Category Archives: Topics I Love

Letting Go

A blast of prose from my past…going through my files.

I woke up this morning thinking about what my dead cat looked like when I discovered her lying on my bathroom floor three years ago. My female calico of 14 years, with long hair and eyes that looked like they had been lined in kohl, was stretched out ridged as an ironing board, with her blue eyes open, staring blankly. At the time, what struck me was she was now dead. To put it dramatically, I was looking at the face of death. There was no light in her eyes, no movement, no energy, no dance, no play, no expression. Wow – it made me think, death is pretty lifeless, not much going on. Shocking, in fact. Perhaps taking life for granted, and the adage, “Life is a bitch and then we die,” is a bit too cynical. Perhaps, that look my dog gives me when he has not seen me for a few hours, is actually precious and tied to a force more powerful than gravity. Maybe the force is love.

Art Journal Page

Collage by Kartika

I contemplated what it would be like to be faced with death each day, forced to face the absence of light in the faces of the bombed or butchered. If I lived in Palestine or Iraq or somewhere one cannot escape the faces of the dead, where the dead are not taken away in the middle of night and sanitized by undertakers, placed in $5,000 velvet-lined coffins, and placed in immaculately manicured cemeteries, then grieved over by the well-dressed and well-fed still living, would I become desensitized? Or, would that spark that animates trees and waves and wild horses become even more precious? Would the miracle of seeing your grandmother live to be 100 seem even more miraculous?

But, I live in a world where I don’t see many dead people, and so, seeing Cinnamon my cat, stretched out, was a shock. I didn’t understand my tears. After all, she was old and had been ill for a very short while, and her death was merciful and natural, but I still cried looking into the face of death and felt the loss of her. And then it took me over – that we are all made of more than our miraculous flesh and bone. We are animated by that abstract something we call life, that mysterious energy that puts light into faces, and makes our eyes shine with love and hate, and makes our bodies climb mountains, and makes fish jump in the water, and the flowers bloom. And, it hit me like a gentle yet forceful wind that without life, the moon would not shine and the sun would lose its heat, and the planets would collapse, and the wind would cease, and the tides would no longer hypnotize lovers, and the stars would lose their mystery.

Perhaps I should let go of being pissed at life for its brutal blows and heartbreaks, at least for long enough to consider the possibility that our pain is part of the mysterious spirit we call life, and cannot be removed from that to which it is intimately connected.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
– Leonard Cohen


Filed under Topics I Love, Writing Fools

Kandinsky: The Artist Who Listened to Colors


The Artist Who Listened to Colors

Colors produce a corresponding spiritual vibration, and it is only as a step towards this spiritual vibration that the elementary physical impression is of importance. (Wassily Kandinsky)

If you have fallen in love with the works of Kandinsky, you may be inclined to be mystical and musical and perhaps mathematical. You may also consider yourself an outsider, someone who finds a comfort Zone outside of the box. You may be fascinated delving into the esoteric or hidden teachings of philosophers and mystics. You may be a seeker, someone willing to consider alternate realities, and like Neo in the Matrix, willing to take the “red pill,” or like Alice, quite happy to venture down the rabbit hole. You probably asked lots of questions as a child (or wanted to), such as, “Is there a God? Why are kids starving in China? Are my teachers always right? How many stars are there in the sky? Why am I here?” I always found myself asking and wondering and living in my imagination. But, if you only like representational art and believe real art must imitate real things, that one must draw a cat to look exactly like a cat, Kandinsky is not your cup of tea, or coffee, or in my case a latte.

Kandinsky is my soy caramel latte.

Kandinsky, one of my favorite artists, speaks to me even though he died before I was born. He was part of an artistic revolution that took place in Europe before World War 1 in Europe, and spanned several decades. Unlike me, he was born into an Orthodox Christian family in a small town in Russia, and drew upon the Jewish and Christian stories of his childhood and the mythic themes and symbols of his heritage. He was a genius who drew impeccably and was a brilliant master of his craft. He took art and his insights as a spiritual seeker and mystic to a level where his inner vision fused with his art. He redefined the prevailing world view of what it meant to be an artist.

