Like sign posts

So, I’ve had some life events recently.

I think that term is funny. Aren’t all events, by definition, “life events”? That said, there are some that signal new chapters in the lives of their participants, and I’ve been having those kind. My daily landscape has changed, and while not all the changes are bad, they are all significant. I’m navigating some new terrain, and that can be unsettling, even under the best of circumstances.

So, of course, I’ve been writing about it, in pieces for publication and in the pages of my notebook. (Yes, I still have one. Not everything got burned.) I’ve been trying to come up with an approach (or maybe just a “calm the hell down” kind of mantra) that will keep me sailing smoothly, or at least capsizing with less frequency. The problem is that I’m really good at identifying a thing I want to do or change and then making it so, but for now, I don’t get to exercise that kind of control over the changes in my life. They are what they are, and it’s up to me to navigate the new landscape gracefully. Or, you know, in the absence of grace, with humor at least. Maybe some wisdom.

Three words keep coming up for me, planting themselves in my consciousness again and again, like sign posts, like clues: Breathe, love, create. I think I’m onto something here, so I’m sharing. Life transitions are hard… and constant. When it comes right down to it “life events” are nothing if not relentless, but I’m finding some traction in my breathe-love-create strategy. Here’s how it works, or at least how I aspire to make it work…


Of course, I’m not just referring to the natural inhale-exhale rhythm of our autonomic nervous system here. I’m talking about slow, conscious breaths, the kind you take during yoga or meditation.

A couple of years ago, I was going through scuba certification. We were in a pool, in wetsuits and carrying tanks for the first time. We were supposed to swim to the floor of the deep end, take off our masks, and breathe until our instructor tapped us on the shoulder, which meant we could surface. I wasn’t entirely okay even with my mask on. Despite evidence to the contrary, my brain refused to accept that I could, in fact, breathe underwater. “Hold your breath!” it shouted. “Swim to the surface!” I spent the entire class ignoring my panicky, screaming brain.

It was worse when I took off the mask. The bubbles from my breaths blinded me. My heart raced. The urge to surface was almost overwhelming… until I focused on my breathing. Just that. In and out. After just a couple of breaths, my brain settled, my panic subsided. I noticed other things, like the pleasurable weightlessness of my body and the quiet of the pool. By the time the instructor tapped my shoulder, I was calm, and even a little disappointed that the exercise was over.

I’m finding it works now too. I have been, for the past few months, a tangle of emotions (and good intentions, and failed attempts to be more patient, compassionate, and accepting). When I can remember to breathe – just breathe – I can feel my body relax and my anxiety recede. It’s like a magic trick.

And, really, it’s breathing. It shouldn’t be so hard to remember.

Love PSA

As a devoted love warrior, I understand how important it is to choose love, even and especially when it’s hard. I’m getting a lot of chances to practice that these days, but I’m also having to practice loving with less expectation, loving from a distance, loving without immediate feedback.

A couple of weeks ago, after dropping The Boy off at college, I flew to LA to spend the weekend with some girlfriends. It was just the right place for me to be. I was exhausted and sad, and they were funny and loving and supportive. One of my friends, who’d been through what I was going through (twice!) said, “Don’t get all hung up on whether he calls, or whether your messages get returned. Just be happy when those things happen. It’s different now; accept that it’s different.”

She was right, and still, I cried on the first day of no contact. I want him to want to talk to me all the time, to miss me as much as I miss him. I want him to call and interrupt me the way he used to come into my studio/office a few times a day and interrupt whatever I was doing with his long, rambling, hilarious life observations. Occasionally he does; he calls or texts with a funny story. I’m learning to be okay with that, with the occasional-ness of it. I’m learning that the ache of missing him is not unbearable, and that sometimes it gives way to something sweeter, something precious.


And this, to me, is the holy grail.

Over the course of the last few months, both my sons moved out, my sister-in-law moved in, our car burned to the ground, we signed the papers that assure we’ll be paying student loans off for years to come, I drastically changed my diet and workout routine, and we’ve had to manage the emotional-financial roller coaster that every start-up company is.


