Boro, Patchwork, and Beloved Denim

I'm working on a new denim patchwork project inspired by my love of Boro and visible mending. Sashiko has found a firm place in my sustainable fashion journey. Not only does visible mending with Sashiko invigorate old clothing with new strength, vitality, and durability but it also provides an opportunity to make something beautiful along the way.

While my mending pile is still not at risk of disappearing anytime soon, I have started to consider the fabrics in my castoffs as raw material for new designs. Upcycling and recycling materials in fashion is not a new concept. Certainly we've all marveled over wools, denims, cashmere, and vintage cottons given new life in a patchwork project. Certainly quilting and Boro invented this many centuries ago. You might even have visited my fingerless glove DIY tutorial on this blog--it's made from sweater sleeves.

Yet there is something minimal and restrained about using just one palette, just one fabric, and just one stitch in creating a new patchwork piece. Much like Natalie Chanin's beautiful use of jersey cotton in her gorgeous handmade creations, or Kathryn Clark's impeccable Foreclosure Quilts, or the inspiring Quilts of Gee's Bend or the gorgeous contemporary work of Folk Fibers there is a timeless quality to a minimal palette filled with hand stitches. (I'm also loving this new quilt book, Unconventional & Unexpected: American Quilts Below the Radar 1950-2000. It's filled with patchwork inspiration.)

Boro falls along these lines of a minimal, modern palette that evolved out of need but certainly maintained integrity and beauty at every step. It makes me cheer. So I'm trying my hand at an upcycled Boro-inspired project made of denim, white Sashiko thread, and patchwork. I decided to fully embrace slow fashion and make the entire project sewn by hand. There are various denim scraps, pant legs, denim remnants from my local fabric store, and even denim scraps I was recently gifted at a workshop.

I have a few ideas about this project's future use but I'm going to keep that to myself for now. I want to let the patchwork continue to evolve and help determine the final shape. And that final shape will help determine its usage. I will say that a shawl, a scarf, a quilt, and a wall hanging have all recently come to mind. For now, I'm enjoying the slow and steady process of stitching denim to denim and watching the white lines morph into a web of dashes across the beloved indigo landscape.

Happy Monday, friends.



An Intimate View: The Paper Playhouse


Thank you so much for your kind and amazing words on my last post, for your emails, your comments on Facebook and Instagram, your pre-order purchases on Etsy (!!!), and all your amazing support of my very first book. Truly, thank you.

It means so much to launch this book out into the world and have it so beautifully received by all of you. I cannot wait to share more images, projects, and contributors as the weeks progress. I'm hoping that once the book is actually printed and in bookstores in January I'll even be able to share one entire project tutorial with you here. A special gift on my blog just for you.

I wanted to share just a few more images from the book. A true compilation of the gorgeous images all captured by Leslie Sophia Lindell for this project. Creating a kid's craft book is a huge undertaking--from designing the projects, making the projects, photographing the projects, scheduling the children, writing the projects/ section headers/ introductions, coordinating all the contributing artists for the gallery, and then finally hitting "send" to share that final manuscript with amazing editors at the publisher's end. It is such a journey.

But then, the editing, the copy edits, the final photo selections, the cover, the credits, and then editing it all again. Then one more time. Then once again. And now waiting for the first printed copies to arrive at my house in Oakland because it is almost time.

I'm remembering those first days of communicating with my editor last summer, before the proposal, before the contracts, well before any manuscript deadlines, and realizing how the project has morphed and expanded and contracted and somersaulted and tumbled into the book it is today. Such an amazing journey. I am so grateful for this opportunity.

Now is also this very special time to share the book with the world. To share photographs (and the photographs are such a beautiful part of this book, captured by the amazing eye of my dear friend, Leslie) and also the time to coordinate book tours online and in person, to coordinate a book launch in Oakland, but also the time to share it with all of you.

To watch it start to take on a shape and life and even breath all its own. To know that it is truly leaving the nest of my studio and beginning to take the first flights out my front door, down my street, around my neighborhood, and then migrating to much farther corners of the globe where it will be read by some of you.

After maintaining this blog for over seven years (I cannot believe it's been seven years, but it's true) it is also an incredible feeling to witness this work being made into print. In so many ways, the work of the book took shape here on my blog through the various projects I've shared over the years. As many of you know, I have a background in poetry and book arts from my time in graduate school several moons ago. My love of textiles and creative writing have been with me my entire life. Really, since I was just a young girl.

