Jacki Kellum

Juxtapositions: Read My Mind

Month: April 2017 (page 1 of 2)

Today, I Have 50 Kids Coming to Plant A Children’s Garden – Lord, Give Me Strength

Today is Arbor Day and for weeks, I have known that this would be the day that 50 kids would be coming to the library to help me plant a children’s garden there. With just the thought of it, I get knackered out.

But I’m excited. The weather report is excellent. We should have a warm and sunny day. This morning, I threw open my garden door and allowed the sunshine and fresh, morning air to sweep into the room. It is as though all of the garden gods are with me except one. I’m not twenty-years-old anymore, and this gardening season, I have begun to feel like the sixty-seven-year-old that I am. I know that by the end of this day, I will ache. I will drag into my house and soak in my tub and sleep for hours. Then, I’ll drag myself out of bed, eat something, and sleep some more. That is what it takes for my aging body to continue to do the digging and laborious work that gardening requires, but I still believe that gardening is important, and I especially believe that gardening is important for kids.

Although I am really not a librarian of any type, I have somehow found myself in the position of serving my small, New Jersey Coastal Community as their part-time Children’s Librarian. I have been doing this job for 14 years and I am allowed to weave all types of projects into my library program.  I grew up very differently than kids today are growing up, and my childhood in Southern, rural America was especially different from that of kids living on the East Coast–not far from Philadelphia, Washington D. C. and New York City.  Racing to competitions and sports events has replaced sitting on the porch swing for most kids today, and hardly any of today’s kids know anything about planting and maintaining a garden.

Kids Need to Experience the Wonder of Working in a Garden.

I hear increasing reports of the problems that children are having in school. Children have problems with ADHD, problems with autism, problems with depression, and they are displaying an excessive amount of anger and hostility. On the other hand, I read that children are spending an increasingly large amount of time inside, watching television, playing video games, etc. Research proves that children spend a fraction of the time playing outdoors that their parents did, and other research shows that children are simultaneously dealing with increasingly large problems with obesity, depression, and other emotional issues. Further research proves that all of these problems are connected. The well-being of children is adversely affected by too much time indoors and by not enough time outdoors.

For years, I have wanted to create an outdoor living space at my local library, and this year, I finally got the go-ahead to get that project started. I wish that I were fifteen or twenty years younger, but I am still young enough to meet the challenge.

Today, 50 eager and smiling kids will arrive at my library–with their altar offerings of one perennial to plant each– and we will work together to build our community’s children’s garden.

From that spot, the kids will be able to come face to face with the miraculous journey of a plant’s life, as they watch their own plant unfold and grow in our garden.  I believe in gardening, and I believe in children. I am 67-years-old, and I realize that my gardening days are becoming fewer and fewer. Metaphorically speaking, I have arrived at the autumn of my own life, but because the world continues to make fresh crops of children, I know that spring will continue to come. Here’s to spring and to gardening and here’s to the hope that our children will learn to love our land.

©Jacki Kellum April 28, 2017
Happy Arbor Day


Why Do We Procrastinate? Baby Steps Might Be the Cure

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If you haven’t seen the movie What about Bob?, find it and watch it today. If you have problems with procrastination, watch this wonderful film twice. You’ll probably recognize yourself somewhere in the movie, and you might also see a plausible solution for dealing with procrastination: Baby Steps.

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If you remember, Bob drove his psychiatrist stark raving mad, but before he was committed to the asylum, Dr. Leo M. Marvin had written a book titled Baby Steps. In it, he suggested tackling life’s problems in small, manageable units, rather than trying to conquer them all at once.

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I know that I have problems with procrastination. In fact, when I examine all of my weaknesses, I can probably lump several of them together and file them under one big blanket heading: Procrastination.

  1. Problems with Clutter – Procrastination [I Put Off Throwing Things Away]
  2. Problems with a Dirty, Messy House – Procrastination [I Put Off House Cleaning]
  3. Problems with Weight Management – Procrastination [I Put Off Going on a Diet]
  4. Problems with Making Appointments for Doctors’ Visits, Dentist Visits, etc. – Procrastination [I Put Off Making the Call]
  5. Problems with Tax Season – Procrastination [I Put Off Getting My Taxes Prepared]

I decided that I needed to know more about my problems with procrastination, and I sought information from the website Psychology Today, where I found myself described several times Here:

” Twenty percent of people identify themselves as chronic procrastinators. For them procrastination is a lifestyle, albeit a maladaptive one. And it cuts across all domains of their life. They don’t pay bills on time. They miss opportunities for buying tickets to concerts. They don’t cash gift certificates or checks. They file income tax returns late. They leave their Christmas shopping until Christmas eve.”

Procrastinators tell lies to themselves. Such as, “I’ll feel more like doing this tomorrow.” Or “I work best under pressure.” But in fact they do not get the urge the next day or work best under pressure. In addition, they protect their sense of self by saying “this isn’t important.” Another big lie procrastinators indulge is that time pressure makes them more creative. Unfortunately they do not turn out to be more creative; they only feel that way. They squander their resources avoiding.”

” Procrastinators are made not born. Procrastination is learned in the family milieu, but not directly. It is one response to an authoritarian parenting style. Having a harsh, controlling father keeps children from developing the ability to regulate themselves, from internalizing their own intentions and then learning to act on them. Procrastination can even be a form of rebellion, one of the few forms available under such circumstances. What’s more, under those household conditions, procrastinators turn more to friends than to parents for support, and their friends may reinforce procrastination because they tend to be tolerant of their excuses.”

I am not a lazy person. In fact, I work at one thing or another 12 to 18 hours every day. I laboriously dig in my garden and move mounds of dirt there. I write continuously, and I work hard at finding just the right phrases and words to express myself, but for me, gardening and writing can become ways to procrastinate from doing other things.

“Procrastinators actively look for distractions, particularly ones that don’t take a lot of commitment on their part. Checking e-mail is almost perfect for this purpose. They distract themselves as a way of regulating their emotions such as fear of failure.”

I suggest that all procrastinators read the article at Psychology Today, but I’ll  conclude with this final thought on the issue of procrastination:

“Procrastinators can change their behavior—but doing so consumes a lot of psychic energy. And it doesn’t necessarily mean one feels transformed internally. It can be done with highly structured cognitive behavioral therapy.”

I have decided to try a form of Baby Steps as my own cognitive behavioral therapy. I have begun making a list of things that I need to get done. Initially, when I began the list, my goals were too large and too general for me, the Procrastinator, to manage.

For instance, my messy house is an enormous problem for me, but it would be a mistake to add to my list: “Clean My House.” That goal is gargantuan and too vague for me to actually tackle. Although I have other studios, my bedroom has become my main workplace, but I also cannot clarify my list by simply saying, “Clean Bedroom.” That task is still unmanageable.

I need to break my list into small, bite-sized tasks that can be completed in an hour or less, and then I need to select ONLY one task and complete that one. In an hour or in a day, I need to complete one more task, and I need to continue to move forward until I have completely worked through my list.

To help organize myself, I have decided to keep a daily diary where I keep a running list of things that I need to do. I also want to begin writing morning pages every day, and I am organizing a daily diary type of journal, where I’ll have a form of the following To Do List for each day and the morning pages for that day, too. I don’t consider either of these things to be stuff that I am doing for any type of publication or self-expression. These are simply things that I intend to do to bring more order and functionality to my life. I found the following list online. This one might work for you, too. After I have completed a task on my To Do List, I’ll reward myself by checking that item off my list. You might prefer to give yourself a little smiley face or a star, but I believe that after an item on the list is completed, some sort of reward or ceremony is in order.

