super objective” question, brainstorming the steps needed to come closer to it. I came away from the conversation without an epiphany but with much more clarity, and many more creative ideas and navigational tools.  As always, I find spending time with a like-minded individual to be valuable and rewarding.  The time serves as an act of reflection itself.  It brings me closer to articulating in words the meaning and intentions behind my involuntary intuitive actions and responses.  That specific space and time spent sharing and reflecting back to one another is definitely a large puzzle piece in picturing what my purpose may be.

On to Doug’s first question, “Define your ‘in the moment’ objective”. What am I attempting to accomplish day-to-day, project by project, minute by minute?

With each object that I created this month, I included a note or letter. In these letters, I wrote to the recipient of the object why or how they have made a difference or impact in my life. What was my intention in creating and sending this to them? My objective was to let those receiving know how they have impacted my life. Expressing myself through  written words in this way was not only refreshing but also came easily, in a way that doesn’t flow freely when speaking in person.  I wrote to many people who I have not over the past few years.

Moving onward to Doug’s second question, “Define your life purpose or super objective”. I tried to apply the same tactics and wrote my thoughts in a paragraph and then condensed it to a sentence and then down to a few words.  I had a hard time separating my personal life goals and my professional life goals. Especially in this time now, when I feel my personal and professional goals are transitioning and changing. I had the best luck looking at where the two overlap and came up with a temporary personal mission statement.

Stay engaged, continue caring, and keep sharing.

I tried it out in my letters to people – and although a statement like this feels a bit forced to me, it somehow does ring true with all that I believe in and have been working toward in my personal and professional world.

Now onto the third Wild Card challenge “ask and receive”.  I feel as though I have taken baby steps in this area, becoming more and more confident as I go with this “ask and you shall receive” territory.  This past year, I feel my “big ask” was to all of my friends who have participated in this Living Chapters project. I asked them to go out on a limb and take a hand in lending some navigational and directional advice for my future.  I asked them to assist in my self-growth and trusted them to guide me gracefully.  This “ask” has already helped me tremendously personally.  I feel like receiving my friends’ contributions and reflections through this process has been an enormous gift that is propelling me forward at a great speed.

The next step though, as another wild card noted in Chapter two, is – what will I do next? How and what will I choose to move forward ?  I think both the “super-objective” question and the “ask and receive” question will really help me focus in on the answer to this question.  And I do think that it will be an examination of both the personal and professional realms.

So with one big personal ask under my belt this year, I have made a pact with myself to make at least one big professional ask before the year is out as well.  Doug’s previous questions have all helped me come closer to devising the next big ask. I am feeling it is time to make a change, one in which I won’t be able to make without support.

Don’t worry Doug I’ll let ya know when I do and it will be big and it will be scary – please do have that beer waiting for me on the Eastern Shore, I may need it.


** Thanks to Doug Sadler for the great reflective photographs of our visit in Easton and Oxford, MD

Just finding this blog today? Read more about the Living Chapters project here.

October Creations

Before this month of making and creating is over, I would like to take the opportunity to share some amazing creations made by the Living Chapters players.  I have been lucky enough to be surrounded by incredibly talented and creative individuals my whole life.  I am constantly inspired, motivated and supported by them. This post features work from the participants who have helped make Living Chapters what it is.
The featured drawing here is from chapter writer Amy Rothstein.  For me this drawing embodies my own feelings about the act of making and creating. I feel it can be a vulnerable, scary, yet sometimes empowering experience. We give life to an idea, or seed – caring for it and seeing it through to its existence and then let it go.  It is a process we all engage in, in some way.  In this post I want to honor those around me who take on this challenge in their daily lives.

Chapter 5 Wild Card: Doug Sadler

In addition to being a great writer and an award-winning film maker, this month’s Wild Card, Doug Sadler, is the creative director for The Pocket Media Group. PMG represents a uniquely flexible model for creative promotion through the development of original multi-media content. Take a peak here to see how PMG’s creative thinking can help promote and connect people to products and ideas.

Chapter 4 Writer: Amy Rothstein

Amy 3Amy 2
This October, Amy has been busy making new artistic works. Below are a few examples: Of her work she says “I make my art to make peace with what I cannot know or understand.”
Amy 1

Chapter 4 Wild Cards: Agnes and Grace Lichtner

Olive Oil costumeGraces friendship bracelets
This October Agnes has been creating costumes and treats for the season. Check out her “Olive Oil” costume above and her creepy and gross party snacks of chocolate mice and turds! Her daughter Grace has been busy making new friends by making friendship bracelets.
Outside of Agnes’s festive and creepy creations, She has been developing EYE-C (Enhance Your Existence Center) A life nurturing network that offers information about educational and experiential opportunities for developing and enhancing your limitless potential for healthy living. If you are interested in learning about holistic and healing arts visit her emerging collaborative organization here.

