Wednesday Wonders: The Miracle of Wounded Art


Over ten years ago, I took a class on adult psychology in a small classroom on Pill Hill in Seattle. The professor stood in front of us in a button up shirt with slacks that blended into the dark background of the room behind. As he described his experience of a wrenching divorce, he said he did not try to push through his feeling of pain. That did not work for him. Instead, he suggested that it worked better to fully feel emotions.

He used this story to illustrate a psychological principal that I no longer remember. I don’t even remember his name.

But I do remember seeing his pain.

We students saw his heart bleed although he said the divorce happened years before.

I don’t think he had yet found a way to heal. Even if I had been able to say something to him, he might not have received it from the ESL teacher in the back of the room.

But if could speak to him now, I would tell him to try art. 

Get out your paper and glue for a collage, crack open an old instrument case, write a poem, or take photos of falling down buildings in your neighborhood, I would say. I have no idea why it works or if science will back me up. I only know it works as well as any psychological treatment I known or tried on myself.

In a TED Talk by Angélica Dass, I listened to her tell of the searing comments and prejudices she has endured because of her skin color.

Then I watched her speak of the project she created to help herself manage this pain. Even as she described the way she photographed the people from around the world, I noticed her shoulders ease and her voice warm to the telling.

Maybe that psychology professor already knows about this trick of art and how it lets you fully feel without smashing you to bits under the weight of being human. 

Perhaps he even knows what a gift that art can become to others.

I hope so.

The beauty of Dass’s work cuts through so much of what we use to separate us. I don’t pretend to know why gifts to humanity need to spring from nearly unbearable pain like prejudice and divorce. I only know that they often do and that the art soothes the sufferer when she throws herself into the making.

I also know when someone pulls some once of goodness out of their wounds, everyone touched by the art is the better for it. 

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Did I mention baking? I made these in response to having a crown and root canal this week. They helped. Art with chocolate has to be the best of all.

Wednesday Wonders: Why a Closing Japanese American Church Matters Today


Bulletin with a photo of the stained glass from the Tacoma Japanese American Episcopal Methodist Church on Fawcett Street in Tacoma complete with my prayer doodles

Last Sunday, I went to the closing ceremony of the Whitney Memorial United Methodist Church, a congregation of Japanese Americans who voted to shut their doors this spring.

I sat in the back of Puyallup United Methodist Church in a different pew from where I sit most Sundays.

Here I saw Shirley DeLarme and Ann Berney, two former pastors of PUMC, and many of my church friends. The origami cranes hung from the ceiling in gold, red, blue, and primary colors that danced and twirled.

The company filled my heart and the decorations reminded me of countless hours I spent with Japanese students in my younger years as a teacher. The futomaki I ate afterwards reminded me of them even more with the rolled nori and stuffing probably designed to suit the tastes of the American-born.

Running through my nostalgia, however, was a stinging thread of sorrow. 

I saw the pain in the faces of those who had lost their church community that opened on September 22, 1907. I heard the anguish in the voice of their Pastor Karen Yokota Love as she reassured them that they had not let their ancestors down. Even as Whitney Memorial presented generous gifts of the cottage they owned, stained glass and the original bell from their church, I ached.


The church bell Mr. Mizukami said once came from a train

I could not escape the loss the closing of this church represents to our community.

Those cranes hung from the ceiling came from the 2014 United Methodist conference held at the Puyallup Fair Grounds. Here the ancestors of those remaining members, including then church pastor Seichi Niwa, found themselves interned in 1942.

After the war, member Greg Mizukami told us, only ten percent of the population retuned to the once thriving church community then located on Fawcett Street in hilltop Tacoma. In spite of this they continued to do the work of Christians everywhere, helping the poor and the immigrant communities, even though many of the congregation never returned and the church never fully recovered.


The Fawcett building still stands and is now owned by the University of Washington.

Over one hundred years later, we still face the effects of the anger and fear from World War II.

