Category Archives: Reflection

SSS: A Natural History of the Senses

I first read A Natural HIstory of the Senses (ANHotS) way back in 1992, only 2 short years after it’s release, and when I was the impressionable age of 16. It blew my fragile little mind. I’d never read anything quite like this book, and I’d certainly never read much about the human senses, particularly not in the way Ackerman writes about them. This is one of the few books that after reading a few passages I was moved to purchase my own copy. I read that copy repeatedly while I was still in high school and took it with me to college, where I would read and reread passages when I felt that they applied to my life. I shared it with friends over coffee, and discussed it at length. Not only did this book move me, it influenced my thinking over the years. After college I stopped referring to it as often as I once had and in the intervening years I’ve had the pleasure to explore many of her concepts. But after nearly 20 years of not looking at the book, I purchased a new copy (it’s wicked cheap on Amazon) and when I pulled the quote for my paper, the text fell flat to me. It simply didn’t resonate in the same way it once did. It came up during a recent discussion and I felt it was time to give it another once over, now that I’m outside of the rigors of academia I feel like I can give the text a slightly more fair reading. ANHotS

One of the frequent criticisms that I’ve read concerning Ackerman’s writing is that it’s very flowery. I think this is a very fair assessment, Ackerman is a poet, and her prose does lean toward the violet spectrum. That said, her style of writing, though flowery, is easy to read and flows in a beautiful manner. Part of the reason this book resonated so deeply with me is that a friend of mine and I read it aloud to one another. This book would likely be one that I could attend to on tape or via audible. Ackerman’s prose in inherently readable. 

Since publication in 1990, some of Ackerman’s thoughts and thinking have been disproven- through science and experience. In the section I was utilizing for my paper in school, one of the ideas had been disproven (don’t ask me to remember which/what it was, I’ve been wracking my brain, only to not remember.) I suspect this is why, when I was deep in the academic world, the book was disappointing and resonated with me less than it had in the past. Though some of what she surmised has been disproven much of what she guessed at or thought, has been proven. There is a great deal of truth in these pages. I think this is what caused me to enjoy the book less as I read it when in school.

Now that I’ve been out of school, and I’m not in the “peer reviewed only” article mode of thought, I’ve been able to delve deeper into the book and actually reread it from start to finish (As of this posting I’ve a little more than 75% through the book.) I find I’m rediscovering what it is I enjoyed about this book. It’s that nerdy in depth analysis of a topic of interest in a completely sincere manner. Ackerman delves deep into her topics, writes in violet prose, and yet the book is delightfully readable. One of the reasons I adored this book at 16 is that a friend of mine and I read passages of it aloud to one another. Ackerman’s writing begs to be read aloud. (Note to self: Check to see if the library has an audio copy of this book.) Yes the writing is flowery, and on occasion approaching too much, but at the same time, how deep on a topic can one go when really truly passionate about it?

Next week I’ll be looking at Wabi-Sabi, a slim little volume that is easily read in a few hours, but will leave you thinking for days, months, and perhaps years. I think the ideas in WAbi-Sabi particularly relate to the use of an art journal. But I’ll get into that next Sunday. Continue reading

SSS: Art Heals

Art Heals by Shaun McNiff was my “filler quote” book in graduate school. It is a collection of his writings on art therapy. If you are able to filter through the copious amounts of woo woo and heaps of frou frou* there is a great deal of good stuff within the covers. I chose chapter 7, Aesthetic Meditation for my focus this week. It hinges nicely with a new class I’m developing that uses what McNiff describes as “creating a dialog with the image.”** In the McNiff (and other expressive art therapists who use the studio art approach) approach one looks at their own art, and talks to it, creating a conversation with the image, and allowing themselves to create a story about around and from the image. art healsWhat is aesthetic mediation? In short it is a way of looking at art and more expansively at the world around you in a mindful meditative manner. When engaged in this sort of viewing you are engaging all of your senses and making yourself almost hyper aware of what you are looking at. In addition to really deeply looking you also make yourself aware of all of your senses and focus on what you notice. You are immersed in the object.

This is not an easy state to be in, McNiff likens it to sitting meditation, which is a practice one develops over time. One simply doesn’t sit down and begins meditation for an hour*** they work their way up to it.

