Sunday, December 30, 2012

Meditation and Giving

First, a quote from the book I finished today. I add it because it made me think of art therapy and the psychological need to collect new images sometimes.

“The longer we live, the more images we collect, both positive and negative. These images are not always at the front of our mind; they fall to the background of our mind. But when we have a buildup of images, especially of negative ones, they come to mind more and more as bothersome thoughts, wreaking havoc on our sleep and our relationships. Since the mind is neutral and adapts to its environment, we become accustomed to this experience, like becoming accustomed to dirt and clutter in an unkempt house. A rundown and irritated feeling becomes the norm, and after a while, we can’t imagine feeling a different way”

Excerpt From: Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. “Running with the Mind of Meditation.” Harmony Books, 2012-04-10. iBooks.
This material may be protected by copyright.

Check out this book on the iBookstore:

Second, a shout out to my iPad for making that quote happen so easily with automatic credit where credit is due.

Third, back to my blog.

I have been doing a lot of reading, catching up on all the writing and reports I have to do at work, planning and preparing more for my yoga classes and thinking more about meditation practice. I am still struggling with my meditation goal most of all even though it is the simplest of commitments. That is why my own work this week is related. I would like to create a meditation space in our apartment. Today we cleaned out a corner and I am working on finishing a quilted mediation pillow I started a long time ago. It is made out of some of my old clothing.

I hope that the easier I make it to sit down and be with my mind, the more likely I will succeed.

In the interest of being a better, or rather better-liked, yoga teacher, I spent part of today making gifts for my students. I hope to have enough eye bags for my first classes of the year to give to everyone who attends classes the first week in January. Since this is when I am most likely to get the most new students, I want them to have happy yoga feelings and want to come back. These are just filled with a little rice and I got the fabric on clearance. Cheapest gifts ever! These are the bags.

This has been a productive week at work because the guys I work with are not at the school where my office is and do not have any groups. It has allowed me to reorganize myself, catch up on writing and plan for new groups and work I want to do with them. I am actually starting to get excited to get back to business as usual. I plan to incorporate some of the work I am dong for myself through trying to take time being with my thoughts for things to do with them and helping them feel calmer in their own bodies. More on that as it happens.

Happy new year!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Forgetting What I Do

I spent 14 hours working yesterday, most of them sitting in a van or on a ferry, traveling to represent a kid. I got home in time to go to bed and get a full night of sleep before waking up to rush to an early morning meeting back at the annex and then haul ass back to my office and the school to plan a group in five minutes or less. Cranky and dreading doing group, I grabbed a book from my shelf of directives and randomly opened to find something meaningful to do with my guys. Instead I found an old directive and had this thought, "Remember when you were an art therapist? What happened?" In spite of my annoyance at feeling rushed quite literally all over the place, this was surprisingly a happy thought like an old friend who could come visit and make me better at my job.

Sometimes I struggle to feel like an art therapist where I work, because nobody is an art therapist and everybody is an art therapist. I imagine that is not a rare phenomenon when one works with kids: not many people are trained to do art with kids, but everyone does it anyway. If I were to grab that fact and run with it, I could do some great work, take some initiative and shake things up in the best of ways, but other than entertaining thoughts of something better, I have followed along with the flow. That works too, but I am not putting my full self and knowledge to use. Pretty sad.

But the realization of this brought me some comfort. Like things aren't that bad. My kiddos still make progress. We still have some good groups and interventions. I imagined what would happen if I put what I have learned to use with attention and intention. It could be really great. So in that split second I vowed to work with more materials, put more thought into my guys' abilities and figure out how to make interventions make more sense, so the guys get maximum benefit.

I need to bring more of myself to work everyday.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Week in Failure and Successes

My guys are split into two different groups. The first is my talkers. They like to work on problems, have discussions and set goals. At times, they are regular teen boys: disruptive, inappropriate, intensely silly or angry at the world, but overall they get stuff done to the best of their abilities. My second group struggles with most everything: sitting down, holding still, listening, following a single step direction and sometimes not punching people. I have tried mixing them, so my strugglers can see how a group runs and maybe manage to participate, but that mix tends to make my talkers into strugglers or cause them to gang up on the poor strugglers, who often just feel worse about themselves. Ideally, I would like my strugglers to be seen individually until they are able to manage behavior better, but that's the downside to not being in charge. I have to follow rules sometimes, even if it seems contraindicated. My strugglers are tough and often all I want is safety and for them to leave a little calmer than when they came in. We are working from the bottom of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs most of the time.