This blog and my online community are also so much a part of this first book. Yes, all of you! Even my recent work with mending, up-cycling, and sustainable arts practices have all influenced this book. Somehow, this blog, my graduate degree, my work as an artist and crafter, and my most recent work as a mother have all combined to make this first book happen.

I feel like I'm sharing a look inside my very own cells. Where the creative spaces mash up against the mother spaces and the parts of my own childhood fantasies all come together to make this book for you. So much more to share in the weeks and months to come.

Thank you so much for sharing this space with me, friends. 100 thank yous.



My First Book: The Paper Playhouse

My very first book is finally here! Well, it's finally available for pre-order and I can finally share the news with the world! After working on this project for over a year it's such a thrill to announce that I'm the author of the upcoming book, The Paper Playhouse: Awesome Art Projects for Kids Using Paper, Boxes, and Books to be published by Quarry Books in January 2015.

It's filled with projects that use up-cycled paper materials to make exciting contemporary projects for, or with, children. The projects range from my earlier work as a book artist to simple printmaking, paper sculpture, public art projects, and VW buses, Airstream trailers, Mid-Century Modern dollhouses, handmade books, mobiles, masks, and a classic lemonade stand.

Focused around accessible and everyday materials like shipping boxes, shoe boxes, junk mail envelopes, newspapers, maps, found books, and other paper ephemera, The Paper Playhouse has 22 projects aimed at inspiring families to create unique paper crafts. It includes artwork by over 20 leading contemporary artists in the curated gallery section; offers original quotes from celebrated authors, directors, and artists; and is packed with original photography by award-winning photographer, Leslie Sophia Lindell

As an added pre-sale incentive, I'm offering a special art print and signed copies on all books pre-sold through my Etsy shop. This is available for pre-orders purchased through my Etsy shop only, while supplies last before January 1, 2015. This is my way of saying, "Thank you so very much" for your pre-order support. Books are estimated to be released and available in stores in January. I cannot wait until I actually get to hold a printed version in my own hands. Dream come true.

I signed the publishing contract with Quarry Books in October 2013 and have been diligently and privately (and almost secretly) designing, making, writing, editing, re-editing, and otherwise collaborating with an amazing team of editors, designers, and publishers at Quarry. Not to mention, my dear friend and crazy-talented photographer, Leslie, was an amazing creative partner during all the photo shoots throughout this book.

In addition to the projects in the book I'm honored to have curated the gallery section to include over 20 inspiring, leading contemporary artists working with paper, boxes, or books in their professional art practice. I'll share more about these incredible artists, the book-making process, future book events, and the book's featured projects in the weeks to come.

Oh my goodness, it's real! The book is currently available for pre-sale through major online retailers including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Quarry Books, and once it's officially released in January it can be ordered through your local bookshop or anyplace where books are sold. It will also remain available as a special signed copy through my Etsy shop.

A few more words from the publishers: Artist, Katrina Rodabaugh, shares her artistic training and up-cycling sensibility in this unique and inspired book, The Paper Playhouse. With simple techniques including sculpture, printmaking, bookbinding, collage, and even ideas for public art, families work through step-by-step instructions while using imagination and budding aesthetics. This book goes beyond the typical paper craft project to include contemporary design references like Mid-Century Modern dollhouses, VW buses, paper monsters, costumes and masks, and the classic lemonade stand--all made with unique style and flair!

Pinch me. It's real. This dream really did come true. 



Musings on Motherhood as He Turns Three

Yesterday we had a birthday party in a nearby park for my little boy. Each year around his birthday I've taken to writing my thoughts on motherhood here on my blog. There is a heart line that runs so parallel between my mothering and artmaking experiences. I wonder if parenting is actually creative work, if tending to our creative lives is more like parenting, or if the matters that penetrate our lives most deeply have a way of nesting together regardless of their categories. Perhaps all of the above.

So yesterday we had a party in the park for my little guy. I made cupcakes, built a paper crown, assembled party favors, and found the tallest candles around. My mother flew in from NY. We gathered a handful of friends with toddlers at a picnic site up in the Oakland hills. My son mostly wanted cupcakes with sprinkles and a bouquet of balloons. I joked that he might always be this easy to please. My little boy is almost three. I am getting the sense that before I know it my little guy will be eight, thirteen, twenty two. It's impossible how time is charging ahead regardless of the choices we make.