His paintings resemble the stuff of our dreams and imaginations rather than actual renderings of nature. To me, they look like sacred geometry. They look like language, like sheet music, like communication from outer space. He uses line and color as instruments and his work feels musical. Perspective is manipulated and the archaic laws of art making broken, as Kandinsky continued to experiment with new forms of expression and engaged in cutting edge artistic movements (such as the Bauhaus in the 1930’s), and with other artists of his time.

Gallery Heart by Kandinsky

Kandinsky is believed to have had synaesthesia – a gift that enables a person to appreciate sounds, colors or words with two or more senses simultaneously. He was able to hear colors and painted marks that triggered particular sounds or musical notes and vice versa. Synaethesia is supposedly a brain wiring issue that is found in one in twenty people. This ability to hear color, see music or even taste words informed Kandinsky’s work. To those of us without this exceptional perception, this is miraculous, mystifying, and sparks our yearning to go beyond the limits of our own senses. Kandinsky brings us into contact with his extra-sensory perception.

The sound of colors is so definite that it would be hard to find anyone who would express bright yellow with bass notes or dark lake with treble… (Wassily Kandinsky)

The Artist as Revolutionary

Like many of his contemporaries, some of his works were confiscated in a Nazi raid on the Bauhaus in the 1930s. They were displayed in the State-sponsored exhibit “Degenerate Art,” and then destroyed (along with works by Paul Klee, Franz Marc, and other modern artists). It saddens me that so much beauty gets lost or destroyed by zealot political leaders – tyrannical dictators fear that freedom of expression (art forms not created to support their propaganda) threatens their power. And, they are correct because art in its various forms – from the written word to painting – is powerful, and ideas are catalysts for change. A society is diminished without freedom of artistic expression. Without the joy, excitement, and energy of the archetypal artist energy, culture dies and the spirit languishes. Artists and intellectuals are always targeted as anti-social, subversive, and dangerous to the totalitarian regimes. Those of us who know this need to continue creating and making a stand to support the role of art and artists in society. And most importantly, be true to our own muse

Artists always push the envelope and must continue to break their own boundaries to evolve. Kandinsky believed the avaunt-garde of today will become common knowledge tomorrow. He saw himself as a kind of modern artist prophet who must often stand alone at the apex of a new discovery in order to usher in tomorrow’s reality. In this way, artists of today stand on the shoulders of the pioneers of the past who broke with tradition, whose work was often ridiculed, who were sometimes imprisoned or persecuted, but continued to remain true to their visions. These artist were visionaries who inspire us to follow our own visions, be true to ourselves, and follow our hearts.



Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the harmonies, and the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul. (Wassily Kandinsky)


Filed under Artists I Love, Artsy Stuff, Topics I Love, Topics I Love

Café Paradiso: Fairfield Iowa Offers World Class Coffee

Photo by Guy Harvey

A leaf fluttered in through the window this morning, as if supported by the rays of the sun, a bird settled on the fire escape, joy in the task of coffee, joy accompanied me as I walked.
Anais Nin

I’m a coffee drinker, one of the multitudes who must have their daily java in order to join the world. I’m a member of that group who is addicted to the caffeine buzz. I especially love lattes and the hot milky comforting feeling I get when I take my first sip. That first sip anchors me to the world and defines my space within it—especially if I’m drinking my favorite brands from my favorite coffee hangout.

Organic, Fair Trade, and Roasted Daily

I orchestrate my mornings to the tune of coffee. ~Harry Mahtar

Steve Giacomini, owner of our award winning coffee shop, Café Paradiso, once gave me a little talk on coffee and told me why his brand is superior to most brands, especially Starbucks, which he considers a bastardization of coffee (they burn the coffee beans, he says). Steve created his own blend of organic, shade-grown, fair trade beans, which he roasts daily on-site. His beans make a mean cappuccino, latte, mocha, or espresso. And, I like my coffee to be politically correct and eco- friendly. I’m grateful Steve taught me some things about coffee and how the love you put into making it can create miracles.

So, our little town of Fairfield, Iowa has become recognized by world travelers and local residents alike as a place where we can get world class coffee. And, in the tradition of great locally owned coffee houses worldwide, it has become one of our town’s havens for artists and musicians where local and international talent makes its way onto its stage to perform for its loyal patrons.


Filed under Iowa, Life in Fairfield Iowa, Topics I Love, Topics I Love

Art Journal Therapy: Dealing with Pain


I created these pages in my art journal during the painful breakup of a relationship. During this period, I used collage and writing in my journals as a way to move past grieving. I understood that artists have an opportunity to deal with their demons by turning to the creative process – so, I would show up at my art collage group with a broken heart and leave with a sense of relief, as if some part of the wounded me had started to heal.

