Tag Archives: Books

Just Ask an Old Person: Signs and Messages from Carson McCullers

IMG_5177I recently visited the home of one of my favorite authors, Carson McCullers, in Columbus, GA

I read The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers around the time my family moved to Georgia. When I found out that she attended my new high school, Columbus High School (a beautiful brick 1890′s building, set on a hill) and had been born and raised in Columbus, I was thrilled. I’d walk the halls of the old school, with it’s solid wooden floors, thinking of how she had also walked on the very same wood, gazed out the very same windows watching the trees  shimmer in the sun.  But one thing kept annoying me. In Heart is a Lonely Hunter, there are Greek characters, and a Greek diner and I never saw anything of that sort in Columbus–nothing Greek anywhere! It bothered me any time I thought of Carson McCullers since high school days. I figured she added the Greek diner part into the novel once she had relocated in her early twenties, to New York City where there are plenty of Greek diners. Then something very interesting happened. Last year, before traveling to see my parents in a retirement community in Columbus, I thought again about the Greek characters in McCuller’s novel and it seemed in-authentic since Columbus is not a magnate for Greek immigrants as far as I know, and never was. I carried on the conversation in my head about how it didn’t fit in, and why did she write something that wasn’t quite truly true to Columbus as a setting for the novel?

When I arrived at my parent’s retirement community, everyone was in the dining hall. It was lunch time. I was seated with my parents beside a quiet, sweet-faced gentleman with a kindly twinkle in his eyes.  It was pleasant enough chatting about nothing in particular with retired strangers and I thought how easy it is in our society to dismiss elderly people. Looking out at all the wheelchairs and gray hair, I thought to myself that I could sit silently, disinterested, but that seemed wrong. So I decided to ask the twinkle-eyed man questions. I asked him where he was from (Alabama was his answer). I asked about his wife, wondering, was she also from Alabama. “My wife was Greek,” he said. I was stunned, but even more so when he said, “Her Greek immigrant father ran the best restaurant in Columbus!” With absolute delight and a serious chill down my neck, with the compelling feeling of the presence of Carson McCullers hovering over us, chuckling, I asked plenty more questions! Yes, the Greek restaurant was in downtown Columbus, and yes his wife’s family knew Carson McCullers, her father’s jewelry shop was nearby, and she grew up coming into the Greek restaurant. Well, blow me down. I was utterly floating on air the rest of the day. I smile now, thinking of McCullers dwelling in the Other Side, straightening out these things for us down here.

Even more recently, reveling in this new found information, telling my sister and brother-in-law about it, we took a drive by the McCullers home, now set up as a museum, in Columbus. As we pulled up to look at the house, we noticed the front door was wide open. And we met a care-taker of the museum who just happened to stop by to check on something, and of course she invited us in. I felt like Carson herself opened that door for me!

IMG_5163My sister in front of the Carson McCullers home in Columbus, Ga. The door was wide open.


Making Marks as a Gift to Self and Others


The unfinished galley of my new book due out in May, MAKING MARKS

Whenever I read Near Death Experiences, I think of what a powerful teacher a  ”life review” is. Life reviews are common in many of NDEs. This is when you see your entire life as a movie, either every scene or very important ones, and you not only see yourself interacting with others, you feel everything the other people around you were feeling. People who experience this say that they re-emerge (after becoming conscious again) with so much more compassion and concern for others and it helps them love life more. Another thing I often read is that such NDE experiences make people want to live life to the fullest, appreciating each moment.

This new book of mine coming out in May is an expression of so much of what I love about life because the book’s truest message is about empathy for others and living life to the fullest —creative self-expression combined with empathy, for me, is the ultimate way to LOVE each moment of every day!  We make our marks, we live and interact, and if we can create while we support and love others, what could be better?  (I want to have a life-review, when I leave the earth, that I could feel good about, and all that matters is loving others and creating and generating good things, even if learning to be truly loving is not easy, I want to be better as each day goes by.)

My wish for the New Year is to develop more empathy and be more creative, knowing that the creative expression of others is a great gift to me and to celebrate that with every breath I take.

Would You Be a Mary or a Martha?

Mary and Martha/ painted sketch/ Elaine Clayton copyright 2013

I am studying Torah and taking Hebrew and LOVE IT. I recently had an exchange with the very brilliant Jewish scholar and author of several books, including The Jewish Annotated New Testament, Amy-Jill Levine.  Her work helps bridge a gap of misunderstanding between two traditions that spring from the same source, Judaism and Christianity. Her concentration and love of this study has improved how we see and read the New Testament and I am so grateful that she dedicated herself to it for everyone’s benefit. I was recently called a “Bridge Person” myself by a rabbi and I think I am that, actually having had a meditation recently where I am on a bridge that connects the two religions. When I asked Ms. Levine what she liked most in the NT, one was the story of Mary and Martha.  I admit that I have to actually study it myself to see what I think of it, but I enjoyed painting Mary as she is on her way to see Jesus while her sister Martha remains behind preparing food.  I would probably relate more to Mary as I’m not always enthralled with preparing food, but am getting better as time goes by.

