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Archive for the ‘Reflections’ Category

The fact is, I write every day – I journal – but I miss writing. I want to say “real writing”, the kind that isn’t just one’s personal ups and downs, the efforts to figure things out, the daydreams and fantasies. (Because none of that is real, right? Haha.)

Maybe a year ago, needing to become more active on social media to promote my children’s book, I discovered Instagram. I love IG because it feeds the visual aspects of my heart, my mind, my soul in a very different way than writing does. So I’ve been hunkered down over there for a bit. (Please come visit me on Instagram @jeannebalsam )

An extremely simple example of AI art using Midjourney and the prompt “A swimming pool filled with stars on a moonlit night.” Image courtesy Wikipedia

And what have I found? A community of children’s book people, an immense amount of positivity, and an endless treasure trove of art that is firing up my brain. Some of it is illustration, some is videos/reels, but a great source of fascination is the AI art (Artificial Intelligence) – see above. People using programs such as Midjourney are creating often fantastical images, but to my mind, I see magic.

I love that in every way – art, writing, music – and it seems that some magic is calling to me. I want to be where the magic is, for it to take me and my art to some new, unexpected places. It sparkles.

Still, I miss writing. I feel like I am being readied for some new union between word and image. After being absent for a bit, I also miss my friends here on WP who inspire me, too. (But I’m getting to you …)

Where is your magic? Is it dancing? Is it calling you?

A little inspiration of late – 51 minutes of uninterrupted beautiful music that fills me with dreams. Maybe you, too.

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It seems that the holidays feel different every year. It’s not a matter of growing older, but maybe of seeing the world through different eyes.

Some years have seen good-sized gatherings, some years, small and intimate ones. Some years bright and merry, others quiet. There have been years where gift-buying was a big deal, others when it barely mattered at all. Years with COVID in play, years not.

The common thread? Change. Everything is always in motion, including how we spend our holidays, where, and with whom.

The other thread? Feeling grateful … for all the experiences the holidays have brought, and those they will bring.

Here’s hoping that you will not get lost in the rush, but lost in the peace, joy, and sweet calm of the season. I’ll be joining you for these.

It wouldn’t be the beginning of December if I didn’t mention that I have adorable Frenchie items for sale in my Etsy shop, or that my magical and beautiful picture book, Where Do Butterflies Go at Night?, would make a great Christmas gift.

Cheers!

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Life can be so unexpected. It can try and tear us down, or it can surprise us with the most unanticipated gifts.

I believe that the more gifts we hope for, look for, and dare to expect, the more we will receive.

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More and more I realize how everything we choose is moving us forward on our path. Whether it’s who we meet, what we read, what we listen to, where we go, what we dream about … it’s all moving us forward and serving our mental, spiritual, and emotional evolution.

For example, this month, I have committed to Inktober, an October challenge to create a new pen and ink drawing each day and post it on Instagram. I am sharing four with you, but I have faithfully drawn every day. I’m using this to get my creativity going, to get the feeling of what it’s like to draw on a regular basis, plus I love pen and ink. There are things I plan to do, and Inktober appeared to me. Right on time.

I have been trying to see more art, and have finally been able to get back to Grounds for Sculpture, a 42-acre outdoor museum for contemporary sculpture and arboretum. I’ll share a few of the beautiful pieces i saw …

And when I can’t get out to see art, I am finding it online, especially on Instagram. Instagram, of all social media, is highly visual and a great fit for me as an artist, photographer, and illustrator. But it has also been a constant source of positive and inspiring messages that uplift my mind and spirit, and I try to share them with whoever stops in and visits me. If interested, I am @jeannebalsam.

In reading, we also grow. I have picked up four books recently, and left off on three – I chose them at one time, but they are not where I am now. The fourth, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, is written in letters back and forth between characters in the years following WWII, and about how life was affected in the Channel Islands by the German occupation. It’s rich and funny and heartfelt, and also about how reading connects us all. It received unanimous glowing reviews. Go look; it’s excellent.

And music – finding and listening to new, all that speaks to me now. Music is so healing, whether music for meditation or Indie/pop, whatever it is, keep music in your life. And dancing … mostly in the kitchen, to my phone. It makes me happy. Tried it?

When I don’t post for a while, it does become an epistle, so I’ll leave you here with the thought to remember to feed your life well in all you do. And also a video – Dancing with My Phone. This is from HYBS, a duo you will see in the odd (and inexplicable to me) Christmas moment. I hope it makes you smile … and turn up your phone.

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“We’re all just walking each other home.” ~ Ram Dass

I had this quote in a draft. This is all there was. I loved it then and I love it now, and it’s a good way to start anything.

