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Serendipity Tromps: Quest 2015

At Helen's in Ishpeming

“Scramble the self temporarily so that the world can seep in.”
Jason Silva


Jason Silva offered the #Quest2015 prompt yesterday. I wrestled with it all day as I worked. I wrote. I made a little video in the woods. I talked to my trusted shipmate Molly. Then I slept on it. Today, I offer you this post as a map for how I make choices. I found the idea of curating occasions of serendipity to be oxymoronic, but on this fresh cold day, I have a response.

About Jason:

Jason Silva is an epiphany addict, media artist, futurist, philosopher, keynote speaker, and TV personality. He is the creator of Shots of Awe (13 million views) and the Emmy-nominated host of National Geographic’s Brain Games.
I found his interview with Marie Forleo interesting and more personal. I loved learning that his mother is a poet. I consider his work highly provocative, desperately tender and distinctly male. Marie’s post has more links and video about Jason. I invite you to be rustled from your comfort zone, as I have been from mine, to consider these thoughts for yourself.

In what ways might you artfully curate your life in 2015 to occasion serendipity, creativity and awe?
Ontological designing says: We design our world and the world designs us back.
What are the linguistic and creative choices you can make in 2015 that will in turn act back upon you and transform you?

It is Friday here in Great Barrington.
On the verge of bitter, but there is a liveliness in the air that has nothing to do with anything, but everything to do with the Full Moon. Do you pay attention to the moon? Are you surprised sometimes when you wake in the night to find your bed flooded with white light? Do you notice it as you drive along a road, the glow behind a bank of clouds, as if behind a curtain there is someone dancing with lights on?


photograph by David Kern
photograph by David Kern

I love the moon.
I love the regularity of its traffic across the sky, around a month. It neither chooses my laundry line or me to shine upon, but I welcome its beam, its crack of light in a pitch-black winter sky.
I stay tuned to serendipity, creativity and awe outside. I don’t bound out every morning in my jammies these days, but most mornings of the milder seasons I am out there at the compost or in the garden or on my way to the river, just to see what I can see. I rely on the wilderness. I wonder if it notices me, taking it in like a drunken sail, gulping fresh air? It fills me.
I lived for a long time in a city where wild was not so easy to come by, but I found it. I let myself be witness to the elements of wilderness in Manhattan in the junk cluttered waste spaces where the machine of gentrification had not yet civilized every square inch.

Now I live in a small town near a lake. Within ten minutes I can be in quiet woods. Within another ten minutes on my bike, I can be at a river. I hold these places as my temples to serendipity, creativity and awe. I wonder if they rely on me in any way? I wonder if being seen, cherished and observed with wonder, the woods yield to me?

Terry Tempest Williams describes wilderness like this:

The eyes of the future are looking back at us and they are praying for us to see beyond our own time. They are kneeling with hands clasped that we might act with restraint, that we might leave room for the life that is destined to come. To protect what is wild is to protect what is gentle. Perhaps the wildness we fear is the pause between our own heartbeats, the silent space that says we live only by grace. Wilderness lives by this same grace. Wild mercy is in our hands.

-Terry Tempest Williams, Red: Passion and Patience in the Desert

I can hear that space between my heartbeats better when I am outside.
I live by this grace.

I believe in the benefit of discomfort, whether it is the cold or grit or not being altogether sure that I can accomplish what I set out to do.

I believe inertia taints brave new choices, that the relative comfort of our current state simply overwhelms the desire to try a new thing. When we squash the urge to strap on snowshoes instead of clicking on another YouTube video, order a new kind of pizza, or to read poetry, stasis sets in. I believe that all that stasis prevents transformation.

But, “to artfully curate my life?” Can I curate surprise? Can I curate the random? Can I cause chaos to “scramble my self temporarily so that the world can seep in?” Cultivating my wild soul with forays in to the woods which exist in an ancient mysterious order, in to deep lakes and flowing rivers, down mossy paths towards an unknown outcome design new thoughts and associations within me.

I will remove, as with a whisk broom pressed to sweep up all of the thousand-shard-shattered bits of a drinking glass off the kitchen floor, the sense that curating a life begins to make a life feel precious, as if a heavy-handed interior designer has been at work here. I would make these linguistic and creative choices:

I will live in wild grace.
I will expose myself to nature, daily.
I will engage in contemplative practices.
I will routinely study blades of grass, the oak in my backyard, the eyelashes of my teenagers, the pattern of cloudtreecloudeagle that imprints my walks.
I will put myself in the path of vulnerability, deep rapture and devotion.
I will not be expert but a merchant of inner excellence.
I will not aspire to conquer, but will inquire to plumb.
I will learn, leanly.
I will suss and be dazzled.
I will make and make and make more because ultimately this is where serendipity and awe and surprise live for me. Making art, visual art, business art, family art, laundry art- anything done with awareness and skill becomes an artistic offering rather than an automated or predictable response. When I am caught in the act of making, what is made always “exceeds the materials I began with”. This trio of wonder lives in the aroma of human interaction and the thrum of grit sprinkled liquid lust, it lives in empty spaces where potential perfumes quiet air. This trio is a tincture that allows me to “trace something I have never seen” with my words, with my conversation, with my art work, they flood me with the sense of the not-yet-known being revealed through wild grace.

