In my book, this has been one of Michigan's loveliest autumns. The weather has been comfortably cool without being too cold, and the trees have been such brilliant hues of red ...

A maple near my office in Walker, Michigan. (Photo: Rachel E. Watson)

yellow ...

The tree in my front yard. (Photo: Rachel E. Watson)

and all the colors of the spectrum ...

Trees along M-46 between Lakeview and Edmore. (Photo: Becky Howard)

It makes me want to take time out to confess that of all the fine art I could possibly enjoy and celebrate in this world, whether it's music, poetry, film, literature, painting or other visual arts, none of them could exist were it not for the Creator by whose power the universe was formed.

And who can top the beauty in His world? 

Today, while I was walking on the trail that cuts through my office park, a strong wind rushed through the trees and set them to swaying, and a golden brown leaf tornado spun up from the ground as I watched. 

In that moment, hymns began playing, one after another, in the symphony of my mind. These are the hymns I heard:

"For the Beauty of the Earth"

For the beauty of the earth, 
For the glory of the skies, 
For the love which from our birth 
Over and around us lies; 
Lord of all, to thee we raise 
This our hymn of grateful praise. 

For the beauty of each hour 
Of the day and of the night, 
Hill and vale, and tree and flower, 
Sun and moon, and stars of light;
Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise. 

For the joy of human love, 
Brother, sister, parent, child, 
Friends on earth and friends above, 
For all gentle thoughts and mild; 
Lord of all, to thee we raise 
This our hymn of grateful praise. 

"This Is My Father's World"

This is my Father's world, 
And to my listening ears 
All nature sings, and round me rings 
The music of the spheres. 
This is my Father's world: 
I rest me in the thought 
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas; 
His hand the wonders wrought. 

This is my Father's world, 
The birds their carols raise, 
The morning light, the lily white, 
Declare their maker's praise. 
This is my Father's world: 
He shines in all that's fair; 
In the rustling grass I hear him pass; 
He speaks to me everywhere. 

This is my Father's world. 
O let me ne'er forget 
That though the wrong seems oft so strong, 
God is the ruler yet. 
This is my Father's world: 
The battle is not done
Jesus who died shall be satisfied
And earth and heaven be one.

"How Great Thou Art"

O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder
Consider all the works thy hands have made,
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed:

Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee:
How great thou art, How great thou art!
Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee:
How great thou art, How great thou art!

When through the woods and forest glades I wander
I hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees,
When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur,
And hear the brook and feel a gentle breeze:

Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee:
How great thou art, How great thou art!
Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee:
How great thou art, How great thou art!

I'm so thankful for Creator God, the finest artist, the best composer, The Word Who Became Flesh.

Read more posts in the Fine Art Friday series here
This is my 100th blog post. Since it's Groovy Tuesday, the day I write about music, let's travel back in time 100 years and see what music was written in the year 1914.

"Twelfth Street Rag"

This ragtime song written by Euday L. Bowman was later used as the theme for television's "The Joe Franklin Show," and a ukulele version has been featured in the background of the show "SpongeBob SquarePants." (Bet Bowman wouldn't have seen THAT coming, eh?)

"Your King and Country Need You"

Keep in mind 1914 was the first year of World War I. This British song, with lyrics by Huntley Trevor and music by Henry E. Pether, was written for the purpose of recruiting soldiers to the Allies' cause. 

"I Want to Go Back to Michigan"

Irvin Berlin composed this charming but cheesy song in 1914, and its most famous performance was by Judy Garland in the 1948 film "Easter Parade."

"Saint Louis Blues"

By far my favorite of the crop, "Saint Louis Blues" was composed by W.C. Handy and has been performed by tons of famous blues and jazz musicians. The Louis Armstrong/Bessie Smith version above was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1993.

Here's a list of more songs composed in 1914. Do you have any favorites?

Read more posts in the Groovy Tuesday series here.
In the past couple of weeks, I've dived back into novel-reading, a favorite pastime I was neglecting in favor of some other spare-time pursuits: yoga, running, writing and Netflix-watching.