Three. I feel simultaneously bewildered and relieved that he is turning three. Bewildered because I cannot believe I've been parenting this tiny human for three years now. And, truthfully, I still have moments of looking into his beautiful little face and not fully comprehending that he is my son. Or that we are all still alive three years later. Or that we are not merely surviving but somehow thriving in our new roles as a family.

The relief is tied directly into the bewilderment. It's like that first moment in accomplishing any new feat that previously seemed completely unattainable. Relief. There are so many unbelievable, and in the moment incredibly trying, milestones in this third year. He sleeps through the night. He takes long naps. He's potty trained. He uses flatware (most of the time). He says please and thank you (most of the time). He takes his shoes off when he comes inside (most of the time).

His first haircut. His first bike ride. His first jump off the curb. The first time he had his own seat on a plane ride. Recognizing the letters of his own name. Memorizing books. Making the first recognizable shapes with crayons, paints, and clay. Singing songs. Making up dance moves. Making up stories. Oh, making up stories might be my favorite.

But I think one of the most amazing realizations in watching him turn three is that he is no longer a toddler. No longer a baby. No longer fully and completely dependent on us for his survival. I watch him calculate his decisions and recognize danger and entertain himself in ways I could not predict. There is a relief in parenting a three-year-old. A knowing. A release. A witnessing of watching this formerly chubby baby grow into a thin and lean three-year-old little boy. He makes his own friends at preschool, chooses his own ridiculous outfits, and decides what he will and won't eat at meals.

Of course, I sometimes wish he'd choose differently. I wish he'd side with me. I wish he'd understand what I think to be my very good logic and obvious best choices. But he doesn't. Well, sometimes he does and sometimes he doesn't. Just like any other relationship in my adult life. There are so many values and ideals we share in common but there are moments of true opposition. And, of course, the fierce independence and illogical tantrum of a two or three-year-old are perhaps the most humbling yet. Okay, not as humbling as waking up the third, fourth, or fifth time each night with an infant but still humbling in the waking hours.

Yet he still wants to cuddle. To be carried. To be read stories. To be fed when he's too tired to lift the last few bites to mouth. Or when he's sick. Or when he's had a particularly tiring day that I might not completely understand. He wants me to watch. To listen. To witness. To applaud. To approve. To guide. To give. But he also wants me to receive. To receive his gifts, his affection, his drawings, his worries, his successes. I have to remind myself that he is only three. Not yet three, still days away from turning three. He is still only three-years-old.

And while we've come so far from those magical and heartbreaking and life-changing moments of coming home with a newborn just three years ago, we also have a long journey ahead of us. Truthfully, I feel respite in this long journey. Seeing how quickly the months now turn to years. How furiously his mind and understanding, his physical and emotional development expand and readjust, seeing just how rapidly this now occurs I feel some respite in the years ahead.

My husband and I have been together for 16 years. That too seems impossible, but it's true. So using this logic to imagine parenting my son also gives me respite. I have a sense of what 16 years in a home with another human can actually look like. And to imagine that he might graduate from high school and go off to college in just 15 years from today? Well, that feels too soon if I'm honest. But knowing that my relationship with him and my relationship to him will continue for the rest of our lives here together? That brings me great joy. The complete and total love I have experienced as a mother is like nothing else I've ever known. I also know somewhere in my logic-driven mind that he cannot love me with the totality and selflessness with which I love him. It's impossible. And that's okay.

He's my son, I'm his mother. And yet I think this might be why the role of parenting is so profound. Because is not reciprocal. Because it is not equal. Because it is not just. And because we cannot expect it to be nor demand it. I cannot have the same expectations of my son that I have of my husband, colleagues, or friends. Not only is not healthy, it's simply not even possible. I have to love my son as a mother, as a guide, as a mentor, as a parent. And I have to accept the love he offers in return, no matter the shape.

I often imagine I'm creating pathways for him to meander. That it isn't my job to actually make him walk the pathway it's just my job to create the pathway so that he has avenues, so that he has choices, so that he has a road to travel. He might skip, run, walk, crawl, tumble, or dance his way down that pathway. He might just sit down for a very long time. He might run ahead. But he's going to decide. It's my job to help carve the adventure. In the most trying and humbling and frustrating and aggravating moments of parenting I just try to remember this image. I try to remember that it's not my job to make him walk the pathway it's just my job to create it. And once the moment passes it is my job to truly let it go. To forgive. To make amends. To move forward. To walk with him.

