Category Archives: Uncategorized

Archived Creativity

Yesterday, I shared a picture of an abstract art piece that I did about three years ago, on Instagram and Facebook. I think I posted it to Facebook when I finished it, but I felt called to put it out there again, and to a much larger audience.) The piece, “The Elephant in the Room,” hangs behind my chair in one of the places where I work as a therapist. It has been fascinating for me to see clients lose themselves in the image over my shoulder, and a couple have commented on how much they like it. (I typically don’t mention that I am the artist.) Because I have been calling upon the muse, it seemed important to send the products of her earlier visits back out into the universe, and to commit to doing so more frequently.

A few hours later, an eerie thing happened. On the way home from work, my bluetooth decided to start playing my music randomly, instead of the audiobook I had been playing on the way to work. The really eerie part? It was me. As in, it was the first demo I ever made, of the first song I ever wrote, “Feel the Fire.”  (The random ones I made up about kittens and puppies as a child don’t really count.)

In early 2017, I had gone to see my friend, talented singer/songwriter Dawn Rose, perform at a couple of West Coast Songwriters nights, This inspired me to dig out the demo tapes I’d made 15 years ago, buy a ridiculously cheap device–in both cost and quality–to  convert them from cassette to mp3, and contemplate sharing them, just because. I had a great conversation with poet/writer/photograher Diane D.M. Solis, who courts the muse far more often than I, wherein I committed to doing this. I’m sure the word I used was “Soon.”

I lost a lot of music files when I transferred to iPhone X, and I didn’t take the time to figure out how to fix that until a couple months ago. I was not even aware that my music had landed in my iTunes until I started singing through my car speakers. Alas, “soon” had finally come, and I promised the muse I’d release that into the universe, too. Apparently, she likes to know her efforts meant something.

So here it is, with that questionable sound quality that can only come from a copy of a copy of a copy. And yes, the picture above was actually taken at the time I recorded it, circa spring 1993.

Feel the Fire copyright 1993.

I am sharing this as a call to action: What do you have in your creativity closet? Where will you set it free?

The Importance of Being Rennix

My partner and I sent this New Year’s card to the 100 friends and family members whose confirmed addresses we had on file, to inform them of our pending legal name changes. I had initially planned to include a brief explanation, either on the card itself or as a printed insert, but instead opted to keep it very simple, and thus it became a way to open up dialogue with anyone who chose to ask us about it.

When I divorced, in 2007, I opted against reverting to my maiden name, because I felt I had really come to an understanding of who I was, as Nicole Seiffert, largely with the kind and compassionate support of the ex-husband whose surname I retained. I kept the name even when my partner and I married, in 2013.

In 2015, my partner came to the understanding of who they were not, and began the journey toward coming out as a gender-nonbinary person. When they realized that their given first name no longer suited them, they began using their last name as their first name when introducing themself to new acquaintances, and then in their workplace, and finally, with friends. Alas, because they neither aspired to be a one-named pop idol nor the redundant Porter Porter, they knew they would need to find a new last name. (In case this is new territory for you and you started twitching when it looked like my writing shifted from singular to plural just now: Porter’s gender pronouns are they/them.)

Porter’s change to gender-nonbinary prompted an identity change for me, too, from lesbian to queer, and as they began to think about the process of changing their name, I said that since it looked like this marriage thing was going to stick, it might be nice to share a last name. So, where to begin?

We decided to jump on the DNA testing bandwagon, so we could find a surname from an ethnic background we shared, and we wanted to choose one that was reasonably rare in the United States. Porter was interested in name origins that suggested qualities such as strength or wisdom, and I thought it would be awesome to have a name derived from crow or raven, because they are meaningful to me.

Ultimately, our search looked like about four weeks of going through pages and pages of surnames from numerous online databases, writing down names we liked, and checking in with one another. We had nearly settled on another surname ending in x, when I happened to click into a potential distant cousin’s family tree and saw a pedigree listing of a dozen surnames, including Rennix. I had a visceral response to the name, which I hadn’t seen before, as did Porter as soon as I shared it, and thus it was decided in that moment.

Incidentally, after we decided, I found this on SurnameDB, the Internet Surname Database: “[T]his unusual name is English. It is locational, and found mainly in the north of England and Scotland. The source for the name is a place called Renwick, in the county of Cumberland, near to the town of Penrith, and the Scottish borders. The placename is first recorded in the year 1178 as Ravenwich, and has two possible meanings. It may mean Hraefn’s dwelling-place from the Olde English pre 7th century personal name Hraefn, the raven, and probably used in the tranferred sense of someone with very black hair, with wic, usually a dairy farm. The other interpretation is ‘The farm on the River Raven’, from the dark appearance of the water.”