But, as workshop leaders reminded me recently at Breathe Writers Conference, the best writers spend as much time reading as they do writing. Reading strengthens the muscles of the imagination, teaches the brain about the flow of language, etc.

So I picked up a couple of novels at the conference, and I'm back in the game.

A word on perspective

Here's one thing I noticed yesterday and today while reading the novel "When Mountains Move," by Julie Cantrell: I feel close to the protagonist, Millie, because the novel's point of view is third person limited. 

If you need a refresher on what point of view is, here's a definition from

  • Point of view: The perspective from which the author tells the story; the narrator's position in relation to the story. 

There are three possible points of view: First person (The narrator is the protagonist and speaks in "I" terms), second person ("you") and third person ("he/she/it/they"). 

The story can be told in first person singular or plural, that is "I" or "we."

Second-person narration is very rare, but not unheard of. If you'd like some examples, here's a roundup: Books about You - Novels Written in the Second-Person Narrative.

The story can be told from third person omniscient or third person limited perspective. That is, the narrator can be an all-knowing storyteller who shows you the thoughts and feelings of every character or several characters, or the narrator might only share the feelings of the protagonist.

In Cantrell's novel "Into the Free" and its sequel I was reading yesterday, "When Mountains Move," Millie Reynolds is the main character, and her story is told by a narrator who lets you see her thoughts and feelings but not those of the other characters.

It's a way to let the reader feel close to the protagonist without limiting him/her by first-person narration. First-person narration constrains the story in a couple of ways: 1. It offers a spoiler: The narrator ultimately survives the events of this book because s/he is writing about it later. 2. We only get to perceive the supporting characters from the eyes of the narrator, who can't know their hidden motivations. 

I should note that I have enjoyed novels that use first person and third person omniscient points of view. 

First person examples: 

  • Charlotte Bronte's "Jane Eyre" is narrated by the titular character, and it feels as if we're reading her memoir. None of it feels stale, though; it feels like we're in Jane's head, traveling through the events as she remembers them. And we trust that she remembers accurately.
  • Holden Caulfield also narrates his story in first-person, past tense in "The Catcher in the Rye." But he tells us straight off that he's an unreliable narrator: "I'm the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life. If I'm on the way to the store to buy a magazine, even, and somebody asks me where I'm going, I'm liable to say I'm going to the opera." So the novel is fraught with tension as we try to sort out fact from fiction.

Third person omniscient examples: 

Many 19th-century authors used an omniscient point of view, most notably:

  • Jane Austen's "Emma" and most of "Pride and Prejudice" and "Sense and Sensibility" are written using an omniscient narrator who gives glimpses of all the characters' thoughts and motivations, while spending the most time letting you into the inner lives of Emma, Elizabeth and Elinor.
  • Charles Dickens' "Nicholas Nickleby"

As the novel developed in the 20th and 21st centuries, the third person omniscient point of view became less common in favor of third person limited, which allows readers to enter into the feelings of the characters and helps move the climax of the novel forward.

What's your favorite point of view?

As I mentioned, second person narration is pretty rare. Can you think of any novels, besides the ones mentioned in the blog post I linked to, that use second-person narration?

Do you have any favorite contemporary novels that use an omniscient narrator?

I'd love to hear from you. Leave me a comment here or over at my Facebook Community page.

Read more posts in the Storytelling Sunday series here.
(Stock photo: Free images)

I'm a perfectionist. If you know me, this won't come as a surprise to you. If you're also a perfectionist, who, like me, has good taste but little artistic ability, I recommend you try something new: social painting.

If you've never heard of this trend, allow me to explain: It's where you go to an art studio with friends and follow instructions to recreate a predetermined scene while drinking wine and having a good ol' time. It's also been called a wine and canvas event.

I kid you not, when I went this week, I almost refused to drink any of the wine because I wanted to keep all my faculties sharp and blow that painting assignment out of the water.

But then, my sister-in-law offered to buy me a drink, and, well, the whole "getting it perfect with a completely focused mind" thing started to seem really overrated. 

At the place we chose, called Arts and Carafes Cafe, the studio owner, Jackie Sporte, and the on-duty teacher/artist, Taylor, walked us through the whole thing step by step. 