And when he next crawls up on my lap or takes my face into his sticky little hands and presses his nose to my nose and stares into my eyes and expresses his three-year-old version of affection it penetrates so deeply that I know I am forever changed. In that moment I am altered. And as these moments collect and gain momentum and shape and structure I am changed again. And, of course, as much as I guide his way forward he guides mine too. Perhaps, more deeply than he will ever understand. Perhaps, more poignantly than I could ever imagine. Perhaps, more precisely in the direction I needed to grow than I could ever admit.

Dear Maxwell Forest, Happy Birthday my beautiful three-year-old boy. I am honored to be your mama. Honored to imagine your many birthdays ahead. Honored to hold your post-cupcake, played-in-the-dirt, climbed-the-picnic-tables, sugary, sticky, tender, and beautiful little hand. I raise one sprinkle covered cupcake to the many shared journeys ahead.



Working with Natural Dyes


As many of you know, I'm currently teaching an online slow fashion workshop, Slow Fashion Style. Teaching this workshop has been an amazing experience filled with an incredibly inspiring community of students. In creating all the lessons, posts, tutorials, and interviews I realized that I'd like to share some of this information here on my blog. So, today, I'm sharing some of the class resources here too. Today? Natural dyes.

I am fortunate to live in the San Francisco Bay Area where there is a strong natural dye and slow fashion community. While this traditional craft has seen a recent resurgence it's been around since the beginning of time. Truly. We've been looking to trees, foliage, flowers, minerals, and food scraps to create color forever. Like any art or craft form, I think the more you work with the materials and techniques the more you'll learn about the process and the more confidence you'll gain in experimenting.


While I first experimented with tea and coffee dyes as a college student many years ago, I didn't really start working with dyes until more recently. Easter always provided an opportunity to experiment with plant-based dyes to color the Easter eggs but the practice hadn't yet penetrated my studio work. Last summer I took a natural dye workshop with my friend, Sasha Duerr, of Permacouture Institute and I was instantly smitten.

At the workshop we collected various plant materials from a local organic farm and worked outside on portable camp stoves and farm tables while a local chef prepared our seasonal lunch. Yes, it was heavenly. From there I purchased a couple of dye books, collected various compost materials, began identifying local wildflowers with dye potential, started collecting castoff wools and secondhand silks, and the habit was born.


Disclaimer: I've dyed with a few dozen materials on a few dozen projects but I still feel like I'm just scratching the surface. The alchemy of natural dyes is really compelling. In studying with Sasha she addresses how the seasons, rainfall, harvest, life of the plant, and also the mordants, water, and soak time all effect the final results of any given dye project. Let alone the fabric being dyed.

For some reason this frees up the process for me and puts it more squarely into the world of art work and creative experimentation than the world of precision and expertise. That said, there are some dyers who have created more dependable recipes and favorite techniques to yield more predictable results. Of course. But I think the experimentation and trust in the unknown is where the greatest creative potential resides.


I have to mention India Flint as a major source of inspiration in plant-based dye work but also a leading figure in eco-prints and slow fashion. She's based in Australia and her work is simply stunning. While she has spent much of her time studying and working with eucalyptus (and writes beautiful passages about how one dyer could spend her entire life studying just one plant) she also works with various plant materials and travels the world teaching workshops. I have two of her gorgeous books and I revisit them regularly not just for her recipes but for her insight. She is a mentor in the dyeing community and she's rightfully earned this role.

More locally for me are two amazing dye leaders: Sasha Duerr of Permacouture Institute and Rebecca Burgess of Fibershed. They have both recently published natural dye books and I recommend them both for anyone interested in dyeing. Their recipes are easy to follow and their tutorials are straight-forward. But more so I think their organizing efforts, and founding small companies, speaks to their investment in creating community and advocacy for sustainable practices in the fiber and textile industries.


I'm sure many of you have also noticed the recent trend in shibori. In short, shibori is a Japanese resist dye technique that includes using various folds, binds, and tucks to create pattern on the fabric. It's amazing. A friend of mine recently hosted an indigo dye party and as another friend unrolled her first shibori dyed garment she turned to me and said quietly, "It's like magic". Precisely. It IS like magic.