Snowflakes = Bad Idea of the Day
Both of my groups get some self-regulation with each group. Sometimes with my strugglers, it is an hour of self-regulation and attempts at group cohesion. I often use a book called Ready, Set, Relax. I highly recommend it. It has guided relaxation scripts for kids with discussion points and activities. I think the scripts could work for anyone and the activities could be modified. Anyway, for my failure of the week I read one of these scripts about changing weather and being unique. Then I asked the guys what makes them unique, which they were unwilling to discuss. Then I asked them to talk about what made each other unique, which resulted in insulting each other. We also attempted to cut out snowflakes, which somehow resulted in them wanting to murder me and not a single snowflake. I think the problem was in the mood of the day. Sometimes they enter the room in 5 different places, all of them mad and hating each other. It was that kind of day. These days overwhelm me and I feel hopeless as a therapist and they feel hopeless as little people in the world. It sucks for all of us. On the positive side, I saw one of them the following night for an individual session and he was making snowflakes and wanted to continue with what we started in group.

Bumparena = Success!
The success for this group was a game called Bumparena. We made teams of two and the guys took turns making decisions, asking for feedback from each other and planning how to get balls to fall into their goal. They loved it! They were focused, understood the rules, were respectful to each other and able to slow down and think things through -- all unusual skills for them to exhibit. I couldn't have been prouder. It wasn't a deep insightful group, but a great game to get them thinking about some basic cause and effect, get along and actually love being in group. We all left happy and they have been asking for me to bring the game back... although next time I may find a way to incorporate some new therapy goals (insert evil laugh).

And because one of my goals for the year is to create regularly and add to my posts...

I am still taking photos during my training runs and saving for art journal inspiration.

 And I completed a couple of monkeys. I am waiting for some natural lighting so I can take some decent photos and put them on etsy.
Next week, I hope to do more drawing.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Sorry, but this has to happen...

I am not writing about art or being a therapist in this post. This is an expression of an annual tradition anywhere I have written anything: journals, blogs or sticky notes. It's that time of year when I assess myself and plan for the future, also known as my birthday. I have decided not to review last year's goals today, because I fear I forgot many of them and may feel a little deflated if I remind myself of failures or general forgetfulness and lack of focus. This has been an intense year, full of change mostly for the good and although I may not have accomplished some things on last year's list, I had a phenomenal year overall and I am ridiculously happy with my life. I think that's all that needs to matter.

I feel like I am finally at a point in life where things feel right and I don't have a long list of wishes or changes I want to make. Of course, more money and free time to be adventurous in the world, would be great, but I also believe part of the fun is in the challenge of making incredible things happen in an otherwise ordinary life. It wouldn't be as exciting to travel anywhere or try new things if money and time were endless. This year's highlights included performing in a flying trapeze show, running a marathon, several half marathons, doing a triathlon and skydiving. I realized this year that amazing opportunities for experiencing the world are all around if I am open enough to explore and brave enough to try. Turns out one doesn't need to be rich or famous to do some pretty intense living.

But I digress... this year's goals are pretty normal.

1. Attend one yoga class per week, so I can be a better yoga teacher.
2. Write LMHC after my name, so all that money on an education doesn't go to waste.
3. AFAA certification, so I can teach whatever I want at the gym and be legit about it.
4. Meditate 10 minutes per week, so I can mentally chill better. I know that's small, but I have a rough time of holding still when I am not sleeping, so I need to start small in order to be successful.
5. Read a bunch of books I listed elsewhere, so I can feel smart about some stuff.
6. Be early, because it makes me feel better about myself and reduces anxiety.
7. Write an article, because I have always wanted to write and am getting old, so I better actually accomplish some life goals.
8. Write in this blog every week and have new art to show every time, therefore staying creative.
9. Save $2000 for my trip to India I plan to go on when I am 40.
10. Learn about India so I know where I want to go.

It's an extensive list, but I believe it to be accomplishable. The biggest struggle will be being early, since I am chronically late (and emotionally beating myself over it.)

Creatively speaking, this week I have been working on my etsy site, posting monkeys and monsters, writing about monkeys and monsters and making new monkeys to add as well as drawing in my art journal.
Page from my art journal

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Art On The Go

One of the awesome things I have been loving about doing races is the travel. I have been running for just under a year and I have only run in four states, including my own, but I am loving going places I have never been and maybe would have never considered going otherwise. On a side note, I need to design a U.S. map to chart my travels as well as some way to display medals, but that's a post for another day.

