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Friday Night Book Club: A Love Letter to Art

I cheated on this one. It’s not actually one of our book club books, but I’m going to recommend that it become one – because if you take love, art, World War II and the south of France and put them together in novel form, it’s an almost guaranteed win for me.

In Lisette’s List, Susan Vreeland transports us to the years between 1937 and 1948 – from the onset of war, to an increasingly distressed French countryside, to the war’s aftermath, to Paris, to the rebuilding of hearts and souls and cultural treasures – and in the process, composes what amounts to a kind of lavish love letter both to art and to Provence. Known for her art-based novels (A Girl in Hyacinth Blue, The Passion of Artemisia, and The Forest Lover among my personal favorites), perhaps affection was her intent; if so, she succeeded.

With imagined conversations involving Pissarro, Cezanne and Chagall, and main character Lisette’s passion to “learn what makes a painting great”, with the tragedies of war and the luxurious, natural beauty of southeastern France, Lisette’s List paints a feast of color, tones and textures, lovingly framed by a well woven story that’s beautifully blended with a rich cast of characters. Added bonus: you might never look at a painting quite the same way.

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Friday Night Book Club: A Russian Feast

Some books read like a symphony. They start out innocently enough, a little tug here and there to capture your ear, then they rise and float as different instruments chime in – and before you know it you’re swept away by the melody, by thunderous twists and gentle pauses, cheerful refrains and deep undertones carrying heart and mind to unexpected places.

A Gentleman in Moscow is such a book. It’s also a book that reminds me why I find the written word so magical.

In telling the story of an aristocrat under house arrest in Moscow’s finest hotel during the 1920’s – 1950’s, a world within a world is brought to mesmerizing life – a world as surprisingly large as it was obviously small, as delightful as it was touching, while offering a glimpse of Russia during a broad span of massive change  – and Amor Towles masterfully ties it all together with a steady beat of delicious writing.

Like a fine wine (or perhaps a Vodka?), there were passages so yummy I had to pause now and then to savor the flavor. Like moments in a symphony that hold you briefly but luxuriously suspended in time and space, I would find I’d stopped to relish a particularly brilliant sentence. (But, don’t worry, you won’t pause for long, because you’re already anticipating the next movement.)

A Gentleman in Moscow had all the key elements right – irresistible characters inside a beautifully written, well-crafted tale. Well done, well done.

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Dragons Be Here!

It takes a long time to make a book. Particularly challenging when your models have very large claws and tend to breathe fire. But the work is done; the wait is over – the restless beasts (and restless author/illustrator) are thrilled that their book is now out into the world.

With great pleasure I bring to you “Book of Dragons” – the third book in what has become my trilogy, of sorts, of mystical creatures. (Mermaids, then Fairies, now Dragons.) Along the way I came to know a few dragons quite well, and learned a lot from them. (They really like classical music, for one thing – who knew?) I hope you and the children you know will enjoy learning about them, too!

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I’ll keep you posted about upcoming book signings and/or events. In the meantime, you can head on over to Amazon and pick up a copy!

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Going Thoreau

Pond. Woods. Cabin. Pen. Paper. Laptop. Me, and piles of unfinished writings. (Right. Thoreau didn’t have a laptop, much less electricity. So let’s call it a modern-day female Thoreau of sorts.) Wind whipping through red-budded trees, ducks squawking, late afternoon sun bouncing off royal blue water, star-studded nights and a deer (or three or four) to greet you at your door. Some fresh space for the muses.

Of course I wasn’t really alone. Aside from the ducks and deer (and, apparently, bears), there were plenty of other characters for company – a couple of boys and girls, some angels, and monsters, a flying horse here and there. There were real-live actual people too, nearby but not too near, and no one making a ruckus. No cars zipping by, no leaf-blowers or tv’s blaring. Laundry could wait, dishes were few, regular life paused. Except I did miss our cats sitting on my work. (I think?)

So, that was my five-day gift to myself – a mini back-to-nature answer to the incessant chatter of works undone while I’m otherwise busy designing things like branding and book covers for my wonderful clients. A cabin in the woods. A room with a view. Pen and paper. It was both enough and not enough. Is there ever enough time, though?

We do what we can when we can with what we have – then grab on and go.

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A Plethora of P's: (the final eight)

proactively punctuating life with the plausible, powerful possibilities of positive thought presented through a plethora of “P’s”.

– ♥ –

Wa-la! Here are the final eight of one hundred P’s in my “Plethora of P’s” series. But how did it come to be, and why the letter P, you might ask? With the original intention of creating an alphabet, I soon found my mind overflowing with “P” words – most of which were falling in line with my beliefs in Positive Thinking – add to that my own name beginning with a P – and well, one thing led to another and yet another series was born. I suppose it was “inspired”, as most of them are – from where I’m not exactly sure, but if it’s fun, positive, and allows me creative freedom, I go with it.