But if you remain too identified with holding it all together, you disconnect from your vulnerability, you turn from the wild reality that your heart could break at any moment. You forget that it is through your brokenness that your gifts pour into this world. You forget that each and every crack in your heart is an illumined portal through which the poetry of your life will flow.

Matt Licata of A Healing Space

I will shake loose of my own expectation to look like I have my act together.
I will work, regardless of a confident measured plot, but work with loyalty to my devotion at a pace that supports my roles as writer, maker and mother.
This means, and here I am in total agreement with Jason Silva, I must move more slowly. In one of the articles linked in a post about Jason, this quote:

“The researchers found that the effects that awe has on decision-making and well-being can be explained by awe’s ability to actually change our subjective experience of time by slowing it down. Experiences of awe help to bring us into the present moment which, in turn, adjusts our perception of time, influences our decisions, and makes life feel more satisfying than it would otherwise.”


I don’t require awe to slow me down.
I invite awe by physically slowing down.
Believe me, mothers know slow. Read more on this here.
Mothers have a bead on slow.
We have grown wings, slowly.
And we eat wonder, breath filled awe, at the pace of the small people chattering around our shins, counting heartbeats, our life becomes that slow. This cannot be supplanted by inventing artificial life.

Real life makes more real life, which is filled with serendipity, creativity and awe. (click to tweet, please)


Another Quest2015 writer, Paula Trucks-Pape wrestled with this prompt in her post and tells a story about a spider, while also leading me to a new learning about serendipity. I had never heard the story of the Princes of Serendip. Thank you Paula!



One single drop
One single drop

So, in response to the prompt, relishing an array of symphonic choices of nurturing resource will certainly surprise me, stop me in my tracks, and cause jaw-dropping awe. The values of devotion and attention, of solitude and merit, kindness and courage will all lead me in to new ground, new relationships, or burnish existing ones to unplanned brilliance. Trusting, as Paula writes, that my own creations can bear my weight and carry me forward. Collaboration with my pack, with my tribe of wonder-seekers will be marked by compassion for real-life-lived on a planet loved and cared for by its inhabitants who see value in preservation and conservation, in treating time as a valuable commodity, and in the slow listening to the holy echoes contained within each of us.

How do you hear yours?





PS Please share this post with your people and subscribe to this site. I am not at all a numbers person, but I do produce events, teach and travel. I’d love you to stay current with my serendipity tromps so if by some chance we can meet in person, we could. As my mother used to say, quoting someone else, “Keep those cards and letters coming.” Stay close. The Moon is full tomorrow.

Inhaling Ursula

Neon Shoes over Brooklyn by Suzi Banks Baum

When guests leave, I have a difficult time cleaning up after them. I like the presence of guests, at least most guests, to linger. My mother used to stop me from putting all the mess of toys in order before we would leave her house. She said the mess allowed her to see my kids playing on her floors, on the couches or in front of the fireplace long after we’d jetted off the Upper Peninsula towards the East Coast.

I know how she feels now.
Our beloved German family, a family we sprouted five years ago when the eldest son of this family of six children came to live with us, just spent a long set of sweet September days with us. They left the fourth child to live with us until December.

We spent warm days swimming at the river.
Cool days we toured MASS MoCA and Brooklyn.
We hiked and walked and strolled and went to yoga together.
We made many meals, much zucchini and melon employed.
And the mother, my dear Ursula, and I made art around the edges and for one and a half days, we worked plumb in the center of this swirl of teens and plums and a chard eating woodchuck.

This morning, I walked in to the room where she slept and without knowing what was happening, I was engulfed in the simple perfume of her presence. Like when you hug your partner’s neck after swimming and only the soft animal scent of skin fills your senses, an eager poetic soliloquy of scent surrounded me. The smell recalled her to me so fully I was sure she was near. But, only a pile of linens and the paper she’d wedged in to a rattling window frame on a windy Berkshire night were present.

We are both mothers. She has three times my children and just as much appetite to make things while in the midst of mothering. We first met in the airport in Florence, Italy near where her family vacationed in the summer. They’d invited us (inwhited, if you are a German speaking English, which is all I can hear in my head as I write. I recall her voice skipping over Vs when she was tired and letting them be Ws) to spend time with them there, before depositing our son with them for a semester at the Schaubing Waldorf High School.

