Tan Your Hide

I got a question. Sunless tanners. How to use them?

I reside in the mystical world of the coast, where cool ocean breezes wend their way through the air, and large banks of misty fog enwrap the land in a chilling embrace. Clear days of sunshine are welcomed like the visit of a friend from far away.

Poetic, truly—but it ain’t shorts weather.

Yet there are times when I find the need to travel to the warmer climates of the South, where tank tops and shorts are de rigueur. Coming from my days of blue jeans and long-sleeve tops, my attempts at LA fashion tend to remind one of the quote, “Her face, at first just ghostly, turned a whiter shade of pale.”

What does one do?

One goes to Wal-Mart.

Which brings us back to the subject of sunless tanners. How, exactly, does one use them? It never occurred to me before, but when you have the power to control your tan lines, where does it end? Do you stop fake-tanning where last month’s short-sleeve visit to LA left off? Or do you gel all the way to the wrists, risking a more pronounced farmer’s tan? Planning ahead to the Halley’s Comet-like occasion of actually needing to wear a swimsuit, do you tan one-piece or tankini? Hmmm…a bit too much time in front of the computer and not enough on the exercise bike will answer the question of tanning full skirt vs. French cut.

Trouble is, someone just put the power of creative choice in the hands of an artist.

I’m starting to think, “tattoo.”


Detail of 'Vision' by mousewords

I can see farther today than I could yesterday.

A part of that is due to the world of information on the web. I’ve only recently been getting involved in the latest trends online—before, I was too busy to spend much time browsing. Now, though, I find I need to do that for the sake of promoting my work.

It fascinates me what can be found on the internet these days. The volume of information has always been amazing—but the tools for accessing it now are impressive. Being a writer, I find that to be a blessing.

With del.icio.us, I can track and keep “tabs” on the websites I find interesting. What’s more, I can tab all my research sites, and have them at my fingertips no matter where I go or what computer I’m using. No more saving a copy of my favorites list and e-mailing it to myself periodically! No more forgetting to update that list, either.

With RSS feeds, I can have the latest updates from my favorite blogs and websites sent to my feed reader, where I can access them in one place. Which means that now, when skyM blogs about something new, I don’t have to wait for an e-mail from her to find out about it.

And best of all, with blogs, I not only have access to the thoughts and writing of thousands of people all over the world, but my thoughts can travel the world over, as well.

Now if somebody would just come up with a good way for me to remember all my passwords.

Love Gives Us Wings

'Thumbelina' by mousewords

I’m continuing a series of hidden-picture, storytelling art pieces. Thus far, I’ve completed “Beauty and the Beast” and “Sleeping Beauty”–and yesterday, I added the third card, which is “Thumbelina.”

Completely familiar with the story–like most people who grew up reading fairy tales–I still wanted to look up the original version to make sure I had my facts straight. No telling what a retelling will do to a fairy tale. What I discovered was a surprise.

In Andersen’s original story, pretty, tiny Thumbelina was kidnapped from home by a toad, who thought the little human would be the perfect bride for her son. With the help of friendly wildlife, Thumbelina escaped this fate–only to be captured again, this time by an enamored “cockchafer,” which is a type of beetle. The beetle’s peers, however, managed to convince him that the tiny two-legged creature was much too ugly for him to take as his wife, so he set Thumbelina loose in the middle of the wilderness. Alone, lost, and frightened to begin with, Thumbelina now also carried the memory of the words that the beetles had slung at her–”How ugly she is!” She wept to herself over the thought that she was so ugly that even the beetles did not want to have anything to do with her. When, all the while, as Andersen quotes, “she was really the loveliest creature that one could imagine, and as tender and delicate as a beautiful rose-leaf.”

Desperate to escape the elements, Thumbelina found shelter with a kind-hearted field-mouse. Yet even this friendship worked against her, for the field-mouse arranged a marriage between the girl and a rich old mole. When Thumbelina demurred, the field-mouse scolded her for being foolish, telling her that she was lucky the wealthy old mole would even have her, as she was poor and completely without prospects. Believing this, Thumbelina sadly resigned herself to her fate. Yet once again, a rescue came, as a result of her own good heart. While dwelling with the field-mouse, Thumbelina had saved the life of an injured swallow; just before her wedding, he returned, and offered to take her away with him as he flew South for the winter. Happily, Thumbelina agreed.

Love–true love–awaited her in the South. The swallow placed her among the flowers, where she found herself face-to-face with a winged man who was only a bit taller than she. He was the King of the Flower Dwellers. The King thought she was the loveliest creature he had ever seen, and told her so, instantly asking her to be his bride.

