Category Archives: Create

Do What You Love. Or Maybe Not

Love Never Fails

photo by Jhon Alfa Tumbelaka

Is it really best to do what you love? Or is it better to just get a job? What if you want your passion to remain your passion and not your job?  If you’ve ever actually tried to make money doing what you love (art, music, writing, teaching–whatever), you know that your passion can be sucked dry by the pressures and sticky details of actually earning a living. Even worse, that thing you love, that thing that was once a joy and release from the every day, has become part of the every day, so now you no longer even have your fun escape valve.

A friend of mine built a business around a passion of hers. After 14 years of running a successful but demanding business, she advocates keeping your creative passions for yourself versus wrapping your sustenance around them. Others say, “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”  I don’t know, though. I’ve been doing what I love for a long time, but writing as a business is a whole different animal from writing for the sheer joy of it.  It involves nasty unpleasant things like taxes, bookkeeping, billing, negotiating, and contracts.  I know. I know. This is all just reality. I get that. But is there wisdom in hiding a little piece of your creative soul away from your paycheck?

So, I’m curious. I’m really curious how others who work within their passions or creative gifts address this issue.  What do you do?

Elizabeth Gilbert’s Ideas on How to Survive Creativity


Just ran across this TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love.  Gilbert wonders aloud about whether creativity is internal and innate, or whether it comes from somewhere outside ourselves. The difference may be critical to the survival of the artist.  As a Christian, I found myself nodding. Hmmm. I think this is what we call the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God the Creator. The Spirit that was there at creation “hovering” over the emptiness like a brooding hen. (See Genesis 1:1) This 19-minute talk is well worth the time.

5 Things You Should Know about Creative Minds

creative minds

photo by Alex Erde

Do you struggle to understand the artistic souls in your life (maybe even your own)?  I’ve been surrounded by creative types from birth. My Dad? Artist. Grandmother? Artist. Husband? A musician. Oldest son? Musician and chef. Younger son? Artist. Believe me, I’ve had ample opportunity to think about how we creative types work. I’ve also got just enough left-brain functionality to understand that the creative personality completely confounds the rest of the population.

We don’t mean to.  Honest.

But our very being is a source of consternation to those who believe that 2 + 2 should ALWAYS…and I mean ALWAYS…lead to the neat and tidy and oh-so-predictable sum of 4.

And it should do so in a timely fashion.

In sympathy with my orderly, logical, left-brain friends, I thought it might help to compile a few tips to help you navigate the universe of your right-brained loved ones.  So here’s just five ideas.

1) We creative souls really do work better under pressure. Seriously, creativity thrives within boundaries–even the temporal kind! We’re not procrastinating. We’re waiting for the creative pressure to kick in. Give us too much time, and we’re staring out the window.

2) Speaking of staring out the window, we need to do this. Regularly. You’ll just have to trust us about this.

3) We respect you left-brain types with such disciplined routines. We marvel. We know we should be more like you. But I’m not gonna lie. In our world, routine is boring and overrated.

4) Feedback is fine. Collaboration is fine. Re-doing the work that you hired us to do. Confusing. You don’t, for instance, march into the kitchen of your favorite restaurant and say, “You know, this looks like fun. I’ve always fancied being a chef. Move over. I’d like to re-do that Chicken Marsala.”

5) We aren’t trying to make you crazy by changing the way we do things. We just don’t like doing things the same way twice.  (See #3)

Refrain from the Identical


Do you flutter from one creative passion to the next, leaving in your wake a trail of unfinished projects and a stack of expensive supplies? If so, I can name your ailment. You are a creative eclectic. Refrain from the Identical: Insight and Inspiration for Creative Eclectics is a guidebook for people who love to explore new avenues of creativity for the pure joy of it.  Author JoDee Luna offers good news and bad news. The bad? You’ll be “this way” forever. The good news? You can learn to enjoy, manage, and embrace your creative self. You may even help friends and family understand you a bit more–or at least you’ll learn to deal with their consternation and befuddlement over your creative wanderlust.