The scene of the day was an autumn forest, specifically a wood full of birch trees. Taylor, the artist, took us through the basics, from taping the canvas to start the underpainting, to what brush to use, to when to rinse it, to how to mix the colors, to when to switch to a different brush.

It reminded me very much of watching a favorite PBS show from childhood, "The Joy of Painting" with Bob Ross, only instead of just watching, this time, I was participating. 

I technically never took an art class, so my experience with painting has been limited to sporadic 4-H classes and "The Joy of Painting" show. I didn't pursue either very proactively because it wasn't an area of natural gifting for me.

Here's my painting! (Photo: Faith Watson)

As you can see above, it still isn't. 

But here's something I learned during this night out with my sister and sister-in-law: You've got to let go of that self-criticism. The pursuit of creativity is always worthwhile, even if it's painful to you because you don't like how your work turns out. 

Why? Because your hand and brush connect, you mix the colors, you flex your creative muscles and you exert power over your canvas. You listen to toe-tapping music, feeling the wine on your tongue. You hear the laughter of your friends, and you feel in your bones that you've just made something. Something that didn't exist before.

That's what creativity is all about. 

What do you make?

What kinds of creations have you made with your hands? How did you feel during the creative process, regardless of the end result? I'd love to hear your story. Leave me a comment below or over at my Facebook Community page.
(Stock photo: Free images)

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Brandi Carlile has a song for every one of my moods/experiences/thoughts/emotions. We can add her song "That Wasn't Me" to the list today.

I woke up thinking about one of the shows Brandi did at the Frederick Meijer Gardens amphitheater — it was either 2012 or 2013 — where she sat down at the piano and began to tell a story about this song before her performance.

She said she visited a women's prison after this song was released as a single, and the inmates were clamoring to hear her perform it. They said it resonates with them because it feels like an open letter to their families and to the families of the people they wronged. 

It's a plea to be remembered as a whole person, not defined in a lasting way by the choice or series of choices that landed them behind bars.

We all want to be characterized more by our good and beautiful acts, don't we? 

"That Wasn't Me," by Brandi Carlile

Hang on, just hang on for a minute
I've got something to say
I'm not asking you to move on or forget it
But these are better days
To be wrong all along and admit it, is not amazing grace
But to be loved like a song you remember
Even when you've changed

Tell me, did I go on a tangent?
Did I lie through my teeth?
Did I cause you to stumble on your feet?
Did I bring shame on my family?
Did it show when I was weak?
Whatever you've seen, that wasn't me
That wasn't me, oh that wasn't me

When you're lost you will toss every lucky coin you'll ever trust
And you'll hide from your God like he ever turns his back on us
And you will fall all the way to the bottom and land on your own knife
And you'll learn who you are even if it doesn't take your life

Tell me, did I go on a tangent?
Did I lie through my teeth?
Did I cause you to stumble on your feet?
Did I bring shame on my family?
Did it show when I was weak?
Whatever you've seen, that wasn't me
That wasn't me, oh that wasn't me

But I want you to know that you'll never be alone
I wanna believe, do I make myself a blessing to everyone I meet
When you fall I will get you on your feet
Do I spend time with my family?
Did it show when I was weak?
When that's what you've seen, that will be me
That will be me, that will be me
That will be me

I think the thing that's so powerful about this for me is that it's not denial of the wrongdoing itself. The bad deeds are already on the table. What I see here is an insistence that those terrible sins aren't who I want to be. 

I don't want to do the terrible things I do ... hmm ... where have I heard that before?

"It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge" (Romans 7:21-23, The Message).

I join those women at the penitentiary in their humanity, their brokenness, their desire for a day when they can again make themselves a blessing. Don't we all?

Read more posts in the Groovy Tuesday series here.
Behold, one of my favorite dress shoes of all time. 

I just did something I've never done before. I took my shoes to a shoe repair shop instead of ditching them and buying new.

And guess what? It was a great experience.

