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“We are all artists” said the soul of the universe

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Two months in Ecuador. Hundreds of interactions with murals, graffiti, sculptures, wood work, music, paintings, interior design, garden design, architecture, parks, and artists. Through all this I heard the creative soul of the universe loud and clear – “You are all artists. Please, I need you all to go create.”

And so with that, Ecuador helped me to remember….

I met a man at an artist’s studios open house once. He asked me if I was also an artist. Normally I would just say ‘no’ and continue with what I do for work -for money- but, in that moment, I looked at him and said “I should say yes, right, we are all artists?” He smiled. A knowing of sorts. And said “yes.” He is a widely respected artist. I am not.

In the States we are conditioned to have one skill set. Once we start a profession it is easy to feel stuck in it – changing is not encouraged or accepted and often seen as a threat to time and money. We are also led to believe that we can only do something if we have trained professionally for it and then practiced it professionally for a certain amount of time under certain conditions. We cannot possibly have two opposing skill sets.

This post is not to undermine the professionals in the fields I will mention. To discount the training or experience they have. The fights they might have had to fight. But rather to highlight what they contribute  and what I have been able to contribute to other people and places as a result of my relationship with them. It is a post to encourage more people to step out of their own professional training, seek inspiration, and start creating more.

In a world where stress, depression, anxiety, and PTSD are seen as ‘normal’. And only the wealthiest have access not only to the best healthcare, but also the best art, architecture, interior design, and landscaping, it is imperative that all of us create and design more. That we consciously observe how we feel when we create, and think about the spaces we live in, and how they influence us everyday. To a large extent, our spaces are the molds and medicines that allow us to be healthy and thrive.

I loved art in middle school and high school. At some point, I came to believe that if my art wasn’t good enough to pursue it professionally, than I should quit. I was also conditioned to believe that choosing to be an artist was ‘not a smart or sustainable way to make a life.’ Never was I led to believe that just like moving our bodies or communicating, creating is innately a part of all of of us.

So I dropped art. But, you can’t not create – it just looked different – and felt different – because I wasn’t doing it professionally or as a serious hobby. So it looked like spatial communication classes- how we arrange furniture and layout surveys does matter! I lived with organic gardeners and weeded a lot, and with interior designers and worried about cleanliness a lot. I was attending and eventually teaching sustainable design and landscaping courses. I was acquiring books, wandering warehouses, and co-designing and building a house. I was traveling and working on organic community gardens and permaculture sites. I was occasionally doing mosaic and tile work and learning to cut rocks and make jewelry. I was learning about yoga. Regardless of what any one person thought of my ideas or my work,  I was constantly reminded in my professional life that I was not an architect, interior designer, permaculture farmer, landscaper, or artist. 

Although I am not those things, I am, however, an energy worker and a communicator and a teacher. Those things I feel comfortable claiming. And, it is because of those things that I became passionate about art and design. It is because of those things that I have spent energy and time engaging in all of the things mentioned above. It is because of those things that I am highly sensitive to how public and private spaces feel, how people use those spaces, and the energy and intentions of the materials in those spaces and the artists and tradespeople who created them. If we want healthy, happy, [and productive] people, we need to design for that.

It was with these experiences and the list of things I am and am not professionally, that I ended up in Ecuador after a year on the road. Traveling. Living. Working for trade, working for money. Where once I was saying “No I don’t paint, make jewelry, work with wood, design gardens or rooms.- I just help.”   I  realized I do those things – and no one is waiting to judge my professional training- they just want to see the work. It was with those experiences lingering from the past that I felt every artist and piece of art talking to me- reminding me of the creative details embedded in my humanness. 

I know where I stand in the professional art world spectrum. Trust me – there is space for me- for all of us- on this spectrum. This world needs a lot of art and design love. More often than not, I find myself making chaos not feel like chaos. Trying to retain the value and energy that other artists and designers have poured into paintings, sculptures, gardens, and spaces. I spend equal amounts of time working with the spaces as I do teaching the owners and managers about the energy of those spaces, the value of materials and artists, and how to appreciate all of it.

By living and working on the road I have been forced to build confidence in skills that for many years of my life had been suppressed or challenged by the constructs of the professional culture I have grown up in. I am more creative now than I was a year ago. I am now more of an advocate for the arts than I have ever been, and I have increasingly more appreciation and respect for my friends who have chosen to be professional artists.