If You Have Writer’s or Artist’s Block, Try This!

Sometimes I get into the studio and don’t know what it is I want to do. I may feel very inspired, but just not sure what it is that needs to come forth. Usually, just getting playful with art materials or into a stream-of-consciousness with writing helps get things going, but other days it’s best to do something else. Try these things and see if they help you, I’d love to hear your ideas as well!

Shadows of the Past and Your Perception of Now

This is a recent drawing (gesso and ink on paper, collage and acrylic) I did called “Things of the Past” copyright 2013

Often the light we have within–our essence, our creative potential and our uniqueness, is enshrouded by shadows of the past. In a recent visual-intuitive meditation I did, which I call Intuitive Stream Drawing Readings, using an intuitive method of drawing that I created (the subject of my next book, MAKING MARKS to be published in 2014 by Simon and Schuster/Beyond Words) I saw what came to me as a shrouded shadowy figure holding an image that looked like a “soul scroll” (these soul scrolls often come up in my intuitive readings—an image that looks like a scroll or chart, symbolizing what we contracted to see, do and learn in this life).

This is a detail from an Intuitive Stream Drawing reading I did recently (these visual-intuitive explorations are the subject of my next book, MAKING MARKS, due out in ’14 with Simon and Schuster/Beyond Words)

The idea of a shadow holding my soul’s potential and purpose hit me hard. I recognized it right away as a feeling I have at times that the past holds my “now” and “future” hostage.  Now being this moment and future being my perception of moments unfolding into more moments.  How? Memories of people, places and events that have formed my belief system, and have shaped my perception of myself and others can get fixed in a hard and unchanging way within the mind and emotions. All of these thoughts and emotions which are only mine (as they exist like movies playing over and over or novels being read over and over within) and are not real.  They are possibly aspects of my personal truths, but they are only perceptions I have based on my experiences and knowledge. They are  shadows of what once was, that I accept as real and unchangeable in some way. This is not negative–there is a lot of good that comes from this acceptance of certain thoughts I see as “real” and that is that my brain and heart remembers what I learned so I do not have to go through whatever those things were AGAIN. My brain and heart feel remorse, love, sentiment, nostalgia, respect. Those are good things. But the downside of all this is that at times we (certainly I) hold onto perceptions that no longer serve us, that are like mind-movies of the past dragging us down–yet we still carry them around as though they are real, carved in stone upon the heart, whether we know this consciously or not.  Reflecting on this, I see that such thoughts and memories weigh on me when I have not resolved or forgiven myself or others! When I have not created a new way to use what happened in the past to honor life, I am allowing the past to define me, even though the scenes are dramatic stage-productions, life stories, that are figments and illusions. This can be a miserable way to live–each new moment marring current dispositions and thoughts. Past circumstances can set us up for future disappointments that are similar to those of the past (holding on to things of the past can be like telling the Universe you like those things, “so bring on more!”). It really is like the Shadow of Death holding the future hostage.  That image in my meditation struck a cord so I could revisit in a conscious way, how memories can truly inhibit happiness if I allow them to–and I alone, with my free will, have to be the one to do that adjustment of perception. Nobody else can do that for me.

I love that through drawing, and through intuitively tuning in, discoveries can be made to  set us free, allowing us to use the past for the good that is in it, to love more deeply, forgive more thoroughly and to understand life situations better. But then it is time to create new experiences, using all we’ve seen and heard, felt and participated in or generated (all of it–the good, the bad, the difficult, the easy, etc.). Each moment gives us a chance to create brand-new life episodes–I ask myself, why not create dreams-come-true and generate wonderful relationships, activities, explorations and art? Why not?

Find Peace Through Drawing

On location sketching in NYC/ copyright 2013

Getting a birds-eye-view, or an objective orientation, is easier when you draw and when you journal. I think through drawing (an act that feels soothing and meditative) I have arrived at all kinds of realizations that help me move along through life situations. Any kind of drawing, as long as it feels loose and easy, can have this effect on us. I have experienced myself a part of my surroundings but separate, too, while drawing, which sets me in the right frame of mind for understanding situations and not just reacting to them. It gives me the feeling that I may be in the world, but I can create an inner world of my own. This lets me think and feel about things, or coast along in a zone of well-being without thinking much at all. When there is trouble or something weighing on me, it is so easy to react without thinking first. Other times I may feel stuck not knowing what exactly to do in some life predicament.  Drawing doesn’t seem like the way to get answers, and yet it can be a most powerful way because having a sense of calm while being productive, positive, expressive and creative opens windows of thought and deepens channels of feeling. Light pours in and answers arrive. And even if they don’t, I don’t feel subjected to my emotions, I feel “in the world but not of the world” as the saying goes (sort of).  Journaling has a similar power, because through journaling you allow yourself time to reflect, to describe your thoughts and feelings and then to allow realizations to arrive. For me both are very spiritual experiences, they are acts that show me that I have the will to create (actions, responses) while at the same time, I have the ability to accept the mysterious and synchronistic way that answers often come–as though from nowhere. It’s like meeting God half way.

