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Review of A Wizard of Earthsea

A Wizard of Earthsea (Earthsea Cycle, #1)

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


When I was younger I was foolish to think I didn’t really like fantasy all that much. Wizards? Hobbits? Spells? Dragons? Bah, give me good science fiction. As a result, I missed a lot of good stuff like Ursula K. Le Guin and the Earthsea Trilogy. I’m on my way to fixing the errors of my youth, and especially after watching a PBS show about Le Guin.

I picked this one up at Munroe’s Books on a trip to Victoria. This was a marvelous book originally published in 1968. Intended for older children–sort of a proto young adult novel. The book follows the origin story of Ged/Sparrowhawk who is destined to be a great wizard. It follows him through his first lessons, his first grave error, his wizard school and the quests he undertakes to fix it. The book is spare–it is less than 250 pages long but the prose and the action descriptive.

Here is the wonderful first line, “The Island of Gont, a single mountain that lifts, its peak a mile above the storm-racked Northeast Sea, is a land famous for wizards.”

The publisher included an afterword from Le Guin about the writing and publication of the book which is a well-worth read for an aspiring author or book history buff. And–she talks about the characters of the book being of color and how she slipped that and a few “subversive” themes into a book of that publication time.

And what is it about the Pacific Northwest that produces such wonderful fantasy writers? Ursula Le Guin, Patricia McKillip, and Robin Hobb, three of my favorites are all from Oregon and Washington. If like me, you’ve missed out on fantasy, I’d start with these three.



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Thoughts on a Second Reading of the Artists Way by Julia Cameron

I’m wrapping up my first class teaching the Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron and getting set for a new class to begin in February. This was my second close reading of the book after completing taking the class as a student.

If you aren’t familiar with the Artist’s Way, this book has been in print since the early nineties and has been used by countless creatives–writers, artists, directors, jewelry makers, chefs, homemakers, and anyone who wants to nurture their inner artist. I’m convinced that you could read this book all the way through one hundred times and still find something new waiting for you. The inspirational quotes alone are worth the price of admission.

Morning Pages are useful for a number of reasons. They can be used to muse and record what happened to you yesterday. They can be used to plan the day ahead. They can be used to get out negative emotion. And then they can be used to create. During the Artist’s Way process you are asked to simply write three pages every day. You can use the tasks included in the book as writing starts. Some people find they love the daily writing, others eventually realize that they would like to take that time and spend it toward their art instead, but the act of writing while you are reading through the book is essential.

Don’t Read the Book Alone or you will miss out on a great opportunity for discussion and to make new creative friends. You also increase your chances of not finishing the book or the process. The class I initially took is still meeting every few months for a reunion and to catch up. Our last meeting was full of great sharing and stories of how the course and book sparked action and changes in our lives. My current group has said they hate to see it end because they look forward to meeting every week. If you read the book along you miss a chance at building a community.

Artist’s Dates are essential even the small last minute ones. As part of the course you are expected to take yourself out on a date every week to begin exploring. This is sometimes the hardest to fit in, but has the largest rewards to those who follow-through. It could be going to a movie alone, taking a stop at the antique store you pass every day, browsing a fabric or book store, seeing a new show at a local museum, or showing up early to meet friends for happy hour and to have a few minutes to sketch. Our lives are so busy, and particularly for women we get so caught up in taking care of others or putting our all in at work, but Artist’s Dates allow us to spend time doing the things we’ve been wanting to do without having to worry about what others want to do. Artist’s Dates also help you define your interests and finally your Art itself.

No Reading Week in Week 4 needs to be replaced with No Social Media Week or Digital Minimalism. If I could change anything in the book is THE ONLY THING. When the book was written there was no internet and no Netflix. We’ve moved on from mindless reading to mindless scrolling. After going through this twice and coming to Week 4 and seeing my own reaction and others, it is better to replace this with a week where you put the endless scrolling or binge on hold.

Practicing Art is what will get you past being blocked. The book has many tasks and exercises throughout that will help unblock you, but you also need to realize that practicing art is just that–practice. Art does not come out all pretty and perfect no matter how much we wish it would and this idea of perfection is often what holds us back. You need to start creating art–even bad art to get better. You also need to do the emotional work to find out what until this moment has kept you from creating. I find it interesting that a lot of students end up going back to their “first interest” art. When you were a child you drew or danced and created and didn’t care. Working through the Artist’s Way will help bring back that since of play. For me that play begins with sketching and drawing just like I did when I was in school, and it is still fun.

Join me this February for my next session of the Artist’s Way. I’ll also be running a 4-week short Digital Minimalism course.

Review of How To Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny ODell.