Chapter 3 Writer: Andy Cook

You may have learned a bit about Andy’s passions for environmental issues through the “Cap and Trade” challenges he posed in chapter 3 of Living Chapters this past summer.  Please take a peak at his new web series “Greater Yield” to see how Andy is using his creative talents to educate and inform larger audiences about these issues.
Greater Yield is a web series for CoLab Radio aimed at exploring the myriad benefits of urban agriculture in cities throughout the U.S.  Using video, photography, and writing, the series highlights urban agriculture projects that are tackling challenges as diverse as public education, neighborhood revitalization, green job growth, and public health.  The series also includes perspectives from multiple experts in each subject, to give a holistic sense of how urban agriculture is changing life in our cities beyond simply how we eat.

Living Chapters Project Manager: Moira Fratantuono

group 2 samanround 1 preg
When Moira is not organizing or creating spaces for others to be creative and make connections, she is working on independent creative projects of her own. She recently started to work on a series of photos/essays that explores themes of identity for first and second-generation Americans.
The goals of her latest exploration “Dual Identities” are to move past sterilized political debates over immigration. The project focuses on the personal experiences of individuals whose citizenship redefines what it means to be “American”.
Moira is currently working on developing content for a blog that will feature a new story each week. She is now looking for participants to be interviewed as a part of this project. Are you someone who could represent the immigrant experience? If you would like to participate or know someone who would, please contact Moira through the Living Chapters Facebook page or!
You can view more of the here: Dual Identities.
I thank all of the Living Chapters participants for sharing their works of creation this month.  If you have any questions about any of these projects or want to get involved please do not hesitate to contact them through me here on the Living Chapters blog.
Just finding this blog today? Read more about the Living Chapters project here.

make a donation

In the beginning of the month, I made the confession that I was struggling with my storage space filled with the aftermath of 36 years of a creative existence.  I have been digging through the piles of created objects and materials to create objects for the past 20 some days and finally feel as though I have made a dent in lightening my load.

If you are like me and spend any time making or collecting created objects, you may understand the sense of sentimentality I hold in relation to these objects.  The images, cards, sculptures, letters, and artworks hold not only memories but all the intentions that were born when the object was created.  The object itself is merely just a reminder of the meaning it holds and I am slowly finding new ways of holding onto the memories while letting  go of the objects themselves.  Finding new homes for these things and good ways to part with them has been a helpful process.  Emily’s suggestion of sending the objects I have been making each day off to those that have made an impact in my life has been a great practice in letting go in a way that feels good.  While I am on a roll of letting things go – I decided to head back to the storage unit.

This weekend, I focused on letting go of the easy things – the non-personal objects, clothes household items, decorative things, books etc.

A friend of mine reminded me that The International Rescue Committee in Baltimore City is currently doing a winter clothes drive.  They are also collecting household supplies for newly arriving refugees to use in their new homes.  The thought of my stuff (that is now collecting dust in storage) being used in a new home was the perfect motivation to let go of an entire car load of things!

Then I moved on to the boxes of books – books even heavier than the boxes of rocks I had been carrying for years.  Books, although beautiful objects that I adore and love to see lined up on bookshelves, are really made to be shared and passed on – The Book Thing in Baltimore was created just for that purpose alone.  In the spirit of lightening the load and letting go, I donated 80% of my book collection to The Book Thing (in which many of them originally came from)

If you are like me and have unread books, unused goods, or clothes that you don’t wear in your basement – please consider letting them go.  These things can have a second life, bring someone else joy and empty your storage unit that you may be paying rent on! All win-win scenarios.  Visit both the IRC and the Baltimore Book thing with your donations or if you are not in Maryland or in the Baltimore area, find a local place that does great work in your community and make a donation.

My work is not over yet though – I am heading back to shed some more stuff this next weekend. I am still left with stacks of photographs and boxes of random artwork. Again, like clothes not being worn or books not being read. What is the purpose of an image if it’s wrapped up in paper and stored in a dark place.  This past weekend I started the process of finding homes for my more than 60 framed photographs.

I am donating one series to the Reginald F. Lewis Museum and donating other individual pictures to friends who would like to have them on their walls.