Further what McNiff explains in this chapter is that we can use our finished images to contemplate and relax ourselves. How many of us have opened up the pages of our art journals, caressed the lumpy bumpy pages and remembered that sense of release as we created the page? I know I have, over and over and over again. Not only are my art journals a place to release pent up feelings but they are also a place to return and contemplate my day and relax myself.

While many of McNIff’s articles are written with the therapist in mind, many in this book are not. If you are an art therapy student this is a great book for filling out those papers where you need a few extra lines to get  you up to the page requirement. He’s got a quote or thought for every art therapy need.

Next week I’m going to reflect on the book “Wabi-Sabi” by Leonard Koren.

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SSS: Rising Strong, Brene Brown

Brown is best known for her TED talk on vulnerability, which is very very good. I’ve now read all 3 of her books, and if I’m going to compare the 3, Rising Strong is my least favorite. That said, I picked it because it links in really well with what I’ve been working on with folks in therapy groups lately- that as people have begun to recover from their mental health problem- depression, substance abuse, anxiety or some other problem and the question of how to cope with the change between illness and wellness is occasionally overwhelming.BrownRS

What Brown does in RS is explore how as a culture we sanitize our stories of healing- “I fell down, but I got up again, and I’m okay.” When the real story is, “I fell down, skinned my knee, got bloody and bruised, rolled around in the mud for a bit crying, then got up, cleaned up the blood and mud, applied some ointment and band-aids, healed, and not I’m doing okay.” The former is easy to hear, but people get uncomfortable when friends and family talk about the blood, bruises, and ointments used in healing. We don’t tell the necessary stories because they hurt to tell, it’s easier to gloss over that info and move on with out lives. (This is where therapy comes into play, and hopefully if you need to talk about the blood and ointment of the healing process you have a therapist or group where you can share your stories. Of course, there is always your JOURNAL…)

Pages 5- 11 details Brown’s “rising strong” process. Much of this deals with how to heal, how to look at the process, the use of creativity, and honoring the struggle. Page 10 begins my struggle with this book. In her past books, I never notice a mention of any spiritual practice or religion anywhere, however on page 10 Brown states, “Rising strong is a spiritual practice.” In my mind, spiritual is a loaded term, one that implies religion or religiosity. As a therapist I have ethical qualms around bringing spirituality into practice, unless the client does so first. The topic is explored in a non denominational manner and more of a earthy crunchy hippie manner, which makes it much more tolerable. The aspect of spirituality runs through the book- as it is part of the 10 point process of rising strong this is to be expected. Religion is much more closely connected to the process later in the book, and I think detracts from the effectiveness as well as ability to generalize the book in it’s usefulness to more people.*

On page 19, Brown explores the amazingly useful phrase, “The story I’m making up….”  She does this with a personal anecdote, but the story perfectly explains how people miss connections with one another and make up stories in their head to explain the missed connection. This is, I think possibly the most important page in the whole book. It has vast possible uses with clients and in our own lives. If we stop to think to ourselves, “The story I’m making up is…” How would that change how we interact with people? I suspect it has vast consequences for relationships.

I highly recommend Brown’s first 2 books, this one is okay, but not my favorite. It’s worth a read and has many useful passages that can be used in therapy or for self care.

Next week I’ll comment on Danny Gregory’s “Shut Your Monkey.”

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SSS: What it Is, Lynda Barry

With school starting I decided to pick the Barry book “What it Is” as my Secular Sunday Study. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Lynda Barry, she’s an award winning cartoonist and a professor. I want to say “of art” but her class is soooo much more than just art. You can follow her class, and even participate by following her Tumblr or Twitter account. She utilizes social media in a very interesting way. Anyway, everyone should follow her tumblr and buy a BUNCH of her books.