In my new book MAKING MARKS, I share a drawing method that strengthen self-esteem in relation to drawing and intuitive sensing (due out in 2014/ Simon and Schuster-Beyond Words).

Streams of Watercolor

Watercolor Ladies/ Elaine Clayton copyright 2013

I heard it may be a very wet April. Great time to take out the watercolors and let them flow and flow. I also can’t wait to use the brayer (a roller, one of my favorite art supplies). Spring into your flow, your dreams and streams of consciousness while creating something. The playfulness will open up all your senses and allow your imagination to surface. In my new book, MAKING MARKS, due out next year, I focus on that aspect of intuition that in essence is the mind-body-spirit working together to feel the flow and unlock personal unconscious memory (much like my first book on intuition, ILLUMINARA INTUITIVE JOURNAL–which even more than being a book it is a journal for YOUR thoughts and impressions). I wish you happy, playful times being creative in whatever way you choose.

Are the Good Days Gone? We Can Bring Them Back


This is a drawing I did wanting to capture the magic of winter in New England as I saw in books as a kid-not sure when I made this but I think in 1999.

At this time of year, living in an area of small New England towns, I always looked forward to the first big snowfall. I find that after the tragedy not quite a week ago in Newtown, a very familiar neighboring town, I can’t be happy about winter or almost anything, the grief is still too strong.  Yet, I am proud of the people there and how they have shown the world what compassion, heroism and dignity looks like. I am in awe of the way parents have honored their innocent, lost children. And I hope we’ll learn something from this. Quaint New England towns as well as any town or city in the world do not need semi-automatic assault rifles. You don’t need them for the sport of hunting or for any other reason. And it should be easier to get mental health support than it is to buy one of those or any other gun. This will be a long, sorrowful winter and future for our country if we do not honor life, love and abundance over death, destruction and hell. I can’t accept that all our happy days are gone and children being safe and loved can only be found in old books that no longer resemble our present times.

Abraham Lincoln Pardoned the Turkey

One of my many paintings of Lincoln/Enamel on wood/2012

This is a repost of a wood cut painting I did of President Abraham Lincoln/2012

I’ve always been so inspired by Abe Lincoln.  He remembered his dreams and reflected on them and their meanings, was interested in the mystery of the human spirit and souls in the after-life, and was full of so much knowledge which he shared with such engaging humor. When I was a child I thought we had visited his house and I still “remember” it.  Today is Thanksgiving and I had not realized that Thanksgiving was proclaimed by President Lincoln during the Civil War. The following is an excerpt from the Smithsonian website:

It was, however, in late 1863, when the Lincolns received a live turkey for the family to feast on at Christmas. Tad, ever fond of animals, quickly adopted the bird as a pet, naming him Jack and teaching him to follow behind as he hiked around the White House grounds. On Christmas Eve, Lincoln told his son that the pet would no longer be a pet. “Jack was sent here to be killed and eaten for this very Christmas,” he told Tad, who answered, “I can’t help it. He’s a good turkey, and I don’t want him killed.” The boy argued that the bird had every right to live, and as always, the president gave into his son, writing a reprieve for the turkey on a card and handing it to Tad.

The boy kept Jack for another year, and on election day in 1864, Abraham Lincoln spotted the bird among soldiers who were lining up to vote. Lincoln playfully asked his son if the turkey would be voting too, and Tad answered, “O, no; he isn’t of age yet.”

Best Friend, Cavalier King Charles Plantagenet

Plantagenet Sleeping/ink and color pencil/2012

I don’t know what I’d do without my best friend, Plantagenet. His full name is Plantagenet Palliser, the Duke of Omnium and Peppermint, otherwise known as “Planty Pals”.  The first part of his name, all but the “Peppermint” part, which my sons insisted upon, comes from an Anthony Trollope novel, The Pallisers. The novel is all about sexual politics in Victorian England. The Duke of Omnium character in this novel is the absolute definition of a gentleman, so much so that when his wife causes a scandal, he takes the heat himself, never exposing her as the one at fault.  It is very different from the way we bear our humiliation or disappointment these days, I’d say. When has anyone recently kept their mouth shut while preserving someone else’s good name through an unpleasant social episode not of their making?  Anyway, our very own Planty Pals has the same kind of heart and mind. He’s the most loving dog imaginable and as he ages, I watch him sleeping, thinking that he must be one of the best gifts of our lives. I don’t want to imagine the days ahead without him, so I try not to think of that. He has a sister now, Miss Georgia Sweet Tea, the pug puppy, who keeps him younger, I think. Or ages him with her pugnacious tendencies? I think she’s the perfect duchess for him, and he probably takes the heat for her all the time!