I had two pairs of shoes in need of repair. One pair was damaged when I was strolling on a walking trail with co-workers recently. The heel of my left boot tore off and flew backward into the grassy embankment next to the path. I quickly retrieved it and limped around one-heeled for the rest of the workday. (This is why you should always bring extra shoes to work. Or wear walking shoes if you're planning to take a walk.)

My damaged boots look similar to these ones. 

The heel of the other pair was damaged a while back — I believe when I stepped on the crack of a sidewalk as I was leaving the YMCA. (This is why you should always jump over the sidewalk cracks.)

During the former excursion, the co-worker with whom I was walking mentioned she has had good luck with a local shoe repair shop on Leonard Street, Mieras Family Shoes.

I decided to give it a whirl.

Mieras is on the West Side of town, a short drive from where I live. It has been a family-owned business since 1922.

When I walked in, I was greeted by a young man behind a cash register who was wearing an apron. (Men wearing aprons are always a good start to a customer service experience.)

He directed me to the workshop in the back of the store. The place smelled strongly of what I imagine was leather polish, caulks, glues and resins of various kinds. 

"Jimmy, you've got a customer," the young man said, gingerly approaching a much older man with thick glasses and wild, wispy gray hair. 

Jimmy at first appeared not to hear, but then he shuffled over toward me and, without greeting me or looking at me directly, waited patiently for me to state my business.

I was instantly charmed. It was clear the young man was the one with the social ease and sales persona, and the older man was the fixer, the craftsman, the quiet fella with no taste for chatter.

He assessed my shoes with a bit of prodding and flexing of the damaged areas and determined within 30 seconds or less that they were fixable.

"I've even got some new light-colored heels that will be just perfect for this pair," he said, indicating the damaged tan pumps.

My receipts from Meiras Family Shoes.

He took out a couple of tickets and a pen and wrote down my name, phone number and the date, then ripped off the stubs and said, "We'll call you in two weeks." 

The shoes were ready in six days. They charged $10 per pair.

Read more posts in the Storytelling Sunday series here.
This is the sheet music to Rachmaninoff's "Vespers, Op. 37."

This post is about a beautiful kind of classical music I recently learned to love: sacred music, specifically vespers.

Since I was not raised in a liturgical tradition, I was unfamiliar with the concept of canonical hours, including vespers, the evening prayer, until very recently.

For the uninitiated, canonical hours are periods of prayer throughout the day.

My first exposure to the concept of vespers (thank you, YouTube) was Sergei Rachmaninoff's "All-Night Vigil, Vespers, Op. 37," written in 1915. It's an a capella composition for the Russian Orthodox Church — which, interestingly, Rachmaninoff did not attend at the time of writing — using its liturgical chants as source material for the first six movements.

Have a listen:

Isn't that beautiful? After my first hearing, I haven't been able to get those lovely sounds out of my head. Not that I want to.

The lyrics, translated below, remind me of a hymn I grew up singing: "Come Let Us Worship and Bow Down."

Here are the English words to Rachmaninoff's Vespers:

"All-Night Vigil, Vespers, Op. 37, O Come and Worship"

O come, let us worship before the Lord our Maker.
O come, let us worship and fall down
before the Lord Christ, our God and Maker.
O come, let us worship and fall down
and kneel before the Very Christ,
our God and Maker.
O come, let us worship and fall down before Him.

That's just the first movement. The complete piece has 15 movements and would take more than an hour to hear. 

So, if you ever have an hour to kill and feel yourself in need of healing via complete and utter peace and beauty, I highly recommend it.

Read more posts in the Fine Art Friday series here.
It's no secret. Winter can steal away your soul if you let it. Especially Michigan's new favorite kind of winter: The Polar Vortex.

Since I hear we who live in the Frigid North are about to experience another PV — have you SEEN those woolly bear caterpillars? — here's an anthem to claim during the long, dark, cold days ahead.

It's about winter, and hunkering down to work, and not letting your fears and frustrations stand in the way of tending to your soul.

Re: genre. Expect it to sound like a pleasant commingling of bluegrass, country, folk and I-don't-know-what. I saw these guys at a house concert here in Grand Rapids once, and I was instantly a fan.

"Books," by Bridget Kearney for Joy Kills Sorrow

I got lots of books and my house stays warm in winter
so I don’t go out too much these days.