As you see below, after merely making my To Do List, I have already earned one star.

Here Is My List of Things to Do This Week Begins:

  1. Make a To Do List
  2. Get Blood Work Done
  3. Call the Family Practitioner for an Appointment
  4. Call the Eye Doctor for an Appointment
  5. Call the Ob-Gyn for an Appointment
  6. Call the Hair Dresser for an Appointment[Two
  7. Go to the Pharmacy – Shock them by picking up the meds that have been sitting there for 9 days.
  8. Paint the Rose Arbor
  9. Re-route the Grapevines
  10. Paint the Grape Arbor
  11. Paint the Hall Wall Going Down to the Art Studio
  12. Paint the Hall Wall Going Up to My Bedroom
  13. Mop the Art Studio Floor
  14. Move One Kitchen Pantry Cabinet
  15. Clean My Kitchen Stove
  16. Clean My Refrigerator Outside
  17. Clean My Refrigerator Inside
  18. Clean Off Dining Room Table – Completely – Leave No Stacks of Anything on It
  19. Clean Off My Credenza – Completely – Leave No Stacks of Anything on It
  20. Wash Sheets and Change Bed
  21. Clean Bathroom Sink Top
  22. Clean Toilets
  23. Mop Bathroom Floors
  24. Fill One Garbage Can with Junk to Throw Away that I Normally Would Not Throw Away. Regular trash does not count. [Two cans gets two listings and two stars]
  25. Completely Organize One Shelf in One Bookcase. [Two shelves gets two listings and two stars three shelves get three stars, etc.]
  26. Fill One Bag for Goodwill. [Two bags gets two listings and two stars, three bags three, etc.]
  27. Sort All of the Fleece Fabrics and Shelve Them
  28. Shelve All of the Cotton Fabrics
  29. Read One Chapter of this Month’s Book Club Book [Each chapter gets a separate listing and a separate star]
  30. Go Cut Bamboo to Create an Obelisk for the Children’s Garden
  31. Go Buy Seed for the Children’s Garden
  32. Plant Seeds in the Children’s Garden
  33. Write Morning Pages  [Each morning page writing session gets a separate listing and a separate star]
  34. Go Outside Somewhere and Write about Something Growing or Flying or Flitting in my Garden, at the Beach, by the Wayside, etc. [Each outing gets a separate listing and a separate star]

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. How do you conquer procrastination? In Baby Steps–One task at a time. How do you stick with your program? One star at a time.

©Jacki Kellum April 27, 2017


Reasons to Write Daily in a Journal – Anaïs Nin, C. S. Lewis, Joan Didion, Franz Kafka, and Susan Sontag Tell Us Why They Wrote in Journals

In her Grasmere Journal, William Wordsworth’s sister Dorothy wrote that Wordsworth often sat in a crude shepherd’s hut or a writer’s hut to write. Wordsworth’s writing huts were little more than a roof and a desk that were beneath a covered shelter, and they had no walls that separated him from nature. The huts were situated in places where he had a natural view and a first-hand experience of his natural environment. Wordsworth clearly wanted to write from a place where he could directly respond to his natural setting, and his intimacy with nature allowed him to have the fodder needed to write authentically and from an immediate overflow of emotion.

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Anaïs Nin also talked about writing authentically–about writing from an overflow of emotion that can result from a first-hand writing after observation.

“You must not fear, hold back, count or be a miser with your thoughts and feelings. It is also true that creation comes from an overflow, so you have to learn to intake, to imbibe, to nourish yourself and not be afraid of fullness. The fullness is like a tidal wave which then carries you, sweeps you into experience and into writing. Permit yourself to flow and overflow, allow for the rise in temperature, all the expansions and intensifications. Something is always born of excess: great art was born of great terrors, great loneliness, great inhibitions, instabilities, and it always balances them. If it seems to you that I move in a world of certitudes, you, par contre, must benefit from the great privilege of youth, which is that you move in a world of mysteries. But both must be ruled by faith.”
― Anaïs Nin, The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 4: 1944-1947

Anaïs Nin recommends that writers keep a journal:

“This diary is my kief, hashish, and opium pipe. This is my drug and my vice. Instead of writing a novel, I lie back with this book and a pen, and dream, and indulge in refractions and defractions… I must relive my life in the dream. The dream is my only life. I see in the echoes and reverberations, the transfigurations which alone keep wonder pure. Otherwise all magic is lost. Otherwise life shows its deformities and the homeliness becomes rust… All matter must be fused this way through the lens of my vice or the rust of living would slow down my rhythm to a sob.”

From The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Volume 1.

“The diary taught me that it is in the moments of emotional crisis that human beings reveal themselves most accurately. I learned to choose the heightened moments because they are the moments of revelation.”

From Nin’s essay “On Writing,” 1947.

“The theme of the diary is always the personal, but it does not mean only a personal story: it means a personal relationship to all things and people. The personal, if it is deep enough, becomes universal, mythical, symbolic; I never generalize, intellectualise. I see, I hear, I feel. These are my primitive elements of discovery.

Music, dance, poetry and painting are the channels for emotion. It is through them that experience penetrates our bloodstream.”
― Anaïs Nin, The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 4: 1944-1947

Monochrome head-and-left-shoulder photo portrait of 50-year-old LewisC.S. Lewis Talks about Keeping a Journal

[About his journal after the death of his wife] “What would H. think of this terrible little notebook to which I come back and back? Are these jottings morbid? Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery’s shadow or reflection: the fact that you don’t merely suffer but have to keep on think about the fact that you suffer. I not only live each endless day in grief, but live each day thinking about living each day in grief. Do these notes merely aggravate that side of it? Merely confirm the monotonous, treadmill march of the mind round one subject. But what am I to do? I must have some drug, and reading isn’t a strong enough drug now.”

From A Grief Observed, by C.S. Lewis

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Joan Didion Tells Why She Writes in a Journal

Keepers of private notebooks are a different breed altogether, lonely and resistant rearrangers of things, anxious malcontents, children afflicted apparently at birth with some presentiment of loss.” From “On Keeping A Notebook” – Slouching Towards Bethlehem

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Franz Kafka Tells Why He Wrote in a Journal

“One advantage in keeping a diary is that you become aware with reassuring clarity of the changes which you constantly suffer….In the diary you find proof that in situations which today would seem unbearable, you lived, looked around and wrote down observations, that this right hand moved then as it does today…..” From Diaries, 1910-1923.

Susan Sontag Tells Why She Wrote in a Journal

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Susan Sontag

“On Keeping a Journal. Superficial to understand the journal as just a receptacle for one’s private, secret thoughts — like a confidante who is deaf, dumb and illiterate. In the journal I do not just express myself more openly than I could to any person; I create myself.

The journal is a vehicle for my sense of selfhood. It represents me as emotionally and spiritually independent. Therefore (alas) it does not simply record my actual, daily life but rather — in many cases — offers an alternative to it.

From a December 31st entry in her journal, as printed in Reborn.


Julia Cameron vehemently recommends journaling in a format that she calls morning pages. In reading her book the Artist’s Way, it sounds at first as though Cameron advocates morning pages as a way to leech all of the bile that has backlogged throughout one’s being, but I believe that further reading of her book reveals that Julia Cameron would agree that once we have exorcised our demons on paper, morning pages can be extended to include more than a listing of our negative qualities and our inadequacies. Morning pages are a way to dig into our deepest extremities or into the roots from which we have sprung, but morning pages are also a place that we can register ideas for future books, stories, or pieces. They are about moving beyond our roots–about growing forward.