Yes, we ended up with a name from our shared English/Scottish heritage and I got my wish for a name related to ravens!

This is exactly the way the universe works, when you let it. How will you let it work for you this year?

It’s Not About the Fridge

Nicole’s daughter wrote this guest post.

January 2014: I was working a maximum of 12 hours a week on minimum wage trying to stay afloat while I waited to start a new (full-time) job, and was picking out a new refrigerator with my grandparents.

Just five months prior, I had left my apartment, a good job making decent – i.e. “better” – money, and a two-year unhealthy relationship behind, in North Carolina. I had spent six years in Jacksonville after being stationed at Camp Lejeune while in the Marine Corps and had no desire to return home to California.

At some point in those six years, my grandparents’ second home had been burglarized and had suffered rain damage and mold; the 20-something year old refrigerator had suffered as well. So when I moved in in August 2013, we began looking for a replacement.

My grandparents found an 18.2 cubic feet fridge for a good price. When we looked at the floor model, I felt it was too big for just me and kept trying to convince them to look at another one – they didn’t oblige. Since they were paying for it, I didn’t argue much.

A few weeks after the fridge was set up, I returned from my mom’s house, three hours away, with some furniture she had given me. My grandparents came to the house to help me unload my truck. At some point, my grandpa began to lecture me about not putting my water pitcher in the fridge. He mentioned that it may not have fit in the old model, but this one was large enough, and scoffed that I had previously wanted a smaller fridge. I felt the tears, and there was no way to stop them; I ran outside hysterically crying and plopped down on my porch steps. My grandpa went to his truck, and I returned inside with my grandma.

I apologized for crying and explained that seeing the large fridge so empty just reminded me that I was alone.

“It’s not about the fridge, honey,” she said. “And you’re not alone. You have your animals, you have your friends, and you’re about to start a wonderful new job!”

She was right.

I was crying for uncertainty, I was crying for the end of a relationship that I didn’t think I should mourn because of its status; I was starting a new life and a new chapter, but I had held all of those emotions in.

March 2017: I stopped at the grocery store after work – that place I started three years ago with my new fridge – and I recalled this memory as I was trying to figure out where to put the hamburger. I laughed with the door wide open as I wondered if it’s time for a bigger fridge. But “it’s not really about the fridge.”

Introductions and Apologies: Family of Origin, Meet Family of Choice

Whereupon responses to a meme get me up at 2 A.M. to say things that have long been on my mind.

It started with this meme that I posted on that big social media site:

Which generated the following comments (and my internal responses):

Father Of My Daughter (FOMD): How about we ban them both?

(Um, NO.)

Father Of My 7-year-old Grandson (FOMG): Both can be considered terrorist. The worse part is the Democrats like both.

(What. The. Actual…?)

My Very Good Friend (MVGF): Nicole, do you know this ignorant twerp? Oh, sorry…was that a personal attack?! My bad.

(Aw, shit, Joe.)

FOMG: Oh you’re such a mean person Joey. Makes me want to cry like Chucky Schumer.

FOMD: Nicole do u know this ignorant fucktard joe?

(Well, that escalated quickly. Perhaps I’ll go to bed early and figure out how I want to respond while I sleep.)

And, indeed, I woke up a little after midnight with this unfolding in my mind, which it continued to do for two more hours, until I got up and gave in. So, onto those introductions.

FOMD, FOMG, meet MVGF, also known as a member of my family of choice. Why is he My Very Good Friend? Because he cares very much about things like basic human dignity, social justice and human rights, including accessible health care for all. To my chagrin, he did lead into the comment stream with a personal attack, but I dare say that this is something being modeled several times a day by the foul leader of our torn country—who keeps getting passes to do so! Incidentally, MVGF is also pretty hip to our Constitution. If you look real hard, you’ll see that freedom of speech and the press, and freedom from religious persecution are kind of a big deal where the law of the land is concerned, as are the checks and balances designed to keep rogue individuals from taking them away. But I digress…

MVGF, meet FOMD. He had something to do with that awesome young woman you know, the redhead who looks kind of like me. When he met me, I was a rabid conservative with a strong Bohemian streak that mystified my rabidly conservative parents. (I am ashamed to admit that I voted against Obama the first time, and kept silent when my dad said inane things like, “He’s a halfwit who can’t even talk without a teleprompter.” And much worse things.) Still, FOMD and I remain connected on that social media site because, despite our differences, we have remained civil and are both invested in seeing our daughter grow up and navigate the world.