We have lots of fun because we don’t make too much money
I get a bit more work done everyday.

I move so carefully slow
because I don’t know where I should go
and I’m holding on tight to my soul.

I try my best but I know I’m still a sinner
and my good intentions help to pave my way.
I don’t stay out too late and I sleep in on the weekends
I get a bit more work done everyday.

I move so carelessly slow
because I don’t know where I should go

and I’m holding on tight to my soul.

I don't know about you, but "holding on tight to my soul" is a thought to which I'll gladly cling this winter. I'll think of it when I'm shoveling the sidewalk for the millionth time, or trying to squeeze into an ever-narrowing-due-to-snow-mountains parking spot, or navigating rush hour traffic during a snowstorm, or layering up times a billion just to take out the trash.

About songwriter Bridget Kearney

Did I mention Bridget Kearney is a freaking amazing musician? If you don't believe me, check out her work in the past with Joy Kills Sorrow and currently with Lake Street Dive.

And feel free to read this enlightening Q&A with Kearney about how she learned harmony, upright bass and the other instruments she plays, making her a versatile backing musician and a first-chair quality asset to all the bands for which she's played. And she's a songwriter. Yeah.

Thanks for listening

I hope you enjoyed this edition of Groovy Tuesday. You can read past posts in the series here

As always, I'd love to hear your suggestions for what songs I should write about next. Leave me a comment here or over at my Facebook Community page.
Breathe Christian Writers Conference was founded in 2007. 

This morning, in light of something that happened yesterday, I am trying to rest in a promise I was taught in a workshop at Breathe Christian Writers Conference: I am God's beloved. I am the one Jesus loves, and He delights in me.

We need to speak those words out loud, author Suzanne Burden said during her workshop called "Writing the Hard Things to the Church and the World."

Burden said claiming those words is the Christian writer's first step toward being able to tell the truth in writing.

In that spirit, I'd like to share a true story from yesterday, Day 2 of the conference. (It is Storytelling Sunday, after all, folks!)

The liar returns

I strode confidently into my second-to-last workshop of the conference, "Glimpses of God: Reading and Writing Theological Memoir," led by Martie Bradley, one of the Breathe conference organizers.

As I walked by a table full of women, one of them broke free of her conversation and turned to me to say, "You are so gorgeous. I love your hair, you're so tall, you've got the whole look going, great posture, thin and everything. Do you model?"

My heart sank to the floor. The blood rushed to my face and neck, my eyes began to throb and palms began to sweat. I sat down and began unpacking my book bag, pulling out my note-taking materials with my eyes downcast.

"No," I said, eager to change the subject. "I don't."

"Why not?" they all chorused, expectantly.

A little voice in my head whispered, "You missed your calling."

I answered the voice with a silent scream torn from the lungs and vocal cords of my mind: "You're wrong! I know fiercely and truly that a life spent fixated on the beautification and presentation of my body would miss the mark. I would be ignoring my gift and passion to write!"

Aloud, I said with an apologetic grin, "I like to eat too much." The women smiled or chuckled and returned to their conversations. Thank you, Jesus, for ending this quickly.

But the voice inside my head kept talking: "You're only as good as your looks. You've always known that."

I've been fighting that voice my whole life. It's a liar. It's a liar whom I think all women believe, whether the version we accept is "You are good enough because of your beauty" or "You are not good enough because you are not beautiful enough."

Both lies take our focus off the truth: fulfillment and acceptance in Christ and knowledge of our identity as His beloved children.

As writers, it is simply not acceptable for us to believe and peddle lies. We are keepers of words. It is our responsibility to speak the truth with clarity and precision.

"Beauty is fleeting."

This is my challenge to you

Christian women, I challenge you today. Before you speak, consider whether what you will say is helpful for the spiritual, emotional and mental edification of your listener.

Consider these passages. I have been immersing myself in them this morning, soaking up the richness of the truth and beauty therein.

"Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised" (Proverbs 31:30).

"Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience" (Colossians 3:12).

"Your beauty should not come from outward adornment. ... Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight" (1 Peter 3:3-4).