Having done some work on dealing with emotional pain, I realized denial would not be an option for me. I was hurting, and pretending otherwise wouldn’t change that. However, expressing myself in a way that was beautiful to me and reflected my honest experience could have a transformational power. It’s as if the energy of grief can be redirected and used as fuel for self-awareness and ultimately used to heal the heart. It doesn’t happen instantly or even by itself, but it can be a powerful part of the process of moving forward. And only by going through the suffering, and that process can be facilitated by the simplest forms of creative expression, can we re-emerge as somehow more complete, more compassionate, and more human.

The connection between pain and art is undeniable – human beings have throughout time expressed their emotional, mental, and spiritual despair through some form of artistic expression, whether it’s by singing the Blues, writing songs about love lost, creating fiction that tells stories of the trails and tribulations of the human condition, or by putting onto canvas the extreme difficulties of inner and outer life. And so while it is true that suffering and pain are inevitable in life, there are endless choices we have on how to deal with them. I choose to go to my art journal, drink lattes and watch streaming Netfix.

One of my favorite artists, Frida Kahlo, began painting after she was severely injured in a bus accident. Even in the midst of extreme physical pain and emotional disappointment, she was able to develop her work and become one of Mexico’s greatest artists. Her paintings bring tears to my eyes.

two fridas
She has said,

“I never paint dreams or nightmares. I paint my own reality.”
– Frida Kahlo


Filed under Art Journals, Artsy Stuff, Collage, Topics I Love, Topics I Love

The Big C: Season 2 – Cathy Fights Cancer with a Continuous Smile

As I mentioned in my first blog about The Big C, I’ve been amazed by the unwavering ability of Cathy, played by Laurie Linney, to keep up appearances—I do not know of anyone who is so positively positive, kind to others, and able to maintain a continuous smile under the best circumstances, let alone while dying of stage 4 melanoma.

Has Stage 4 Melanoma Ever Looked Like This Much Fun?

Season 1 left me hanging, as Cathy, lying in a hospital bed was about to begin the process of receiving a series of toxic and frightening treatments that offered little promise of treating her fatal form of cancer. Yet, as I mentioned, she was all sweetness and smiles, not at all the kind of demeanor I imagine I would exhibit under her circumstances—I would be bitchy, pissed, and terrified shitless. Minor irritations like a skin rash drive me nuts.

So, here I am almost finished with the second season, and Cathy has not missed a beat. In fact, she has even opted to participate in a clinical trial, where she can’t wait for the side effects to appear as a sign that the poison assaulting her body is also killing her melanoma—loss of fingernails and hair, extreme nausea, burns on her body, just to name a few. And of course, when her nails do start to fall out, she is all smiles, a fount of pure optimism—maybe the treatment (poison) is working–YIPPEE! Now, if my fingernails were falling out, I’d be fucking freaking—I’m attached to my body parts, however small or seemingly insignificant they may seem compared to fatal forms of cancer.

I think her husband, Paul, played by the adorable Oliver Platt, must have caught Cathy’s propensity toward optimism and perpetual glee, or perhaps he was just born easy-going. He certainly takes getting fired from his job just when the medical bills are rolling in and he is forced to deal with the infamously callous American health care system with grace.

So, another season of The Big C leaves me certain I have no aptitude for grace under pressure when it comes to serious illnesses. Cathy is like the “Super Woman of Cancer,” who is always thinking of others even when her nails are falling out, her head feels it’s been in a vice, her ass is sore from shots, or she’s just been blasted by a cancer fighting cocktail. She even takes a job as swim coach at the high school where she’s taught school while going through her clinical trial and tribulations.

The woman is raising the bar, but is she really someone who any real person dealing with the issues of cancer or any serious illness can relate to?

