At Home with Story

 I came upon this plen aire painting class on my walk yesterday. Beautiful day; glorious view.

I watched from a respectful distance, noting with interest that the artists leaned on each other for support. They worked systematically, painting their canvases from top to bottom with identical brushes. When they paused, they measured their templated paintings against the scene beyond their easels.

The instructor was genuine in her praise, and while some preferred to work independently, most students seemed to appreciate the occasional redirect.  Their overall objective? To reproduce the painting on the far right, which was itself a reproduction of a rock formation in the cove below.

I related to this scene, for the most part. As a writer and photographer, I’m keenly aware of the techniques that are currently within and beyond my grasp. So I study craft books. I practice something new everyday; and like these artists, I find inspiration in community.

But I’ve learned that it’s far too easy –and dangerous– to focus all our energies on straight-ahead instructions, easily reproduced. F-stops, shutter speed, and the Rule of Thirds are important. Strong verbs, sensory images, and character arcs matter. But I’d never trade away my wide-eyed sensibilities for that muting thing we call “process.”

For me, creativity comes of discovering firsthand a rugged archway–born of earthquakes and raging tides–and chance encounters with the tourists who passed through its frame.  It’s inspired by pelicans that glide silently through the skies,  waves that churn and froth at the shoreline, and salty breezes that tousle my hair.  For me, inspiration happens when I break loose from those soul-sucking musts and shoulds, lace up my hiking shoes, and plant myself in the scene. It’s then, when I finally lose myself in the moment, that I find myself at home with Story.


Finding and Sharing Light


This tiny sliver of sea glass was nestled into a tangle of debris that was tossed ashore during a recent storm. I would’ve walked past it, had it not winked up at me. Showy little thing, it reflected sunlight instead of sinking into the detritus.

I gently scooped it into a seashell, smoothing my fingers over its cool, smooth edges before tucking it into my pocket. In my mind’s eye, I’d already stamped and mailed it off to a special someone who needed a little pick-me-up. But in that moment, I matched my footprints with the incoming waves, filled with the quiet glow that comes of stretching my limbs and breathing deep the cool, fresh air.

Ours for savoring and sharing: these shimmering moments in time. Even in the dark, Nature sprinkles a special brand of magic: Who among us hasn’t been wowed by the silvery moon and starlight? No doubt, we’ll encounter obstacles. We’ll slip and sometimes fall. (Just last week, for instance, I tumbled backward over a seawall. But oh, it was worth it, because I spied an octopus in a shimmering tide pool, on the other side of that ridge.)

I’m thinking about that serendipitous walk again this morning, thinking also about that sea glass heart, a symbol of the affection that flows so easily between friends.  Too, I’m thinking how we can radiate that love into the wider world–candles glowing in our front windows, engaging smiles that light up a room. This, I believe, is the hard/heart work that we are called to do.