I’ve been making stuff. Especially over the last couple of months, I’ve been writing and doodling (and painting, and collaging, and collaborating, and designing) as if my life depends on it, or if not my life, at least my sanity. There have been days when I’ve been so sad or worried or frustrated (or yes) that I’ve felt paralyzed. But I also had creative commitments – to myself and others – so I closed my studio door and made art happen.

And I always, ALWAYS felt better.

I think sometimes we get trapped. Our lives are demanding and making time for creative pursuits feels like more work, or worse, frivolous. We’re too tired, too depleted. And yet, for creatives, creation is a salve, a necessary ingredient in our lives, without which, we are incomplete.

I’m convinced there is no faster way to get present than to work on a creative project. Any creative project.

So that’s my strategy for the foreseeable future: Breathe, love, create.

What would you add?


Note: The Breathe, Love, Create art is available as prints and as a set of art cards in my Etsy store. (Which now accepts credit cards and Etsy gift cards – woo hoo!)



  1. Robyn on September 12, 2013 at 11:46 am

    I would add nothing. The trio is perfect. A person simply fills in the blank space under the word with their own life truths. BREATHE ~smell the flowers I grew, the food I prepared the wonder of the fresh laundry, or the summer-sweaty sweetheart~ Just Breathe it in and feel things settle. LOVE ~it all. The sorrow of terrible losses, the tears of grieving, the smiles of strangers, words of well intentioned friends, the incredible softness of the puppy ~Just love it all. CREATE ~Flower-scape the grave, invent new delicacies to can and preserve, paint the barn blue, build a new coop~ just make it happen and make it beautiful.

    Each one has their own words.

    • j on September 12, 2013 at 11:52 am

      Your comment gave me chills – so beautiful. Thank you for filling in your words. And big, giant hugs to you, as you navigate your grief. I hope you do paint the barn blue. And then post a picture so I can see. xo

  2. Julia Munroe Martin on September 12, 2013 at 12:13 pm

    Forgive… yourself when it gets hard and you can’t let it go and feel like you can’t breathe or create. Maybe it’s just me, but sometimes it doesn’t feel better no matter what I try, and that’s okay too. I’ve had to learn how to live with just being sometimes.

    • j on September 12, 2013 at 3:34 pm

      Yeah, me too. Some days you just can’t muscle through it… and I’m not terribly forgiving then. Not being able to create feels like I’m getting kicked when I’m down. Thankfully, wine, a book, and a good night’s sleep can usually make me more forgiving the next day.

  3. squarepegkaren on September 12, 2013 at 1:44 pm

    What gorgeous signage (drawings? I’m unsure of the correct word – but whatever they’re called – they are fantastic!). I love the signage and what you’ve said about them; wouldn’t add a thing. Such a lot going on for you and such a beautiful, open heart you share, thanks!

    • j on September 12, 2013 at 3:36 pm

      Aw, thank you! This was one of the posts that ,once I got started (minus the very false start I got yesterday), just poured out of me. Apparently, I needed to attached words (signage!) to what I was feeling. It helped.

  4. Terri on September 12, 2013 at 1:52 pm

    What’s already been said is lovely and true. For me, “finding the funny” is also important. Laughter in the ICU, a well-told joke in the E.R., watching a Seinfeld rerun with a cancer-stricken parent. 8th grade-esque innuendo is always a winner in our household!

    • j on September 12, 2013 at 3:40 pm

      Good point. Humor is an absolute necessity, and an amazing tension-releaser.

  5. Leah on September 12, 2013 at 4:08 pm

    I can’t think of one thing to add to that list. Actually, your words are beautiful! I love the lilt of your hand, with its curls and fine lines, whimsical and adventurous…just like you.
    I feel for you with what you’re going through—so many transitions at once. Yet…it is perfect. It is drawing you to where you are and where you must go.