"Listen, my child, to your father's instruction and do not forsake your mother's teaching. They are a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck" (Proverbs 1:8-9).
Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike star in "Gone Girl."

Last weekend, my dear husband and I went to see the box office hit "Gone Girl."

The movie is based on the bestselling novel by author Gillian Flynn, who also wrote the film's screenplay. It's directed by David Fincher — who's responsible for "Fight Club" and, more recently, "The Social Network" and "House of Cards." The cast includes Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne and Rosamund Pike as his wife, Amy Dunne.

Nick gets called home from work one day by a neighbor who says the Dunnes' cat has escaped the house and is hanging out in the driveway. When Nick goes home, he discovers signs of a struggle, and his wife is nowhere to be found. A police investigation and media frenzy ensues, and we're given a tour of the Dunnes' formerly happy five-year marriage via Amy's journal entries read in voiceover.

Before watching the movie, I read a couple of reviews for my job that described it as a psycho-satire and suburban noir.

I think both of those descriptors are apt, the former because main character Nick is no Liam Neeson straight-man/hero, and the latter because this is not your typical tidy missing-wife drama. None of the characters are truly likable, not even the ones we root for.

All of that aside, there's one thing that's been sticking with me since my husband and I discussed the movie. 

He said that while he thought the story was gripping and engrossing, he didn't think it said anything about real life, and that's ultimately why he wouldn't give it five stars.

I've been thinking a lot about that. While I agree the psychotic plot twists don't come close to mirroring anything in our life, I think the film does comment on reality.

Marriage is a character in this movie, and so is the media. The protagonists are shaped and changed by both, just as we all are in reality.

Nick and Amy Dunne's relationship plays out in an extreme way, but it is an example of unchecked human dysfunction and psychoses. We can find similar examples in history or even in present-day reality.

I just hope I don't have to run into any of them. ;)

Share your perspective

If you've seen the movie — and please, no spoilers for those who haven't — I'd like to hear if it speaks to you about real life. Leave me a comment here or over at my Facebook page.

Read more posts in the Fine Art Friday series here.
I was listening to a playlist recently that included The Drifters' song "Up on the Roof," and it struck me how PERFECT this song is for folks like me: introverts.

Have a listen:

"Up On The Roof," The Drifters (1962)

(Up on the roof)
(Up on the roof)

When this old world starts getting me down
And people are just too much for me to face (Up on the roof)
I climb way up to the top of the stairs
And all my cares just drift right into space (Up on the roof)

On the roof, it's peaceful as can be
And there, the world below can't bother me
Let me tell you now

When I come home feeling tired and beat
I go up where the air is fresh and sweet (Up on the roof)
I get away from the hustling crowds
And all that rat race noise down in the street (Up on the roof)

On the roof's the only place I know
Where you just have to wish to make it so
Let's go up on the roof (Up on the roof)

At night, the stars put on a show for free
And, darling, you can share it all with me
I keep-a tellin' you

Right smack dab in the middle of town
I found a paradise that's trouble-proof (Up on the roof)
And if this world starts getting you down
There's room enough for two up on the roof (Up on the roof)

Up on the roof (Up on the roof)
Oh, come on, baby (Up on the roof)
Oh, come on, honey (Up on the roof)
Everything is all right (Up on the roof)

Even if you're not an introvert, I bet you have times when you just need to get away from it all. I bet you even have a favorite place of escape.

When I was a kid, during the summer, my favorite place to hide from my siblings was in a tree in my parents' backyard woods, on the border between our property and the neighbor's. It was a huge, old oak with plenty of branches low enough for me to scramble up — and large enough to hold my weight while I'd sit there and think (or read) for as long as I could stay undetected. 

When I was in college and had roommates, my favorite place for solitude was, quite literally, up on the roof of our urban rental home. Conveniently, my walk-in closet had a window that opened out onto a flat part of the roof. I'd lay down a pile of thick towels or blankets over the shingles, and I'd sit there and read and write, careful to shut the closet door behind me as an invisibility cloak.