JoDee understands that consternation. The creative eclectic feels it too! She recalls a conversation with her daughter, where they laughed, to avoid crying, about the frustration they shared over their wandering creative eyes.

“I can’t help myself,” her daughter moaned.

I stopped trying,” JoDee replied, and she went on to describe the creative process as something akin to childbirth, complete with post partum depression. JoDee encourages the reader to understand that there is a cycle of “rebirth” in the creative process.  “Like a weary, worn-out new mother, the soul must regenerate and renew.”

Many creative souls fear this depression because they do not grasp the dynamic. As a result they run from subsequent endeavors. Instead, I encourage you to take the time to understand this process in order to mature as an innovator who can deliver many gifts to the world.

JoDee Luna and Elya Filler

Author JoDee Luna with her daugher, Elya Filler

JoDee explores topics such as Exploring Your Creative Temperament, Aligning Your Creative Compass, Practicing Creative Self-Care, Overcoming Obstacles, Developing Creativity, and Refreshing Creativity through Excursions.  Exercises at the end of each chapter encourage readers to push beyond their present boundaries. In her chapter about creative self-care, JoDee challenges the reader to “Identify something or someone who drains your creativity. Write down your feelings about this situation or person. Now decide on one positive step you can make to take care of yourself when encountering this activity or person.”

JoDee understands the dilemma of creative eclectics all too well. She is the poster child. She loves photography, writing, sculpting, gardening, floral arranging, music, home decor. Name the creative venue. She’s been there, done that, and has a closet full of  supplies to prove it. For years, JoDee beat herself up about her meandering creative mind, but time and a tough divorce taught her the healing power of creativity for herself and, eventually, for her students. She gave herself permission to explore new creative paths. Good for us that she did. Her book offers invaluable encouragement and practical help to those of us who long to do the same.

Refrain from the Identical

My copy of Refrain from the Identical arrives in the mail!

From time to time, I do book reviews, and I’ve so looked forward to this one for two reasons. JoDee is an old friend. She was in my wedding, and we worked together in a creative arts ministry. Last year I reconnected with her through Facebook. She had already completed the manuscript for Refrain from the Identical, but she needed editing help, so I offered to help. We even met up for a writing retreat in Colorado. This week, my postman delivered my long-awaited copy of JoDee’s finished book.  Writing a book is, indeed, like birthing a baby and, in some ways, just as painful! (I’ve had two. Without drugs. I know what I’m talking about here.) JoDee is to be commended.

If you need creative inspiration, I highly recommend this book, along with JoDee’s resource-rich website. JoDee will give you permission to let your creative self soar. She’ll also give you wings with fresh ideas, resources, and a feeling that “Maybe I’m really not so hopeless after all.”

The Chocolate Bark Company


If you are going to be absent from your blog for a while, you really should have a good excuse. Can I just say one word in my defense?


As in…fully involved…grownup…chocolate.

I’ve been working a temporary Christmas job at The Chocolate Bark Company here in Sarasota, Florida, and can I just say it’s pretty much heaven? With more than 50 generous 6-ounce barks, essentially large chocolate bars, this is a no brainer for delectable treats. Dark chocolate with cranberries and walnuts, or pumpkin praline seeds, or sea salt and caramel. And that’s just for starters. There are also the truffles, including mocha, espresso, raspberry, coconut, cocoa, pomegranate, key lime, passion fruit, creme brulee and more—guaranteed to make eyes roll in bliss, tense shoulders melt into chocolate oblivion, and turn grown men and women into 6-year-olds.

Chocolate Bark Company Owner

Owner Kelli Kamm and Manager Deb Kern


When I asked owner Kelli Kamm, an attorney by trade, what possessed her to open a chocolate shop, she laughed and said, “The better question is, ‘What possessed me to be an attorney?'” It’s not that complicated, really. She loved chocolate, and she learned to use rich ingredients, like Belgian Callebaut, to make works of edible art. “The hard part about the chocolate business is the business. This part,” she said, as she filled trays with a delectable river of chocolate with grey sea salt almond, “is the fun part.”