    I’ve been seeing incredible transitions in just about every area of my life and heart. I feel like you at the bottom of the pool talking myself into breathing. Panic is my first nature. But…breathing, loving, and creating are the remedies. They call me to center and sure me up, reminding me of who I really am. That I am not my foolish thoughts, my fears, or anyone’s opinion of me. I am not an image. I am me and I am here with a purpose.

    I’m so excited for you! Thank you for inspiring me today.

    • j on September 12, 2013 at 5:59 pm

      I love this comment. Your whole second paragraph applies to me completely. And you’re so right that when I’m engaged in the act of creation (and even, for a while, in its afterglow), I feel certain about who I am, and that I’m not “my foolish thoughts, my fears, or anyone’s opinion of me. I am not an image. I am me and I am here with a purpose.”

      Beautifully expressed, Leah. Yes, yes, yes!

      Thank YOU for inspiring me today!

  6. Pam on September 12, 2013 at 7:44 pm

    Wonderful! I would add (if additions are required) Laugh, Dance and Sing.

    I think you are spot on about how getting to work on a creative project puts one in the moment like wow. (I am paraphrasing, of course. :p)

    Keep on breathing, loving and creating! xo

    • j on September 13, 2013 at 7:48 am

      Love the way you paraphrase, baby! xo

  7. terrepruitt on September 12, 2013 at 10:10 pm

    I am breathing it all in, loving what you’ve created. (See how I did that?)

    As a person who instructs people through movement, I gotta tell ya, most of my job is reminding people to breathe. There are many reasons we stop. So yeah, we need to be reminded.

    I so love your doodles!

    • j on September 13, 2013 at 7:49 am

      I have to remind myself during yoga all the time, too, and I’m always amazed at how much easier everything gets when I consciously breathe.

      Thank you!

      • terrepruitt on September 14, 2013 at 11:46 am

        John quotes “If you don’t breathe properly, you can’t move properly.” I always laugh when I catch myself not breathing because it is true. I find that I am NOT moving properly, even if I am not “moving” (say, I’m in a yoga pose).

  8. Nancy on September 12, 2013 at 11:49 pm

    How I love you as you breathe, love and create! Yes, I agree also with laughter, though your three are perfect as they are. I’d say dancing, too, but I oh-so-gracefully-NOT fell on my knee last weekend, and I’m bruised from knee to ankle on my right leg, and then last night I walked on my left foot while it was asleep and sprained my ankle. No cards saying, “grace,” please or I’ll cry! (Now if you’d draw a klutziness doodle, that would make me laugh!!!)

    I haven’t been online much lately because I’ve been spending more time creating….via reading and creating new pathways for me to consider my current health challenge and some work challenges….and zentangling, trying to learn sketch-noting (have you ever seen any of Flash Rosenberg’s work? I’m SO intrigued) and doodling.

    Also, I decided to sign up for Plenty of Fish (for those of you who are paired up, it’s an online dating site for those of us not paired up or meeting people in the good old-fashioned ways). I was stood up tonight AND the guy blamed me for it! Sheesh, I think there is a journal entry AND a doodle in that one, plus a prayer of thanks to the Universe for saving me from someone who is obviously not my type!

    So, I know you miss The Boy. I’ve been thinking I need to message him and tell me to send me some good stories from College, but I’m going to let him get settled and send him telepathic messages to contact you when you most need it. I’m content knowing that eventually I’ll hear some good Adam stories.

    We need to figure out our next play date. Big hugs, lovely. I’m breathing along with you! xoxoxo

    • j on September 13, 2013 at 8:01 am

      Sounds like breathing is good advice for you right now, sweetie! Holy cow, how are you even walking?

      Yes, I’m familiar with Flash Rosenberg since seeing her on The Good Life Project. (Here’s the link in case you missed it. She’s wonderful.

      I haven’t ever heard of Plenty of Fish. I know someone using OKCupid (who isn’t loving it) and a number of people using with mixed results. I’ll send my wishes out into the universe that you attract better fish in the future!