With awe–for she was immediately taken with the handsome King–Thumbelina agreed. She could see that he would be a “very different sort of husband” from the ones she had been faced with marrying before. The Flower Dwellers rejoiced, and brought a pair of shimmering wings for her, that she may fly among them. And her Lover gave her a new name, to better reflect the beauty that he saw in her.

Andersen has captured a poignant metaphor within this tale. How many voices in this world–both inside and outside our own thoughts–tell us negative things about ourselves? You’re not good enough…you’re not strong enough…you’re not attractive enough. You can’t expect the better things in life, so you should take what you can get and be satisfied with that. “Happily Ever After” is for the people in fairy tales. When we hear these things often enough, we start believing them. But, all the while, the real truth is within us–the truth that we are beautiful, and able to choose our own path in life. The truth that we’re worthy of love…and our own Happily Ever After.

Only when someone else sees that in us can we recognize it in ourselves. So take a look around. Tell someone the truth about themselves today. And know that the same holds true for you, as well.

Worth Doing Poorly

'Beauty's Dream WIP 1 by mousewords 'Beauty's Dream' WIP 2 by mousewords 'Beauty's Dream' by mousewords

Someone once said, “Everything worth doing is worth doing poorly at first.”

I heard that quote today at the very moment I was pondering an art piece I was working on. I had reached a point where I was hesitant to move forward–mainly because I wasn’t confident enough in my abilities to risk damaging what I had already accomplished. But then this quote came to my ears, and it dawned on me–it doesn’t have to be perfect, so long as I do it. If it’s not my best work, I’ll change it, or do better next time.

Lesson for the day is learned…I hope.

Of mousewords and Man

'Beauty and Beast' by mousewords

I love hidden pictures. As an art enthusiast, I enjoy searching for them. As an artist, I can’t help drawing them into my work. My inclination is to incorporate meaning into the work through the use of symbolism and stories—in other words, hidden pictures. Even when I don’t intend to put them in, my subconscious is on overdrive, and causes me to incorporate them anyway.

Love looking for hidden pictures? You can take a glance through the examples of my artwork. Many, like “Beauty and Beast” above, have several pictures or meanings woven throughout the work. All my art these days, though, includes one particular hidden picture: the mousewords mouse.

My Mousie

You can find him in this art piece—he has a tendency to hide right out in the open, as it were, sometimes. Other times, he’s a bit harder to see. But he’s always there.

Robbie Burns was the poet who quoted the famous line, “Of mice and men.” His poem, “To a Mouse, On Turning Her Up In Her Nest With The Plough,” has been a long-time favorite of mine. I can often relate to the tiny character in the story.

A modern-day reader might do a double-take over the 18th-century Scottish writing, but the meaning endures—the best-laid plans of Mice and Men often go awry, and bring nothing but grief and pain where joy had been promised. Mr. Burns felt this, as he couldn’t help but “cast his eye” on the dreary past, and “guess and fear” about the future. I’m guilty of both, I’m afraid! But I shall try to be a bit more like the little Mouse—the present only touches her. Her well-laid plans for promised joy may have been uprooted and laid to waste; but after her first shock and sorrow, she gathers herself together again, and moves along, starting over elsewhere. It’s the only thing she knows how to do, but it’s a blessing of an example to her fellow-mortals.


A Symphony of Web Page Design

It’s one of those days. My afternoon coffee hasn’t kicked in yet. I’m staring at a page that has some HTML started on it. I need to build my home page for my website. But I just can’t seem to envision it today. Instinctively, all I want to do is grab a sheet of paper and do a preliminary sketch.

But I can’t exactly grab the monitor off the desk and start scribbling on it. So what on earth do I do? Amazing how art is so visual, and web page design is about visualization. If I’m working directly with HTML code, I write out the information and can only picture in my mind what the end result looks like—until I view it on a practice page, that is.

It reminds me a great deal of music composition. While I have never written music, and have only a bare knowledge of notes, I’ve heard stories about how talented composers will sit down and write an entire symphony…never once hearing it with their ears until it’s performed for the first time. I thought that was fascinating when I read it. Now, it comes to me how similar it is to web page design.

…Okay, the strong coffee is kicking in. I’m getting some ideas, and I’m browsing some sites for helpful information and some inspiration.

…Five minutes later, I’m laughing out loud to myself! I just looked up some web design tips on Webmonkey, and point #6 on the second advice article is, “Sketching is for sissies.” Whoa! Hands off that paper! JJ

Hmmm…and yet…another person tells me to DEFINITELY make a sketch first…

Okay, this is not confusing at all. Whatsoever. Yeah…


Imagine how it is to wade through waist-deep water. It’s challenging to do, especially when you want to move quickly. That’s how my thinking feels on a daily basis.