This book in particular is a facsimile of pages of her journals and sketchbooks along with her writings on art, creativity, and the nature of images. The whole package is a delight in both images, Barry’s voice, as well as her writing. If you took this book and wrote and made art around the main topics or questions she’s posed for herself, you could spend years thinking about art and life. BarryPG38I chose to muse on pages 38 and 39. I’ve included a few image of these pages so you can think on them too. I think page 38’s quote, “But paper and ink have conjuring abilities of their own. Arrangements of lines and shapes, of letters and words on a series of pages make a world we can dwell and travel in.” Is there a better description for journaling ever written? As a child I drew and wrote in my journal as way to escape the boring reality of rural life, and liven up my mind with things I thought great. I wrote poetry (bad) and stories (better) and drew. I wrote letters to friends that I never sent and glued them into the pages of my journal. I lived in my journal but I also had impossible adventures. In a way, I continue these adventures to this day by adding more lines, shapes and words to the pages of my journal and envisioning new adventure.
barryPG39The quote I’ve included from page 39, which is too long for me to copy over, includes the phrase that comments on adults dealing with children who are sensitive, “ when these two come together you get a fairy tale, a kind of story with hopelessness in it.” This is just such a wonderful commentary on our (US centrism here) cultural obsession with making kids hard, less sensitive, and =able to deal with the realities of this world. Rather than teach kids that their sensitive emotions are useful, we smash it out of them, make ‘em tough enough, hard enough to make their way in the world. Not realizing that allowing a child/person to be sensitive to the world around them allows them to experience the world in a full and meaningful manner. No one needs to be hard to live, but in fact by learning to feel we can learn to live fully.

I had more musings but I’ll leave it be, ‘cause it’s up to you to read through this book (and you really must) and have your own musings. The final 72 pages are devised as a workbook that works quite nicely with Barry’s book Syllabus or it could be used on it’s own. Either way, it’s a good book. You should get it.

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Open Letter to the AJ Ning Community

Hi Everyone,

Change is inevitable but we are a fortunate group. Ning, the company we use to host Art Journaling has raised it’s prices but we are paid for the next year so we are good on Ning until June 2017.  another group I am a member of cannot afford the price hike and is shuttering at the end of October.

This is the second major price hike, where the group went from free to a reasonable price, to expensive (and why we run a yearly fundraiser) to now absolutely outrageous. The price went from $239/year to $588/year, more than doubling for next year. My frustration with this price hike has much to do with the fact that Ning has made little to no improvements in the years since the last price hike, so we are getting double the cost with zero improvements. Ning made plenty of promises after the last price hike, and lost many groups, particularly those like AJ Ning, but we persevered.
While we have a year to decide the fate of Art Journaling, right now I feel that the best choice is to move the site to a new host and using a new software. I’m leaning toward WordPress social media site but I’m open to other ideas, so long as it is less expensive than $588/year. I do not want to make a HUGE change like this without your input, as always because this is a community site, movement matters little if it is not done without YOUR thoughts, ideas, and feelings taken into account.

Please head to the site and join the group “Movement and Change” to discuss the option and feelings around this potential change.

I have a  little heart ache over the idea of moving from Ning, but I also feel like together we can make AJ Ning continue to be amazing and a resource for all the new and old art journalers alike. Again, even if you decide not to head over to AJ Ning (I really hope you do) I appreciate all the input, ideas, and art we’ve shared over the years. Please join in on the discussion and share your thoughts.


Leslie aka ComfortableShoes

Sunday Study

Many of the stationery groups I belong to end up with a great deal of religiously based Sunday Study posts. Most of the time these posts are less evangelising and more about the stationery used in the study. I realized that I’d spent the last 3 years of my life engaging in secular study every day of the week. Now that I’ve graduated I’m missing that aspect of school, I know that is a tad bit nerdy but, frankly I enjoy studying. I began to institute a Sunday Study of my own which I named “Secular Sunday Study.”(SSS)

Each week I pick a book off my shelf, one I’ve read before, and chose a passage to deeply read, chew on, and write about in my journal. I typically pick one paragraph or page to really wrap my mind around. If you think this resembles something out of the church, you’d be right. Many churches/pastors chose a section of the bible and a few passages of the week for the congregation to study. Often this forms the basis for the following week’s service. In my case, I’m using these passages to explore myself, without the direction of a minister or pastor.

Thus far I’ve engaged with the following texts: “Poetry is not a Luxury” Audre Lorde, “How to be an Explorer of the World,” Kerri Smith, and “The Portable Atheist,” Christopher HItchens, and “Everyday Matters” by Danny Gregory. This week I’m engaging in “Privilege, Power and Difference,” by Alan Johnson. I realized in each of these texts that I’m exploring the same overarching topic- a way of looking at the world that is slooowed way down. The Lorde, Smith, and Gregory texts are all about being creative even when the world doesn’t want you to be. They are all about looking at the world, slowly and creatively, and changing your perspective on life. The Lorde, Johnson, and Hitchens texts are academic while the Smith and Gregory books are in the realm of self help.