      If we can work out the timing, Adam is going to Skype with me and Chad this weekend. Yay! This is definitely the longest I’ve ever gone without seeing his face. 🙂

      Maybe we can schedule a fall meetup (closer to you because it’s warmer there). In the meantime, I will make a klutziness doodle for you. Stay tuned. xoxo

      • Nancy on September 13, 2013 at 7:27 pm

        I’m off for five days around October 9. Let’s see if we can make it work!!! Yay!!!

        • j on September 14, 2013 at 4:41 pm


  9. Karin C on September 13, 2013 at 5:26 am

    I know exactly what you mean about life events. Just the past month alone–buying a house, getting it set up, my mother having her second child (my new baby brother), getting a cat, etc etc. I feel like I haven’t stopped in weeks.
    And in all of the chaos, the best relaxing moments are when I get to create. I can’t draw as nicely as you can, but I write or do something that gets me thinking creatively.

    Until I read your posts about your son going to college, I never understood why my mom missed me so much when I left. But now it all makes a lot more sense–especially since I was (until a few months ago) her only child.

    Breathe. Love. Create. It’s like a mantra for those of us who need to take a step back from our crazy busy lives and re-evaluate our priorities. Is work as important as family time? Is it necessary to worry about things out of our control? We know the answers to questions like these but oftentimes we ignore our true feelings.

    Love your posts and love your drawings. 🙂

  10. j on September 13, 2013 at 8:08 am

    I love when people tell me they understand their parents better because of reading my posts bout Adam’s heading off to college. That’s the best thing ever!

    “Is it necessary to worry about things out of our control?” is such a wise question. We do know the answer and yet…

    I also want to banish the “I wish it were different” kind of thoughts that have plagued me lately. It isn’t different. It’s this way now. Acceptance is the key to not only muddling through, but thriving in the new reality. And on my way to that enlightened state, breathe, love, create. 🙂

    Thank you, Karin!

  11. Nina Badzin on September 13, 2013 at 1:48 pm

    That’s perfect and works for me: breathe, love, create. I need all three too.

    • j on September 14, 2013 at 4:42 pm

      And “assume the best of people” which I’ve been trying to do ever since reading your post on the subject.

  12. J. on September 13, 2013 at 9:02 pm

    Surrender. Be completely vulnerable, pay attention and you might find just what that little voice is telling you about.

    I’d also add gratitude, because without that, everything else seems hollow to me.

    Chewy, thought-provoking words as always, j.

    • j on September 14, 2013 at 4:43 pm

      Good additions. And I love “chewy” as a description of my writing. 🙂

  13. cabocalla on September 14, 2013 at 11:24 pm

    Instead of sending my son off to live his own life, I’m trying to spend more time with him. He’s only nine, after all. His mother is resisting and we’ll be meeting with our mediator soon to work things through. Then there’s the writing. The need is cresting, but in waves like the rhythm that slowly magnifies with the incoming tide. The water hasn’t quite reached my toes yet but the sand is wet where I stand.

    Cheesy metaphors aside, thanks.

    • j on September 16, 2013 at 9:34 am

      I sorta liked your cheesy metaphors. I find if I wait until I’m “ready,” I never seem to get started writing (or drawing, or whatever). I just have to dive in, ready or not, and risk getting pummeled by a few waves. (See what I did there?)

      Good luck with the mediator. Since I’m not getting to spend any time in the same room with my son these days, your dilemma breaks my heart. I’ll be here rooting for you.

  14. Deborah on September 15, 2013 at 5:33 am

    Reading this post and all the comments has really given me a lift this morning. I have been rather lax on the creating lately, but now feel inspired to make a lovely mess. I have no words to add to your trio, yet I will take them with me today in my heart. Thank you for this gift.

    • j on September 16, 2013 at 9:38 am

      Lovely messes are my favorite things to make. In fact, I made one last night for dinner. It tasted wonderful, but looked very different than the picture on the recipe. 😉 Thank you for stopping by, Deborah! (Hope you post whatever you create so I can see!)