I take notice of every mural and sculpture I pass. When I see school teens painting murals I stop. I take pictures. I validate them. I continue to love live music – whether it’s my preferred genre or not. Different art and different artists have different values – but all have value.

Many feel threatened by the idea that ‘anybody could learn what they know.’ I know this. I have felt both sides of this. This feeling, this reaction, is normal, but also necessary to move beyond. So for those times when we feel threatened by the new artist, new yoga teacher, new landscaper, could we instead embrace it as an opportunity to share, to exchange? To make each other and our human experience better, richer? This world has a surplus of humans making things we don’t need – that clutter our spaces and minds and take from the earth. If all that human energy was being spent to make our world more beautiful – to clear and design spaces, take care of gardens, recycle materials, and make art- what might happen?

My experiences with artists over those two months made me reflect on the people who have encouraged my creativity. The ones that created spaces and time to create with me, gave guidance, introduced new tools and materials. The ones who have said ‘check this out’ and shown me something ridiculously inspiring. The ones who instigated Black and White social media photo projects and posted messages alluding to ‘not making boring art.’ The artists I have lived with – who had homes that magnetized other artists. Artists who assumed that I was at least part artist because of what they saw in my spaces. They didn’t challenge or diminish my work- they commented on it and by doing so were subtly supporting my ability to create. To all of those people: I now try to consciously emulate the example you set for me. Thank you.

Reloaded with the perspective, appreciation, the reminders, and hours spent working with paint, rocks, plants, metal, and wood it feels more important than ever to remind all of us to create – consciously and frequently. For all who have felt ‘not creative’… Please go inside yourself. Find that part of you that used to create – that kid with sand, dirt, toys, play dough, crayons, paint, legos, makeshift musical instruments… Go find that kid. That kid was creative. Somehow, someone or something, at some point made that kid believe they couldn’t create. That what they created wasn’t ‘good enough.’ That was bullshit. Let that go, and start fresh. Walk into an artisan market or an art supply store, see what you gravitate to. Or find that miscellaneous box of art supplies or that instrument tucked away in a closet. Open it. Play. Surprise yourself with what might happen.

Absolutely I believe that we all are artists. And, not only are our spaces more beautiful and interesting when we create, but our minds and souls are also happier. As I have witnessed phenomenal street art, gallery art, architecture, parks, and hotels while traipsing through cities and pueblos in this small South American country,  it felt like the artist soul of the world was speaking loud and clear. Forcing me to think about the artist in all of us. The materials and intentions we create with. Recognizing that every time we design, create, build, and organize our spaces we are also shifting our energies.

What specifically inspired all of this? Below is my ‘Ecuadorian ride’ of art ‘ that I interpreted as the creative soul of the universe…

Art speaks. The world speaks through art. History can be remembered more authentically through art than text books. Art shapes culture. Cuenca.


I was in Puerto Lopez when I was hit up with the Instagram Black and White photo challenge. 7 days, 7 pics. No captions. No color. Lesson learned: color is a distraction.

Puerto Lopez, cafe. Tables made from recycled tires – Second photo got the thumbs up from the local owner 🙂

Puerto Lopez. I bumped into main street mural project by school teens while getting bread and vegetables. Translation: ‘The earth is not inherited from our parents but borrowed from our children.’

Translation: Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world. #appreciateteachers

Kamala FEST in Jipijapa: The art. The people. The music. The community development mindset. BOOM!

10 months, 8 countries. Racism isn’t about color and it exists everywhere. But it doesn’t have to. Kamala FEST, Jipijapa.

A walk on the beach past Puerto Cayo expat properties -sculptures using driftwood, recycled glass bottles, stones, rocks.


Indigenous Community Aguas Blancas. Every railing and balcony custom designed with the local wood.

Parking lot Mural, Cuenca.

Punk. Mosh pit. Public concert. Cuenca.

Cuenca. Jazz musicians in residency. From New York. A reminder of the creative, soul expanding conversations with my 90 year old jazz artist friend in El Salvador.

Nada. Nothing. Street corner in Cuenca.

Public stairway on a random morning run. Mosaics running both sides.