Morning pages are also a way to celebrate the everyday, the mundane, the what’s-happening-now in our lives. Keeping a daily journal is a way to stop, look, listen, and write.  Grander writing may spring from our journals later, or they may not. As in most art, the product of keeping a journal is not what counts. It is the process. As we begin to write daily, we begin to notice more of what lies around us and we expand. As we begin to journal, life becomes more meditative for us, and we learn how to live in the moment and how to write from that same moment.

On page 52 of the Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron shares that she learned about mindful observation and writing from the moment from her grandmother’s letters.

” ‘The forsythia is starting and this morning I saw my first robin. . . .  The roses are holding even in this heat . . . . The sumac has turned and that little maple down by the mailbox . . . . My Christmas cactus is getting ready. . . . .’

“I could imagine. Her letter made that easy. Life through grandma’s eyes was a series of small miracles: the wild tiger lilies under the cottonwoods in June; the quick lizard scooting under the gray river rock she admired for its satiny finish. Her letters clocked the seasons of the year and her life.” [p. 52]

. . .

“My grandmother was gone before I learned the lesson her letters were teaching: survival lies in sanity, and sanity lies in paying attention. …

“The capacity for delight is the gift of paying attention.” Cameron, Julia. the Artist’s Way, pgs. 52-53.

Julia Cameron Tells Us about May Sarton’s Journal of Solitude

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“In a year when a long and rewarding love affair was lurching gracelessly away from the center of her life, the writer May Sarton kept A Journal of a Solitude.

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“In it, she records coming home from a particularly painful weekend with her lover. Entering her empty house, ‘I was stopped by the threshold of my study by a ray on a Korean chrysanthemum, lighting it up like a spotlight, deep red petals and Chines yellow center. . . .  Seeing it was like getting a transfusion of autumn light.’

“It’s no accident that May Sarton uses the word transfusion. The loss of her lover was a wound, and in her responses to that chrysanthemum, in the act of paying attention, Sarton’s healing began.

“The reward for attention is always healing. It may begin as the healing of a particular pain–the lost lover, the sickly child, the shattered dream. But what is healed, finally, is the pain that underlies all pain: the pain that we are all, as Rilke phrases it, ‘unutterably alone.’ More than anything else, attention is an act of connection.”  [Cameron, Julia. the Artist’s Way, p. 53]

Julia Cameron Tells How Her Writing Is Linked with Painful Experiences

“It may be different for others, but pain is what it took to teach me o pay attention. In times of pain, when the future is too terrifying to contemplate and the past too painful to remember, I have learned to pay attention to right now. The precise moment I was in was always the only safe place for me. Each moment, taken alone, was always bearable. In the exact now, we are all, always, all right.

. . .

“The night my mother died….A great snowy moon was rising behind the palm trees. Later that night, it floated [p. 54] above the garden, washing the cactus silver. When I think now about my mother’s death, I remember that snowy moon.

“The poet William Meredith as observed that the worst that can be said of a man is that ‘he did not pay attention.’ ”

“When I think of my grandmother, I remember her gardening…. [p. 55]

“I remember her pointing down the steep slope from the home she was about to lose, to the cottonwoods in the wash below. ‘The ponies like them for their shade,’ she said. ‘I like them because they go all silvery in their green.’ “Cameron, Julia. the Artist’s Way, pgs. 54-56.

©April 26, 2017



I Love Color – There Is Nothing Gray about Me

In addition to writing and painting, I am also a gardener, and I frequently shop at my local plant market which sells a huge variety of flowers, and the prices are very reasonable.


I love it when they have a new shipment of Gerbera Daisies. It is a spectacle. Like a magnet, the brilliant display pulls me from across the room. I always want to buy all of the daisies for my garden. One plant will not do. One color will not do. To emulate the riot of colors in the display, I want and need the entire bunch. Of course, I can never buy that many flowers at once, but I love color, and when my garden is in perfect form, it is a kaleidoscope.

Jacki’s Garden July of 2015

I like it when my garden screams! There is nothing subtle or subdued about me. When I paint, I celebrate color in another way. Even when I paint the green areas around my florals, I often flood them with color.

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In the Pink – Jacki Kellum Watercolor

I believe in pink. I believe that laughing is the best calorie burner. I believe in kissing, kissing a lot. I believe in being strong when everything seems to be going wrong. I believe that happy girls are the prettiest girls. I believe that tomorrow is another day and I believe in miracles. – Audrey Hepburn

I use the brighter colors to add punch to the green areas of my paintings. Too many people only see black and white — right or wrong. In my experience, that type of life-view is terribly narrow, and the people who cannot stretch themselves to see more of the variances of living are missing a great deal. Like Audrey Hepburn, I believe in Pink, and I also believe in Red and Yellow and Orange and Blue.

I am also suspcious of people who are always gray. If you will look carefully, you will see that there are no gray flowers. Gray is a neutral. Gray is a lack of color, and while I am guilty of other weaknesses, I do not lack color. I have definite opinions. Some of my opinions are red. They are loud and they shout. Other of my opinions are softer and more like lilac. Some of my opinions, are bright and sunny yellow and others are cooler, like green, but when I am asked how I feel about something or what I think about something, I say what I honestly believe. I don’t weigh whether I am speaking to a group of people who prefer red or who prefer gray or green or black or white. I simply say things the way that I see them–to the best of my ability.

For people whose primary concern is that of finding approval, honesty is not always the best policy. The safer route is to ride the fence, but in my opinion, fence riders are gray. They are like piles of mashed potatoes.  Mashed-Potato-People have had the life boiled and whipped completely out of themselves. They have no color at all.

Life is not lived on the fence. We must have opinions.  We must take a stand in life.  In taking a stand, our lives can be differentiated from the gray, faceless mob. The only way to be meaningful in life is to let your life mean–to let it actually stand–to let it stand out, and to let it stand for something.

  1. In taking a stand, our lives can be differentiated.
  2. In taking stands in life, we do more than exist–we mean.
  3. The only way to be meaningful in life is to allow your life to mean.

When we begin to take a stand in life, there will people who absolutely hate us for our opinions; but in being real about who we are and about what we believe, we offer other people something real and tangible to love–we offer people an authentic mind, words with meaning, and color.


Social media has several limitations, and one of those limitations is that people might easily be controlled by a desire to be “liked” or disliked because of what they have said or posted. If contributors are not careful, they might begin to write to be” liked.” and they might quit writing what is real. The same thing can happen to bloggers. Simply to be liked–or at least not disliked, writers may begin standing in the middle of the road.

Standing in the middle of the road is very dangerous; you get knocked down by the traffic from both sides. – Margaret Thatcher

If you just set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything at any time, and you would achieve nothing.– Margaret Thatcher

Herein lies the key: If you try to please all of the people all of the time, you have elected to stand for nothing concrete. To stand for something is to get off the fence and to get out of the middle of the road.

“You can please some of the people some of the time all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you can never please all of the people all of the time.” –  Abraham Lincoln


I agree with Abraham Lincoln. Regardless of how we play the game, we will never please everyone. Selling our souls to try to please everyone doesn’t really work. When we write and say what we actually think, we do allow ourselves to move out of the gray, to be colorful, and to be real.