I do hope you’ve enjoyed them. 🙂

 

#93: PotteryP_pottery

Pottery has the admirably dual qualities of beauty and functionality. Designed at the discretion of the maker, each piece is essentially a vessel of creativity – figuratively, through artistic expression and simultaneous usefulness in a variety of practical ways – and symbolically, representing the womb; the carrying, giving and nurturing of life. 

– ♥ –

#94: Planets

P_planets

If one wants to be awed, all one needs to do is look up at the night sky. What’s there is unfathomable – billions (upon billions?) of stars; planets within universes within galaxies within more galaxies. Distances the mind can not comprehend. Possibilities of life – similar or very, very different –  in far, far, far away places.  Star Trekkian ships and Star Wars-like creatures are only fantasies, but … are they? Beyond our sky, beyond the stars and beyond the planets lies the truly Great Unknown, and amazement on an enormous scale.

– ♥ –

#95: Parachute

P_parachute

Here’s to safe landings!

– ♥ –

#96: Prolific

P_prolific

Abundantly fruitful. Profusely productive. Being prolific can as easily be a vineyard, a garden or a tree, as a poet, an artist, mathematician or scientist. There are no bounds, just rich creation.

– ♥ –

#97: Paperclip

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Perhaps the most talked about invention ever, and one that needs no explanation. (But, who DID invent the paperclip?)

– ♥ –

#98: Poppy

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Ah, the alluring poppy. Its brilliant bursts of color and tales of mysterious concoctions make the poppy, all in all, a happy flower to behold.

– ♥ –

#99: Perspicacity

P_perspicacity

noun
1. keenness of mental perception; vision, insight, acumen. 
Keep your mind sharp and kickin’. Bend and stretch those mental muscles! Read. Do crossword puzzles and number games. Play scrabble. Study things. Ask questions. Listen, a lot. Stay curious. Always, stay curious.

– ♥ –

#100: Puppies

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Because just the thought of puppies makes most people smile. 🙂

……………………

(See all 100 Plethora of P’s here)

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Outrageous Happiness #18: Do Stuff

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Accept invitations. Go places. Be spontaneous. Break routine, crack your shell, burst your seams a bit! Say “yes” to adventure. Do stuff you haven’t done before.

For someone whose nose is usually found inches from the grindstone, I do love a good adventure. I’ve been known to “up and go places” (mostly pre-motherhood, I will admit, but that will change…) – occasionally up-and-staying longer than expected. Two weeks in the Greek Islands turned into four. A week in Sedona turned into nearly 6 months. Africa called, I answered; hippos and lions growling in the night, guards with spears outside my door (trusting they knew how to use them), hot-air ballooning over the Maasai Mara, dining on a long red cloth sprawled out on the plains.

Granted, there are some adventures I’ll never take. Climbing Mt. Everest? I’ll gladly leave that to those who like to dangle from high ledges and don’t mind cold-to-the-bone. And while a stone’s throw away, I’ve managed to skip New Year’s Eve in Times Square. (Something about crowds and – yes – cold, again.)

But an outdoor summer concert in the rain, complete with impromptu slip’n slide tarps? Sure! A whirlwind trip to southern California to be part of the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday bash? Absolutely! A chance to meet friends I’ve never met? Big yes.

Memories made. Bonds of friendship strengthened. Things to gripe about (after all they’re part of the experience too, like air travel… ) but mostly, Things to rejoice (did I mention the Dalai Lama? 🙂 ). Sharing time with wonderful people; excellent. Making a scene of hugs and laughter and non-stop talking in Santa Monica with friends-I’d-not-yet-met but feel I’ve known for lifetimes; priceless. Gratitude. Gratitude. For the opportunities, the generosity and kindnesses, the fun, the enrichment.

I could have easily not gone. I have too much work; too little time. I have too much responsibility and not enough money. I’m tired. What if this, what if that. But sometimes you really just need to say “yes”. Because what if it’s wonderful?

Caveat: Saying yes to adventure doesn’t have to be Africa or half a year on an unplanned artistic sabbatical, or a good seat for the Dalai Lama. Truth be told, there have been times when a trip to the grocery store felt like an adventure. Reading a fabulous book can be a marvelously grand adventure. Calling someone you haven’t seen in ages; an impromptu outing to a local watering hole; a bike ride with no plan; walking the unbeaten path through the woods; choosing the road less traveled; wearing the purple hat; taking those singing lessons, volunteering at an old folk’s home, reaching out about something you’ve thought of doing but never knew how to start. No matter how large or small, it’s taking steps into the unknown, uncharted, unpredictable.