We fell in step with each others mothering styles quickly. We found ease in each others presence through the affection our children spread and before long we were sketching together on a long table overlooking the valley towards Cortona. Ursula is a landscape architect with amazing drawing skills, so the vistas jump off the pages with just a few strokes of her pencil. That first summer of knowing one another had all the makings of a symphony with many parts yet to come, but each new phrase captivating.


Ursula's doodling
Ursula’s doodling

Since that first visit, we have traveled together, spent time in each others homes, sat talking for long evenings and early mornings, picked blueberries, celebrated Full Moons, eaten meals prepared with the other in mind, sent gifts and notes and letters and many many hand made mail art postcards. We have fallen completely in love with each others children and included their friends in the circle of our care. Our husbands are equally eager and engaged and this symphony feels like it will be playing for many years to come.

SBB to Ursula

So when I inhaled Ursula, the longing I felt for her real presence, her laughter, the way she orders a coffee, the endearments she uses for her children, the tone of her voice as she asks a question, her enthusiasm for leaping in to cold rivers or trying new art techniques mellowed from an ache to an exercised response. I have spent many hours with her painting and making books and drifting exotic neighborhoods, photographing laundry or hanging it, laughing over the singleton socks we each collect and seasonally seek to pair. Something about making art together has sewn our friendship, our sisterhood, our shared parenting in to a many-layered blanket that offers comfort beyond what I ever imagined. Now that I know that comfort, her scent, I require it.


Italian laundry by Ursula Kern
Italian laundry by Ursula Kern
Ursula sewing a book 2014
Sewing signatures


There are many tales to tell about Ursula. We have made art with our combined children now for five summers. As we travel, we create. We formed the Darling Hill International Artist’s Club four years ago and have had four art showings since then, in Vermont, on Cape Cod, here in the Berkshires and at a cafe in Monte San Savino, Italy. We have weathered a hurricane, an earthquake, a car accident, and foreign borne illnesses of our children. We have earned ribbons for our skillet tossing. Our dumpster dive at a bookbinders last year in Munich is an oft repeated tale these days. This past week, while waiting for her daughter at dance class, we sketched the skyline of Housatonic with the iconic water tower on to up-cycled file folders. We cut the drawings in to stencils, and then transferred the images on to vintage book covers given to us by the boyfriend of another of her daughters. We built Coptic Stitch book covers together, filled the signatures with found, painted and plain papers then sewed them up smartly on a sunny September morning. We make books in the same way we make everything we do, in the midst of making breakfast and lunch and planning dinner, picking figs or berries or apples, and delivering kids to and fro, brushing off all but the most urgent pleas for help so that we can focus together for a few hours.


Ursula's stencil 2014
Prints by Ursula of the Housatonic Water tower 2014



The porch art table by Ursula Kern
The porch art table by Ursula Kern


My new Coptic Stitch Journal visits Brooklyn By Ursula Kern
My new Coptic Stitch Journal visits Brooklyn By Ursula Kern


What we give each other is permission to want what we want.
What we give each other is permission to answer our soul’s calling in the midst of parenting.
What we give each other is the courage to stop waiting to do what calls us and to engage our families with our fullest selves, the selves that snort when laughing, that pick up random scraps of paper on the sidewalks and often bursts in to song.

What has happened is that our children, from 21 to 10, now, all know that this making art is what makes us happy and they too, in their own ways, have inhaled this brand of bravery in to their own lives, making choices that are much nearer to joy than to duty. They know that familial responsibility includes honoring what the other loves.

Processed with VSCOcam with s6 preset

Ursula left this stone circled heart filled with acorns and a marigold for us on Saturday. The squirrels thanked her for it and ate most of the acorns, so I refreshed her heart and filled it with a rose and nasturtiums and more marigolds. We pass our mothering back and forth like this, pass our time together and apart with these young people in our arms, needing rides, needing counsel, needing lunch and together, we make it happen with room to doodle, to discover and to know each other deeply.

So I see you Ursula, across the table from me, I see your hands chopping tomatoes or parsley, I see you holding the nearest child’s cheeks in your hands and loving with that big heart of yours. I am so happy to know there is a spot for me there.

Who knew our hearts could grow this big?

I am blessed beyond measure.
xo S

3 Favorite Frames of the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers.

Margaret, Amy and Gabrielle at Out of the Mouths of Babes March 1, 2013

Before April arrives in her muddy boots I must savor a few more moments of Out of the Mouths of Babes An Evening of Mothers Reading to Others on March 1. As I write, I am listening to a recording of the event and the sounds I love the most, above Michelle, Janet, Jenny, Nichole and Alana’s reading voices are the sounds of the audience- laughing, gasping, groaning in recognition of the truths revealed in the beautiful writing we heard that night. The audience warmly embraced all the readers, singer Stephanie Campbell and special guest Susan Engel.