  15. Alarna Rose Gray on September 16, 2013 at 1:17 am

    No, I wouldn’t add a thing. It’s the perfect combination… and I love your story about breathing underwater, too, because that is so me. And so true to life. Scary empowering, I would say 🙂

    • j on September 16, 2013 at 9:41 am

      I love that story too. I use it to remind myself of the power of conscious breathing all the time. It actually physiologically changes the chemicals raging around in our bodies, slows down the nervous systems, calms our brains. It’s like a superpower we – most of the time – don’t realize we have.

  16. Annie Neugebauer (@AnnieNeugebauer) on September 16, 2013 at 7:03 am

    I don’t have anything to add; I think you’ve nailed it. Mindful breathing was the focus of a meditation class I took in college that focused on coping with depression — a class that changed my life — and I’ve valued it ever since. I think love is the most important part of life, and creating is absolutely what drives me. I think the three together are a beautiful mantra. Keep on keeping on, j.

    • j on September 16, 2013 at 9:46 am

      I still haven’t mastered meditation, but the closest I come is when I get breath-focused, which I can do for a few minutes at a time. I use it when I wake up at night. In the middle of the night I’m prone to panicky thoughts and overwhelm, so I do these kind of complicated breathing-counting exercises. It is sometimes the only way I can pull my mind out of the spiral it often wakes up in.

      Keep on keeping on… yes. That is the goal. xo

  17. Cynthia Fassett on September 16, 2013 at 8:04 am

    Breathing, loving, creating, yes. And writing it all out in your journal to help you find your footing as you walk through it. All of it a perfect strategy. <3

    After several years of walking through profound Change, if there is one common thing throughout it all that I have gained wisdom from it is this: We suffer more when we resist change. Change is here, and the sooner we find acceptance for that change, the sooner we relax into this new way of being. Breathing helps us do that because we are breathing in the change, and finding the acceptance through the exhale, one breath at a time. Loving helps us do that, because love is also letting go, which, like our exhale of breath, allows others their own choices – frees them. When we free others to go their own way, it opens the way for our freedom as well. Change itself is where creation begins. One step taken on the path that suddenly opens into the unknown, one line drawn on the empty page, and suddenly, life begins anew.

    The strangeness of it all is powerful, literally vibrating with potential and possibility.

  18. j on September 16, 2013 at 9:53 am

    “Change itself is where creation begins. One step taken on the path that suddenly opens into the unknown, one line drawn on the empty page, and suddenly, life begins anew.”

    Beautiful and true. Thank you, Cindy. xo

  19. Unscripted Mom on September 24, 2013 at 1:38 pm

    Love, breathe, create…Yes! I have found that after I dropped off my daughter at college around the same time you dropped off your son, I had a hard same focussing on much of anything. My writing just wasn’t flowing and I felt very off balance. What I needed to do was allow myself to let the flow emotions work their way through me. I needed to use my breath to guide me, and through the sadness I felt, it all led back to love. Once I was able to truly realize that the love I have for my daughter will always be strong and that she lives in my and I in her, I was able to create again—to return to my writing and to share the story of what I was experiencing, which, like you said, always helps. Sounds like you have had to make many more adjustments than sending your son off to college. Thanks for sharing those experiences and reminding me of the simple, yet essential tools for living fully in the moment…love, breathe and create! Fantastic!

    • j on September 25, 2013 at 5:49 pm

      Thank you back! I agree, it all leads back to love. Love is why it hurts and why it heals. There’s something very comforting in that, isn’t there? I hope your daughter is happy and thriving. Adam seems to be, and that helps too. The separation would be so much worse if I was worried about his well being.

      • Unscripted Mom on September 27, 2013 at 8:29 am

        So glad Adam is happy, and thankfully Sophie is as well! You are absolutely right, there is a lot of comfort in knowing that they are feeling good and thriving. Thank goodness! And yes, the love,separation, hurting and healing process is in some ways a beautiful one. They are doing what they are supposed to be doing and so are we!

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