A little reading this afternoon while waiting for the promised thunder storms. #secularsundaystudy #sundaystudy

A post shared by LC Harper (@originallcharper) on

Anyway, I hope to ease back into this blog thing with some monthly posts about SSS. Feel free to join in by posting a pic of a book you’ve enjoyed and are reviewing on a sunday with the hashtag #SecularSundayStudy or #sundayStudy. If you follow any of the linked pictures over to instagram you can follow the project there by following me. You will also get images about my garden, Pokemon Go, and stationery images.

All links in this are Amazon Affiliate links. I get a small amount of change if you purchase through the links and it doesn’t affect your price at all. If you don’t mind making the purchase via my links, I appreciate it very much and it helps to keep the site running.

Memory Sparks

It seems that bright colors and stripes are all the rage in pencil fashion these days. I’ve waxed philosophical about the neons in both Wopex and Ticonderoga in the past. This year Dixon has introduced striped Ticonderoga pencils in 5 colorways. Green, blue, yellow, orange, and magenta. Each pencil sports 2 shades of the color- one bright the other pastel. Each has an eraser to match the brighter color and that traditional green and yellow Ticonderoga ferrule. All that bright cheery goodness is wrapped around good old American cedar. These are all made in their pencil manufacturing facility in China, so don’t be fooled that these are American made. That is the only thing that could make these better. The core inside is their soft HB which reminds me more  of a B than anything else.IMG_0138

I dig these bright colorways so much. I am most taken by the green. It reminds me of school bus seats in buses dating back to the 60s, like the one I rode back in 1980 when I first went to school. They remind me of the old supplies in green cardboard boxes my teachers had in their pale tan cabinets. The dark green color is also nearly the same shade as the enameled tin boxes that tools would be in before molded plastic became popular and cheaper. The outside of the tin would be a mottled green color and inside the tool would be set into a thin plastic molded shelf. I used one of those metal tool boxes as my pencil and pen case in high school. It also served to protect my fancy graphing calculator from harm.*

The green striped pencils evoke memories of early childhood and school for me. The yellow reminds me of the school bus- the dark shade is just right for the rickety school bus I first rode.

The  final three colors, the magenta, blue and orange remind me of summers as a child. That blue perfectly encompasses the color of the sky reflected off the oceans and lakes I swam in. The orange is the sand and sun beating down on us. The magenta is the color our skin turned after a few days in the sun. IMG_0141

These bright cheerful pencils are awesome and nostalgic.

This post was inspired by Brandon’s over here. Continue reading

User, Collector, or Stockpiler Part 3

In my final post based off the user, collector, or combination question that I posed to the Erasable Pencil Podcast group, I’ll write about a couple of points that seem to have several adherents, and those are: the seemingly accidental acquisition in the search for the right tool; enjoyment of variety and change;  a love of stationery; as well as a fear of writing or use of the materials. Each of these is a vastly different point that is deserving of a blog post on it’s own but for brevity I’m addressing them here.

Initially it seems that all of this collecting and using begins as a love for stationery- be it pen, paper, or pencil. Pure unadulterated enjoyment leads to a quest for a pen, pencil, and paper combination that brings writing joy. In some cases, the chase precludes the writing, and people begin to not feel worthy of their pretty pretty tools. That really is an entirely different post or even series of posts. The chase also brings about an enjoyment in variety, after all, how many of us are truly monogamous with our pens, pencils, and paper?

Here again, I’m in the camp of people who like variety and yet once I find a tool I like (General’s CP#1,  Staedtler Norica, Calepino, Field Notes) I stockpile a decent amount of those tools so that I’ll always have them. While I enjoy change I also realize that I enjoy knowing that I have tools that will work the way I expect them to all the time. Say my monthly 6 pencils* include a few duds, I know that I can grab a CP#1 and use it and be happy with how the pencil works. While I enjoy what I use regularly I also enjoy the chase and variety of pencils available.

