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People Have Been Asking Me

SoulCollage® came up three times on Thursday, once in therapy and twice at my favorite second-hand shop, the Assistance League (A-L) of Albuquerque. I'll keep the therapy session stuff to myself and tell you about the others. As I talked to an A-L volunteer about the glossy colored magazines I was buying (at 50 cents a piece) a voice from behind the dressing-room curtain chimed in with "SoulCollage® is the greatest!" Turns out, it was the voice of a local psychotherapist who has found the SoulCollage® process helpful in her Albuquerque practice. When the therapist learned that I am a trained SoulCollage® facilitator, she gave me her card and said she would like to talk. The A-L volunteer had me jot down my name and phone number. Maybe it's time I offered some classes while I'm 66 on Route 66. Here I am in black offering a SoulCollage®class at The Red Shoes in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. It's been awhile. The SoulCollage® process involves intuitively choosing a variety of images from magazines and photographs to create "cards." Then, using just scissors and glue, we create a deck of collaged cards, one by one, day after day, or year after year. In then end, each card reflects aspects of our life, our dreams, or our influences. Anyone can do it! All that's needed is a willingness to go within and a dash of creativity and imagination.  You can see three of my cards above: the Social Justice Jesus, the Pattern Breaker, and the Persistent Lover. Each speaks to different aspects of my psyche, and each reflects a call of sorts upon my life. I'm no artist, but that's not the point. When I began my deck in 2009 at a Red Shoes workshop with Debbie Cannatella, an accomplished artist, I thought I could never measure up. However, cards can be used for reflection, meditation, and to do readings. When Debbie showed us how to "read" our cards, I was in my element. I hit it out of the park. I went to town. Within a year I had a good start on my own deck and had trained to become a SoulCollage® facilitator. I can talk about decks later. There's so much more I could say, but I'm going to leave it at this for the moment. I've got a little guy here waiting for some attention. It's definitely time to to take him out play. That ball isn't going to throw itself!

People I Meet Along the Way

"How far we travel in life matters far less than those we meet along the way" (Mark Twain). One day while walking through Mary Fox Park, I stopped and talked to a young woman who was with her dog, River, the dog with the brown face behind Biscuit in the big picture above. The four of us walked and talked together for five or six blocks. As fortune would have it, she--Natalie Shapiro Gustafsson--lived a block away from me. Both steady dog walkers, we had never seen each other before. Natalie told me recently that she had been in a bad mood that day and decided to go for a walk. I"m so glad she did! It turns out that Natalie is a certified dog trainer. She has studied at the Dog Psychology Center in Santa Clarita, California; the Animal Behavior College, also in Santa Clarita; and with Jennifer Gray at Sunny Day Acres in Agua Dulce. Natalie specializes in working with maladjusted dogs, and while I hate to label Biscuit as maladjusted, his separation anxiety is pretty severe. He has eaten into a foam mattress, tipped over a wicker dresser, destroyed my wooden Spanish shutters, and pulled down curtain after curtain. When I met Natalie, I had just committed myself to a long-term substitute teacher gig, and I was worried. I was looking for someone to break up Biscuit's day with a walk. Natalie agreed to do that for us, but she did so much more, and I am forever grateful to her for allowing me to return to work after my pseudo-retirement. While I worked, Natalie, who is now running her own business--Rock Dog (where every dog is a rock star)--introduced Biscuit to her small pack of hiking dogs and the New Mexico mountains. Biscuit practiced his social skills while tagging along on Natalie's errands--to the coffee shop, the bank, the pet store. She often sends me a photograph or a video along with an update of the day's events. All of the photos below are courtesy of Natalie. I couldn't be more grateful for the magical timing of our meeting. Things have a way of working out. Photos by Natalie Shapiro Gustafsson


"Your soul knows the geography of your destiny. Your soul alone has the map of your future, therefore you can trust this indirect, oblique side of yourself. If you do, it will take you where you need to go, but more important it will teach you a kindness of rhythm in your journey" (John O'Donohue). I am thinking of blessings this morning--of goodbyes and thresholds and journeys and geography. My friend Pam Arnold was traveling in California when she learned that I had signed a year lease on a studio in Albuquerque. "Send me the address," she said, "and I'll take pictures on my way back to Louisiana." "Oh, good!" I said. "You can bless the apartment while you're there." And she did, emailing me later that she placed her hand upon the door and said a prayer for that my new home will be joyous and that my needs will be met. Pam's blessing took the form of a prayer, but yours need not. As I see it, blessings are ecumenical and universal invocations of divine good--often beginning with the word, "may." May you know peace. May you know hope. May your needs be met in this Albuquerque abode. May you find joy within and without these walls. I love the geography of Pam's blessing; she stood at the very threshold of my new home and placed her hand on the very door I will open to the unknown. Not completely unknown, mind you. When spending the summer in Albuquerque in 2015, I actually looked at this very apartment. It was tempting, but the tug of grandmother outweighed that of the desert. Four years later, however, having made the decision to move, I felt the thrill of synchronicity when I found the apartment advertised on Craigslist. It's not that the place is grand or all that I wanted; it doesn't boast a washer or dyer, for example. Still, the historic. adobe building is affordable and in a walkable neighborhood and, perhaps most importantly, oddly familiar. May we all find a kindness of rhythm in our journeys.