©Jacki Kellum April 26, 2017


Taking Back My Life One Bite at a Time

I took this photograph of my garden during July of 2015, I had worked very hard in my garden that entire summer, and the results were magnificent. But last summer, I hardly worked at all in my garden. Poke plants dotted my lawn everywhere that I looked, and my hydrangeas withered from lack of watering. My perennials didn’t bother to lift their heads above the soil last year, and my garden was a Waste Land. Every time that I looked outside, I became part of my own natural wasteland.

Last summer, I had launched a writing group, and I was spending every available second writing and or reading about writing. I was preparing to offer a memoir writing class online, and I denied myself of the inspiration that my gardening had always been before. Even at the time, I knew that I was denying myself something that my spirit needed and that I was being excessive about something else instead.

Last summer, I went to a mindfulness workshop, and my first response to some question that was asked was that I was neglecting my garden and in doing so, I felt that I was neglecting myself. Others tried to console me by saying that my spirit simply needed the writing more, but I knew that wasn’t the case. In reality, I have a very bad habit of becoming obsessive compulsive about one thing at a time and in doing so, I forsake several other areas entirely. My life woefully needs balance.

Even though I was not working in my garden last year, I allowed my blogs’ About pages to continue to say that “I am an avid gardener.” I used that precise phrase, and today, when I saw that the blogging prompt for the day was “avid,” I chuckled and thought to myself about Julia Cameron’s words about synchronicity in her book the Artist’s Way.

  • A woman admits to a buried dream of acting. At dinner the next night, she sits beside a man who teaches beginning actors.

  • A woman is thinking about going back to school and opens her mail to find a letter requesting her application from the very school she was thinking about going to. Cameron, Julia. the Artist’s Way, p. 63

Cameron lists several examples of times that the universe seems to reach toward people who are open to the arms of its reaching. This summer, I have already begun working in my garden again, and I have already been dealing with the ways that my lack of balance is not paying off for me. Today, the writing prompt is “avid” –something that I used to be about my garden, and today, I feel the need to talk about my own personal disconnect.

Twenty-five years ago,  someone gave me a copy of the book the Artist’s Way. That someone recognized that I was a blocked creative, and she felt that the book would help me. As soon as I read the book, I recognized myself and the mistakes that I was making in terms of my own creative growth and production, and for a couple of days, I wrote morning pages–twenty-five years ago, and then, I simply quit. Too much time. Good idea but too much time. Here I am–twenty-five years later, and I am still dealing with many of the issues that I should have dealt with a quarter of a century ago.

I lead a writer’s group, and for months, I have heard various excuses that the people in my group make for not moving forward with their writing. The words of Cameron’s book have stuck with me through the years, and I realized that the people in my group would benefit from at least reading it. A few weeks ago, we began working through the chapters of Cameron’s the Artist’s Way, and I recognize that one of the reasons that I chose this book for the class is that I, too, need to actually “work” through  Cameron’s program. Yet, for two weeks, I did not write the morning pages. I wrote other things, and I blogged, but for some reason, I am resisting my need to settle down, to write the morning pages, and to allow myself to begin to attack the gargantuan task of moving through some of the issues that prevent me from moving forward.

I have always been an intense person, and I have always been avid about something or another. The problem is that I often neglect something else to be obsessive about my avid interest of the day. I move through my life like a line of army tanks. Typically speaking,  I charge forward. I attack, and I conquer one thing at a time. But I also hurry, and when a task seems that it will take too long, I move to a new front.

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Last night, I decided that I would begin this day by slowing down and by actually beginning to master the gargantuan task of becoming more balanced and more efficient in all areas of my life. I acknowledge that this will not be a quick fix, but I have wasted twenty-five years by my failure to have done this a quarter of a century ago when I initially read Cameron’s the Artist’s Way. This morning, I wrote morning pages, and because it is a Cameron task on page 58, I listed “ten tiny changes” that I need to make in my life [my list is currently at #22]. I have vowed to slow down and to simply do what I need to do–to eat the elephant one bite at a time.

“No high jumping, please!… Progress, not perfection, is what we should be asking of ourselves.

“Too far, too fast, and we can undo ourselves. Creative recovery is like marathon training. We want to log ten slow miles for every one fast mile. This can go against the ego’s grain. We want to be great–immediately great–but that is not how recovery works. It is an awkward, tentative, even embarrassing process. There will be many times when we won’t look good–to ourselves or anyone else. We need to stop demanding that we do. …

” ‘But do you know how old I will be by the time I learn to really play the piano/act/write a play?’

“Yes. . . the same age you will if you don’t.

“So Le’ts start.” Cameron, Julia. the Artist’s Way, pgs. 29-30.

©Jacki Kellum April 23, 2017.

The Short Story Leaf by Niggle by J. R. R. Tolkien – about Another Little Man Who Makes A Journey & Laughs – The Mountains Rang with It!

About 45 years ago, I read Leaf by Niggle, a short story that was written by J.R.R. Tolkien. In many ways, I identified with the story, and over the years, I have thought about it often. Many times, I have quoted the last line of the story, “They both laughed. Laughed–the Mountains Rang with It!”

Read the story Leaf by Niggle Here

It has been years since I have laughed so completely and so deeply that I have felt that nature itself was laughing with me. I call that kind of laughter “a belly laugh,” and I rarely belly laugh now. But I love it when I catch myself chuckling.

I began thinking about the times that I have laughed myself into tears and I believe that when that has happened before, I was always with someone else.  In short, my best laughs have been group laughs–rather like group hugs–they are something that requires someone else.

Laughter is contagious. I find many things to be humorous, and I chuckle and smile quite often. But chuckling is not a deep laugh. When I am with someone else and we both see something funny, we may begin with a chuckle and then we may begin responding to each other’s responses. I laugh harder because the other person laughs harder, and the cycle begins. We might ultimately wipe the tears of laughter from the corners of our eyes, and we will feel better.

As I said, I don’t know that I have ever experienced that kind of deep laughter when I am alone. Even so, when I am by myself, I continue to chuckle and to smile. Sometimes my smiling is alive and tingly, and it circles through my body and it warms my very being. When that happens, I am very close to Niggle’s state, when he sat amidst the hills and he felt that the mountains laughed with him. I aspire toward that kind of happiness–a peaceful happiness when I know that I am laughing with my world–and that the world and I are tingling with aliveness.  On my very good days, I find myself chuckling until my entire body smiles, and on those days, I know that I am fine.

©Jacki Kellum April 19, 2017



Ragtime by E. L. Doctorow – Quotes with Page Numbers – Link to Free Text Online

Image result for ragtime doctorow

E. L. Doctorow’s 1975 book Ragtime is listed as 1 of the 100 All-Time Best books. When it was published, Time Magazine listed it as one of the best ten books of the decade. You can read the full book free online Here: I’ll be listing many of the passages that I consider to be significant below, and for page references, please see the paperback version of the book published by Plume in 1976.

“Do not play this piece fast. It is never right to play Ragtime fast….” Scott Joplin

In its opening chapters, Ragtime seems to be the telling of several unconnected vignettes about people who actually lived in New York in about 1902. It almost seems that some of the clips are designed simply to help create the setting and the time frame of the book. As the story progresses, some of the people in the vignettes are drawn into the loop, but at first, I found the reading to be a bit confusing and disjointed. Following, I have provided some background information for a few of the characters who make cameo performances throughout the book.