MVGF, meet FOMG. He and his wife adopted the son of aforementioned daughter, when she was a 20-year-old Marine who knew she was not equipped to raise a child. There is no doubt that they love him dearly, and provide for him well.

FOMG, given some special needs, I am always perplexed to see you decrying the Affordable Care Act and the like. And I marvel that you would support someone so base, and wonder whether you think your president is the kind of man you hope your son turns out to be, or whether you’d be comfortable leaving your wife alone with this man. I also wonder what you’d think if someone else were in charge and signed an executive order banning all Christians because Fred Phelps.

Now, I am going to turn the lens back on myself, say more about my bigoted upbringing. and make some apologies.

A year or two ago, my cousin M posted pictures, on that social media site I keep mentioning, of herself and friends at a winery a few miles from my house. I was hurt, because I had not seen her since I moved away from Southern California, in 1991, and even after I noticed that she was practically in my back yard, and I offered to meet her somewhere for coffee, she said she didn’t have time to see me. A few months ago, I mentioned the memory to my dad, and this conversation ensued:

Dad: Well, she doesn’t like me, so maybe she has extended that to you.

Me: Why do you say she doesn’t like you?

Dad: Because she thinks I’m a bigot.

Me: *crickets* and dumbfounded stare (You ARE a bigot!)

Dad: I’m not a bigot. I just hate Mexicans. *belly laugh*

To fully appreciate the depth of the vulgarity of this statement, readers need to know that my cousins (my dad’s sister’s three daughters) are all half Mexican.

I continued to stare at him, silently, with my mouth agape, and then I went into the bathroom and sobbed. It has haunted me ever since.

M and C and L, if you are reading this, I want you to know how truly sorry I am for any times in your life that my dad tried to make you or your mother feel less than with his ugliness, or any times that I might have been blindly complicit in same.

I also want to apologize to my other cousin M, who bore the distinction of being the lesbian until I came out a decade ago. It doesn’t matter that I didn’t even come out to myself until I was 30, because I could still hear the derision and bigotry, but said nothing to call him out on it, except maybe, “Yeah? So what?”

What I have said to my dad, several times in recent years, is, “This isn’t what you taught me! You taught me that kindness matters!” It is, and it isn’t. He did, and he didn’t.

Kindness does matter. So does speaking up about injustice, and fighting hate, and those who would promote it. Which brings me back to this:


pezone2We spent Saturday afternoon in Davis, because it is worth the 45 mile drive for a bowl of soup and the F.M.L. cocktail from Red 88 Noodle Bar. Davis became a place I go, in 2007, the first year I attended the annual California Conference for the Advancement of Ceramic Art (CCACA), an event hosted by the John Natsoulas Center for the Arts.

After lunch, as we walked through the Natsoulas gallery, I was captivated by some surrealist paintings. I asked an employee who the artist was, and when she began to gush about Avery Palmer, I was full of envy, for artists everywhere who are doing what they love, and for the art collectors who promote them. I mumbled something to my wife about how nice it would be to be a patron of the arts, forgetting, until I began writing this post, that I had pronounced myself just that the day I purchased the piece pictured here, at the 2013 CCACA.

"Take me home!"
“Take me home!”

The odd little figure, created by Humboldt State University student Clarissa Pezone, called to me, much like the incense burner had the previous day. I even used the words “visceral response” when I explained the purchase to my wife and stepdaughter. (Incidentally, Humboldt State produces a lot of talented artists, including the aforementioned Palmer.)

Envy without action has nothing to do with waking up famous. If envy itself catapulted the envier into the experience of the envied, it would be nothing more than drafting off another’s fame. It is not the 10,000-plus hours of hard work that make us wistful, it is the results of that work. When the green-eyed monster shows up, as it did for me in the gallery, we envy the having done, not the doing. Grammatically speaking, we long to exist in the present perfect tense, “I have created,” instead of the present, “I create.” According to the Write Place at St. Cloud State University:

Present tense expresses an unchanging, repeated, or reoccurring action or situation that exists only now. It can also represent a widespread truth.

Alas, as the ubiquitous they say, there is no time like the present.

Allowing your present tense to represent your widespread truth is the way to wake up famous. And, like breathing, it is a practice.

So tell me: How do you practice?



incensedMy wife bought me this cat in Japantown tonight, because I rushed to the shop window, pointed, and said, “That one!”

The figurine evoked a visceral response in me that seemed excessive, even if it did remind me of our cat, Sydney. And it turned out to be an incense burner.

I am allergic to incense.