This year I did two races that required overnight travel and both were artistic adventure gold: Corning, NY for the Wineglass Marathon and Half Marathon and Philadelphia, PA for Marathon Weekend. Corning is home of the Museum of Glass, quite possibly the coolest museum I have ever seen. In addition to awesome work on display, they offered demonstrations of various glass making techniques, which is way more mesmerizing than the newest Twilight movie (not that I've seen it) or bowling or whatever one might do for entertainment on a long weekend. They also offer various workshops, so a visitor may do actual glass blowing, bead making, sand blasting etc., with the comfort of a teacher who knows stuff, guiding your hands who will not allow glass to explode in your eye or a blowtorch to light your hair on fire, which is a nice way to work with glass the first time. Oh, AND runners got a two day pass to the museum for just six dollars!
some of the work I liked in the museum
bead I made
Finishers' Medals at the race are also glass

Last weekend I attended Philadelphia Marathon Weekend and ran the half marathon. It was the biggest race I have been in yet. Last year had 23,000 runners -- I don't know how many this year, but it took us about 25 minutes from the gun to cross the starting line due to all the people who needed to cross it. Although we started in front of the Museum of Art, we did not get discounts at that museum. How rude! (We went anyway.) Runners did get a discount to Isaiah Zagar's Magic Gardens, however. It was the first time I have ever seen something that made me feel like crying for no recognizable reason. It was powerful. I know the Philadelphia Museum of Art is rated as the second best art museum in the country and tickets cost more than double the entry fee to Magic Gardens, but South Street is where it is at for this chick. I am inspired.

Magic Gardens
And the murals around town were AMAZING! I really would love to live in Philly. Seems like a great place to be an art therapist.
Murals of Philly
Places to come: Virginia, Utah, Wyoming and New Hampshire. Having a job is good. Too bad I don't get more vacation time.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Hey, I'm Back!

Life's been busy and it has been hard to get much art done, let alone blog about it, so my mission as of late has been to find time to fit creativity into my life.  Now that I have somewhat of a delicate grasp on that, I want to take a moment to tell you about it.

In addition to studying for the licensure exam, teaching yoga (including a new hybrid Yoga for Athletes class that I started from scratch), taking on new certifications in Piyo, Turbokick and starting AFAA certification, I have also completed a full marathon.  It sucked.  Doing a training run for a marathon, takes a whole day out of one's schedule, at least for me.  It seemed for awhile, I had to be all about the physical when I wasn't actually in work working.  Now, I have resolved myself to the half-marathon, which allows me to have more of my life back, thank you very much.  But I still need to train and training takes time.  Both worlds started to collide once I started packing my phone for training runs.  I have been photographing where I run.  It slowed me down, and it's hard to take photos on a phone outside while one is trying to stay at a certain pace, but it felt good.

This is a view from one of the bike paths I like, taken on my iPhone.
Taking pictures, even hastily, using the instagram app, made my runs enjoyable and made me feel more creative, so I started drawing in my sketchbook again.

This is a spread from my journal.  The right side is based on that image.
This is from a park in the city where I run sometimes, taken on my iPhone.
A couple of drawings that sprung from that run.
A gift I made based on the drawings.
Drawing is not my forte, but it feels good.  It's transportable, requires very little expense and slows down my thought process so that everything happening in my world and racing around my head can be observed and make more sense.  It's a kind of meditation.

I feel good.  More has come from running.  I will tell you about that next week!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Crocheting and Store

You know what would be the coolest?

If everything we did could earn money.

I think about this sometimes as I am doing a morning run, making some art, taking a bath...  Why won't someone pay me to mow my lawn and brush my teeth? These are the things poor people think when student loans are high and the chosen profession is notoriously shit pay. At least it is what I think. I have been teaching yoga 4 days per week, which is awesome, because it feeds right into that fantasy. I should do yoga anyway, so why not talk through my practice and get paid?  Plus, it's true that we really know a subject through teaching it. Now if I could just supplement my income through riding my bike and going on my morning run.

Artwise, I taught Mallory to crochet and we have been crocheting felted yoga bags.

My yoga bag in progress
 This thing takes forever! So, in the meantime, I also made Mallory some lobster amigurumisGet the free pattern here

There's something about mindless repetition of stitches that is soothing to me and when I am stressed or undergoing life changes as I have been recently, it's a sure way to manufacture calm.  I have a couple of kids I would like to introduce to crochet.