A private garage door on the outskirts of Cuenca.

Public park sculpture. Cuenca.

Hotel trade work, Puerto Lopez. The project was to support the artist making new paintings for 12 rooms and cabins. The size of the painting and the canvas were not appropriate for the design of the room. Nature solved that problem. A surplus of beach driftwood in perfect sizes framed the artists paintings perfectly. For three weeks I got to collect and work with wood.

Puerto Lopez hotel, the owner dumped a pile of unfinished or partially finished cloth paintings in my work space. All things that were started by other artists. All started with some intention of where they might go and what the finished product might look like. Then they sat in a corner. For a long time. My role: continue the energy, give them life, teach about materials and placement.

Part of ‘job’ at the hotel was to ‘re-do’ art. After day 1 I realized what that meant energetically and had to change approach. Instead of painting over, or throwing out art the owners decided they didn’t like, it became a process of moving art. Finding better spaces. Suggesting public health clinics for donation of unwanted pieces. Matching pieces with furniture. Re-designing the spaces of the rooms to create better experiences. More or less salvaging the creative energy, salvaging artist karma.

Salinas Beach.

A mirador. A viewpoint. A gathering space. Wood and stone. Beautiful from up close and a distance. Salinas.

Literally making chaos not feel chaotic. Hotel trade Puerto Cayo. Old rough, peeling graffiti art. A pile of rocks in the corner. An unfinished garden bed. No time or materials to do a permanent fix, so scraped the paint, reordered the rocks. Collected beach stones. Moved some plants around. And left the walkway slightly better than I found it.

One of the last meaningful conversations I had in Ecuador was with a couple involved in social work with an art therapy practice….

When this is the sign in front of the artist shop you know you need to go in. Not only will you be inspired by metal work, wood work, jewelry, and paintings, but you will likely encounter an old soul. Someone who knows the power of rocks. The power of energy. The power of the creative potential of humans.


Who stepped on the turtle?

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When looking up the definition of ‘complexity’ one should find: Earth. Humans. The relationship between the two.

Sea Turtles. Most species around the world are listed as endangered and although they are often protected by law, the law is rarely enforced. Aside from the market value of their eggs, meat, shells, and skin; fishing practices, habitat destruction, natural predators, and climate change make the survival rate of an average egg one percent on a good day.

With that knowledge, I arrived on the coast of Central America ready to work for and learn from a sea turtle conservation effort taking place at a local hotel.

My first reaction to what I witnessed was ‘oh f***’ . I saw a system that appeared broken -a system without rules, rights, wrongs, goods, or bads. I realized how little I understood about conservation efforts- even considering my years of education, professional work, and travel.

On my first night I was introduced to the poacher.  A word loaded with darkness and judgment -so often applied from the outside, from a place of privilege onto a system without understanding. It is often assumed that the ‘poaching’ is done with no respect, solely for manipulated profit. But what if the poachers are good people? Making a living, supporting their families in a non-existent economy? What if they choose to sell eggs to a conservation program instead of a restaurant – at a lower profit? What if they choose to sell to a conservation program at a tourist hotel at a slightly better profit than a non profit funded ‘legitimate’ conservation project? How do we judge them then?

Over weeks I got to know this system just a little. I watched the ‘conservation’ hotel. Yes conservation, but when conservation efforts are manipulated to fuel tourism or also happen to provide the hotel with some regional clout or prestige, are the outcomes somehow less valuable? If the hotel program doesn’t abide by best management practices, but still contributes to overall conservation, is it equal to other efforts?

Add the role of the tourists to this complexity of turtles, hotels, and poachers.  What if their interest in ‘saving the turtles’ also creates a system where turtle eggs are held behind a bar until the next tour group arrives so they can ‘bury the eggs’- as opposed to burying immediately – as the mother turtle was doing when the poachers intercepted? What if the tour group’s interest in and payment to ‘experience’ this also increases the number of people searching the beach at night for the mother turtles laying their eggs? Or touching, moving, or crowding the baby turtles as they are released into the tide at sunset?

One evening, a beer with a tourist group turned into an invite ’Do you want to come and look for turtles with us?”. My immediate response what ‘What? Hell no. Uh, we don’t do that here.”