Now try to imagine how it would be to wade through waist-deep mud. That’s how I feel while trying to think on a bad day.

Four years ago, my family and I were made aware of the fact that we had been exposed to chronic carbon monoxide poisoning. Over the course of a year and a half, without our knowledge, varying levels of carbon monoxide were being emitted by three gas-burning appliances in the rural farmhouse we were renting. From what we’ve been able to piece together, the levels of CO were typically low to moderate, and at times shot up to almost deadly proportions.

The only thing my Dad, Mom, teenage sister, and I knew was that we felt terrible. We had severe headaches; dizziness; numbness in our faces, hands, arm, and legs; whistling and ringing in our ears; nausea and other digestive troubles; horrible fatigue; escalating depression; blurred thinking; memory loss; heart palpitations; the list goes on. Ironically, the same house had also served us with e-coli bacteria in the water when we first moved in. Though the e-coli problem was quickly detected and resolved, we attributed our declining health to it…simply because we didn’t know what else it could be. We had always been healthy and active, until we moved into that house. The thought of carbon monoxide came to my father, and he contacted the gas company. But their representative told us the house tested clean for CO.

We called them in five times over the course of a year and a half. Each time we were told that carbon monoxide was not present. We desperately attempted to find another reason for our health troubles…while our minds slowly slipped away from us. It was like walking into a dark tunnel filled with fog—we left clear thinking behind and stepped into darkness, as heavy numbness wrapped around our thoughts.

We had moved to another state, away from all our friends and family. The unexpected problems resulted in financial challenges, so moving again was difficult—to us, at the time, it seemed impossible. As I look back now, I’m overwhelmed with guilt over not simply packing up and leaving, despite being broke. I find myself trying to make excuses for something I was physically and mentally unable to do at the time. Last year, a friend put it in perspective for me—she said, “You needed someone to rescue you. You couldn’t rescue yourself.”

Thank Heaven, part of that rescue did come. A prospective buyer brought an inspector to the house one day—and when the man tested the basement appliances for carbon monoxide, he found the second-highest levels he had ever seen in a home. He told us we were “lucky we didn’t wake up dead.”

It’s been a long journey since that day. Recovery, rebuilding life, has been my main occupation. Carbon monoxide deprives the blood of oxygen, causing brain damage. I’ve come away with many after-effects, not the least of which is a constant tremor in my hands and forearms. Oh yes, and memory loss. I never used to take notes in my work, because my brain was my filing cabinet—I could remember everything. These days, I describe it as my “Swiss-cheese memory.” That’s exactly what it’s like—I have blank spaces where I know something should be. Sometimes those spaces will suddenly blink into view for a minute…oftentimes, they won’t.

I am an artist and a writer by profession. I can no longer draw a steady line. I can’t think of words. I used to have sharp thinking—I was able to mentally “look” at the project I was working on, see the work at hand and visualize what I wanted to do with it. I could see far ahead, past the current project, and on to other plans. If I added music in the background, my brain would burst afire with inspiration and ideas.

Right now, when I sit down to draw, I have to stare at my paper and try to remember all the things I want to do. Then I need to find the impetus to do them. It’s like trying to get a boulder rolling. My brain feels fuzzy, slightly numb. I know what I want to do, but I can’t see the whole picture. (Figuratively! And literally—nobody can see the whole picture till I draw it.)

I have a great drawing sitting in front of me right now, and I need to paint it—somewhat quickly now, so I can list it on eBay this evening—and I’m enthusiastic about the plethora of opportunities that are before me today. Yet my brain is wading.

I put on some Newsboys music, “Secret Kingdom,” and with the first burst of music and percussion, I was suddenly inspired. It felt like I had been closed up in a warm, stuffy room, and suddenly somebody turned a light on and opened the door, letting in a blast of fresh, cool air. It opened my eyes and awoke my thinking.

But the fuzziness gathers quickly back into my brain…so I need to work while I have the mind for it. I’ll keep the music going, have a cup of coffee, and try to keep the boulder rolling. This is how my day goes, almost every day.

A small suggestion—no, make that a desperate plea: have your gas appliances checked professionally twice a year. The fire department and gas company will do it for free. If you still feel lousy for no reason, go to the emergency room. Tell your friends and family how you are feeling. And watch your friends and family, please.

They may need somebody to rescue them.


For more information on carbon monoxide poisoning and safety, please click here.