I am currently searching for a non-profit organization to donate a few other series of photographs to. Below are some examples from the “Speaking of Silence” series, the “From Where we Are” series and the travel documentary Asia series.

Please help by making suggestions on where I may be able to a find new homes for these series of images.


Just finding this blog today? Read more about the Living Chapters project here.

October Writer Response: Emily Wheat


After reading Beth’s response to my challenge for this month, I felt inspired by the image she posted of the ghost that has been living in her car. Eventually these guys will journey around the country, spreading Halloween joy, but for now they are strung across my room.

wheatie ghosts

wheatie puppets

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to an Adventure Time themed party. Not knowing what Adventure Time was I googled images and immediately knew I needed to make finger puppets of the characters. Hopefully the Birthday Boy likes his gift! I think that they turned out pretty cute.

wheatie leaveswheatie prints

As an art teacher I spend a lot of time creating projects and prepping materials. One of my current jobs is teaching art once a week at the local Montessori school. Last week we made gelatin prints, which turned out to be a joyful experience resulting in some beautiful prints.  These images show the process I go through on a weekly basis to make examples of the project and collecting materials.


I decided to make some cards using Styrofoam printing plates and while I was searching for some materials I came across this plate of a skeleton that I created last fall. I made it just around this time last year in an attempt to create something to celebrate my grandfather who passed away a several years ago.  I say attempt because like many projects that I start I didn’t ever do anything with the plate. I’m thrilled about the prints (which some people will receive in the form of cards) and want to share a little about why I was so inspired to create this imagery in the first place.

As Beth has pointed out we share a deep love for Halloween. Part of this love has to do with my fascination with skeletons and the depiction of them functioning as if still living.  For this reason I was looking at a lot of art centered around Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead, last year and wanted to create a piece of my own that would allow me to celebrate my grandfather, someone who has had a profound impact on my life.

My grandfather, Al Nolin, was a man who was always making something new or changing something that already existed. My childhood was spent visiting his ever-changing wooden deck that transformed the back yard into a terraced wonderland. When I was young he sculpted a life-size horse on the basement wall, later deciding to chisel it off due to a leg that wasn’t quite right. He was a man who did as he pleased, living his life the way he saw fit. He constantly challenged people to embrace who they were rather than allow someone else to define them. Not only with his words, but through his actions he inspired me to be a maker of things. His lifestyle and his attitude have influenced me in more ways than I can know. Honestly, sometimes this influence seems like a curse as he was a fairly stubborn man, but I am grateful to have shared part of my life with such a talented and passionate individual. This year has been spent celebrating the life of a loved one lost and remembering that Dia de los Muertos is not about mourning the passing of those folks but remembering the lives they lived.

Our protagonist has also been thinking about her grandfather this month. Here is something she made for him.

Here are a few other things she has been making this month – check out the Living Chapters Facebook page to see more of the making this month!


Just finding this blog today? Read more about the Living Chapters project here.

October: Wild Card


It’s a sunny October day in New York city – delightful, peaceful, remarkably warm … but Beth Barbush is in my brain!  She’s filling the space with a swirl of ideas, an inspiring sense of possibility and idealism, frenetic, infectious creativity and a kooky sense of humor.  But why is she in my head, what is her purpose, and by extension, what is mine? Man, October seemed so far away when I signed up for this!

Okay, purpose and meaning … big ideas, big questions … all Barbush. Seeking safety in words, I pull out the dictionary (an actual paper one):


1) an object to be attained; a thing intended 
2) the intention to act 
3) the reason for which something is done or made.

Ah, ‘the reason for which something is done or made’!  I was struck by the elegance and simplicity of the chapter Emily Wheat wrote for Beth this month, including as it did contemplation (a walk in the woods), joy (treasure a day) and a core focus on creativity and giving (create something every day). But two weeks in, I think some deeper exploration of the ‘the reason for which something is done or made’ is in order. Not to justify or question the making or the giving, but to open a door to understanding the purpose behind making, giving and inspiring. And perhaps a touch of asking and receiving is in order too.

At the risk of annoying with a detour, let me share just a bit about what I’ve learned, first as an actor and later as a writer about the power that comes from distilling purpose to a sentence. (And yes, for those wishing I’d just get to the list of assignments already, this is one of them). In acting there is the objective (what I want now, moment to moment) and the super-objective (what I want in life / my purpose). In writing, these same ideas are applied to character creation and the purpose and meaning of the story as a whole, often as premise and theme. In story, the more active, idealistic and potentially unachievable the super-objective of a character, the more intensely the character will come alive and the more magnetic witnessing their seeking becomes – we love dreamers and strivers after all.  And, Beth, since you are a dreamer and striver and have cast yourself – literally as The Protaganist – and ‘hired’ (well, you know) writers to write your life script, I want you to engage with the tools and techniques of character and drama to define your purpose.  And I’m including an exercise to build asking and receiving to your repertoire in addition to giving.   Without further adieu, here’s the wildcard:

1)  Define your purpose (in the moment objective) in giving the gifts you make this month to the people you give them to. A sentence or better, a word or two. Include it with each gift. These can be fun, individual, whimsical.