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Filed under Our Crazy Beautiful World, Television shows and movies, Topics I Love

The Big C: A Few Thoughts

Sexy With Cancer? HMM

I just finished watching Season 1 of Showtime’s “The Big C.” It has been kind of a blast to watch, not what one would expect as the season opens with Cathy, played by a glowing, lovely, and not skinny (thank God) Laura Linney chatting with her oncologist about her situation – she has stage four melanoma, a certain death sentence. But, somehow Cathy is able to maintain more than a stiff upper lip and look absolutely blissful and radiant as she, at the season’s beginning, refrains from telling anyone of her condition and tries to deal. She faces decisions about treatment (at first she opts out), the meaning of her life, including her relationship with her husband, played by the sometimes adorable and often exasperating Oliver Platt, her relationship with her son, who is experiencing a rough hormonal shift into the world of narcissistic adolescence. Her homeless brother is in the picture along with a very sexy affair with the star of “Luther,” played by Idris Elba.

Cathy brings up some of my issues

I can’t wait to continue with Season 2, but here are some of the issues the show brings up – I know I would absolutely collapse under the pressure of that kind of diagnosis and would find it utterly impossible to endure my prognosis of a painful and inevitable death, with a radiant smile that never leaves my face. Cathy makes me get that I’m a coward, a big baby, and would be no fun at all if melanoma was thrown into the mix of the usual stuff of life such as, concerns about aging, sore joints, bills, the world of work and earning a living, and just the grit of life. She is just a better woman, as well as a YOUNGER woman than I.

One way I know this to be true is last week I went to my doctor with what appears to be a skin cancer on my chest and had a biopsy. The doctor’s office called me on Friday to say they got the results, but I didn’t get the message until Saturday – so I got worried and went from A to Z. My mind took me immediately to stage 4 of something fatal, and it wasn’t as fun as Cathy’s stage 4. I won’t ever look like Lora Linney no matter what stage I’m in. Most likely I just have the common and treatable kind of skin cancer that if caught early can be treated and eradicated. My skin cancer does not look like a melanoma so I should chill out, but unlike Cathy, I like to share my concerns with friends and update them on every little bit of news. I don’t just smile through my trials, however trivial, or at whatever magnitude they fall on the emotional Richter scale.

Are women going to feel pressure to be sexy and fight cancer at the same time?

And, Cathy seems to have some things to smile about even with stage 4 melanoma – she has health insurance and a hot young doctor who falls for her, she gets to have a luscious affair with the guy she meets while teaching school – the guy who plays Luther. She even splurges for a full bikini wax for the first time and runs off to the Bahamas to show off her bikini. Although she is estranged from her husband, he still adores her and intends to stick around when she comes clean about the cancer. She is still looking really good and money is no problem.

I don’t know what Season 2 will bring, but I can’t wait. The first season leaves us with a cliff hanger – there is Cathy in her hospital bed with her husband holding her hand, about to receive a brutal cancer treatment that is akin to life threatening torture and offers her little return on investment. But Cathy, so very unlike me, is still smiling that beatific and almost saintly smile, her cheeks are pink, and she is ready to fight and determined to no longer go gently into that good night.


Filed under Our Crazy Beautiful World, Topics I Love

Art Journal Pages…

Sometimes I ask myself why I feel so enlivened and connected when I sit down with one of my my art journals – my inner critic starts to harp and nag, telling me I’m just being a bit silly, dabbling around with glue and paper, paint and scissors. Real artists are busy perfecting their craft, my critic chimes in – they are honing the skills that allow them to create real art. But, deep inside I know that is not my truth because my journals connect me to my journey, to that spark inside that can become a bit dim doing real life. “To thine own self be true,” is an adage I try to live by. And of all of the millions of other people who are telling their stories in their art journals, who sit down to enter bits and pieces of themselves in their personal diaries of images, words, and colors, not one of them will ever create a page exactly like one of my pages. So just as each snowflake is a unique expression, every art journal page is a one-of-a-kind expression, like a thumbprint or the structure of a budding flower.


My art journal – Dream

My Art Journal – Ananda Mayi Ma
My art journal – Questions


Filed under Art Journals, Artsy Stuff, Collage, Topics I Love, Topics I Love

The Artist’s Way is Meditation in Action

“Water” from Kartika’s Art Journal

“I have learned, as a rule of thumb, never to ask whether you can do something. Say, instead, that you are doing it. Then fasten your seat belt. The most remarkable things follow.”

Julia Cameron

Making art is meditation in action

It’s my experience when I’m deeply committed to a creative act, whether writing, painting, arranging and decorating, designing a bracelet, or making a meal, it is meditation in action. I find a way to temporarily unplug from the “matrix.” I escape from my linear mind into the imagination where all things are possible. When we face an empty page or a blank canvas, we’re invited into the unmanifest where all things are suddenly possible. We tap into the right side of the brain.