Chocolate Bark Selection

Attention to detail and the personal touch are two key aspects of her 14-year success. Kelli and her long-time manager, Deb Kern, design and make everything in their shop, right down to the gorgeous packaging. (I should know. I’ve hand-tied hundreds of bows on boxes, packages, and bags of assorted chocolate heaven.)

Chocolate Truffles

Chocolate Truffles

Besides the chocolate itself which is (did I mention this?) divine, the customers are, hands down, my favorite part of the shop. I love watching the  newlyweds who come in every Friday for their weekly two-truffle treat.  I loved meeting the woman who teaches Parkinsons patients to dance. Another woman, a cancer patient headed for her last chemo treatment, came in to buy chocolate for her nurses.  One man bought 16 truffles the other day for himself and his wife—just because. It wasn’t even a Christmas gift. It was just a random weekday “I thought of you” gift. I love that.

The Chocolate Bark Company

It is delightful to watch people take the time to pick out such a simple, scrumptious, and elegant treat for friends, family, spouses, or even for themselves.  For just a few bucks, it’s hard to beat the certain smile such a gift will bring to the recipient’s face—and, of course, there’s the (did I mention this?) divinely rich and decadent chocolate, mixed with such surprising flavors that you, too, will turn into a kid again. Guaranteed.

Dark Chocolate Grey Sea Salt Almond

A Rachel Ray (and Kay Johnson) Favorite!

Dark Chocolate Peppermint Bark

Dark Chocolate Peppermint Bark

The Art Experience


Art Experience Venice FloridaMy friend Ron Goulet has been telling me for months about a monthly community event he hosts in Venice, Florida, called “The Art Experience.” It goes like this. Each month, a group of aspiring artists are given a topic to paint. It could be anything. Last month, it was beer. Another month was sailing. This month, the topic was angels.

Read the rest of this post…

Brevity is the soul of communication


(First draft 238 words.  Edited version 164.  Final version 140. Give me a week, and I can get it down to 130.)


photo by Erich Stüssi

Shakespeare wrote, “Brevity is the soul of wit.” Wit, here, refers to intelligence. As a writer, I couldn’t agree more. You have to be smart to say what you mean and say it concisely.  Many people don’t even know what they mean. They are too busy to think about it. Thinking requires stillness and reflection. So does writing. That’s why people hire me.

Still, when they see the words I create, the first inclination is to add more GLUT.  They are terrified of leaving out something important, so they stuff a brochure like a Thanksgiving turkey. Or they assume that more words—big words—make them look smart.

Our world is noisy and cluttered. People crave simplicity.

So here’s your challenge. Finish your draft, and then cut 1/3 of it. Then cut more.

Watch your message rise to the surface.

Shakespeare wrote, “Brevity is the soul of wit.” said Polonius in Hamlet. The word “wit”  Wit can, of course, mean refers to both humor, of course, which Shakespeare may have meant to convey on one level. But “wit” , but it is also refers to and intelligence. Now that I’ve spent a number of years writing copy for a wide variety of clients and even for myself, After writing copy for a number of years As a writer, I see the truth of Shakespeare’s words. realize the truth of this statement all the more. You have to be smart to say what you mean and say it concisely. Honestly, Most people don’t even know what they mean. They are too busy to think about it. Thinking requires stillness and reflection. So does writing. So they hire me for that part to listen and then put their thoughts to words. Still, when they see the words, the first inclination is to   They haven’t really processed their thoughts it. More often than not, my clients have a tendency to want to The tendency of most clients is to add more STUFF versus delete. They are so afraid that they are not going to get this fact or that message into the mix. They are so afraid they are going to leave outare terrified of leaving out something important, so they  that they end up stuffing a try to stuff a small, trifold brochure like a Thanksgiving turkey. Or they assume that more words, especially big words, make them look smarter.  for Thanksgiving. With all the noise in our world today, Our world is noisy and cluttered. people want you to simplify things for them.  People crave simplicity. They may be willing to stay with you if you are writing a leisure-reading novel, but if you are writing something to convey information quickly and simply, less if definitely more.  So here’s your challenge. Finish your draft, and then challenge yourself to go back and cut 1/3 of the copy.  Then cut 10 more words. See if the message you want to convey doesn’t Watch your message rise to the surface. fore.