Goodbye, Bay St. Louis!

I have had the best of all possible worlds here in Bay St. Louis—a part-time gig writing for the Shoofly Magazine and Gallery 220 and, before that, the Old Town Merchants Association. I’ve rubbed elbows with some of the most interesting people in the Bay, have developed a posse of dog-loving friends, and been privy to the deepest pool in Bay St. Louis. It wasn’t until I began exploring a move to Albuquerque, where my youngest son, Jake, lives, that I put my finger on the source of my dis-ease here in the Bay. As I filled out my wish list of life-long learning classes offered by the University of New Mexico—the psychology of music; the science of the heart; the photographic book; self-publishing 101; writing erotica; and NIA—the sensory-base movement practice that draws from martial arts, dance arts, and healing arts—I realized that, with the exception of Bay St. Louis, I’ve lived in a university town since moving from Northern Michigan to East Lansing, Michigan—home of Michigan State University—in 1981. Central Michigan University in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, followed, and then Baton Rouge, Louisiana, home of LSU. I miss academia. Won’t I hate leaving Talon behind in LaPlace, Louisiana? Painfully so. But how lucky have we been to spend the first seven years of his life in such close proximity? Surely the pleasures of Bay St. Louis have been etched in his heart—think breakfasts at Lulu’s, yogurt at The Purple Banana, leisurely lunches at the Mockingbird, golf cart rides with Fahey House, campaigning with Susie Veglia, and hours upon hours of pool time. Talon and I have discovered and rediscovered the Discovery Center in Gulfport and created elaborate sand structures at the Washington Street beach. It’s been an idyllic period of Southern Slow in the life of this grandmother and her youngest grandson. I wouldn’t change it for the world. Now, at seven, the kiddo has his own SKYPE account, and I think our relationship can withstand a separation. I want him to know that the world is big and ours for the exploring. I’d like him to marvel at a letter posted from Albuquerque, New Mexico. I want to introduce him to green chile stew and hike with his parents through Chaco Canyon. If I can snag a job in academia—as an adjunct instructor, a classroom assistant, or a school secretary—I’ll have the academic schedule to come back and visit and to make myself available for visits, as well. This, at least, is the story I tell myself in order to make leaving possible; I have every intention of honoring it. I moved to the Bay to recover and heal from an exhausting final year in the six-year life cycle of a federal grant designed to increase the number of high-minority, low-income college-bound Louisiana students—an opportunity of a lifetime, equally rewarding and grueling. When it was over, I needed the tranquility of the Bay, which reminded me of the little Northern Michigan village in which I spent my high-school years. The Bay has not failed me, but I am ready to move on. I’ve donned Frida eyebrows, driven a convertible in a parade, eaten oysters at Bacchus on Tuesdays and pork chops on Mondays, enjoyed Coast Roast coffee, Second Saturdays, First Fridays at Magnolia Brewery, and Fourth Sundays at Christ Episcopal. I’ve volunteered at an arts street fair and ladled soup at the Souper Mudfest. I’ve read more Mississippi authors than I cared to—and came through it with a genuine appreciation for the work of Minrose Gwin and Jesmyn Ward). I’ve marveled at the art of making a cocktail and studied grits and pimento cheese (even though I want nothing to do with either). Miss Southern T. Hospitality introduced herself and opened the doors to more stunning homes than I’ve ever seen in my life. She sat me down at light-studded tables laden with stuffed artichoke hearts, boiled shrimp, crawfish etouffee—and an indescribable accomplishment of appetizers and jellies and sweet concoctions. I’ve admired enviable household liquor cabinets—who knew?—and read up on the sugary Southern tradition of baking artiful and delectable cakes (thanks, Ellis Anderson). I’ve thought so much about what it takes to be a good neighbor since interviewing and writing about some of the best for the Shoofly’s Good Neighbor column. There are probably no better neighbors than in this neck of the woods, and yet, I am moving on. Last summer I told myself that I wasn’t going to endure another hot and humid Mississippi summer. Something in me wants to be cold again, to see mountains in my rearview mirror, and to enter a Blue State of mind. Thank you, Bay St. Louis, for being so good to me. I am going to miss you.

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