My love of stationery is derived from my love of writing and drawing as well as a need for a time management system that is flexible and easy to adapt to my changing needs over time. I’ve used such planning systems as the pocket mod, attempted bullet journaling, the pig pog method, and various other GTD styles. Anyway, my planner style has evolved over the years and you can read more about it here. It’s not the point of this post, but to point out that through the finding of the right tool, pocket notebooks, my planner style has evolved to use something I like and fits my use and life.

The final point, which I think I’ll expand upon in another, separate post, is the fear of using our tools. I saw this again and again in art journaling. Journalers would buy the most beautiful journals and then never use them. we call it fear of the white page in art circles, I’ve seen it mentioned as fear of the page in NaNoWriMo circles. It boils down to a person’s inner critic getting the best of them, filling the mind with the phrase, “Who do you think you are?” As a phrase, this just kills any sort of creativity. In therapy circles we call this “negative self talk.” I prefer to call it an inner critic, it seems friendlier, and lacks the clinical feel of the latter. Also, when artists write about the inner critic it is pretty approachable and most people can relate, but if I link to a research study about negative self talk, eyes glaze over.

When I teach art one of the first things I try to do is just get students moving their pencils, pens and brushes across a page in an effort to get to know the material but also to simply enjoy how it feels. This tactile sensation is one of the primary reasons for using analog tools. It’s a sensation you don’t get from swiping a finger across a screen**, it can only be derived from pencil, pen, or brush on paper or canvas. The joy we derive from the tactile sensations associated with analog tools is a large part of why we use them, collect them, and stockpile those we fear will disappear.

In conclusion of this brief series, I’d like to thank all the members of Erasables for feeding my curiosity and looking within themselves to answer my questions. It’s certainly fun to read about everyone’s love for writing, no matter the tools they use it really does boil down to love.

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User, Collector, or Stockpiler Part 2

The last post was about how do stationery users really get to a point where they stockpile, basically the journey from simple user of an item to stockpiler. To boil that down, the group consensus was that people were searching for the perfect pencil/pen/notebook/sketchbook. In that search some people had the rug yanked out from under them and their favorite item disappeared, which seemed to directly correlate to instances of stockpiling. I think that it is important for me to state here that in these posts I do not intend to speak for “all” stationery nerds, but rather I’m combining my experience with an informal conversation that was had on a Facebook group. I’m writing this, or compiling this information because I find it fascinating and I suspect that others might as well.

The second important aspect was how people defined themselves- as users, collectors, a combination of the two or stockpilers*. Some people see themselves as pure users of their purchases. Most of these people seem to keep a small stockpile of their favorite items on hand. While other users call themselves user-stockpilers and they keep large quantities of their favorite items on hand. This seems to relate back to having difficulty finding their favorite items due to scarcity or manufacturer discontinuing the product, that the item is vintage, or that the manufacturer changed the product.

The last two items on that list- discontinued products and manufacturer changes seem to take people down the path of stockpiling favorite items. This can also lead to the other end of the spectrum- collecting. Collecting doesn’t preclude using but it is an interesting subset of stationery users. I must admit that I do have a small collection of pencils. One of each pencil that arrives in my home goes into a pencil case. Interesting to me is that collectors range from wanting one of everything that interests them to people who collect pencils in packages or great quantities of particular pencils that interest them. I think that the whole collecting side of the stationery world could be (possibly should be) a post in and of itself.

Here is where I make an admission. I wanted to be a collector, but I’m simply not. I really like using my various pocket notebooks, pencils and pens. I have a Danitrio Cumlaude pen that I’ve been on the fence of selling. Though it is a beautiful piece of celluloid that I adore looking at I don’t use it. It’s got the most buttery smooth nib but I don’t use it. I don’t use it because I’m rough on my tools and I’m deathly afraid that I’ll break it. So it sits in a lonely drawer, never being used. That bugs me. I want to use all my tools. I chew through pocket notebooks at the rate of roughly 1 every 2 to 3 weeks and I destroy pencils when I draw and I use them pretty quickly when I’m writing too. I take delight in using my more “collectable” Field Notes**, sometimes as coasters. I’ve got a whole post about how I came to the conclusion that I’m a user not a collector, so this isn’t the place for that story, but the reality is I’m not a collector.