Adventure is a thing of spirit that beckons us to leap and stretch our wings. It can fill our hearts with gladness, our stomachs with butterflies, our eyes with wonder – or simply shift the mood of a day, a week, a year. It’s an unleashing. A chance to breathe new life into our veins. A chance to feel outrageously happy.

In our busy, overly compressed lives, adventure is throwing caution to the wind for a little while. But even just a little while can be like ripples in a pond, the effects reaching farther and deeper than we imagined. Planned or unplanned, we grow. We won’t be the same. And that’s called living.

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How’s your Outrageous Happiness going?

 

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Outrageous Happiness #17: Seizing Moments

When something happy/pleasant/cheerful crosses your path, embrace it. Seize that moment! Enjoy it. Savor it. Let it seep in so you really feel it – no ifs, ands or buts! No “if only (fill in the blank) wasn’t going on so I could really enjoy that.” No “and now something’s bound to ruin this.” No “but I can’t stop to appreciate that, I’m too busy.” None of that. No, no, no.

We’re talking simple things (or big things ~ hey, no discrimination here on size of joy!). Maybe it’s noticing a tree with particularly pretty blossoms. Maybe it’s the sunlight through a red leaf. Maybe it’s a compliment received, or a perfectly cooked plate of fresh vegetables. A goldfinch on your bird-feeder. A favorite song on the radio.

Or maybe it’s a picture, like this one of my daughter, which made me smile on a whole bunch of levels and reminded me how much I love paint and the creative spirit and happy, unpredictable messes. I could have given it a quick “oh, I adore this!” and gone back to my at-the-time incredibly heavy workload, but I chose to take it in, let the happy feeling fill my space for a little longer.

And that ~ moments grabbed, even briefly ~ can make a real difference in the bigger picture. They add up. They might even become habit-forming.

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How’s your Outrageous Happiness going?

 

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Dear Microsoft Word: Let's Break Up.

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It’s no secret amongst my clients and colleagues – and let me preface this by saying I don’t “hate” much of anything, except maybe cheesecake (I know, I know…), and rudeness, or falling on icy steps – but sometimes I do hate Word. Microsoft Word, that is. It’s fickle. It’s not intuitive. It messes up. It can be nasty. A wolf in sheep’s clothing, I tell you!

Oh, and by the way, it is not, nor was ever meant to be, a design tool. Yet millions upon millions of people use it as if it were. I do not understand this. It infuriates me.

But I “must” use it because of those millions upon millions of people who use it, some of those millions being clients of mine and it’s a useful tool for sharing information. Note: Sharing information. Words. It was intended to process words.

Instead, it’s evolved into this messy catch-all of “things it can do”, most of which are not well done, hard to find, and tend at some point to rain on its own parade by crashing. Not crash as in “crash a party”; crash as in stop functioning. Nosedive. All systems out. As in, you’re barreling along when suddenly the spinny-rainbow-wheel pops up and begins its incessant twirl round and round and round and round, often caused by a task as excruciatingly simple as cutting and pasting a paragraph from one place to another. (Maybe it just doesn’t like Macs.)

It’s not well. It’s neither fun nor savvy. It’s a frustrating blend of “tools” that make people like me crazy. People who have worked with beautifully designed software programs that do what they’re supposed to do. People who have come to expect things to “make sense” when using them. (Personal flaw: Don’t like my time wasted, I admit it.)

Because it’s not going away any time soon, we all continue to use Microsoft Word. So we can’t actually break up. It owns the world. It’s the Big Cheese of Word Processing programs.

But, why-oh-why can’t they get it right? Why can’t they make it smarter and less finicky? Why does it try so hard to be things it isn’t, and why can’t it do the things it’s meant to do with efficiency and finesse? To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, if you’re going to do something or be something, be a good one.

Meanwhile, I’ll now go back and ONCE AGAIN, find the saved document remnants from my computer’s trash bin. And keep “saving saving saving” every time I dot an i or cross a t in my Word document.

Vent over.

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Outrageous Happiness #16: Purple Doors and Other Beautiful Things

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As the snow rages on here in the northeast, winter stubbornly insisting on showing its power over mortal beings, my discontent (affectionately called cabin fever) is assuaged by firewood and chocolate and beautiful things.

Because beauty, even in the middle of winter, is always within arms reach. The snowfall itself is a thing of beauty; but even then, yes, one gets restless for gardens and seagulls and afternoons on the porch. So I find bits of joy and comfort in things out of reach ~ things I can imagine, or dream of, or plan for. And somehow, just knowing that the purple doors below exist somewhere makes me happy.

Right, right, things, in and of themselves, do not “make us happy”. And what an empty existence it would be if we prized things over love, laughter and companionship. But our hearts can make us happy, and things can touch our hearts. Beautiful things.