One of the stories in Ragtime is about Evelyn Nesbit:

Evelyn Nesbit 12056u.jpg

Here is what Wikipedia says about Evelyn Nesbit:

“Florence Evelyn Nesbit (December 25, 1884 – January 17, 1967), known professionally as Evelyn Nesbit, was a popular American chorus girl, an artists’ model, and an actress.

 Nesbit Drawing by Charles Dana Gibson

In the early part of the 20th century, the figure and face of Evelyn Nesbit were everywhere, appearing in mass circulation newspaper and magazine advertisements, on souvenir items and calendars, making her a cultural celebrity. Her career began in her early teens in Philadelphia and continued in New York, where she posed for a cadre of respected artists of the era, James Carroll Beckwith, Frederick S. Church, and notably Charles Dana Gibson, who idealized her as a “Gibson Girl”. She had the distinction of being an early “live model”, in an era when fashion photography as an advertising medium was just beginning its ascendancy.

 Stanford White

“Nesbit claimed that as a stage performer, and while still a 14-year-old, she attracted the attention of the then 47-year-old architect and New York socialite Stanford White, who first gained the family’s trust then sexually assaulted Evelyn while she was unconscious.[1][2] Nesbit achieved world-wide notoriety when her husband, multi-millionaire Harry Kendall Thaw, shot and murdered Stanford White on the rooftop theatre of Madison Square Garden on the evening of June 25, 1906, leading to what the press would call “The Trial of the Century”.

 Harry Kendall Thaw

The book Ragtime begins in the home of a wealthy flag maker, who lived in New Rochelle, New York. His wife’s younger brother is infatuated with Evelyn Nesbit.

Setting for the Book Ragtime:

In 1902 Father built a house at the crest of the Broadview Avenue hill in New Rochelle, New York. It was a three-story brown shingle with dormers, bay windows and a screened porch. Striped awnings shaded the windows. The family took possession of this stout manse on a sunny day in June and it seemed for some years thereafter that all their days would be warm and fair. The best part of Father’s income was derived from the manufacture of flags and buntings and other accoutrements of patriotism, including fireworks. Patriotism was a reliable sentiment in the early 1900’s. Teddy Roosevelt was President. The population customarily gathered in great numbers either out of doors for parades, public concerts, fish fries, political picnics, social outings, or indoors in meeting halls, vaudeville theatres, operas, ballrooms. There seemed to be no entertainment that did not involve great swarms of people. Trains and steamers and trolleys moved them from one place to another. That was the style, that was the way people lived. Women were stouter then. They visit the fleet carrying white parasols. Everyone wore white in summer. Tennis racquets were hefty and the racquet faces elliptical. There was a lot of sexual fainting. There were no Negroes. There were no immigrants. On Sunday afternoon, after dinner, Father and Mother went upstairs and closed the bedroom door. Grandfather fell asleep on the divan in the parlor. The Little Boy in the sailor blouse sat on the screened porch and waved away the flies. … The air was salt. Mother’s Younger Brother in his white linen suit and boater rolled his trousers and walked barefoot in the salt marshes. Sea birds started and flew up. This was the time in our history when Winslow Homer was doing his painting. A certain light was still available along the Eastern seaboard. Homer painted the light. It gave the sea a heavy dull menace and shone coldly on the rock and shoals of the New England coast.” pgs. 3 – 4.

Image result for winslow homer rowing homeThe Fog Warning by Winslow Homer

“The afternoon was a blue haze. Tidewater seeped into his footprints. He bent down and found a perfect shell specimen, a variety not common to western Long Island Sound. It was a voluted pink and amber shell the shape of a thimble, and what he did in the hazy sun with the salt drying on his ankles was to throw his head back and drink the minute amount of sea water in the shell. Gulls wheeled overhead, crying like oboes, and behind him at the land end of the marsh, out of sight the tall grasses, the distant bell of the North Avenue streetcar tolled its warning.” p. 5

Related image Pope-Toledo Runabout

” An automobile was coming up the hill from North Avenue. As it drew closer he saw it was a black 45- horsepower Pope-Toledo Runabout. He ran along the porch and stood at the top of the steps. The car came past his house, made a loud noise and swerved into the telephone pole. … The driver and the passenger were standing in the street looking at the car: it had big wheels with pneumatic tires and wooden spokes painted in black enamel. It had brass headlamps in front of the radiator and brass sidelamps over the fenders. It had tufted upholstery and double side entrances. It did not appear to be damaged. The driver was in livery. He folded back the hood and a geyser of white steam shot up with a hiss.” p. 7.

“The car’s owner was Harry Houdini, the famous escape artist. He was spending the day driving through Westchester. He was thinking of buying some property. He was invited into the house while the radiator cooled. He surprised them with his modest, almost colorless demeanor. He seemed depressed. His success had brought into vaudeville a host of competitors. Consequently he had to think of more and more dangerous escapes He was a short, powerfully built man, an athlete obviously, with strong hands and with back and arm muscles that suggested themselves through the cut of his rumpled tweed suit which, though well tailored, was worn this day inappropriately. … Mother had ordered lemonade. It was brought into the parlor and Houdini drank it grateful. The room was kept cool by the awnings on the windows. The windows themselves were shut to keep out the heat. Houdini wanted to undo his collar. He felt trapped by the heavy square furnishings, the drapes and dark rugs, the oriental silk cushions, the green glass lampshades. There was a chaise with a zebra rug. Noticing Houdini’s gaze Father mentioned that he had shot that zebra on a hunting trip in Africa. Father was an amateur explorer of considerable reputation. He was president of the New York Explorers Club to which he made an annual disbursement. In fact in just a few days he would be leaving to carry the Club’s standard on the third Peary expedition to the Artic. ” pgs. 7 – 8.

. . .

The Arrival of the Immigrants

“The next morning, after a champagne breakfast with the press, the men of Peary’s polar expedition cast off the lines and their sturdy little ship, the _Roosevelt__, backed out of her berth into the East River. Fireboats sent up sprays of water which misted in rainbows as the early morning sun rose over the city. Passenger liners tooted their basso horns. It was not until some time later, when the _Roosevelt__ had reached the open sea, that Father was persuaded of the actuality of the trip. As he stood at the railing there was transmitted to his bones the awesome unalterable rhythm of the ocean. A while later the _Roosevelt__ passed an incoming transatlantic vessel packed to the railing with immigrants. Father watched the prow of the scaly broad-beamed vessel splash in the sea. Her decks were packed with people. Thousands of male heads in derbies. Thousands of female heads covered with shawls. It was a rag ship with a million dark eyes staring at him. Father, a normally resolute person, suddenly foundered in his soul. A weird despair seized him. The wind came up, the sky had turned overcast, and the great ocean began to tumble and break upon itself as if made of slabs of granite and sliding terraces of slate. He watched the ship till he could see it no longer. Yet aboard her were only more customers, for the immigrant population set great store by the American flag.” pgs. 11-12.

“Most of the immigrants came from Italy and Eastern Europe. They were taken in launches to Ellis Island. There, in a curiously ornate human warehouse of red brick and gray stone, they were tagged, given showers and arranged on benches in waiting pens. They were immediately sensitive to the enormous power of the immigration officials. These officials changed names they couldn’t pronounced and tore people from their families, consigning to a return voyage old folks, people with bad eyes, riffraff and also those who looked insolent. Such power was dazzling. The immigrants were reminded of home. They went into the streets and were somehow absorbed in the tenements. They were despised by New Yorkers. They were filthy and illiterate. They stank of fish and garlic. They had running sores. They had no honor and worked for next to nothing. They stole. They drank. They raped their own daughters. They killed each other casually. Among those who despised them the most were the second-generation Irish, whose fathers had been guilty of the same crimes. Irish kids pulled the beards of old Jews and knocked them down. They upended the pushcarts of Italian peddlers.” p. 13.