That’s why The Artist’s Way speaks to me so deeply. I bought this book when it was first published in 1992. I skimmed it, and put it on a shelf. Then I picked it up again, after I started doing art a number of years ago. I knew I loved making art. I just needed to discover who I AM as an artist. And, reading this book inspired me to embrace that journey.

A blocked creative makes excuses for not follow the muse:

  • I’m too busy to paint, write, or learn an instrument, etc.
  • I can’t afford to be an artist; I need to make money.
  • Maybe next year I’ll have time to start my novel.
  • I’m too old to start playing piano.
  • Being creative is a luxury and I can’t afford the time.
  • I’ll look silly if I sign up for an art class.
  • I don’t have the talent.

The excuses are endless, and the years go by as we bury our dreams of living a creative life. Our lives may feel flat and we sense something is missing. On some level, we long to express ourselves creatively, yet we don’t give ourselves permission to follow through. Often, we let fear stop us–we fear we will discover we don’t have talent, that people will make fun of our efforts, and that somehow we will fail.

Julia Cameron offers a technique in The Artist’s Way to help us remove the blocks to our creative spirit and tap into the parts of our brain where inspiration resides:

The morning pages

When you wake up in the morning, go right for your pen and notebook, and without thinking, write three pages. Don’t judge yourself or your writing, don’t think of this as “art”, don’t correct your grammar or your spelling, don’t censor yourself. Do this every morning as a tool to get in touch with that part of the brain where insight and creativity reside. This process helps us to discover what is on our minds and in our hearts, learn about our fears, and get the creative juices flowing.

 “It is impossible to write morning pages for any extended period of time without coming into contact with an unexpected inner power.” Julia Cameron

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Maya Angelou Emailed Me Today

My grandmother and my uncle experienced circumstances that would break your heart. When they went to vote, they were asked impossible questions like, “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” When they couldn’t answer, they couldn’t vote.

Maya Angelou

Okay, she didn’t email this only to me, but I was still moved to see, “Dear Kartika.” The email came from info.barackobama from Maya Angelou into my email box. The email came from the heart and soul of Maya Angelou.

I would be honored to have Maya Angelou think of me as “dear.” I love Maya Angelou for many reasons – reading her memoir changed my life and the lives of millions of readers who have been inspired by her courage, talent, and the work she has done on behalf of women, minorities and so many people throughout the world who have no voice.

Maya is not afraid to “speak truth to power.” Because I’m a registered Democrat, she asked me to vote for Barack Obama. Here is her message:

Dear Kartika,

I am not writing to you as a black voter, or a woman voter, or as a voter who is over 70 years old and six feet tall. I am writing to you as a representative of this great country — as an American.

It is your job to vote. It is your responsibility, your right, and your privilege. You may be pretty or plain, heavy or thin, gay or straight, poor or rich.

But remember this: In an election, every voice is equally powerful — don’t underestimate your vote. Voting is the great equalizer.

Your vote might make the difference. Don’t fool around with this: You can vote early in Iowa, so find your early vote polling location and do it now.

Once you’ve done that, make sure your friends know exactly where they can vote early, too.

As a country, we can scarcely perceive the magnitude of our progress.

My grandmother and my uncle experienced circumstances that would break your heart. When they went to vote, they were asked impossible questions like, “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” When they couldn’t answer, they couldn’t vote.

I once debated with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. about whether an African American would ever be elected president. He believed it would happen within the next 40 years at the time — I believed it would never happen within my lifetime.

I have never been happier to have been proven wrong.

And since President Barack Obama’s historic election, we’ve moved forward in courageous and beautiful ways. More students can afford college, and more families have access to affordable health insurance. Women have greater opportunities to get equal pay for equal work.

Yet as Rev. King wrote, “All progress is precarious.”

So don’t sit on the sidelines. Don’t hesitate. Don’t have any regrets. Vote.

You don’t have to wait until Election Day. Voting has already begun in Iowa — so go, rise up, and cast your ballot early:

And make sure everyone in your life knows where they can vote early, too:

Your vote is not only important. It’s imperative.

Thank you,

Dr. Maya Angelou


Filed under Our Crazy Beautiful World