When I asked him, my father once told me how terrifying it was to live with the fear of a Japanese invasion. He spoke of black outs and air raid sirens, of forts built to guard Puget Sound, and of fear of spies both rational and irrational.

I get that. I feel it now when the news brings stories of American citizens pledging themselves to foreign powers and then viciously killing innocents. I feel it when I wait hours in line for security checks even for our college’s graduation ceremonies. I feel it whenever I think  on September 11, 2001 or San Bernardino this last year.

But I also know that locking up people who have done nothing wrong is never the answer to keeping ourselves safe. It wasn’t the answer then, and it isn’t the answer today.

The effects of unjust incarceration devastate individuals and communities.

The effects last for generations.

I saw those effects Sunday.

I do not want my grandchildren to see a ceremony one hundred years from now like the one I saw Sunday.

I pray we all know grace and peace even in times of fear. May we know this for our own tranquility, for those we might otherwise hurt, and for the generations that will follow us.

I don’t believe Whitney Memorial United Methodist Church let their ancestors down.

And I intend to work like my hair is on fire to be sure I don’t let my descendants down.

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Wednesday Wonders: The Gifts of Rejection and Criticism



Criticism and rejection are the best parts of becoming a writer or other artist.

I know. That’s insane.

Even as I write this, I am avoiding re-reading critiques I recently received. I am avoiding it like I avoided driving down the icy road where my van slid and almost tipped over the edge of a cliff last January.

Before I read the feedback the first time, I told my son I was afraid to open the documents I had paid two editors to write about my book. I had the sense that they hovered like the howlers from Harry Potter–red envelopes sent by angry parents that would scream at me.

When I finally opened them, I did hear some screaming.

If I never wrote or taught a class, I might go through life without asking for honesty about my work, and I wouldn’t now be shivering at the thought of taking another look at the howlers in my inbox.

I don’t have much trouble asking for input. The agony comes afterward.

When I ask for feedback, someone often tells me.

Many of my sweet ESL students did not. They would write things on my evaluations like, “Karrie is so beautiful!” I adored them for this but couldn’t exactly improve my classroom skill based on that information.

People born in America are not this way.

Often they tell me what they think.

Some try to say it gently.

Some tell me the stinging truth because they sincerely want to help.

And some burn and sizzle me with cruel words like internet trolls or American-born students drunk on the power of anonymously sticking it to the teacher in a class evaluation.

All of this is valuable. Not all that they say is valuable, of course. Some of it is total trash.

But facing the fear of personal rejection–that is valuable. My squeaky ego would much rather guess at what others think. She pretends sometimes that she doesn’t need to read critiques because she already knows what is wrong.

My squeaky ego doesn’t know. She can’t. She’s too wrapped up in herself and her own emotions.

Learning to push my ego to the back seat, pick myself up off my carpeted office floor, and take the next step teaches me a hard core resilience.

If I can read criticism, take what I need and toss the trash, I will be able to face other terrifying things I need to overcome. It’s the only way I know to stretch and learn and grow as an artist and as a human being on the spinning planet.

Here is a method you can use to get through reading your own critiques. I am currently stuck at step five on my latest howlers.

How to Read a Critique

  1. See that the critique is there. Think on it and work yourself up to opening the doc or the envelope. (Thinking about howlers and how they only get worse if you wait can be helpful.)
  2. Know that you will read good and not good things about your work. As much as possible, separate yourself from your work. There is a big difference between reading that you made a mistake and thinking that you ARE a mistake. Remind yourself of this. Many many times. As many times as you need to before, during, and after a critique.
  3. Know that some critiques will be kind. Some will not.
  4. Open the document. Read through quickly on the first pass. You will be drawn to the negatives and they will stand up on the page like tall men sticking their tongues out at you. This is fine. Normal. Let them. Keep breathing. Meditation practice and deep breathing helps with this part.
  5. Decompress with trusted friends and family. Let them reassure you that you are not a mistake and that you should keep going.
  6. Re-read the critiques. The second time through you will see the good things as long as it was not written by one of those cruel trolls. (Please do not read those again. Those should be given to a trusted friend or colleague to dispose of appropriately. Preferably in a sharps container on the way to an incinerator.)
  7. Write down what you’ve learned.
  8. Keep working.
  9. Ask for another critique.
  10. Repeat.