“But somehow piano lessons began to be heard. People stitched themselves to the flag. They carved paving stones for the streets. They sang. They told jokes. The family lived in one room and everyone worked: Mameh, Tateh and The Little Girl in the pinafore. Mameh and the little girl sewed knee pants and got seventy cents a dozen. They sewed from the time they got up to the time they went to bed. Tateh made his living in the street. As time went on they got to know the city. One Sunday, in a wild impractical mood, they spent twelve cents for three fares on the streetcar and rode uptown. They walked on Madison Avenue and Fifth Avenue and looked at the mansions. Their owner called them palaces. And that’s what they were, they were palaces. They had all been designed by Stanford White.” p. 14.

. . .

“In the killing summer heat politicians up for reelection invited their followers to outings in the country. Toward the end of July one candidate led a parade through the streets of the Fourth Ward. He wore a gardenia in his lapel. A band played a Sousa march. The members of the candidate’s Benevolent Association followed the band and the entire procession made its way to the river where everyone boarded the steamer _Grand Republic__, which then set a course up the Long Island Sound to Rye, New York, just beyond New Rochelle. The steamer overloaded with perhaps five thousand men, listed badly to starboard. The sun was hot. The passengers jammed the decks and crowded the railing for a breath of air. The water was like glass. At Rye everyone disembarked for another parade to the Pavilion, where at picnic tables the traditional fish chowder was served by a small army of waiters in white full-length aprons. After the luncheon speeches were made from a band shell. The band shell was decorated with patriotic bunting. This has been provided by Father’s firm. There were also banners with the candidate’s name spelled in gold and small American flags on gold sticks that were given as favor at each table. The men of the Benevolent Association spent the afternoon consuming beer from kegs on tap, playing baseball and throwing horseshoes. The meadows of Rye were dotted with men dozing on the grass under their derbies. In the evening another meal was served and a military band played a concert, and then came the culmination of the entertainment: a display of fireworks.” pgs. 18 – 19.

. . .

“Houdini … was a Jew. His real name was Erich Weiss. He was passionately in love with ancient mother whom he had installed in his brownstone home on West 113th Street. In fact Sigmund Freud had just arrived in America to give a series of lectures at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, and so Houdini was destined to be, with Al Jolson, the last of the great shameless mother lovers, a nineteenth-century movement that included such men as Poe, John Brown, Lincoln and James McNeill Whistler. Of course Freud’s immediate reception in America was not auspicious. A few professional alienists understood his importance, but to most of the public he appeared as some kind of German sexologist, an exponent of free love who used big words to talk about dirty things. At least a decade would have to pass before Freud would have his revenge and see his ideas begin to destroy sex in America forever.”  p. 30.

. . .

Poverty in New York City

“He sat in his quiet cozy study in Vienna, glad to be back. He said to Ernest Jones, America is a mistake, a gigantic mistake. At the time of course not a few people on those sores were ready to agree with him. Millions of men were out of work. Those fortunate enough to have jobs were dared to form unions. Courts enjoined them, police busted their heads, their leaders were jailed and new men took their jobs. A union was an affront to God. The laboring man would be protected and cared for not by the labor agitators, said one wealthy man, but by the Christian men to whom God in His infinite wisdom had given the control of the property interests of this country. If all else failed the troops were called out. Armories rose in every city of the country. In the coal fields a miner made a dollar sixty a day if he could dig three tons. He lived in the company’s shacks and bought his food from the company stores. On the tobacco farms Negroes stripped tobacco leaves thirteen hours a day and earned six cents an hour, man, woman or child. Children suffered no discriminatory treatment. They did not complain as adults tended to do. Employers liked to think of them as happy elves. If there was a problem about employing children it had to do only with their endurance. They were more agile than adults but they tended in the latter hours of the day to lose a degree of efficiency. In the canneries and mills these were the hours they were most likely to lose their fingers or have their hands mangled or their legs crushed; they had to be counseled to stay alert. In the mines they worked as sorters of coal and sometimes were smothered in the coal chutes; they were warned to keep their wits about them. One hundred Negroes a year were lynched. One hundred miners were burned alive. One hundred children were mutilated. There seemed to be quotas for these things. There seemed to be quotas for death by starvation. There were oil trusts and banking trusts and railroad trusts and beef trusts and steel trusts. It became fashionable to honor the poor. At palaces in New York and Chicago people gave poverty balls. Guests came dressed in rags and ate from tin plates and drank from chipped mugs. Ballrooms were decorated to look like mines with beams, iron tracks and miner’s lamp. Theatrical scenery firms were hired to make outdoor gardens look like mines with beams, iron tracks and miner’s lamps. Theatrical scenery firms were hired to make outdoor garden look like dirt farms and dining rooms like cotton mills. Guests smoke cigar butts offered to them on silver trays. Minstrels performed in blackface. One hostess invited everyone to a stockyard ball. Guests were wrapped in long aprons and their heads covered with white caps.” pgs. 33 – 35.

The Tenements

” Evelyn saw stores with Hebrew signs in the windows, the Hebrew letters looking to her eyes like arrangements of bones. She saw the iron fire escaped on the tenements as tiers of cellblocks. Nags in their yokes lifted their bowed necks to gaze at her. Ragmen struggling with their great junk-loaded two-wheeled carts, women selling breads from baskets carried in their arms: they all looked. The driver was nervous. He wore gray livery with black leather jodhpurs. A girl in a pinafore and high-laced shoes sat playing in the muck along the curbstone. A little dirty-faced girl. Stop the car, Evelyn said. The driver run around and opened her door. Evelyn stepped into the street. She knelt down. The girl has straight black hair that fitted her head like a helmet. She had olive skin and eyes so brown they were black. She gazed at Evelyn without curiosity. She was the most beautiful child Evelyn had ever seen. A piece of clothesline was tied around her wrist. Evelyn stood up, followed the clothesline, and found herself looking into the face of a mad old man with a closely cropped gray beard. The end of the line was tied around the old man’s waist. He wore a soft cap and a collar with a tie. He stood on the sidewalk in front of a display cart of framed silhouette portraits pinned to a black velvet curtain. He was a silhouette artist. With nothing but a small scissors and some glue he would make your image by cutting a piece of white paper and mounting it on a black background. The whole thing with the frame cost fifteen cents.” pgs. 36 – 37.

Emma Goldman seated.jpg Emma Goldman

[Evelyn Nesbit becomes extremely concerned about the daughter of this silhouette artist who is a socialist. He encouraged Evelyn to go with hi to hear the political activist Emma Goldman speak. Goldman was a Jewish immigrant and a feminist. In the book Ragtime, there is mention of the fact that Emma Goldman was involved in the killing of Henry Frick.]