2)  Define your life purpose (life goal / super-objective). Start with a paragraph, get it down to a sentence and ultimately to a few words that ring true … once you’ve arrived consider sharing it to reinforce it, give it power, perhaps as a signature on gifts you give this month, perhaps in other ways …

3)  Ask and receive – It’s easy for artists and creatives to avoid asking for or receiving the help and support they need, whether financial or otherwise. So, as you focus your life purpose, understand that to live up to that possibility you need and deserve support and to get it you must ask for it.  So, this month step out of your comfort zone and ask at least one person or entity for assistance / a gift to forward your purpose. It can be in any life direction – career, personal, whatever, but think big – this should not be small and it should be scary.

So, there you have it Beth. I think I’m within the bounds of wild card to include all this, but if not, well, call the referee, fire me, cancel my check etc. Oh and when you do #3, I will buy you a beer so you can tell me how and where you’re reaching out and up …



Just finding this blog today? Read more about the Living Chapters project here.

make a difference


So as stated in an earlier post, I grew up making things – projects for art class or gifts for my mom.  I spent hours and hours sitting and concentrating, just me, my hands, and some tools and materials.  I only sometimes found the end product to be what I had expected but that didn’t really concern me.  I immensely enjoyed and thrived upon the act of making as if it were my own form of meditation.  It was not until after my college years that I really started to pin-point how this drive and love for making things was going to direct or clarify my purpose in life.  To this day these facts are still being revealed to me in new and surprising ways.

About a week ago I received an email from a woman who worked with me as a volunteer in a youth radio program I was running in Baltimore City.  I had not heard from her since the program ended now almost 4 years ago.  It was a short note just to thank me for the experience she had working with me and also to update me on what she was currently doing. She told me that time working with me was very helpful to her and that she is now teaching theater in non-profits and working toward becoming a youth advocate.  WOW! All that time we spent together in the back room of the neighborhood church trying to keep the 9-12 yr olds from killing each other or burning the place down actually did some good (and still is?)  Just that quick note from her really made my day.  It was really fantastic to hear what she was doing now and that she was still interested in advocating for youth.

It’s not often that we hear or understand what our actions mean to others.  I mean in this case, SHE was helping me, all I did was create a space and role for her to engage with the kids in the program.  I didn’t know she would pull from the experience years later.  Not only did her reaching out make my day, but it she got me thinking again.  Why do I love the act of making so much and what is it that I have been making all these years?

After college I started moving away from making only objects and images, I realized that I enjoyed the space and time of sharing the process of making.  Showing others how to make and creating spaces to encourage others to create, or share something.  Some people may call this “teaching” or “community art” I like to call it spending quality time with people for creative purposes.

This simple email from my former volunteer reminded me that it has been a while since I spent time making with others and creating spaces for people to make.  It reminded me that not only does this process bring me joy and energy but it can also make a difference in other people’s lives in ways I may not ever know.  So in response to her email I decided to start the “Make a Difference Project” as a part of my October making month.

In the “Making a Difference Project”, I filled up a suitcase with a load of the craft supplies (that I pulled out of my never-ending collection in the storage unit) and went back to the streets of Annapolis to find people to make stuff with. I took my things to the busiest place I could find downtown and camped out.  I asked people to “MAKE or TAKE” a free card.  “Make a card or an object for someone you know that has made a difference in your life and send it to them!” was the directive (echoing Emily’s chapter requests).  It was simple and it worked!  Really nice  people came over and sat down on the ground with me and made amazing things!  One boy picked up 2 pencils and started knitting with embroidery thread, one guy painted a landscape for his friend, someone else made “interesting” name tags for her friends to wear, many cards were made and poems were written. For the first day of this – I think it went really well. AND I had a great time and made some new friends! SCORE my task of making something for today was completed.

I challenge you. Who means a lot in your life? Who has made a difference? What would happen if you told them? What would your positive reinforcement help them do?  I dare you to do it and promise…. It will make a difference.


Just finding this blog today? Read more about the Living Chapters project here.