I Need a Vista


As any good writer knows, you need time away from writing projects in order to see them with fresh eyes.

Photo by Kay Johnson

The distance of even a few hours provides fresh insights into what you really want to say. I think that’s what vacations or retreats do for our lives.  We get stuck, don’t we, in the weeds of our own lives.  Distance brings remarkable clarity to those areas where we’ve allowed weeds to choke away our gifts and passions.

photo by Kay Johnson

It isn’t always possible to take a vacation, given life’s demands and financial limitations, but we can still get away regularly, even if only for a drive or a walk.  Every time I get away, especially if I can afford a bit of distance and time, I am amazed at the perspective I gain.  When I come home, it is almost shocking to see how quickly I can delete useless emails.  Priorities and passions crystallize, while useless and destructive time suckers become obvious.  I can suddenly see the light along my pathway.

We can’t always afford to hop on a plane and get away, but we can keep things in perspective through daily “retreats”—even as simple as a few backyard moments to breathe, pray, meditate, and just be with our Maker.

photo by Kay Johnson


In our image


So God said, “Let us make man in our image.” If we are really “like” God, in the way that we are like our fathers or our mothers, think of the implications when you consider the beauty of creation. Take a look at some of the wonder works of God that I saw yesterday at Selby Gardens in Sarasota.

photo by Kay Johnson

What artistry!  If I accept that God is Creator, I am breathless when I walk about God’s museum and take in the show.

photo by Kay Johnson

What kind of mind creates this?

photo by Kay Johnson

Or this?

photo by Kay Johnson

Or this?

photo by Kay Johnson

And if I am “like” God, does that mean I have some smidgeon of this kind of creative power?

photo by Kay Johnson

I am stunned at the idea that we could surprise, awe, delight, or cause others to wonder in the way that these images caused me to stand amazed and mesmerized. But haven’t we all been moved in similar ways by music, or a painting, or a book or poem?

( God had fun with this one. Pink and white "paint" splatters all over the leaves)) Photo by Kay Johnson

And, is it just me, or do you get the sneaking suspicion that God was…well…having fun, when he made this stuff?

Cocao nuts (Yes! As in–this is where chocolate comes from!) Photo by Kay Johnson

There is joy here.  There is delight.  And we feel both as we look at the end results.

photo by Kay Johnson

I hope my own work, whatever it is, will have the same effect.

photo by Kay Johnson

P.S. Happy Birthday, Barry. One of the things I love most about you is the joy you take in life, in your family and friends, in your music, and in me.  I KNOW that when God made you, he was having SO MUCH FUN.  I can just imagine God saying, “Just WAIT til they get a load of this one!”  Haartelijk Gefeliciteerd,  Schaat.  Ik hou van jou.

Barry Johnson. Photo by Kay Johnson

Think Small


Have you been dreaming about something you would like to do? Do you think it might never happen?  Take some encouragement from writer Leigh McLeroy.  Dream big. Act small.  If you need a little kick in the pants, read her post here.

Wednesday words from Leigh.

The Dragon and the Hero


Chinese DragonOnce upon a time, a distant village lived in terror of a fearsome Dragon whose name was, appropriately, Death. No one had ever been able to defeat it. Many brave souls had tried, charging full force, armor ablaze, swords aloft, but none had succeeded against the merciless, cruel monster.