Or so I thought. Then this person tells me that the person who is supposed to take them also happens to be someone I respect, at this point a close friend. Someone who cares for the earth. Takes care of the wounded pelicans and the baby turtles, the people around him.

My confusion, gut reaction, and ethics were on fire as I searched out this ‘guide,’ this friend of mine. In our mix of Spanglish I scrapped for reason,  for the bigger picture. The response I received?  “You don’t understand, this is part of what they pay for. It’s how it works. Things work better for you if you just support it.”

Turtles. Poachers. Hotels. Tourists. Friends. Me. My difficulty in accepting this information and the different value systems it implied. Where do I stand when my ethics seem in conflict with the company I keep and the people I work for?

A day later, at sunset I showed up late for the turtle release.  The “Liberacion de Tortugas” as it is called, is beautiful and stressful. The baby turtles are perfectly beautiful and vulnerable as they fight the waves and current on their way to a short life in the ocean. The crowd, their feet, their cameras, are a perfectly intense example of unconsciousness -the crowding with cameras, trying to touch or move the turtles. In that moment, human feet are the greatest threat to survival the turtle’s have- not birds, not poachers, not climate change.

As I walk up, a young boy drops a soda bottle, predictably, he doesn’t pick it up. So I do. As I stand up I hear the group react. I feel the sensation under my foot at the same time. My heart sank – I felt the turtle under my heel.

The turtle didn’t die – at least not in that moment- and the guide, my friend, gently picked it up and took it out to the ocean. He chose to assure me it wasn’t dead, that it was swimming. Regardless, I knew in that moment I was learning. I was connecting the pieces of this story. This ‘lesson’ felt shitty, the self shaming judgement. Who was I to think I was somehow ‘different?’

Thank you, earth school, for another lesson in humility. A reminder that we are all part of the same whole, no better than or worse than the ‘other’.

The irony. Me, the trained environmentalist, my  knowledge vs. my unconsciousness. A reminder that maybe there is no such thing as ‘right’. Only awareness, only consciousness. And that I, the conservationist, the one who often feels the most aware in many situations, at the end of the day was no better than or different than the poacher, the hotel, the tourist, or the friend.



The ‘Beauty’ of Trauma

Is there any beauty in trauma? Any silver lining, per se? Especially within the worst kinds of trauma – extensive sexual abuse. Is there any way that someone can heal from that kind of trauma? That they might not carry the PTSD it has caused into all of their other interactions in life? That they could ever use that trauma to create? To produce good? As a stimulus to find their gift to the world?

On many days I say the answer is ‘no’. No we cannot ask, assume, or expect that of the victims of such manipulative dark acts of abuse. And, it seems, to choose to see any positive – any lightness to this darkness- we are somehow not validating the pain, the injustice. Somehow we are making light of the complexities of these situations, the emotions, and the memories the victims carry with them everyday.

Finish reading at


“That was good yoga”

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A wise old man: 89 years young from New York –  a seasonal resident on the San Salvador beach, a musician and a photographer.
A traveler: A life traveler, artist, lover of dolphins, sea turtles and pelicans from El Salvador.
A teacher: Traveling yoga teacher, lover of humans and earth, from Seattle, USA.

The wise man, the traveler and the teacher take a walk on the beach…..

Walking for exercise. An alternative ‘yoga’ of sorts. A little strength training for the wise old man because we all know that what you eat and what you do matters- but at 89 years young what you eat and what you do take on a whole new meaning.

So this day they walked. To strengthen the wise man’s legs and balance. And talked. To expand their souls. Talked of the crazy that all humans carry inside them. And the beauty of the crazy – if they are open to allowing it to pass through and become something beautiful to give back to the world. They talked of the ugly power that shame and guilt can command. They talked of what can and can’t go with them when we die, of what the ‘good life’ looks like. Of trees and dirt, oxygen and food and not being able to ‘eat money’.

Soon the wise old man re-tells a version of a fisherman’s tale…. A fisherman out catching a fish, when asked what he was going to do after catching his fish he says “I will cook it, eat it, sit on the beach, play my guitar…” the other person follows with  ‘you could catch more, sell them, create a distribution system, make a lot of money, be in a beautiful office all day. Then you can retire and sit on the beach and fish, and play music all day. It will be wonderful…”

Point made.