Like a gorgeously purple garden gate, detailed by someone’s skilled hand. Like a well-made chest of drawers, or a child’s painting. An exquisite vase, a red cardinal on a branch, the smell of muffins in the oven, a tulip field, a perfectly comfortable chair with a lovely covering. All things of beauty in their way – expressions of love, a medium for experiencing this life with all the senses; to touch and see and hear and feel the endless multitudes of tastes and textures we have the opportunity to know.

What is life if not for diving in to sample its delicious variety. And what magnitude abounds! Even if we can’t see, hear or touch every bit, we can appreciate God’s – the Universe’s – the Great Creator’s – handiwork at every single turn. And the fruits of our own labors, too – the music, the art, the dance, the carefully crafted violin, the windmill, the garden gate.

We can appreciate the lush carpet beneath our feet, whether made of wool or sand or heather.

And when we do that, when we step out of our daily this-or-that, when we unclench our engagement with what’s wrong or what doesn’t feel good or what hurts or what’s bothersome, we elevate our experience. And what can be faulty with that?

We’re only here for an instant. We can believe it’s to struggle and fight, or we can believe it’s to learn and uplift. We can admire and expand, or we can shut down. We can stay small or we can let our spirits breathe large. We can be held captive by the world’s ills, or we can spread more light.

Beauty, and beautiful things, are a physical gift for our human experience. Seek beauty. Surround yourself. And let purple doors and other beautiful things do what they’re meant to do; nurture and inspire.

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purple door

How’s your Outrageous Happiness going?

……………………

PS: I haven’t been able to find the original source for these 2 photos. They are not my own, and I would love to give proper credit if anyone knows.

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Some Love & Literary Candy

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Two Tulips / © Patricia Saxton

 

Ah, Cupid, Roman God of Love ~ fickle, passionate, whose darting arrows don’t always hit the target ~ every year on February 14th we celebrate you nonetheless. And we celebrate love: the language of poets, songs of the heart, threads that bind us throughout time, the essence of life itself.

While I can count a few especially thoughtful, and even romantic, Valentine’s Day experiences, yea, well, those went all wrong in the end (beware the man who writes you poetry, a friend once told me…), so instead I turn to the unscathed memories of shared Valentines from grammar school, or the hand-made kindergarten cards we gave to our parents, with big red construction paper hearts and white lace around the edges, filled with unabashed adoration. And those we give our own children, marked with a thousand x’s and o’s.

And yet, despite what might seem a dose of romantic cynicism, I am a true believer. In love. Love is everything. Every task we do, everyone word we utter, every hand we shake, is made better if there’s love in it. Love is the root. Love is the cause. Love is the purpose. Love is all.

So I welcome any reason to honor love. Let sweethearts swoon. Let the day be thick with roses and chocolates for all who’ve ever felt the exultation ~ or the sting ~ from Cupids’ arrows, all who’ve felt their heart swell, their color blush, their energy soar and their selfishness cease.

And with or without a “Valentine”, fill your hearts with love. Love for self, love for others, love for your pets, for your garden, for your books, for your bicycle, for your favorite chair. Even for the guy trying to make a left turn on a busy street. Raise up the heart quotient all around, and feel the peace that settles in when tension is replaced by unbridled love.

Celebrate love. Read some poetic literary candy. Smell a rose. Give someone a cupcake. Smile because love still exists in this mad world.

Love is Not All (Sonnet XXX), Edna St. Vincent Millay

Love is not all: it is not meat nor drink
Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain;
Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink
And rise and sink and rise and sink again;
Love can not fill the thickened lung with breath,
Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone;
Yet many a man is making friends with death
Even as I speak, for lack of love alone.
It well may be that in a difficult hour,
Pinned down by pain and moaning for release,
Or nagged by want past resolution’s power,
I might be driven to sell your love for peace,
Or trade the memory of this night for food.
It well may be. I do not think I would.

 

18th Sonnet, William Shakespeare

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee.

 

How Do I Love Thee? (Sonnet 43), Elizabeth Barrett Browning

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints,—I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!—and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

 

Love’s Philosophy, Percy Bysshe Shelley

The fountains mingle with the river,
And the rivers with the ocean;
The winds of heaven mix forever
With a sweet emotion;
Nothing in the world is single;
All things by a law divine
In another’s being mingle–
Why not I with thine?

See, the mountains kiss high heaven,
And the waves clasp one another;
No sister flower could be forgiven
If it disdained its brother;
And the sunlight clasps the earth,
And the moonbeams kiss the sea;–
What are all these kissings worth,
If thou kiss not me?

Week #24, 52 Weeks of Peace

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