In an artistic attempt to pay off my massive student loan, I also reopened my etsy shop: Punky Monks, where I am selling my sock monkeys very cheaply right now in order to strum up some business and get rid of my stock.  I still have more finished items to add over the weekend and will likely add some photography soon as well with other items to follow.  My etsy store includes a twitter account and a blog. Right now I am hosting a free monkey give away to subscribers: go here for details.  Not a lot of success in sales so far, but I feel good about it. There is something about feeling kicked down that makes one find solutions.  I'm not starving by any means, but my new debt makes me creative in the methods I will take to get rid of it. I have claimed Sallie Mae as Enemy Number One and am determined to wipe that bill away. These are my current rookie problems.

Sock Monkeys for Sale!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Money Box

Oh my goodness, life is tough lately. Full of happiness and progress on one side and intense stress and change on the other. I have not been a "good" artist under these conditions and by good, I mean at all. I haven't done much. It's sad, because I could use some quiet creative blowing off of steam now as much as ever.

However, I have not been a complete slacker, because I did make my girlfriend a money box. She is a runner and had the bright idea of paying herself a dollar for every mile she runs this year (which I immediately imitated). She had her cash in a bucket, which is perfectly fine, but called out for something more. I wanted to make us both something that fit the money right, so I built her this box out of foam core and covered it in paper mosaic and a little paper filigree

Outside of Box
Inside with false bottom that opens to a note.
Bottom with little filigree legs.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Group Intervention and Other News

Successful intervention of the week is Play Doh Charades. Once a week I try to give my guys a group that is just about self regulation and integrates some sensory work. Last week's sensory group was a success. I brought a small Tibetan Singing Bowl from home and had the guys start by listening to me ring it 3 times and pay attention to the point they noticed the sound vibration stop. This "mediation" technique was a success. The guys were mellow, but alert, which is my favorite of their states. They were very interested in the bowl, so I allowed them to pass it around and have each person ring it once. To my surprise, they were appropriate with my bowl and passing it to their peers. They had lots of questions about it and I was impressed by their attention and interest in the new object.

Next I passed out small containers of Play Doh and had written random nouns on index cards which they took one at a time. I asked them to shape the clay into what was written on the card and the other guys had to guess. No prizes were offered, but they loved it. The only problem was they got a little too happy. Some of my guys are easily dysregulated and potentially dangerous and at one point one of them screamed with excitement and brought staff running, thinking something was wrong. It was good to see them all taking turns, enjoying group and feeling happy though. I had them settle down with some ending yoga postures and they all left feeling positive and saying they liked group, which makes me feel good.

And last weekend I finished my table.

Paper Mosaic Table
I am between projects now. I want to mosaic my dresser next, but feel a little overwhelmed with the thought of it. I may just revive my etsy site and make a few monkeys for a while between furniture projects.

I have been dealing with one of the stresses of being a rookie, which is cash. My student loans have started coming in and therapists really don't get paid so well when the cost of being one is factored in. It's freaking me out. So I have been exploring money-making options. I have a few ideas in mind to supplement my income, but I have one thing I can check off my list: I will be teaching yoga again. So far I have been offered one night a week, but my schedule may be rounding out over the next couple weeks as I am going into a large gym chain desperate for teachers and different locations are currently working on their spring schedules.

Lastly, my girlfriend and I have started a new blog about all of our adventures with some very cool stuff planned for this summer. If there is no chance you are a client past or present and would like to see it, email me or comment and I will send you a link.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Sometimes I am a Music Therapist

Things I hate about my job: Catching every weird illness kids get, my loans are bigger than my paycheck and doing groups.

Things I love about my job: I love those kids individually and I love that I get to work with them individually and see amazing things happen sometimes.

I find that on this job I am not exclusively an art therapist. I am a whatever-works therapist. Sometimes play, movement, music or just talk. I know art best, but I follow the lead of whomever I am working with. The most recent dramatic success has been in music and it was the simplest, most natural, easy thing that led to a great opening of one of my guys.