My living room is a favorite place for solitude. (Photo: Rachel E. Watson)

Now that I'm a post-grad, married adult, my favorite place of solitude varies. Sometimes, I read, write or watch TV shows on Netflix in the living room or in our bedroom. Sometimes, I go for walks in the neighborhood. Once, I drove to the chapel at Calvin College and sat by myself listening to the pianist practice. 

Or, if I need solitude during breaks at work, I use the Muskegon White Pine Trail that cuts through our office complex.

What about you?

 Does solitude appeal to you? What are some of your favorite getaway places? Have you ever sat "Up on the Roof"? I'd love to hear your stories.
Megan Follows played Anne in the 1985 film and its sequel(s).

In a recent blog post, I mentioned "Anne of Green Gables" is one of the fictional characters who has had the biggest impact on my life.

I'd like to share a little bit more about that today.

Anne — spelled with an "e," which she insists is more "distinguished" — is a passionate, intelligent, creative, feisty girl. Throughout the eight-novel series, she grows into a woman of character who stays rooted in the loving relationships and strong principles of her childhood as she moves out into the world to seek her place in it.

Here are five things Anne has taught me over the years I've read and reread her story.
  1. Imagination is a gift. Anne creates worlds for herself with her bright, creative mind. When she is lonely and unhappy at Mrs. Hammond's before coming to Green Gables, she talks to an imaginary friend named Katie. When she comes to Green Gables on Prince Edward Island, she names all of the most beautiful landmarks and refers to them by their names in conversations with the uninitiated. She renames Barry's Pond "The Lake of Shining Waters," and the Avenue "The White Way of Delight." Anne's example has reinforced to me the value and beauty of the life of the mind.
  2. Friendship is essential. Even Anne, a girl who often wanders off by herself, lost in thought, longs for real friendship. She finds it in Diana Barry, then later her college friends Priscilla Grant, Philippa Gordon and Stella Maynard. What good are your stories, dreams, plans and literary ambitions if you don't share them, test them on friends, finding your voice within the safe space of friendship? 
  3. Life rarely works out as planned. Anne assures her adoptive caretaker Marilla in the series' first novel, "I never make the same mistake twice." Marilla harrumphs, saying that matters little, as she keeps finding new ways to err. Anne becomes locally famous for getting into scrapes: dyeing her hair green instead of black, getting Diana drunk on what she thought was cordial but turns out to be wine, twisting her ankle after taking a dare, nearly drowning while acting out a scene from a book, accidentally selling the neighbor's cow instead of her own, getting stuck in a broken duck house, helping the village improvement society repaint an eyesore but accidentally ordering a garish paint color and making it look worse — the list goes on. In each case, Anne learns and relearns that life rarely turns out how you want it to, but it's possible to accept your failings with grace and good humor and move on. 
  4. You can make an impact if you know what you want and pursue what you're good at. Anne spends a lot of time and energy competing against people who aren't enemies, nearly marrying a man she doesn't love, etc. However, she also knows she was born to write and teach, and she pursues those goals despite many setbacks. 
  5. The idea of love is not actually love. For the longest time, Anne operates under the delusion that romance (the "tall, dark, inscrutable hero") is what she needs in love, and she won't settle for less. Gilbert Blythe, meanwhile, a true friend and man of character who really understands Anne and loves her for herself, sits on the sidelines waiting for her to wake up. I think many of us, especially literary and artistic types, sometimes need reminders that love is commitment, love is showing up, love is sacrifice; it''s not a grand gesture; it's not merely poetry and passion. Gilbert gets this. Anne learns it after many missteps.

Who inspires you?

What are some lessons you've learned from the stories of a favorite literary character? Leave me a comment here or over at my Facebook Community page.

Read other posts in the Storytelling Sunday series here.
As I mentioned in last week's ArtPrize post, during this year's competition, I've been careful to pay attention to themes in the art.

Today, let's look at the themes I see in four more entries: "Family Room; Lineage," by Chris LaPorte; "Gun powder and the fall of the Samurai," by Kevin O'Rourke; "Snow," by Gloria McRoberts; and "The Artist," by Cassandra Swierenga.