I appreciate every single person who attended March 1. Thank you.

The Front Row listens
My dear Michealena and Cheri at Out of the Mouths of Babes
Audience at Out March 2013

I rented Dewey Historical Hall for our evening in the heart of Sheffield, MA. I love the feeling of a town meeting, all the wood and plaster walls. Like the church basement kitchens I grew up in, the coffee mugs were so clean and neatly organized on easy-to-slide-out-of-cupboards trays. It was a joy to produce this event at Dewey Hall and I felt the common ground of our missions. Dewey Hall ‘s mission is to “promote intelligence and cheerfulness for all” and mine is “to see and celebrate the sacred in daily living, to create venues for the stories of women to be heard and celebrated, particularly the stories of mothers”. We are a good match, Dewey Hall and Laundry Line Divine.

Thank you Dewey Historical Hall. What a lovely place.

Coffee mugs
Dewey Hall

Lastly, I loved how people bought copies of the anthology and read it right there in the hall. We sold the book at intermission and by the end of the evening two people won signed copies. Just like the satisfaction gained from grins of pleasure from the people who enjoy a meal I have made, watching readers dive in to the anthology held the same feeling for me. You get to dive in to the stories of a wide variety of women with different takes on a creative life. Tears and laughter abound. I have so enjoyed hearing responses from readers like Barbara Aycock of the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina who said:

I love your book & would love to purchase 5 or more copies for women I know & love. There is a wonderful & powerful voice heard in each of the writings & I found myself underlining, writing notes in the margins, & turning back page corners as I read. It is a wonderful gift, & I am deeply grateful.

Gentle reader

Thank you readers and thank you Barbara!

As I leave you this evening, I must tell you a few things.

1. The Out of the Mouths of Babes blog series will continue with full and lusty posts from Anthology authors and new writers to LLD. Today we have a gorgeous post from Stacey Mattraw, of Portland, Oregon and Cortona, Italy. Stacey will be visiting me here in the Berkshires in early April and I cannot wait to make some art with her. Here is her post.

2. The Powder Keg Sessions writing workshops for mothers and others will continue on in April through June. If you aren’t in the Berkshires but would like to dip your quills and write, consider joining me at the International Women’s Writing Guild
Big Apple conference on April 13-14 in New York City. Here is where you can learn more about Powder Keg and see some of our doodles and writing.

I hope your holiday Holy Day weekend is filled with time to read, to cook, to walk, to look across the table at your life mates and offer a few moments of gratitude for their good company.

Here is joy from my heart to yours,


P.S. Several people have asked to read the piece I read on March 1 titled My Oshitashi Boy about life in the kitchen with my son…who is just now learning about which colleges he is being accepted in to. I will include it in the blog series next week. xo S

Mothers and Emerson

#wool #yarn from #Maine washed in the #ocean . NYS Sheep and Wool Fair. XoS

I am in an Emerson mood these days.

Then I read this quote of his in a 1904 book, Forty Thousand Quotations, gifted me by my pal Sarah:

Men are what their mothers made them.


No wonder we are so busy.
All these boys to tend.
All these girls to be role models for.

Then there is the laundry.

I am okay with that.
Truly, I’d love about 32 more hours in the day so I could have a long ramp up in to hours of studio time along with a few hours to knit, take a long honking walk and write a few letters.

But, this week, of the hurricane and helping my kids with their life projects- navigating rumors, an early decision college application, lunch bags left in the library for 5 days and that means my thermos is AWOL…these things take time and energy.

And, I know that the attention I pour in to my children, even now when they are teens and can go for hours with out my reminding them to drink water or pick up their socks, I know my attention adds value to their decision making. I know my attention guides them through rocky patches. I know my attention propels them forward, if away from me, it is only because they have come through me that they can grow on with such courage and strength.

Their integrity comes from their Dad. He is a gem of unblemished beauty. And he will be traveling to Ohio to be part of a team of lawyers tending the voting stations in a state that needs support from ‘mature lawyers’. Go team!

How about you?
Are you what your mother made you?
Man or woman, I believe we are composed of aspects of our parents, impressions made from years of hands held, cheeks pressed one to another, the scent of the others’ breath in our nostrils as we exit an embrace.

My mother poured her enthusiasm in to me, full volume.
My dad, hmmmm….he died when he is the age I just turned…and so, I have less of awareness of his impression, except curiosity perhaps. I long to know him as an adult, but that was not our story this time around. He was a dear heart.



Tell me something of the impressions your parents made upon you.
Not your whole life story, just one or two things.
Let us celebrate those gifts this weekend. Your comments are spots of sunshine in the dappled days of fall. Please shine on here!

Working on #plumjam and thinking of #press in #northadams. #gettingthereiseasy is a delicious  #artexhibit.

All my love,

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