Enter the hero.  The stranger had challenged and beaten other dragons handily, so hope rose that he would free their village from the Death Dragon.  He marched up the hill to the dragon’s lair. He raised his sword, and the villagers held their collective breath. No one stirred.

Suddenly, the Dragon opened its mighty jaws, spewing a stream of fire, blasting the hero full force. In a split second, the Dragon snatched up the hero with its writhing tongue of flames and swallowed him whole. The Hero was gone. The villagers were horrified.

The dragon lay on the hill, his belly full and ravishing appetite temporarily appeased. He curled up for a nap, a smug, satisfied smile on his scaly lips.  The villagers were crestfallen. All hope was dead.

A few days later, the Dragon, still snoring, suddenly started with a jolt, head reared and eyes wide in astonishment. His mouth opened but no fire appeared. The Dragon’s jaws seemed pried open against its will–but no fire appeared. Only a tiny light.  To the disbelieving eyes of all, the Hero emerged from the Dragon’s mouth!  The villagers were dumbfounded.  No one had ever returned from the Dragon’s mouth, now opened painfully wide.  As the hero exited the Dragon’s mouth, the Dragon began to fade–first the tail, then the long, scaly back, until only a faint image remained.

As the hero emerged the light grew brighter. It was the Dragon’s fire, but the Hero held it in his hands, rolled into a small, fiery ball. He raised the ball of fire aloft and flung it into the sky where, even today, you might catch glimpses of it in the night sky on a moonless evening. The Dragon remains, but his fire is extinguished forever, and in his belly the Hero planted the seeds of never ending life.



The Dancing God

Dancing African Woman

© Torsius |

I have several friends who have adopted children from Africa. It’s was a wild and miraculous thing to watch three families go through this process only to have all the pieces come together almost simultaneously.  One couple is in Uganda now with their new baby girl. Within days, the other two families head to Zambia together to unite with their adopted children.  It’s breathtaking.

As we’ve all joined in their excitement and prayed for them, I have been struck the idea that often we pray as if we’re telling God something he didn’t consider.  Now, God, did you remember to pack the money they need?  Don’t forget the passports!

What are we thinking?  Do we think God is going to smack himself on the forehead and say, “Doh!  I don’t know why I didn’t think of that!  Thank you for reminding me.”

I don’t think so.

God is way ahead of us. In an amazing book I recently edited (and can’t wait to see published so I can tell you about it), the authors highlighted the first verse of Genesis where God’s Spirit “hovers” over the formless void. When God creates, there is a dance taking place. God is moving, stirring, changing things…making something out of nothing..and delighting in the dance of creation.

My prayers have changed. Now I pray, “God, give me eyes to see the dance, and let me join in.”  I pray, knowing that the prayer is already answered.  I’ve given up those prayers that were an attempt to kick God into action. My prayers have turned from drudgery (after all—it’s quite a tall order to kick the God of the universe into doing my bidding) into joyful expectation.

Indian Dancers

© Jackq |

I don’t have to twist God’s arm. God’s arm is already moving, and He reaches his other arm to me, daring me to give it a whirl as He deftly guides me around the floor.

He creates the dance.  We just follow along, keeping up the best we can, laughing at our clumsiness, and giddy with excitement about where the next steps will lead.

As we enter into the high point of the Easter season, it seems appropriate to focus on the God whose choreography included the exquisitely graceful move of kneeling to wash the feet of his friends and his enemy. Who could have imagined a dance like that?

There is a beautiful dance going on in Africa right now, and my friends are spinning around the floor in pure joy.  I wish I could be there to see it!

Dancing children

© Jozef Sedmak |

Go! And know that God has already gone before you. God is creating new things—new dances. Get out on the floor and enjoy!

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.
Isaiah 43:19 (NIV)

It’s the music, too.


A couple days ago, I referenced a post from music industry blogger Bob Lefsetz where he challenged Hollywood to re-focus on telling a great story versus filling a screen with special effects. (From his lips to God’s ears.) In a similar post, aptly entitled “Credibility,” Lefsetz warns musicians about obsessing over inking the record deal or getting airplay. Before long they lose site of the music itself.