Hey, that's disturbing, but I can't look away

Exhibit A: "Family Room; Lineage"

"Family Room; Lineage," by Chris LaPorte

If you visit the Women's City Club, and you make it through the maze, you'll see a large pencil drawing by ArtPrize 2010 winner Chris LaPorte. It's on the back wall on the right side of the partition, and it takes up almost the whole wall.

I wasn't that interested in this drawing at first; it's called "Family Room; Lineage" and, on the surface, it just looks like a turn-of-the-20th-century family posing for a portrait in their drawing room. 

If you look at it from a certain angle, though, you'll notice a ghost lurking off to the side in the shadows. And if you look at each family member's face, one at a time, you'll notice they have pretty eerie expressions. The mom looks anguished. The dad looks smug. The kids look haunted.

I had to go back and look at it one more than once after the first viewing to catch all of its nuances. It's part Gothic horror, part historical commentary, part family drama.

Another thing I noticed is that the drawing is different in its Women's City Club iteration than it is on the ArtPrize website, which is the image I included above. If you see it in person, the two side panels and the thread connecting all the children aren't on display.

I think that's a shame, because the thread binding the generations was one of the most interesting aspects of the piece as described in LaPorte's artist's statement. I'm guessing the original image was a sketch of how he planned for it to look once finished, but he either didn't have enough time to finish it, there wasn't room for the side panels at WCC, or he decided to take the artwork in a different direction after he'd submitted the sketch for his ArtPrize page. I'm leaning toward the latter, because his original artist's statement is not included next to the drawing when you see it in person.

Either way, go see this piece and let me know what you think.

Exhibit B: "Gun powder and the fall of the Samurai."

"Gun powder and the fall of the Samurai," by Kevin O'Rourke

This is a 2-D, black-and-white linoleum block print on display next to Chris LaPorte's drawing. I hope ArtPrize visitors, who often get excited to see past winners' entries, take the time to look at this smaller neighboring entry, because there's a lot to see here.

O'Rourke's bread and butter as a graphic designer has been in creating rock concert posters, so I think it's cool he's able to successfully transfer that skill to fine art forms and tackle darker topics.

His style reminds me of an illustrated version of George MacDonald's "At the Back of the North Wind," a children's novella I read in my early teen years. Combined with the fact O'Rourke's subject matter is about the death of a warrior class after the advent of explosives, and you've got a piece that draws me in and keeps me looking for more clues about motivations and cause and effect.

I like to know as much as possible about artists' sources. If any of you were able to talk with O'Rourke about his block print, I'd love to hear what you gleaned from him.

Delicate and intricate art work

Exhibit A: "Snow" 

"Snow," by Gloria McRoberts

Besides the "disturbing" theme mentioned above, I also saw a lot of pieces at Women's City Club that I'd classify as delicate. This fiber arts 3-D weaving by artist Gloria McRoberts was one.

McRoberts' work made the memory of snow — on what was an almost 80-degree late September day, a rarity in Michigan — seem soothing, romantic, calming and appealing. Her leafless trees seem to leap off the background, and I could imagine myself as a hiker, wandering in that wood, among those trees, lost in the beauty of nature.

Exhibit B: "The Artist," by Cassandra Swierenga

"The Artist," by Cassandra Swierenga

I love the color, detail and texture of this oil on canvas painting by Cassandra Swierenga. It's a portrait of the artist's mother sitting outside the Art Institute in Chicago on a sunny June day. 

Swierenga said in her artist's statement that she was able to create the textures in the folds of her mother's dress by "sculpting the paint onto the canvas using a palette knife and adding layers of color with a brush." I like to imagine that painstaking process in my mind's eye, so I'm thankful she saw fit to include her technique on the statement. I always wonder about things like that when I'm viewing a painting.

I also wonder if she captured the moment she portrays by taking a photograph to use as a reference point later, or, if, as I heard from another artist one time, she has a near-photographic memory and simply took a mental snapshot. How could she recall the colors, lighting, body language and clothing details on demand later? I greatly revere that ability, since it is not something I possess myself.

Share your favorites

Have you seen anything disturbing or delicate at ArtPrize this year? I'd love to hear your perspective on it. Leave me a comment below or over at my Facebook Community page.