While I am working on a few things to grow my life, my income, my everything, I am also looking at writing again. Here is my PiBoIdMo book (Picture Book Idea Month). It is now called Storystorm, and was created a number of years ago by Tara Lazar. Participants are challenged to write one picture book idea every day for a month. It’s more extensive than that, but that’s the idea.

Inside that notebook are 4 months worth of ideas (120!), some great, some not so much. But it’s a good hopping off point. Stuffed into the inside cover are more ideas that I ripped out of journals, jotted on notepaper, etc. All grist for the mill and all simmering on my back burner. (If you’re looking to get back into writing, I highly recommend this- very motivating!)

And I am reading. Some mythological creatures have recently gotten my attention. The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker is a fascinating and excellent read, as it is both historical fiction and its main characters are … a golem and a jinni. It primarily takes place in New York City, mostly the Lower East Side and Little Syria, at the turn of the century.

This has inspired me to begin American Gods by Neil Gaiman, always an excellent writer. We have more unusual characters among the humans, a journey through, and a hard look at, “the soul of America”, according to one review.

And drawing … not much, but a start. And so goes my creative life … how’s yours doing?

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A number of months ago I found myself sketching an angel, but not just any angel. I had drawn a stone cemetery angel. Not too much later, I drew another, below.

I have always been fascinated by the amazing angels that one finds in cemeteries. To me, they’re just beautiful and are so expressive. Sometimes holding the child who’s buried below their feet, sometimes quietly sad, and sometimes they are weeping in unutterable grief.

These angels are found all over the world, but, in my research, I find the greater majority seem to be in western Europe. When I worked in publishing some time ago, we put out a magazine called Camera Arts. They did an extensive, full color photo essay on angels in graveyards and cemeteries, many in Italy, and the extent to which these statues were carved and detailed was mind blowing.

As my life has been undergoing many changes, I want to return to drawing. For me, the best way to do that is just draw something – anything – I’m interested in; if these magnificent stone angels are calling to me, then I should draw them. As I posted the drawings on Instagram, I found people with a similar interest who also provide a rich resource of subject material. There I even found a cemetery angel who did not have wings (above.)

As I looked further, I found that angels might even be animals, like this heartbroken lion in California. And so I draw, “keeping my hand in”, as they say, re-familiarizing myself with that part of me that didn’t have much reason to express itself. And now it does. I don’t know where any of this will take me; I’m simply grateful to be finding myself again.

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Sometimes it’s hard to know what to write when a month or two has passed. It’s not that I don’t have something to say – I am never at a loss for words – maybe how much to say? Or how to put it?

I’m moving into a new phase of my life. It began last November when I chose to leave the organization and work that I have done for over three decades. It was the right time and the right choice for me. I am grateful for the opportunity to have saved many thousands of lives and raised many millions of donation dollars for this organization. It was wonderful. But now, I have other things to do.

Almost all work in my life has involved healing others, whether humans or animals. I believe it’s why I’m here. I recently spent a period of time needing to take care of and healing myself after some medical procedures and the accompanying stress, but I feel myself pulling away from that period now and re-focusing on where I’m going.

In a sense, it’s a question of `what do I want to do/be when I grow up?’ from a whole new perspective. It’s challenging and occasionally a little frightening, but I feel myself, from someplace deep inside, starting to gather strength. And I am seeing myself unfolding in ways that would not have been possible those three decades ago. And it’s all good.

My first children’s book is now released, and I will be promoting that and hopefully, meeting lots of excited kids and more. I am soon starting some workshops in helping people self-publish, and plan on advancing other graphics skills I have to help people. How this will all come together is still unknown, but I trust it will be exactly as it should be.

One gift I have been given and which inspires me is, believe it or not, Instagram. I am an artist, but also a photographer, and have loved taking pictures all my life. Now I have the opportunity to be yet more inspired and post my images. All my life, I have also loved music, and over the last 7-8 months or so, this has been expanded immensely. And for a major portion of my life, I have loved going to museums, and recently I have been inspired to get out more, once again, and see art, which feeds my soul. And to do my own art, however that seems to be making itself known, and surprising me as much as anyone.

Some days feel a little shaky, occasionally outright scary, but others are just glowing with promise. All is well.

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We are all challenged in so many ways nowadays – every single one of us on this planet. Some days more, some days less. I wanted to make a meme that might touch everyone, and would give you hope, some encouragement, no matter what you are dealing with today. Here’s what I came up with.

Does this work for you?

And then … a note on social media, that ever-hungry, (sometimes) beast that would like to devour our time. But here’s something I really like about it, particularly on Instagram. I am finding so much new music to love, thanks to people I follow who share it on posts and reels.

That I am being exposed to music in different genres, from different cultures, in different styles – it just makes my heart sing. The following is one of the loveliest pieces I have heard in a while. I guess you would call it folk/pop (?), and the song is “Bloom” by Lullanas. Thanks to @sawsanakar for opening my ears and heart to this piece. I hope you enjoy it.