The teacher looks towards the life traveler and says – “That is him. He is choosing that path. The one mostly free from the system. The money. The control.” The traveler responds with a laugh “That is what my mother always says to me. Stop traveling get a job. Then take vacation.”

Silently, the walk continues, with some reflection on choices and expectations of this life. Soon the teachers asks the wise man “When was the last time you swam?”

“Oh, too long, my balance and my strength, I cannot get in the water.”

“But today you have support, two of us with you, today we walk in the water”.

The teacher is convinced she will maintain some control – only go in knee deep, keep her clothes dry, quick walk…Minutes later control is lost. All three are wet, letting the waves crash over them, laughing, supporting the old wise man as the waves threaten to ‘win’.

Emerging from the water they are greeted by a fishing boat full of giant fresh shrimp, soon to be lunch.

On the walk back, the conversation turns to “Earth School”. The hardness and the beauty of what life ‘gifts’ us. We laugh. We don’t know shit. As soon a we think we understand something we are presented with a contradictory lesson to confuse us. We return to thoughts of ‘our crazy’ and our life choices.

Upon returning ‘home’ with ‘lunch’, the wise man looks to the teacher with a laugh “That was good yoga.”


It was never about the shorts.


I thought I needed board shorts. It was recommended that I had some if I was going to stay on the Salvadoran coast for any length of time. The pressure to pack and leave Seattle, and the ‘to do’ list associated with the process was overwhelming. The post presidential election energy was emotionally exhausting to top it off. I was struggling that last day, and the energy demand to go searching for a pair of boardshorts in Seattle in winter seemed like enough to break me. Knowing I had a 7 hour layover in Miami, I quickly took that shopping trip off my list, with the thought that I would for sure be able to find some shorts in the Miami airport…

When the Miami layover arrived, loaded up with my backpack -yoga mat attached-I set off. I approached each shop asking for ‘boardshorts’ initially. After much unanticipated confusion, I started calling them ‘beach shorts’. Eventually I was just asking for ‘shorts’. Any shorts. Or thoughts on shops where I might find shorts. I walked into any and every shop – now on a mission for information as opposed to thinking that the shop would have anything I actually needed. I approached a swanky upscale men’s clothing store and was greeted by a beautiful man, with a nice smile, who offered me the idea that in the next terminal I could find what I was looking for. As I was walking out of the store he yelled after me ‘Namaste’. I wasn’t anticipating this. Stunned, I turned, barely letting a ‘thank you’ tumble out of my mouth.

My search continued unsuccessfully for far too long. Trekking through the terminals with all my carry-on, backpacker gear weighing me down. On my way back to my gate I passed one shop with shorts. I was ecstatic for a minute,  I quickly bought a pair, made a mad dash to the bathroom to try them on, only to find they fit terribly, and so, with disappointment I returned them. By now I was fully accepting that this was not the time or place that I would buy shorts,  I caught myself  mumbling “WTF, I can make do with what I have. I can’t be the first person to live on a surfing beach without proper boardshorts.”

I decided to stop by and thank the guy at the swanky men’s store for the ‘Namaste’ – that interaction had at least felt good that morning amidst the internal uncertainty I was feeling. I chose to tell him a little about my journey, my unknown year of travel that was set to begin with a flight to El Salvador leaving within the hour. I talked about teaching yoga, the type of yoga, places and people I teach. He told me he was also a yoga teacher. At a YMCA. We had a moment of shared understanding about yoga as public health, publicly accessible versus the elitist Lulu Lemon scene that so often plays out. He validated my choice to travel, to teach and to learn. He validated both the excitement and the hardness in making that choice. “It is hard in our world to follow the path of our souls”, he said. “Some people think we are human beings having spiritual experiences, but really we are spiritual beings having a human experience.” With my jaw on the floor, he introduced himself as Miguel as we said goodbye. I walked out of the shop, and as I looked up I found myself staring directly at a giant art installation reading….”Peace and Love”.

I laughed. Out loud. In terminal D of the Miami airport. It was never about the shorts. I needed my decision to break away from my life to be affirmed. I needed a solid reminder, that in this time,  when fear and oppression so often feel like they are ‘winning’ that the path is always  “Peace and Love”.

And, you know what? I seem to be surviving just fine without proper boardshorts on the coast of El Salvador.