How To Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention EconomyHow To Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an important book that needs to read and savored. Now that I’ve finished my first “quick read” I’ll be going back through it with outlining and highlighting. I’ll be suggesting it for my book club as I think as Odell covers themes we’ve been talking about over the past couple of years. I love the themes of art, public space, and bioregionalism.

And birds! I’ve become bird crazy over the past few months. It started by learning more about herons from my friend Kathleen Atkins (who currently has a show at the Miller Library). Then looking at the beautiful watercolors by my friend Charlene Freeman which prompted me to take her Nature sketching class where I learned more about our native birds through classmates. Next thing I know I’ve sketched birds, bought some bird feeders, and learned the names and sounds of my backyard buddies. I was talking about this on Saturday with my friend Val who immediately named a list of my favorites which she also enjoys and felt an immediate further kinship with her.

Odell writes about spending time in the Oakland rose garden which took me back to my parent’s rose garden and also the joy I felt living near the McKinley rose garden in Sacramento.

This book is so much more and I’ll be spending more time with it. I want to thank @jemsandhu for recommending it!

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Ideas for Artist’s Dates around Seattle and the Eastside

I found and later sketched this mushroom on an Artist’s Date along Coal Creek Trail in Newcastle, WA.

Sometimes you need to refuel your creativity well, and an easy way to do that is go on an Artist’s Date with yourself. If you aren’t familiar with this idea, it comes from Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way. The idea is to get out by yourself and experience the world around you, and in return, your creative juices will flow. This is not only good for working artists, writers, and other creatives, but I would say this is also a good idea for anyone needing a source of inspiration for work as well. Innovation comes from creativity and inspiration, and you don’t get that from staring at a screen full of email in your office or on your phone.

The hard part of this is that you are not allowed to bring your partner, family, or friends with you. You have to do it alone. Now I know I have been railing in person about getting away from “bowling alone”, however, in this case, especially for those of us who spend a lot of time caring for family, an Artist’s Date alone can be a godsend and a way to recapture a “room of one’s own.”

Not sure what to do for an Artist’s Date? Here is a list of ideas for the Greater Seattle and Eastside area.

Any ideas to add this list? Have you done any of these as an Artist’s Date? Leave a comment below.

I’ll be facilitating an Artist’s Way workshop at the Cloud 9 Art School in Bothell this fall.

Let’s Stop Learning Alone

The Coffee Klatch. Sketching People in Real Life at Third Place Commons in Lake Forest Park.

We live in a golden age of learning. Pick any subject you would like to learn, and someone has posted a free video on Youtube. You can join a massive online (or MOOC) class at Coursera or EdX and learn from the best professors at the top Universities. You can pay a subscription and have quality courses from experts at Lynda.com or LinkedIn Learning with courses that are available 24 hours a day to teach you how to analyze a spreadsheet or give a business presentation. You can join Master Class to learn film-making directly from David Lynch or Storytelling from Neil Gaiman. The possibilities are endless, and I’m proud to say that I’ve done my part by working on democratizing learning.

We have a feast before us. And I would never want to go back. I think about my process of starting a business. In just the space of a couple of weeks, I’ve watched small business marketing courses on LinkedIn Learning, a video on tracking your business expenses on Youtube, and attended two webinars on products. These quick online learning lessons were exactly what I needed to understand a technology or business problem at the moment.

However…while online learning is great for a lot of things–I’m going to say that learning in person is even better. It is time for us to stop bowling alone, or learning alone, and get back out there in small community groups and learn from an instructor, learn from one another and engage with our neighbors.

If you aren’t familiar with the term bowling alone, it comes from the title of the essay, and later a book by Robert D. Putman that spoke about the loss of Civic Engagement in the United States. Published in 2000, and seriously, if Putnam saw that things were bad in 2000, remember this was the time before smartphones, Facebook, Twitter, Netflix binging, etc. The year 2000? 2019 is calling and asks you to hold their beer.

I think it is time to meld the best of both worlds again. Keep the options from online, but add a little real-life interaction into the mix–especially if you want to learn a craft or become an expert on a topic. For myself, that came in the form of Cloud 9 Art School in Bothell, a small art school run by my long-time friend Charlene Freeman. The school sits in an older building at the edge of Bothell and is light and airy with two floors of classroom space.

What I’ve found there is that third place. Third place is a term to describe a social space that is separate from home (the first place), and work (the second place). I started by taking a course on the Artist’s Way with Charlene. I spent twelve weeks with a small group of wonderful women talking about our creative lives and spurring one another on. I could have just read the book, but being in a group together, going through the chapters, and holding one another accountable was key for the experience. On our last night together, the class met at the Beardslee Pub in Bothell to celebrate with one another and to pledge to meet back up in a few months to see where we were on our Artist’s journey.