My husband, Barry, just released a CD, so I understand the pressure to pay bills and realize a profit from your investment, but Lefsetz’s post confirmed a gut feeling Barry and I keep coming back to—Enjoy this.

This is about sharing your passion. It’s about that sweet connection between musicians and audience when the rhythms and melodies turn perfect strangers into friends. It’s about doing what you love and inviting others to be part of it. And it’s about giving voice to other people’s deepest hopes, longings, joys, and sorrows in a way that they cannot themselves create—but they can enter, with full solidarity, into what you have created for yourself to make it their own.

Lefsetz provides thought-provoking tips on what musicians should do instead (excellent advice for other artists as well. Read it!). But I’d like to focus on a poignant response from Colin Hay, former front man for 80s mega-hit band, Men at Work.  Speaking from experience, Hay concurs with Lefsetz and writes about his life now—post-Top 40, MTV mega-stardom. He talks about rediscovering the music, along with the fans, who actually come because of the music versus the image.

He talks about his new CD, Gathering Mercury, and jokes about building his audience to a “massive 900 people or so in New York City, or Philadelphia, or slightly less in charming Clayton, NC.”  He expresses a rich appreciation for the fans he mingles with on tour. “When I got dropped by a major label, my live audience was all I had…They let me be myself. And isn’t that what we all want…to be who we are, and not who someone else wants us to be?” He goes on:

You are correct when you stress the importance of establishing a core audience… My old band had massive radio success and MTV exposure to the max, and when that went away, so did most of the audience. It’s like building a house with no foundations, you can’t.

…Last year I was sound checking at the Birchmere in Virginia, a delightful venue, and I was filled with an inexplicable euphoria. Its intensity lasted a few seconds but it was powerful. A simple experience, the wait staff was setting up tables for the night, the sound crew were twiddling knobs, and I realized that I was exactly where I should be, doing exactly what I should be doing, and all was well in my world.

Paris Musician

…I did make a big splash, I did descend into obscurity, and alcoholism. But, my salvation was, and still is, artistic expression, and a vague quest to strip away and reveal something essential, which is seductive, and ever elusive.

Best to you,

Wonderful food for thought.  And good advice for any of us. There are people who connect with your deepest passions, whether you are an artist or a farmer.

Flamenco. Nerja, Spain. Photo by Barry Johnson.

Never overlook them because you want a bigger audience.  Play for them. They are listening.

Paris Metro Musician

Paris Metro Musician. Photo by Isaac Johnson.

It’s the art, stupid


Musician Isaac Johnson. Photo by Barry Johnson

Artists live in two worlds. In one, they create. In the other, they market. The two could not be more opposite. One requires time, reflection, and solitude. The other requires diving into the fray to network, shake hands, blog, tweet, build a digital empire and land that ultimate publishing or record deal. In such chaotic noise, it is very easy to forget two essentials: 1) The art itself.  2) Your audience.  Without your craft or the people who appreciate its value, the rest is meaningless.

Bob Lefsetz, blogger and music industry analyst/commentator, recently addressed the 20% drop in ticket sales in the movie industry, despite predictions that movies were considered recession proof.

His take as to the cause? Simple. “The movies suck.”  Lefsetz argues that the movie industry has forgotten its “primary mission”—which is to tell stories. He goes on:

Every few years a blockbuster emerges from the fringe that costs almost nothing to produce.  And the real reason these flicks triumph is story…People need food.  They don’t need movies or music.  They can keep their wallets closed.  The challenge is to create something so compelling that people need to go, price ends up being secondary. Read his entire post here. I highly recommend it.

Lefsetz is right. Put your freshest energy into the story, the song, or the painting. Make it compelling. Make it something people have to see or hear or participate in. You do have to network, but begin by networking among those who already love and appreciate what you do.  Build slowly and be patient with the process. It is an exercise in trust.