Mother Finds a Discarded Baby


In Chapter 9, the reader returns to the original household in New Rochelle, and the mother of the household finds a baby that had been buried in her back yard.:

“Mother had dug something up. She was brushing the dirt from a bundle which she held on her lap. The maid let out a scream and crossed herself. The little boy tried to get a look at it, whatever it was, but Mother and the maid were on the ground, brushing the dirt off, and for a moment he couldn’t get past them. Mother’s face had turned so pale and suffered such an intense expression that all the bones of her face appeared to have grown and the opulently beautiful woman he revered was shockingly haggard, like someone ancient. He saw, as they brushed the dirt away, that it was an infant. Dirt was in his eyes, in its mouth. It was small and wrinkled and its eyes were closed. It was a brown baby and had been bound tight in a cotton blanket. Mother freed its arms. It made a small weak cry, and the two women grew hysterical. The maid ran into the house. The boy followed his mother to the house, running alongside her as the small arms of the brown baby waved in the air. The women washed the baby in a basin on the kitchen table. It was bloody, an unwashed newborn boy. The maid examined the cord and said it had been bitten. They swaddled it in towels, and Mother ran to the front hall to phone the doctor. The boy watched the infant closely to see was breathing. It barely moved. Then its tiny fingers grasped the towels. Its head slowly turned as if through its closed eyes it had found something to look at.” p. 58

. . .

“Within an hour a black woman was found in the cellar of a home on the next block. She was a washwoman who worked in the neighborhood. She sat outside the house in the police ambulance and Mother brought the baby out to her. When the woman took the baby in her arms she began to cry. Mother was shocked by her youth. She had a child’s face, a guileless brown beautiful face. She was the color of dark chocolate and her hair looked chopped and uncared for. She was being attended by a nurse. Mother stepped back on the sidewalk. Where will you take her, she said to the doctor. To the charity ward, he said. And eventually she will have to stand charges. What charges, Mother said. Well, attempted murder, I should think. Does she have family, Mother said. No, ma’am, the policeman said. Not so’s we know. The doctor pulled down on the rim of his derby and walked to his car and put his bag on the seat. Mother took a deep breath. I will take the responsibility, she said. Please bring her inside. And despite the best advice of the doctor and the remonstrations of the police, she would not change her mind.

“So the young black woman and her child were installed in a room on the top floor. Mother made numbers of phone calls. She canceled her service league meeting. She walked back and forth in her parlor. She was very agitated. She felt keenly her husband absence and condemned herself for so readily endorsing his travels. There was no way to communicate with him any of the problems and concerns of her life. She would not hear from him till the following summer. She stared at the ceiling as if to see through it. The Negro girl and her baby had carried into the house a sense of misfortune, of chaos, and now this feeling resided here like some sort of contamination. She was frightened. She went to the window. Every morning these washwomen came up the hill from the trolley line on North Avenue and fanned into the houses. Traveling Italian gardeners kept the lawns trim. Icemen walked alongside their wagons, their horses straining in their traces to pull the creaking ice wagons up the hill. When the sun set that evening it lay at the bottom of the hill as if it had rolled there. It was blood red. Late at night the boy woke and found his mother sitting beside the bed looking at him, her golden hair plaited and her large breasts soft against his arm when she leaned over to kiss him.” pgs. 59 – 60.


To be continued

Perfect Prose from the Script of The Prince of Tides

The Prince Of Tides Script – Spotlight on the First Several Lines

I grew up slowly, beside the tides and marshes… … of a Carolina sea island. We lived in a small, white house… … won by my great-great-grandfather… … Winston Shadrach Wingo… … in a horseshoe game. . . . . There are families who live their entire lives… … without a single thing of interest happening to them. . . . . I’ve always envied those families. . . . . The child of a beautiful woman, I was also a shrimper’s son… … in love with the shape of boats. . . . . As a small boy, I loved to navigate my father’s shrimp boat… … between the sandbars. I suppose Henry Wingo would have made a pretty good father… … if he hadn’t been such a violent man. From my mother, I inherited a love of language… … and an appreciation of nature. She could turn a walk around the island… … into a voyage of purest discovery. As a child, I thought she was the most extraordinary woman on earth. I wasn’t the first son to be wrong about his mother. . . . . I don’t know when my parents began their war against each other. But I do know the only prisoners they took were their children. . . . .

When my brother, sister and I needed to escape, we developed a ritual. We found a silent, soothing world where there was no pain. A world without mothers or fathers. We would make a circle bound by flesh… … and blood… … and water. And only when we felt our lungs betray us, would we rise toward the light… … and the fear of what lay in wait for us above the surface. All this was a long time ago… … before I chose not to have a memory. . . . .

Okay, Lila. She’s coming over. Why didn’t you tell her we were under quarantine? She said she had to see you. . . . . She said it was urgent. She was crying. I can’t remember a day when Lila wasn’t crying. Be nice to her, Tom. I hate my mother, Sally. I enjoy hating her.

. . . .

Come on, wash. It’s bath time. Gotta pass inspection. Lila’s coming over. Lila, Lila, Lila. Why can’t we call her Grandma? – You’ll know when you’re a grandma. – I will?  . . . .Do you think we could talk seriously? Not now, Sally. My mother’s close. Can’t you tell? The air stopped moving. Sometimes I think all you need is just a good smack across your mouth. Here she is. Sally, tie this garlic around my neck. Do we have to invite her for dinner? She won’t stay. You know that. Then let’s invite her.

. . . .

The silence was worse than the rapes

In a manner that is almost like tic-tac-toe or cat-and-mouse, the previous words are interspersed with Conroy-like small-talk. I have just begun watching the movie The Prince of Tides for about the billionth time, and this time, the writing hit me like a flash of lightning. Ahhhhhh! What a narrative, and in the words that I have deleted, you see the ways that individuals and families learn to remove themselves from or barricade themselves away from life experiences that are too painful to remember.

If you’d like, read the entire movie script Here or better still, find a copy of the movie Prince of Tides, turn it on, shut your eyes, and LISTEN to the brilliant way that Pat Conroy allows us to experience the tapestry of his life.

©Jacki Kellum April 13, 2017

The Blind Leading the Blind – Learning to Atually See and to Say What We See

Have you looked carefully at Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s painting The Blind Leading the Blind? It was painted in 1568, and yet, it still speaks clearly to humanity’s goat-like tendency to thoughtlessly follow the crowd. Following the crowd can have severe adverse effects upon any of us who would like to create.

In most cases, we follow the crowd because, for one reason or another, the crowd seems to offer us some kind of security. Perhaps we like the crowd because it seems to be the popular place to be and has the seeming safeness of numbers. We think, “There are more of them than there are of me; therefore, ‘they’ must be right.”

When we create, the crowd becomes part of what Julia Cameron calls the Censor in her book the Artist’s Way, where she said that people have logical and linear behaviors embedded within them. She says that this logical behavior is part of one’s survival instinct, and she says that the part of ourselves that tries to discourage us from creating is part of this logical behavior that makes us believe that we need to be the same–or part of the crowd.

“Logic brain was and is our survival brain. It works on known principles. Anything unknown is perceived as wrong and possibly dangerous.  … Logic brain is the brain we usually listen to, especially when we are telling ourselves to be sensible.

“Logic brain is our Censor….Faced with an original sentence, phrase, paint squiggle, it says, ‘What… is that?

. . .

“Any original thought can look pretty dangerous to our Censor.

“The only sentences/paintings/sculptures/photographs it likes are ones that it has seen many times before. Safe sentences. Safe paintings.” Cameron, Julia. the Artist’s Way, pgs. 12-13.

While our logical tendencies seem to be safe, they are an enemy to creativity, and logic is the haven for the Censor. The Censor wants to scare us into editing the very life out of everything that we would otherwise like to create.

When I was a kid, a teacher questioned crowd behavior, asking: “If the crowd was jumping off the cliff, would you do the same thing?”