So when you combine the excitement of working with natural dyes with the magical excitement of shibori it makes for a fairly addictive and exciting hobby. It might not be long before you find yourself collecting every light-colored cotton, linen, silk, or wool item from your household and tossing it into a dye pot. I've had to resist my white cotton curtains on many occasions.


I also really love Shabd Simon-Alexander's work with various dye techniques. While she doesn't work exclusively with natural dyes she holds a great wealth of information on how to create various dye results. Her book Tie Dye is somewhat amazing in its range of techniques and results. It didn't really occur to me to use direct application for natural dye until I read her book. It's how I created this multi-color shibori dye with last season's Easter egg dyes (photo below).

On the thought of direct application, India Flint's eco-prints are truly stunning. Check out this page on her website for a sample of her exquisite botanical prints using dye techniques. Also Lotta Helleberg creates gorgeous botanical prints in her artwork. (Hi, Lotta! So wonderful to have you in the workshop.)


These photos are all results of my recent dye experiments. Some of the clothing I already owned and some I sourced from my local consignment shops. It's important to use 100% natural materials when working with natural dyes. Most professional dyers also use mordants but I've yet to use mordants in my home dye projects.

What are mordants? Simply, mordants are a binding agent between fabric and dye. They help create a strong bond and also help with the usual lightfast and colorfast issues that come with natural dyes. Common mordants include iron and alum. I've also known folks to use vinegar, salt, seawater, soy milk, cow's milk, and even urine. It's chemistry. The plant-based dyes will fix to a mordant better than they will fix to plant-based fibers such as cotton and flax. For this purpose, I usually use wool or silk or other animal-based fibers in my home dye projects as they often have better results without mordants than plant-based fibers.


Mordants can also alter the color of the dye and help the dye to keep from fading with subsequent washes and even bright sunlight. I haven't used mordants because I dye from my home kitchen, where my family prepares meals and where I have a toddler running about. When using a home kitchen it's important to have good ventilation and to have dye pots specifically marked for dyeing only.

You should always use separate tools for your dye pots and spoons but in my small kitchen this simply means one large stainless steel pot and one wooden spoon clearly reserved for dyeing. In my initial experiments I only used edible dye materials like coffee grounds, onion skins, carrot tops, and red cabbage leaves and I refrained from any mordants. This gave me a certain peace of mind in my first experiments with dyes from home.

Once I started using wildflowers like fennel, sour grass, and eucalyptus I became even more regimented with ventilation, reserved tools for dyeing, and storing dye materials out of child's reach. Now I've invest in additional dye tools and found increased sources of cross-ventilation like opening doors and using fans. If I'm dyeing something very potent I simply don't do it when my toddler is home. Next summer I hope to create a small outdoor dye area in our garden. At that point, nontoxic mordants and ventilation won't be an issue.


If you're looking for added dye inspiration take a look at my Natural Dye board over on Pinterest or check out the sites of any of the folks I've mentioned above. If you need to purchase supplies and can't find them locally I'd recommend Dharma Trading Co as a good online source. Natural dyes are not only a magical and addictive textile experiment but they also can offer new life to faded, worn, or otherwise lackluster garments already in our possession.

I tossed a pair of my son's discolored pajama bottoms into this summer's indigo vat and now they have quickly become an adorable updated favorite. Who can resist a two-year-old climbing around in the morning in his shibori indigo pajamas? Not me.



Sashiko Visible Mending Workshop at Handcraft Studio


I'm super, crazy excited to be offering my first craft workshop with Handcraft Studio School in nearby Emeryville, CA. I've loved their class offerings since they opened just one year ago and I'm honored to join their ranks of craft teachers. Handcraft is a beautiful, light-filled, modern, and inspirational classroom space in Emeryville. It's certainly one of the prettiest spaces where I've ever taught and, quite possibly, been a student either. It's that pretty. And their line-up of workshops is so inspiring. Truth be told, I've already registered for two other workshops this fall. I couldn't resist.

I'm offering a Sashiko Mending workshop on Sunday, November 2 from 1:30-5:30. This class is a new offering where we'll combine a project tutorial and a personally-assisted mending project too. Last I heard, class was filling at a steady pace so if you are interested please head on over and sign-up soon to reserve your spot. I hope to offer this class a few times, maybe even in a few locations, so I'm feeling really enthusiastic about spreading the news. I'd love to teach more textile and craft classes alongside my grantwriting and fundraising workshops. Fingers crossed.