I didn’t stop there. I decided to take a Nature Sketchbook class from Charlene. You can learn more about why I thought that class was the push I needed here. But here I want to stress again that when I entered the classroom, there were women there who had taken courses at the school before and the class felt more community. While I learned about watercolor and sketching techniques, I also learned more about the women around me. Some were working artists, and some were naturalists, and some were newbies with no connection like me. My favorite part of each session was where people would share their sketches from the previous week. Did I mention there were working artists? It would be easy to be intimidated, but instead, it was inspiring.

My sketch from Bothell Landing of a fence post.

I recently finished a Sketchbook Journaling class, and while the people are different, again there were many repeat Cloud 9 students. With each class, this place feels more like home. We even went to Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park (get it third place?) to sketch people in real life. Our last class was spent roaming around Bothell Landing, and I spent a nice hour sketching with others at a picnic table. While learning, I’ve had good conversations with other students and feel more like I’m part of a community.

This isn’t to say that I’ve completely abandoned online learning or plan to. For my artwork, I like cruising Youtube channels with watercolor artists. Sometimes I run them in the background while I’m working and I’ve learned some things from them. I watched filmmaker David Lynch’s Master Class to learn more about how he creates. But I tell you, having the person next to you tell you that they like a palette you used or the bird you drew is much more rewarding than 1000 likes on a twitter or Instagram post. Having feedback directly from the instructor about your work is far more instructive than reading comments below a Youtube video and never getting direct feedback.

Steven Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People also published The 8th Habit. The 8th habit is to find your voice & inspire others to find theirs. With that, I’m taking what I learned in the Artist’s Way workshop from Char and my fellow students, and I’ll be sharing that with others by facilitating the next session of the Artist’s Way workshop this fall at Cloud 9. I hope you will join me and others from our community there.

The Common Good Quick Review

I’m reading Robert Reich’s book, The Common Good, and I skipped to the end to see the call to action. I found it in the final paragraph, “We have never been a perfect union. Our finest moments have been when we sought to become more perfect than we had been. We can help restore the common good by striving for it and showing others it’s worth the effort.”

It is time we start asking all of our institutions–our work, our schools, our government, and measure them against this standard once again. I was particularly struck by his use of the Broken Window syndrome and how he lays out how our trust in our institutions has been eroded over the past five decades.

I’ll write more once I’ve finished.

Review: Where the Crawdads Sings

Sunday morning sketch of Where the Crawdads Sing book cover

“Marsh is not a swamp. Marsh is a space of flight, where grass grows in water, and water flows into the sky. Slow-moving creeks wander, carrying the orb of the sun with them to the sea, and long-legged birds lift with unexpected grace–as though not built to fly–against the roar of a thousand snow geese.”

Delia Owens, first lines of Where the Crawdads Sing

Abandoned by her family, Kya Clark, lives alone in the North Carolina Marsh. Kya learns to survive and thrive on her own. This is that classic fantasy tale of the wolf-boy who survives on his own in the wilderness, apart from man and society. Or really, it is the tale of the witch–the woman who lives apart and is shunned and ignored by the community. Kya has a love of nature and is a collector of shells and feathers. As with any fable of the siren, two young men from town are drawn to her with tragic results. The town will sit in judgment of her.

Where the Crawdads Sing will be the book of the summer. I had hoped to wait until my copy at the library came up (currently number 1290 on 382 copies), but then I passed an autographed copy on a table at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park and had to pick it up. I decided to read a few pages, and then the book drew me in and I read it over the weekend.

Kya Clark is one of the most fascinating, strong characters created that I’ve read in a long time. Delia Owens makes her crafty, interesting, and yet always so wounded and shaped by the isolation and tragedy in her life. Despite that, Kya finds her own purpose. She dedicates herself to learning the world of the marsh around her. There are other characters (all interesting in their own right) who give her gifts–they teach her to fish, read, and eke out a living. In the words of Kya, “nudging her to care for herself, not just offering to care for her.”

I also like the way the book was plotted. There is a murder mystery at the front of the book, and the book jumps between the time before and the time after one of the town’s young men is found at the bottom of the Fire Tower. The stories move forward until they meet and merge.

There is also the naturalist piece to the book as well as poetry. Owens herself is a wildlife scientist and the author of several non-fiction books that sound equally fascinating to this, her first novel. As I mentioned, Kya is a collector and a naturalist. She’ll go far with this–but I don’t want to spoil that. The book also contains poetry, some Dickinson, and one other regional poet. The book reminded me a bit of one of my favorite collection of short stories, The Shell Collector, by Anthony Doerr. Others have compared her to Barbara Kingsolver. I hope to read more from Owens.