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Art has been a forever thing for me, but it has never been the only thing. Working that out is taking a lifetime (so far). It took way too many years for me to acknowledge the artist as essential and worthy of my attention and meaningful resources. But she was always undeniably there. For as long as I can remember, a trip to the beach was a shell collecting mission for very specific shapes and colors to be fit together when I got home. My little shell sculptures were then mod-podged and sold in other people's garage sales. The pouring of new cement in our basement inspired the young artist within me. My brother and I quickly saw the potential for molding this material to our own purposes. By the time Dad found us- up to our elbows in wet concrete- it had eaten holes in the skin of our hands. But the cement masks we made hung on the back porch for years.

Every penny I could save was spent at John's Frame Shop on art kits. Working on a cross stitch sampler between spelling words did nothing to boost my hopelessly low cool-quotient in fifth grade, but I just couldn't find enough minutes in the day to fit it all in. 

And while I sometimes wonder how much easier it might have been to single-mindedly pursue art with clarity and certainty of purpose, that was not to be my path. For along with the shells and rusty bolts and scraps of wood and paint and glitter and mod podge, I was addicted to words. I read everything I could get my hands on. Sometimes that meant climbing on things to the top shelf of my parents’ bookcase to get to their dusty old textbooks. It meant permission to exceed the book limit at the library, because otherwise Mom was taking us back in three days. I was voracious, and my reading opened worlds that were beyond my comprehension. I didn’t find the answers, just more questions that propelled me to keep searching.

By the time I was nine or ten I had figured out that there was a huge section of books that promised answers and explanations and transport to unimagined ways of thinking. I spent hours at campmeeting sitting in the bookstore reading the books on spiritual enlightenment. I read the psychology textbooks from my parents’ top shelf, and eventually I found the philosophy books in the adult/forbidden section of the library. I delighted in the heart pounding sensation of sneaking a look at what must surely be the mysteries of life.

For many years I opened each new book thinking “This one! This is it! This will explain it, and then I will know what to do. This is the book that changes my life!” Of course this created years of unnecessary anguish but ultimately it created an unquenchable desire to understand more fully, and to make peace with the impossibility of that at the same time.

Eventually my studies took me into psychology and therapy (both ends of that couch) and ultimately 25+ years as a psychotherapist. I spent two and a half decades helping other people find the words for their experience and for what they wanted to shape their experience into. At first the art waited, not at all patiently, while I studied and practiced and attempted to be a grownup who attends to business, not playing with pretty things. 

In my early-adulthood years the psychology won and my spirit lost, and suffered. Eventually the artist within me rebelled and the art exploded. Painting and sculpting and beading overflowed the house, the kids, the walls, and the closets. Eventually I stopped trying to figure out which one I truly was and I became both. I wish it had unfolded like a beautiful and graceful series of enlightenments, but I have confirmation that it was neither beautiful nor graceful.

So I juggled. I printed stationary and took it to the gift market with my oldest daughter. The dining table, and many cooking implements were co-opted for polymer clay days with both my girls. Kids’ homework and my desk work completed meant time for making jewelry. By the time she was four my youngest daughter disgustedly renounced plastic beads as "not real.” And most every surface of our house became a canvas for art. Wall murals, painted countertops, foiled floors, the handprint menagerie in the laundry room… art became part of the air we breathed. Gem and Jewelry shows became family outings, and spare time was spent at the bookstore.

Inevitably, the art and the psychology combined and intertwined. Many of the women I worked with longed for that “something more”, for permission to fly, and for hope beyond old beliefs and constraints. As their longings became more concrete, the abstract paintings emerging right on my walls became symbols of possibility. “Yes, yes you can just go paint anything you want on your walls. Probably you can do a lot of things bigger than that, which you never imagined. The rules are yours to make.” 

For me this became the magic: the therapy was the work and the solid underpinnings that allowed me to change things and to build an intentional life. The art made no sense- it just was. But it was essential and it brought the color and light and the “something more” that made all the work worth it.

When the silver hearts started to emerge they each connected from their first moment to a story of love or grief or learning in my history. Decades of searching and trying to make sense of my journey finally started to make sense.  Not that this growing realization prevented subsequent crises… but at least I started to feel like I would be okay.… that I wouldn't constantly feel like I was supposed to be more than one person. I started to believe that maybe the way I am and who I am wasn’t a mistake. 

And that's where the books came from and the experience they grew out of. The hearts continue to amaze me as they come in to being- each one so very different. I keep thinking I'll run out of designs eventually, but I haven't run out of stories yet. And so the hearts and stories pour out, sometimes faster than I can keep up.

Some of them are messages of comfort, and some are messages of love. Some are bold declarations of personal victory, while others speak to the darker stuff in the human heart. Each heart can only belong to one person, but the stories can be for anyone. This is why they're put into books, so that you can find some personally meaningful words of your own.

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