This traditional Japanese sewing technique lends itself beautifully to contemporary crafts. Sashiko is the perfect stitch to mend existing garments or to create beautiful new textiles. In this workshop, we’ll discuss traditional techniques like Boro, Sashiko, embroidery, and quilting and their modern applications in Visible Mending and Slow Fashion.  We’ll also consider “mendfulness” and the creative opportunity in repair.

This workshop will lead participants through the making of one Sashiko potholder while sharing various inspiration for continuing beyond the classroom. Participants will also have the option to mend an existing garment with my help so they can leave the workshop with greater confidence and skill. (Denim jeans, wool sweaters, or beloved outwear are great options for visible mending.) Basic sewing and stitching skills are required.

All necessary materials will be provided but please bring one garment for mending and, if desired, your fabric patches of choice. Optional: Your own fabric scissors, thimble, fabric marking pencil, and ruler. Sashiko thread, Sashiko needles, potholder fabric, and practice Sashiko fabric will be provided along with additional tools to share.

Join me if you can! For those of you outside of the Bay Area, I'm also open to traveling to your community if you can gather enough folks to cover my travel costs and my teaching fees. Just to be clear, sleeping on the couches of my crafty cohorts is usually just fine by me. Contact me if you want to schedule a workshop in your area in 2015.



Beyonce, Expectations, and Meditation

As many of you know, my husband works as a video, lighting, and set designer for performance and dance. In any given year he works on dozens of productions and consults with hundreds of artists regarding the visual design elements of their live performance.

After 16 years of partnership and five years of marriage, I can tell the mood of a production by the way he talks about it. I can tell if the team was excited, inspired, frustrated, disappointed, or worse yet, somewhat indifferent. But one of the things I love the most about being on the inside of his work is the vantage point I get to another artist's career as a consultant. Long before I recently started my own freelance career as an artist, writer, and teacher I got a glimpse into the ups and downs through osmosis. And sometimes the demands he receives from his clients and collaborators is nothing short of shocking.

The shock factor has worn off through the years but every once in awhile a client or collaborator will request something so impossible that my heart aches a little for what he's being asked to accomplish. There's just no way it's going to happen. I think most of us can relate to this feeling in working with clients, colleagues, or even in unmanageable demands from friends or family. Sometimes it's just not possible to fulfill, no matter what. 

On the other hand, sometimes he's pushed so far outside of his comfort zone that pure magic ensues with his collaborators. Usually because of someone's committed vision, thoughtful communication, and skillful organization. But one of the comments that stays in my mind was spoken from a young dancer a few years ago.

He was working on a dance showcase that highlighted a handful of promising young talents from the Bay Area. The show was carefully curated from a noteworthy local choreographer and tickets sold out very quickly. Supposedly the talent was amazing and the show was a great success.

That's the part we see from the outside, right? The great success. Never mind the weeks of carefully orchestrated schedules, talents, shortcomings, and hard work. But this comment made more of an impression on me than witnessing the innards of the performance as an intimate bystander. My husband sat in the technicians' booth amidst a busy rehearsal and the young dancer took her place late, unapologetic, and stared up into the darkened tech booth.

She put her hands on her hips, looked at the team of designers and directors and said, "I want you to make me look and feel like Beyonce." That's right. That's what she said. And I wasn't there but I can only imagine how the designers broke into quiet laughter filled with more authentic disbelief. Did she just say what I think she said?

Yes, she did. Beyonce. They are asked to create some fairly impossible illusions and technical feats but making any young dancer, even a very beautiful, talented, rising star, look and feel like Beyonce? We all know that's not possible. Regardless of the technical limitations it's still not possible.

It might be the overstatement of the century to say that Beyonce is simply gorgeous. Even without the makeup artists, costume designers, personal assistants, and accoutrement of talented designers working to make her ready for stage, camera, or commercial she's simply gorgeous. She's also crazy talented, but I'm going to leave her talent aside because this dancer didn't ask to perform like Beyonce, more so she asked to look and feel like her. So the first part of this young dancer's comment might just come across as naivety. Maybe pride.

Maybe that wistful longing that can only be captured by youth--the time in our lives when we actually believe for a micro second that we might just grow up to look like Beyonce. Also the time in our lives when the pressure to look and feel a certain way might just be at an impossible high. I wouldn't go back to my teens or early twenties for all the money in the world. No way, no how.