May you do the work, brave the storm, and then do the work again-

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And if you want more, here is Brene Brown. Her take on criticism quiets the howlers with grace and the image of an arena.

Wednesday Wonders: When You Lose Your First Dream But Then Win



The moment I waved the gate card at the unresponsive lock, I knew I should have read the email before making the hour and a half drive out to Lake Trask.

My boys and I looked up to see the sign on the gate boldly telling us to park our vehicle and check in at the office. Access to campsites would be limited.

I thought again about the email from a few days ago labeled: “Important! Please Read!”

I had tried to read it at work but couldn’t pull it up.

“I’ll check at home,” I thought. Then I promptly forgot until staring at the locked gate at the lake near Shelton where we have a camping site.

In that moment, the boys and I saw our day shift into another place.

We parked the van and walked through the fence and down the gravel road to the clubhouse. They stayed downstairs with the pool table while I climbed up the steep stairs to the office definitely built before ADA regulations.

The woman at the desk stared out at me from behind the sliding glass partition, tensing and holding the counter for extra support in case I attacked. I imagined other campers had not read their emails and taken their frustration out on her.

“Can I help you?” she asked without a smile.

Her face relaxed a bit when I confessed I should have made myself more aware of the situation at the lake before coming out. She then told me that the construction workers had torn up the roads to repair the ancient meandering plumbing system. We could only get to our site by riding in the ranger’s truck and had to stay there until escorted back out for our safety.

With a crackle of the radio, she called up the ranger.

Although it wasn’t the day we planned, we ended up having a fabulous time. The boys got to ride in the bed of the ranger’s truck and thought that might be the very best way to travel ever.

Most campers read their email and stayed home. We had the place to ourselves aside from the ranger and the lady in the upstairs office.

We ate lunch and played a wild game of chase while throwing midget pinecones — an adventure middle-aged women don’t often get to enjoy. A mouse scampered in front of us on the path, probably shocked campers dared to come.

We found no frogs but not for lack of trying.

It wasn’t the trip we planned. I couldn’t haul in my books because there wasn’t room in the ranger’s truck. We could not leave our site or hike around. We didn’t even go swimming and had to leave by 3:00 pm.

In spite of all that, our day trip may have turned out better than we imagined before the unread email slapped us at the gate.


View looking up at the origin of pinecone grenades

It sounds like I’m making a frog leap, but I’ve noticed a similar wonderful thing happens when I lose my writing.

I have lost a lot of writing.

Don’t get me wrong. I hate feeling that my precious creation is gone forever, and I am always sure I’ll never ever be able to do it again. I work hard to hold on to my creations just like I worked hard to plan my trip with the boys that day.

But sometimes the computer crashes, or I don’t save well enough. Sometimes my notebook falls into the pile of the missing. Sometimes – like last time — I think it’s in a recent notebook but it’s not. I wrote a snippet long before I thought I wrote it, and the scribbled out words were tucked into a different journal from a month ago.

Here’s the thing.

When I am finally able to let go the old version and rewrite it, the new creation turns out just as okay as the first time I wrote it. 

Never the same. But just as okay. Sometimes even a smidgen better.

I know because when I do find the original writing (like I did in the month-ago journal), I can compare.

I often end up weaving Version A and B together to make a beautiful version C.

Trips to the lake. Writing stories. Having kids. Fostering cats. Living life. These things never quite go as planned, even when the gates aren’t locked and the notebook doesn’t get lost.

I still intend to have a grand time with the tiny pinecones and the Version C. It’s seems like the best option, and it sure is more fun than yelling at the lady in the office.

May you find your own rewritten path-

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From the trips before that went as planned…