In Bruegel’s painting, the blind man seems to be leading the blinded crowd behind him off the edge of a cliff. What if the blinded crowd were actually a bunch of sighted people who refused to see? What if those who seem to be blindly following along are a  bunch of minds with their lights turned off? If those who refuse to see and those who deliberately dull their minds are desperate enough for acceptance, they may very well turn off their own lamps–simply to follow the crowd. Those people will have difficulty creating something original.

Before we can begin to be authentic creators, we must dare to step away from the crowd, and we must dare to see and to think and to create from what is true to our own selves. While being an individual can be scary, it is the only way to create something new. Furthermore, creation, by its very definition MUST be about something new–the scary, the unproven, the unsafe, and the different.

A couple of days ago, I began to question whether I truly wanted to create or whether I was merely playing at creating. I was tallying all of the excuses we make for not wanting to go out on the limb with our writing and our other creating. While we are great at finding excuses for not taking risks, the bottom line is that we love to live in denial. We love to be safe. We resist change, and we love speaking in code so that others may not guess too much of what we actually are–so that even we don’t see too much of who we really are.

Image result for kids drawing of a house

When we were very young, someone that we accepted as authority told us the “correct” way to draw a house and a sun and clouds and trees and flowers. Afterward, we learned those images and accepted them as symbols to represent the simple things in our lives. in the same way that the letters “H-o-u-s-e” spells “house,” we learned to draw boxes with triangles to say “house” in another way. Our simple little drawing says nothing about how we feel about the house, it simply says “house–the house that everyone in the crowd accepts to be a house.” If we want to write about a house or to paint our feelings about the house, we must move away from the code that the crowd has taught us. We must dig deeply within ourselves and find a way to say something that actually is deeper than words. We must move beneath the external and into our own internals, and sometimes that journey is scary.

As we mature, we tend to find more and more complex codes to reference things that we have difficulty saying, and that we have difficulty acknowledging to ourselves. As we become better and better with language, our codification grows complex, but any time that we reach within our tricky selves and pull out a pretty phrase or groups of paragraphs to replace the act of digging deeper for true meaning, we are still using code. Creating requires of us that we remove our own blinders and to shine a bright light on who we actually are and to speak from what we see–and not from the pretty phrases that we have banked to keep us from saying what we truly see.

©Jacki Kellum April 10, 2015


Kids Need Nature – The Healing Power of Gardening


Jacki Kellum’s Garden August of 2015

I am an avid gardener. I garden to create Zen-like spaces to sit in meditative-like silences and do nothing more than heal from the damages of trying to navigate through life. But I also garden because the act of gardening itself is healing. I have read that handling dirt supports good health–that the dirt involved in gardening has a healing quality, and I can guarantee that my emotional spirit is improved by the act of gardening. As I get older, I also need more and more of the exercise that gardening provides me, but my need for gardening stems back to my childhood. My dad was an avid gardener and his mother, my grandmother was, too.

My childhood home was almost directly behind my grandmother’s house, and at least once daily, I would walk across the lawns from my house to my grandmother’s house. During gardening season, that meant walking through my grandmother’s massive flower, vegetable, and fruit gardens. I would enter through the back door, and my grandmother’s gardening closet was just inside that door.  I used to love to open that closet door and to allow nature and my grandmother, and my grandmother’s garden reach out and embrace me:


Grandma’s Closet
by Jacki Kellum

The bonnet’s at the very top
The duster’s down below.
Fancy flowers are drying still,
They’re hanging in a row.

Breathe the sunshine, weeds, and dirt,
Catch the seeds from Grandma’s skirt,
Store them in your summer shirt,
Plant them, let them grow.

© jacki Kellum November 24, 2015

My grandparents not only owned their own home, they also owned the string of houses next to them.  Keep in mind that this was a rural community, and my grandparents’ houses had immense lots.  The people who rented had nice yards, but my grandmother gardened the backs of all of the yards that my grandparents owned, and on the absolute back of the land, my grandmother planted a glorious stand of hollyhocks.

There was an alley behind the hollyhocks and my street was behind the hollyhocks.  During the summers, I used to walk through the alley, into the towering stand of hollyhocks, and through my grandmother’s flower garden–and finally, to her house.  As soon as I passed beneath the sheltering arms of the hollyhocks, I felt safe and protected. It was a magnificent pilgrimage, and even today as I retrace those steps, my spirit is lifted.

Certainly, as I labor to create my own garden now, my main ambition must be that of holding on to my grandmother’s garden, my grandmother, and my own childhood.  Actually, there could be no better reason at all, but research proves that there are even more healing benefits to gardening than that. Horticulture is recognized as an authentic type of therapy. Here is what the Horticulture Therapy Association says about the healing power of gardening:

“Horticultural therapy techniques are employed to assist participants to learn new skills or regain those that are lost. Horticultural therapy helps improve memory, cognitive abilities, task initiation, language skills, and socialization. In physical rehabilitation, horticultural therapy can help strengthen muscles and improve coordination, balance, and endurance. In vocational horticultural therapy settings, people learn to work independently, problem solve, and follow directions.” Read More Here

For several years, I have worked part-time as the Children’s Librarian in my community. For at least ten of those years, I have wanted to create a children’s garden. This year, I have finally received the go-ahead nod of approval, and we will begin tilling our garden this week. April 28th is Arbor Day, and we are having a huge Arbor Day party for our kids. Every child is asked to bring a perennial flower to plant in our garden, a spot from which they can watch their own plant grow. There is something magical about watching nature work through the stages of its own growth cycles, and that will be one of the benefits of creating a garden for our community’s children. We also hope to grow fruits and vegetables in our children’s garden, and we want to cook what we grow with our children. In summary, we want our community’s children to actualize the benefits of growing with and through nature.

I hear increasing reports of the problems that children are having in school. Children have problems with ADHD, problems with autism, problems with depression, and they are displaying an excessive amount of anger and hostility. On the other hand, I read that children are spending less and less time outdoors and are spending an increasingly large amount of time inside, watching television, playing video games, etc. Research proves that children spend a fraction of the time playing outdoors that their parents did, and other research shows that children are simultaneously dealing with increasingly large problems with obesity, depression, and other emotional issues. Further research proves that the issues are connected. The well-being of children is adversely affected by too much time indoors and not enough time outdoors. Encouraging children to garden can help resolve some of those issues.

Disney conducted research into this area of concern and has begun a campaign to create more spaces for outdoor play and to improve outdoor conservation. The National Wildlife Foundation is doing the same. Here is part of the NWF report:

“Little kids love to play. That’s not news. Play comes naturally and is necessary for the development of physical, emotional, social and cognitive skills. Play is part of being human. But, as it turns out, not all play is equal.

Recent research shows that young children who play outdoors in spaces that are specifically designed for 0-5 year olds actually garner more developmental benefits:

  • They engage in 22% more physical activity.
  • Their behaviors improve.
  • They exhibit fewer Attention Deficit Disorder symptoms
  • They tend to eat more fruits and vegetables.

“In addition, children who spend time outdoors at a young age are more likely to remain active as they get older, and they tend to prefer outdoor experiences into adulthood. Whether you aim to reduce childhood obesity, improve social development, increase cognitive skills or build the next generation of conservation stewards, getting children to spend regular time outdoors at the earliest possible age is a recipe for success.” Read more of that report Here

I know from experience that gardening is important for children. Gardening is a way for kids to get outside and to become part of nature, and Kids Need Nature. Although this is fodder for yet another post, Nature Also Needs Our Kids. Kids and Nature: It’s a Win-Win Situation.

©Jacki Kellum April 8, 2017


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