But the second part of her comment is what haunts me. She wanted to feel like Beyonce. How can anyone know how that feels? And what makes us/ her believe that feeling like Beyonce is a one-way street? As if it's lined only with confidence, happiness, and complete emotional fulfillment at every intersection. As if she has somehow not just defeated the odds in entertainment, performance, and certainly what must have been one woman's complicated career, but also in feeling. As if her feelings are also superior or warrant coveting.

It pains me, really. To imagine wanting to look and feel like Beyonce. Good grief, the pressure. But it's this desire to be somebody else, to embody somebody else, to actually feel like somebody else that I find most interesting. Because, sadly, we all do it.

We all look at our work, relationships, finances, homes, or even our leisure activities and think somebody else is doing it better. We think that if we had what they had we would feel (fill in the blank) and that would be superior to our current feeling. Maybe we aren't bold enough to admit it. Or to ask a room full of weary technicians to achieve it, but we think it.

That dreadful demand of comparison. And the second part that troubles me is that my husband and his colleagues were actually expected to make her look and feel like Beyonce. Not by the producers or curators, of course, but by the very real place in this dancer's heart that expected she be transformed. Good grief.

And this makes me think of the demands we put on each other. On our friends, partners, families, or even on strangers on the Internet to fulfill this longing for us. To play into the belief that our lives would actually be better if we just had this one (sometimes unnameable) thing that from our vantage point it seems they possess and we think we are entitled to possessing it too. This is tricky stuff. But the over simplification is that, if I looked like Beyonce maybe I'd feel like I imagine Beyonce to feel and if I felt like Beyonce my life would be better. It makes me take a very dramatic deep breath.

In making artwork, in teaching classes, or in publishing writing, but also in parenting my son, loving my husband, or engaging with my friends I have to resist this temptation all the time. I have to resist comparison to other artists, teachers, and writers, but also to parents, spouses, and even my girlfriends. I have to catch myself. Notice myself. Redirect myself. And ultimately remind myself that while it's important to have goals, to make steady progress, to be self-aware, and to try to end each day with some sense of accomplishment or insight, it's not the goal to look or feel (or work or parent or love) like anybody else. Even Beyonce.

Not only is that impossible, certainly not the way to a successful career in the arts or in writing, but it's also not acknowledging my own strengths or giving myself the chance to, well, to better understand myself. Right? And it's not the goal to ingest somebody else's longings and wantings either, should they be projected on to us. We have to notice these projections too: Not about me.

We all know the Internet can be the perfect place to solicit advice, heap on expectations, or make landslide comparisons that we just wouldn't do if we were in the same room as the recipient. I can only imagine what celebrities must receive in these departments. It's somehow anonymous but also intimate. The perfect storm for comparisons and unwarranted expectations. It requires deep breaths.

My yoga teacher often talks about mantras and she talks about her ongoing practice of loving-kindness meditation (a beautiful practice also known as Metta). She once told a tender story about the practice of engaging this meditation in the moment of difficultly with another person. At first realizing the moment of conflict, pain, or friction to actually take a moment, and probably a dramatic deep breath, and silently repeat, "May you be happy. May you be well. May you be safe. May you be full of peace." And then there's the practice of repeating this phrase to our selves, "May I be happy. May I be well. May I be safe. May I be full of peace."

I don't have any grand conclusions on the thoughts of comparison, longing, or creating fantasy lives in the arts or in our everyday living. I think that's life's work. But instead I have this very real desire to find this young dancer and offer her this phrase alongside a picture of our beloved Beyonce. Know yourself! Love yourself! Create an atmosphere for peace! Find your own strength and be nice to our fellow technicians! I suppose I shouldn't shout it. And given that I don't even know her name this would be completely impossible.

So instead I'll offer it here to the notorious dancer, to myself, and you readers as we acknowledge that this mantra is truly a lifelong practice in the arts or anywhere else. And as we acknowledge that regardless of what it looks like from the outside, even for Beyonce, we are all stumbling ahead putting one tender foot before the other doing the very best with what we have. Now then, "May you be happy. May you be well. May you be safe. May you be full of peace".


(Photos of fennel harvested along the San Francisco Bay. A meditative practice for me--combining art and ecology, collecting wildflowers for natural dyes.)