For weeks, my emotions have been simmering over a flame stoked by fear and doubt, diagnostics and diagnoses, and today, I felt a steady rage that I could barely contain. I have been unwilling to speak it, afraid to let it interfere with my  professional responsibilities, worried that I will break and be unable to reassemble the pieces. And then, in its strange and poetic way, the universe handed me this little gift of a Sydney-shaped incense burner, so that I could bring myself to say:

I am incensed.

And sometimes there isn’t any sense to be made, no real resolution to whatever it is we are handed. Thus I begin 2015 with but one resolution: to remember that numbness is no better than pain.

Convergence, Synchronicity, or Boomwalla?

convergenceMerriam-Webster defines convergence as “the act of moving toward union or uniformity, especially: coordinated movement of the two eyes so that the image of a single point is formed on corresponding retinal areas,” and “the merging of distinct technologies, industries, or devices into a unified whole.” calls synchronicity “an apparently meaningful coincidence in time of two or more similar or identical events that are causally unrelated.”

While I was mulling over this post, trying to decide which of the two terms was more applicable to my recent experience, my friend Tom Fiffer posted this on Facebook:



In 1997, artist Clark Whittington repurposed an old cigarette vending machine to sell his photographs, thus giving birth to the first Art-o-mat. Today, more than 90 machines dispense the miniature works of hundreds of artists worldwide, in venues ranging from a coffee shop in Boise, Idaho, to the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.

According to the Art-o-mat web site:

Artists in Cellophane (A.I.C.), the sponsoring organization of Art-o-mat, is based on the concept of taking art and “repackaging” it to make it part of our daily lives. The mission of A.I.C. is to encourage art consumption by combining the worlds of art and commerce in an innovative form.

I first learned of Art-o-mat about a decade ago, but I had never seen the real thing until I accompanied photographer Suzin Porter to RayKo Photo Center, in San Francisco, where she picked up the flash that she used when she took the picture above. I might have squealed when I saw the machine, and then I rushed to the counter to buy the $5 token needed to acquire my first mystery art. After much deliberation, I selected a piece by Andy Mathis, whose business-card-size placard showed watercolors of animals.

I opened my cellophane-wrapped treasure to find a varnished print of a cat entitled Maybelline, complete with a tiny display “easel” fashioned from the business card of “Andy Mathis, Veterinarian/Watercolor Artist.” I was both delighted and intrigued.

"Maybelline." Varnished print by Andy Mathis.
“Maybelline.” Varnished print by Andy Mathis.

Visiting Andy’s web site reminded me that when we say, “I’d love to (write, paint, play guitar), but I just don’t have the time,” it is a big, fat lie.

You see, Andy didn’t retire and take up painting—he took a class and started painting shortly after finishing veterinary school! And he just kept painting—and marketing. Many of the proceeds from his sales support animal charities, and he does targeted fundraising to help treat specific animals.

And he blogs.

I emailed Andy to thank him for his artwork and learned that he had been questioning the value of his time-consuming commitment to create work for Art-o-mat. He was very gracious and said that hearing from me made it seem more worthwhile. He also sent me this picture of the real Maybelline and her cohort, Leon, two “hospital cats” he spared from certain fate.

Photo courtesy of Andy Mathis.
Photo courtesy of Andy Mathis.

If our collective experiences call us to assign varying degrees of meaning to events, what is the magic number? How many things need to be “in our dots” before we connect them and call them meaningful? Does the fact that I wanted to be a veterinarian from about age 5 until shortly before I graduated from high school make it any more interesting than the simple fact that a woman from Napa, California, bought a picture painted by a veterinarian from Elberton, Georgia, from a repurposed cigarette machine in San Francisco?

Convergence, synchronicity, or boomwalla?

Ah, yes: it’s life!

Branch Out

Joshua_tree_1I am fascinated by Joshua trees. Some grow in a single column, some have a few twisted branches that make their silhouettes resemble people in unusual poses, and others are truly majestic, with dozens of branches reaching out in all directions. Whenever I cross the Mojave desert in the evening, I see them as spirits of the desert, waiting to strike a new pose the moment I look away.

Last year, I asked a man at a cactus shop why there is such a vast difference in the trees. He told me that each time a tree is injured, it splits, growing two branches from the injured point. The bigger the tree, the more it has been wounded.

Our wounds contribute to our growth in much the same way. Painful experiences are the opportunities that foster our development, provided we don’t cling to the pain itself. There is a big difference between, “Look what I’ve been through,” and, “Look what I’ve become!”

Branch out. Bless those things that split you in two and force you to grow. The more arms you have reaching for the stars, the greater your chance of catching them.