Photo from another career.
One guy got a keyboard as a gift, so for a couple of sessions, I taught him how to read music. Nothing miraculous, just middle C and the surrounding keys so he could play basic songs. He started making up his own rhythms, just playing around, and we would talk about what kind of emotion the sounds portrayed or movie scenes we could imagine played out to his sound effects. Then one day I asked him to sing along and give words to his sounds. Suddenly, a kid that has kept it superficial for months cracked wide open and told me about his life, his hopes, his emotions and he loved doing it. It could be the saddest thing that ever happened to him or something horrible he regretted doing, and he was so proud to put it to music. It made talking easy. It immediately carried over into other aspects of his treatment: he became more engaged, more motivated, more positive, more focused and he started having conversations with his family that required a lot of courage. It was seriously amazing. Sometimes I don't know where individual sessions are going, but just going with the flow has been showing some good results and makes this job worth doing.

And my table is coming along...

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


This week I had one of those days. You know, the kind where one wonders what the hell one was thinking when choosing a career path. I consider myself pretty tough, but an event in group shook me up pretty badly on Monday. Hello Rookie, this is your wake up call -- you're not as hardcore as you think and (bubble burst) your job is actually a little dangerous.

Often when my guys are less than perfect in group, I feel partially responsible. I think if only I could find the right directive, the right level of energy, the right pace, they would be too interested in group to act up and just maybe they would learn something. So, today I came with a racing heart, shortness of breath, sense of terror, props to engage them and a bag of prizes to bribe them. I hoped for the best, but had a big male staff, an intern and new respect for the paging system to back me up in preparation for the worst.

I started with the warning of prizes: participation, respect and safety would result in a prize at the end of group. The guys know my basket of prizes. Hot Wheels and notebooks are big motivators for short term good behavior. I don't use bribery often, but you know what they say about desperate times. Then I showed the guys a modified version of an old mindfulness group. They named off the five senses and I had a prop and activity for every one.

Touch - One object for each kid (stress balls, Play Doh, beads, Slinky, for example) and asked them to spend a few seconds with each one and share what they notice. They passed all the objects around so everyone had a turn with each object and could name their favorite.
Taste - One Swedish Fish (Thank you Mallory). They were asked to become connoisseurs and smell, feel, describe before eating in one minute or more. Then say something about the taste.
Smell - A small drop of lotion on their hands. What does it smell like? Does it remind them of anything?
Sound - I had them draw abstractly to music and then discuss what they noticed in the sound.
Sight - They held up images and had to say what they noticed about their own and what they noticed about each others.

Every kid was fantastic in group today. I don't know if it was the prizes or the engagement of their senses, but today was better. Something worked and they noted improvement to their moods and learned a little about using their bodies to pay attention and be connected to themselves and their environments.

In personal art news, my art life has been very slacky and that makes me feel a little brain dead, disconnected from myself and like a craptastic art therapist. Life is busy! But, I have been working on the long term project of paper mosaicing my bedroom furniture. This is great for someone with small moments for art making, because I have slivers of paper and everyday I sit down and glue a few onto my nightstand. It makes me happy. My mind wanders to combining this with sewn papers... quilted furniture... hmmmm....

The top of my nightstand, in progress.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Rapping with Teens

This past week was rather casual around my workplace, because my guys were on "vacation." Since I work for a residential treatment program, that means they were at the residence, rather than the school where I have an office. Although I went to the residence as usual during the week, I gave my guys the freedom to meet with me or not, work on something or not and since there was no school, we didn't have any groups. 

When I arrived one day, one of my guys had created a positive rap about himself and the program to share with me. Since we have started working on a video for groups, I gave my guys the option of filming something during their vacation and I encouraged this boy to use his rap as his video to share with the group. The guys I work with have "developmental delays."  This translates into several difficulties, including being a few years behind grade level. Reading and writing is often a big struggle for many of my guys. Writing a rap is an advanced skill with my kids; reading, memorizing, presenting it could be even more tricky. So, here's what we did: we went over each line and I had him practice and repeat, choose an appropriate space, camera angle and movement and we filmed it one line at a time, so he sounded his best with each line. I think we created something he can be proud of. Plus, it is a positive reminder to stay on track in his own words.

Coincidentally, one of my other guys wanted to write a rap with me. He rapped and I wrote. He was so proud of his work and showed all of the staff his rap collection. I photocopied his work and I am thinking about helping him make something with his rap hits like a book or c.d. Any creative ideas for translating written word to another art form?

As for my own goals and self-care. My book of the week is Art and Yoga by Hari Kirin Kaur Khalsa and I have been doing a simple DVD practice at home from Deepak Chopra's The Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga along with listening to the lecture. Both are highly recommended. Here is some fast art in response to my practice.
Chakras, watercolor 

Silence, watercolor