May you be well, looking forward to an enjoyable weekend, and maybe just a little inspired.

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It was a gorgeous, sunny, spring day, so I decided to get out and take a walk down to the river. I was pleased to find that the dead brush had all been cleared. Now I could easily cross the overgrown and abandoned train tracks to the top of the steep incline that slides down to a plateau approaching the river.

I was even more pleased to see that someone had put in some makeshift stairs on that slope, and I could now walk up to the water’s edge (and a good drop.) But something else was different. There was a walking path going north and south, paralleling the river. And while I took some photos, I watched someone hiking south on it. This was new, and I loved it.

It wasn’t an “official” path, but worn enough that it could easily be followed. I don’t know its starting or ending points, but that people could walk the river just made me real happy.

Meanwhile, it was my plan to walk north, check out the Delaware from the bridge, and see how spring was looking in our town. There were lots of cherry trees in bloom, red maples, tulips, and other plants and trees coming into flower.

I don’t know what these large, soft, fuzzy buds will bring, but I love them — like small, alien creatures reaching out to greet me as I pass by.

A view of the bridge from the greening trees near its approach. Soon these trees will fill out and the bridge will become invisible.

White-barked trees, likely sycamores, at the water’s edge are just coming into leaf. Looking north, the river seems endless on this sunny day.

Just a stone’s throw from the bridge, and with a gorgeous view of the river for those who come visit, is our town’s lovely B `n B, Chestnut Hill on the Delaware.

Today, I look out my window to quite a different view. Rain has been falling all day and will continue through the weekend. The wind is whipping up and the temperature dropping, but it’s all good. We need the rain, and there are always walks to be had, always changes and growth in the trees, shrubs and flowers to be seen. I am so grateful to live where I do, to have such beauty around me. It is a gift.

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Maybe this should be titled Finding the Unicorn Within. I’m not sure. I do know we all have that uniqueness inside us, that thing that makes us special and rare. Even while we know that at our most essential level, we are all the same.

Adapting to leaving an organization to whom one has devoted so much of her time, life, and energy after 35 years has proven a very different change than I expected. From the still-getting-used-to my not needing to be at my desk at 9 a.m. to the fact that my day is completely mine to structure, to the alarmingly slow realization that my creativity is completely mine to unearth and explore … it’s been a sea change.

I began sorting through years of accumulated work samples, tossing most, saving some, all in the interest of making my work space reflect where I am now and where I am going now. I rediscovered an Inspiration folder that I’d created for ideas, and inside it was a quote that I have always loved. So, as I continue to evolve daily into a newer and brighter self, I share the quote with you, from The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle.

1495-1505 – “The Unicorn Is in Captivity”, one of the “Hunt for the Unicorn” tapestries, housed in The Cloisters, NYC

“It’s a rare man who is taken for what he truly is. There is much misjudgment in the world. Now I took you for a unicorn when I first saw you, and I know that I am your friend. Yet you took me for a clown, a clod, or a betrayer, and so I must be if you see me so. The magic on you is only magic and will vanish as soon as you are free, but the enchantment of error that you put on me I must wear forever in your eyes.

“We are not always what we seem, and hardly ever what we dream. Still, I have read, or heard it sung, that unicorns when time was young, could tell the difference `twixt the two – the false shining and the true, the lips’ laugh and the heart’s rue.”

~ Schmendrick the Magician
The Last Unicorn

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I started taking classes in the writing and illustrating of children’s books many years ago. Actually it was about four years after I graduated from my alma mater, Pratt, where I had also taken advance coursework in art therapy. Not sure how it came to my attention, but suddenly I was at the New School in the evenings, studying with the very well-known author and illustrator, Uri Shulevitz.

I was greatly encouraged by him, and he even sent me to some publishers, my little picture book dummy in hand, (something that would never happen today). I was so young back then, and couldn’t really grasp what it would mean to be a published author and illustrator. As a result, my life took a different path, but it has looped back to where I am now and where I am supposed to be.

Where Do Butterflies Go at Night? is my debut picture book – you’ve seen the cover in the previous post. I have a young, growing, and progressive publisher in Ethicool Books who cares about the issues that matter in the world, and who cares about their authors. They recently did an author’s interview with me, and posted it on their website. I am both honored and deeply grateful that they wrote about me in such a beautiful light, and see in me the woman who also cares about these issues.

You can find the interview here. Thanks for reading and sharing my journey.

My publication date has now been moved forward to June 22, but Butterflies is available to pre-order on bookshop.org, Amazon and Barnes & Noble now.

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Know joy, feel peace, love well, enjoy excellent health … and remember to nurture your dreams in the year ahead.

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