It seems that most collectors use some of their stockpile but never the collection. This is another point of difference between collectors and users- nothing in a users stockpile is sacred, it’s all up for grabs. This, I think is the primary difference between users and collectors. A user primarily stockpiles or collects items to use, eventually, while collectors will hold certain items as sacred and not for use, ever. One member specifically referenced enjoying their pencils as objects- finding enjoyment in the look and feel of the item, not just in it’s use. Even users will take into consideration the look of a pencil or notebook as they use it, the more attractive the item to that person, the higher the desirability. In some cases, people had favorites due to nostalgia. My enjoyment of the EF ECOwriter is largely nostalgia. It’s a dark soft pencil but it also has some grittiness that can be unpleasant in use, but I love the dark chrome yellow of it’s paint combined with the silver ferrule and green eraser. This is nostalgia. While my enjoyment of the Palomino Blackwing Pearl is largely because it is pretty and performs well.

In this discussion, it’s clear that there are a lot of factors that determine if someone considers themselves to be a collector or user or combination of the two. Most importantly it seems that there is a sacredness to the collection of the collector and a lack thereof for the user. Most importantly it seems that each person determines and defines if they are a collector, user, stockpiler, or some combination. 

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User, Collector, or Stockpiler Part 1

Not long ago I posed a question to the Erasable Podcast Pencil Community (EPPC) about how the members would describe themselves in terms of their stationery use: hoarder (for future stockpiler), user, collector, or some combination in between. I then asked them to really think about why they use their stationery goods in the manner they do. The results were, at least to me, fascinating. Not only in terms of stationery use and purchasing patterns* but also the deeper psychological reasons people collect, stockpile, and use the products they love. From this brief online exchange I think a deeper survey could be created and interesting research paper written. But I might be too deep into my thesis to think clearly and everything might look like a possible research study.

To begin, let me discuss my own stationery journey. I started journaling way back in the late 80s in a cheap but very cool to my young mind 5 year diary with a lock, when I hit high school I decided I would only journal in the Mead 5-Star 6×9 inch 5 subject notebooks. The reasons were, to my 13 year old mind, well reasoned. I liked the size and the paper did well with the pens I used for journaling. Also the paperboard cover accepted the glue I used to collage the covers. I filled one for each year of high school. When I went to college, I could not find the same notebooks. They had changed the covers, so I decided to switch to something a little more adult. This is how I began my journey into finding the “perfect” sketchbook.

This is a process that came up often in the EPPC responses. Many of the members were searching for the “perfect” pencil, pen, notebook or combination, this process seemed to lead to an initial flurry of purchases to test out all the things. Some people solve the stockpiling problem through gifting pencils they don’t like as much to others who might like them more. Others added the excess to their hoard of supplies.

At this point in my own use and stockpiling of supplies I began to evaluate my constant influx of more supplies. For quite awhile I was able to justify my accumulation by writing reviews of various items for my blog. At one point I was buying items faster than I could possibly review them. I had a running list in one of my notebooks labeled, “Shit to Review.” Eventually I did review some of those items, but I also realized that there was no way I was going to be able to review everything that came across my desk, especially since I don’t tend to review stuff I dislike**. I took the gifting approach. I boxed up a bunch of the pencils that I knew I’d never use again and gave them to a classroom in need***. I still have a box of sketchbooks and pencils that I intend to test and review, or have tested and will review.

This leads to the second point that seemed to be common, that people would find an item that they liked, and like myself with my Mead 5-Star and EF ECOwriter, find that it would disappear or undergo change. This seems to lead to stockpiling of a favorite item(s). In my case, I have a half gross each of General’s Cedar Pointe #1 and Vintage EF ECOWriters. Why? Both of these items have disappeared on me in the past and been impossible to find. Fortunately, the CP#1 is back on shelves, but the ECOWriter is gone for good and is only available on eBay. Almost every person who stated that they stockpile a favorite item said that another favorite has disappeared on them in the past. I think this is clearly an important motivator and point of change in the stationery journey.

I have to wonder if I would stockpile**** pencils, notebooks, and sketchbooks if in my early years of stationery love a favorite notebook and pencil hadn’t drastically changed or disappeared?

Consider this part one in a multi part series that muses on the thought process between using, collecting, and stockpiling.

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